Thursday, July 2, 2015

Best Gophers of the Tubby Era: #34-31

Throughout the summer I'll be writing up each of the 34 players who played for the University of Minnesota under Tubby Smith.  Why Tubby?  Because it's the most recent era that's over.  If this goes well perhaps I'll go back and do Monson as well.  I'll be looking at any player who played at Minnesota under Tubby at some point, even if it was just a year.  And I will be considering their entire Gopher career, so guys who started under Monson or finished under Pitino will have their whole career considered, but anyone who transferred in or out is only evaluated on their Gopher stats.  With me?  Here we go:

34.  DOMINIQUE DAWSON (2010-2011).
-  This is the one guy I actually don't remember, perhaps because he only played in 10 games in his career totaling just 23 minutes.  Unfortunately he only managed four shot attempts and missed them all, and since he never got to the line he ended his Gopher career with 0 total points.  Following the 2011 season Dawson transferred to Division II Kentucky-Wesleyan where he averaged 9.5 points and 6.5 rebounds his senior year.  Good for him.

33.  BRYANT ALLEN (2009-2010).
-  I remember Allen, though maybe only because he was going to be a two sport star.  Unfortunately he totaled just 7 points on the basketball court (and 21 receptions on the football field) in his brief time as a Gopher.  He would then transfer to Illinois State in a recently completed trade for Reggie Lynch and Zach Lofton and drop football to concentrate on hoops.  He averaged 8.3 points per game for the Redbirds across two seasons, then was dismissed from the team because of drugs.  Well, being arrested for drugs.

32.  WALLY ELLENSON (2012-2014).
-  He has better stats than a few guys who I'm ranking above him but that's mostly because of his playing time coming from his family using his younger, better brother to hold the coaches hostage.  He played in 9 games in both of his seasons here and was terrible.  He flashed an insane amount of athleticism to be sure, but shot just 31% for his career on his way to a total of 34 points, mostly because he absolutely loved to shoot and did not care one little bit if he, or anyone else, was open.  He also only managed one career steal despite being one of the most athletic guys on the court every time he stepped out there.  Basically he was terrible, a chucker, and a whiner with a over involved meddling family and a complete waste of a scholarship.  He's at Marquette now and regains eligibility next season so that should be fun.  I wish I could rank him lower.

31.  CHRIS HALVORSEN (2011-2013).
-  I only sort of remember Halvorsen, kind of like if you go to a fourth of July cookout at your wife's friends and one of her friend's husband is there and you get introduced and you make a note that he's the douche wearing his sunglasses backwards.  He's a Minnesota kid from Henry Sibley who originally played at Valparaiso before transferring back to walk-on for the Gophers in a move that seems backwards.  He didn't play much for the Crusaders so maybe he decided well whatevs, I'd rather sit the bench for the home team which is kind of nice.  Played two years and in 16 games totaling 31 minutes, scoring a total of five points.  Seems like a good guy.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

2015 NBA Draft Thoughts - First Round.

Thoughts on every round 1 pick.  Some of this was written live, some way later since my kids are spastic morons.  Will do some round 2 commentary tomorrow.  Or some other time.  Some time soon probably.  Leave me alone.

1.1 - WOLVES - Karl-Anthony Towns, Kentucky.  Love it.  Brilliant pick.  Here is where I gave my initial thoughts on Towns vs. Okafor, and it became more and more obvious through workouts and Towns would be the pick.  I'm just damn glad Flip didn't screw it up.

1.2 LAKERS - D'Angelo Russell, Ohio State.  If Towns didn't exist I would have been all over Russell.  I really, really like this guy and it wouldn't surprise me if he ends up being the best player from this draft (with Towns a close second, of course).  I'm not sure how he'll work next to Kobe since they both are ball dominant types, but to be honest I'm not sure how anybody works next to Kobe at this point.  Dude's insane.  Free agency should be interesting.

1.3 PHILLY - Jahlil Okafor, Duke.  God it would have been so awesome if the Sixers took another project like Porzingis.  I don't know if Okafor and Embiid can play together, but I don't know what's up with Embiid anyway, and based on conventional wisdom he's the best player available.  I'm pretty sure if you had told Sixer fans they'd get Okafor back in mid-season they'd be thrilled.  They still probably should be and Nerlens Noel is a great pairing with him since he can help erase a lot of defensive problems.

1.4 KNICKS - Kristaps Porzingis, Foreign. I just love that this was the Knicks' pick since they're so trainwrecky already.  Not that this Porzingis guy is necessarily a train wreck.  Everyone raves about him as a different type of Euro player (which we've heard before) so maybe he'll be awesome, but he's also a project and a year or two away from a meaningful impact.  I'm sure Melo is thrilled.  Plus they could really use a PG.  No idea why they didn't go with Mudiay but whatevs.

1.5 ORLANDO - Mario Hezonja, Foreign.  One the one hand, they say this guy is the one player in this year's draft who could win both a slam dunk and a 3-point contenst.  On the other hand, they just compared him to J.R. Smith.  Hopefully for the Magic his head is screwed on a bit straighter.  I read somewhere he's a seriously cocky mofo, so who knows.  They say he can shoot the lights out, and when three of your key rebuilding pieces are Aaron Gordon, Elfrid Payton, and Victor Oladipo well, you need some shooting.

1.6 KINGS - Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky.  Twitter and the internet hated this pick, and it was somewhat surprising considering WCS was reported to have some foot issues that had absolute no effect on him last year, but I like it.  The NBA big whigs are starting to figure out things like defense are pretty important and he's a monster on that end, and immediately.  Offense is a bit problematic, but with DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay on that team I'm not sure how many shots are available anyway, and at least he can dunk well.

1.7 NUGGETS - Emmanuel Mudiay, China.  Was thought at one point to possibly be going as highly as top 3, a surprising slide and a good pick for the Nuggets who have apparently made basically everyone available and are going into full tear it down mode.  Mudiay, who I still have questions about simply because I've never seen him play, makes it easier to trade Ty Lawson, their most valuable trade chip.  I'm kind of surprised they didn't move him already.

1.8 PISTONS - Stanley Johnson, Arizona.  Behind Towns and Russell, Johnson is my third favorite player in this draft.  Watching him at Arizona he was so athletic and was able to dominate at times without even looking like he was trying.  The game just comes so easy to him, and he's got plenty of size and skill.

1.9 HORNETS - Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin.  Well, Jordan is Jordan.  Reports came out that he fell in love with Kaminsky in his workout, and despite already having Spencer Hawes on the roster (who is maybe Kaminsky's best case scenario) as well as Cody Zeller and a possible super talent like Justice Winslow dropping in their lap, they go with the Tank.  I don't know.  It's hard to see Kaminsky developing into a dominant force or anything.  I just hate lottery picks with limited upside.  Doesn't make sense to me.

1.10 HEAT - Justice Winslow, Duke.  A nice little steal for Miami here.  I don't know why he slid, especially since there was a little talk about him possibly being a top 3 guy at one point after he showed off in the NCAA Tournament, but the Heat pretty much had to take him.  If Hassan Whiteside is legit their lineup of Dragic/Wade/Winslow/Bosh/Whiteside is pretty good if everyone stays healthy.  Which they wouldn't with that group, but it'd be pretty solid if they did.

1.11 PACERS - Myles Turner, Texas.  I think Turner was like the #2 recruit coming into last season so he's got boatloads of potential.  He may not exactly have lived up to it last season but you have to remember his coach was Rick Barnes who probably would have taken Kentucky to the NIT title last year.  I wasn't expecting to hear his name this early for some reason, but I think I just read that David West opted out so it makes sense.  Might sprinkle a little rookie of the year futures money on him.  If he's ready the playing time will be there.

1.12 JAZZ - Trey Lyles, Kentucky.  I was a bit surprised by this one since the Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert front court seems really solid with the back court quite a bit shakier (I thought Booker should have been the pick).  Then again, the Jazz are working on becoming a defensively awesome team and Lyles should be able to block some shots.  They were pretty much in best player available mode since they were awesome the second half of last year and have their rebuilt lineup pretty much in place so I suppose they think he's the best player available.

1.13 SUNS - Devin Booker, Kentucky.  I like Booker here.  Probably the best shooter in the draft (besides Towns of course).  Despite having a bunch of guard types they don't have anyone you would classify first as a shooter so Booker gives them that added dimension.

1.14 THUNDER - Cameron Payne, Murray State.  I only saw one Murray State game this year so I can't really comment intelligently on Payne.  I am, however, surprised a bit they went point guard instead of big man considering who they have, but maybe they think Mitch McGary is going to be a player.  I myself do not.  All I know is they shipped out Jeremy Lamb for Luke Ridnour and then drafted another PG.  Weird pick.

1.15 WIZARDS - Kelly Oubre, Kansas.  Yeah not getting it.  The Wiz also gave up two 2nd round picks to move up here.  Bradley Beal and Otto Porter are both pretty young and seemingly have the wing positions on lock down now that Porter remembered how to play basketball.  I get that sometimes it makes sense to go best player available and stuff, but I don't know that Oubre is that.  My least favorite pick so far.

1.16 CELTICS - Terry Rozier, Louisville.  I like Rozier, but I'm always a bit leery of a prospect who rises up the draft boards based on workouts, going from the 2nd round to the mid-first.  It's just like the WR who put up mediocre production in college, kills the combine, and shoots into the first round.  Seems like those bust more than usual. Not to mention Rozier is a point guard who plays great defense, rebounds really well, and has an iffy jumper - the exact description of Marcus Smart.  Weird pick.

1.17 BUCKS - Rashad Vaughn, UNLV.  Much higher than I thought he'd go, but Vaughn always had kind of had more of an NBA game than a college game anyway, and he made it pretty clear his goal was 1-and-done so good for him.  Milwaukee seems like they're doing that thing where you collect as many interchangeable parts as you can, and Vaughn fits in.  Also like that with Dekker on the board the Bucks don't fall into the trap of going for the hometown kid (not a rip on the Tyus trade because that made tons of sense - Vaughn fits here so much better than Dekker).

1.18 ROCKETS - Sam Dekker, Wisconsin.  It never even occurred to me but this is a perfect fit.  They lost Chandler Parsons, and although Trevor Ariza was a capable replacement I think Dekker is an even better choice since, like Parsons, Dekker is far more white than Ariza.  Really, I always thought Dekker would be better in a more uptempo role, and this fits.  One of the better player-to-team matches in the draft so far.

1.19 KNICKS - Jerian Grant, Notre Dame.  Wow the Knicks actually did something smart.  I mentioned above they need a PG (sorry Jose Calderon) and they traded Tim Hardaway (now expendable with last year's emergence of Langston Galloway) for the most ready to contribute PG in the draft in Grant.  So they drafted one guy who is maybe two seasons away and one guy who is ready to play right now.  That's so Knicks.

1.20 RAPTORS - Delon Wright, Utah.  Well this is who I wanted the Wolves to get with that first pick in round 2.  I was talking with Snacks today and there was all that talk of the Wolves packaging their two #2s to move back into the first for Tyus Jones, and I said I'd rather have Grant, and he said might as well keep the picks and get Wright and use the second one on a euro stash guy or something.  That all made sense.  But now Wright and Grant are both gone and Tyus is a pretty big tier above any other point guard left, maybe the trade makes sense (spoiler:  they do it.  radio is going to be horrible tomorrow).

1.21 MAVERICKS - Justin Anderson, Virginia.  Everyone's favorite late first round sleeper, including Grandslam's which I knew because he's sent me at least 3 texts about him tonight.  With Monta Ellis and Rajon Rondo peaced out they need some guard play because otherwise they're rolling J.J. Barea and Devin Harris out there.  Anderson could be just fine in the long run, but man these guys better be players for a guard in free agency.  Gross.

1.22 BULLS - Bobby Portis, Arkansas.  They have Taj Gibson and Joakim Noah so this is another pick that doesn't make a ton of sense from a fit sense, but Portis is a monster of an athlete.  Depending on how NBA-ready he is (debateable) he could give Chicago some real freedom to move Gibson, who everyone always seems to want, in a trade.  Plus his athleticism and defense are big strengths and could fit in well with Chicago's defensive oriented philosophy, which is what I would say if they still had Tom Tibedoux.  There's no way that's spelled correctly.

1.23 BLAZERS - Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Arizona.  Well he can defend his ass off.  With Nic Batum now gone (and I can't believe they're losing LaMarcus Aldridge, wow) Jefferson can pretty much slide right in and do a poor man's approximation on the wing.  He's a pretty horrendous shooter, however, so the change will be noticeable.  Man, poor Portland.  They're gonna be in rough shape next year.  Though I guess with Aldridge bouncing that gives them a bunch of money to chase Love or somebody like that.

1.24 WOLVES - Tyus Jones, Duke.  I like the trade if they really wanted a back-up for Ricky Rubio which it seems like they did from everything reported and makes a lot of sense since I think Zack LaVine's long term future is brighter as a shooting guard.  The only thing I hate about this is you're going to get a ton of vocal rubes loving it since he's from Minnesota and a ton of vocal rubes hating it since he left to go to Duke.  Seriously, the radio is going to be brutal tomorrow.  Especially PA.  He's so dumb.  If you like him promise me you'll stop reading this blog because I hate you.

1.25 GRIZZLIES - Jarell Martin, LSU.  Monster athlete and I like it.  Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph are both still excellent players but they're both sorta ground bound, and Martin is the complete opposite.  Back-up bigs are Jon Leuer and Kosta Koufos, so Martin is them going in a totally different direction with their bigs.  Plus if I remember right he's a bit feisty which means he'll fit right in.  I think.  That's the current narrative on them, at least.

1.26 SPURS - Nikola Milutinov, Foreign.  Normally taking a Euro dork late is a pretty wasted move, but since this is the Spurs I irrationally find myself assuming it's a great pick.  Of course, I thought they got a steal last year with UCLA's Kyle Anderson and he played less than 400 minutes last year (he might have been hurt or something, I don't know but he didn't play much).  Also if you click on ESPN's scouting report for this guy it says he lacks a great motor and is a little soft.  That really doesn't sound like Pop's kinda guy.

1.27 LAKERS - Larry Nance Jr., Wyoming.  I said Martin is a monster athlete but Nance makes Martin look like you.  He played at Wyoming and struggled with a bunch of injuries so he never really got a lot of attention in college, but the name means something and seriously he's a great athlete - assuming he's all the way back from like 4 ACL tears or whatever.

1.28 CELTICS - R.J. Hunter, Georgia State.  I wonder if he would have been picked this high if he hadn't had the NCAA Tournament he had, but whatevs dude is pretty talented.  Celtics with another guard is a bit weird, but at least this one can shoot.  They now have Isaiah Thomas, Marcus Smart, Phil Pressey, Avery Bradley, James Young, R.J. Hunter, and Terry Rozier.  That's like, way too many guards.  Between their draft and the rumors earlier tonight that they were shopping Marcus Smart, I think they're shopping Marcus Smart.  Maybe the Wolves can trade Tyus for him?

1.29 NETS - Chris McCullough, Syracuse.  You're probably like who? and that makes sense.  He was a highly touted, highly regarded recruit before he destroyed his knee and he entered the draft anyway which normally I'd say dude what? but he got the guaranteed cash so good for him.  If you recall, the Nets have basically traded every pick they have for the foreseeable future, so at 29 you either go with a less touted prospect or shoot for the stars.  McCullough is a shoot for the stars pick and although it probably won't work out it makes total sense for a team with no way to build a future.

1.30 WARRIORS - Kevon Looney, UCLA.  Like this guy a lot an a great pick for the champs.  I read they have an option on Marreese Speights and now they can cut him loose and save some cash, and David Lee is even easier to move, though I don't know what they have to send along with him and his $15 million contract.  Course I seem to almost always love a lot of the end of the 1st round picks for good teams, and how many of them actually work out?  Like 3?  Ever?

There's your first round.  Really like the Wolves draft (and NOT because Tyus is from Minnesota, I would have preferred Grant but I like getting a PG).  Here's your depth chart right now:

PG:  Rubio/Jones
SG:  Martin/LaVine
SF:  Wiggins/Muhammad
PF:  Towns/Garnett
C:  Pekovic/Dieng

Seems fun.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Hey Some Sports Stuff Happened

Some of you who still actually read this blog have noticed I haven't posted in a while.  Mostly because I was driving across the country to Utah with my wife and two idiot kids.  We covered more than 2,500 miles and traveled in Minnesota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming, and Utah over the last 15 days, spending nights in 3 different hotel rooms and 2 different condos.  We saw Mount Rushmore, the black hills (freaking gorgeous), a bunch of cool Mountains and stuff, swam in 3 different pools, saw some dinosaurs, a moose, a bunch of antelope, and more cows and horses than you could ever want.  We drove through a true ghost town (like, a bunch of buildings and nobody living there), Deadwood (Billy the Kid died there), went through the world's biggest drug store (Wall Drug in Wall, SD) and a town with a sign advertising population 15.  I drank vodka tonics out of a sports bottle at the pool, boxed wine out of a paper cup in a pitch black hotel room while the kids slept, and snuck beer in the garage at a mormon birthday party. 

Best of all, my kids got to spend time with their grandparents and spent 9 full days with their cousins who are about the same age and whose mom is their mom's sister and best friend and they loved every minute of it.  There were many tears when we left, and my daughter vowed to be pen pals with her cousin while my son wailed "but we can't leave cousin Ike is my best friend!!!!"  I dreaded doing this before we started (even though I knew it was something we should do). Yes, there were moments where it got difficult (like when the bridge in Wyoming was washed out and we had to back track 50 miles, or when the road in Wyoming was washed out and we had to go out of our way by about 130 miles), but the kids held on and were troopers despite a couple 12 hour days in the car and it was a fantastic trip all around.  We will definitely do it again in a few years.  And I'm going to dread every moment leading up to it.

Any way, there was some sports stuff that happened.  Also Wyoming can go right to hell.

-  The big news is that Gopher commit Jarvis Johnson will not be medically cleared to play for the Gophers due to his heart condition.  This on the heels of another commit, Jonathan Nwankwo, not getting clearance to play due to some indeterminate academic issue.  So what the hell is going on here?  This isn't the first time the basketball team has run into issues with the admissions office - recall Djuan Piper or Gaston Diedhiou, just in the last year.  Honestly I'm pretty tired of it.

I get that the University of Minnesota is among the top academic schools in the country - US News ranked it #71 in its Top Academic Universities in the nation list - and that's cool.  I mean, I like seeing the U up there on that list, much better than being someone like UNLV who received a "Rank not Published" because they were so bad.  The problem is, if you want to be an athletically relevant school sometimes you have to bend the rules a bit.  Duke ranks #5, but William Avery, who seemed like a complete dope, got in there because he could ball.  USC ranks #22 and I'm pretty sure O.J. Mayo is a moron.  Georgetown ranks #20 and they let in Kenny Brunner, who ended up trying to kill somebody with a god damn samurai sword.

Look, I'm not an idiot.  If there's a danger to Jarvis, and unacceptable danger, then sure, hold him out, of course.  The kid's safety is paramount here so I'm not necessarily bashing this decision, just the overall state of the admissions department which seems to constantly be at odds with the basketball program.  I know you can't let in some degenerate who can't read, but Nwankwo landed at VCU, which may not have the lofty academic status of the U but it still ranked in the top 200.  Come on already.  The Gopher athletic program will never rise to top tier status if the rest of the University actively works to hold it down.  Admitting some borderline or slightly worse than borderline students who can ball the fuck out isn't going to put a black eye on the school.  This program is cursed, and the tight ass admissions people sure as hell aren't helping.

And, if you'll allow me to be human for a moment, this has to just suck for Jarvis.  The kid just had his dream pulled out from underneath him. Despite the report that he and his family were kind of blindsided by this it doesn't appear at this time that he's looking to transfer.  That makes me think there's some legit shit going on here and not some kind of conspiracy - nobody wants another Hank Gathers situation.  This is really the wrong issue to start railing on the U's admissions department because this one might make sense, it's just the latest in a series of setbacks so it's a little bit of burnout here.  Ugh.  Just sick of it.

-  The Twins started their regression with a 2-9 stretch, but have bounced back with a 3-1 stretch and still sit at 37-31 and second place in the AL Central.  I pretty much expect this kind of thing.  Most likely they'll play around .500 ball the rest of the year and end up staying in contention for a Wild Card berth and things will stay interesting.  I'm pretty excited about that, though it's a negative also.  If the Twins hang around in contention it means guys who should probably be trading this year, especially Trevor Plouffe since his value is probably at an all-time high right now, won't be.  

Hey I like Plouffe, I'm a big fan and my kid has some big giant face thing of his.  But his numbers are better than how he's actually playing and it's unlikely a 29 year old suddenly hit his peak, he's a free agent after this year, and the best prospect in the system other than Buxton is a 3B.  He's prime trade material.  Not to mention Mike Pelfrey, who they better not resign/extend because he is terrible no matter what his fluky ERA is.  

Of course, it's intoxicating to think about the playoffs, too.  If they can just get in, anything can happen.  Who knows how this shakes out, the Twins could end up buyers or sellers, but most likely they'll stand pat and that's probably the right move.  Of course, when you're about to get a pitcher like Ervin Santana back that's as good as making a trade anyway.

Some other Twin things:

-  Byron Buxton is here!  He picked up his third career hit today, but that 2-20 start wasn't exactly encouraging especially since other prospects on his level have produced so far this year (Kris Bryant, Joey Gallo, Carlos Correa).  With all the traveling and stuff I've only seen one of his at-bats and he looked fine (despite striking out) so it's hard to know if he's overmatched right now or if it's just bad luck so far, but we can look into some nerd stats to get an idea.  

First thing that stands out is a BABIP of .143.  Essentially no matter how much a batter may be struggling that is completely non-sustainable (the lowest BABIP for anyone in 2014 was .231 by Brian McCann).  His strikeout rate is a kind of scary 33%, but it's not all that surprising considering he's been around 25% his first year at each level.  His 7.7% line drive rate and 21.4% hard hit rate both suggest he's making terrible contact when he does hit the ball, however, and that's not good.  His swing rate is a little high and his contact rate a little low, but nothing too concerning.  

There's plenty to like here still.  His speed and defense give him value even when his bat might not, and I have to believe his bat will come around simply because he's always hit and also because I have to believe it.  Give him time.  Nothing to panic about.  Right?

-  I'm pretty bummed about Danny Santana.  I know the .405 BABIP pegged him as pretty much an automatic regression candidate, but he had a really good line drive rate so I thought you know, maybe.  But the line drive rate has gone down, the K rate has gone up, and the walk rate has completely disappeared leading to an embarrassing .525 OPS, second worst in the majors among hitters with at least 185 PAs.  Couple that with Eduardo Escobar's hot start and sending him down was pretty much a no brainer.  Escobar's cooled off now, however, and Santana is crushing at Rochester (.370/.412/.543) so he'll be back up, and hopefully he'll be all straightened out.

-  I don't know if anyone has noticed, and by that I mean I think everyone has noticed, but Joe Mauer has been worth -0.5 WAR this season, meaning he's worse than replacement level.  Meaning you take some shlub like Chris Colabello or Chris Parmelee or whoever the equivalent would be right now in AAA and plug him in and he'd give you more than Mauer.  Mauer, who is currently getting paid $23 million to completely suck at an offensively premium position.  His slugging and OPS are both the worst in the American League among first basemen with enough at bats to qualify for the batting title, which means he's playing one of the most traditional power positions without supplying any power (or anything offensively, really).  

His walk rate has slipped to a career worst as well, so you can't even point to his OBP (a pedestrian .329, 70 points or so lower than his career number) and say "well, at least he's getting on base."  His "soft contact" percentage is the worst it's ever been, and he's already popped up in the infield twice this year.  You can say that doesn't sound like much, and in some cases it isn't, but from 2011-2014 he only popped up a total of two times - not a misprint.  

I don't know where to go from here.  He's making $23 million per year through 2018 so he's impossible to trade unless you include something extremely premium or pick up a lot of his salary, which is pointless.  The only way he's remotely tradeable is if he ups his production level, which seems unlikely since his 2009 season, the one which got him that big contract, was a complete outlier.  His 28 homers that year were more than double his next best year.  His batting average was nearly 40 points better than his second best year.  His ISO was 60 points higher, his WAR over 2 wins better than any other year in his career, and his HR/FB was almost double any other season.  Just a complete fluke.

At this point, as frequent commenter and long time reader RGHrbek mentioned in the comments, he's blocking Kennys Vargas, who needs at-bats.  He could end up blocking Plouffe or Miguel Sano's move to first, and by taking up one of the 1B/DH spots he's also blocking Josmil Pinto's development.  Seriously, if you could only have two of the three out of Vargas, Mauer, and Plouffe, don't you take Vargas and Plouffe?  Mauer needs to be traded just to free up playing time for the younger dudes, but he's completely untradeable so here we are.  Hopefully he can turn it around and give the team a little average and on base skills if nothing else.  Oh and he's completely horrid defensively too, don't forget.  Neat stuff.

-  If you have kids go see Inside Out.  It was pretty awesome.

Yeah that'll do for now.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Welcome Aboard, Davonte Fitzgerald (and a look at an underrated reason the Twins are good)

Just a little Gophers and Twins update, since they rule.

-  The Gophers closed out the 2015 recruiting class, again, by picking up 6-7 forward Davonte Fitzgerald, a transfer from Texas A&M.  Fitzgerald, a sophomore, will sit out 2015-2016 and will have two years of eligibility remaining.  It seems a lot of people hate this signing.  Let's look at why so I can tell you why you're wrong.

1.  Taking a player from TAMU is taking a player from a crappy team/conference.  The SEC has been down lately, sure, and Texas A&M hasn't made the NCAA tournament since 2011.  Some of this argument makes some sense.  But recall, prior to missing the tournament in 2012 the Aggies had gotten invited six years in a row and their down years coincided with Mark Turgeon's jump to Maryland.  Billy Kennedy has the program rising with an NIT bid last season and a CIT bid the year before.  Now they're poised to take a pretty big jump with the #6 ranked recruiting class in the country coming in per ESPN and they're also returning their top 3 scorers from last year.  Texas A&M isn't a juggernaut or a blue blood, but I'd be hard pressed to claim Minnesota is a better program.

2.  He wasn't very good.  Mainly this is from people who see he averaged 3.5 points per game as as sophomore and are like omg this guy blows lol.  What they miss, of course, is he averaged 7.3 ppg in just 15 minutes per game as a freshman and basically played the second unit instant offense role - until he tore his ACL in February.  He came back last year and the season was pretty much a loss, which is why his average points per game was down by half.  After averaging 16 minutes per game as a freshman he only reached that mark six times all last season.  If you're the type who thinks that's probably because he suddenly sucked, well, you're probably an idiot.  By the time he gets to see the court for the Gophers he'll be over two years clear of that injury.  That's probably good, because he was good.

Coming out of high school Fitzgerald was a Top 200 player with offers from Clemson, Georgia, Florida State, and Temple along with TAMU.  His scouting reports described him as long and athletic, bouncy, slasher who can also hit the three, can play at both ends, and a national sleeper.  Post injury and transfer announcement the other teams after him with the Gophers included UCONN, Cal, and Arizona State.  I'm pretty sure he's still good, or at least has potential.

3.  The Gophers needed a big guy.  This is true, of course, but I need a blowjob from Kate Upton as well and I don't see that happening.  The cards didn't align for whatever reason on Pitino getting an immediately eligible big in here, but I don't see why Fitzgerald is a bad thing.  Pitino seems to be collecting athletic wings who can defend and play multiple positions and those kind of teams generally do quite well.  Yeah, I'd feel much better with any kind of established post dude and I have a feeling this is going to be kind of a lost year, but 2016-2017 with Reggie Lynch eligible could be a huge year.  Fitzgerald and Jordan Murphy could potentially play some PF, not to mention Gaston Diedhiou and Bakary Konate and, oh yeah, Charles Buggs is here too.  Treat 2015 as a building year.  Be excited for 2016.  That's also Pitino's first year with all his own players, so it better be a good one.

4.  He shoots to much.  A little nervous about this one.  Frehsman year he had a 32.7% shot percentage with a 43.8 eFG.  Sophomore year he had a 27.7% shot percentage with a 41.6 eFG.  Add in a basically non-existent assist rate and you're looking at a flat our chucker.  Either he needs to take it down a notch, or he everyone else needs to be good enough that he can play the Malik Smith-like gunner role where you put him in and if he's hot you let him roll and if he's not you sit him down.  Hoping he gets his bombing under control, but this seems like the one real legit beef here.

Plenty of question marks yeah, but I see a lot of good things here too.  Really depends on if he's recovered from his injury, and with over 2 years clear he should be.  I know he doesn't help for 2015 and the team could have used a big, but I'm pretty sure Pitino has a plan. Again, 2016.  That's our year.  That's it.  Circle it.  We goin' Sizzla.

-  And the Twins.  What can we say about the Twins?  Tied for first in the AL Central, 10 games over .500.  This rules, and is a full year ahead of schedule.  There are some obvious reasons why the Twins are overachieving - Brian Dozier is still awesome, Torii Hunter has shown zero dropoff at age 39, Trevor Plouffe is having a career year so far, Kyle Gibson may be becoming an ace, and Mike Pelfrey is pitching out of his mind.  Along with all these there's one piece of the game where the Twins have shown major improvement - they've become an average defensive outfield.

That may not sound like much, but it is.  Using Ultimate Zone Rating (and yes, no defensive metric is perfect but this one looks good, i.e. the Royals rank 1st of all outfields), the Twins ranked second to last in 2014, third to last in 2013, and third to last in 2012.  This year they rank 16th.

If you want to break it down, the Twins outfield defense, not taking into account pitching, hitting, infield fielding, or anything else has cost the team 0.9 runs against average this year.  That's nothing.  In 2014, outfield defense cost the team 36 runs, in 2013 it was 35 runs, and in 2012 it was 21.  The nerds say 9 runs is equal to one win, so basically the team has gone from costing itself 4 wins due to outfield defense alone to being on pace to cost themselves to about a third of a win (though this number is bound to get worse once Oswaldo Arcia gets back).  It's hard to reconcile what that really means, but the difference in a 4.0 WAR to a 0.35 WAR is the difference between Miguel Cabrera's hitting ability and Kurt Suzuki's hitting ability in 2014.  It's a pretty big deal!

Last year Arcia and Jason Kubel were absolute butchers and Josh Willingham wasn't much better.  Nobody was very good at all, with only Sam Fuld grading out well.  Basically that defense was where fly balls went to live.  This season Arcia has still been bad, Eduardo Escobar shaky out there (no surprise either), and for all Jordan Schafer's speed he's been the worst fielder on the team, but there's lots of good news.  Eddie Rosario has been pretty much average, but Aaron Hicks has made a big leap forward from last season, and Shane Robinson has been elite (top 10 in MLB, no joke).

Look man, there are a billion reasons to not buy into the Twins.  Those articles are all over the internet and you can't go to a sports website without tripping over one.  And I'm not saying I'm 100% on board yet either, but I'm getting close.  Lots of fluky things about this team that could go away in a hurry, but outfield defense isn't one of them.  As Deep Blue Something once said, "Well at least that's, the one thing we've got."

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Thursday Thoughts

I haven't done a completely pointless post like this in quite some time.  Guess maybe I will now.

-  So Jonathan Nwankwo, one of the Gopher hoops signees for next season, was let out of his letter of intent.  Here's my post from when he originally committed so I won't rehash all that, but this sucks.  There are all kinds of rumors to why, but they all agree on it being an academic thing.  If it's an NCAA issue as some suggest, well, what are you going to do?  If it's a U of M thing, man that sucks.  I get that being a high level academic institution is important, that's kind of the Big 10's thing, but I don't really care because it doesn't affect me.  I'd rather have them just go ahead and admit anybody who can play basketball at a high level and work it out from there.  I like that the U is a big time smarty pants research school, but can't we just make an exception for sports?

-  The Wolves won the lottery!  They get to pick first, and the cynic would say of course they won this year when there are 3-4 legitimate options for first overall pick, but as much as I love DeAngelo Russell, and I do, I think the clear 1-2 are Karl-Anthony Towns and Jahlil Okafor.  For me, it's clear that Towns needs to be the pick.

Okafor is a ready made post scorer with more polish on that end than Towns, but Towns can do so much more and, in my eyes, has a lot more potential.  Towns is nearly as good in the post, hitting 72% of his attempts at the rim while Okafor hit 75%, but Towns can step out and do some other things offensively.  Seventy percent of Okafor's shots came at the rim, while Towns was just 54%, and Okafor didn't even attempt a single shot farther out than 17 feet this year, while Towns actually attempted eight three pointers and plenty of mid-range stuff.  Here are their shot charts from

Almost all at the rim

More balanced.

That doesn't mean that Okafor can't develop a perimeter game, but it does mean Towns is closer and the disparity in free throw percentage (Okafor 51%, Towns 82%) suggests the same.  Additionally, Towns averaged nearly double the blocked shots per game despite playing nine fewer minutes and on a per possession basis Towns blocked 11.7% of shots when he was on the floor (16th in the country) and Okafor just 4.5% (still good for 245th).  Rebounding, Okafor edges Towns by about 1.5 per game, but again, per possession Towns' percentages are absolutely elite, while Okafor's are merely very good.

Okafor showed his game all season, while Towns merely began to tap his potential.  It also remains to be seen if Okafor can up his defensive game while I don't think there's any question how good Towns can be, and Okafor struggled against seven footers last season while Towns held his own pretty much against anybody.  The choice is clear, it needs to be Towns, or it's a huge mistake.

-  I suppose I have to talk Twins seeing as how they're suddenly on a 93 win pace, but I'm kind of trying to ignore it because it's just beyond fragile right now.  Everything from run differential to pythagorean winning percentage to cluster luck says this isn't a 93-win team.  Pythagorean winning percentage says this is probably more like an 80 win team, and digging even deeper into the nerd stats says they might even be worse than that.   And this so far with Mike Pelfrey pitching out his ass and Kyle Gibson greatly outperforming his peripherals (though Gibson could do it all year, but don't expect Pelfrey not to crash).

Still, Phil Hughes should get better and Trevor May will hopefully get better, plus reinforcements should show up at some point in Alex Meyer and Ervin Santana, not to mention a couple extra bullpen arms who could show up.  The offense has been great - 6th in runs scored in the majors - and though it will probably regress a bit it should be fine, and with just as many candidates who should get better as who will likely fall off a bit that's looking good.  Oh man I'm getting optimistic.  This is horrible.

Here is one guarantee:  Santana is eligible to return sometime in July.  The trade deadline is July 31st.  I promise you if the Twins are anywhere near contention we will hear "Well we're getting Santana back, that's just like making a trade" or something similar.  And then I will drive my car off the nearest bridge.

-  A few other baseball things of note:  Bryce Harper becoming a young monster (1.203 OPS at age 22), Miguel Cabrera's Day/Night splits (1.427 OPS in the day, .645 at night), Eric Hosmer being good now and maybe even Mike Moustakas too, Joc Pederson's three true outcomes (54% of his plate appearances have ended in a walk, strikeout, or home run), Kris Bryant, Dee Gordon's insane luck (.444 BABIP), the Astros quest to break the strikeout record (batting) while still being good, Chase Utley's disappearance (.513 OPS), Giancarlo Stanton crushing the ball, Danny Santana's attempt to never walk, Michael Brantley trying to finish with twice as many walks as strikeouts, Melky Cabrera's complete loss of power (3 XBH this year) and Billy Hamliton looking to have more stolen bases than hits.

Also, every Aroldis Chapman appearance, James Shields striking out everyone in sight, Chris Tillman's sudden inability to throw a strike, everything about the Trevor Bauer experience, Michael Pineda being (and staying healthy), Cole Hamels trade watch, Jason Marquis still being in the league and still having a rotation spot, Shelby Miller becoming a star, Matt Harvey appointment TV, and what the hell happened to Stephen Strasburg?

-  I thought there'd be more, but apparently I'm out of practice and my stamina isn't what it used to be. So, bye.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Welcome aboard, Jordan Murphy!

Over the weekend the Gophers added the seventh and final member of this year's class (though Reggie Lynch won't be eligible until the 2016-2017 season) in Jordan Murphy, a 6-7 forward from Texas who had originally signed with VCU.  Shaka Smart left, Murphy decommitted, Texas had no openings, Pitino swept in and wowed Murphy's parents, and wa la, the Gopher picked up Rivals #113 ranked player.  He joins Kevin Dorsey (#108) and Dupree McBrayer (#135) in giving the Gophers three Rivals Top 150 players which is like whoa.

Murphy is a terrific pick-up, especially this late in the year when you're more likely to pick up a waste of a 4-year scholarship than someone who can come in and play heavy minutes right away.  Murphy can, and most likely will, play heavy minutes at PF backing up Joey King, considering the unsettled state of the Gopher bigs.  Beyond King, where you know exactly what you're going to get, everyone else is a complete question mark.  Murphy, as a freshman, obviously isn't a known quantity at this point either, but nowhere in any of the scouting reports on this kid will you find the word project or unpolished, an adjective that applies to every other member of the Gopher frontcourt.

On the contrary, Murphy is described as a smooth and polished scorer.  He can score inside and out, and according to ESPN's scouts he's the kind of player who can grab a rebound on the defensive side of the ball and then take off down court and take it coast to coast on his own.  Righteous.  ESPN also says he can guard both wings and "smaller power forwards" which is hopefully no longer true and he can guard all power forwards because the Gophers are awfully crowded on the wing.  He's listed at 6-7 and 220 lbs. so more than likely ESPN is correct which does put a minor damper on things, but he could be the best recruit in the class so let's celebrate that and worry about defensive assignments later.

I absolutely love this class.  Two point guards who can both play on or off the ball, three wings who can all play either two or three spots, and a rangy big man who should be a solid rim protector right off the bat, if nothing else.  Add in Michael Hurt, already signed for 2016, and Lynch and Pitino is on his way to constructing the kind of team I love - an athletic group who are basically interchangeable with multiple ball handlers and most of the players able to guard several positions.  I love it.  Let's get this season started already.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The Twins are over .500. The hell?

Though being one game over .500 isn't exactly blowing up the league, the Twins had extremely low expectations with a Vegas over/under of 70.5 wins, so being on pace to win something like 84 games represents a substantially better season than expected.  One can't help but wonder how they got here, and if we can expect it to last and maybe see some semi-meaningful baseball in September again for the first time in what feels like forever.

The offense has been about what was expected:  Team overall OPS is .675, last year it was .713.  They're walking a little less and hitting with a little less power so far, but overall nothing out of the ordinary and they've averaged 4.56 runs per game this year compared to 4.41 last year so the offense is fine.  It'd be nice for Kurt Suzuki and Kennys Vargas to start hitting, but the offense is fine.  The defense has been atrocious as expected, so the improvement must have come from the pitching.

Sure enough, team ERA in 2015 is 4.07, down a half a run from 4.58 last year.  Even better, starters' ERA is 4.38, which is 10th worst in the majors but a major upgrade from last year's 5.06 and 2013's 5.26, both dead last in the majors.  Twins' relievers sport an ERA of 3.58, in line with 2014's 3.73 and 2013's 3.50, so any improvement has come from the starting pitching.  Might as well look at all these guys and see who might actually be, like, good.

PHIL HUGHES:  Hughes had a nearly impossible task trying to replicate both a career year and a historic walk/strikeout ratio, but he hasn't come close so far putting up numbers more in line with his Yankee days than last season.  He's still controlling walks well and his strikeouts, though down a bit, are at a nice number, but he's getting killed by home runs, allowing 1.91 HRs per 9 innings after allowing just 0.69 last year.  The good news is that he's allowing a home run on 15.1% of all his fly balls, which is likely an outlier since it would have been the second worst in the majors among starters with at least 150 innings pitched last season, and I'm pretty sure a Phil Hughes making about his half his starts at Target Field isn't going to end up at that number.  He got really lucky about home runs last year (6.2% HR/FB), but his true ability probably lies somewhere in the middle.  He probably won't be as good as last year, but he'll be better than he's been thus far.

KYLE GIBSON:  Gibson's ERA is down almost a full run from last season, but there are some serious red flags here.  His BABIP this year is just .267, below his career average and the league average, and his runners LOB% is 75.8%, which would be a top 30 mark most seasons - both significant indicators of luck.  Alarmingly his K/9 has dropped to 2.79 (from 5.37 last year) which is dead last in the majors, and his walks have jumped by 1 per nine innings at the same time to 3.86, 14th worst in the league.  He's also allowing a career worst 24% line drive rate and 83.6% contact rate.  Seeing as he's shown nothing at all to support his ERA improvement from last season you're looking at a serious regression candidate unless he starts missing some bats.

MIKE PELFREY:  The guy who nobody wanted in the rotation except for him and his family, and Pelfrey's put up a 2.63 ERA in five starts, but don't let that fool you - he's still terrible.  BABIP is .259, LOB % is 83.3%, and HR/9 is just 0.66 - there's no way this keeps up.  Those numbers last season would have ranked 18th, 1st, and 18th - does Pelfrey seem like a Top 20 pitcher to you?  I will say this - his 56% ground ball rate is a very good thing and his hard hit ball percentage is just 18.1%, second in the league and probably fluky but not as definitely fluky as his other peripherals  I'm not buying yet, but he's throwing a ton more split fingers and sliders and isn't relying as much on the fastball, and somehow he's managed to put more than 2 mph on his fast ball compared to last year.  I don't believe in Pelfrey, but I expected this paragraph to be much worse.  He may actually end up a decent number 4-5 starter.

TREVOR MAY:  Probably the most important of these guys given his youth and potential, May's 4.15 ERA is decent but the good news is he's probably even better than that.  His BABIP is high and his LOB % is low.  He's putting up a respectable 6.9 K/9 and has reigned in his massive control problems from last year to average just 1.73 walks per nine.  His HR numbers are a bit fluky and he should regress there a bit, but as long as he can control his walks he should be solid.  We may have something here.  Get it?  Control his walks?  May have something?  That's high comedy right there.

TOMMY MILONE:  You generally don't expect much from fifth pitchers, but Milone has been more like a seventh or eighth guy so far.  Among Twins' pitchers with at least 20 innings pitched he ranks last in walk rate, homer rate, FIP, and xFIP, and his ERA is second worst at 4.76.  Perhaps the worst part is that Milone's BABIP is a minuscule .243 and his LOB is over 80%, so he's actually been putting up these horrid stats while getting lucky.  Yuck.  His control is completely out of hand with 4.37 BB/9, nearly double his career average and he's just giving up a monstrous amount of home runs.  Assuming he hasn't lost it he should be better than this but he's never going to be special.  A guy with a 87 mph fastball has to be pretty sharp with control and pitch mix, so it certainly is possible he's lost it.   Might even work better for the Twins if he has, so they can finally get Alex Meyer up here.

So, kind of a mixed bag.  Some guys should be better than they've been, some worse.  Probably the kind of thing you'd expect on a team that's right around .500.  And hey, maybe they'll stay there.  That'd be cool.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Welcome aboard, Ahmad Gilbert!

Ahmad Gilbert, a 6-6 wing from Philly, has committed to the Gophers.  Gilbert isn't all that highly ranked, coming in at three stars from ESPN and overall recruit #259 and SF #49 at 247sports, but I'm optimistic after looking scouting reports and reading a bit more (more on that in a second).  He originally had committed to George Mason over Wichita State, Temple, and South Florida among others.  After GMU fired their coach he was released from his NLI and was recruited by Minnesota, Pitt, and South Florida, ultimately choosing the Gophers.

Everyone calls him a big-time scorer, and he looks like he's a big time shooter and he's left-handed so that's always fun to watch.  He shoots more of a set shot and has a really low release point so it's a question if he can get that shot off against big time competition, but it looks like when he does it goes in the basket and awful that and that's the whole point of basketball so that's good.  He's not a great driver or distributor, but with Kevin Dorsey and Jarvis Johnson on their way he shouldn't need to be, and the team could use more shooting without question.  Additionally he's one of those long type of guys and is already a good defender so he could play right away.

Most likely this also closes the door on Malik Ellison, a more highly rated wing, but Ellison's recruitment is picking up and he's had plenty of time to commit.  Pitino really couldn't take a chance holding off Gilbert until Ellison was ready to make a decision and potentially losing both guys, so it makes sense to take Gilbert on now.  And, although this post is maybe coming up negatively, I do like the signing.  Pitino is basically building this roster from scratch, and he needs a little bit of everything.  The one piece missing from this recruiting class so far, besides a power forward, is a shooter and ideally Gilbert will fit that role.  He'll be more of a project than any of the other perimeter signings and on a team with a few projects already things could get messy, but he has a ton of potential.  Not to mention building a team of similar sized, athletic types is a perfect recipe for the type of style Pitino wants to play.

One scholarship remains for 2015-2016, and it's almost certainly got to be a big guy.  Ellison and Gilbert could play together, but the team is so loaded with perimeter guys and so light on bigs right now they really need to bring in somebody with some size, and ideally some skill would be good too.  There are a handful of current candidates, but three of them would have to sit out next season:

- PF Chris Boucher, Powell, WY (#10 JuCo):  Boucher is big (6-10) but also skinny (205 lbs.) but can run and jump out of the gym and was the Junior College National Player of the Year.  He was a monster for Northwest College in Wyoming, averaging 22.5 points, 11.8 rebounds, and 4.7 blocks per game (4.7!!!).  He also shot 58% from the floor and 44% from three on 126 attempts.  The stats are insane, but should come with some questions as well considering Minnesota's biggest competition for him looks to be are TCU, Oklahoma State, Oregon State, and Texas Tech.  Weird things happen with Jucos all the time, from guys that aren't highly regarded who become stars to guys who look like they'll be big time players who flame out.  I am very optimistic about Boucher if he becomes a Gopher, but wary.  Still, the Gophers badly need another big man for next year, and I'd be thrilled to take a chance on Boucher.

- PF Cullen Russo, Hobbs, NM (#33 JuCo):  Russo, formerly from somewhere in Minnesota that I don't feel like looking up, has bounced around a couple prep schools and junior colleges and finds himself back on the Gophers' radar (Tubby had recruited him in high school).  Russo played last season in New Mexico and averaged 12 pts and 7 rebounds per game.  If I recall he was kind of a fringey D-1 type of guy coming out of high school, but recent reports make it sound like he's really rounded his game into shape and, like Boucher, can score both inside and out and play solid defense and at 6-9 and 210 lbs. that would fit with the Gophers' needs nicely.  The Gophers should be in decent shape here, but Texas Tech and Tubby are still on him, Wichita State recently offered, and Indiana's been sniffing around so he's picking up some steam.  I'd rather have Boucher, but Russo could be a nice fall back.

-  SF Josh Cunningham, transfer from Bradley:  The surest bet of any of these guys to have a productive career, Cunningham is transferring from Bradley after his freshman year.  He had a successful season, averaging 7.9 points and 7.5 rebounds (led the team) in 30 minutes per game, but a coaching change triggered a mass exodus of players (6 at last count) and Cunningham was one of them.  Coming out of high school Cunningham was ranked as the #115 recruit and #30 SF in the country by 247, and there was mutual interest between he and the Gophers before he chose the Braves.  His proven production will have plenty of programs looking at him, but hopefully whatever relationship he developed with the Gophers' coaches was strong and he ends up at Minnesota because he would be a fantastic pick-up.  He'd have to sit out next season and obviously that's not ideal especially with Reggie Lynch already on the shelf next season, but for 3 years of his proven production the wait would be worth it.  Looking at Minnesota, Arizona, DePaul, Michigan State, Notre Dame, St. John's, Purdue, South Carolina, UIC, Dayton, and Colorado State.  Oof.

-  PF Kyle Washington, transfer from NC State:  Washington was a highly regarded recruit two seasons ago coming into NC State with 247sports listing him as the #82 recruit and #16 PF in the country.  In his freshman year he averaged 5 pts and 4 rebounds per game in 20 minutes, and followed that up this past season averaging 7 pts and 4 rebounds, but in just 18 minutes.  He also saw his playing time dwindle as the season went along, hitting double figures in minutes in just three of the team's final eleven games, including two games where he didn't get off the bench at all.  He's been a capable rebounder and defender in his two seasons, but his sub 47% shooting in each year isn't ideal for a non-perimeter player.  He's originally from Minnesota so there's some thought he might be looking here, but he spent time at a prep school out of state as well so who knows how strong that lure is.  I can't find any info on which schools he's considering.

-  PF Jordan Caroline, transfer from Southern Illinois:  Another part of a mass exodus (though this one not because of a new coach), Caroline is one of five Salukis set to transfer and he's shown interest in the Gophers.  Unlike Cunningham and Washington, Caroline wasn't highly regarded out of high school but he put up a nice freshman season for So Ill (9.2 points and 6.2 rebs) and is looking for a bigger stage to play on.  Granted he was playing for a terrible team, but he put up really impressive per possession rebounding numbers and a good free throw rate so he'd certainly be useful in 2016 (he would have to sit out 2015-2016).  Caroline has set up visits to Xavier, Cincinnati, Nevada, and Minnesota so the Gophers are definitely in the mix.

Pray for Boucher.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Welcome aboard, Reggie Lynch!

Center Reggie Lynch, formerly of Edina, announced he is transferring from Illinois State to the Gophers and OMG you guys.  A real, honest to go defensive force and bruising big man.  Unfortunately he has to sit out next season due to transfer rules, but come 2016-2017 this guy is going to be fun.

Lynch, 6-10 and 257 lbs., averaged 9.5 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 2.8 blocks in 22 minutes per game last season and has the speed and athleticism to run the floor in Pitino's uptempo system.  His offense is a bit of a problem considering he shot just 51% from the floor while 65% of his shots were classified as "at the rim" but his main weapon is dunking and ideally the Gophers will be able to get him his opportunities running the floor.  Here's his shot chart from, with the caveat that it only covers 7 games.

Yep, he's a dunker.
He looks to basically be a dunker, though that red dot is promising and at least he took a handful of shots on the perimeter in those 7 games, so maybe he can develop some kind of jumper.  Still, that's not really the big selling point on Lynch - he's a defender.

Lynch's 2.8 blocks per game was 14th in the nation, and on a per possession basis he was tops in the country, blocking 15.2% of all opponents shots when he was on the floor.  To put this in perspective so you know what to expect, A.J. Hammons of Purdue was 12th at 12.3%.  There will likely be some fall off moving from the Missouri Valley to the Big Ten, but Lynch's game should translate pretty given his size as long as he doesn't find himself constantly in foul trouble, which he did have some issues with.  Worth noting he had 6 blocks vs. VCU, 6 vs. UAB, and 5 vs. Wichita State in games last season.

This is a very nice get for a team with so many questions about the future front court, and a good use of one of the three (I think) remaining open scholarships, and also breaks up the recruiting classes a little.  With a bunch of guards coming in, nabbing up a nice big man who has already established himself a bit is great, and getting a true rim protector is awesome.  Fun stuff.  With two scholarships still open for 2015 I'll write up a post later this week on potential future Gophers.  I promise.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Twins Preview - Throwers

I really don't want to do this.  The Twins' pitching has been horrible for years, and even though it might be a little bit better it's still bad and it's also boring.  I guess just dive right in?  Yeah ok.

Opening day starter Phil Hughes should be the ace.  The Twins signed him prior to last season on the cheap, hoping he'd be a better pitcher getting out of Yankee Stadium and boy did that pay off.  He slashed his walks to an insane 0.69 per 9 innings which was the third lowest mark since 1920.  1920!  And he somehow managed to do that while increasing his strikeouts and giving up half as many homers per fly ball.  The homers number is maybe a little fluky, but moving from Yankee Stadium to Target Field can explain a lot of that too and it's balanced by a slightly higher than it should have been BABIP.

I mean Hughes was a really, really good pitcher last year.  Imagine if the Twins weren't one of the two worst fielding teams in the league last year (I can't remember the other one).  Hughes' FIP, which stands for Fielding Independent Pitching and attempts to measure a pitcher based solely on things he can control, was 2.65, almost a full run lower than his ERA (that means the Twins' fielding and Hughes' luck were both really, really bad).  That number was fifth among qualified starters in all of baseball.  He was fifth among starters in WAR.  He won 16 games on a terrible team.  He finished 7th in Cy Young voting.  I mean geez.  I didn't even realize just how good he was.

Honestly, and it scares me to say this a little, there's really no reason not to expect him to be the same pitcher this season. None of the improvements he made are unsustainable, even if a little regression should probably be expected because that's only natural after you set an all-time freaking record for K/Walk ratio, and there's actually some room for his luck to improve.  Most of the projection systems like his walk rate to about double (to a still really good number in the low 1s) and his ERA/WHIP/FIP to go up accordingly, but what if he can come closer to replicating that 0.69?  Man wow.  I know his extension is a bit of a risk since it's pretty much based on one season, but if he can come close to that pitcher again it'll be an absolute bargain.

After Hughes come a couple vets in new Ervin Santana and last year's new Ricky Nolasco.   The latter was an unmitigated disaster, as Nolasco cashed in $12 million to put up career worsts in nearly every category to the tune of a 5.38 ERA and 1.52 WHIP, all while failing to reach 200 innings pitched.  Looking into the advanced stats there's not much of a reason for optimism, though he probably won't be worse.  Even so, I took him with my first pick in a horrible players fantasy league, where you're rewarded for sucking.  Santana is a good signing for a contending team who needs someone in the middle of their rotation, but he doesn't make much sense for a a team like the Twins, especially if it helped push Alex Meyer and Trevor May back down to AAA.  I mean, he's been a pretty good pitcher in five of the last six seasons and he'll almost certainly help the team win more games this season, but he's pretty pointless unless he's still good when this team is contending.  Which will be soon, right?  Whatever.  The team probably thought they were signing Johan Santana anyway.

Starter four is Kyle Gibson who has pretty much lost his top prospect shine but had a pretty successful second season.  He improved from his (admittedly disastrous) rookie call-up two years ago by getting better in pretty much every metric you can find.  His WAR was 2.1 last season, which puts him in line with guys like Chris Tillman and Henderson Alvarez in the pretty darn good pitcher area.  I'd really like to see him up his K rate to somewhere closer to what he was putting up in the minors, but you can't really argue to much with a 2:1 ground ball to fly ball ratio.  He's a solid #4 or a so-so #3 with potential for more if he can whiff more dudes.  Keep an eye on that.

Winning the fifth starter competition over Meyer, May, and Mike Pelfrey (who is in the bullpen in a move I'm sure will work out) is your guy Tommy Milone, who came over in the Sam Fuld trade in what was a steal because Fuld is terrible.  Not that Milone is anything particularly special, but he's made himself into a serviceable major league pitcher despite a fastball that doesn't break 87 miles per hour unless there's a stiff breeze behind him.  But he mixes his pitches well and generally keeps the walks down, so he's not the worst option you could have as a fifth starter - though I promise you he'll have games where he's missing his spots where you'll believe he's pretty much the worst.

That's it for the starters, so now we're on to the bullpen which is going to be awful.  Glen Perkins will close of course and he's pretty awesome.  I have a tendency since he's a Minnesotan on a Minnesota team (and also I'm kind of a shithead sometimes) to assume he's being locally overrated but Perkins really is an elite closer.  Since he took over the closer role permanently in 2013 he ranks 9th in saves (on a terrible team), 13th in K/9, 58th in ERA, and 22nd in FIP, and 25th in WHIP among all pitchers with at least 120 innings pitched - that's pretty damn good!  And he has four more extremely affordable years on his contract (including this season).  I kind of love the guy, but they should probably be listening at every trade deadline.  Some team in win-now mode who is desperate for a closer might do something foolish, and he's a very valuable trade chip.  For now, I'm just going to love watching him, and he's young enough he could be the closer when the team is in contention again (they will!), but you know, think about it.

I'm not saying shop him, not at all.  I'm just saying if say, the Dodgers and their bottomless pit of money find themselves in a dogfight for the division they could come sniffing around.  What if Kenley Jansen's injury festers and he's out all year, and terrible Brandon League and unproven Chris Hatcher aren't getting the job done?  Between Perkins's skills, proven closer status, and super nice contract he'd be an attractive option.  Maybe you can pry Kyle Seager or Julio Urias away.  That would be pretty stupid on the Dodgers' end, but that doesn't mean it can't happen.  They have a super deep farm system and they clearly want to win and they want to win now.

Casey Fien will be the main setup guy after another pretty good year even if he did slip a bit.  It's a smidge disconcerting, however, that his K/9 dropped from 10.6 in 2013 to 7.3 in 2014.  His velocity was actually up so there's a decent chance this was just a weird blip, but there was also a huge jump in contact rate.  Keep an eye on this guy.

Brian Duensing was brought back for some reason and he'll be the sole non-Perkins lefty even though he's really quite terrible at pitching.  He has been decent at getting lefties out in his career, but his inability to strike anyone out drives me crazy and he should never, ever pitch to right-handed batters.  I really don't know why they tendered him other than continuity and familiarity which, as you know, the Twins value to an absurd degree.  I'd rather just roll the dice on Caleb Thielbar.  Granted in his two seasons he's shown reverse splits and if the Twins looked at that then bravo, but I guess I don't buy the front office is that sophisticated.  There aren't really any other in house options for a lefty bullpen guy which is sad in and of itself, but there's always plenty of crappy lefty arms out there you could probably snag for a minor league deal.  In the long run I suppose it doesn't matter, but giving $2.7 million to a terrible Duensing is kind of gross.

The rest of the bullpen is pretty much a mess.  Tim Stauffer is a failed starter who's dealt with a couple of really significant injuries and he's probably the best of the group.  Mike Pelfrey is absolutely terrible and should be released but instead the Twins are putting him in the pen which also pissed him off, so this is just a great situation all around.  J.R. Graham pretty much made the team because he was a Rule 5 pick and has to be on the big league roster or be sent back to his original team, and I literally have no idea who Blaine Boyer is.  This is not an impressive collection of arms, and to make it even worse the only guy in the entire bullpen who is under 30 is Graham.  It's a group of old, failed pitchers.  I prefer my bullpen made up of hard throwing young guys with at least one who isn't sure where the ball might be going all the time.  That's fun.  This is a garbage fire.

It's not like the team's going anywhere anyway.  You could roll with 25-year old Michael Tonkin, 25-year old Stephen Pryor, 26-year old Lester Oliveros, 22-year old Nick Burdi, and 22-year old Jake Reed and be just as well off, if not better, and it would be a lot more fun.  Or hell, throw Meyer and/or May into the pen to start like the way the Orioles have handled Kevin Gausman.  I don't know.  I'm not entirely certain this team has a coherent plan beyond "waiting for 2016 and hoping all the prospects are good" but whatever.

All in all, the starters could be decent this year, and will most likely be the best the Twins have had in a few years.  The bullpen, however, is going to blow a lot of games.