Kirby Puckett

Kirby Puckett

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.
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

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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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

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.
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.
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.
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.