Monday, January 8, 2018

Tim Tebow Is Sorta Right

With each season's selections for the College Football Playoff comes the inevitable controversy surrounding those picks.  While the CFP committee chooses the four teams that they feel are the best in the country, there are always schools -- and fans of those schools -- who feel they were unjustly left out.

Much of the discussion this season centered around Alabama and Ohio State.  In the end, the committee chose the one-loss Crimson Tide over the two-loss Buckeyes, even though Ohio State was the Big Ten champion and Alabama didn't even win their division.  Ironically, Ohio State benefited from the same type of decision when they were picked to compete in last year's playoffs ahead of the Big Ten champ Penn State.

But somewhat lost in the shuffle was the University of Central Florida.  The UCF Knights finished the regular season unbeaten -- 12-0! -- but were only ranked 10th by the playoff committee.  After a win in the Peach Bowl over 7th-ranked Auburn, the cries of injustice grew louder.  So loud, in fact, that they reached the delicate ears of Tim Tebow.  Tebow's response?

"There’s no question UCF [was overlooked].  But you need to go tell their president and athletic director to play a couple big-time teams in the regular season. You ask any analyst before they played Auburn and it would be really hard to justify them being in the top four with our eyes."
Tim has a point... the point being, an undefeated team that didn't beat anyone worth beating is not all that special.  More to the point, though: of the four teams that made the playoffs, which one would UCF beat?

Back in November, UCF gave up 42 points and over 600 yards in a win over USF.  What do you suppose Baker Mayfield and his Oklahoma offense would do against the Knight's defense?

So while the Knights were impressive in beating Auburn, that same Tigers team was manhandled themselves by Georgia in the SEC title game.  In fact, the Bulldogs literally ran over the Tigers with 238 yards rushing.  And let's not forget the Georgia defense: they held Auburn to only 259 yards of offense compared to the 400+ yards the Tigers gained in the Peach Bowl.

Over in the other bracket sits Alabama.  I'll just let you digest what the Crimson Tide did to the former #1-ranked, defending champion Clemson. While their 24-6 throttling may have lacked a degree of excitement, the Tide's methodical offense and staunch defense left Clemson with only 188 yards of offense.

What about UCF beating Clemson, you say?  After all, Auburn had beaten both Alabama and Georgia -- the two teams that will play for the national title -- and UCF knocked off Auburn.  Transitive Property anyone?

But even if we agree that Clemson looked like the most vulnerable team among the final four, that doesn't mean UCF was ever in any position to overtake them in the rankings.  This Clemson team was at or near the top of the rankings for most of the season.  While that doesn't mean anything on the field of play, it means a lot when it comes to picking who belongs in the college football playoffs.

Maybe UCF puts a Power 5 team on their schedule next time.  Maybe they even beat them.  Until then, they'll have to settle for calling themselves the national champions.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Wide Margin for Error

To paraphrase Shakespeare, I've come to praise Brian Cashman, not to bury him.  Okay, maybe "praise" isn't quite accurate, but this post will be a lot nicer to him than what I usually have to say.

When I first learned of the Giancarlo Stanton trade, I'll admit I had mixed feelings.  On the one hand, the Yankees just added the reigning National League MVP and barely gave up anything in return.  What a deal!  On the other hand, the Yankees did inherit the bulk of Stanton's gargantuan contract, 10 years and $220 million dollars-worth of it.  So much for getting under that Luxury Tax cap.

The other thing that left me scratching my head about this trade is the fact that the Yanks already have their own Stanton on the roster: his name is Aaron Judge, and he also plays right field.  So now the Yankees have two linebacker-sized, right-handed hitting sluggers who play right field.  Will one of them be the DH?  I don't know if Stanton is quite ready to give up his glove yet.  

Not only that, the second best hitter on the Yanks was, before this trade, Gary Sanchez.  As you might remember, Sanchez is a catcher, meaning he can't play every day behind the plate.  So if you want Sanchez to become your DH on days that he's not catching, then one of your right fielders doesn't play.  Unless you move one of your right fielders out of position and into left field... but then Brett Gardner doesn't play... unless you move Gardner back to center field, which means that Aaron Hicks doesn't play.  See what I mean?!?

All these machinations aside, it's a net positive to have Giancarlo Stanton in the Yankees' lineup (position TBD).  Which brings me back to my original point: Brian Cashman made a nice trade.  In fact, of all the things that a GM does, making trades is the thing Cashman does best.  (In fact, it may be the only thing he does well.  But no burying here.)

But take a closer look at this trade: the Yankees, with nearly unlimited resources, were able to wait out the Marlins until they had no choice but to trade Stanton for pennies on the dollar.  And there were a lot of dollars; so many dollars that most MLB teams couldn't afford it.  Does it take savvy baseball acumen to pay the most money?  Do you think other teams, even those on Stanton's wish list, could have given up a better package in return for Stanton if they were willing to take on as much salary as the Yankees did?  I'd sure think so.

Being able to stretch the budget also allows Cashman to indulge in his worst capacity as a GM: signing free agents to terrible contracts.  What other teams in baseball, save maybe the Dodgers, could afford to sit Jacoby "The Albatross" Ellsbury for most of the season?  Or resign Aroldis Chapman for more money than any closer has ever been given, only to see him lose the closer role for a stretch.  Throw in the gaudy contracts handed to the pedestrian Chase Headley or the long-term yokes of C.C. Sabathia and Alex Rodriguez that had plagued the Yanks in the past, and you get a sense of just how much leeway Cashman really has. 

Yes, Cashman makes some nice trades.  But a lot of those trades are made to paper over the terrible signings that otherwise hold the Yankees back.  Just don't get me started on how he treats his managers...

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.