Saturday, October 14, 2017

Backing up the Backup

There were many questions surrounding John O'Korn as he led Michigan into a matchup against arch-rival Michigan State.  But by game's end, the biggest question O'Korn seemed to answer was "How bad would he need to play to make everyone miss Wilton Speight?"

O'Korn had served as the Michigan backup since his transfer from Houston.  Like all backup QB's, especially those with past success, O'Korn was imbued with all the qualities the current starter didn't have.  So when Speight struggled, thoughts turned to the backup.  With Speight injured and out of the lineup, O'Korn got his chance.  Meh.

It's now Year 3 of the Jim Harbaugh Era.  Along with the rest of Michigan Nation, I was very excited when Harbaugh returned home to coach the Wolverines.  Don't get me wrong -- I'm still a Harbaugh fan and don't think anyone else should be coaching Michigan.  But that doesn't mean he can't be questioned.

My biggest question: where's our Andrew Luck?  Graduate transfer Jake Rudock filled a gap at QB and allowed Harbaugh to recruit the next great Michigan signal-caller.  Speight, already on the roster when Harbaugh arrived, has performed well but certainly not without flaws since becoming the starter.  But with Speight out, possibly for the season, and O'Korn still looking like a backup, is there an opportunity to audition the next Luck?

I'm not expecting Harbaugh to throw in the towel and play an untested QB... at least, not yet.  But with Penn State looming on the schedule, would a 5-2 record be enough to make a change?  After Penn State, the Wolverines face Big Ten foes Rutgers, Minnesota and Maryland: a combined 1-5 so far in conference play.  Wouldn't that be a low-risk opportunity to give Brandon Peters a shot?  Would it be a bad thing to let Peters get some experience against some lesser opponents, in the hopes that he'd be ready to face Wisconsin and Ohio State by season's end?  I sure wouldn't want to see what O'Korn will do.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Stay Me7o, Indeed

Is Boston nice this time of year?
While the 2016-17 season for the Knicks is over, the off-season has just begun.  In true Knicks' fashion, they opened the off-season with a loss, dropping a tie-breaker to the Timberwolves in the Draft Lottery.  That lottery, of course, along with the draft itself, are only secondary stories compared to the main event: Whither Carmelo?

Listening to Phil Jackson speak, it sounds like Carmelo Anthony's time with the Knicks is over.  Or at least Jackson would like it to be.  Melo, to his credit, hasn't taken the bait but indicated that he might also agree.  It's hard to imagine he'd want to remain in a situation where management so clearly does not want him on the team.

Before February's trade deadline, Anthony's name popped up in several trade rumors.  But the deadline passed without a deal, and Anthony remained in a Knicks' uniform.  If we now buy into the premise that Anthony will play in a different city next season, the next obvious question is: where?  Perhaps "Boston" might be the answer.

According to Marc Berman in the New York Post, members of the Celtics' coaching staff were interested in acquiring Anthony at mid-season, but Boston's GM Danny Ainge wouldn't pull the trigger:
Indeed One of Ainge’s concerns, according to a source, was an Anthony trade would have given Boston no real cap space to work with for the 2017 free-agent class.
But the Celtics' poor play in the first round might have Boston management reconsidering another scorer.  Who would be the "major player of interest" that Jackson wants in return?  The same sources say Jae Crowder, the Celtics' powerful small forward, could be that man.

While Crowder's size and strength would improve the Knicks' defense, the drop-off from a scorer like Anthony to a player like Crowder would be staggering.  The Knicks would need to find another source of offense, either through free agency or the draft, to offset that loss.  Crowder could fit in nicely with Kristaps Porzingis and another offensive-minded player, settling into his role as a 3rd option on offense.  While Crowder has a reasonable $7 million-per-year price-tag, he's signed through the 2020 season.  A trade for Crowder would be a three-year investment.

Whatever happens from here, it should be interesting.  Credit the Knicks: they may be awful, but they're rarely dull.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Little Things Mean A Lot

A lack of splashy trades or free-agent signings have left the 2017 Yankees with a solid if unspectacular lineup and a core of youngsters waiting in the wings.  It's those two notions -- low expectations and bright future -- that made the following stand out to me.  Tucked inside the "Inside Pitch" section of an article on Masahiro Tanaka's excellent spring was this head-scratcher:
The remaining jobs to be decided: AARON HICKS or AARON JUDGE in right field
Come again?  Is that referring to the same Aaron Hicks who hit .217 last season?  The Aaron Hicks who has hit under .220 in three of his four major league seasons?  That guy is in a job competition?  With who?

Aaron Judge!  Wasn't Aaron Judge the much-touted Baby Bomber who made his 2016 debut by knocking one out in his first trip to the plate?  And then followed that up with extra-base hits in the next two games, as well?

Maybe Joe Girardi was just trying to make things interesting.  Perhaps giving Hicks a boost that will keep him focused as the 4th outfielder this season.  Nope.  The next day, Joe was back at it:
AARON JUDGE went 2 for 3, AARON HICKS was 1 for 2 with a walk, and each drove in a run in Thursday’s 5-5 tie as their competition in right field continued. “We’re going to let it go to the wire,” JOE GIRARDI said.
Okay, sure, after that amazing start, Judge started to struggle and looked like Pedro Cerrano.  But isn't that what rookies do?  Shouldn't we give Judge that opportunity to figure out his swing?  How is he going to learn to recognize a curveball from the bench?

If we accept the premise that the 2017 season will not end with a championship, and that 2018 and beyond could be something special, then why are we wasting time with Aaron Hicks?  At best, Hicks is a marginal offensive player with a great glove and arm.  If that doesn't scream "4th Outfielder", I don't know what does.  Meanwhile, Judge has the potential -- yes, potential -- to be a great power hitter.  Let the big kid play.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Not that Chris Carter

In news that barely registers as news, the Yankees signed DH Chris Carter to a 1-year deal for $3.5 million.  This probably wouldn’t merit much consideration in a normal off-season, but this has hardly been a typical off-season for the Yankees.  Other than bringing back Aroldis Chapman for too many years and too much money and signing Matt Holliday for too much money but only for one season, the Yanks have been pretty quiet.

When I first saw reports of the Carter signing, and adjusted to the fact that this Chris Carter is neither the former NFL receiver nor the creator of The X-Files, I looked him up.  Led the NL in home runs last year.  Good.  Led the NL in strikeouts last year.  Not so much.  At first, I figured this was a low-risk, low-impact move.  But then I took a closer look.

Putting Carter under the microscope did not improve the situation.  While the 41 homers last year are impressive, the 206 strikeouts are a liability. Remarkably, Carter has actually led both the AL and NL in strikeouts in his career, and his highest season batting average was only .239, a season in which he only played in 67 games. This guy looks like the reincarnation of Rob Deer.

I'm also not thrilled that he's a right-handed hitter.  The Yankees will play half their games in Yankee Stadium, a lefty hitter's paradise.  In case you were wondering, though, Carter does not avail himself of all fields.  A spray chart of his home runs from last season shows just that:

Notice that Carter didn't hit a single homer beyond right-center field.  It appears that his swing is not ideally suited for the stadium's short porch.  Though he has tremendous power, Carter may also see a number of homers from last year turn into very long outs in the stadium's cavernous left-center field.

The best-case scenario is that Carter may turn out to be a good pinch-hitter.  Late in games, I guess, swinging for the seats is probably justified. It would be silly to expect much from him.  After all, there must have been a reason why the Brewers -- 12th in the NL in runs scored last year -- didn't offer him a contract. League leaders in home runs don't contemplate playing in Japan unless there are also some holes in his game.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Sale of the Century

For days, the prevailing rumor was that Chris Sale was going to be traded to Washington.  Ken Rosenthal even reported yesterday that the White Sox and Nationals were haggling over the final details.  Apparently, those details couldn't be worked out.

News has broken that Sale will be traded, but he'll only be changing the color of his socks... er, Sox.  The Red Sox have landed the dynamic Sale in exchange for a number of top prospects.  While the price was steep -- Yoan Moncada is a highly-touted Cuban import and Michael Kopech blew hitters away in A-ball -- Sale is one of the top pitchers in all of baseball.  He now joins what could be one of the best, if not the best, rotations in the major leagues.

Let's assume that Sale becomes the ace of the staff.  That would leave the AL's reigning Cy Young award winner as the Sox #2 starter.  Yep, Rick Porcello -- 22-4, 3.15 ERA, 1.01 WHIP -- might not be the best pitcher on the Red Sox.  And let's not forget about David Price, who signed with the Sox last season to be their ace.  Though Price had a "down" year -- going 17-9 with a near-career high ERA of 3.99 -- he still managed to strike out more batters than innings pitched.

While that top three would rival just about any organization's, the Sox aren't finished.  Their potential 4th starter, Drew Pomeranz, put up these numbers in 2016: 3.32 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 186 K's in 171 innings.  His record of 11-12 was certainly not indicative of his performance.  And certainly not the kind of numbers for a typical 4th starter.  The Sox still have promising lefty Eduardo Rodriguez and veteran Clay Buchholz to battle it out for the 5th spot.

The trade for Sale comes at a great time for the Red Sox.  All-Star and icon David Ortiz retired after another spectacular season, leaving a big hole in the middle of the lineup.  Though the Sox made the playoffs in 2016, their stay was brief.  Adding a pitcher of Sale's caliber puts an already solid rotation over the top, somewhat off-setting the loss of Ortiz to the offense.

The off-season is still young and there are still plenty of free agents to sign and players to trade.  However, it will be tough to beat the splash Boston made today.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Make Up Your Mind, Dude!

"Make up your mind, dude, is he gonna shit or is he gonna kill us?!?"
Jeff Spicoli was taken aback by his friend's contradictory statements.  After this weekend, I'd like to ask the same thing of the College Football Playoff Committee!

On Sunday, the CFP released their final rankings, setting the teams that will play for the chance to win a National Championship: #1 Alabama, #2 Clemson, #3 Ohio State and #4 Washington.  Certainly these are among the top college football teams in 2016 and are deserving of a spot.  But are they the most deserving?  And by what criteria?

As I wondered aloud in this column before, the committee faced a challenge in weighing Ohio State vs Penn State.  Yes, Ohio State was one of the top teams in the nation, losing only once against good competition.  An 11-1 team from a major conference is usually a solid choice for the playoffs.  But that one loss: it came at the hands of Penn State!  A Penn State team that, by virtue of that head-to-head-victory, played for and won the Big 10 Championship.  Certainly the committee had to struggle with leaving out a big-5 conference champion?  Apparently not.  Penn State -- Big 10 champs, winners of 11 games, the only team to hand Ohio State a loss -- finished 5th.

Don't get me wrong: I absolutely think Ohio State is a better team than Penn State.  In fact, I don't think Penn State is a very good team at all.  In fact, the real reason why I'm ticked off is that IF the CFP doesn't particularly value a conference championship, how is Penn State ranked ahead of Michigan?  The Wolverines, who finished what feels like a distant 10-2, placed 6th in the final rankings, behind a Penn State team that they absolutely throttled to the tune of 49-10.  That was no squeaker.

If not playing for a conference title doesn't matter, what does?  Head-to-head apparently doesn't count for much, as both Ohio State and Penn State (both ways) can now attest.  So now we're left to guess just what makes one team rank higher than another.  Make up your mind, dude.

The reality is that it actually didn't matter where Michigan finished in relation to Penn State.  As the winner of the Big 10 that is not in the playoffs, the Nittany Lions get an automatic bid to the Rose Bowl.  There they will face USC, who didn't win the Pac-12, didn't play for that title, but is the next-highest-ranked team from the Pac-12 at #9.

I, for one, will enjoy the Orange Bowl.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Controversy By Committee

It's Monday, the Monday after the Saturday that shook up the college football rankings again.  In The Game, #2 Ohio State beat #3 Michigan in thrilling (if not entirely satisfying) fashion.  In the AP Poll released on Sunday, Michigan fell, but not far, from 3rd to 5th.  That allowed both Clemson and Washington to move up to #3 and #4, respectively.  It stands to reason that the rankings from the College Football Playoff Committee would follow suit.

Which is all well and good... until next weekend.  On Saturday, Penn State will take on Wisconsin in the Big 10 Championship game.  Yes, even though Ohio State sits at 11-1, the lone blemish on their schedule came at the hands of 10-2 Penn State.  So while the Nittany Lions have a lesser overall record, both teams have the same 8-1 conference record.  Penn State wins the tie-breaker by virtue of having beaten the Buckeyes.

So let's play this out a little further.  Penn State wins the Big 10 Championship and has 11 wins against 2 losses.  Per the committee guidelines, they "place an emphasis on winning conference championships, strength of schedule and head-to-head competition when comparing teams with similar records and pedigree".  Ohio State, though probably the better team, has the same number of wins but lacks a conference championship and lost head-to-head.  Could that mean Penn State squeezes into the playoffs?  If so, who would they squeeze out?

It's hard to make an argument to keep out Clemson.  Assuming they beat Virginia Tech for the ACC Championship, a 12-1 Tigers team that had been ranked #2 earlier in the season by the CFP has a very strong case.  What about Washington?  The Huskies have been hanging around the peripheries of the playoffs since the first rankings placed them 5th.  But a win against Colorado in the PAC-12 Championship gives them a 12th win and that coveted conference championship.  Their lone loss was to a resurgent USC team that now ranks #10 in the AP Poll.

So it would appear to come down to PSU vs OSU.  In spite of their records, it would be hard for Ohio State to make the case that they are more deserving considering their loss to Penn State.  The opposite is true for Penn State: how can the team that they beat be going to the playoffs instead of them?

Of course, this is all speculation.  If this college season has taught us anything, it's to expect the unexpected.  Well, except an Alabama loss.