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Friday, August 1, 2014

Tigers win 3-team blockbuster

Yesterday was one of the more surprising trade deadlines in recent memory. There were several big trades that saw several roster shakeups, including Jon Lester heading from Boston to Oakland for Yoenis Cespedes. With Oakland acquiring arguably the two best pitchers available over the last month (Jeff Samarzdija being the other), one of their main competitors knew they needed to get involved in the arms race. And get involved the Tigers did.

After weeks of David Price trade speculation, with a different "favorite" emerging seemingly daily, the Tigers came basically out of nowhere to land the Cy Young candidate. Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski has been incredibly active with his teams in the past, and in this case despite giving up Austin Jackson, Drew Smyly and a solid prospect, the Tigers were big winners. Dombrowski even texted A's GM Billy Beane some good natured ribbing after landing Price.

Austin Jackson has been a solid player over the last few seasons, including a fantastic 2012 season. Unfortunately for the Tigers and Jackson, though, his 2012 season was aided by being extremely lucky on balls hit in play--his batting average on balls in play(BABIP) was an unsustainable .371, compared to just .335 the last two seasons.

While .335 is still a very good number, the fact is Jackson strikes out a lot, so his batting average and on base percentage will always be considerably lower than his BABIP. In other words, it's unlikely Jackson will ever replicate his 2012 season. His offensive upside is likely limited to what he's done the last two seasons, which at .272/.335/.409 is still above average. However, Jackson's defense has declined each of the last three seasons, at least according to his ultimate zone rating (UZR) via Fan Graphs. Despite saving 18 runs above average from 2010-2012, Jackson has been below average defensively over the last two seasons. Jackson was 4.5 runs below average last season, and has been even worse this season, posting a UZR of -9.6, meaning he allowed almost 10 runs more than an average defensive center fielder between opening day and today.

Every 10 runs, saved or allowed, is equivalent to basically one win. While that seems like nothing in a 162 game season, remember he's playing one of 9 positions. If the Tigers entire defense was 10 runs below average over the course of a season, they would likely lose about 9 more games than an average defense would. It gets sort of complicated, of course, as this is assuming that the improved defense would come with the exact offensive output as their less defensive-minded counterparts. Getting back to Jackson, though, by going from a good defender in 2011 (+7.8) to a poor one (-9.6) this season, his value alone has dropped by 2 wins. The Tigers were brilliant to get rid of a declining player--and even smarter to get David Price for their troubles.

Drew Smyly is a cost-controlled starter with #3 starter potential, who's had a very good season for the Tigers this year. While he's not in the same league as Price, especially in October, Smyly should be a very solid rotation piece for the Rays, and at cheap salaries to boot. He's a solid Price replacement. Because of Jackson's clear decline both offensively and defensively, it's easy to understand why the Rays preferred Nick Franklin to Jackson.

Franklin isn't the type of can't miss prospect we had expected Tampa Bay to land in a Price trade, but he was a top prospect recently, held his own as a 22-year-old rookie in the big leagues last year, and has continued to mash AAA pitching for the better part of two years. He profiles as a below average to average defensive shortstop, so most expect the Rays to play him at second base, where his defense might actually be slightly above average. The Rays are undoubtedly hoping Franklin's bat will develop enough to be more than a AAA-MLB tweener, and as a 23-year-old hitting .294/.392/.455 in AAA with almost as many walks as strikeouts, he still profiles as a very solid big leaguer.

Keep in mind the average AL hitter this season is hitting .255/.319/.395, so both Franklin and Jackson are likely to be at least slightly above average hitters for the forseeable future and aren't without value. But being an average hitter and a below average defender doesn't help a team win much, so both the Rays and Mariners are hoping either these players bats improve more than expected, or that their defense is better than advertised. Jackson would likely be an above average corner outfielder, for example, but his offense is much more valuable as a center fielder.

The final piece Tampa Bay received was Willy Adames, a low-A level shortstop who's just 18 years old. Despite getting the least amount of publicity as part of the deal, Adames has a chance to develop into an elite prospect after this year's performance. The average age in Adames league this season was 21.5, while Adames doesn't turn 19 until September 2. Despite the massive age difference, he's hit .269/.346/.428 while the league average is just .254/.325/.373. Adames is playing one of the least offensive positions in the league, is considerably younger than his competition, and has excelled. The Rays undoubtedly are trusting their scouts too, but the stats show Adames as a potential elite prospect in the future, assuming he can stay at shortstop.

That said, none of the players TB got profiles currently as a future star, and Price might be the most valuable player the Rays have ever traded. After getting Wil Meyers from KC for James Shields and Wade Davis, maybe we've just been trained into expecting TB to always win a trade, rather than simply getting fair value. While the trade isn't terrible for anyone involved, the expectation around the league seemed to be that TB would only move Price if they were blown away by an offer. Either they like Franklin, Adames and Smyly more than most, or the offers simply weren't close to what was being reported.

The Tigers however become the odds-on favorite now to win at least the American League, and they may even be the favorites to win it all. If Justin Verlander can get back to even 85% of what he's been in the past, this Tigers rotation will be incredibly scary come October. As good as Oakland's staff looked with Samardzija, Kazmir and now Lester in a short series, the Tigers can counter with 3 or all of Price, Scherzer, Sanchez and Verlander.

And because storylines that people try to write months in advance rarely come to fruition, I fully expect Detroit and Oakland to both lose in the first round of the playoffs. I certainly hope not, as a Tigers-A's ALCS would be quite entertaining. Deadline moves can be a catalyst or a speed bump, and in only a few months we will all find out. Personally, I can't wait.





Thursday, July 31, 2014

Otto Porter Poised For Improvement

Today's post is written by Jason Slint,  for FanDuel.com. Fan Duel is a great fantasy sports website with both free and paid games available for multiple sports, making it the perfect site for your fantasy basketball needs. 

The Washington Wizards have to reflect on the 2013-2014 season as a positive for the franchise. They were able to not only make the playoffs as a pretty high seed, but they advanced to the 2nd round. Just about everything went right for the team, except the fact that they got almost no production out of rookie Otto Porter Jr. After a strong summer performance, the team is optimistic that he will be able to contribute in fantasy basketball this upcoming year.

When a player is drafted 3rd overall, they are expected to make some type of an impact as a rookie. Injuries caught up to Porter very early, and he was never able to settle into the rotation. Not only will he be more comfortable with the NBA style of play, but things will open up with Trevor Ariza no longer in town.

Paul Pierce has been signed by Washington to bring stability to the franchise, but people in fantasy basketball understand that he is not going to play a lot. At 36 years of age, he is more of a mentor at this point in time. Perhaps he can help Porter turn the corner and be a productive player for Washington. They are certainly hoping that he can be that final young piece to put alongside John Wall and Bradley Beal on the perimeter.

Porter might not be a fantasy basketball standout, but he doesn't really need to be. Instead, he is someone who needs to show activity on both ends of the floor, handle the ball with decent success and knock down open shots when they are given to him. As long as he is able to fit into the system for Washington, his future is still very bright. Expect a much better sophomore campaign for the forward out of Georgetown.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Love, Wiggins and Front-Office buffoonery

Rumors emerged last night that the Cleveland Cavaliers have finally agreed to include Andrew Wiggins in any Kevin Love proposal. As a Wolves fan, this is the best case scenario assuming Love won't stay in Minnesota.

Receiving a high-ceiling #1 overall pick, along with other young players and/or draft picks, gives the Wolves the best chance at building a consistent winner over the next few years. However, let's be clear here: Kevin Love is an elite player in basketball. If he were willing to resign with the Wolves rather than demanding a trade, he would't even be available. Cleveland wouldn't be close to landing Love with their Wiggins, draft picks and young busts offer that will probably end up landing him.

Seeing so called "experts" rail against Love is getting annoying. Yes, I'm not a fan of him because he's clearly been counting the days to leave Minnesota since he signed his second contract. But to suggest he's simply a stat stuffer is unfair and quite honestly terrible reporting.

At first glance, I understand why people aren't as high on Love as they should be. He's never made the playoffs, and because the average fan seems convinced a great player can lead his team to the post-season on his own, Love is considered overrated. But he isn't. Not by a long shot. He's the third most efficient offensive player in basketball, behind only James and Durant. Yes, his defense is poor and he can get lazy and whiny at times on the court. That doesn't matter. His offense is so elite the Cavs would almost certainly finish with the league's best record, and despite ESPN talkingheads consistently saying the Western conference representative would beat Cleveland in the finals, that seems unlikely. Miami managed to win 2 championships in 4 years with a big 3 that simply put isn't as good as a LeBron/Love/Irving big 3 would be at this point in their careers.

San Antonio may have embarrassed Miami this summer, but let's not forget Miami did defeat them in 7 games the year before. The Spurs were determined not to let that happen again, but to just assume the Western conference team is going to be great as San Antonio was this summer is silly. Even San Antonio is unlikely to be close to as good as they were in the playoffs.

Cleveland with Kevin Love, LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and a bunch of veteran ring chasers will be the favorites.

As far as Wiggins goes, his potential may be slightly overstated after being a hyped up high school product. He's long, he's young, and he's extremely athletic. If he can turn his tools into production, he could be a very good if not great two-way player. However, the chances he becomes even 90% of the player Kevin Love is are slim. If it takes him 3-4 years to develop into that kind of player, which most expect it will, LeBron James will be 33 years old. Sure, James may still well be the best player in basketball at that time, but everyone ages at some point. What if James and Kyrie can't get past the Western conference over the next few seasons while the team waits for Wiggins to develop? If Wiggins fails to become a star, and ends up as a Rudy Gay clone, (an actual overrated stat-stuffer, unlike Love) the city of Cleveland may continue to be without a championship for another 50 years.

Sure, there's a chance Wiggins develops quickly and as soon as next season is an above average player that helps the Cavs win the title, but it's not a good one. Wiggins looked overmatched at Kansas as a freshman at times. That's to be expected from an 18 or 19-year-old kid playing on the biggest stage in college basketball, but let's not act like Wiggins is an automatic franchise changing player. He's certainly not the next LeBron James, a man who averaged 20 PPG in the NBA at the same age Wiggins played at KU.

And despite Bill Simmons hatred of Minnesota clouding his judgement, Wiggins is not going to become Scottie Pippen to LBJ's Jordan. He just isn't. Pippen is probably a top 15 player of all time, he just doesn't get the credit because he spent basically his entire career being second fiddle to MJ. Simmons basketball knowledge makes me actually glad the Wolves hired Kahn and didn't let Simmons little public plea for the job gain any traction. Simmons actually seemed to take it personally, going from praising the Wolves in nearly every article to criticizing even the smallest moves.

Not trading Wiggins for Love would be a colossal misstep by the Cleveland front office. Fans and league executives around the league are simply showing their stupidity when they say Wiggins shouldn't be offered in a deal for Love. To be honest, Love likely isn't getting the respect many lesser players have received (namely, Carmelo Anthony) because he's white. Some people, for dumb reasons I can't explain, always assume what they see  live is better than stats. He looks terrible running up and down the court, he's never been to the playoffs, and he plays like a white guy. He shoots well and plays below the rim. His best skills, rebounding and outlet passing, are glorified in old men's pickup games moreso than the NBA. But he scored 26 points a game, shot 38% from 3 and 82% from the free throw line. Kevin Love, contrary to popular belief, is a superstar. That's hard to admit as he packs his bags and gets ready to leave Minneapolis, but it's the truth.

Thankfully, Steve Kerr and Jerry West seem to think Klay Thompson is Kobe Bryant, so it looks like Cleveland is the only viable trading partner. A Wiggins based package is much better than a Thompson based package, so here's to hoping Kerr continues to prove he's one of the worst executives in NBA history. How he got a coaching job after running the Suns into the ground as a GM is beyond me, but letting him have any say in personnel matters is even sillier. Steve Kerr can't judge NBA talent. That's been proven.

Ideally, the Wolves and Cavs will agree to a trade in the next few days, so we can put this Kevin Love hoopla behind us and get back to losing 55+ games a season--a franchise tradition. Now we'll have to wait and see if Rubio follows in the footsteps of Marbury and Love, or if he can remain loyal to the organization that brought him in. With Glen Taylor and Flip running the show, even Rubio's extension might be a mess. But at least it's not Kahn, or worse, Bill Simmons, doing the negotiating.

Have fun in Cleveland, Kevin, they'll Love you there.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Ann Coulter and American Exceptionalism

In case you missed it, Ann Coulter wrote a scathing article about a week ago about the sport of Soccer. (Or, as it's correctly called everywhere else, Football) She received plenty of criticism for the article, and rightfully so. The article is terribly researched, and it reads like it was written in Greg Gutfeld's constant sarcastic idiocy.

I'm not a soccer fan. Not at all. I enjoy watching the World Cup every four years, but that's it. However, the article she wrote isn't just silly, it's completely incorrect. It would be funny if it was satire. Take a look.

In the very first paragraph, she rails against soccer for not focusing on individual achievements enough. 
Individual achievement is not a big factor in soccer. In a real sport, players fumble passes, throw bricks and drop fly balls -- all in front of a crowd. 
That sentence alone should make those who think of Coulter as a "brilliant mind" reconsider. Has she never seen a penalty kick? Did she see Ronaldo's cross to keep Portugal momentarily alive against the US? It was a beautiful pass, and anyone watching or listening understood immediately who was responsible for that remarkable play. Ronaldo. Players miss the nets, score on their own goals, etc. There are just as many individual moments in soccer as there are in American football, basketball, baseball, etc.

Regardless, criticizing a SPORT because it's not individualized enough is laughable at best, downright mentally incompetent at worst. Sports are designed to teach people to work together for a common goal, not to make one person shine above the rest. Children learn to cooperate, how to accept failure, and how to deal with failure in front of their peers from playing team sports. This one quote--the first sentence of her argument, nonetheless-- is everything that's wrong with the belief of American exceptionalism. Soccer isn't as big in America, so it must be terrible, because America is the best!

Her second point was even worse.
 Liberal moms like soccer because it's a sport in which athletic talent finds so little expression that girls can play with boys. No serious sport is co-ed, even at the kindergarten level. 
 Idiotic is too nice of a word. When I was little, I played tee-ball. The games were in the middle of the day during the week, so the coaches were all moms, not dads. And guess what? Some of the people on my team were GIRLS. But, you know, it's not like Baseball is considered one of America's oldest pastimes or anything. The reason boys and girls play TOGETHER on some kindergarten level sports teams isn't because the talent level is similar (trust me, it's not) it's because the POINT OF THE SPORT is to cooperate. Teaching children to cooperate with both girls and boys at a young age will only help them adjust easier when they are meeting new people on a daily basis.
No other "sport" ends in as many scoreless ties as soccer. This was an actual marquee sign by the freeway in Long Beach, California, about a World Cup game last week: "2nd period, 11 minutes left, score: 0:0." Two hours later, another World Cup game was on the same screen: "1st period, 8 minutes left, score: 0:0."
Either she's completely making this up, or whoever was updating that marquee sign in Long Beach knows nothing about soccer. They play halfs, not periods. They also count UP, not down. So rather than saying "11 minutes left in the second period" the sign would really say that the score was 0-0 in the 79th minute, because that means there's 11 minutes left in the game. There are less goals in soccer than other sports, but this makes each scoring opportunity very exciting. I think she made this up thinking it added humor to the piece. Sigh.
The prospect of either personal humiliation or major injury is required to count as a sport.
This is completely and utterly false. That is a solid reason to watch Fox News, though.
You can't use your hands in soccer. (Thus eliminating the danger of having to catch a fly ball.) What sets man apart from the lesser beasts, besides a soul, is that we have opposable thumbs.
Yet another example of someone who's supposed to be "brilliant" misleading a ton of her readers. What ACTUALLY separates humans from other species is our brain. It's considerably more complicated and developed than other species, and it allows us to work together to succeed in the Animal Kingdom. Think about it. We can't survive a night in the cold, we are nowhere close to as strong as many animals, yet humans have managed to reach the top of the food chain. It's not because we have thumbs, sorry. It's because humans can cooperate to eliminate a threat, while animals only do it on a very minute level.
I resent the force-fed aspect of soccer. The same people trying to push soccer on Americans are the ones demanding that we love HBO's "Girls," light-rail, Beyonce and Hillary Clinton. The number of New York Times articles claiming soccer is "catching on" is exceeded only by the ones pretending women's basketball is fascinating. 
She just keeps listing things she doesn't like and pretending that it's a liberal agenda. Light-rails, AKA cheap, public transportation, are fantastic. This annoyed me though because nobody is force-feeding soccer or Girls or Beyonce on anyone. This is 2014 in America, I'm pretty sure the only thing being forced upon you is the NSA's over reaching. If you don't like soccer, turn the channel. It's simple.
I note that we don't have to be endlessly told how exciting football is. 
The NFL off-season was covered more than the Stanley Cup Finals on Sportscenter, so let's not pretend like American Football isn't overhyped. I love football, it's wonderful to watch, but fans in other countries love soccer MORE than Americans love football. That's not because people in other countries are morally bankrupt or stupider, it's simply a cultural difference that Ann Coulter can't seem to get her head around.
Despite being subjected to Chinese-style brainwashing in the public schools to use centimeters and Celsius, ask any American for the temperature, and he'll say something like "70 degrees." Ask how far Boston is from New York City, he'll say it's about 200 miles.
Again, this is Coulter citing American exceptionalism where it doesn't exist. Celsius actually is a lot easier to understand than Fahrenheit, as anything below 0 is freezing. Seems simpler than 32 degrees, no? Using kilometers instead of miles, again, is a cultural thing. Why are we so against people being different? Isn't this America? The world's melting pot? Can I ask any more questions?

One final complaint:
I promise you: No American whose great-grandfather was born here is watching soccer. One can only hope that, in addition to learning English, these new Americans will drop their soccer fetish with time. 
My great-grandfather was born here. Both were. I've watched every game of this world cup. Soccer isn't the problem. The English comment was the worst by far, though. Does Miss Coulter understand that most teenagers in other countries are capable of speaking multiple languages? Unlike in America, where we can't even speak one language correctly, speaking multiple languages is considered an asset.

Soccer's here to stay, Ann, but here's to hoping America can drop it's "Kind of smart, kind of blonde, kind of a woman" fetish and stop paying any attention to you.


Monday, June 30, 2014

Sports and Social Media

InfographicWorld has released a very interesting, well, infographic, with statistics about sports broadcasts and social media. Take a look, and then head on over to their website if you feel inclined to do so.

Courtesy of: Infographic World

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Flippin Out

Nostalgia is a dangerous thing for any person to deal with. The happy memories are often followed by equally sad memories, or a longing to get back to the happy memories. It can be triggered with a simple song lyric or even driving by an old restaurant. Nostalgia happens. It's unavoidable.

Unfortunately, Minnesota Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor seems to live in nostalgia. Last off-season Taylor named former head coach Flip Saunders as the team's president, despite very little evidence suggesting Saunders would be well suited for the job. And today, he allowed Saunders to become the Head Coach again. Taylor and Saunders have had a close relationship since the first time Saunders coached the Wolves, and because he happened to be the coach when Kevin Garnett was here, he's the winningest coach in Wolves history. However, Saunders consistently had trouble developing young players not only in Minnesota but also in Washington. He traded the pick that became Ricky Rubio for Mike Miller and Randy Foye. One of David Kahn's few good moves in his time here, and it was a deal that ripped off the man that is now our current President. Oh, and the current Wolves GM, Milt Newton, also was part of that Wizards front office that agreed to the trade. Rubio would have been traded by Washington at this point anyway, but he certainly had a lot more trade value than Miller and Foye. Just a silly trade at the time that looks even worse now.

Saunders and Taylor, after botching the Dave Joerger negotiations, have agreed that Flip will return to the bench to be the Wolves coach for an unknown amount of time. Saunders and Taylor reportedly have an "open-ended" agreement that allows Flip to try to find a coach any off-season he chooses. Considering Saunders has wanted to coach the team since Adelman retired, I expect him to be the coach until Glen tells him otherwise.

Flip isn't a great coach. He's just not. His offense is heavily jump shot based, his teams have never been great defensive TEAMS (KG made some of his Wolves teams above average defensively) and as mentioned above, he has a terrible record working with young players. Many bandwagon Wolves fans will look at the hire and ultimately be fine with it, because they've heard of him and he did well the last time basketball was relevant in Minnesota.

Having Saunders and Milt Newton around to make the inevitable Kevin Love trade is even more worrisome. Common sense would suggest the Wolves take the best lottery pick offered and package of young players. If Cleveland wants Love, there's no reason the Wolves shouldn't pounce on a package centered around the #1 pick. Getting another franchise type talent is an absolute necessity in any Love trade, and in this draft that means a top 3 pick. Trading Love to Chicago for a package based around Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler is something Flip would have interest in, as he's not going to want to rebuild for the next few years.

Gibson and Butler are good players, and they would make the Wolves an improved team, even without Love, I think. However, neither player looks to be a franchise altering talent. Unless the team somehow was able to find a steal at #13, which is very unlikely, we'd likely be relegated to watching a 45-win team compete for the 8th and final playoff spot in the West for the next five or so seasons. With Saunders taking over as the head coach, I expect the Wolves to trade Love for a veteran package, possibly with some mid-to-late first round picks attached as sweeteners.

Oh, and next season, expect a lot of angry fans watching Ricky Rubio opt not to shoot, or even miss 20 foot pick and roll jumpers. I love Rubio, but his game is not tailored well at all to Flip's former offense. Maybe Saunders has learned to adjust to his personnel in the last decade, but as they say, you often can't teach old dogs new tricks.

However, because Flip's offense is shooting based, trading Love for a top 3 pick would be ideal. This would signal that the Wolves are rebuilding yet again, which would make winning games less of a priority (obviously). This would allow flip to tell Rubio to shoot every time he's open. The only way his shot will improve is with in-game reps, and the best way to get him those reps is in a season in which the team isn't competing at all. So while Saunders isn't a great coach, they could use one of his offensive strengths (creating open jump shots) to improve their point guards game a great deal. If that happens, Flip might be a success.

That said, I fully expect Saunders to be a disappointment, and while I'd love to be wrong, the Wolves history suggests I'll be exactly right.

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