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.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

An American Eulogy

I typically don’t write about anything other than sports in this space, but today is different.  And yet, today I have the same feeling I had after the unbeaten Patriots lost in the Super Bowl.

That night, and the following morning, I reeled at the notion that everything I knew about football, about talent, organization and expectations, were somehow wrong.  That all the knowledge and experience I’d accumulated in my life were worthless.  If a team not expected to play in that game, a team so overmatched and so long on odds could somehow defeat a team chasing perfection, how could I make sense of it?  For all those reasons, it was the last NFL game I ever watched.

Now I sit here this morning, again overwhelmed by what just occurred.  How could all the polls and all the pundits have been so terribly mistaken?  What was their knowledge suddenly worth?  How could a candidate with no organization, no ground-game, and no political experience compete against a Clinton political machine?  How could a man who ran a campaign hobbled by scandal after scandal, a human anti-PC sound bite, not only survive but triumph?

These are questions we are all asking today.

Yes, America is divided, but not like before.  It’s not a division of left versus right, a squabble over over tax policy or education reforms. America is divided by basic human decency, as those who would stand up for those who can't stand up for themselves are drowned out by those who care for none. Nothing born of the basest instincts of man turns out well.

I have read the history books. They tell us there was once a Roman empire. A British Empire. That history also tells us that all empires must fall. America was founded on a core set of beliefs. Last night, those principles were fatally upended. The era of American exceptionalism is at its end. To borrow a line from last night, this feels like a funeral for America.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

You Can't Put a Price on Stupid

Kevin Durant's goodwill tour continues in style.  Not content to simply skip out on OKC to join a pre-made super-team in Golden State, Durant is determined to be the biggest heel in the NBA since LeBron headed south.
Sports Illustrated -- July 18, 2016
Fortunately for Durant, a man in the NBA must be measured by the size of his shoe, not by his heart.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Adventures of a Blind Squirrel

Brian Cashman has been busy. A flurry of deals before the MLB Trade Deadline has left heads spinning in Yankee-land just trying to keep up with all the comings and goings. Much praise has been heaped upon Cashman for his haul of prospects, and rightfully so.

So while I've never been shy to criticize Cashman in this space, this won't be a Bash-Cashman piece. Give the man credit for taking a bunch of mismatched parts and turning them into pieces to build a foundation for the future.

However... I did find it interesting that in his post-deadline press conference, Cashman had this to say about the 2016 Yankees. Talking about a team that was swept by the last-place Tampa Bay Rays after a stretch of good play:
A true playoff contender, you know, not a playoff pretender, wouldn't do that.
Sure, Brian, that's true. It's also what most Yankee fans have been saying about this team all season long. Nice of you to come around.

It's also an interesting choice of words to describe a TEAM THAT YOU PUT TOGETHER. One thing that always frustrates me about media coverage of Cashman is that he somehow seems to get the credit for all the things he does well but never seems to get blamed for the mistakes he often makes. I'm not sure who Cashman thinks brought all these pretenders together, but he sure was glad to see them go.

An under-performing middle of the lineup? I don't suppose it was Cashman who signed Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez. Oh, right, it was. Nor was it Cashman who benefited from their unlikely success in 2015 and did absolutely nothing to bolster the offense should they not reach their 2015 levels. Wait, right, that was Cashman, too.

Were it not for the resurrection of Carlos Beltran -- a player who has put up better numbers through July than he did in full seasons in 2014 and '15 -- the Yankees offense might be the worst in baseball. (Even with Beltran, the Yanks were 24th in MLB in runs and 29th in extra-base hits.) That Cashman was able to flip the free-agent-to-be for a top pitching prospect is as much luck as skill.

Though the Yankees have raised the white flag on 2016, no one will miss Chapman, Miller, Beltran or Nova -- not, at least, as far as wins and losses are concerned.  However, it will be some years before we know how successful this deadline swap session has been. Prospects, even elite ones, often take time to develop into solid major leaguers. The 2016 Yankees might be worse off, but by most measures the 2017 Yankees and beyond have taken the first steps towards improvement.

Time will tell if this particular squirrel has stashed away enough nuts for a snowy winter ahead.