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."