Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Minnesotans, Vote No on Nov 6

On November 6, 2012, anyone voting in Minnesota will be able to choose if they want to vote yes or no on a new marriage amendment. A "yes" vote means you are voting to constitutionally exclude same-sex marriage. A "no" vote doesn't mean you are voting to make same-sex marriage legal, it simply means you are voting no against a constitutional amendment that is, in itself, discriminatory. It's a vote to make something illegal, or not illegal, but NOT legal. The Minnesota legislative body is basically asking a loaded question.

When it comes to political issues, of any magnitude, most people's decisions are clouded by biased beliefs. Most of us don't realize how biased our viewpoints can get at times, and that's seen more in political arguments than anything else. The easiest way to get passed these biases is to change your viewpoint. Before you vote yes or no this November, ask yourself one question: If your son or daughter (present or in the future) was gay, and wanted to marry the person they loved, what would you tell them? If your voting yes this November, would you, honestly, disown your own child because of their sexual preference? I'll assume you wouldn't disown your child, because you have a heart.

If you can't imagine how you'd react to your children's questions, there's other ways around the biases. For instance, try imagining a world in which heterosexuals are the minority and homosexuals are the majority. If you were a heterosexual male, absolutely in love with the woman of your dreams, wouldn't it bother you if a bunch of people who have no business being in your personal life were able to decide you and this woman can't get married? And, without any real reason? I would venture to guess most people would be outraged.

Those who plan to vote yes often argue that allowing same-sex marriages isn't good for our children, because it's unfair for a child to have to grow up in a home without a mother or a father. Many people cling onto that argument when they claim they'll vote yes; the only problem is it's not based on factual evidence. Any Google search will reveal piles and piles of studies that prove a child growing up in a steady, two-parent home, regardless if it's two dads, two moms or one each, is a good thing for children. Here's a recent article on adoptions by The Atlantic, for example.

Another common argument is cited around religion; which makes me sad. Someone who truly believes in their religion and the real point of it would understand religion is important to help people become better people. Whether you become a more spiritual person, or you believe you need to do good on this planet to serve someone, or whatever, the point of religion, for everyone, at it's core should be to become a better person. And the sins that come from the homosexual acts in the Bible are sins because of the physical acts; just like pre-marital sex is a sin between two heterosexuals. Wouldn't allowing them to get married, therefore, eliminate the sin that the physical act creates before marriage?

America is a great country because our founders understood from day one that while religion has it's values, no doubt, it can have it's drawbacks as well. If you are using your religious beliefs to take away an opportunity from someone else, you're not using your time on this planet correctly. Once you understand that most wars are propagated by religious issues between factions, you'll see that as great as organized religion can be in the right hands, it can be equally as dangerous in the wrong hands. If you think it's a sin to marry someone of the same-sex, the solution is simple: don't do it.

If you're planning to vote yes, please, try to think of a legitimate reason to ban two people who are in love, who can already live together, get a civil union, and adopt a child together from getting married.

"Yeah, but if they can do all of that, why do they need to get married?" you might ask.

And again, I will direct you to look at a heterosexual marriage. Why do most heterosexual people choose to get married instead of simply going through with a civil union? Because it means something in our society. Obviously people get marriage benefits, tax exemptions and other things, but that's not the reason most people get married. In our society, marriage is the ultimate symbol of love.

It's like saying "I want to spend the rest of my life with you, and I'm willing to bet half my shit that I'm right." To deny this gratifying moment from any two people seems ridiculously unfair, and I believe most people in their heart agree with this sentiment.

It's my belief that we should let people live their lives however they choose, as long as they aren't harming others. And by voting No this November, I will be putting my vote where my mouth is. If you want to vote yes, it's obviously your right, but before you do, find one good reason to do it. That's how I changed my mind. Instead of fearing what we don't understand, take a few minutes to learn that what someone does sexually in the privacy of their own home doesn't make them good or bad parents, and it certainly doesn't make them sinners damned for eternity.

From one Minnesotan to another, please, do the right thing. If you care about your neighbors and your families, vote No.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Sell High: Josh Willingham and Target Field

Last off-season, the Twins correctly allowed Michael Cuddyer to leave via free agency, and signed outfielder Josh Willingham to take his place. Willingham was signed for $21MM over 3 years while Cuddyer signed with Colorado for $30MM over 3 years.

Willingham didn't disappoint in his first season as a Twin. He hit .260/.366/.524, adding 35 home runs in 145 games. It was the best season of Willingham's career, but at 33-years-old, it seems unlikely he'll repeat his 2012 season next year.

A career .261/.362/.483 hitter, Willingham has been a solid offensive player for most of his career. A spike in his slugging percentage at such a late age is pretty rare, which is why the Twins should not expect Willingham to hit as well next season as he did this year. Willingham's offensive boost, believe it or not, came from playing more games at Target Field. His home/road splits in 2012 were pretty extreme. Willingham hit a ridiculous and likely unsustainable .293/.407/.610 at Target Field in 2012, compared to just .230/.326/.444 on the road. Why did his numbers spike so much at Target Field? I'm glad you asked. In 2011, Willingham played in Oakland where according to ESPN's park factor stat, the A's scored .947 runs, or about 94% of the runs scored in a neutral park. (Target Field ranked just below Oakland, .944 to .947 last season) In 2012, however, Target Field became much more of a hitter's ballpark. Target Field was the 10th most hitter friendly ballpark in baseball in 2012, after ranking 10th last in 2011. The Twins scored 1.04 runs, or 104% of what would've been scored in a neutral park.

The problem with Willingham's breakout being tied to Target Field becoming a much more hitter friendly park is that there simply isn't enough data yet to know what kind of park Target Field truly is. A look at the numbers since Target Field opened gives us a grand total of 3 years of information. In a league that has kept data for over a century, 3 years is far too small of a number to get a true reading on the park. Park Factor, by year:

2010 - .962 (96% of the runs scored in a neutral park)
2011 - .944
2012 - 1.044

Clearly, the numbers don't paint really any kind of picture. It's been random the first 3 years. However, if Target Field plays like a pitchers park next season, as it has for 2/3 of Target Field's existence, Willingham could see a considerable dip in his power numbers, as suggested.

 He might hit 30 home runs again, and he might hit .260 with a .360 on base percentage. But expecting Willingham's slugging percentage to stay near his 2012 production is simply a wish. In a best-case scenario, which would assume Target Field continues to play as a hitter's park, I'd say Willingham hits around .265/.370/.500, which is very good still. But that's a best-case scenario; a more likely line would be .255/.355/.490 or so, factoring in last season's numbers as well as his career numbers and expected declines with age. If Target Field goes back to a pitcher-friendly park, Willingham's numbers should be worse than they were his final season in Oakland, when he hit .246/.332/.477, again because of park-factors and the fact that he'll be 2 years older than he was in Oakland.

Trying to predict what a player could get in a trade, though, is almost impossible to gauge as an outsider. However, it seems likely that several contending teams would be very interested in adding a veteran outfielder coming off a monster season, especially since the money isn't bad at $14MM over 2 years. Acquiring a solid package of prospects, or even one major league ready starting pitcher, seems possible. So here's to hoping the Twins make Willingham available, and accept the fact that they're going to need to build for a 2014 core if they want to truly get back into the division race. One year quick fixes don't work unless you have a blank check. Trading Willingham when his value is at an all-time high is simple economics, and I'm sure the Twins realize that.

So please, fellow Twins fans, when the team announces in November that they've traded Josh Willingham, don't complain that the team is too cheap. Applaud the move for what it is; selling high on a player who can't possibly duplicate his 2012 season. That's what I'll be doing, at least.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Time Gets Us All, Even A-Rod

Alex Rodriguez will go down as one of the greatest baseball players to ever play the game. I repeat, Alex Rodriguez is one of the greatest baseball players EVER, in the history of the game. I realize most people understand that, but it seems to have been forgotten over the past few days.

Donald Trump, for example, the king of idiots, has tweeted several things about A-Rod. First he suggested the Yankees should renegotiate A-Rod's contract because he hasn't earned his money, clearly ignoring the fact that MLB contracts are fully guaranteed, and the last time A-Rod tried to renegotiate a contract to take less money the Players Association denied it. (Before getting traded to the Yankees, A-Rod was headed to Boston, pending a contract restructuring. The MLBPA told A-Rod forfeiting money for no real reason was a dangerous precedent, and a month later A-Rod was a Yankee)

Trump also suggested A-Rod was only good because of his steroid use, which is completely false. At a time when the majority of the league was taking steroids, A-Rod was emerging as the league's best player. Yes, he was on them too, but it's not like he was a small guy. Even without steroid use, it's hard to imagine A-Rod not being a superstar. But again, Trump and logic fail to meet.

A-Rod's OPS since September 3, when he came off the DL, is an absolutely atrocious .478, so a benching certainly seemed fair based on production. However, the Yankees didn't bench A-Rod and start a solid player, they started Eric Chavez. Chavez's 2012 season was his best in almost 5 years, and giving him a chance in games against right handers seemed logical with all of A-Rod's struggles. But Chavez finished the ALCS 0-16.

Unfortunately, the whole Yankees lineup had trouble hitting the ball, so Girardi singling out A-Rod seems to suggest there's more to the story than just this season. As has been mentioned in other places, the Marlins and Yankees likely will discuss an Alex Rodriguez trade this off-season. That hardly guarantees that he'll be traded, but if the Yankees are willing to pay a portion of his contract to unload him, his hometown of Miami seems like his one of his only possible destinations thanks to his no-trade clause.

It's worth noting that Alex Rodriguez seems like an odd man. He seems to care what people think a great deal, but despite being in the public eye for almost 20 years, he doesn't seem to have any people skills. Kissing himself in the mirror, always looking like he's going to cry, allegedly hitting on women behind the dugout while sitting on the bench... the list could be much much longer with all of A-Rod's strange instances. However, his off-field personality is of no interest to me. He's not marrying my sister. 

Drafted first overall by the Seattle Mariners in 1993, Rodriguez made his Major League Debut in August of 1994 when he was just 18-years-old. He played in 17 games before the strike ended the season, and then in 1995 he spent time bouncing between AAA and the big leagues. 

But in 1996, the greatness of A-Rod was born. Playing in 146 games, Rodriguez hit .358/.414/.631, while adding 36 home runs, 123 RBI and 15 stolen bases. He was 20-years-old, playing shortstop, a historically weak offensive position, and putting up numbers nobody had ever seen before. For comparison's sake, Bryce Harper hit .270/.340/.477 as a 19-year-old this season, and as impressive as his season was, it'd be surprising if Harper came anywhere close to A-Rod's 1996 season next year. Harper is widely considered the best hitting prospect to come into the league in a long, long time, and there's no doubting that. But A-Rod was Bryce Harper before Bryce Harper.

From 1997-2000, he wasn't quite as good as he was in 1996, but he was still unbelievable. He hit .304/.372/.560 with 148 home runs over that time. He averaged 37 home runs and 28 steals a season during that stretch. He was 21, 22, 23 and 24-years-old.  Now, the offensive numbers seem inflated by the rampant steroid use* but thankfully we have statistics to see if that's actually true. In 1997, the average American League team hit .271/.340/.428. In comparison, the average AL team in 2012 hit .255/.320/.411, which means offense in 2012 was about 5% worse overall.  So, if A-Rod's numbers were to be adjusted for a "steroid free (or as steroid free as it can be)" era, such as today, over that same time frame he still would have hit .289/.353/.532. 

*A-Rod's admission to using Steroids was that he took them between 2001 and 2003 while in Texas. That seems completely untrue, considering A-Rod grew up in both the Dominican Republic and Miami. Two places where finding steroids are not difficult; and as I said, it's not like he was unknown in high school. He was the greatest high school baseball player most people had ever seen. It's likely he started taking them in high school.

Almost everyone understands how good A-Rod was in Seattle, or at least has some idea. But to put it in perspective, A-Rod's OPS+ from the time he was 20 until he was 24 was 143. Only a handful of players have posted an OPS+ over 140 between their 20th and 24th birthdays. A-Rod, Miguel Cabrera, Ken Griffey Jr, John Olerud, Frank Robinson, Al Kaline, Hank Aaron, Mickey Mantle, Eddie Matthews and Willie Mays. That's some pretty remarkable company, especially if you're named John Olerud.

Other players have done it up to their 24th birthday, although they didn't get their big league start at 20. Vladimir Guerrero, Albert Pujols, Don Mattingly, Daryl Strawberry, Reggie Jackson, Dick Allen and Rocky Colavito all posted OPS+ above 140 from 21-24. 

Now, many players have had great five year stretches. Most of them don't start careers that way, though, which was the point. After the 2000 season Rodriguez left Seattle and signed, at that point the richest contract in baseball history. 10 years, $252MM to play for the division rival Texas Rangers.

Despite the general consensus being that A-Rod wasn't quite as good in Texas as he had been in Seattle, mainly because the Rangers were never in playoff contention, he was in fact even better. The Rangers gave up on their A-Rod experiment after just three seasons, but over those three years Rodriguez hit .305/.395/.615, played in all but 1 game, and he averaged 52 home runs and 131 RBI a season. His OPS+ was 155.** Texas couldn't win even with A-Rod putting up those numbers, so on February 15, 2004, just weeks after Aaron Boone suffered a season-ending knee injury playing pickup basketball, the Yankees and Rangers agreed on a trade. Rodriguez was going to New York along with $67MM in cash (although not all of that money ended up being owed to New York, because A-Rod opted out of his original deal in 2007) for Alfonso Soriano and a player to be named later. The Rangers would later choose Joaquin Arias as the PTBNL, who was a solid prospect at the time. Unfortunately, the Rangers also reportedly could've chosen a different young middle infield prospect at the time. His name was Robinson Cano.

**Rodriguez's numbers spiking in Texas would, at first glance, appear to prove A-Rod's assertion that he did in fact take Steroids during his time in Texas. The problem, however, is that A-Rod was entering the prime of his career, so his power numbers were likely going to increase considerably regardless, even if he'd been on steroids for years. The Rangers home ball park also helped his power numbers, but his OPS+, which adjusts for ballparks, was still considerably higher in Texas. He was, of course, 25, 26 and 27, which is among the prime of your career.

From 2004-2007, before Rodriguez chose to opt out of his contract, he played in 629 out of a possible 648 games, he hit .303/.403/.573 and averaged 43 home runs a season. His OPS+ was 153. At the time he chose to opt out of his contract, he was 32 years old and was passing on 3-years and about $80MM. But his numbers were so remarkable, even at 32 years old, that there seemed little doubt the Yankees would give him a monster contract. After Scott Boras almost fumbled the situation, Rodriguez went directly to the Yankees and eventually re-signed with the team for $275MM over 10 years. The contract was rightfully mocked at the time. 

Rodriguez was worth $252MM with his prime still to come when he signed with Texas. Now, on the back end of his prime, the Yankees felt the need to pay him $27.5MM a season, on average, for 10 years? Until he was 42? Didn't they know players don't play nearly as long as they did with steroids? There would not be a Barry Bonds type season from A-Rod at 39 or 40. This was going to end badly, everyone said.

Everyone was right. From 2008-2012, Rodriguez hit .282/.370/.503, but he played in just an average of 124 games a season. His age and steroid use seemed to be catching up to him, one injury at a time. As is often the case with great players, they don't know when to quit. For Rodriguez, he's got a lot of money to make still, so his decline might become one of the worst we've seen. Rodriguez has been steadily declining each season since signing his new 10-year-deal, and that slide should continue next season. But even as he begins to look like a shell of his former self, it's important to remember just how great Alex Rodriguez the baseball player really was. He's truly a once in a generation talent. An offensive juggernaut at shortstop? It was rare in 1996, and sadly, Alex Rodriguez as an offensive juggernaut is even rarer today.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Say Goodnight Kevin, Goodnight Kevin

Man oh man. The Timberpuppies just can't seem to catch a break. In case you missed it, Wolves superstar Kevin Love will miss 6-8 weeks after breaking his right hand at his home on Wednesday. I'd blame all of the team's recent bad luck on some sort of KG curse, but that's not even logical.

The Wolves failures and string of bad luck has existed basically since the first day they came into existence. Even the best team in history, the Cassell/Spreewell/KG tandem in '03, lost Cassell and then a red-hot Troy Hudson for the majority of the Western Conference Finals against a Lakers team that had Shaq, Kobe, Malone and The Glove.

This coming season was going to be different. It was like the team was getting to re-do all of their past mistakes, in this one season. Kevin Love is the new superstar Kevin, after evil Kevin (McHale) traded star Kevin to Boston. Ricky Rubio is everything Stephon Marbury was supposed to be--with the exact opposite attitude. Nikola Pekovic, in half a season, may have been the greatest center in franchise history.* If he continues it this season, the Wolves are not only star heavy at the top, but filled with solid contributing players throughout the roster.

*That's admittedly a horrible, horrible list of players, so it's not really an accomplishment. But still true.

Andrei Kirilenko is a much better, less selfish version of Tom Gugliotta, and not just because they're both tall white guys. Brandon Roy is the shooting guard who's career was cut short despite loads of talent; he's JR Rider with knee problems instead of gun problems. Luke Ridnour is what Troy Hudson was supposed to be; a solid backup who can get hot for stretches. Rick Adelman has forgotten more about the game of basketball than every other Wolves coach in history has ever known. Chase Budinger is Wally Szcerbiak's evil twin. Budinger is ugly, Wally was not. But both can shoot 3's. Chase plays solid D and can jump out of the gym, which Wally couldn't do. And, well, Derrick Williams gets to be Christian Laettner, because some draft busts will always exist.

This was the team that was going to surprise everyone. I wasn't predicting a 42 win season and sneaking into the playoffs; no, this team was built to win 50-55 games, AT LEAST, if everyone was healthy. Even if just Rubio missed the first month, a 47-50 win season still didn't seem out of reach.

Now, with both Rubio and Love expected to miss at least the first month of the season, someone, or multiple someones are going to need to step up. If Brandon Roy can somehow return to his old self, he could help offset the losses of Love and Rubio at least slightly. What I think a lot of people are underestimating, though, is just how good Andrei Kirilenko really is. He doesn't do anything at an elite level, but he does pretty much everything at a good or very good level. A healthy Roy combined with Kirilenko could keep the Wolves afloat for the first month or so.

Unfortunately, Love's injury seems to have killed any hopes of the team winning 50 games this season. He's quite simply a top 5 player in the NBA, so naturally losing him for an extended period will damper the team's chances at having a great season. Some fans are hopeful Derrick Williams will step up in Love's absence, and while a player breaking out in his second year is quite common, Williams rookie season was abysmal. I've said it before, but I truly believe in 3 years Jared Sullinger will be a better player than Derrick Williams. I would love to be wrong.

At this point, a 43 or 44 win season might be the best case scenario, which makes the playoffs hardly a guarantee, but they'd be within reach. And for a team that has struggled so mightily over the last 24 years, even playoff contention into the last week of the season would be a welcomed change. Of course, as is always the case with Minnesota sports, come playoff time, the fans will almost certainly be left wondering "what might have been."

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Lance Armstrong and PEDs

In case you've been living under a rock the last few days, 11 cyclists that were members of Lance Armstrong's team confirmed that Lance Armstrong was doping during his seven Tour De France wins. I've seen some people comment the past couple of days that who cares if he used Performance Enhancing Drugs? Why does it matter? It's his body, he should be able to do what he wants to it.

In general, I agree Lance Armstrong is free to do whatever he wants to his body. However, once he starts competing against other people, what he puts into his body is an issue. Every cyclist in the world shouldn't be forced to take the same performance enhancing drugs Lance Armstrong took just to keep up with him; the possible long-term side effects are at best unknown and at worst very very dangerous. To expect others to keep up with a "cheater" isn't realistic, and it's the same reason MLB finally cracked down on Steroid use.

Now, Congress getting involved in the discussion was ridiculous. John McCain and company didn't ask the right questions when they had the MLB players in front of them, and they shouldn't have spent any of their time trying to get steroids out of professional baseball. It just shows how congressman are far more interested in getting a little publicity from the American Public rather than actually doing something useful for said public.

The issue with trying to stop performance enhancing drugs completely is that the science is always ahead of the testing. The people that can develop the kinds of undetectable steroids, such as BALCO about 15 years ago, are specifically trying to create drugs that can bypass the drug tests. The reason steroid use was so rampant in MLB for a decade was because BALCO was completely undetectable. Once the federal government raided the BALCO lab, they were able to see how it was made and, obviously create a new drug test that could show if someone was taking this new steroid.

If someone was able to create a "super-steroid" that was undetectable for almost a decade, it's not out of the question that other labs across the country are doing the same thing today. And while attributing PED use to a player without any evidence is probably unfair, I'd be legitimately surprised if Jose Bautista isn't taking the newest undetectable drug. It's just hard for me to believe someone goes from terrible at 28 to a monster home run hitter at 29 without any PEDs.

Baseball and cycling and all other competitive entities are doing a good thing by keeping PEDs banned, no doubt. But as long as there are millions and sometimes billions of dollars to be made by the creation of a PED, competitive sports leagues will not have the resources to prevent the labs from developing these drugs. Expecting the federal government to keep a watchful eye on these people is even more laughable.

Anyway, back to Lance.

Lance Armstrong cheated, but that's not what most people are so upset about. Andy Pettite admitted he used HGH illegally, and nobody cares. Several football players have tested positive for steroids, but I can't remember anyone other than Shawne Merriman off the top of my head. People will always remember Lance cheated not only because he's a star, but also because of how vehemently he denied ever doping. He pulled a Pete Rose. Everyone had a hunch Armstrong cheated; nobody had ever done what he did, and he was doing it (or some of it, at least) while battling Testicular Cancer. It was a motivational story to see a cancer survivor compete in one of the most physically grueling competitions in the world; unfortunately it wasn't completely natural.

That said, I need to make a point quickly: What Lance Armstrong accomplished is still amazing. His teammates admitted they were also doping with him; nobody was able to catch Lance, even the cheaters on his own team. But that doesn't change the fact that he cheated. Without the doping, it seems unlikely Lance Armstrong would have won nearly as many Tour De France titles. And the saddest part about that, is we'll simply never know.

Monday, October 15, 2012

For Vikings, Ponder Not The Answer

The Minnesota Vikings have been a fairly surprising team to this point in the season. Even after getting RGIII'd yesterday in the Nation's Capital, the Vikings are 4-2 and just half a game behind the Chicago Bears for first place in the NFC North.

The reason for the team's surprising start, other than a weak early schedule, can be attributed to the offense finally using Percy Harvin as much as possible, but a lot of local fans and NFL analysts have been giving a lot of credit to Christian Ponder. If you look at Ponder's traditional stats (completion percentage, TD:INT ratio, yards, QB rating) he's having a good season. He's posted a completion percentage just under 69% thus far, has thrown 8 TD and 4 INT, and he's on pace to throw for more than 3,500 yards. His QB rating is a very respectable 92.8.

However, those stats are extremely misleading. Stats are very useful, but only if you know what stats to look for. All stats are is a number representing a VERY SPECIFIC part of the football game. What helps Ponder's completion percentage? Is he throwing the ball downfield less than other quarterbacks? Some fans will INSIST they can determine these things over the course of the season by just watching the team play; these fans are wrong. They might have an idea that Ponder's arm strength isn't great; but looking at statistics and how he's performed will give a better idea on Ponder's arm than simply watching every game. Nothing is more correct than the stats; as long as we understand that each stat only tells a small part of the story. You need to combine the right statistical analysis to get a real picture of how a player is performing.

Air Yards Per Attempt, or AYPA, is a good statistic that measures the average distance a quarterback throws each pass. It's a better statistic to use than Yards Per Attempt, because Percy Harvin turning a 2 yard screen pass into a 70-yard touchdown would be a 2-yard pass on AYPA and a 70-yard pass according to YPA. Obviously, it's important to know that Percy caught the pass and did most of the work so we aren't overstating Ponder's throwing ability.

Ponder's AYPA is 5.4, which is right in the middle of the pack among starting quarterbacks. For comparison's sake, RGIII leads the league at 6.7 AYPA, while Blaine Gabbert is dead last at 3.5 AYPA. Arm strength plays a big part in this number, but so does the play-calling, so it's not a be all-end all for QB arm strength. Not even close.

While being in the middle of the pack is hardly a bad thing, especially when compared with Ponder's ability early in the season to not turn the ball over, it simply shows that the Vikings are generally throwing check-downs and screens. Even more proof of that exists in Ponder's deep ball %, which measures what percent of Ponder's throws have been more than 15 yards.

Ponder ranks 28th in this statistic, with just 15.7% of his throws being deep passes. Interestingly, RGIII is currently dead last at just 12.5%, although that shows how conservative Washington continues to be with their rookie. Jay Cutler leads the league at 30.8%. The Bears are throwing deep passes almost twice as often as the Vikings. Is it really possible I miss Mike Tice?

The Vikings offense has been one of the most conservative offenses in football, but thanks to the explosiveness of both Adrian Peterson and Percy Harvin, the team's 7th-grade level offense has been fairly successful. The issue is that once the Vikings begin to play better opponents, they'll have trouble moving the ball consistently. Even the Redskins defense was able to adjust after the first quarter and shut down a predictable and simple offense, at least until they started playing prevent with a 19-point lead.

Ponder's arm strength is seriously limiting the play-calling, although the Vikings specifically try to run a west coast system that plays to Ponder's strengths; short accurate throws and solid mobility. The issue that Ponder's arm strength creates is when the team is trailing by multiple scores in the fourth quarter. Ponder is unable to throw a ball between two defenders 15 yards down the field, and when teams are playing a soft zone to prevent long touchdowns with a big lead, it means the Vikings will almost always run out of time when trying to make a comeback. Six and seven yard passes are effective and important; no doubt. But when you need to score quickly, you need a quarterback that has the arm strength to fit the ball into tiny windows. Christian Ponder doesn't have that arm strength.

Ponder ranks 14th in the league in Success Rate, a stat that measures how often a player was involved in a play and it was deemed a successful play. Ponder's success rate is 49.6%, and while being slightly above average is a good thing, it should be higher. For someone with such a low deep ball %, more of Ponder's passes are going to be complete. On average, a 5-yard completion will be a successful play, unless it's 3rd down and 6 or longer. And because it's obviously easier to complete a 5-yard pass than a 20-yard pass, Ponder's success rate SHOULD be higher than a lot of quarterbacks. Of course, it could be worse. Blaine Gabbert is last in the league in AYPA, second to last in deep ball %, and dead last in Success Rate. Blaine Gabbert was taken three spots ahead of Christian Ponder, so it absolutely could have been worse.

But again, it's very difficult to win a Super Bowl without an elite quarterback. Ponder could develop into an elite game manager, which would put him at least in the argument for top 12 or so in the league. But he's not quite there yet, and I'm afraid if the Vikings decide to take the kiddy gloves off of the offense and start throwing the ball down field more, the results will be very poor.

Leslie Frazier and Bill Musgrave deserve credit for doing their best to game plan around Ponder's weaknesses and for accentuating his positives. But unfortunately, Frazier had some say in taking Ponder 12th overall, and his throwing numbers just don't suggest he'll be a star at any point in this league. If Ponder continues to play like he has as the Vikings schedule gets tougher, he's a solid NFL starter, no question, at least with the right play-calling. I would be shocked if he continues to play as well as he has, though, mainly because teams like Tennessee and Jacksonville are no longer on the team's schedule. But even if he does, the offensive game-planning is going to limit the team's ability to score points.

Despite having two dynamic offensive playmakers in AP and Percy, the Vikings have scored touchdowns on just 50% of their red-zone possessions, 18th in the league. For comparison, last season's 3-13 Vikings team converted almost 57% of their red-zone possessions into touchdowns. Obviously this team is 4-2 because they have a lot more red zone opportunities this year, but it's worrisome nonetheless. If they're converting just 50% into touchdowns when they've really only played one good defense (San Francisco) it doesn't bode well for the rest of the season.

That, again, is a sign of Ponder's lack of arm strength. Red zone touchdown passes generally have to be thrown into the end zone; screens and checkdowns get less and less yards as the field shortens up and the defenders have far less ground to cover. Ponder's arm strength doesn't allow him to fit the ball into tight windows consistently, or really at all. The Vikings have tried to counteract this by simply throwing jump balls to Kyle Rudolph; if Ponder can't fit a ball in a tight spot, just have him throw it high and let the receiver make a play.

In theory, it's a decent idea. In actuality, it's worked once or twice. Rudolph might have great hands, but he hasn't shown it yet. When he's wide open, he's very useful. He can jump high, and his 2-point conversion catch was very nice. He's good at catching a checkdown and turning it into a 12-yard gain. But he's shown all season that he has trouble catching balls in traffic, which was supposed to be one of his strengths. He's a physical specimen and he's taller than most linebackers and corners; if he could catch a ball while jumping in traffic he'd be a deadly red zone target. As it is now, he's a solid red zone player, because he's one of only three real options the team has. Hopefully his hands will improve over the course of the season and the Vikings will go into 2013 with an elite tight end, but to be honest, I don't see that happening.

Unless Ponder completely falls apart between now and the end of the season there's really no way the team will give up on him, which is too bad. If Ponder has a solid season, the team could potentially get good value for him in terms of draft picks. It shouldn't be too hard to sell a 24-year-old QB with a year and a half of experience coming off a a 93 QB rating season; there undoubtedly are general managers and whole organizations who would look only at Ponder's traditional stats and listen to their scouts. That's fine, and it bodes well for the Vikings to continue to baby Ponder and throw short passes, to try and keep his QB rating high. It will improve his value, make him look better, and at this point it's the best chance the Vikings have to win. But come next season, it'd be nice if the team had a quarterback that had the skill set to possibly develop into a top 3 QB in football. Unless Ponder breaks his arm and has a Rookie of the Year type healing, he's not likely to ever get into the conversation of elite quarterbacks, strictly because of his arm strength. Which means we'll continue to watch our Vikings not win the Super Bowl.



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