Sunday, June 29, 2014

NBA Draft in Review

I did a live blog of the draft right below here, sort of, but due to stupid kids and a stupid new cat the thing wasn't up to par.  I think the previously mentioned entities were having a contest to see who could break me, and the winner was my son who made me give up on watching the draft so somehow negotiate a truce between not letting the cat in his room and not having his door closed.  An impossible problem, to be sure, but luckily I am a genius and also a 6-time winner of dad of the year at my house, so I managed.  However since I was unable to give the draft my full attention I will rectify that now, mainly because there's no world cup on this afternoon and no baseball so I'm cranky.  Let's look at what a few teams did that seemed noteworthy.

-  First, you have to start with the hometown 9, and though I don't particularly like the Wolves' draft I can't really blast them either because I understand their thought process.  Adding Zach LaVine and Glenn Robinson 3 certainly increases the athletic ability of the team, even if neither put up primo college stats or have, you know, skills.  I also think Robinson's athleticism is overrated, and given that he doesn't really have a true NBA position and has a tendency to not try real hard all the time I'm not very optimistic with that pick.  LaVine has more potential, and everything I'm reading says he could be one of the top 5-10 players out of this draft, and unlike Aaron Gordon, who sucks at basketball, he does have some skills to go along with that athletic ability.  I know potential is potential until something actually happens, but the Wolves have to hit on something at some point, right?

-  The Sixers are starting to remind me of the Kansas City Royals.  Remember when the Royals had all those top prospects and everybody said in 3 years they'd be great, including myself?  Sixers are giving off that vibe, and last night they took Joel Embiid, who is likely at least a year away, and Dario Saric, who will probably stick in Turkey for a couple of years.  They also got back a first round pick they had given to the Magic to help facilitate the Dwight Howard trade.  Basically they're stockpiling "assets" while assuring themselves of another horrible season upcoming and another high lottery pick - another "asset."  At some point you have to actually start doing something, but at least they have a clear plan.  It may not work - the Royals are 4.5 out of first place in a bad division and are just 2 games over .500 - but at least it's a plan.

-  Sadly, nobody really screwed up their draft which, along with the lack of any real meaningful trades, made it a very boring night.  The closest thing to a screw up was the Raptors taking Bruno Caboclo at #20, but I can't pretend I know who he is or if he's any good, I just know he wasn't projected as a first rounder.  Their GM seems to pretty much know what he's doing and #20 is a crapshoot anyway, so whatever.  Plus who cares?  It's Canada.

-  Can't believe Bill Simmons is allowed to be such a raging homer on TV.  I know people are human and are going to have allegiances, but when somebody like Jalen Rose pulls for Michigan guys he does it in an understated, human way.  Simmons is a complete spaz who belongs on a couch watching the draft.  Did you see his eye roll when the Hornets traded Napier to the Heat?  I don't know, maybe I'm being oversensitive but it just bugs me.  Plus when he's on site he can't do his running draft diary, which was always a good time back when he was actually a writer - something he's good at.

-  After watching the Spurs dismantle the Heat after coming out of the supremely difficult Western Conference, you'd think teams might take a look at the Spurs business model and try to emulate them.  Maybe draft some high basketball IQ guys who will buy into the team concept, pass well, and can shoot.  Two guys who fit that model perfectly fell to the end of the first round, both who would be perfect for the Spurs in Kyle Anderson and Cleanthony Early.  The Spurs went Anderson, and the Knicks were lucky enough to get Early in the second round (Early could end up the steal of the draft - mark it down).  Anderson's going to thrive in San Antonio.

-  If you read ESPN too much, you've probably stumbled across John Hollinger's prospect ranking formulas, which generally do a pretty decent job of projecting future value of incoming players in the NBA draft.  Hollinger now works for Memphis, but Kevin Pelton still runs the same column and I'm assuming uses the same formulas, or at least very similar maybe with some of his own tweaks.  Memphis took Jordan Adams at #22 in a bit of a surprise, then traded a 2016 first round pick to get an early second rounder from Utah to take Jarnell Stokes.  Looking at Pelton's column, Adams ranks fifth and Stokes ranks twelfth.  Interesting.  Last season they didn't have a first rounder, but at pick #41 took Jamaal Franklin, who ranked 21st using Pelton's formula.  Seems like you could get a pretty good handle on what Memphis is thinking just by checking out Pelton's column before the draft.  I have no idea what you'd do with that information, but I'm going to figure out how to use it for gambling.

-  Congratulations to Khem Birch, Chane Behanan, Jabari Brown, Jahii Carson, Alex Kirk, James Michael McAdoo, LaQuinton Ross, Jakarr Sampson, and Roscoe Smith - your early draft entrants who went unpicked.  Wait, not congratulations.  The other thing.  When is the NBDL draft?  I bet Carson goes first.

-  Did you notice the Charlotte Hornets are starting to do some good things?  I mean, a lot of it was luck having Noah Vonleh slip to them and then having PJ Hairston slip to them, but it could get interesting.  The talk was they needed a shooter bad and would be very happy to get either Stauskas or McDermott, but then Vonleh was sitting there and they did the smart move, shocking in the NBA I know, and took a potential star in him over getting the shooter they needed in McDermott.  Then they were lucky enough to snag Hairston, a great shooter (potentially) and picked up a couple picks from Miami in the process because they were so hot to trot for Napier.  So now the Hornets look like this:  Kemba/G. Henderson or Hairston/MKG/Vonleh/Al Jefferson.

Jefferson and Vonleh should compliment each other well since Vonleh can do perimeter/high post stuff despite Crean's strategy of never giving him the ball, and Hairston can help open things up since neither Henderson or MKG can shoot.  Then they still have Cody Zeller who I haven't given up on, especially since he and Vonleh can talk about how much Crean sucks.  Plus they're in the East.  I mean it's not great or anything, but at least they're moving in the right direction.  Seriously I'm realizing how screwed up the Wolves are since I seem to be totally impressed by any team that seems to have a plan.

-  The team I'm not sure has a plan is the Sacramento Kings, and I think it's been that way for a while.  They drafted Stauskas the year after drafting Ben McLemore the year after drafting Jimmer Fredette, who is now a Bull.  Meanwhile their starting PF is currently Derrick Williams, who did not improve with a change of scenery, and they're paying a lot of money to Rudy Gay (who did, to be fair, play a lot better once he got out of Toronto).  Their point guard is Isaiah Thomas, who is a restricted free agent and they're almost going to have to match any offer because their other point guard is Ray McCallum, who I like, but I wouldn't exactly hand the car keys too.  Add in their best player is DeMarcus Cousins, who has been a model citizen but has the potential to explode if things keep going shitty, and ti's looking like they will.  It's at least comforting to know there's a team that's a mess besides the Wolves.  Then again, Cousins hasn't demanded a trade while the GM decides he's just going to stick with him and hope everything turns up sunshine and lollipops.  Stupid NBA.

-  So to sum up, I hate this draft for the Wolves, but I understand why they did it.  I don't expect it to workout, but I'm hopeful.  I also desperately want this Kevin Love trade to happen so I can move on and start figuring out how to fix the team, rather than having zero clue where they're going.  I mean, you need an entirely different mindset and strategy if if you trade him to Golden State than if you trade him to Boston, and a whole new plan if you trade him to Denver (please god no don't do this).  Let's get on with it already, ladies.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

2014 NBA Draft Live Blog

Hurray!  Live Blog!  This draft could get absolutely crazy, or at least I hope so.  Seems like most drafts that are supposed to be nuts end up being snoozers, but there's so much potential for the crazy here I can't believe nothing interesting will happen.

As with just about anything, you can bet on a ton of draft related stuff.  Because you can bet on it, I did.  Here's what I have tonight:

Joel Embiid draft position over 5 (small)
Tyler Ennis draft position over 18.5 (small)
Marcus Smart draft position over 5.5 (normal bet)
Shabazz Napier draft position under 25.5 (normal)
Total seniors taken in first round over 2.5 (extra super big bet)

I also have a combination of bets where I win a normal amount if Parker goes first but don't lose anything if Wiggins go first.  It's from a combination of an early bet at great odds that suddenly looked like a bad bet but an opportunity to hedge out of a lot of it presented itself.  It's complicated and you're definitely not smart enough to understand.

Anyway, hopefully something happens with Love tonight or soon at least.  I think if they can get Golden State to include Harrison Barnes that's a pretty good trade.  Remember Barnes averaged 16 points and 6 rebounds per game in 12 postseason games in 2012-2013.  Then the Warriors traded for Andre Iguodala and his development was completely blocked.  If you can get Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, and David Lee you're acquiring three starters, two of whom could have significant upside and at a minimum you're getting a second tier star in Thompson, a solid starter in Lee, and at least a rotation guy in Barnes (though I think he'll be better than this).  I dunno, I take it for sure, especially if you can shed either Kevin Martin or Chase Budinger's contract while you're at it.

Anyway, on to the draft.

-  We got a new cat today.  Murray.  3 years old and Orange and super mellow.  Daughter (age 6) cried tears of joy when we brought him home.  Took him less than three hours to get stuck in the crawl space in the basement and, despite being I assured that I would have to do zero work if we got a cat, guess who got to spend 40 minutes getting him out and then figuring out how to block it off so he couldn't get out.  Yep.

-  Does anyone ever pick in this draft?

-  Cavs go with Andrew Wiggins.  Kind of a mild surprise since Cleveland is Cleveland and I could see them doing something insane like picking Dante Exum.

-  How fast does Milwaukee get this pick in?  It should take about 4 seconds.  Like you.

-  Indeed it's Jabari.  What are the odds going to be on him winning ROY?  He's got to be an overwhelming favorite as the most NBA ready talent and going somewhere he'll immediately become the #1 option.  He will be the top option there, right?  I'll admit, I have trouble coming up with Bucks.  I think they have Larry Sanders and maybe Brandon Jennings.   Or is he on the Pistons now?  Wow.  This is embarrassing.  Jon Leuer maybe?  Probably some foreign guys.  So yeah, ROY.  For a lot of monies.

-  Third pick here for Philly is the most interesting one.  Go with Embiid and take that risk or take a safer player (or somewhere in between like Exum)?  I'd go with Embiid as the Sixers since they aren't going to be anywhere near contending for at least another couple years, why not swing for the fences?

-  Boom.  It is Embiid.  No doubt about, most talented guy in the draft.  A seven footer with the athleticism of a swingman who keeps developing more offensive abilities, including a mid-range jumper mid-season.  Unreal.  IF he stays healthy, and yes that's clearly become a monster IF, he's going to be a monster.

-  Magic go with Aaron Gordon at #4.  Gross, and what horrid night for Orlando.  First they trade Aaron Afflalo for some crappy guard with a frenchy name and almost the last pick of the draft, now they take a guy with absolutely no real basketball skills when there were two much better forwards (Vonleh and Randle) available. Gross.

-  Utah travels back in time to when high school kids were drafted in the lottery despite having no real game tape against proper competition and takes Dante Exum.  Look, maybe he'll work out - KG, Kobe, and Lebron certainly did, but thanks to Jon Bender, Kwame Brown, and Kovortney Barber I wouldn't touch him with so many semi-proven good players still on the board.  And this means the Lakers will get either Vonleh or Randle.  Stupid Lakers.

-  Exum's accent makes him sound like a dandy.

-  Celtics go with Marcus Smart, and this has to mean they're trading Rondo, right?  They're practically the same player with the ball, in that their strength is their strength when it comes to getting to the rim to either score, get fouled, or dish.  Both are good rebounders for guards, both are excellent defenders, and neither can shoot outside.  I had heard earlier that Rondo might be on the move to Sacramento for #8, and now that sounds more likely to me than it did earlier today.

-  Vonleh or Randle is one hell of a tough decision.  It's like choosing between Knob Creek and Woodford Reserve.  I LOVE YOU BOTH.

-  I think how they can't stop talking about how Smart is so competitive.  Sure, but he's kind of an asshole too and he still can't shoot.

-  Randle is the choice.  `If Sacramento goes Vonleh and that trade with the Celtics is real a Smart/Vonleh draft is a great one for Boston.  Oh, and the cat's in the ceiling somehow.  Time to visit my good friend liquor.

-  Whoa, Nik Stauskas.  Wasn't expecting this.  Would Boston want to reload with Smart/Stauskas?  Would the Kings really want Stauskas when they took Ben McLemore last year?  Well nothing really fun has happened yet, but there are enough questions about this first round that there's got to be some wheels turning.

- Hornets, who have been basically been linked to Doug McDermott by everyone, do the smart thing with Vonleh having slipped and take him.  He's going to be a star.

-  Interviewer guy to Vonleh, "How important was Tom Crean in your development."  Give Vonleh and incredible amount of credit for not just plain bursting out laughing.

-  Philly goes Elfrid Payton at #10, which is a horrible pick and also doesn't make a whole lot of sense because he's a point guard and the Sixers have rookie of the year Michael Carter-Williams and neither one of them can shoot.  Both are good defenders, but neither has a whole lot of strength and they could both just get brutalized by stronger 2s.  I feel like this is another trade waiting to be announced.  And never, ever trust a player who shoots up draft boards late for no real reason.  It never works.  Probably.

-  Here comes Denver, a pick that has been rumored to be heading to the Wolves along with Wilson Chandler and Kenneth Faried for Kevin Love and if that happened I would kill myself.

-  Nugs take McDermott.  Now I'll double kill myself if that trade happens.  1 senior off the board.  I need three to go.  That's seriously a really big bet.

-  There you go, McDermott traded to Chicago for #16 and #19.  Let the trade waters flow.

-  The Magic take Dario Saric from Croatia to go with trading Afflalo for nothing and Aaron Gordon.  Oof.  This is like watching Dawger at a fantasy football draft.

-  I suppose that means the Wolves are up.  I have very little interest in anyone here.  Gary Harris is probably the most ready.  Adreian Payne is interesting.  Zach LaVine is Bilas's best available and even though I think he has bust written all over him I suppose at this point he also has the most upside of anyone available.  I dunno.  I am strangely ambivalent, but that's probably because I know the Love trade is coming up at some point and that's way more interesting.

-  Zach LaVine it is.  Any time you can get a point guard who was a backup at UCLA and averaged more rebounds than assists you have to do it.

-  Sixers and Magic trade Saric for Payton.  One time I gave this bum a bag of trash and he gave me back his bag of trash.

-  Suns go with T.J. Warren.  This either going to be an absolute steal or a huge bust.  Warren is a monster scorer, but he doesn't really look the part.  He has a goofy looking jumper and he scores a ton of his points on weird shots that go in because he can just do it no matter how off balance or out of rhythm.  He should actually do quite well in Phoenix.

-  Atlanta takes Adreian Payne (senior #2), which means we get to hear that whole story about him and that little girl again.  Yes, it's a great story, but does it make me a bad person if I'm bored hearing about it?  Actually I don't care.

-  The Magic should have their two picks, Aaron Gordon and Elfried Payton play horse.  Could last until infinity.

-  Denver takes some foreigner from Bosnia whose name I don't feel like typing, Celtics go with James Young (who I like a lot, mostly because he's a lefty, he got a lot better last season when he decided to be more than a jump shooter), and the Suns take Tyler Ennis to go with T.J. Warren.  Tyler Ennis goes #18.  I had the over 18.5.  Dammit.

-  Vance Worley with 7 innings of 1 run ball tonight, running his ERA to 1.74 in 3 starts with the Pirates.  It's like the Twins coaches somehow actually wreck players.  I know I've joked about it before, but I think maybe it's time to stop joking about it.  They're doing something very wrong over there.

-  I'm strangely super bored by this draft.  Nuggets take Gary Harris, which means Denver has acquired both Aaron Afflalo and Gary Harris, which is redundant.

-  Raptors select some buy from Brazil who nobody has ever heard of.  I'm bailing on this draft as soon as Napier goes.

- Jesus Christ with this cat stuff.  Now my son, who is kind of scared of everything, is freaking out if the cat goes in his room while he's trying to fall asleep.  But he also cries if we shut his door because he likes to sleep with it open.  Remember back when I started this blog and I was basically just a drunk stupid kid?  Growing up and having to take care of things like kids sucks sometimes.  I'm out boys.  Pray for Shabazz Napier.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Tuesday Talkers

I know, I know, everybody hates me.  It's been almost two weeks since my last post and I have no excuses.  Sometimes when you don't write you get in the habit of not writing and sometimes that feels good.  But there is an awful lot going on in the sports world, and I have opinions on some of it, so it's time to get back in that saddle and write not very informative, unfunny filler for you to read while you wait for your favorite message board to refresh with new messages.

-  So much NBA going on.  Lebron opts out.  Carmelo opts out.  Love trade speculation.  NBA draft.  It's actually really fun.  I'll try to write this in some kind of coherent narrative, but I make no promises.

To start, I can't believe the Warriors balked at the Love trade because they didn't want to trade Klay Thompson.  I like Thompson, and he's one of the top 2-guards in the league, but a lineup of Curry/Martin/Iguodala/Love/Bogut is a definite contender, more so than what they have now.  On the flip side, I would have been ok with the Wolves getting Thompson as the center piece of a deal.  He's the #2 guy in Golden State, but would have been #1 here and who knows if he would thrive or not, but it's possible.  Plus, assuming Flip is dead set on not bottoming out, a lineup of Rubio/Thompson/Barnes (if they got him too)/Lee/Pekovic could be a playoff team, and you're giving Barnes room to sink or swim rather than be stuck in a logjam at the wing position the Warriors had.  Personally I'd prefer bottoming out and grabbing as many picks as possible, and that's why things are getting more and more interesting.

Lebron opted out of his deal today, and with him and Carmelo both on the market teams are maneuvering like crazy to either clear cap space, build a roster that would look good to either/both of them, or both which means we could see some crazy trades and picks flying around before Thursday's draft.  One good way a team could entice either of them would be to have another Top 10 player on board (or more) and that makes Kevin Love that much more attractive.  Cleveland, or at least the media, seem to think there's a realistic chance Lebron might come home, and they have the pieces to put something together with that first overall pick, Dion Waiters (who by all accounts doesn't get along with Kyrie Irving), and Tristan Thompson.  The Bulls are in the mix as well, offering Tony Snell, Taj Gibson, and the #16 and #19 in the draft.  Plus the Celtics still have one million picks they can throw at the Wolves.  I think I'd prefer the Cavs trade to get the #1, then the Celtics, and then the Bulls.  If they trade with Chicago hopefully they package 2 or 3 of those picks to get closer to the top.

Of course, it all could be for nothing since I think it's mostly likely Lebron and the other two opt out and restructure their deals to reduce the cap number and get at least one more competent player in place.  Most likely that's the plan, but it's curious they didn't announce their opt outs at the same time.  Pay attention, because Dwyane Wade is poised to lose the most money if he opts out, so if he opts in then game on.  Until then I'd assume Lebron's back to the Heat.  Carmelo I'm guessing will be a Bull.

-  Speaking of the NBA draft, let's talk about the NBA draft.  I think your steals are going to be Noah Vonleh (criminally underutilized in college, freak athlete, great post-up game and good perimeter game for his size), Julius Randle (already an NBA ready rebounder with a good enough offensive game that should develop), Adreian Payne (already has the skills to be a stretch 4 and could eventually be an elite defender), Tyler Ennis (might not end up a big time scorer, but should be an excellent point guard for a long time), Cleanthony Early (could step in and start for most teams Day 1), and Jerami Grant (2nd round steal).  Busts look like Dante Exum (top 4 pick?  Please), Aaron Gordon (has absolutely zero skill beyond athleticism), Elfrid Payton (will get abused), Zach LaVine (another athlete light on game skills), Rodney Hood (disappeared way to many times) and Mitch McGary (no clue why anybody would take him first round).

It's hard to say who I'd want the Wolves to end up with since who knows what the roster will look like by time they pick (or after), but I'd go for either of the Michigan State guys at #13.  They could end up with Early and Grant in the 2nd round and that'd make me happy.  Should be a fun draft no matter what goes down.  I might even live blog this bad boy.  That way we have more proof of how stupid I am like when I said Kawhi Leonard would be terrible or when I said Stephen Curry would be terrible or when I said Xavier Henry would be a sleeper or when I said Earl Clark could be a star.

-  Man I enjoy the hell out of the World Cup.  Every four years I completely devour it, convince myself I'm going to become a soccer guy, watch 5 minutes of EPL, and then bail until the next World Cup.  The combination of the best in the World, the nation vs. nation thing, and the gambling make this such a fun time.  This year I also got into a WC pool to make every game more interesting, but I made the mistake of picking Spain to win the whole thing so I'm likely dead.  Sadly, I'm tied for second so far too.  Stupid la roja.  Obviously Brazil and Argentina remain the two big favorites, but I like Belgium to give it a hell of a run.  Don't sleep on Mexico, either, and Colombia's been a buzz saw.

Anyway, I won't pretend to actually know enough about soccer to really analyze that tying goal in the Portugal/USA game, but man, what a gut punch.  I mean, not really because as a Minnesota sports fan I was completely expecting it, but for fans of other sports teams that probably really hurt.  The friends of mine who really know soccer tell me I should be mad at Michael Bradley, so picture me shaking my fist and looking really mad right now.  Maybe swearing a little.

-  I owe one of the longest tenured and consistent readers of this stupid blog an apology - Dawger, I'm sorry.  I'm sorry I doubted Brian Dozier and your opinion of Brian Dozier.   I said he was garbage, you said he was good, and now I am firmly down on the side of good.  You were right, I was wrong.  You're smart, I'm dumb.  You're good looking, I am not attractive.

-  Basketball futures are out for the NCAA Champion, and you may recall that I advised you to take UCONN last year when they were 40-1 and advised taking Louisville two years ago when they were 15-1.  Yeah, I'm good.  This year my first recommendation is a team that offers significant value at 25-1 (I got them at 33-1).  Let's see:

  • Significant post season run, albeit not in the NCAA Tournament?  Check.
  • Strong regular season results?  Check.
  • Nearly every single minute back from last season?  Check.
  • Impact freshman coming in with a ranking that suggests he's a program changer?  Check.
  • One of the top transfers coming in who will be immediately eligible?  Check.
  • Outstanding guard play?  Check.
  • Elite level head coach?  Check.
Figure it out?  That's right, the SMU Mustangs.  Take a team that won 27 games, finished third in the conference, beat UCONN twice, made the NIT final and basically has everyone back and add in the nation's top ranked incoming freshman in Emmanuel Mudiay and sharp-shooting transfer wing from Xavier Justin Martin and these team definitely has the pieces.  Plenty of questions such as how Mudiay and incumbent point guard Nic Moore mesh and if they have enough size, but at 25-1 it's a no brainer.

-  Jurassic Park 4:  Jurassic World.  It's real.  God I have such a boner.

-  I'm not going to update Gopher recruiting news or anything because it's still just way too up in the air, but know that there are a lot of balls in motion right now and I think in the last couple of weeks through the next couple weeks the Gophers are getting 5-6 visits (official and unofficial) from guys who I am pretty sure Pitino would take a verbal from immediately if he could get one.  I would really love to snag and early commitment this year.  Like tomorrow.

-  I saw Carlos Gomez was on the cover of Sports Illustrated recently.  Even though it kills me to see him be this good, let me rub a little salt in the womb:

  1. Gomez's average of .312 ranks 13th in the majors.
  2. Gomez's OBP of .377 ranks 22nd, whilie his SLG of .525 ranks 12th.  
  3. That gives him an overall OPS of .902, which ranks 18th.
  4. His batting alone gives him 18.2 runs above replacement so far this year, which ranks 14th.
  5. He's also fast and a good base runner, which gives him another 1.5, and his defense is superb giving him another 1.7.  After a bunch of other league and position related factors he nets out at 31.7 runs above replacement which translates to 3.4 wins above replacement, which ranks 6th in the majors.
  6. Yes, Carlos Gomez has become a tremendous all around player who, according to one metric, is the 6th most valuable in baseball.  
  7. After the trade for J.J. Hardy (defensible) and then the trade away of Hardy (completely indefensible) the Twins ended up with half a season of Hardy and 24.2 innings of terrible relief (1.91 WHIP and 5.47 ERA) from Jim Hoey.  Gross.
-  Seriously though, you could make a pretty good team out of ex-Twins - better than usual even:

C - Wilson Ramos (.261/.314/.370)
1B - Justin Morneau (.298/.336/.509 with 12 HRs)
2B - Nick Punto (.230/.331/.294)
3B - Danny Valencia (.236/.291/.333 - ok so this isn't the team's strength)
SS - J.J. Hardy (.294/.321/.373)
OF - Carlos Gomez (.312/.377/.525 with 12 HRs and 11 SBs)
OF - Michael Cuddyer (.317/.366/.500 with 5 HRs)
OF - Torii Hunter (.266/.290/.441 with 9 HRs)
DH - David Ortiz (.255/.354/.478 with 17 HRs)

Ok I'm getting a little tired of looking up all these stats, but your rotation would be Francisco Liriano, Matt Garza, R.A. Dickey, and Kyle Lohse with the fifth starter being Kevin Slowey unless I think of somebody else.  The bullpen would be ok with Joe Nathan as the closer and a whole mess of guys like I know Pat Neshek is kicking ass this year.  Really, I mean, that's a pretty good team. Fill the obvious holes (C, 2b, 3b, fifth starter) with current Twins and make Joe Mauer catch again and you might really have something here.  And it really doesn't matter.

-  I suppose I could live blog this Twins game, but it's already 5-3 in the top of the second which means this things going way past my bedtime.  Adios muchachos.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Twins Stuff

The reason I'm not posting as much this Twins' season is not because they suck.  They are a far more interesting team this season than last and I'm actually enjoying this more than any season in a while.  The reason I'm not posting as much is some combination of laziness and apathy and alcoholism.  I'm not sure those last two seasons make all that much sense together but neither does your face so shut it.  Anyway, here's a bunch of Twins thoughts.  I'll try to make up for low quantity of posting with a sheer overwhelming number of words.  Goal is 2,000.  I've got some Andy Capp Hot Fries, some Jefferson's bourbon, and nothing better to do with my time right now.  I can do this.  I know it.  Let us begin.

-  Since reaching the age of reason I have purchased three Twins "jersey shirts."  Not jerseys, because I'm not a weirdo, but those shirts with the name on number on them.  I've had Denard Span, Jason Kubel, and Oswaldo Arcia.  Granted the Arcia call was risky because he was in his rookie season and could have gone either way, but it's now starting to pay off because he's been white hot since getting recalled.  He's just killing the ball, putting up an ISO of .250 which would put him just outside the Top 10 in the majors if he had enough at-bats.  He's basically just decided to stop hitting groundballs because they're boring.  Arcia only puts the ball on the ground 32% of the time (4th lowest in the majors) and smacks it into the air knowing that it's more exciting that way.  He's still got a ways to go and it wouldn't kill him to learn the strikezone a little bit, but he's improved his fielding this year and is on his way to developing into a legit power hitter.  Now just stop being hurt all the time.  I'd like to be wearing my Arcia shirt for many more years.  No flame outs please.

-  This Twins signing of Kendrys Morales is weird.  Not that they can't use him.  The offense has started to teeter a bit after starting off hot and he's a career .280/.333/.480 hitter which gives him a career OPS+ of 120 - no doubt the guy's a big bat and he was 5th in the MVP voting in 2009.  It's just for this team to pony up $7.5 million for a guy who is half-year rental and whose defensive "skills" are redundant with a bunch of other guys is so far out of character I had trouble believing the news when I read it.  IF, and this is a giant IF, they're doing this to see if they can contend, and when they realize the Wild Card is a pipe dream this year they figure they'll flip him for a prospect at the deadline, then I'll tip my cap.  That, however, is a decidedly un-Twins like move.  Wait and see.

-  The Twins draft, however, was more Twins-like simply because it was incredibly perplexing.  The first pick was great - SS Nick Gordon - a toolsy high school shortstop with an excellent pedigree (Tom Gordon's son and Dee Gordon's brother) who was no doubt one of the best (potential) players in the draft.  I even saw one writer call Gordon the best pick of the draft.  The next pick was fine - RP Nick Burdi out of Louisville.  Thought to be the best relief pitcher in the draft.  I'm not a huge fan of taking relievers, but he's supposed to be the best, he's a college guy so his track to the bigs could be short, and it gives the Twins something to point to if they decide to deal Glen Perkins when his value is at its highest, something that needs to be explored.  So ok, fine.  But then it gets crazy.

Next they took a college reliever with control issues who doesn't have a secondary pitch.  Then they went with a college reliever with control problems.  Next up was a college reliever who was a complete failure when he was a starter.  Then they took a college reliever who has already had Tommy John surgery and had a rib removed for something something words.  Following that they went with some pitcher who MLB doesn't have a scouting report for so I can't bitch about anything, and then finished up their first 8 picks with another college reliever who led Missouri in both saves and home runs who moved into the rotation at the end of the season and could be a big league starter someday if he learns a change-up.  So that's 1 position player and 7 relievers.

Does that strike anybody else as completely bizarre?  Three of these guys are definite relievers with only Burdi sounding like a big league closer.  I know relievers are important of course, but generally they're failed starters who have failed in the minor or major leagues, not already having failed in college, which is the case with two of their picks.  I know that's a simplistic view, but I can't get over this drafting sequence.  Taking college relievers and converting to starters is also dicey, but it sounds like that will likely be the Twins plan with four of these guys, all of whom either need to learn or master another pitch or two or need help with their command.  Sounds to me like a bunch of guys who are going to be converted to pitch to contact.

I mean, I know the scouting team for the Twins knows a whole lot more than me, I'm not dumb or arrogant enough to suggest differently, it just seems really, really weird to me to use this many early picks and similar types of gambles.  What about a high upside high school arm?  How about mix in a position player somewhere?  I don't know, maybe college relievers are the new market inefficiency and the Twins are playing their own version of Moneyball.  Hey, after the Morales signing we may be off in all new territory here.  I'm willing to give the benefit of the doubt, but I am less than confident that we'll look back on this draft and be like, oh damn that was sweet.

-  He probably deserves his own post at this point after spinning another gem today, but how good has Phil Hughes been?  If you want to know nothing else about Hughes this year, just know that he has 72 strikeouts versus 8 walks on the season.  That 9-1 ratio is insane and it's really all you need to know that yes, this Phil Hughes cat is for real.  That ratio is second in the majors behind only David Price and would be the best in any full season since Cliff Lee in 2010.   Seriously impressive.

Hughes refining his control has not come at the expense of his getting pounded, which can sometimes happen when you're throwing more balls over the plate.  His line drive/ground ball/fly ball splits are pretty much identical to his career norms, and as a result his BABIP is about where it's always been.  His LOB % is right where it should be too, so it's unlikely luck is playing a major role here.  One of Hughes's biggest issues has been home runs, and although his HRs allowed per 9 innings pitched has been slashed by nearly half off his 2012-2013 rate.  He's done that because his HR/FB rate is drastically down at about half what it was from 2012-2013.  Considering his ratio so far this year would put him in the top 6 last season he's probably due for some regression, but the combination of better command and control and the move to a more manageable Target Field vs. Yankee Stadium make an improvement here likely.

Advanced metrics (FIP ranks him 11th, XFIP 30th) say Hughes is a legit #1 pitcher (assuming we go with the theory that there are 30 true #1s, just some teams might have more than one).  I'm not ready to go that far, not by a long shot, but something like a #2?  That just might be.

-  Danny Santana and Brian Dozier are staying hot, and perhaps we've got our keystone combo for the next five years or more sitting right in front of us.  Since my post after Santana's call-up he's justified my probably overhype, batting .372/.407/.500, showing the power I hoped/questioned/doubted he'd have with 2 homers and 5 doubles so far for an ISO of .128 which isn't Troy Tulowitzki-like but would rank him in the top half of all MLB shortstops and his overall performance at the plate has been unreal with a weighted on-base average of .400, second in the majors at short.  Of course Eduardo Escobar's breakout (more later) and Aaron Hicks's continued struggles have pushed Santana to center field, though the two positions are pretty much a wash as to offensive expectations (though it seems harder to find a good SS who can hit).  Though Santana has been a meh shortstop so far, he's actually been an excellent center fielder which seems hard to believe considering how little time he spent in the outfield before this year.  Ideally he'll get more time at short and field it credibly enough to play there full-time.  More on this later.

Since my post on Dozier he's put up an OPS of .871 (would be a top 20 number for all positions over the entire season) with 3 homers and 6 doubles in 15 games.  Simply put he's a power monster.  I am absolutely in love with this guy.  See my last post linked above and just the improvements and refinements he's made in his approach and how they've paid off - how can you not love him?  He's sporting the #1 walk rate in the bigs among second basemen and the #4 OBP, #2 SLG, #2 wOBA, #1 ISO, and #2 OPS - that's an all-star.  Of course he's fourth in AL balloting with no hope of closing the gap which means he'll get snubbed by some combination of Robinson Cano, Ian Kinsler, and Dustin Pedroia because the Twins will get one rep and it'll be Glen Perkins, but he really should make it - he's that good.  Big, big fan and if I'm right, and I usually am, he should get plenty of other chances.

-  Ok so Escobar.  Total breakout season.  OPS by year:  .571, .537, .628, and .790 this year.  The interesting notes are the natural type progression towards a breakout and that he's already within 10 of his career high in plate appearances so he's got a lot of that whole "never had a chance" thing to him.  The question is, does this pass the smell test and Escobar is the kind of hitter who ranks , or is he a fraud?  In the latter case that's awesome!  Suddenly the Twins have hitters to build around in Dozier, Escobar, Santana, Arcia (hopefully) and maybe Trevor Plouffe (I may be too tired to get to him).  Great.  But if he's a fraud it might be even better as long as the Twins recognize it (I know but let's stick with the new Moneyball thing - for me).  In that case you capitalize on his success and flip him at the trade deadline, move Santana back to your SS of the future (he's going to be moved somewhere once Byron Buxton arrives anyway) and we move on.  So let's investigate like Scooby Doo.

First thing to check is always BABIP, and Escobar is at .383 this year against a career number of .315.  Yikes.  Bad start for the "he's for realsies" crowd.  That number is fourth in the majors.  Hard to believe it's real, but let's check line drive rate.  27.3%!  That's good!  That's 7th best in the majors and a nice improvement over last season!  Even better is that those extra percentage points towards line drives are coming from fly balls, which for a non home run hitter like Escobar is a move in the right direction.  Ok, so more liners, great.  Any reason for this?

Well his walk rate is still horrible and his K rate is up a little - neither of which say fluke but neither of which suggest growth either.  What does suggest some growth is making more contact (and clearly better contact) on balls he swings at in the strikezone.  He's also swinging at more pitches outside the zone, but making less contact, which I'm struggling to interpret (thanks booze.  and obama) but I choose to believe he's taking better swings instead of that weak crap where he used to basically swing just to make contact and hit a shitty ball (the slight uptick in K rate might be evidence of this).  Though the nerd stats are kind of mixed bag of evidence and perhaps luck here, one thing that looks very good is that other than the change-up Escobar is hitting better against every type of pitch this year than in his career, including punishing fastballs.

So the jury is still out on Escobar, but I admit things look better than I thought they would.  No matter what the case he still rates as one of the better defensive shortstops in the game and that has value either way.  Escobar may be the most interesting case on the team, simply because if they decide to move him there's a pretty clear plan in place (if you believe in Santana like I do and if you don't you're probably a terrible person who roots for Europe in the World Cup).  I'll be watching this one with much interest.  Or some interest.  At least a little interest.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

The Demise of Joe Mauer

I'm generally not one to panic in the early season.  Rather than overreact to early outlier type trends, I always assume a player will regress to the mean, and although there can be improvements and skills can decay in general I believe I usually believe it's a matter of degrees and anything drastic is usually a fluke.  It's why it took me so long to come around on Brian Dozier and why I haven't panicked about Aaron Hicks yet (though I'm getting there).  But this Joe Mauer thing is.......troubling.  The fact that his offensive dip is coming as he shits to first base - the most premium of premium of offensive positions - just magnifies the issues.  Especially as Justin Morneau soars in Colorado (.312/.356/.556 with 10 dingers).

Despite Ron Gardenhire's assertion that Mauer's the victim of bad luck and "would be hitting .400 if he was playing in Boston" this looks like more than a fluke as there are some really troubling indicators here.  But first let's review his performance.  Mauer's slash line right now is .273/.349/.348.  All of these numbers are career lows.  His OPS of .697 is about .150 below his career mark and is, no joke, just slightly above Nick Punto's career mark.  With just 9 extra base hits this year his ISO is a minuscule .073, which is dead last among first basemen and 11th worst in the majors, ranking above Jason Kubel, a bunch of slap hitters, and the completely dreadful this year Billy Butler.   There's no way around it, this is a truly dreadful year for Mauer so far.

Perhaps the most troubling aspect of this is that there's no clear reason why this is happening.  He's swinging at more pitches out of the zone than usual, but other than that you can't point to anything behind the scenes that's changed all that dramatically, but the results sure have.  His walk rate is down for the second year in a row to a career low (outside his first 35 game season in 2004) while his K rate is up for the fifth straight year and is his career worst.  His strikeout percentage was always in the low teens, but this year has spiked to nearly 20%.  Put it this way - his BB/K ratio this year is 0.59.  His career number is 1.06.  Mauer's seasons usually ended with more walks than strikeouts, but for the second time he's trending ahead in Ks, and this year by a wide amount.

He's clearly having trouble making contact compared to his career norms, and when he does put the ball in play he's not hitting it as well.  His line drive rate is about the same, but he's transferred a ton of fly balls to ground balls.  Although grounders go for hits more often than flys, that's not happening for him and from what I've seen many of those ground balls are very weakly hit.  That, and the removal of many fly balls, has led to the lack of power.  You'd be tempted to call it bad luck, but Mauer's BABIP is still a robust .331 this year, which is down from his career number of .348, but not so down you can simply point to bad luck as why Mauer's struggling this season.

It's maddening because he doesn't seem to have changed his approach much but the results are very different.  Perhaps most troubling is he's made a career out of absolutely punishing fastballs, but this year he's barely above average on them.  He's striking out like crazy and not walking.  When he does make contact it's weak and he's showing Ben Revere levels of power. I really wish you could point to some kind of change in his approach because then we could just assume he'd figure that out and get back to normal and everything would be cool, but that's not the case.  Add it all up and with his move to 1B this year his WAR is 0.0, meaning you could plug any AAA slug into his spot (Chris Parmelee) and you wouldn't lose a thing.  And all for $23 million.

Like I said way back at the beginning of this thing I'm not one to overreact.  Mauer could self correct and hit .380 the rest of the way and it wouldn't surprise me one bit.  There just isn't anything here really that makes that sound extremely likely.  The one thing we can hold too is it's possible he's simply pressing too hard.  The increased swinging at balls out of the zone, the increased strikeouts, and the decreased walks all point to a hitter increasing his aggressiveness, which a lot of the idiots in this town keep saying he needs to do despite the fact that that's not how he got good.  Hopefully he can settle back, relax, and be the patient, reliable hitter he was born to be and has been for whatever like 10 years or something.  But I'm kind of nervous that he's broken.  And I blame you.