Kirby Puckett

Kirby Puckett

Monday, December 29, 2014

Vikings Season in Review

Three Reasons to be Optimistic
1. TEDD-Y TEDD-Y TEDD-Y
I couldn't be more excited about Teddy right now. It's still a bit ridiculous that he fell all the way to number 32 in the draft, considering he had three really good years at Louisville but was passed up for Blake Bortles because of not doing well in a situation that's kind of similar to a football game, but I'm obviously not complaining. He improved a ton throughout the season, especially on the deep ball. I'm excited for the future.
2. Improvements to the defense
Lots of players on D made jumps this year, like Everson Griffin, who justified his massive extension with 12 sacks this year, or Sharrif Floyd, who went from 19 to 42 tackles from 2013 to this year, or Anthony Barr, who made 55 tackles in 12 games and just generally wrecked havoc wherever he was. But none improved more than the young cornerback-safety combination of Xavier Rhodes and Harrison Smith. We'll start with Rhodes. The second year corner out of Florida State finished eighth in the league with 19 passes defended and shut down the dangerous Alshon Jeffery last week (two receptions, 34 yards) while shadowing him for the entire game, something he's likely to do more of next year. As for Smith, he had a good rookie season two years ago before being sidelined with an injury in 2013 that held him to eight games. This year he made the leap, being the only player in the league with at least three sacks and three picks, (five total interceptions) and making several really athletic plays like his interception against the Dolphins. They're two big reasons the Vikings' D went from 31st to 14th in yards per game allowed this year.
3. The receiving corps
Charles Johnson and Jarius Wright both did very well this year, unfortunately it came at the expense of....
Three Reasons to be Pessimistic
1. Patterson
I understand that Patterson didn't progress as a route runner and struggled to fit into Turner's offense, but nobody seems to notice that he isn't getting the same opportunities as last year. All the screen passes that went to Wright this year could have easily gone to Patterson. As stupid as Bill Musgrave was, at least he knew how to get Patterson involved, on relatively simple things like screens and reverses. Of course, it's likely that there are things going on internally that we don't know about. Patterson clearly isn't very popular with the coaching staff, as evidenced with this quote in the Star Tribune from Zimmer. “I’ve got a plan for this offseason for him, and hopefully it works. But it’s going to be up to Cordarrelle. I’ll leave it at that.”
2. The offensive line
Teddy was overwhelmed with pressure all year, often having to throw the ball away. There's a good chance the Vikes will address this in the draft, and a bounce back season from Matt Kalil, who was terrible this year but is only 25 would help a lot. 
3. It's in our nature
Almost every Vikings fan knows this feeling. We're always expecting the worst. Late, game winning drives from other teams haven't surprised me for years. We've always had that attitude, and it isn't changing any time soon.
Looking Ahead to the Draft
The Vikings need several things, most notably offensive linemen and defensive backs. If he's there at number 11, I would take Cedric Ogbuehi, an offensive tackle from Texas A&M who needs to improve his run blocking, but is an excellent pass protector, the area the Vikings struggled most in last year. If Kalil can bounce back, suddenly a really weak area last year can become a strength. 
What's next with Peterson?
It's been the elephant in the room all season. What do the Vikings do with Peterson? He'll be 29 next season, which is just before running backs start to lose their legs, and the child abuse scandal would be the perfect excuse for the Vikings to cut ties with him and get 15 million dollars worth of cap space. That said, if they release him, a rejuvenated All Day could make them regret that decision. It's a big dilemma and a potential franchise swinging choice.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Case for.... Billy Beane Knowing what he's Doing

     There hasn't been a GM more criticized this offseason than Billy Beane, and for good reasons. He's traded five of the A's seven all-stars from last year, (cut to Billy Butler saying, "Hey, this isn't what I signed here for!") all of whom are under team control until at least 2016. But could this offseason come back to be positive for Oakland? Could all the critics end up eating their words? Crap, I hope I didn't just give some movie producer an idea for an awful sequel to Moneyball. Let's just move on the deals.
     We'll start with the Derek Norris deal. While the catcher posted a respectable .270/.361/.403 line last year, that doesn't show how much he dropped off after the All-Star break, hitting just .245/.314/.344. He first half surge can be explained by an abnormally high BABIP of .336, compared to just .312 in the second half.
     On the other side of the deal, the A's received Jesse Hahn, a right handed pitcher who went 7-4 with a 3.07 ERA last year after being considered a top prospect for both the Padres and Rays, where he was previously. He has the potential to be an all-star sometime in the near future.   
     About 90 feet away from Norris last year was first baseman Brandon Moss, who hit .234 with 25 homers last year. However, much like Norris, his production was very front loaded. In the first half of last year, he hit .268 and 21 of his 25 homers, followed by Drew Butera numbers in the second half: .173, batting average 15 RBI, 31 hits, 21 of which were singles. He was traded to Cleveland about two weeks ago for minor league second baseman Joe Wendle.
     Wendle just finished up a decent year in AA Akron last year, where he hit .253/.311/.414 in 87 games. He has good gap power, smacking 20 doubles in that short amount of time. One more thought on Moss: While Norris is only 25, creating a bit more risk to that trade, (of course, they got a better haul in return) Moss is 31, so that combined with his regression could make him a very big disappointment next year for the Indians.
     Age was the reason I defended the A's Josh Donaldson trade a few weeks ago. Namely because he's going to be 30 next year and his average dropped about 50 points between 2013 and 2014. He'll still be a fine player in Toronto, but maybe not the same one he was for the A's.
     Beane has a good history, and he's known for being unorthodox, so let's at least give these moves a chance before we criticize them. They might be a lot better than we think.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Offseason Moves... Lots of Offseason Moves

I take one weekend off, and the GMs immediately fire off the most hectic week of the offseason. Granted, I should have had the foresight not to take the Winter Meetings off, but I didn't. And now we have a ton a deals to analyze.
Cruz to the Mariners
Seattle's been widely criticized in the media for handing out too many years to the 34 year old Cruz, and they have a point. However, as much as we talk about not handing out four year deals, as a GM, you can't expect to sign someone if your not willing to overpay him, because there will always another GM who is. So in a weird way, overpaying someone like Cruz is also just market value. Especially for a team in win-now mode like the Mariners.
Samardzija to the White Sox
I'm baffled about why nobody's making a bigger deal about this trade, both as a brilliant one for the White Sox and a terrible one for the A's. We'll start with Chicago. I'm wildly impressed that they were able to snag a pitcher as good as Samardzija for a group a guys that includes one real prospect (Rangel Ravelo). Meanwhile, Billy Beane has snatched the "strangest offseason plan" award for this year. The A's can't seem to decide on a coherent direction. First they sign Billy Butler, then they trade Josh Donaldson (which I liked but it doesn't make sense with their other moves) and now they trade their best pitcher who won't be a free agent until 2016 for one prospect. Speaking of trades that don't make sense...
Kemp to the Padres
Somehow I hate this deal for both teams. Just like in the Samardzija trade, the team dealing the star only got one good prospect, (in this case Zach Eflin) But I dislike the move for the Padres as well. What use to they have for Kemp? He's not going to turn a team that went 77-85 last year into a playoff team. It just doesn't make sense.
Santana to the Twins
I'm neutral on this one. Santana had an ERA of 3.95 in the spacious Turner Field but a FIP of just 3.39. Still, four years seems like a long time for a guy who was average at best last year. Then again, I hated the Phil Hughes signing last offseason. We'll see where it goes.
Gordon for Heaney, Heaney for Kendrick
Finally, a trade that's good for everybody! The Angels got the two things they really need: prospects for a farm system decimated by the lack of draft picks they've had by signing Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton. As for the second basemen, it's a slight gamble for the Marlins to acquire Gordon, who didn't do as well after the all-star break last year, but while he wasn't getting on base as often he was still hitting well, and even if he only hits about .260 next year, he'll still be valuable because of his speed and defense. Finally, Kendrick is the opposite of Gordon. He'll never wow you with his skills, but he's consistent and hits about .290/.335 every year.
Porcello for Cespedes
While I like the Tigers aggressiveness going for Cespedes to hit behind Cabrera, I wouldn't have given up Porcello for him. After the trade deadline, when they acquired David Price, the Tigers, along with the A's were declared the team to beat in the AL. And now, they're short on pitching. It started just after they got Price, when the Tiger fan base collectively forgot this isn't 2011 and Verlander isn't a dominant starter anymore*. Now Sherzer is almost certainly leaving this offseason, they traded Drew Smyly in the Price deal. Now without Porcello, Price is their only really good starter. As a Twins fan, I like this.
*He posted a 4.54 ERA last year.
Lester to the Cubs
Not much to say here, I'm generally against large contracts given to pitchers because their arms are so fragile, (Johan Santana anyone?) but like I said in the Cruz paragraph, if you want someone, you have to overpay.
Rollins to the Dodgers
Toiling away on the miserable Phillies the last few years, Rollins has been sneaky-mediocre, posting .243/.323/.394 with good defense. Taking salaries into account here, he has a way better value than Hanley Ramirez. Good pickup for the Dodgers.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Quick Thoughts on the Donaldson Trade and Hunter Signing

    As you probably know by now, A's and Blue Jays just pulled the trigger on one of the bigger trades of the offseason, sending all-star third baseman Josh Donaldson up north. Here are my thoughts.
     Earlier this week I mentioned that there are guys like Stanton and Heyward who are younger than lots of people realize because they've been around for so long, (which I'm renaming the Giancarlo Stanton theory) Donaldson is the opposite, 2013 was his first full season, when he was 27 years old, a pretty late start. With that in mind, it's entirely possible that Donaldson's peaked already. His OPS+ fell from 145 to 126, between 2013 and 2014 and with his age, he only has three or four really good years left maximum.
     On the other hand, Brett Lawrie completely qualifies for the Stanton theory. He's only 24, despite being in the league since 2011. While he's been disappointing for the Jays the last few years, he's always been a plus fielder at third base, and still has time to become a better hitter.
     Kendall Graveman went to Oakland, in the deal, and he can make in impact as soon as next year. He has a career 2.30 ERA in the minors, including 1.88 in 38 innings in AAA last year.
     Overall, this was a pretty even trade for both teams, but with Donaldson's age and regression offensively, I'll declare the A's the winners of this trade; just when he was starting to get a little criticism, Billy Beane pulls off a shrewd and underrated move like this one.
     And that was where I was going to end the column... until the Twins did the most nostalgic move on the offseason.*
*Not that they had any competition
     I can't find a single reason not to like this move for the Twins. You say Hunter's too old? I'll politely inform you that they didn't have any chance of contending anyway. Another common criticism is that they paid him too much money, my response to that is, it doesn't matter how much they paid him, it's only for one year, it's not like the Twins were planning on signing a big money free agent and they can't afford him anymore because of the 10 million they're giving Hunter.
    He hit .298/.319/.446 last year in Detroit, but his contributions will be more off the field. I can't think of a better mentor for Aaron Hicks, and overall it'll just be fun to have him in a Twins uniform again.
That's all for today, we'll discuss the Markakis and Cruz deals this weekend.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Thoughts on the Offseason so Far

Stanton extension
     At the beginning of the offseason I would've bet anything that the Marlins would trade Giancarlo Stanton. I would've bet even more that it was for nothing more than a few unproven prospects; I've always thought their Miguel Cabrera Dontrelle Willis for Cameron Maybin trade never gets enough attention for being terrible. Anyway, as huge of a contract it is, it's a good deal for the Fish. Stanton's been so good for so long it's easy to forget he's only 25. He'll keep getting better for at least a few more years, and it's not out of the question to think he'll still be useful at age 38 when the deal expires. Of course, it isn't out of the question that Jeffery Loria will be too cheap to get him any help, but that's a separate issue.
Martin to the Jays
     Maybe a slight overpay, but a good move for the Jays. He'll fit in nicely with Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion and help mentor their young pitching staff.
Heyward-Miller trade
     This was a logical trade for both teams, the Braves needed pitching depth with the possibility of Ervin Santana and Aaron Harang leaving, and the Cards needed an outfielder after the tragic death of Oscar Taveras a month ago. Even though Heyward will be a free agent next year, I like this deal for the Cardinals. Heyward may have been a slight disappointment in Atlanta, remember that 1) he played in a pitchers park, 2) while his numbers look average to the naked eye, analytics love him. He's one of the best fielding outfielders in the game right now, leading all right fielders in range factor per game last year at 2.56. He's also a very disciplined hitter, swinging at just 28.1 percent of pitches outside of the zone. and 3) he's only 24 years old.
     That last one is a biggie, because as I said before, he was a tiny bit disappointing for the Braves, but, much like Stanton, people forget how he isn't close to peaking.
     As for Miller, he's been a bit of an enigma the last few years, posting an ERA+ of just 98 last season, a frustrating follow up year on a solid 2013 campaign where he went 15-9 and had an ERA of 3.06. It's too early to tell who won this but if Heyward resigns with the Cardinals next year I'll award it to them for all the reasons I said earlier about Heyward and I'm not completely sold on Miller, whose spike in ERA came last season despite a lower BABIP.
Sandoval and Ramirez to the Sox
     I'll start with Panda: In the era of constant shifts, someone like him who can spray the ball all over the field is a great asset to have. However, he's struggled to hit lefties, batting .199 against them last season, which will make it hard for the switch-hitting Sandoval to take advantage of the close proximity of the Green Monster to home plate with lots of power from the right-handed side. Still, I'm on board with this move, he's an underrated fielder, has excelled in a pitchers ballpark his entire career, and always comes alive in the postseason.
     Ramirez is a different story. He hasn't played more than 130 games since 2012 and is a disaster defensively. He can't play short at this point in his career especially when the Sox have Xander Bogearts.* Obviously Panda's occupying third, so his only option is left field. To create space, I wouldn't be surprised if they packaged some combination of Yoenis Cespedes Will Middlebrooks and Jackie Bradley Jr. to trade for someone like Cole Hamels.
* I like to call him The Bogy Man, but I think I'm in the minority with that one.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

College Basketball Preview

Big Ten
Best Team
Wisconsin. And nobody else is even close. They're bringing four of their five starters back from their Final Four run last year. They're very well coached by Bo Ryan and of course they have...
Best Player
Frank Kaminsky! He's a classic case of the simplest way for a post player to get great. In high school he was a 6'3" shooting guard before shooting up to 6'11". People who do that learn how to play the game like perimeter players and become incredibly hard to guard. While he can occasionally be stopped by long, athletic defenders, he's also proven to have the ability to adjust like last year in the Elite Eight against an Arizona team with one of the best defenders in the country, Aaron Gordon.
Best Coach
Michigan State may have lost Adrien Payne and Gary Harris, but they still have Branden Dawson and more importantly, Tom Izzo. The Spartans haven't missed the tournament since 1996. That's 18 recruiting classes, and the only constant through all those years has been Izzo. If as much of the success were on the players as the media says, they would've missed at least once. That's the problem with the preseason AP rankings, they focus too much on incoming freshmen, and not enough on recent history. I wouldn't hesitate to take MSU over Kentucky. See the "Biggest Disappointment" section for all the gory details.
Gopher Outlook
Things are looking up for the Gophers. In his first year of recruiting his own players, Pitino's gotten athletes like Nate Mason, Carlos Morris and Josh Martin who fit in well with his up tempo system. They'll also have DeAndre Mathieu and a healthy Andre Hollins back this season, so I wouldn't be surprised with a tournament birth and an 8-10 seeding.
Everyone Else
Best Team
Arizona added the seventh ranked recruit Stanley Johnson to a unit that was oozing athleticism last year. Johnson's versatility should give them more lineup options, like going small by shifting him to the power forward and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson to the center. With those two, plus T.J. McConnell, the Wildcats will be the team to beat this year.
Best Player
I'm not counting any freshmen because we've barely gotten a chance to see them play this year, and although he would be in the discussion, I'm throwing out Frank Kaminsky because we've already discussed him, so there's really only one option left: Montrezl Harrell. He was the toughest guy to handle on the block last year not named Julius Randle, and is a relentless rebounder and rim protector. He's improved his jump shot, he's up to "makes it when he's open," which is a lot better than he was last year. The most terrifying part of this is the fact that he still has a lot of potential to reach. Now all he needs is an intimidating nickname.
Biggest Disappointment
The voters never seem to learn. For the third straight year, Kentucky's in the top three of the AP rankings at the beginning of the season, and for the third straight year, the Wildcats will disappoint. Nobody seems to realize that their ringer studded team of one and dones rarely comes together and immediately does well. Keep in mind, they were a eight seed going into the tourney last year and sweated out four games before losing to UConn. And the year before that, they bowed out in first round... of the NIT. The AP can't seem to figure out Cal's strategy rarely works.

Monday, November 10, 2014

A Look at Free Agency

The Cream of the Crop
Pablo Sandoval
In basketball, you always hear about big guys like Joel Embiid or Hakeem Olajuwon who play like they're smaller than they are, but you never hear about that for baseball, despite it being really applicable. Kennys Vargas and Panda are to two of first guys that pop into my head when I think of that. Both of them are excellent fielders with better range than people give them credit for who spray the ball all over the place despite the reputation of being pull hitters, 32% of Sandoval's hits going to other way.
Nick Markakis
Right now, it's looking like Markakis will resign with the O's, who have offered him a new contract for six years, worth about 66 million dollars. Even if someone else gives him an offer in that area, the Orioles are the only team he's ever played for and it's hard to picture him playing anywhere else.
Melky Cabrera
I have no opinion of Cabrera. He's a decent player, but has an inconsistent history. I bet he gets 2-3 years for about 20-25 million.
Russell Martin
Lots of people are predicting Martin to the Dodgers because he's played there before, they have the money to sign him, A.J. Ellis is their current catcher and when the Dodgers don't have the best a position they go get it damnit! Even with Los Angeles making the push, the Pirates are going to go hard to resign him. He put up pretty good numbers last year and was their clubhouse leader. I bet he stays in Pittsburgh.
High Risk, High Reward
Victor Martinez
It may seem weird saying this about someone coming off of a career season, but I wouldn't touch Martinez with a ten foot pole. He's probably going to want around four years, On top of that, he can't field so he clogs up your bench in the late innings, he blew out his ACL in 2012, and have I mentioned he'll 36 by the time the season starts? Call me pessimistic, but there's no chance in hell that he's going to repeat last year's season at this age. His body's had too much wear and tear throughout his career, and players naturally decline in their late 30s. In other words, he'd be a perfect fit for the Yankees.
Hanley Ramirez
Hanley's one of those guys who I always forget how good he is until I watch him play. Of course, part of the reason for that is because I don't see him play very often. Since 2011, he's only averaged 116 games per season. He also desperately needs a switch from short. At his best, he was a slightly above average fielder, and last year he had a UZR of -10 and a revised zone rating of .765.* He'd be a good fit with the Yankees. Unlike last paragraph, I'm serious about this one. They need a third baseman, and if Ramirez can switch, they have the funds to take the risk.
*That means that he made a play on 76% of the balls hit to his area. 76% is very below average.
Nelson Cruz
I like how Cruz was suspended for PEDs in 2013, then put up career numbers the next year at the age of 35. I wouldn't be surprised if he resigns with Baltimore for a lot more money than he made last year, but if I were Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik, I'd make a pretty big push for him. Seattle still needs a big bat to go with Robinson Cano, and sorry, M's fans, Kendrys Morales isn't that guy.
The Aces
Max Scherzer
Scherzer turning down a 144 million dollar deal might turn into a blessing in disguise for the Tigers. As the GMs who signed Johan Santana, C.C. Sabathia and Barry Zito will tell you, giving pitchers big money is a huge risk. It's often guaranteeing you a few dominant years, but the great unknown is after that. Sometimes he'll stay healthy and effective the entire time, other times, the guys I listed above happen. In the case of Scherzer specifically, I'd put the odds of him resigning with Detroit somewhere between little and no chance. He didn't decline that extension because he wanted more money, he's not interested in returning. I bet he goes to one of the typical big market teams, (Los Angeles, New York, Boston) with the Cardinals looming as a possible sleeper.
Jon Lester
The Red Sox are the clear favorites to retain Lester, it's not the A's style to spend like that, and he seems to have quite a bit of loyalty to Boston.
James Shields
After his postseason implosion can we strip him of nickname "Big Game"? Not that any teams will be looking at that, he'll be receiving 100 million from a team not in Kansas City. Obviously the Red Sox and Yankees will be players, but the Marlins could emerge as a dark horse candidate like the Mariners with Cano last year.
The Veterans
Michael Cuddyer
Yeah, he's 35, and yeah, his numbers have been ballooned by Coors Field the last few years, but Cuddy's leadership and versatility will get him a decent one year deal.
UPDATE: Cuddyer's signed a two year deal with the Mets. Decent move by New York. They seem to be stockpiling veterans to try to sneak into the playoffs and get on a Royals like hot streak with their starting pitching.
Nori Aoki
Billy Butler
Dayton Moore's first priority should be resigning these two guys. I'm a big believer in the, "keep as many guys on a good team together" idea, and Shields is gone no matter what, so there's no point in focusing too hard on him.
Torii Hunter
Just like Cuddyer, Hunter's a former Twin who someone could sign because of his intangibles for as much of a reason as his skills. There have been a lot of discussions about him possibly returning to the Twins, but I just don't see it. All he'd do is take up room that they could be giving to Hicks. On top of that, last year we saw Ryan's "sign as many former twins as possible" strategy failed miserably. I'll pass.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Scattered Thoughts on the Minnesota Sports Scene

     A ton of stuff happened in the last week so we need a column to sort through it all. Here it is.
     Obviously the big story is the Twins hiring Paul Molitor. I'm a little nervous about the fact that he's never managed before, but all the players clearly trust and respect him. Also, as the Royals taught us this October, managers are pretty overrated. I agreed with the Twins decision to fire Gardy last month, I felt like the game had passed him up, but one of his strengths was dealing with the media and pressure, something Molitor hasn't had any experience with.
     Teddy showed some serious flashes this week against Washington, going 26-42 for 268 yards and no interceptions. The deep ball is a concern, but his decision making is much better than most young quarterbacks. As great as all of that is that is, he could be even better if Turner wasn't so frustratingly stubborn about not getting Patterson more involved in the offense. Even Musgrave figured that out at one point last year. The plays don't need to be that intricate either, with Peterson leaving gave the Vikings the perfect opportunity to get him more involved from out of the backfield. He's a great weapon for Teddy to use and Turner just can't figure out what to do with him.
     You know what other Minnesota athlete made me pumped for the future this week? Mr. Andrew Christian Wiggns, that's who! He's constantly looking for his shot, and hasn't been settling for jumpers very often, one of the big knocks against him at Kansas. I haven't noticed a huge difference between this team and last year's Kevin Love lead team. Both of their losses are types of games they lost all the time last year, and the types of games the Cavaliers are already losing this year through four games, en route to a worse record than the Wolves so far. I better move on before Flip pulls a muscle patting himself on the back.
     We close today by talking about Peterson and the plea deal. I was happy when it was over because of the type of person Peterson is. He's not a headcase like Harvin, who always seemed like a ticking time bomb, that's why the news of what happened was so shocking. He should definitely be suspended, so at the very least he's given up some of his salary he was making while doing nothing the last eight weeks, but he should also be allowed back this season. He committed a crime, was punished and has hopefully learned his lesson. There isn't much more to ask for.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

2014 Season in Review

     The MLB season is officially over. As disappointing as that is, there's only about 113 days until pitchers and catchers report! Before that happens, let's take a look at what happened this year.
     The first thing anyone will think about when they think 2014 will be the Royals. I've never seen a more improbable run in my life. The most amazing part was how comebacks seemed inevitable. Only Madison Bumgarner could stop it. And even he needed Joe Panik to bail him out. If Panik doesn't make that play the Royals win the game. They would've had runners on first and third with Butler and Gordon coming up. You can't get all the breaks.
     Speaking of Bumgarner, you've heard all the stats by now, a career 0.25 World Series ERA, pitching five innings on two days rest, 17 strikeouts and one walk, and all of those tell a lot. But what they can't point out is how in charge he was. After he came into game seven, you could see the panic levels rising with Royals fans. Not only did he dominate, but you couldn't picture him not dominating.
     We knew we would be talking about Clayton Kershaw going into the offseason, but not for this reason. After his two seventh inning meltdowns in the NLDS, Bumgarner vs. Kershaw is a legitimate argument. Do you take the guy who will almost guarantee you a win once every five days during the regular season and run out of gas in the playoffs, or someone who will give you a good chance to win almost every game in the regular season and raises his game when it counts? I would still take Kershaw right now because of the possibility that he turns it around, but it's closer than I thought it would be.
     For the Twins, this was just a lost year. For the future, I feel optimistic about Hughes, Santana, Vargas, Gibson and Arcia. That's the full list. Mauer was better than the naked eye indicates, but he's still not the same version of himself from a few years ago, we lost a year of development from our two best prospects, and that's what concerns me the most. My biggest fear with Buxton is that he'll turn into what Bryce Harper is right now: A talented player who can't stay on the field. Although part of me stays optimistic because, for the most part, none of his injuries are related. His concussion came on a freak accident and he broke his finger diving for a ball. The wrist is what concerns me. One bad body part can do a lot. I'll be holding my breath for Buxton all of next year.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

NBA Preview

Biggest Surprise
The Hornets had a sneaky-good offseason. Lance Stephenson was a great pickup, assuming he can stay sane, but their draft was the best part. I'm a huge Noah Vonleh fan, he'll be able to step in and contribute faster than people think, he's the perfect companion for Al Jefferson, someone who can protect the rim and stretch the floor for him on the offensive end of the court. P.J. Hariston was a good gamble to take late in the first round as well.
Biggest disappointment
I'll state my pick here in the form of a question: Why is everyone assuming Derrick Rose will be the same player when he comes back? He's played ten games in the last 18 months and nobody injured that long has been the same player afterwards. The Bulls will still make the postseason easily in this atrocious Eastern conference, but Cleveland will have no trouble with them in the playoffs.
Rookie of the Year
As much as I'd like to say Wiggins, I don't see anyone topping Jabari Parker. He'll get plenty of opportunities in the Bucks' offense and can score anywhere on the court. After him I'll say Wiggins, he'll benefit from playing with Rubio and be a center point of the Wolves attack. My final choice is Gary Harris. As much fun as Lavine is to watch, I was pissed on draft day when the Wolves passed up Harris to take him. Harris is a little undersized, but can do everything. He's a great defender, a good shooter, and has lots of athleticism exactly what the Timberwolves were missing last year.
MVP
This was supposed to be a two horse race before Durant got injured. Now there's one horse left. LeBron will put up his usual amazing stats, nothing new here, although Anthony Davis could be someone who makes the race slightly more interesting.
East Champ
The Cavaliers. In fact, I'd still choose the Cavs if they didn't have Love. I've already talked about why the Bulls don't scare me if I'm a Cavs fan, who else is there? The Pacers are out because of George's injury, the Raptors, Hornets and Wizards are the next closest, but none of them are in the same class as Cleveland. They'll skate to the finals.
West Champ
Now here's a tighter race. Our options are the Spurs, Thunder, Clippers and Warriors. As hard as it is to pass some of these teams up, I just don't see Duncan and Pop being done. They'll take care of business in April.
NBA Champ
The red flag for this Cavaliers team is the fact that historically these superteams don't tend to do as well as one would think their first year. The Garnett-Pierce-Allen three headed monster won in 2008, but LeBron's Heat struggled against the Mavericks in the 2011 finals, the Kobe-Shaq lead Lakers didn't win anything until 2000. If you want to go even further back, after acquiring Wilt before the 1968-69 season, the Lakers didn't win a championship until 1972. While paper says the Cavaliers, history (in more ways than just that) says the Spurs. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

World Series Preview

Rotation
It's Shields-Ventura-Vargas-Gutherie vs. Baumgarner-Peavy-Hudson-Vogelsong. Both rotations are hit or miss for the most part. Peavy's been pretty good despite a mediocre regular season, on the other side of that coin, Vogelsong struggled against the Cardinals, an unusual occurrence considering he had a good regular season. I'll go with the Giants because while Shields has looked uncomfortable this postseason, they can send out Baumgarner and know they'll have a chance to win.
Edge: Giants
Lineup
The Royals are particularly hard to judge in this category because of the inordinate amount of guys who have caught fire in the last few weeks. Their runs per game is up about a run and a fourth in the playoffs compared to the regular season.
Fielding
The Royals don't just have a better defense than the Giants, but they're better than any other team in the league. The lead the league in defensive runs saved with 40 and UZR (ultimate zone rating) at 61.1. And that doesn't account for all the spectacular plays they made in the outfield this postseason.
Edge: Royals
Bullpen
Here's my idea for Ned Yost: Only pitch your relievers. Herrera can go 1-3, followed by Davis in the 4th through sixth and then Holland can close it out in the seventh through tenth.
Bench
The Royals have a unique group of almost all speedsters. Terrence Gore is the closest thing to Herb Washington in the league. The Giants have Mike Morse, and that's about it. Of course, that's all they needed last game.
Edge: Royals
Manager
A popular storyline coming up to this week as been "We were all wrong about Ned Yost! He's actually perfect to manage this Royals team!" The Royals are winning in spite of Yost, not because of him. They're doing well right now, and his strategies work when the right guys are up, like Escobar, but even when a heavy hitter like Moustakas is up and there's a guy on first he'll have him bunt no matter what. Meanwhile, Bochy is the classic laid back manager who doesn't over manage, and knows the manager's job is more to avoid losing games than it is to win them.
Edge: Giants
Rootibility
The team that hasn't been to the playoffs in 29 years vs. the team that's won two of the last four World Series? No question there. Although as I mentioned in my column a few days ago, the Giants aren't the classic juggernaut you would think they are.
Edge: Royals
The Pick
The Giants got most of the edges here, but what the Royals have done can't be shown in words. You need to watch them to see it. I'll take the Royals in six.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Giants and Royals: More Similar than they Look

     Royals have just shown us why it's stupid to do a playoff preview by using advanced stats. Take a look at this from Grantland. Do you think they expected Mike Moustakas to hit almost a third of the homers in eight games this postseason in 432 less at bats? Or, if we're going to expand it to other series, Clayton Kershaw to implode? How about Yasiel Puig striking out eight times in 12 at bats? My point is that no matter what the stat nerds tell you, while stats explain a lot, there are some things hat they can't explain.
     The Royals are clearly an example of that. What they've done this postseason can't be described in numbers. There's no one more exciting to watch, from Jarrod Dyson and Terrence Gore stealing bases to the way Lorenzo Cain patrols center field, all watched over by the luckiest man in sports, Ned Yost.*
* The top four: Yost, Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, everyone on the Phoenix Suns whose career was invigorated by Steve Nash, and Grady Little
    You could tell this team was different just by watching the extra innings of the Wild Card tiebreaker. Throughout the playoffs, Hosmer's overly excited reactions to any great play has been one of my favorite subplots to watch. Simply put, this team is more likable than any other.
    Then there's the big bad, San Francisco Giants, the team who's made the World Series for the third in the last five years and play in the sixth biggest TV market in the US, and have been the most successful team of the decade by far.
      But they don't fit the model of the classic unlikeable frontrunner. They were the second wild card team in the playoffs, and beat the most obnoxious team in the MLB, making them even less hateable. Before that three out of five streak, they hadn't won the World Series in the last 56 years.
      Going back to the point about them taking down the Cards, game five last night was one of the most emotional games of the playoffs this year, peaking with Mike Morse's reaction to tying the game in the eighth inning.
     This is going to be a fun series. No Tigers, teams from the east coast or Cardinals. As much fun as it is to hate the Giants, they've been through a lot. I can't wait.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

End of Season Awards Part II

AL MVP
1. Mike Trout
2. Felix Hernandez
3. Corey Kluber
4. Robinson Cano
Trout skates to this in his worst season by far as a pro. That should tell you a lot about his first two years. His .287 batting average isn't concerning, especially considering his 27 point loss in BABIP from last year. What is concerning, however, is uptick in strikeouts and decreasing speed. This year he struck out 184 times, well up from his last year's mark of 139. He also isn't stealing as often, going from 49 in his rookie year, all the way down to 16 this year. Of course, he also led the league in runs, RBI, and hit nine more homers than last year. It's a little disappointing, but man, is it impressive.
AL Cy Young
1. Felix Hernandez
2. Corey Kluber
3. Chris Sale
This one goes down to the wire. Hernandez has an advantage in ERA, (2.14 to 2.44) but Kluber has a lower FIP, (2.35 to 2.56) with Hernandez winning by a slim margin in WHIP (0.915 to 1.095). They both play in very pitcher friendly parks, so that argument on either side goes out the door.
Another factor to look at here is defense. Mariners were slightly below average this season, with a DRS of -11, (which means their fielding cost their pitchers about 11 runs this season) but that doesn't compare to the train wreck the Indians were, costing their pitchers 75 runs this season. That gives Kluber an advantage, but one more stat swings it toward Hernandez.
I've always found line drive percentage to be a good barometer of effectiveness, as it shows how hard a pitcher was getting hit. Hernandez destroys Kluber in that area. giving up 3.9 less percent of liners. Hernandez also wins in groundball percentage, by 8.2 percent this time (56.2 to 48.0). It's tight, but I'm going with Hernandez. By a hair.
AL ROY
1. Jose Abreu
2. Masahiro Tanaka
3. Danny Santana
This isn't close so I won't waste my words on it. Jose Abreu had one of the best rookie years of the 2000s and should win this unanimously. His .317/.383/.581 batting line only tell part of the story. The towering homers he hits made him one of the most fun players to watch and gave a reason to flip over to a White Sox game other than the fact that they're on free TV and it's always fun to hear Ken Harrelson freak out.
NL MVP
I'm taking a different approach for this one, since I already wasted way too much of my life trying to decide between Kershaw, McCutchen and Stanton, for my hypothetical ballot we're going to break this down in its own way.
The case for Kershaw
Just had the best pitching season since Pedro Martinez, had a 1.77 ERA, won the nerd stat pitching triple crown, (ERA+, FIP and WHIP) the "pitchers shouldn't win MVP award" theory doesn't work here because he had more batters faced than McCutchen or Stanton did at bats, created a ton a weird trivia with all of his dominance: he, Koufax and Marichal are the only pitchers to ever have seven straight wins with seven strikeouts.
The case for McCutchen
Clubhouse leader of the Pirates, won MVP last year and had possibly an even better season this year, had a .314/.410/.542 line, has the best hair in the league by far.
The case for Stanton
Singlehandedly kept the Marlins in contention, despite losing Jose Fernandez for almost the entire year, hit 37 homers despite being injured for the last part of the season, surprisingly fast for a big man, (13 stolen bases while being caught just once)
It all comes down to the definition of valuable. If you think of it like, where the team would be if they didn't have this guy, it's Stanton. If you remove Kershaw or McCutchen from their respective teams, they still have Puig, Harrison, Grienke, Marte, etc. This year's Marlins won 77 games with two other guys hitting over .280 and Henderson Alvarez as their only pitcher with an ERA below 3.85.
On the flip side of that coin, you can just decide, whoever had the best year should win it, in which case it would be Kershaw. I went over his season a few paragraphs ago. After spending way too much time deciding, I'm going with Kershaw. That took me way too long, I hope the next award is an easy one.
NL Cy Young
1. Clayton Kershaw
2. Johnny Cueto
3. Zack Grienke
One more fun stat: This's from Jayson Stark: If you remove Kershaw's scoreless innings streak in June he would still have the lowest ERA in the NL.
NL ROY
1. Jacob deGrom
2. Billy Hamilton
3. Ken Giles
Early in the year, it looked like Hamilton would win this easily, going into the all star break with a .285 average and 38 steals before falling off the map in the second half, with just 18 stolen bases and hitting .200/.254/.257. Meanwhile, Jacob deGrom got better and better as the season went on, saving his best for last with a 1.67 ERA in September and posting an overall ERA of 2.69 and an ERA+ of 130. Hamilton may be the most entertaining player in the league, but this race isn't even close.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

End of Season Awards

Mariano Rivera Award
Given to the player with the most pathetic farewell tour
This is a tough one. When I thought of this award Paul Konerko was the first person to pop into my mind but I felt like I was missing someone. Maybe a Yankees shortstop who still hits second and plays short despite slugging .314 and covering enough ground to be measured in inches. Oh yeah, that's him. To make the entire process even more sickening, the Yankees turned it into one big money grab, with three "last days" and selling as much merchandise as possible. That's the one thing I won't miss about baseball this winter.
Ty Cobb Award
Given to the biggest a-hole of the season
This was a slow year for jerks, considering last year we had A-Rod, Braun and McCann. So I'll take Colby Lewis for calling out Colby Rasmus after bunting with a 2-0 score against the shift to try to get on and give his team a better chance of winning.
Nolan Ryan Award
Given to the best season by an old man
This goes to Albert Pujols, putting up career lows (not counting last year when he was injured) in homers (28) batting average (.272) and on base percentage (.324) while posting a 125 OPS+. Not bad for a guy in his 14th full season coming off of a year when he only played 99 games.
1929 Stock Market Award
Given to the team with the biggest collapse
We have a two horse race for this one with the Brewers and the A's. We'll start with the Brewers. Jonathan Lucroy's stats went down in every form from the first half to the second, while the rest of the team followed suit, sputtering to the finish line with a team OBP of .303 in September.
 When you think of the A's collapse, the first guy you have to talk about is Brandon Moss. The first baseman hit four of his 25 homers this season in the second half. There's also Derek Norris, who rode a sky high BABIP early in the year before coming crashing down in the second half, hitting .245 in the after the all star break. Sonny Gray hit the young pitchers' innings wall and fell off the face of the earth.
 All those imply lots of things happened for the A's collapse over a long course of time. That's why I'm going with the Brewers for this one. You could see the A's coming since the all star break. Milwaukee's was all during one 1-13 stretch in early September that knocked them out of contention. A truly bizarre season.
Matt Bush Award
Given to the player who was the biggest disappointment this year
Our nominees for this one: Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran. That's how karma works, guys. You could've stayed with your respective teams, but you had to chase the money. These Yankees have batting averages of 24 and 63 points below their averages last year despite getting paid until 2016 for Beltran and 2019 for McCann. I'll go with McCann because he's younger, had slightly worse stats and is a bigger jerk.
Sixth Sense Award
Given to the most surprising ending of the season
To the Twins, for going out of their comfort zone firing Gardy. I would say either Molitor or Stienbach are the next in line, given the Twins history of staying in house, but we're in uncharted territory already, the last time the Twins fired a manager was 1986, despite going through 15 losing seasons. I think it was a good move to make a change. Gardy was always a little too small ball. He bunted at weird times, like when Santana was up and there was a man on first, but I think this one's Ryan just trying to shake it up, do something to try to change the outlook of the franchise. It's worth a shot.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Breaking Down the Contenders

Might Make the Playoffs, Not Much Else
Pittsburgh Pirates
Of all the teams on this list, the Bucs have had the least big of a deal made out of them. They were a game below .500 at the all star break, struggling to stay afloat in a tough NL Central. Then when McCutchen go injured on August 11th, I expected them to slowly fade out of the race. But as of right now, they're 4.5 games up on the Brewers for the second wild card spot despite not having a winning streak over four games all season.
Oakland Athletics
I feel awful for A's fans. Their team's been terrible since gutting their farm system* at the trade deadline for reasons having nothing to do with the players they acquired. Derek Norris and Brandon Moss have both seen their batting averages plummet while Sonny Gray and Scott Kazmir have both forgotten how to pitch, with their ERAs rising in the second half of the year from 2.79 to 4.07 for Gray and 2.38 to 5.49 for Kazmir. There should be an ESPY for biggest second half collapse. I wouldn't be able to wait to find out if it was them or the Indiana Pacers.
*Keep in mind, they gave up prized shortstop Addison Russell as part of the Samardzjia deal.
Seattle Mariners
Why aren't more people talking about Robinson Cano as an MVP candidate? He and Fernando Rodney were their only big acquisitions and they've already won 12 more games this year as last year with eight to play. Wait, I can answer that question, Felix Hernandez has an ERA almost a full point lower than last year and is leading the AL in that (2.07), WHIP, (0.912) and has a FIP of 2.54. The Mariners are 21-11 when he pitches and 62-60 when he doesn't. But still, something needs to be said about Cano. What he's done for the M's can't be measured in stats, he's energized the entire lineup and made the Mariners winners.
Kansas City Royals
If you're not rooting for the Royals, you're either a Mariners fan, a Tigers fan, or a jerk. They haven't made the playoffs since 1985 and have only made it seven times in their history. George Brett is the only player in their history with more that 50 WAR. Do you get the idea? Dayton Moore is an underrated GM, getting bargains on scrappy infielders Omar Infante and Nori Aoki in the offseason. There's only problem: Alex Gordon is one of the least likeable stars in the league. Whenever he misplays a ball in the outfields, he always half-asses it going back to retrieve it, not a very good wrinkle into the scrappy underdog narrative.
Surprisingly Scary
San Francisco Giants
Buster Posey's having the quietest great year in a long time. His batting line is .310/.363/.489 with a 143 OPS+. Madison Baumgarner's been fantastic, as usual, there really isn't much to say about the Giants. They're the most nondescript contender.
Baltimore Orioles
I'm trying to think of what an Orioles' fan's reaction would be if someone told them last year that Chris Davis was hitting .196 and  Manny Machado and Matt Wieters played a combined 108 games. Whatever it would be, I'm pretty sure it wouldn't be, "That's Ok, I'm sure an outfielder whose played on four teams in eight years will step up and set career highs in every category," That's Steve Pearce. He's hitting .297 with 20 homers or, three more than he had hit the rest of his career. What's more impressive is that he's doing it with a BABIP only slightly above his career average at .320.
Detroit Tigers
We live in a bizarre world where Justin Verlander and David Price have been the two worst pitchers in their team's rotation. Couple that with Anibal Sanchez on the DL and the Doug Fister swindling in the offseason and a team that just a few weeks ago was considered stockpiled with pitching suddenly looking at just two reliable starters unless Price picks it up.
The Contenders
Washington Nationals
The most balanced team in the league got even better when Bryce Harper woke up from his hibernation, hitting seven of his 13 homers in the last month, but it's their pitching that puts them apart. None of their starters have ERAs over 3.75 and, thumbing their collective nose at stat geeks, they're great despite having only two pitchers in the top 40 for strikeouts.
Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers always have to be included in this conversation just because of the Kershaw-Grienke two headed monster in their rotation, but I'm not sold on them. Puig still needs to mature and not overthink it in the postseason. You can't forget about last year in the NLCS when he went 5-22 with 10 strikeouts. Then again, they might not need him as much this year as last. Dee Gordon's finally put it all together, hitting .292 with his usual blazing speed, and third baseman Justin Turner has been another pleasant surprise, with a .333/.399/.465 batting line in 103 games.
Los Angeles Angels
Josh Hamilton's turned his terrible contract into a slightly less terrible contract, Pujols is still playing fine, their pitching is just good enough and Trout's slapping up another great year. As for the last point, it got me thinking. Right now, Trout's hitting .289 with a .377 OBP, and 14 stolen bases. None of those are anything to turn your nose up at but is it OK to be disappointed about it? They're all career lows by quite a bit and he also has a career high for strikeouts. That's all I'm going to say because this subject definitely deserves its own column.
St. Louis Cardinals
Stupid Cardinals. Every year just when you think they're out of it they pull of a stretch like a few weeks ago when Peter Bourjos woke up they won ten of 11 games and made themselves World Series contenders again. Great, now we get three more weeks of reminders that the Cardinals exist.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Ron Washington, the Texas Rangers and the Season from Hell

     Right now the Rangers are 54-89. Last year they were 91-72. Here's what happened.
     We'll start by going back to November 20th, 2013. That day the Rangers pulled the trigger on the biggest trade of the offseason by sending longtime Ranger and fan favorite Ian Kinsler to Detroit for Prince Fielder. Fielder was coming off of a disappointing season by his standards, but he was moving from one of the least hitter-friendly parks to one of the most, and Kinsler had been an average player the last few years. They also signed on base machine Shin-Soo Choo from the Reds to play left field and help set the table for Fielder and third baseman Adrian Beltre. Lots of people (including me) had them making the playoffs this year. The reason that isn't happening, in a nutshell is that everything that possibly could went wrong.
     Choo sprained his ankle about three weeks into the season and wasn't the same the rest of the season, hitting .242/.340/.374 before being shut down a few weeks ago with a bone spur in his elbow. Making it even worse, the man he replaced, Nelson Cruz is currently leading the league in homers at 39. Of course, Choo did a lot better than Fielder, who played just 42 games, hitting .247 with three homers before being shelved for the season in May. By then, the Rangers' once imposing lineup had been gutted, leaving Beltre and center fielder Leonys Martin as the only players with one base percentages over the league average of .315.
     In injuries didn't stop at the offense. Yu Darvish had a good year but injuries cut his season short as well. Derek Holland had to have knee surgery after injuring it in the offseason while playing with his dog. Another starter, Colby Lewis was hampered by injuries in 2013 and hasn't been the same player this year. However, his problems aren't just injuries.
     In telling if a pitcher is lucky or unlucky, a good barometer is his opponent batting average on balls in play. If it's significantly higher in one season than it is the rest of his career, there's a decent chance he got unlucky, and more hitters were blooping balls in or hitting seeing eye singles. This year Lewis's ERA ballooned from 3.43 in 2012 to 5.29. Sure enough, his opponent BABIP is .348, astronomical compared to his career average of .303.
     Another difference between Lewis of 2012 and 2014 is that he doesn't mix up his pitches as often. At the beginning of his career he relied on his fastball a lot, throwing it around 60-65 percent of the time. After a stint in Japan, he came back to the Rangers and began dialing back the heat. His percentage of fastballs dipped into the low 50s while his curveball, slider and changeup went up. Now he's back to where he was before. His fastball percentage is up over 7% from last year, going from 54.6 to 61.8. He needs to get back to what made him so successful before.
     Another problem: An extreme lack of power. Beltre leads the team in homers with 18, followed by Choo with 13, then Robinson Churinos with 11. They're also 22nd in the league in slugging percentage at .372.
     Finally, just a few weeks ago, when things couldn't get any worse, manager since 2007 Ron Washington resigned, jumping off the ship just before it sank. The only way this season could have been any worse for Texas would be if one of their top prospects got injured again to make it 1 1/2 years of not developing. Oh, wait, never mind.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Week Two Picks

Dolphins-Bills
The pick: Dolphins
Lions-Panthers
We know that the Giants are terrible, but the Lions still looked pretty good on Monday. The Panthers are a big regression candidate and I'm still not sure Newton's good to go.
The pick: Lions
Saints-Browns
The pick: Saints
Falcons-Bengals
Man, did Matt Ryan look good last week. The Falcons are back. Ryan's the most fun QB in the league to watch in the last two minutes. Nobody looks less fazed. On the other side of the ball, Desmond Trufant can keep A.J. Green in check. Although I'm a huge Andy Dalton fan. I'm not sure I'm a huge fan of him for the money he's getting, but people like to ignore the fact that he brought the Bengals to the playoffs four times. (In other words, three more times than every quarterback picked ahead of him) Don't give up on him.
The pick: Falcons
Cowboys-Titans
The pick: Cowboys
Jaguars-Washington
The pick: Jaguars
Patriots-Vikings
Sigh.... This was going to be the year. The defense looked good for the first time since about 2009, Bridgewater looked good, Smith was healthy, and it all came back to AD. Now, barring some miracle of him only getting suspended a few games it's over. Goodell was humiliated over the result of the Ray Rice fiasco, he's going to want to come down hard to Peterson to reassert his dominance. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to wander into traffic.
The pick: Patriots
Cardinals-Giants
The pick: Cardinals
Seahawks-Chargers
The pick: Seahawks
Rams-Buccaneers
The pick: Bucs
Chiefs-Broncos
If you read my picks from last week, you'll know how I feel about the Chiefs. Now they're shorthanded. Peyton had a field day last week against the Colts. Now he's facing a defense without Derrick Johnson and Mike DeVito. I would feel sorry for Chiefs fans, but as a Vikings fan I'm incapable of feeling sorry for any team.
The pick: Broncos
Jets-Packers
The pick: Packers
Texans-Raiders
The pick: Texans
Bears-49ers
The pick: Niners
Colts-Eagles
Everyone's been talking about the Eagles amazing comeback all week. Here's what nobody mentions: It was against the Jaguars. It was impressive but not to the extent that anybody should take them over Andrew Luck and the Colts looking for their first win of the season. This one's easy.
The pick: Colts

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Thursday Night Pick

Ravens vs Steelers
Ok, I know the game has already started, but I swear, I haven't been watching it at all and don't even know what the score is. Anyway, the Ravens' Bernard Pierce anchored running game isn't scaring anyone, allowing the Steelers to key on a usually shaky anyway Joe Flacco. And that's without mentioning all the distractions they've had all week. I'll save my thoughts on the Ray Rice fiasco for a column in a few days. I'll say it right now, Baltimore isn't coming anywhere near a playoff spot this season unless Pierce finds a magic potion that turns him into the mid 90s Barry Sanders. Flacco needs a good running game for him to succeed, since he already throws too many interceptions, this is an easy pick.
The pick: Steelers

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Week one Picks

Alright, I've got my picks right below here, and while I'm predicting all the games, I'm only going to focus on six per week, the Vikings game and five interesting matchups. If you want me to explain any of the other games just shoot me an E-mail telling me what an idiot I am and I'll print it next week and respond to it. Here are this week's picks.
Bills-Bears
The pick: Bears
Browns-Steelers
The pick: Steelers
Bengals-Ravens
I a big fan of Joe Flacco,I think he'll have a breakout year this year, but I don't see the Ravens going anywhere with such a lack of a running game. This week their running back is Bernard Pierce, and even when Rice get's back they won't be much improved considering how awful he was last year and the way karma works.
The Pick: Bengals
Washington-Texans
The Pick: Washington
Jaguars-Eagles
The pick: Eagles
Titans-Chiefs
I'm not a huge fan of the Chiefs. They started off last year 9-0 before going 2-5 the rest of the way and ending their season of one of the worst playoff losses of all time. On top of that, of their 11 wins, they beat exactly one team over .500 (the Eagles in week three) and their opponents in wins had a combined record of 59-117. This year they face an infinitely tougher schedule, including a four game stretch of Denver-Miami-New England-San Francisco.
However, as much as I hate the Chiefs this year, I hate the Titans even more. I'm not a Jake Locker believer, this team just isn't very good in any aspect.
The pick: Chiefs
Patriots-Dolphins
The pick: Patriots
Vikings-Rams
I had the Vikes winning this game before Bradford went down. Now I have them winning by a lot. As I said last week, Matt Cassel is an average quarterback, he won't take a team out of a game, which is a huge improvement from some QBs of recent years.
The pick: Vikings
Saints-Falcons
The Saints have one of the top three quarterbacks in the league along with the best tight end in the league who became one of my favorite players this preseason by defiantly dunking through the goalposts after touchdowns. On the other side of the ball New Orleans added safety Jairus Byrd to help shore up the secondary.
The Falcons had a year to forget last season, going 4-12, but they've done well for too long and Matt Ryan in too good for that to happen again. They're not Super Bowl contenders, but 11 wins wouldn't be crazy. I gotta go with the Saints in this one, though. The Falcons best season was when the Saints were crippled by the repercussions of the Bounty Scandal. New Orleans is just the better team here.
The pick: Saints
Raiders-Jets
The pick: Jets
Panthers-Buccaneers
The pick: Panthers
49ers-Cowboys
Kaepernick's going to pick apart the atrocious Dallas defense. I don't have any doubt about that. Romo's better than people give him credit for, but I just can't see him being able to keep up this this dynamic Niner offense.
The pick: 49ers
Colts-Broncos
I thought longer than a lot of people would've about this game. Obviously there's Manning on one side of the coin, but on the other hand Andrew Luck is terrifying in any big game, whether it's him  carving up a good Broncos D last year, or making the incredible throw to T.Y. (don't call me Ty) Hilton against the Chiefs in the playoffs last year. Ultimately I don't have the guts to go against a Peyton Manning with a bad taste in his mouth from the Super Bowl last year. I'll go with the Broncos, but it's close.
The pick: Broncos
Giants-Lions
The pick: Lions
Chargers-Cardinals
The pick: Chargers
Record this year: 1-0

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Thursday Night Prediction-Week One

Ok, here's the deal: I'm going to predict the Thursday night game every week at about this time, and wait until Friday or Saturday to make the rest of my picks.
Seahawks over Packers
I made this pick 90% out of actual thought, 10% out of spite. Thinking about that made me think, What do Packers fans think of the Vikings? Obviously all of us hate Green Bay, but Packer fans seem more concerned with the Bears than the Vikings. So can they have a rivalry with both, or is their attitude more like, "Oh, that's cute. The Vikings think they're our rivals," If you have a friend who's a Packers fan, (which you shouldn't and if you do you should ditch him immediately) ask him about that.
As for the actual game, I think it'll be relatively close most of the time, but in the end I have to go with Seattle just because of how much better on D they are and the advantage they have of playing at home. While the Packers get a slight edge on offense, all the Hawks need to do is get one turnover to swing the advantage.
The pick: Seahawks

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Vikings Season Preview

Yo, Adrian!
There are three sure things in life: Death, taxes and Adrian Peterson being great. He's not going to repeat 2012 any time soon, when he dragged a team with a spotty QB, no deep receiving threats, Percy Harvin deciding to take most of the year off and an average defense into the playoffs, but you can mark him down for over at least 1,300 yards with ten touchdowns just like any other year.
Cassel
Cassel was respectable in his nine games last year, posting a 60% completion percentage and throwing more touchdowns (11) than picks (9). He'll be a solid gap filler.
Bridgewater
Now here's a reason to be excited. While Johnny Manziel has been busy flipping people off and receiving attention, there hasn't been any doubt who the better quarterback's been so far. After his rocky first start in Oakland, Bridgewater hasn't had any problems other than having a first name that starts with T, making Paul Allen think he should refer to every game he plays as "Teddy take ____" It gets annoying fast. The last few games he looked poised the entire time. He has a great touch on his throws, he doesn't get spooked from the pocket whenever he sees a different jersey like Ponder and the Vikings got him with the 32nd pick because scouts ignored all that at Louisville and decided he wasn't good because he didn't do well in a situation that's somewhat like a football game. I'm feeling optimistic.
The Defense
The Vikings rewarded Everson Griffin with a five year, 42.5 million dollar contract for a very good performance in a short amount of time. The best athlete comparison I can come up with is Eduardo Escobar. For the last few years he raked at the plate, but the Twins weren't sure he could play full time. It's the same situation with Griffin. He's had 17.5 sacks in the last three years in limited playing time behind Allen. Let's hope it works out as well as Escobar. The other big defensive move was signing Captain Munnerlyn. He brings some much needed aggression to a secondary that could be way too passive last year, but most importantly, he allows me to regularly write the words, "Captain Munnerlyn."
Worst Case scenario
Cassel struggles in the tough early part of the schedule, followed by him being replaced by Bridgewater, who isn't ready and has his confidence killed. Meanwhile, on the other side of the ball a shaky secondary continues to cough up big leads and have an inability to cover anyone, as they take a step back on a promising end of last year and go 5-11.
Best case scenario
Griffin has the year Spielman's expecting him to, Bridgewater eventually steps in for Cassel and has a good rookie season, Peterson has his typical great year, Jerome Simpson gets his head on straight after his suspension, Patterson continues being Harvin without the baggage and the Vikes sneak into the playoffs at 10-6.
Prediction: I'll say 8-8, narrowly missing the playoffs. It won't be great, but it'll be a huge step forward.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Twins Week in Review: August 23rd-30th


Reasons to be happy
1. Schafer
Our Fuld of the last month is hitting .324 with his usual track star mentality on the base paths. I was going to say more but then I decided to not pretend I care. This has been the worst week of the season, he's not coming back next year. One hot streak means nothing.
2. Santana
3. Vargas
I'm grouping the only two reasons this season hasn't been a total disaster this year together. If this seems lazy that's because it is. Those two, Gibson and maybe Hughes are the only reasons for optimism all of this year. Arcia regressed, Hicks didn't do anything, Buxton and Sano were injured, Mauer's on the downslope and Nolasco's been a colossal disappointment. I'm seriously considering locking myself in a closet for the last month of the season.
Reasons to be frustrated
1. Suzuki
He's in a massive slump right now, not looking like the guy at the beginning of the season with a .313 average on balls in play. He hit .241 in August, hitting his low point in an 0-6 game against the Tigers... in which the Twins scored 20 runs as a team.
2. May
You can't put into words how awful May's been. Whenever he's pitching I'm just waiting for the inevitable meltdown to come. Take his second start for example: He cruised through the first four innings, then in the fifth he got the first two guys out, before this sequence: Walk, Walk, Walk, single, single, Royals up four nothing. He's like a guy at a poker table: You never know when his luck is going to run out. Every night in my daily prayers to the baseball gods I ask them to not turn May into the next Nolasco. Hey, speaking of that awful overpaid free agent bust...
3. Nolasco
Continues to exist.
Random Thought of the Week
The A's, going into full desperation mode, acquired Adam Dunn a few days ago. Really, how desperate do you have to be to give up anything for him? I'd say he's bad against righties (batting .232) but that would imply he's better against lefties, or even that he's not arguably the worst hitter in the league against southpaws. (.105) With runners in scoring position he's hitting .226, throw two outs into that equation and it drops to .209. I could spit out these stats all day. Be excited for your savior, A's fans.
Dan Gladden Stupidity Moment of the Week
In which we look at something moronic Dan Gladden said while announcing Twins games
We've got another Danny ego-check. On Tuesday, he was telling Provus about how he took batting practice with the team. Nothing much there, but then we went on for, this isn't an exaggeration, five minutes about how impressed Dozier and the rest of the team was. By the way he described it, you would have thought he could've played that night. Sometimes I think he forgets he was a career .270 hitter.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

A's-Angels: A Running Diary


9:10: We’re live at the Wilson Moore estates for the Angels vs A’s in the biggest series since… Well, since when they met last week. Here’s a running diary of my thoughts.

9:12: The Oakland broadcast shows the A’s lineup. It’s typical small market, good team. Nobody’s hitting close to .300, Jonny Gomes is hitting cleanup, and yet they somehow manage to score runs. I’ve never understood the logic of people who say that doesn’t work in the playoffs. It’s all the same game.

9:15: Josh “Hero of nerd, enemy of the casual fan” Donaldson draws a walk. He’s the anti Joe Mauer, who puts up great numbers every year without seeming to get the respect of the nerds.

9:17: Wilson gets out of it with just the walk. Next up we have the struggling Sonny Gray, a big part of the A’s recent difficulties. As Jonah Keri pointed out last week, he just hit the wall of the most innings he’s ever pitched in one season.

9:25: Trout gets punched out on a borderline high strike. It’s the type of pitch they don’t usually call but should if they want to speed up games.

9:25: Pujols gets called out the exact pitch. At least Greg Gibson is being consistent. We then get a fantastic shot of Mike Sciocia in the dugout staring at him with one of those, “You are so stupid I’m in shock right now” looks while slowing shaking his head.

9:30: Derek Norris bounces out to new Angel Gordon Beckham, who I’ll sorely miss being in the Central just because of the level of comedy he adds to the game while watching it with my uncle. He says that’s the most British sounding name of all time and whenever sees him doing something talks in a stereotypical British accent.

9:36: The A’s announcer gets a great dig in on Angels fans, while the camera’s showing some people in Athletics jerseys, “The A’s fans show up on time here in southern California”

9:39: Hamilton singles for the Angel’s first hit, dumping it in front of Gomes in left.

9:41: Howie Kendrick slashes a single past Andy Parrino at short. Here comes the Sonny Gray, over innings meltdown.

9:43: Yup, Aybar singles in the same spot, as Gomes’s throw to the plate comes in late. (Cut to all the A’s fans screaming, “Why did we have to give up Cespedes?”)

9:45: Gray throws his second straight wild pitch; you can feel the inevitable bases clearing double coming. Gray needs to get out of this inning before it gets to Trout. We all know what’s going to happen if he goes there.

9:50: The announcers mention that Beckham has been hitting better since he got to the Angels. I have a theory that every player is briefly rejuvenated after being traded and always is better in every aspect. There was Manny to the Dodgers, Willingham just recently, Morales earlier this year… I could go on and on.

9:52: Beckham bloops a single off the end of his bat. That’s tough for Gray. He had struck out the previous batter, was about to get out of the inning and had Beckham 0-2 before that. He just got unlucky.

10:00: Parrino strikes out looking. Gibson has a huge strike zone. That pitch looked at the knees or a little lower.

10:06: Trout singles and flashes a jazz hands symbol at the dugout. Is this going to be this year’s weird symbol like the Brewer’s “Beast mode” or the moose antlers on the Rangers? Trout’s one of the few players who makes me stop what I’m doing and look up when he’s at the plate. Only him, McCutchen, Cabrera and Cano make me do that.

10:11: Just thought I’d point out that Geovany Soto’s reflective chest protector makes him look like the Green Goblin from the first Spider-Man movie.

10:14: Gray’s thrown six straight balls out of the strike zone. There are runners on first and third after Trout advanced on a fly ball. He hasn’t looked like the same gutsy pitcher from last year’s ALDS against the Tigers who went up and in on Torii Hunter when he was crowding the plate. That guy looked confident enough to go toe to toe with anyone. It just hasn’t been there tonight.

10:24: After Donaldson doubles down the line in left, Gomes takes a ball just outside, followed by the reappearance of the Sciocia face.

10:26: Gomes hits the ball to the warning track and we see two of the most awkward baseball moments on one play: First, Hamilton jumps to catch it even though he’s nowhere close to the wall, and then on the replay we find out that Gomes flipped his bat and watched the ball, thinking he had a homer.

10:27: “C.J. Wilson isn’t just going to give up,” Ok, I’m glad we got that clarified.

10:28: Wilson gets out of it. This just isn’t the Athletics’ day.

10:35: Gray gets through the fourth allowing just a walk, although he got a double play on a great stop by Parrino, if that had gotten through he would’ve had first and third with none out. This feels like a Tommy Milone start.

10:37: One of the bad things about watching a game on MLB.TV is that I can’t make fun of any commercials because all I see is an MLB logo between innings.

10:40: The A’s get there first run on a double by Soto that Calhoun misplays in the corner, allowing him to go to third Brandon Moss to score “All the way” from first base as every announcer in the world would say.

10:43: There’s a great shot of Chili Davis in the Oakland dugout. The camera stays on him for about ten seconds and he doesn’t move at all, staying slumped over the railing the entire time. Can someone wake him up?

10:45: Coco Crisp lines a ball over the shortstop’s head to give the A’s their second run of the game. Now that’s what I call moneyball, baby! No, that has nothing to do with anything, I just like saying that when I watch the A’s.

10:50: Crisp fakes toward second to try to draw a throw, which he does. On the next pitch, like a cocky kid pushing his luck too far, he does it again and gets picked off.

10:56: Three up, three down, for Gray. I have to say, he’s calmed down since the third. He still isn’t, “Gray ALDS” but he’s getting there.

11:00: Donaldson absolutely kills a ball over the left field fence to tie it up. Crisp is officially off the hook. Kudos to the A’s for making a human tunnel for Donaldson to run through in the dugout after he gets back. It’s stuff like that where you can really tell what a team’s chemistry is like.

11:03: Rattled, Wilson then walks Gomes.

11:04: After a double play, Callaspo singles for their fifth hit in the last two innings, after just two in the previous four. Someone woke them up.

11:08: Wilson just walked Moss after throwing three straight pitches in the same spot and having one called a strike and two balls. Here comes Sciocia, that’s all for him today.

11:10: C.J. Wilson looks like he’s ready to go on a three state killing spree.

11:13: New pitcher Mike Morin walks Soto, bringing up pinch hitter Stephen Vogt, who you might remember for his walk off hit last year against the Tigers in the ALDS.

11:15: Vogt looks like the manliest guy on the field. He isn’t wearing batting gloves and has his helmet and bat covered with pine tar.

11:18: Oakland’s announcers are a bit dramatic. One of them just said that this at bat could decide the game, despite declaring Freese’s second inning plate appearance “The most important at bat of the game.”

11:18: Vogt strikes out on the eighth pitch of the at bat to end the inning in a tie game.

11:22: Kendrick singles and does the jazz hands again. We need a name for this.

11:25: Gray just got another double play turned behind him. He’s officially back into ALDS mode right now. This has been a really resilient performance, I expected him to implode about an hour ago.

11:34: Donaldson draws his second walk of the game to bring up another pinch hitter in Josh Reddick. Sciocia’s doing the face again.

11:35: Reddick hits a fly to center which looks like it might fall in but Trout makes what Dick Bremer would call “A fine running grab” to take it away.

11:40: Ianetta strikes out. I’ll say it again: After a rocky start, Gray looks really, really good. He’s attacking the strike zone, getting ahead of batters, and just generally making the Angels feel uncomfortable.

11:47: The Angels bring in Joe Smith, who, despite his solid regular numbers, has and ERA north of 12 against Oakland this year.

11:51: The Angels are putting the shift on for Moss, prompting a discussion over whether it’s an unwritten rule to not bunt. Yeah, that makes a lot of sense, do something that doesn’t help your team win the game.

11:57: Luke Gregorson comes on in relief, sporting a really weird beard.

12:00: Home plate umpire Greg Gibson calls a high strike on Trout, who steps out of the box looking disgusted. He’s been calling it all night. They just need to adjust.

12:03: After a nice backhanded stop, the A’s announcer compares Donaldson to Brooks Robinson. I think the entire season will be on someone’s shoulders soon. Hopefully it will be one of the guys who’s as good as Willie Mays at the plate.

12:06: After every pitch, Soto reaches forward and brushes the plate. Does he not think the pitcher can see it? Is he a neat freak? So many questions.

12:13: Ex Twins watch! Sam Fuld steps to the plate as a pinch hitter.

12:16: Fuld flies out to Trout. We head to the bottom of the ninth.

12:18: Dan Otero is on to face Erick Aybar.

12:20: Weird situation: Aybar chops the ball up the first base line, Otero and Moss both go for it, Otero takes it just outside the line, as Aybar runs into Otero. They give Aybar first, ruling interference on Moss, saying he forced Aybar out of the line.

12:23: The A’s are protesting. Ever since the Giants won theirs, everybody thinks they can do it now. Good luck with that.

12:25: John McDonald lay a beautiful bunt down the first base line, and makes it on a miscommunication between Moss and Otero. Runners on first and second.

12:27: Dioner Navarro bunts again to bring the runners to second and third.

12:28: The A’s intentionally walk Beckham to set up a force and bring up Kole Calhoun. I don’t know yet if they’ll bring the infield in. I wouldn’t. If I’m Bob Melvin the last thing I want is Mike Trout up in this situation. Just go for the double play. It’s a risk worth taking.

12:31: After seeing 53 replays, I can now see that Aybar changed his path to run into Otero after he had the ball. Crafty play. There’s now a decent chance they win.

12:33: Calhoun pops out. Here comes Trout, who will face another reliever in Ryan Cook.

12:37: Trout grounds to Donaldson, who makes a surprisingly shaky throw to second. But Callaspo keeps his foot on the bag to send it to extras.

12:45: I’ve never heard less energy in an extra inning game than right now. It sounds like the third inning right now. C’mon Angels fans, I expected better of you.

12: 47: Fernando Salas retires the A’s 1-2-3. We head to the bottom of the tenth.

12:50: Cook walks Pujols to start out the inning.

12:51: Hamilton hits a gounder just past the diving Callaspo to bring Pujols to third base with no outs. The A’s will bring the infield and outfield in.

12:55: Kendrick hits a high fly ball to right, Reddick catches it, Pujols tags and the game’s over. Man, that was crazy.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Thoughts on the Throttling of the Tigers

     Last night, I attended the wildest and strangest Twins game of the season. In fact it was so weird, I'm scrapping the Twins Week in Review to focus on this instead.
     I went with my dad and nephew, we parked a few blocks away from the field at one of the meters. My first thought coming out of the car was, Crap I forgot my scorebook. Yes, I do keep score, at least a few times a season. I quickly forgot about it until after the game when we were walking back to the car and I remembered it. Looking back at it I'm glad I didn't have it.
     Anyway, going back to the game, the final score was so lopsided it's easy to forget that for a good portion of the game the outcome was still in doubt. Tommy Milone was only making his third start with the Twins, but from his first two and reading about him in Oakland, I had already figured out one thing: He couldn't be more inconsistent. As evidenced by his high WHIP, he puts guys on base, but some nights he gets lucky and doesn't give any up big hits Other nights, well things go downhill. A few minutes after we finished discussing whether Milone would get through the fourth inning, Kinsler lined the fifth pitch of the game into the bullpen, my first thought was, "This is going to be a long night,"
     But the pessimism was short lived when Milone didn't allow any other runs the next two innings and the Twins put up a six spot in the second. After that, the Twins just needed to fall on the ball, as my dad and I call it. It's an expression we use whenever the Twins score a lot of runs early in the game and you can see the inevitable collapse coming. Sure enough, Milone kept putting runners in scoring position until the fifth when all the dangers he had been in caught up to him and the Tigers scored four runs and were poised for more when this happened.
     I was sitting about the 20th row down the first baseline, so I had no idea what happened. I got the idea that a fan had interfered based on Arcia's reaction, but other than that I wasn't sure. Seeing the highlight, I'm disgusted. Shut up, obnoxious guy and your annoying daughters, it's not funny. The Twins could have easily lost the game because of you. You don't know yet they're going to score nine next inning.
    The Twins eventually got out of it with just one more run scoring on a brilliant double play going Dozier-Escobar-Mauer. That's when the fun started.
     Escobar, the Twins good fielding, light hitting utility infielder who committed two errors and came within a double of the cycle lead it off with a triple over Rajai Davis's head. My as he rounded second you could tell he wanted to run home, but Vavra held him up. I know it was the right decision, given that there weren't any outs and it ended up starting a rally. But,from my perspective, it looked like he would've made it if he had gone. From there, Schafer and Santana walked, bringing up Mr. Dozier, who smashed a single past the drawn in infield, causing my dad to say, "That's the first time I can ever remember Dozier getting a clutch hit," It was that kind of night.
    That brought up Mauer, who, hell bent on silencing the "he only gets hits with no one on" idiots  hit a single of his own, bringing in two. After that, a lot of people got hits. Nothing particularly interesting happened until the eighth, which is where our story continues.
     At the beginning of the bottom, I got back from getting a drink of water, and noticed how awkward the Tigers pitcher looked. Then I looked up the radar gun to see his fastball was hitting 81 MPH. That could only mean one thing, we were witnessing the ultimate sign of a blowout. Shortstop Andrew Romine was pitching. In fact, he was doing pretty well until Arcia hit a moonshot off the flag pole on the plaza. After he rounded the bases, I said, "The only thing that would've made that better would be if he had flipped his bat after hitting it. I went back to the highlights. He did.
     Plouffe, the next batter hit one over the left field wall to make the game officially goofy. Two batters later, Schafer lined out hard to right and slammed his bat, humiliated that he hadn't gotten a hit off the infielder. Although I'm sure Suzuki would have done anything to change places with him. He struck out looking on a 81 mile per hour fastball to cap off his 0-6 night. Poor guy.