Wednesday, December 25, 2013

NBA Christmas Conversation

Rather than a preseason preview of the NBA (like last year), I thought I would let some actual games happen before I spouted off about what's happening around the Association. And thank God. I probably would have looked pretty stupid if I had made a bunch of October predictions that would clearly have been way off. I included the perspective of a couple of NBA die-hard friends; Phil (a Warriors fan) and Clay (a Knicks fan). What follows is the transcript of our conversation. Hope you enjoy(ed) watching the Christmas slate of games.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Dolphins' Debacle

Unfortunately, it looks like absolutely no one is going to come out of this Miami Dolphins fiasco looking good at all. Not Richie Incognito, who quite clearly crossed a line from razzing to harassment. Not Jonathan Martin, who took his issues to the public rather than seek out in-house options. Not Dolphins coaches and management, who somehow let a loose cannon like Incognito assume an important leadership role. And not the rest of the Dolphins themselves, who now must play out the remaining half of the season without the starting left side of their offensive line, something that should lower their playoff odds from "marginal" to "almost zero" (especially if they're going to get beaten by previously winless Tampa Bay, a team that's no stranger to internal drama, and tally exactly two rushing yards while they're at it).

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

College Basketball Returns!

I think the last time I was this excited for the start of the college basketball season, Greg Oden and Kevin Durant were suiting up as amateurs. In a related story, this year's freshman class is, as everyone knows, positively loaded with potential one-and-dones, with a whopping eleven of them currently rated among the top thirty draft prospects, including six of the top ten. There's a lot not to like about college basketball: the too-long shot clock that encourages coaches to have their teams play at a slow and ugly pace, the excruciatingly inconsistent officiating that contributes heavily towards endgames that take half an hour because of all the free throws, those horrendously ugly Zubaz uniforms that keep popping up (this from someone who actually likes a lot of Oregon football's sartorial choices), over-expanded conferences that make zero sense from a geographic standpoint (let us all observe a moment of silence for the Big East), and of course, to crown all, the stupefying intricacies of the Luddite NCAA organization itself. But the talent level this season is so high that it should override all of those things except, perhaps, that last one. Let's take a look at some of the more compelling players, teams, and stories.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

A Solution for Tanking

Tanking entire seasons has long been an issue in the NBA, and in fact I would argue that it might be the biggest current issue with the league today. It's also a bigger problem in the NBA than in any other league because one basketball superstar has a bigger impact on his franchise than in the NFL, NHL, or MLB, and the top basketball prospects are also the best-known (and longest-known) commodities, barring the odd Peyton Manning or Andrew Luck. LeBron James and Greg Oden each were ticketed for the first pick in the draft when they were sophomores in high school; so was Jabari Parker until Andrew Wiggins reclassified himself as a member of the high school class of 2013. Tim Duncan was the presumptive top overall pick for three years running, and the advent of his senior season precipitated several teams to throw in the towel on that season, most notably the Boston Celtics and San Antonio Spurs (after David Robinson's injury).

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Home Plate Collisions

Over the weekend ESPN's Buster Olney wrote that a ban on collisions at home plate now seems inevitable, in what was the aftermath of two such bone-jarring encounters, the latter of which knocked Tigers receiver Alex Avila out of the game. I am prompted to write about this proposed change now because one of my good friends linked to a similar article via Facebook that prompted a somewhat heated discussion, of which I was very much a part. I come down very firmly in favor of the ban, for reasons which I would like to expound upon fully here.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

MLB Trade Value: Position Players (Part 2)

Yesterday we covered the honorable mention guys and numbers 30-16, after two days of ranking pitchers, so this column will wrap up my trade value rankings for the year. Here we go, with perhaps the most interesting case in the full set...

Friday, October 4, 2013

MLB Trade Value: Position Players (Part 1)

Well, after spilling nearly 9500 words just talking about the trade value of pitchers across two columns, it's time to dive into position players. Unlike most trade value columns, we're splitting pitchers and position players because they're valued differently and have such different functions. If you're unfamiliar with the guidelines for this column, here they are, reprinted from Part One of the pitchers' version:

Thursday, October 3, 2013

MLB Trade Value: Pitchers (Part 2)

Yesterday we covered honorable mention pitchers and the guys ranked 30-16. Today we move on to the fifteen pitchers with the highest trade value.

15) Justin Verlander

Before you get indignant and angry with me, hear me out. Verlander is already 30 years old, and currently signed to the longest and most expensive contract of any pitcher in baseball ($160 million for the next six years, plus a $22 million vesting option for 2020). That's a lot of money for anyone, let alone someone who's starting to show some cracks in the armor. Verlander's walk rate is at its highest since his outlier 2008 season, and his .317 BABIP is almost a career high. That may be due to the fact that despite his four outstanding pitches, his fastball velocity has dropped to its lowest level (93.7) since, well, 2008. He's still striking out as many batters as usual and keeping the ball in the yard, but seems to have become a touch more hittable this year. Perhaps leading the league in innings pitched three of the last four years has worn him down a little (total innings from 2009-12; 953.2, plus another 48.2 over the last two postseasons). It could just be a minor blip, and Verlander could make me look pretty stupid for sticking him way down here. But let's just be safe. And hey, even in a down year, Verlander is still worth 4.8 fWAR, meaning he's still an All-Star caliber pitcher.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

MLB Trade Value: Pitchers (Part 1)

With October (the greatest month of the sports calendar) upon us, I thought that I would give you a four-part column about the highest trade values in baseball. Sure, this is something that you can get your fill of at Grantland or Fangraphs, but everyone’s take is going to be different, and this column will make one important distinction that differentiates it somewhat from the more popular trade value lists out there.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Fundamental Baseball

In yesterday's Washington Post, columnist Thomas Boswell skewered the Nationals' poor quality of play throughout the season, writing about several ways in which the team has played below its talent level thanks to some very bad fundamental baseball. Boswell is spot on with many of his observations, although he left out some components that could very well use a more thorough examination. Let's break down what he identified as the main issues and analyze some things he may have left out.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

National League Mid-Season Review

Well, we covered the American League in this space earlier today, so it's time to do a review of the National League before the break for the Midsummer Classic. Is the National League starting to overtake the American? After years of dominance in interleague play and at the All-Star game, the senior circuit is starting to close the gap, and has been producing more young talent, particularly over the past year-plus. And that has shaken things up in the National League, too. Just over halfway through the season, the Pittsburgh Pirates have the second-best record in the league, the defending champion Giants are falling apart at the seams, and the consensus choice for best team in the league has been incredibly mediocre. But not everything has changed; the Marlins are still terrible. So who and what has been the best of the National League?

American League Mid-season Review

The All-Star break begins Monday, and just as everyone expected in March, the team with the best record in the American League is...Boston? To be sure, there were plenty of people who felt that the Red Sox would benefit from some decent mid-level veteran signings and a change in leadership from last year's Bobby Valentine disaster.* And here they are, 56-37 through July 10th, enjoying (among other things) a bounce-back year from Jacoby Ellsbury (minus the power), strong pitching from one-time lemon John Lackey (a 2.80 ERA and 3.16 xFIP in nearly 100 innings this year), and David Ortiz raking at age 37 (.331/.412/.636 with 19 bombs), which encouraged the execrable Dan Shaughnessy to accuse him of using steroids with zero evidence. Over in the Central, Detroit leads as expected, but not by nearly as much (50-40, 3.5 games up on Cleveland) as might be expected from a team boasting SIX All-Stars (to be fair, all of them are deserving apart from Torii Hunter). And in the West, relatively star-less Oakland is 54-38, riding an ageless Bartolo Colon (a 2.69 ERA and 4.06 xFIP in 120 innings at age 40 while throwing almost nothing but fastballs) and a cast of relative unknowns to a comfortable cushion over all of their western brethren save Texas. Without further ado, some awards and stories from the first half of the season.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

What Matters for Game Seven

Wow. Last night’s Game Six was one of the most entertaining basketball games I have ever watched. I’m not going to lie; I was pulling for the Spurs, but regardless, I was riveted. The game featured almost everything one could hope for: Tim Duncan playing like it was 2003 and absolutely destroying Chris Bosh and the Birdman; Miami finally coming up with a defensive scheme that was able to cool down Danny Green (although he still got WIDE open twice); Kawhi Leonard continuing his breakout as perhaps San Antonio’s most critical and versatile player; the Heat’s three-point shooters coming to life; LeBron James having a monster fourth quarter, particularly when Dwyane Wade was on the bench; Tony Parker’s fourth-quarter heroics; and the best three-point shooter in NBA history nailing the tying basket with just seconds left in regulation. And there was so much more!

Friday, April 5, 2013

An Abusive Coach Gets His Comeuppance

I have played and followed and coached sports pretty much my entire cognizant life, but sometimes things happen that I just don't understand. I've coached sports for a dozen years, and am aware that there are all sorts of motivational tactics one can use. I just can't fathom how Mike Rice got to be the head basketball coach at a major state university* by acting like a spoiled five-year-old who is finally told "no." I don't understand how lots of coaches get their jobs, but usually there's some sort of explanation. Perhaps they're not a great game coach, but they kill it on the recruiting trail and produce high draft picks. Maybe they're good at managing the program but need someone else to carry the actual coaching strategy load for them. Or maybe they're a brilliant student and observer of the sport who can't quite communicate that brilliance to their players.

Monday, March 25, 2013

First Weekend Observations

This has been a wild first weekend of March Madness, with a ton of great games on pretty much every day except Saturday, when only two were much in doubt. I have watched a lot less basketball this year than I probably ever have in my life, so I haven't been nearly as informed as usual. But that won't stop me from having some opinions. There are three things in particular that I want to address.

Friday, March 1, 2013

The Case for Trading Stanton Now

A couple of days ago, ESPN's Buster Olney laid out the case for why the Miami Marlins need to trade outfielder Giancarlo Stanton now while his value is at its highest.  Leading the article was a gem of a quote from Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria about how he attended a food and wine festival recently and got a universally positive response from '20 to 30 people' about his November fire sale.  He claims that the negative feedback has stopped, and just wants to get support for the Marlins this year.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

2013 Oakland Athletics Preview

Hey, remember three years ago when it seemed like everyone was celebrating the demise of Billy Beane after Oakland's third straight losing season?  Joe Morgan was probably cackling with glee while swirling good Scotch in a snifter.  Well, which one of those gentlemen is still employed in baseball today?  I'll give you a hint; is no longer an active web page.  Last season, due to trades, one ugly injury (Brandon McCarthy fielding an Erick Aybar line drive with his dome), and a PED suspension, the A's ended the season with a rotation made up entirely of rookies, yet still charged from behind to steal the AL West from the Rangers before losing to Detroit in the ALDS.  So Moneyball isn't dead after all, huh?  Allow me to remind everyone that Beane's philosophy isn't so much religiously tied to on-base percentage as it is to exploiting market inefficiencies on the cheap.  For further proof, check out the projected lineup below.

2013 Chicago White Sox Preview

The Second City's second team threatened to win baseball's weakest division last year before an utter collapse in the final days allowed the Tigers to sneak in and leave the White Sox out in the cold.  Still, it was a successful first year for rookie manager Robin Ventura, who had never previously managed any team.  You could be forgiven for asking, "Who are these fuckin' guys?"; years of poor drafting and development have left the Pale Hose with a system nearly bereft of young stars and a major league team relying on a couple of older recognizable names to carry them.  Let's take a look:

2013 Texas Rangers Preview

The 2010 and 2011 American League champions suffered through a rough final week that saw them let the AL West title slip through their fingers (or bounce off of Josh Hamilton's glove, depending on how you look at it), forcing them to settle for the one-game wild card playoff that they lost to Baltimore.  Then, over the winter, Hamilton left for Orange County, weakening their team and strengthening their division rivals.  The composition of this team will be different, with three or four new faces in the lineup, but the Rangers should still be a dangerous team in 2012.

Friday, February 15, 2013

2013 New York Yankees Preview

I guess because they're the Yankees and they spend more money than anyone else (except the Dodgers now), it is almost impossible to write a preview of contending teams without including them.  Still, this is a very flawed organization that is transitioning to a supposedly more fiscally restrained model over the next couple of seasons, although they still have some poison pill contracts to work through.  They'll probably make it interesting, because they're the Yankees and they've missed the playoffs just once since the 1994 strike (in 2008).  And of course, you know, they're the most storied franchise in American professional sports, with those 27 championships and all. So what do they have this year?

2013 Baltimore Orioles Preview

In 2012, the Orioles surprised everyone, including themselves, by making it to the AL Division Series with an injury-riddled lineup and a rotation of castoffs, none of whom except Wei-Yin Chen made more than twenty starts.  Buck Showalter turned out to be the perfect manager for this club; a brilliant in-game tactician and non-nonsense perfectionist, he arrested the culture of losing that had hung around Baltimore for over a decade and made his players a lot tougher.  Can they repeat their magic trick in 2013?  Let's start by looking at the lineup:

2013 Tampa Bay Rays Preview

The Tampa Bay Rays will spend less than a third of what the Dodgers or Yankees will spend on player payroll in 2013 ($59.9 million vs. $200 million-plus), but they might be better than either team.  That's what several years of smart drafting and shrewd personnel moves will do for you.  This winter was no different, as Andrew Friedman and company turned two years of James Shields and five of Wade Davis, both solid-to-very-good pitchers, into a boatload of Kansas City's top prospects, most notably outfielder Wil Myers, rendered superfluous thanks to the Royals' infatuation with Jeff Francoeur.  They also let center fielder B.J. Upton walk in free agency, deciding to replace him with internal solutions and spare parts.  Sometimes those spare parts work out (Carlos Pena 2008-9), and sometimes they don't (Carlos Pena 2010 and 2012, Luke Scott).  What might be in store this year?

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

2013 Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Preview

For a second consecutive offseason, the Angels made a splash in free agency by signing the top available hitter, inking Josh Hamilton for five seasons one year after signing Albert Pujols for ten.  Last year's team was good, particularly after the arrival of Mike Trout from AAA Salt Lake City, but lost out on a playoff spot to the Rangers and A's within the division, and the Orioles for the other wild card.  Poaching Hamilton from their division rivals (a year after also signing C.J. Wilson away from Texas) was a calculated move that could make this a dynamite team this year.  In three years, I'm not sure that I want either Hamilton or Pujols at their current salaries.  But right now?  Sure.

2013 Detroit Tigers Preview

Last year's American League champions made very few changes to their regular lineup, but there were two gigantic improvements made.  Delmon Young and his negative everything (except for the occasional power) are gone to Philadelphia, where Ruben Amaro can deal with the anti-Semitic remarks and total lack of plate discipline (and I mean that in more ways than one).  He was replaced on the payroll by free agent Torii Hunter, who is many things that Young is not: in shape, a quality hitter and defender, and a good citizen.  The other big change is that Victor Martinez, signed prior to last season, returns after missing 2012 with a torn ACL.  Those two moves mean that Detroit gets to remove two offensive black holes from their lineup; Young and the mostly regrettable cast of characters, chiefly Brennan Boesch, who manned left field for them last year.  Here is how it should look:

2013 Toronto Blue Jays Preview

All right!  Spring training is now officially here, with pitchers and catchers reporting at the beginning of this week.  Since I have already tackled the various National League contenders in this space, it is now time to look at the American League's best teams.  This will take a little longer, as there are nine (perhaps ten) teams with a real shot to make the playoffs in the junior circuit.  There was more roster upheaval in the AL, and where better to start than with the completely revamped Toronto Blue Jays?  Let's take a look at their new lineup:

Friday, February 8, 2013

2013 Los Angeles Dodgers Preview

The Dodgers have spent vast piles of money over the past year, and at least they can be happy that their $217.5-million payroll got them a preview amongst my other National League contenders.  Whether their approach of spending like my friend Logan home from a month-long hitch on the North Slope is wise is still up for debate.  None of the players that they acquired from the Red Sox in last summer's blockbuster are still in their primes, a distinction that really only applies to one regular position player (Matt Kemp) and two starting pitchers (Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke).  This is a team that needs to win now, but do they have the juice?

2013 Atlanta Braves Preview

While all the attention was focused on the Mariners, the Braves swooped in and made a trade with the Diamondbacks for Justin Upton, nabbing a talented, cheap outfielder for 50 cents on the dollar.  This will be the first Braves team since 1994 without Chipper Jones in the lineup, and so the team needed to get a bat to replace him in their lineup from somewhere.  Mission accomplished.  How does this new lineup look?

2013 St. Louis Cardinals Preview

Not only did the Cardinals finish at the top of Keith Law's organizational talent rankings, but they have a pretty good major league team, too.  They have an excellent mix of overlooked players (Allen Craig, David Freese), legitimate stars (Matt Holliday, Yadier Molina), up-and-comers (Jon Jay, a boatload of pitchers), and aging-but-effective veterans (Carlos Beltran).  After beating the Nationals in the Division Series, they looked primed for a back-to-back title run, but the Giants derailed their dreams in the NLCS.  But they will be good again this year.  Let's take a look:

Monday, February 4, 2013

2013 San Francisco Giants Preview

After winning the World Series in 2010, the Reds mostly stood pat, trusting in their core to deliver again.  Then Buster Posey broke his leg and that year didn't quite work out.  Last year, with a healthy Posey, they won again, and once again have pretty much let things be.  There were no major personnel moves apart from letting Melky Cabrera and the iconic Brian Wilson (injured last year) walk.  If you haven't seen the Nationals or Reds previews, feel free to jump to those or stay here.  As always, projected stats are courtesy of Bill James and Fangraphs.  Let's start with the lineup.

2013 Cincinnati Reds Preview

We covered the Washington Nationals with the first pre-spring training preview, and now we're moving to the Central Division, where I expect the Reds to once again rule the roost.  Like the Nationals, the Reds made few changes, but two of them are big ones.  Todd Frazier will step in at third base for the departed Scott Rolen, giving the Cincy faithful that many more times to enjoy his "Fly Me to the Moon" intro music (he is a Jersey boy, after all), and perhaps they can hope for more no-handed home runs and credible Sinatra imitations.  The other major move was getting Shin-Soo Choo in a three-way trade with the Indians and Diamondbacks, landing them their first credible leadoff hitter since Dusty Baker became the manager, and significantly weakening their outfield defense into the bargain, because now either Choo or Jay Bruce has to play center.

2013 Washington Nationals Preview

We're less than two weeks away from the four greatest words in the English language: "Pitchers and catchers report."  The beginning of spring is so close, teasing those of us who live in DC this week with a pair of 65-degree days.  I think because of its start time that no sport fully embodies hope in the way that baseball does.  The beginning of spring training comes after the Super Bowl, when the only major sporting options are the mid-season doldrums of the NBA and NHL, and conference slates in college basketball.  By this point most of the good teams in those sports have separated themselves from the pack (although hockey is different this year), so February can be a melancholy month for most, until the arrival of baseball in Florida and Arizona.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Proposal for the Hall of Fame

I have already written a lot of words about the Baseball Hall of Fame and the inanity of many of the BBWAA members who comprise the voting bloc, but after yesterday's failure to induct any of the thirty-seven (!) players on the ballot, I thought I might post some thoughts about how to revise the process.  In the process, I will undoubtedly say some things that I have said before, but such is life.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Whither Michael Morse?

Yesterday the Washington Nationals agreed to terms with first baseman Adam LaRoche on a two-year contract worth $24 million dollars.  Bravo to the Nats for completing this deal; they held fast on a two-year deal for the 33-year-old LaRoche, rather than the three years that he had reportedly been seeking.  Even the notoriously acerbic Keith Law said he would be content to have LaRoche for two years back when free agency opened.  In all reality, once the Nats gave LaRoche a qualifying offer of one year and $13.3 million, they were always the most likely landing spot for him, as few teams were going to sacrifice a first-round draft pick to sign an aging first baseman with a .268/.338/.482 line coming off something of a career year.  The real drama was in a) how long the negotiations would take, and b) what they would cost.