Wednesday, December 27, 2017

The Dombrowski Era Begins

*Here's another old one I never posted. Some of it holds up pretty well (predicting the need to trade 2 of 4 top prospects to get a stud pitcher in Sale because the roster as a whole wasn't good enough) and some doesn't (Kimbrel has been great still). But I do think it's a good evaluation of Dombrowski and while the team has won 2 division titles, the future looks super murky and I doubt Ditching Dave would stay through a rebuild. It is also probably an unfinished post, but oh well. Tupac and Biggie both put out plenty of unfinished shit.

Let's get this out of the way: Craig Kimbrel is really fucking good. Historically good. In Major League history, he has the second highest strikeout per nine inning rate (14.55) of any pitcher with at least 300 career innings (behind only Aroldis Chapman). 2015, his only season with the Padres, was his worst (more on this later) in his career. His numbers? 2.58 ERA, 39 saves, 87 strikeouts in just 59 and a third innings. That is just 4 fewer strikeouts than Mark Buehrle had in 139 and a third more innings. He is a 4 time All-Star in just 6 seasons and he has deserved each nomination.

He also fills a hole on this Red Sox team. The Red Sox in 2015 had the 13th best bullpen ERA in the American League. Beyond Koji Uehara (who will now pitch the 8th inning), the bullpen was an unreliable disaster for most of the year. Even the usually strong Junichi Tazawa struggled at the end of the year, with a 9.22 ERA from August until the end of his season. There is overwhelming evidence that all but the best starting pitchers shouldn't really pitch to a lineup for more than 2 times through the order, which means that bullpens these days really need to be ready to throw 4 innings a game quite often. The teams with the 3 best bullpen ERA last year were the Pirates, Royals and Cardinals and they all did prettay prettay good last year.

So in a vacuum, adding one of the best relief pitchers of all time to a crappy bullpen is a strong move that will make the team better in 2015. But anyone who has ever seen Total Recall knows, living in a vacuum can make your head explode when you poke hole in it. Unfortunately, in this case there are plenty of holes.

Dave Dombrowski was hired by the Red Sox to be bold and turn around a franchise that finished last in the AL East 3 out of the last 4 years (I can't remember what happened in that other year though, nobody really seems to ever talk about it). With a reputation for making big deals and using his farm system for trade bait rather than for growth, we all knew a handful of prospects would be shipped out this offseason. And back in the safe confines of our vacuum, this is a totally fine and actually smart strategy.

Over the last 5 years, Ben Cherington and the front office built up the best farm system in baseball. It had stars and depth. It had talent in the high and low minors. It had up the middle talent. It had pitching and hitting. There was power and speed and defense. Including players under 25 years old on the Major League roster who no longer qualify as prospects, there were 20 players with a strong chance to become Major League regulars or better or way better. There was never going to be enough room for all of them and some should definitely be used for a trade. One of the biggest knocks on Cherington was that he tended to hoard prospects to the point where they lost their value, and in players like Garin Cecchini, Matt Barnes, Allen Webster, Ryan Lavarnway and Anthony Ranaudo, you can see where people got this idea.

If you asked me what players from the farm would be great to use as trade trips this offseason I would have started with Manuel Margot and Javier Guerra. They play the same positions, center field and short stop, respectively, as the team's two best players. They are 2-3 years away from big league ready. They have short track records of success. Their prospect status is built mostly on their defense and athleticism, which I feel like can lead to more failure and variability in prospect evaluation. They are great prospects, but we also have 4 other prospects I like a lot more (Yoan Moncada, Andrew Benintendi, Rafael Devers, Anderson Espinoza). So the fact that they will be in another organization next year is not a problem to me. I have no emotional attachment to these teenage boys. I have even less attachment to Carlos Asuaje and Logan Allen (though I think he is a great lottery ticket and would have liked to have seen him in the system for just one more year).

What I am having a really hard time wrapping my head around is why Dombrowski felt the need to trade all 4 of these prospects for a 60 inning reliever. There seem to be 4 common arguments in support of the move, which I will address below.

The Sox bullpen sucked and they needed to add a great closer to it to make it better
I already agreed with the first part of this and I don't disagree with all of the second part. I think the team could have added any great reliever, closer or not, and it would make an impact on this bullpen. With teams like Kansas City and New York having dominant 8 and 9 inning guys, it seems like a great strategy. A recent article by Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs (number heavy) determined that having a truly elite reliever at the back of the bullpen may be worth more than what we capture with Wins Above Replacement, and it makes sense. But his second to last paragraph is where I really have concern with this trade:
All of this is looking back. This is reflecting on relievers who were elite. When it comes to team-building, the tricky thing is trying to identify elite relief ahead of time. Of course, Aroldis Chapman looks amazing. Andrew MillerWade Davis. And so on. But we’ve long understood that relievers can be particularly volatile, and as an example, a qualifying elite 2014 reliever was Greg Holland. Also Jake McGee.Craig Kimbrel had his ups and downs. Koji Uehara was more vulnerable in 2014 than he was in 2013. Joe Nathan was a hell of a lot worse in 2014 than he was in 2013. Like with any player, when you acquire a good reliever, you’re acquiring present talent, but talent can fade, and injuries can happen at almost any moment. No one has ever been or will ever be a guarantee.
Kimbrel is even called out as an example. He has been un-fucking-believable in the past, but how do we know if that will continue? Relievers have short terms of dominance, typically, so even with recent histories of success it can be fleeting.

Just look at the Red Sox of recent years. Before 2012, they traded starting caliber short stop Jed Lowrie for Houston's closer, Mark Melancon. Melancon was terrible with the Sox, so they shipped him to Pittsburgh where he has revived his career. Volatile. Before 2013, they traded starting right fielder Josh Reddick to Oakland for All Star closer Andrew Bailey. Bailey was injured and ineffective most of the year and his career is on life support.

On the flip side, the Sox have found great bullpen pieces off the relative scrap heap from 2011-2014. Their best 3 relievers over that time were Uehara, Tazawa and Andrew Miller. Uehara was an older reliever signed for $9 million over two years and expected to be in the mix for the 7th inning. Tazawa was signed out of Japan as a young starting prospect, failed to develop in the minors, and converted to the bullpen before coming to Boston. Miller was a high draft pick of Dombrowski, traded to Miami, released, then after he came to Boston, was converted to relief.

What I am trying to show is that I do believe a dominant 8th and/or 9th inning guy is important. However, there are a lot of ways to acquire one and trading a buttload of prospects for one may not be the best option because of how volatile even the best relievers can be.

Dombrowski and the front office identified Kimbrel as the best available option and went out and got him
This is basically the "But I want it!" argument. I can appreciate that Dombrowski knows way more about baseball than I ever will, so if he thinks Kimbrel will continue to be great then I will give him some benefit of the doubt. I will also concede that it is great to have someone who can be decisive and execute their plan. But if I want an ice cold Budweiser after a long hard day in the internet and a bartender tries to charge me $100 for it, I will take my business elsewhere.

The free market dictates price. The Padres evidently set the price for Kimbrel at 2 top 50 prospects, a lottery ticket, and a depth piece. At this point, it is up to Dombrowski to say, no thank you, I will go sign Darren O'Day and see what happens when I convert Joe Kelly and maybe I will get similar results. Kimbrel was not the only solution to this problem, but Dombrowski acted as if he had to have him at pretty much all costs. This type of behavior almost always leads to buyers remorse.

The Sox have such a great, deep farm system, they can afford to overpay
I just don't understand this argument. Just because you have a lot of something doesn't mean you should just be comfortable giving it away because you can. Like, Donald Trump doesn't go to 7-11 to buy a Big Gulp for $6,000 just because he has all that hard earned (inherited) money. No, when Donald Trump goes to 7-11, he pays $1.99 for a Big Gulp like the rest of us.

Now, Craig Kimbrel is a more scarce resource than a Big Gulp, sure, but just because the Sox have a shit load of prospects that doesn't mean they should be comfortable giving away a lot of them to get him. Each prospect brings with him his own value. If you spend that value on Kimbrel, that is value you can't spend on another player.

Some people have made the argument that they should have traded these 4 prospects for an Ace like Sonny Gray or Chris Sale. I think it's very clear that Dombrowski explored this option and was told that at this time those pitchers are not available, at least for this package. But who knows if they would be 3 months from now once rosters have shaken out. Or maybe they would be at the 2016 trade deadline if either team decides to start a rebuild. Well, now that the Sox have traded these prospects, it would likely take more than one of their top 4 prospects to get the job done.

One of the great things Danny Ainge and the Celtics have done is to maintain their flexibility for when a superstar becomes available. Dombrowski just diminished his prospect bank account because he could and if a higher impact player becomes available, he may not have the assets to get in the running.

The bullpen is all set after this deal, now they can just go sign one of the 3 Ace pitchers
This is a really risky strategy. There is no guarantee any of the 3 Aces want to come to Boston. Zack Greinke has a really good situation in LA. David Price has gone on record as saying he doesn't like Boston because the way the fans treated him when he was with Tampa (nice work gang!). Johnny Cueto seems like he might be open to coming here, but he also carries the most risk of the 3. Unfortunately, by giving up so many good prospects this early in the offseason, they have really locked into this strategy. As we saw with Jon Lester last season, there are no sure things in Free Agency.

C2: The Mighty Celts

Image result for d2 mighty ducks

*This is a post I never finished last year but thought it was pretty solid so I'm throwing it up there. It is pretty unfinished still but who gives a shit.
I was watching highlights of Terry Rozier this morning (you don't watch Summer League highlights of your backup point guard at 8 AM?) and thinking to myself, "man this guy is so fast, it's amazing he's even able to stop himself. He's kind of like Luis Mend...holy shit! Let's do a D2: The Mighty Ducks column about the Celtics!"

What follows is an important comparison of the rosters of the 2016 Boston Celtics and 1994 Team USA Ducks, or as my wife might call it "the deranged rantings of the 90's obsessed lunatic I married". 

The 2016 Celtics are coming off a season in which they exceeded expectations as a rag tag group of NBA misfits and castoffs without a bona fide star on the back of their superstar coach. They picked up some help from around the country in the offseason and are now being talked as a potential threat to the big bad Cleveland Cavaliers. The core of the 1994 Team USA Ducks were the former District 5 team from the Minneapolis Pee Wee League who came together when their alcoholic coach grew a heart and turned these juvenile delinquents into juvenile champions. Despite their very brief run as a dominant team, the US Junior Hockey selection committee decided (quite legitimately) that they should represent their country in the World Junior Goodwill Games with the help of some new friends to take down mighty Iceland. EEEEEEEceland! As you will see, the roster comparison is uncanny. Also, SPOILER ALERT for those who have not seen D2 yet.

Adam Banks and Isaiah Thomas
Banks and Thomas are the best players on the Ducks/Celtics. They are offensive studs who put up goals/buckets in droves. I would personally never call Isaiah Thomas a cake eater (mostly because I still don't know what that means 24 years after hearing it for the first time), but I would also never tell Isaiah that he is not the Adam Banks of the Celtics. When Dwayne Robertson tries to show boat his puck skills before a careless turnover or Marcus Smart clangs another wide open 3, Banks and Thomas are there to settle down the offense and put the team on the board. They were also both originally acquired in mid-season trades, Banks from the Hawks and Thomas from the Suns.

Charlie Conway and Jae Crowder
The Celtics don't currently have a captain, but if I had to choose one it would definitely be Jae Crowder. Despite his age, the whole team seems to respond to him and respect him. He plays hard and he is a second coach on the floor. Charlie is another precocious leader. A key contributor in the first movie, using Gordon Bombay's patented Triple Deek to beat the Hawks in a shoot out, Charlie is faced with a really tough decision ahead of the final match with Iceland. Banks, the best player on the team, had been sidelined with a wrist injury from a vicious and illegal slash (2 minutes? Was worth it) in the first matchup with Iceland, but comes to the locker room ahead of the final game and shoes Bombay that his wrist is fine now by twirling the stick in his hand. But wait, the roster is full since they added knuckle-puck master Russ Tyler and there is no room for Banks. As Tyler goes to remove his jersey, Charlie stops him and volunteers to sit this one out. That is a fucking leader there and a great fit for Jae Crowder.

Jesse Hall and Amir Johnson
This is probably the weakest comparison I was able to make. For the most part it is based on the fact that they are their teams' starting centers, but that's pretty much where the comparison ends. Jesse was a really great character in the Mighty Ducks universe but he was constantly snubbed. He coined the mystery phrase "cake eater" and yet the writers kept dicking him over. In the first movie, he was one of the players to miss his penalty shot. In the second movie they killed off his brother (they never actually said this, but it's in the subtext, trust me) and hired Kenan Thompson to supplant him as the street wise comic relief. Then, in the third movie, Jesse didn't even get an invite to the private school! That's so racist, I don't even know where to begin (ok, Russ Tyler got in, but there was probably a quote the school had to fill). Sorry for the constant snubbing Jesse. I hope your brother is in heaven smiling down on you right now.

Julie "The Cat" Gaffney and Al Horford
This one was almost too easy. The biggest offseason addition to each team. Giving each team a legit star to build around and willing to do all the dirty work around the net. With The Cat's pads and Al's size, you wouldn't expect so much quickness, but they both dart around making stops few of their peers ever could. The only issue with the comparison is Al doesn't have a sweet nickname like "The Cat". Even his Twitter handle is @Al_Horford. I did find a Grantland article by Zach Lowe that said his Florida teammates in college called him "The Godfather", and since Zach Lowe is pretty much always right, I will go with that. Al "The Godfather" Horford.

Kenny Wu and Avery Bradley
Based on size and style, Wu, the Olympic figure skater*, is probably more of an Isaiah, but there is a scene in the movie that really sticks out to me and makes me think of Avery. When the Ducks need to remember what it's like to play for real pride, they go play street hockey in South Central (the scene is scored to "Whoomp! There it is" because, what else would it be scored to?). Russ Tyler's big brother James sees Kenny celebrate after scoring a very fancy goal and starts coming after him. As Kenny retreats in terror, James stops his assault and reveals that he was just messing with him (tell that to Kenny's sphincter). What he was trying to do is show Kenny how to get tough, how to stand up for himself, and how to stand up for his team. The lesson pays off in the final game as Kenny fights one of the Iceland players and becomes the unofficial 3rd bash brother. As I re-watched the scene, all I could think was "how many times did Kevin Garnett threaten Avery Bradley's life when he was a rookie?" I can't help but connect the dots here because Avery has become a certifiable bad ass and likely would not be this way without KG literally scaring the crap out of him on a nightly basis.
*There is a lot of Moneyball-esque roster building in D2. Whoever assembled this team found some great market inefficiencies by pulling in athletes from other sports and focusing on the players' strengths instead of dwelling on their weaknesses.

Fulton Reed/Dean Portman and Marcus Smart/Jaylen Brown
The Bash Brothers. The Enforcers. The Bad Motherfuckers. Whatever you want to call Marcus and Jaylen this year, they are going to be so much fun to watch. Athletic, strong, and great defensive instincts, they are easily the Fulton/Portman of this team, right down to Marcus's erratic long distance shots. Two quick asides. First, I love how ridiculous the newspaper coverage is in this movie. The team is on the front page of the sports section after every game. Think of how dumb that is: a teenage charity tournament for America's 4th most popular sport is being featured on the front page of a sports section...Second, after Kenny Wu becomes the 3rd Bash Bro, Fulton and Portman go nuts and slap the heads of all the Iceland players on the bench joining Kenny in the penalty box with game misconduct penalties. I know very little about hockey, but doesn't that leave the team with 2 players and a goalie to face the best teen team in the world for 2 minutes? How did Iceland not go on a 10-0 run at that point? Enforcers are apparently important in hockey, but you gotta pick your spots. I don't care how fired up the crowd is, if you are down 3 players for 2 minutes, no amount of cheering is going to prevent the other team from scoring a whole lot of goals.

Connie Moreau/Guy Germaine and Kelly Olynyk/Jonas Jerebko
With a girls name and long hair, Kelly has to be the Connie on this team. With a foreign name and blonde hair, Jonas has to be the Guy on this team. It also looks like Kelly and Jonas will be the big men first off the bench to start the year so they are something of a couple. Connie and Guy always seemed to play together through the trilogy so this holds up. Sorry for the boring write up, but Connie and Guy were pretty boring characters.

Luis Mendoza and Terry Rozier
The inspiration for this post, Mendoza was the speedster from Miami who did not know how to stop (nice music choice!). Rozier is one of the fastest players I've ever seen on the court. He has blossomed like crazy this summer and seems poised to be the backup point guard this year. His speed, like Mendoza's, can be erratic at times but it seems like Brad did the can drill with him this summer to teach him to stay in control. Fun fact: the actors who play Luis Mendoza and Jesse Hall also starred in Sandlot together. Less fun fact: the actor who played Mendoza, Mike Vitar, was recently charged with assault on a man handing out candy to kids on Halloween.

Dwayne Robertson and Gerald Green
Another one that was too easy. All flash and very little substance, I'm sure Dwayne Robertson could win whatever the NHL's version of a Dunk Contest is by knocking cupcakes off the goal post.

Image result for d2 mighty ducks goldberg
Goldberg and James Young
Both really have no business being on their respective teams and both think they are way better than they are. I don't know Young's eating or gas habits, but it was between him, Tyler Zeller, Demetrius Jackson and Jordan Mickey for the coveted Goldberg spot so cut me some slack. This is the real reason it was a shame to not re-sign Jared Sullinger's large behind.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Rick Porcello Will Win The Cy Young

Rick Porcello, one of The Four Horsemen of the Ben Cherington Apocalypse (along with Hanley, Pablo, and Rusney), is going to win the Cy Young Award in 2016. The man with the 4.92 ERA last season is going to take home the award for the best pitcher in the AL this year. The dude with the honey glazed hat who was an instant bust after signing an $82.5 million extension before Cherington ever saw him throw a pitch in Boston is now the best pitcher on the team and will be named the best in the league.

Why am I so definitive in my prediction that Porcello is going to win the Cy? Well I haven't written in a while so I felt like I should be bold, but I also took a look at the AL Cy winners from the last 10 seasons to see if there were specific stats that voters focused on over others and I found some interesting results.

Before we get into why I think he will win, let's go over why he wouldn't be a bad choice to win. I think a lot of people have heard that Porcello has gone 11 straight starts pitching at least 7 innings and giving up no more than 3 runs while his team has been in the middle of a very competitive pennant race. For those looking for a strong narrative you can't really beat this one this year. He is performing excellently in traditional metrics (3rd in ERA, 9th in Strikeouts, 1st in WHIP, 2nd in Innings) and really well in advanced metrics as well (5th in both versions of WAR, 1st in SO/BB ratio, 2nd in ERA+). A vote for Porcello is completely defensible and is getting more defensible every week.

This performance presents a good case, but it's not like he's the only option. The AL is littered with good not great options this season which is a huge reason why Porcello has a great chance at this. Corey Kluber is first in Baseball Reference WAR and ERA+. Chris Sale is first in Fangraphs WAR (and weirdly tied for first in hit batters with Porcello, possibly channeling their inner Pedro's to get to the top of the Cy voting). Masahiro Tanaka is first in ERA. Justin Verlander is first in Strikeouts. David Price is first in Innings (a good indicator of health and how deep into a game a pitcher goes while keeping his team competitive). All of these pitchers also rank well in every category like Porcello, so you can potentially argue for each candidate*.

*There is some group of voters who will definitely vote for Zach Britton, the dominant closer for the Orioles. He is in line to set the record for ERA in a season (though not *qualified* ERA) and has been a perfect 45 for 45 in save opportunities this year. But he has pitched just 1/3 the amount of innings of the top starters I've mentioned and the voters have actually not voted heavily for closers in the last 10 years with the top finisher being Francisco Rodriguez finishing 3rd in 2008 when he set the single season saves record with 62. Britton's performance is certainly historic this year but not quite sure it's enough given the low innings.

So with no clear candidate emerging based purely on the facts, it's a good idea to look at what the voting block gravitate towards. I decided to look at nine major stats and how the AL Cy winners fared in each category over the last 10 years. Those stats were Wins, ERA, Strikeouts, Strikeout to Walk ratio, WHIP, Innings, ERA+ (ERA relative to league average), and the 2 forms of WAR from Baseball Reference and Fangraphs. While I didn't find anything "conclusive", I did find a lot of interesting trends that could shed light on who will win this year.

Wins are still VERY popular
In the last 10 years, 7 of the AL Cy Young winners also led the league in wins including the last 5. Especially important was winning 20 games. Only twice in the last 10 years did a 20 game winner lose the award to a non-20 game winner. In 2010 Felix Hernandez won the award while finishing 18th (!) in Wins. C.C. Sabathia won 20+ that year, but finished 3rd in the voting. Luckily for C.C., he won the Cy in 2007 with 19 wins, while Boston's Josh Beckett finished with 20+ wins and 2nd in the Cy voting, in possibly the most debatable Cy season during this period. If Porcello takes the Cy it will be because of Wins. His 21 Wins lead the league by 2 and, if you know math like I do, make him the league's only 20 game winner. J.A. Happ has a chance to join him (though not the resume to take the Cy) and Kluber has 3 starts left to get to 20 wins exactly. If Kluber does get there, I think Porcello loses his biggest trump card and the award. But if Kluber falls short then I really believe Porcello will take it. Despite the fact that individual pitcher wins are largely meaningless, Cy voters can't quite separate themselves from it especially if that number starts with a "2".

ERA and WAR also matter
7 of the last 10 ERA leaders and 7 of the last 10 Baseball Reference WAR leaders have won the Cy, making these stats equally predictive to the Win. ERA has almost become the compromise stat that traditional voters are willing to "give" stat-focused voters. "Ok, I get that a starter who gives up 1 run in 9 innings and loses still pitched a great game, but giving up that 1 earned run makes him a great pitcher and I don't need no convoluted number with some fancy Ak-Ro-Nim to tell me that." "You mean like ERA?" "Fuuuuuck. Yooooooou." Any way, ERA and bWAR are the numbers that vaulted Hernandez from 18th in Wins in 2010 to the top of the Cy voting. Nobody has finished worse than 5th in ERA and 3rd in bWAR and won the Cy. Porcello is 3rd in ERA (good!) and 5th in bWAR (but only 0.3 away from 2nd) so he's in good shape but...

Finishing 1st in 2 of these 3 matters most
In 9 of the last 10 seasons, the Cy winner finished 1st in 2 of the 3 categories just discussed. The only season this didn't happen was 2007 when Sabathia finished 2nd in Wins, 5th in ERA, 2nd in bWAR, but he also finished first in Fangraph WAR, SO/BB ratio, and Innings. That season also had no clear winner and a lot of similarly valuable pitchers, so maybe this is the season we should look at most closely. If we did that then this post would be double the length and so so so exciting you guys, but I will spare you for now. I will point out that this is the only season the SO/BB ratio leader won the award. The 2016 SO/BB ratio leader? Rick Porcello.

But back to finishing first in 2 of Wins, ERA and bWAR. Porcello is pretty likely to finish the season first in Wins. He is almost definitely not going to finish first in bWAR as he is behind Kluber by 1.2 WAR. He would probably have to throw a no hitter and a 15 strikeout game while Kluber throws 3 duds, so let's look at ERA. Currently, Tanaka is running a 2.97 ERA, 0.11 better than Porcello. If Tanaka stays at this level until the end of the season (and second place Sale doesn't pass him), Porcello would have to throw 7+ innings in each of his final 2 starts and allow 1 or 0 earned runs, something he has done 5 times this season already. It's certainly not likely, but Tanaka could have a bad start or two leaving the ERA race open for Porcello.

Do I think Porcello is the best pitcher in the AL this year and would I vote for him if I were so lucky to be in the BBWAA? No, probably not. I would probably vote for Kluber or Sale. But Porcello has been very good this season and does very well in some of the categories that AL Cy voters traditionally vote on. The vote is definitely wide open this season, but if I weren't still paying off my wedding and had money to bet on a baseball awards vote, I would go with Porcello.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Through the Beer Goggles: Home Opener

Unemployment watch: 78 days and counting. What better way to fill the void than by checking out the Red Sox home opener alone in a bar. And when I say alone, I mean literally me, the bartender and the cook. Though I may have felt like Kim Jong Il, at least I was able to watch a great opening day game. Here are some of my drunken thoughts.

  • Mookie. That's really all that needs to be said about this game and I'm guessing we will have many more games where he almost single-handedly wills the team to victory. Red Sox beat writer Alex Speier (now with the hated Boston Globe, but he's by far the best Sox writer in Boston right now) has been referring to Mookie as #featsofmookie on Twitter for about 2 years now because almost everything he is doing is some kind of record or amazing play. Here is a recap of what he accomplished yesterday:
    • Makes a leaping catch of a certain home run off the bat of Bryce Harper in the first inning saving 2 runs. Mookie has played outfield professionally for less than a year. Harper is also 1 of only 3 players younger than Mookie in MLB right now.
    • After drawing a leadoff walk and with David Ortiz at bat, he steals second. Then, because he is a robot, he calculates the distance away from third and top line speed of Jordan Zimmerman and computes that he will be able to also steal third base on the same play with .2 milliseconds to spare because of the Papi Shift. He is just the 11th player in baseball history to steal two bases on the same play. The last player to do it? Dustin Pedroia last year on a Papi Shift. In case you didn't know, these two guys are now teammates. I have a feeling like Pedey is going to be a positive influence on Mookie.
    • In his next at bat he drills a 3 run homer over the Monster and in his next at bat hits a sac fly for his 4th RBI. I swear Mookie doesn't hit fly balls, they are all line drives. I could be getting this stat wrong, but I think someone on NESN said that Mookie is the first Red Sox leadoff man ever to hit a home run, drive in 4 runs and steal 2 bases in a game. Not Boggs, Nomar, Damon, Dom Dimaggio, or even Rickey Henderson.
  • Let's talk about the $82 million man for a second. Rick Porcello, I fear, is going to end up being the biggest goat on this team for the next 5 years because people can't wrap their head around his value. He had a pretty good game yesterday (4 runs, but only 3 earned over 8 innings with 6 Ks and only 1 BB). Most importantly he let the tired Sox bullpen off the hook. He's going to be a really good innings eater for this team over the course of his contract because he limits walks and pitches to contact. Unfortunately, this heavy contact approach will lead to some mistakes and a lot of times it will feel like he's pitching worse than he is. So far I have not been too impressed by the location of his pitches. He is leaving way too many pitches up in the zone and he is getting punished on these mistakes. You can see him drop his elbow and get under the pitch when it ends up high. It's definitely a mechanical issue that I hope the Sox can fix. If he can stay consistently down he will be a really good pitcher. If not, watch out.
  • Ortiz hit his second homer of the year, but he has looked pretty bad this year even against right handers. He didn't play a lot in Spring Training so he may be getting his timing down still. Luckily, for Ortiz and the Sox, the DH position has diminished so much that Papi doesn't have to hit too well to be valuable. The average DH last year hit .246/.317/.416. Ortiz has only failed to reach any of those numbers once, in 2009, when he had a .238 average but still hit 28 home runs.
  • I'm over Shane Victorino. Sorry Kati Black. I wanted to give him longer than a week, but he's done. Too much punishment on that body. I want to make a Hawaiian joke but I don't know if that's racist so I'll put that one aside. Any way, we will be forced to live with Shane for a little while longer as Rusney Castillo is nursing a sore shoulder in AAA.
  • I love that 2 of the biggest off-season "Ace" targets, Zimmerman and Cole Hamels, have been absolutely destroyed by the Sox offense. Baseball is the best.
  • Xander Bogaerts didn't exactly kill the ball yesterday and he did make an error, but in the few games since the 19 inning bloodbath, he has just looked more confident at bat and in the field. I really think confidence is going to be huge for him. When he starts casually chewing on his gum like an Aruban Brad Pitt you know good things are going to happen.
  • Thank Xenu baseball is back.
  • Finally, no That's So Random today, but here is a music video in case any non-sports fans actually read this. The start of the baseball season is my favorite time of the year, especially because it coincides with spring in Boston. I have not stopped smiling for the past week. To show you how enthusiastic I am about this, here is a video of twins playing the Beverly Hills 90210 theme song on one guitar. I don't know if I'll ever be as happy as the one twin at the beginning of the video, but it's pretty close. Also, would love to see Jon and Sam Hendricks recreate this...

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Yoan and Isaiah


That is what the Celtics and Red Sox added in the last few days. That is generally what wins out in the end in sports. That is what we pay to see.

With the additions of Isaiah Thomas and Yoan Moncada, the Celtics and Red Sox, respectively, added two talented players to their organizations. We will take a look at each move individually, but the key here is that both teams improved their talent base without giving up much to do so.

Isaiah Thomas

Nick Van Exel 2.0. Lil' Jason Terry. Rich man's Nate Robinson. These are all comparisons I have read for Thomas since he was traded to the Celtics last Thursday. This translates to a scoring guard with an attack mentality. A man with big talent, even bigger balls and a small body. A man with such big balls and such a small body it's a wonder the forces of gravity don't just suck him earthbound.

The Celtics traded 2 months of Marcus Thornton (who's contract is up after this year) and a 2016 1st round pick from Cleveland (that would likely be in the mid 20's as long as Lebron is around) for the next three years of Thomas. Thomas is only 26 years old and he is signed to one of the best contracts in basketball, one that actually declines over the life of the deal.

Thomas is unlike anyone the Celtics have right now or really have had since they traded Paul Pierce. Brad Stevens' motion offense is a thing of beauty. It's great for a team that does not have a go to scorer. It's all about ball movement and is very Spursian. Unfortunately, in the 4th quarter, without a go-to scorer the offense stagnates. Thomas changes all of that. He wants the ball in his hands when the clock is winding down. And unlike Evan Turner, he can actually do something with it.

In his two games in green so far, he has averaged 21 points and 5 assists (against 4.5 turnovers...yikes). I watched him in the second half of the Phoenix game and I am very impressed so far. He's the only player on the team that can dribble (I had nightmares last night of Jae Crowder running the fast break). He throws some very cool passes (some a little too cool as evidenced by all the turnovers). He looks to be a good mid range shooter and a pretty good 3 point shooter. He can get absolutely anywhere he wants on the floor. He is somehow an amazing finisher despite standing only 5'9". He gives James Young a friend in the left handers club. He's also got an energy and attitude that the club was sorely lacking (sorry Kelly Olynyk, your lady hair and cankles were never going to be the heart and soul of this club). He also sucks on defense, but let's ignore that for now.

It seems like the major complaint from the fans and media surrounding the deal is that adding talent and trading away a draft pick runs counter to what Danny Ainge has been doing the last two seasons. I disagree. Ainge has been collecting assets since he stole the Nets lunch money in the Pierce-Garnett deal. With those assets, the goal was to maintain flexibility for an opportunity to present itself. If the team could be bad enough to land a top 5 pick, he would pursue that path as he did last year. If he was able to turn a trade exception into a first round pick and a talented young player like Tyler Zeller, he would pursue that even if it made the team better. If a superstar became available, he could trade for him.

In the case of Isaiah Thomas, the Celtics did not land a superstar, but they did land a good player who can help the team in the future. They did not give up much to get him and his salary going forward helps the team maintain flexibility. Thomas is yet another asset on a team full of them. He could be our sixth man and go-to scorer for the next three years, but he could also be the sweetener in a trade for a superstar. He makes the team better this year, but he doesn't guarantee them a playoff spot especially with the other 7-8 seed contenders improving at the deadline.

The reality is that there are 4 teams definitely worse than the Celtics (Lakers, Knicks, Sixers, T'Wolves) that the team was never going to catch at the bottom of the standings. They are also probably better than the Magic and, because of the difficulty of the West, the Kings, Nuggets and Jazz. No matter what the team did there was a strong likelihood they weren't going to finish worse than 9th. So if they add a player who is going to help the team for the future but it drops them to the 11th pick, I'd say it's a pretty strong move. I've been as guilty as anyone the last two years worrying about draft position, but I think with the top 3 out of reach it's time to stop worrying.

The NBA has been much more of a crap shoot lately. With freshman dominating the lottery, it seems like the variability of a prospects future is larger than ever. While the top 2 or 3 picks still hold tremendous value, the value of, say, 4-14 seems to be much more blurry. The 2013 draft, which was supposed to be a bad draft but has turned out pretty solid, contains a ton of talent drafted outside of the top 10 including Kelly Olynyk, Dennis Schroeder, Giannis Atentokoumpo (this is not the way to spell his name, sorry), Shabazz Muhammad, Michael Carter-Williams, Gorgui Dieng, Mason Plumlee, and the possible best player of the draft Rudy Gobert (who was drafted at 27). If you played a series with those players against the players picked in the top 10 (including bust number 1 Anthony Bennett), the not-top-10 would win.

Adding Isaiah Thomas may hurt the draft position, but he does not hurt their chance to build a championship contender. The number one pick in the 2015 draft is not walking through that door with or without IT. Enjoy the swagger, the left hand, the nifty layups, the big grin, and most of all, the giant balls. Balls.

Yoan Moncada

It may not seem like it, but $63 million for a player who could be the number 1 pick in the draft is a steal. Major League Baseball (and all team sports) artificially deflate the value of amateur talent through the draft (and now international signing bonus restrictions). The only way for a top US amateur to play professionally is to submit himself to the draft. When that player is drafted, he can either sign with the team that drafted him (not of his choice) for more or less the amount dictated by the league based on his draft slot, or refuse to sign and wait a year to be drafted again and start the process all over again in perpetuity (I won't turn this article into an abolish the draft piece, you can get that here: Abolish The Draft). The only team that can get the top player in the draft, the next Stephen Strasburg or Bryce Harper, is the team with the worst record. So when a player good enough and young enough to be selected first overall is a free agent, the open market dictates the player's value rather than the penny pinching billionaires who don't want to share their wealth with teenagers. Going to $31.5 million is certainly unprecedented, but when you consider the skill set it makes a lot of sense.

A brief summary of scouting reports on Moncada that I've read around the internet. He plays short stop in Cuba, but at his current size and agility profile he projects to be a more natural 3B or 2B. He's a switch hitter who projects better from the left side (Keith Law said his hitting from the right side is a little rigid). He's very strong and fast and physically imposing in person. He's got good hand-eye coordination so he could hit for a high average. He could be a 20 homer-20 steal type player with the ability to hit over 30 homers if he reaches his potential. Some scouts say he could be the number 1 pick and a superstar, others say he is a 1st rounder that projects as above average. He should take a year or two in the minors to get used to US ball. He's not a sure thing, nobody is at 19, but he's a very very good prospect and is now one of the top 20 in all of baseball.

The beauty is that all the Red Sox had to give up to get him is money. They didn't have to trade away their top major league talent for a top prospect like the Cubs did last year with Jeff Samardzija (spelled that right on the first try!). They didn't have to trade away all of their major league talent to be the worst team in baseball for three years like the Astros did. They just went out and signed the guy. Yes it was a lot of money and yes he could be a total bust, but it's only money and it doesn't even count against the luxury tax line, if that means anything to the team still. The cherry on top is that the next highest bidder was the Yankees and they need Moncada a lot more than the Sox do!

For their money they get a 19 year old prospect who should move quickly through the minors and can play multiple positions. You may have noticed that all of the positions he can play already go about 2 deep at the major league level, but 2 years from now who knows what the team will look like. Maybe Mookie Betts or Xander Bogaerts are traded for pitching (please, please no). Maybe Pablo Sandoval or Hanley Ramirez have to or can move to first base. Maybe Dustin Pedroia's body breaks down to the point where he is a backup or has to be traded to the weaker National League (the Phillies just traded Jimmy Rollins, their former MVP and career hits leader so it's not impossible). Maybe Moncada is traded for pitching or is a bust. The point is, no team ever lost a championship for having too much talent.

There are no real downsides to this signing. That $63 mil is money the team could spend elsewhere, but it likely would have been spent on a player over 30 on the downside of his career. The team can't give out bonuses to international prospects over $300k for the next two years, but that was the case even before the Moncada signing because they already went way over their league imposed budget. Those are the only two downsides, nothing else.

We don't know what will become of Moncada, but the upside is ridiculous and that is all that matters here.


  • Quick story on Isaiah Thomas that the non-sports fans should enjoy. If his name sounds familiar it is because there was a Hall of Fame point guard that played for the Pistons in the 80's and 90's named Isiah Thomas (spelled differently). The Pistons were the most hated team in basketball and were called the "Bad Boys". They were massive douchebags and Isiah was the applicator (do douchebags have applicators?). Any way, our Isaiah's father, James, grew up in California and was a die-hard Lakers fan. The Lakers had defeated the Pistons in the 1988 Finals and were set to face them again in 1989. James made a bet with a friend that his Lakers would win, but if they lost he had to name his son, you guessed it, Isaiah. Hopefully through some deductive reasoning you can figure out who won the '89 Finals. I'm glad my father never made a bet about the Celtics-Lakers so I didn't end up being named Kareem Abdul-Bergeron.
  • Tonight is the series finale of Parks and Recreation. Nothing funny to say about it, just remember to watch it. If I'm not too emotionally decimated after watching it, I will do a review of the whole series tomorrow.
  • I didn't live Tweet the Oscars this weekend, but I have a few thoughts to share:
    • I'm pissed that Michael Keaton didn't win Best Actor. Even if it would have felt a little like a "Lifetime Achievement Award", he was awesome in Birdman and he is fucking Batman. The dude who played Stephen Hawking did an impression for two hours. That should get you cast in SNL, not an Oscar. I think actors doing biopics should be ineligible for Oscars, otherwise give guys like Jay Pharoah the award for his impression of Denzel.
    • I'm also bummed that Rosamund Pike didn't win Best Actress even though I really like Julianne Moore. If you haven't seen Gone Girl you should really check it out. MINOR SPOILER ALERT Not that I would ever cheat on Sarah, but if you watch this movie and Rosamund's performance and still think it's a good idea to cheat on someone, well you deserve what is coming to you.
    • It's rare that one person can claim the two creepiest moments of the night, but god damn it John Travolta did it. His thetan count must have been extra high that night. He must have been channeling the spirit of Bill Cosby. That was the best work he has done since Broken Arrow. Congratulations to John.
    • I can't tell if this new Lady Gaga schtick is more annoying than her old schtick or they are equally awful. I'm just glad she let Tony Bennett rest for a night.
    • No better place than a 4 hour mutual masturbation fest to address all the world's ills. Racism is now over, immigration is solved, and 150 million women just got a pay raise today! Thanks actors!
  • Was scrolling through the guide on my TV and noticed a Rosie O'Donnell standup special. I didn't watch it, but it reminded me of my favorite joke in Chappelle Show history: during the "Player Haters Ball" they show pictures of celebrities for the player haters to hate on. When they get to a picture of Rosie, Chappelle's character says "She wears underwear with dick holes in em."
  • My show recommendation of the week is Better Call Saul. If you watched Breaking Bad you should already know about this show and already be watching it. Even if you did't watch Breaking Bad you could watch this show and be fine. It's funnier than it's predecessor and it has started off really strong. It will never reach the heights of Breaking Bad just because that show was one of the best 5 or so in history, but it has started off stronger than BB. In case you forgot, that show started off pretty slowly. It had good acting but not a lot happened right off the bat and it wasn't even a lock to go beyond one season. If Better Call Saul can be half the show it's fore-father was, then we are all lucky. 
  • Finally, because it is the series finale of Parks and Recreation, here is "5000 Candles in the Wind" by Mouse Rat:

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Avoid James Shields

Sources are saying that James Shields will sign with a team by the end of this week. There are no specific teams rumored right now, but word is that he has multiple offers and he plans to choose one. The Red Sox may or may not be one of those teams, but given the dollars and years he is expected to sign for, I hope the team stays away.

I've already covered the new additions the team has made. They have not acquired an "ace" in the purest sense of the term, but they have a breakout candidate in Rick Porcello and enough depth, including their Triple A starters, that the rotation should be at least average. Recent projections from FanGraphs show that they think the Sox will have the 5th best rotation in all baseball because of this depth. 5th best may be a stretch given the uncertainty surrounding each starter, but it shows that the rotation is much healthier than the greater public (especially the geniuses in the Boston media) realize. This overall health is just the first reason the team should bow out of the sweepstakes.

The second reason is his age combined with the miles on his arm. 33 is really starting to push it when you are talking about most starting pitchers. Guys like Justin Verlander, CC Sabathia, Dan Haren, Matt Morris, Jason Schmidt, even Pedro Martinez all started to drop off in their early 30s. Most of these guys were poster boys for durability until then. A lot of them were out of the league before they even hit 35. The years of throwing a lot of innings finally caught up to them and their bodies broke down. Very few pitchers remain effective into their late 30s and most of those guys are Hall of Famers, knuckleballers or soft-tossing lefties. Shields is none of those.

The last reason is that I question how good Shields really is. He strikes out a decent amount of guys and limits walks and home runs. But a lot of his value is tied up in his durability, which may soon disappear. He has also played in two serious pitching parks in his career so the home run limiting may be a mirage. Finally, the last two seasons he has played in front of some great defenses in Kansas City. All of this doesn't mean he isn't a good pitcher, but I wonder if it is covering up his actual level of talent.

Despite the rhyme scheme, Big Game James has been an inaccurate nickname, especially lately. In 60 career post season innings, his walks, hits and home runs go up while his strikeouts go down. This all leads to an ERA that is almost 2 full runs higher than his regular season ERA. Now, lots of pitchers pitch worse in the post season when the competition is tougher, but Shields has literally made a name for himself as someone who steps up when it counts. 60 innings are not much, but I am curious if it shows that his actual talent level is something less than what we see over a long season/career. In the post season, durability, Shields' chief skill, goes out the window. Talent is often the best predictor of future success so if he's not as talented as we think, then the future wouldn't be bright.

Look, in 2015 I expect Shields to be better than every pitcher on this team besides Porcello (can you tell I'm excited for Pretty Ricky?). At 33, his best years might be behind him but he is still a very effective pitcher. His strikeout to walk ratio was 17th in baseball last year (and better than anyone on the roster right now). He was 5th in innings pitched and has been equally durable for the last 8 years. FanGraphs projects him to be worth 3 WAR, which would tie him for the team lead with Pretty Ricky. For the right price, Shields would be a great addition to the team in 2015.

The problem is, we likely aren't talking about a 1 year pillow deal like they used to land Adrian Beltre after a down season in a pitcher's park. Shields is coming off a strong year in 2014 so he doen't need to rebuild his value. He has pitched in pitcher's parks his whole career so going to a hitter's park is likely to hurt his numbers. At 33 this is probably his last chance to get a long term deal so you can bet he is going to find one. Every player in baseball is valuable at the right price (besides Ryan Howard), but Shields is definitely going to exceed the price I am comfortable with.

A quick and dirty way to calculate how much a player is worth is to figure out how many wins they are worth over the life of a contract and multiply it by how much money teams are paying per win (basically take the total payroll of all teams and divide it by the total number of wins in the whole league). We know what Shields is expected to produce in 2015 (3 WAR) and that the league values wins at about $7 million right now. To figure out each subsequent year we basically take away a half win to account for age decline and we increase the value of a win about $0.5 million due to recent trends.

In this scenario, Shields will produce 3, 2.5, 2, 1.5 and 1 win over the next 5 years for a total of 10 wins. Each season, the win will cost $7MM, $7.5MM, $8MM, $8.5MM, $9MM. When you multiply the seasonal wins by the value of a win, you get Shields' rough monetary value each season (I rounded up to give him the benefit of the doubt):

2015: $21 million
2016: $19 million
2017: $16 million
2018: $13 million
2019: $9 million

Based on these calculations, I would feel comfortable giving Shields a contract worth $78 million over 5 years or $69 million over 4 years. Given the chatter this offseason, though, I expect him to exceed this. So please, Red Sox, stay away.

  • Got to see a little bit of the Patriots' parade today. Had a great vantage point from the front of my building. Two things: first, so happy that the state decides cleaning the streets for people to get to work isn't important, but cleaning it for a bunch of people playing hookie to yell at a bunch of 250 pound millionaires is important. I'm sure Bob Kraft paid for the overtime for the removal too. The second thing: Tom Brady is seriously handsome up close.
  • I've seen more and more previews for Will Smith's new movie, Focus. It's hard to tell whether or not it will be good based on the trailer, but it looks like it could be really good or really bad. As a super fan, I really want, no need, it to be good. I stuck with Ben Affleck through Gigli and Jersey Girl, and I have tried to stick with Will through his recent shitty stretch. Don't let me down Will, please.
  • One indication that the movie might be bad is the use of one of my least favorite phrases: "there are two types of people in this world..." In this movie he says something like you are either a hammer or a nail, which makes no god damn sense. It's something screen writers use to be deep or to set up some future showdown. Rather than just go with good/evil, they use it  to more clearly separate groups of characters. Fucking stop. People are smart enough to pick up differences in characters and understand why they are at odds during the climax. Saying "there are two types of people in this world" makes your character sound like a moron. There are at least 3 types.
  • Last year I made a New Year's resolution to learn one new thing a day. The best source of these nuggets was an email newsletter called "Now I Know" by Dan Lewis. He writes a few paragraphs on some random fact and tells really interesting stories. For instance, did you know Winston Churchill was the first person ever recorded using the term "OMG"? Or that the reason McDonald's has never sold hot dogs is because the founder Ray Kroc said "there's no telling what's inside a hot dog's skin?" It's sent out every day and it's a lot of cool, interesting stuff. Go to to sign up for the daily email.
  • It was Groundhog Day on Monday and that little shit saw his shadow so we are getting 6 more weeks of winter. But here's what I don't get. The first day of spring is March 20. This is about 6 and a half weeks from February 2. Why do we need a big rat to tell us we have 6 more weeks of winter when we can just look at a calendar?
  • Obviously I watched Groundhog Day on Groundhog Day. It's such an amazing movie, everyone knows this so there is no need to rehash it here. I want to recommend another movie with a similar science fiction premise and that is Tom Cruise's Live. Die. Repeat. The trailers and marketing for this movie were awful and most people are over Cruise because he is a total lunatic at best. But this movie was a lot of fun. It had a cool storyline, solid effects and it wasn't too over the top. Most importantly, the movie and Cruise did not take it/himself too seriously. This is a minor spoiler, but if you want to see Cruise killed over and over again, rent this movie.
  • Finally, D'Angelo was the musical guest on SNL last weekend (along with J.K. Simmons hosting; what an amazingly random pairing!). D'Angelo put out two really great funk/soul albums about 15 years ago and then disappeared. He was probably best known for the song "Untitled (How Does it Feel?)." In the video he is shot from just above  his penis with no clothes on and it looks like he is receiving a hummer. Anyway, he recently released his first album after 15 years and it is bad ass. I would kill to see a Prince/D'Angelo concert, but they would need to hand out adult diapers at the front door for all the women. Here is one of Sarah's favorite from the new album, "The Door"

Monday, February 2, 2015

Nice to meet you Malcolm

That was the craziest ending I have ever seen in sports. After Jermaine "Tyree" Kearse made his impossible catch, the script seemed to have its ending. 1st and goal from the 5 with timeouts left and the strongest running back in the sport. Marshawn Lynch would have had to average 1.3 yards per carry and the Seahawks would have saved the game. His first carry went for 4 yards and all that was left was to find out kind of weird trick play the Patriots would try on the ensuing kickoff. Then we all met Malcolm Butler.

I admittedly don't follow football beyond fantasy, which means I know about 3 defensive players in the NFL at any given time. But I'm pretty sure almost nobody knew who Butler was until there were about :30 left in Super Bowl 49 (screw Roman numerals). How do I know this? The super fan behind me screaming "Oh ya" all night who probably has the number "1" and "2" tattooed on each nut kept calling him "Jimmy" Butler all night, as if the starting shooting guard for the Chicago Bulls was also a football player.

Butler is an undrafted rookie out of a Division II (shit, numerals snuck back in) school. He played only 18 snaps in the game last night and didn't start. He was kicked out of community college and sat out of football for two years. But on that one play, as everyone watching was witnessing Pete Carroll's Grady Little moment, he jumped the slant route and landed his first career interception. He now gets to take over Dave Roberts' secret penthouse in the golden dome atop the Boston State House until the next unheralded Boston hero makes a crazy play.

Other thoughts:

  • You will probably hear some people say that calling a pass play wasn't that bad of a call. In general, sure. Calling a pass play on second down from the 1 yard line is not a terrible call. Too often teams screw up by playing too conservatively and they get stuffed at the line. Belichick has made his career running play action from the 1 and throwing to a linebacker or lineman posing as a receiver. But when you have the strongest running back in football, a quarterback who is too short to see over the line and is more known for his running than his passing, you run the fucking football every time. That was an awful awful play call from a guy New Englanders knew to be a terrible coach.
  • Anyone questioning whether or not Brady and Belichick are the best QB/Coach duo in history can now probably find something new (and super important) to debate. Other duos have won 4 Super Bowl's together, but none have come in the salary cap era. With all the supporting cast who have shuffled in and out over the last 14 years, it is really amazing what these two have done.
  • Speaking of debates, I saw this stat on Twitter: Peyton Manning has had 9 one and done playoff appearances. Tom Brady has had 9 4th quarter or OT game winning drives in the playoffs.
  • The parade is going to be on Tuesday, the day after another shitty snow storm. I get that you want to celebrate immediately, but where are they going to put anyone? Half the sidewalks in the city aren't cleared properly. Cars are parked about 20 feet from the curb. I know Mayor Marty Walsh likes to party but can't you wait a couple days?
  • Other Patriots players that stood out last night: Julian Edelman who seemed to catch every important third down pass to extend a drive; Vince Wilfork inserting his glorious gut into any hole the Seahawks momentarily opened; Darrell Revis and Brandon Browner shutting down the passing game on almost every drive; Dont'a Hightower making the game saving tackle before the game saving interception because Marshawn was really close to scoring on that play.
  • The above quote from Ja'mie felt appropriate for a Super Bowl related blog. In case you were wondering, Ray Rice went to Rutgers and yes it is a public school. 
  • Everyone is shitting on the Nationwide Dead Boy commercial. Why? That was the funniest commercial in Super Bowl history. It was so inappropriate, out of place and ridiculous that people are going to remember it forever. That's what brand marketing is, basically, being memorable. Best Tweet related to the commercial: (sung to the Nationwide theme) Nationwide your kid has died!
  • The main theme of the Super Bowl commercials was "sad Dad". Nothing like a bunch of roided up monsters smashing each other to make you really reflect on how much you love your son. Now listen to a terrible cover of an American classic song and buy a pickup truck. DO IT FOR YOUR SON!!!
  • In case anyone thinks the thing is a joke, go to the site. I'll wait. Did you just have the best nap of your life? You are welcome.
  • I'm sure this will make me sound insensitive, but I thought the "Throw Like a Girl" commercial was awful. I agree with the idea of the commercial. It's time to stop using that phrase. It's insensitive and moronic. But...if you want to erase that phrase from the mouths of asshole men, why would you get girls that live up to the stereotype? None of those girls could run, throw or fight well. Why wouldn't you hire Jackie Joyner Kersey, Jennie Finch and Ronda Rousey? Oh, that noise you are hearing right now is Sarah slapping me. I guess I shouldn't have touched this one.
  • TV show recommendation for the week: The Americans. This is a show, now in its third season, about Soviet spies living in America pretending to be Americans in the 80s. It's probably the best drama on TV right now. It's intense but not over the top. The fight scenes are great and the disguise wigs are even better. It stars a grown up Keri Russell from Felicity and you see her butt a few times, much to Mike Feeney's delight. The show is so good that I am absolutely rooting for the USSR to win the Cold War thus negating my entire existence. 
  • So happy the football season is finally over. Pitchers and catchers report in less than 3 weeks and I couldn't be happier.
  • Finally, Missy Elliott stole the halftime show from Katy Perry, a lion, two sharks and a shooting star. I wonder if most youngsters these days really know much about Missy. She was at the height of the rap game for a few years. Her style, created with Timbaland, who people probably now know as Justin Timberlake's buddy, was completely unique at the time. To this day there is really nobody like her and every time I hear one of her songs it feels new. Here is "Get Your Freak On"

  • And a bonus video: Leslie Mann singing the same song in 40 Year Old Virgin

  • Wednesday, January 28, 2015

    Who is the best player on the Celtics?

    A couple weeks ago after the Celtics traded Jeff Green, I posted this question on Facebook. Since I got such a rousing discussion started (2 whole responses), I decided it was worth exploring the answer. Without Green and Rajon Rondo, there is no longer an obvious "best player" on this roster. Bill Simmons often makes this joke when two crappy teams are playing on a nationally televised game: "Tobias Harris, K.J. McDaniels, it's the Orlando Magic and Philadelphia 76'ers tonight on TNT." So who does Ernie Johnson call out when (if?) the Celtics ever get a nationally televised game ever again?

    *If you don't want to read a lot of words about basketball you can skip to the end for a new running feature


    The youngsters - James Young, Phil Pressey
    Young has the ability to one day be a go to scorer for this team, but he suffers, like most rookies, from a poor understanding of NBA defensive schemes. He's also only 19 so let's give him some time. Pressey can be fun to watch for about 4 minutes a game when he is darting around the court, crawling into a much taller man's shorts like a bed bug in a New York hotel. He also has the worst field goal percentage in the NBA if he played enough minutes to qualify.

    The oldsters - Gerald Wallace, Tayshaun Prince, Shavlik Randolph
    The only three guys on the team older than X Mark...yikes. Wallace, with his nitrous oxide voice, has proven to be a solid team leader. But after years of living up to the nickname "Crash," he just can't do much on the court anymore. The original Tay Tay (fuck off Taylor Swift), has actually played really well since coming to the team and I considered bumping him up to the "Maybe" section. He was a part of the great 2000's Pistons teams and he is doing some good things right now. However, I really didn't expect him to even play a minute for this team and any guy who is or was a buyout candidate just can't be the team's best player. Shavlik Randolph used to play for Duke when I was at Maryland so that immediately disqualifies him. Our fans used to say "Shavlik my balls" to him when he was close by, although I guess he could use that as his own method of trash talking. Nice how that works out.

    The role players - Marcus Thornton, Jae Crowder
    Thornton is supposed to be a scorer off the bench, but he isn't getting many minutes. He has put up some games where he'll score more points than minutes played, but they don't happen too frequently. His True Shooting percentage (measures overall shooting efficiency based on 2's, 3's and FT's) is just 13th on the team this year, so he's not exactly filling his role. Crowder is one of those classic hustle guys that hardworking cities like Boston love (isn't it weird that almost every city besides LA is "hardworking" or "lunch pail"?). He is strong on defense and can hit a shot here and there. He put up 22 points in a game, but has failed to crack double digits since. Nice player and possibly worth resigning next year, but should never be more than a 7th or 8th man.


    The rookie - Marcus Smart
    I have never been so confident in predicting that a player will become my father's favorite as I am with Smart. His offense right now is the only thing holding him back from already being this team's best player (though he is shooting over 40% on 3's in January). His skill on defense is the best skill that anyone has on this team besides maybe Sully's offensive rebounding. Smart does two subtle things really well. The first is his off the ball defense. He is great at leaving his man to help cover someone cutting to the basket to prevent a pass and then speeding back to his man to not give him an open look. The second is boxing out. NBA players treat boxing out as if they are going to catch a disease from sticking their ass into another man's crotch (Magic has been retired for years, guys). Smart is all about boxing out. As soon as a shot goes up, his head spins to find the closest man to keep away from the hoop. It's beautiful.

    The sophomore - Kelly Olynyk
    Olynyk is basically the mirror image of Smart. Since starring in Dazed and Confused as a kid, Olynyk shot up to 7 feet tall but maintained the offensive skills of a point guard. He can handle the ball. He can use his height to survey the defense and make smart passes. He has taken the reigns from Rondo with his pass fakes that lead to layups. He's shot the ball decently from 3 and I believe he is the second highest scorer off the bench in the NBA behind Jamal Crawford. Sadly, his lack of athleticism, T-rex arms and doughy physique limit his ability to be a high end defensive player. He can't guard athletic 4's or strong 5's so it is hard to see what kind of defensive player he will ever be. He is also already 24 so he isn't exactly a young prospect despite his short time in the league. But sure, he's the next Dirk...

    The statistical darling - Tyler Zeller
    There is a stat created by former ESPN writer and current Grizzlies VP John Hollinger called Player Efficiency Rating (PER). It is similar to WAR in baseball as it is supposed to be a sort of catch all statistic. There are a lot of flaws to the stat like there are WAR (mainly how it values defense), but it is a quick and dirty way to see how players are performing overall. Zeller leads the team with a 19.5 PER (league average is 15, the best players usually put up something between 22 and 28, Anthony Davis is at 31.9 this year!). He's achieved this with efficient shooting and rebounding, decent defense and low turnovers. He also doesn't play a ton of minutes so he has not been overexposed. However, if I am going to call a 7-footer the best player on the team, he has to be a much better rim protector than Zeller has been. Once an opponent gets into the lane against this team, they show no fear going to the basket and that includes when Zeller is on the court. Still, this is one of Danny Ainge's best trade acquisitions.


    Really? - Evan Turner
    In general, Turner is not a great player. He is wild, inefficient, a bad leader and he sometimes doesn't care about playing defense. But he can do pretty much everything on the court (besides shoot 3's) when he is engaged and he fills up the stat sheet like our long lost Rondo. On a good team he would be nowhere near the top of the list, but here we are. He is also the guy most likely to take the final shot on this team in a close game so that counts for something.

    Wait, come on, seriously?? - Brandon Bass
    Yes really. On a crappy team there is something to be said about consistency. While our next two players are alternating between 20 point nights and 3 point nights, Bass goes out every night and gives you 10 points, 5 rebounds and solid defense against multiple positions. I don't actually think he is the team's best player, but his hard work and lack of bitching deserve this highest of praise from an infrequent blogger that calls his site "Sexy." You are welcome Brandon. Keep up the strong work.

    The 5th year senior - Avery Bradley
    Bradley has been in the league 5 years (only 5 months older than Olynyk though), but it still feels like he is a second year player. On offense he never feels sure of himself whether he is dribbling the ball up the court or deciding to take a shot. He is maybe the worst entry passer I have ever seen. His defense has also taken a step back this year. But he is becoming a very good outside shooter and when he wants to play tough defense he is still as good as any perimeter player in the league besides Tony Allen and Smart. I think Bradley's problem is that he is most comfortable as the 4th or 5th best player on a team and right now he is being asked to be 1 or 2. In a different environment I think his play would jump even higher like it did in Ray Allen's final year in Boston.


    The AssMan - Jared Sullinger
    Sully is a very good player and he is probably the best player on the Celtics right now. He is an amazing offensive rebounder with skills similar to Dennis Rodman. I remember reading a Rodman interview in Sports Illustrated back when he was on the Bulls and he talked about how knowing the trajectory of all his teammate's shots and how they would come off the rim allowed him to out maneuver players for the rebounds. He was never the biggest or most athletic guy, but because he understood the angles, he was an otherworldly offensive rebounder. When I watch Sully go for boards, this is what I see. He's not great on the defensive glass because taller players give him problems, but he is still good. He is a pretty good defender, able to get low against taller players and he is quick on his feet for a guy his size. He is a great post player on offense with moves around the hoop you just don't see anymore. He may never become a great outside shooter, but he makes just enough that teams have to pay attention. He can be very inconsistent, but I think that is as much about the coach's game plan as any lack of skill. With his wide array of skills (and lack of competition) Jared "Sully" Sullinger is the new face of the Boston Celtics.


    • I'm going to try something new at the end of my posts. For the people reading this that don't like the sport I'm talking about or sports at all, I am going to just write some quick random thoughts that don't warrant full posts. The title will be "That's So Random", inspired by the character Ja'Mie from the HBO show Summer Heights High. If you like creepy and funny, check out that show.
    • Writing this section makes me feel like a young Andy Rooney or Peter Gammons. So do my increasingly bushy eyebrows. Sarah is a lucky girl.
    • Real quick on the deflated football scandal (no way I am calling that shit "Deflategate"). This scandal makes me embarrassed to be a sports fan. I'm not kidding. The fact that Bill Nye and Rosie O'Donnell are weighing in on this has to signal to people that it is has gotten out of control. The Patriots won 45-7. If people think that using underinflated footballs for the first half (when the game was still close) is the reason for the blowout then they should have a fucking lobotomy. Get over it. Whether they cheated or not, it's such a minor violation. Cheating is wrong no matter what, but the amount of attention you pay to each instance of cheating should be reflective of the violation. Fine the team, as the league rules dictate in this situation, and move on. 
    • Don't bother with Seth Rogen's The Interview. I saw it last night and I had very low expectations and even those weren't met. SPOILER ALERT I wanted to see it to see what the fuss was about, but it was actually incredibly tame towards North Korea, and borderline supportive! They actually make Kim Jong Un seem like a fun dude to hang out with and his death scene really isn't that bad. I know North Korea is crazy, but if they wanted to kill America over this piece of shit movie, they need to go see a therapist.
    • One thing I learned recently was how to spell "bogeyman." My mind is completely blown that there is only one "o" in that word. I'm much more afraid of a "boogie man" than I am a "bogeyman."
    • I may do a "Top Stand Up Specials" list at some point, but for now everyone should check out Bill Burr's most recent one on Netflix. Really you should check out anything he's ever done. He's brutally honest but somehow doesn't come off as ignorant, unless he admits that he is ignorant about something. From Bill: "First time I heard the story of Scientology I was like 'that is the dumbest shit I have ever heard in my life.'  While simultaneously still kinda believing that a woman that never got fucked had a baby that walked on water, died and came back three days later."
    • RIP Ernie Banks. Great baseball player. Mr. Cub. Owner of possibly the most perfect quote any man has ever uttered: "It's a great day for a ballgame, let's play two!"
    • It's the final season of Parks and Recreation. It is no longer as consistently hilarious as it used to be, but there are still great jokes and I really like watching all these characters. There was an episode that ran last week that focused entirely on Leslie and Ron and it was one of the best the show ever ran. It ended with this Willie Nelson song "Buddy". Got a little dusty in my apartment that night.

    Saturday, December 20, 2014

    Red Sox Off-season Review: Beware Worms

    On December 10, 2014, the Boston Red Sox had the following rotation: Clay Buccholz, Joe Kelly, Ruby De La Rosa, Anthony Ranaudo and Allen Webster.

    On December 11, 2014, the Boston Red Sox had the following rotation: Rick Porcello, Wade Miley, Clay Buccholz, Joe Kelly, Justin Masterson.

    The pitching staff on December 11 is better than the pitching staff on December 10. Analysis over. Article over.

    Ok, since you all paid good money to read my thoughts (oh you are here for free?), I will dive a little deeper. The thing is, the analysis of the rotation as it stands right now is really that simple. The three players that the team acquired on 12/11 are better and more reliable than the players they replaced. At the heart of any transaction that a competitive team makes, the goal should be to get a player that is better than the player he is replacing. In these transactions, the mission was accomplished.

    Let me get one thing out of the way real quick. I already discussed this in the Jon Lester piece, but when evaluating these deals I really only want to look at what happened and not what people think could have happened. If you want to say they should not have traded for Wade Miley because he had a down year last year and he may not be that good, that is ok. If you want to say they should not have traded for Wade Miley, they should have traded for Jeff Samardzija instead, that is not ok. I'm sure the Sox made an offer to Oakland, but Billy Beane decided he liked the White Sox package centered around a young, MLB ready middle infielder. The Sox have two guys that fit that profile in Xander Bogaerts and Mookie Betts, but I hope none of you think trading either those two for Samardzija would be a smart move.

    Since each of these players is an individual, let's take a look at each move individually before discussing the rotation as a whole (if you want a quick analysis just skip to the end)...

    Rick Porcello

    I will address the other side of this trade (Yoenis Cespedes) when I talk about the offensive additions. For now, let's talk about Porcello, who I think is now the team's "number one" starter. Some people will think calling Porcello our number one is depressing. In his career, he has had an ERA better than league average twice in six seasons. He typically strikes out less than 6 batters per nine innings. His career high in wins is only 15 (you all know I think pitcher wins are as valuable as an asshole on your elbow). Since Porcello has reached the big leagues, he has been nobody's idea of a number one starter, let alone an ace. But he is right now the best pitcher on the Red Sox, and I don't think that is a bad thing at all.

    I am very optimistic about Porcello this year. The number one reason is Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder. These strapping young men were the third and first basemen, respectively, protecting Porcello's myriad of ground balls in 2012-13. Both men should probably be DH's and that's been true for at least the last 3 years and yet they were being relied on to field behind an extreme ground ball pitcher. This, predictably, led to Porcello surrendering a lot of baserunners which in turn led to a high ERA. In 2014, the Tigers removed Fielder and moved Cabrera to first base, instantly improving the infield defense. Guess what else instantly improved? If you said Porcello's ERA you are right! Well now Porcello is going to a team with a Gold Glove second baseman and two very good defenders at third and first. If all he does is repeat what he did last year in front of a strong defense, then he's a very good pitcher.

    Which leads me to my second point and that is the fact that I think Porcello is going to be even better this year. Porcello is going to be 26 years old this coming year and yet this will be his 7th full season in the bigs. All the pitchers that were on the roster were the same age or slightly younger and had between one and two seasons in the majors. These are all players we viewed as prospects, but Porcello is already fully realized. If we were hoping for those other guys to be a little better this year, couldn't we also make the same assumption about Porcello? Players tend to peak in their mid to late 20's so it is entirely possible we still haven't seen the best out of this guy.

    It sucks that we only have him under contract for one season, but Cespedes also only had one season left so it seems like a fair swap. If he pitches really well this year and prices himself out of the Red Sox budget, then we will get a first round draft pick for him. However, I think if he pitches well here, the Sox will try to extend him and he will accept. Because he is only 26 years old, the team will feel much more comfortable giving him a 5 or 6 year deal that takes him to his age 32 or 33 season.

    Bonus fun fact: He's a handsome dude. Also, he and his dad are supposedly building a cabin in Vermont (do they allow father-son marriages now too?), so I guess this means he is even more likely to sign here long term.

    Justin Masterson

    I'm not incredibly excited about Masterson, but he is only signed to a one year deal and he is likely a better bet to be serviceable than the De La Rosa/Webster/Ranaudo trio. I do think it was a good gamble on someone who has produced very good seasons recently in the majors.

    In 2013, Masterson was a really good starter. A pitcher who has always been a ground ball machine (his career rate of 56.6% ground balls would have ranked third in the league last year among qualified starters), he took his strikeouts to a whole new level. For most of his career to that point he struck out about 17% of the batters he faced. In 2013, he upped that to 24%, which ranked 15th in all baseball. The main change in his approach that season was an increased reliance on a nasty slider that was nearly unhittable. The performance earned him his only All Star appearance and at just 28 years old he looked like a young pitcher hitting his prime.

    Then last year he crashed back to earth. An early season knee injury evidently lead to altered mechanics, decreased velocity on the fastball (over 3 MPH), and a diminished reliance on his dominant slider. He was still a groundball machine (his 58.2% rate was the second highest of his career), but the strikeouts fell back and the walks increased. Players seemed to be able to lay off the slider more this year because they could just wait on the hittable fastball. With more balls in play and a questionable infield defense (former catcher Carlos Santana started the year at 3B and played 26 games there), his ERA sky rocketed. An in-season trade to St. Louis proved not to help either.

    So why am I slightly optimistic about Masterson? First, he claims to be healthy again. If he is able to get his fastball up to 93 MPH and the coaching staff can get him to rely on the slider again, I don't see why his high strikeout rate won't continue. The second reason is the same reason that I am optimistic about Porcello (and Wade Miley) and that is the infield defense. Despite the injury, Masterson still got hitters to pound the ball into the ground a lot last year and that should continue. And if Masterson can't return to what he was in 2013, this is only a one year deal and he could have value as a bullpen specialist against righties. There is still enough rotation depth to replace him if he struggles.

    Bonus fun fact: He was born in Jamaica.

    Wade Miley

    This seems like a good time to explain a stat called FIP: Fielding Independent Pitching. This is based off a theory developed years ago by a writer named Voros McCracken (sounds like a Bond villain), where he realized that pitchers only have so much control over what happens once a ball is hit. They mostly control strikeouts, walks and home runs, but once a ball is put in the field of play they can't really dictate what happens (later people realized that different pitchers have control over ground balls and fly balls at least).

    If you think about it, and if you've been following my analysis of Porcello and Masterson, this makes sense. If a routine ground ball is hit to Derek Jeter's left, it's likely to get through the infield for a base hit because Jeter, like another Derek, Zoolander, can't go left. But if that same exact ground ball is hit to Andrelton Simmons, it's an easy out. In those situations, the pitcher did nothing different, but in one situation he gave up a hit and the other he came one out closer to getting out of the inning.

    FIP strips away the majority of balls put in play and focuses mostly on strikeouts, walks and home runs allowed and produces a number that is scaled to look like ERA. FIP is particularly useful when trying to determine whether a player who had a bad ERA will bounce back the following year, or if a player with a great ERA will collapse. If your ERA is higher than your FIP, you probably had an unlucky season. If you subtract FIP from ERA, you can see who may have had the most unlucky season.

    In 2014, Wade Miley had a 4.34 ERA and a 3.98 FIP. The difference of 0.36 was 17th in baseball among pitchers with at least 162 innings pitched. Oh by the way, number one on that list was Clay Buccholz with a difference of 1.33, yet another reason for optimism this year. Also, Masterson would have ranked number one if he had enough innings with a difference of 1.34.

    Ok, this makes sense at a certain level, but does it actually hold true? Do starters with an ERA higher than their FIP correct themself the following year? Well, while one data point doesn't prove a theory, we don't have to look farther than our own Rick Porcello to find a correlation. From 2010-2013, Porcello had an ERA of 4.64 and a FIP of 3.95. In 2014 when he had a better infield to pitch in front of, he had an ERA of 3.43 and a FIP of 3.67. For pitchers that put a lot of balls in play, a good defense is so important.

    Miley, like Porcello and Masterson, generates a lot of ground balls (51.1% last season). Like those two guys he has also had a really strong season in his past (his rookie year in 2012). The significant differences with Miley are that he's a lefty and he's under team control for 3 more years. Lefties can struggle in Fenway because of the short porch in left, but with his ability to keep the ball on the ground, I think Miley will be comfortable here.

    One thing to note about Miley is that he saw an uptick in strikeouts in 2014. Like Masterson in 2013, Miley started throwing his slider a lot more. Sliders are really difficult to hit for same handed hitters because it starts off looking like a fastbll, but once you realize it's a slider it has started darting far, far away from you. It appears this is a swing and miss pitch that should help Miley get out of situations with runners on base if he keeps it up.

    Bonus fun fact: The D-Backs tried to get him to stop eating gluten and he told them to fuck off. He's going to love the North End.

    Final Thoughts

    The Sox had a clear Plan B when they lost out on Lester and there are some themes shared by the players they acquired.

    • Each player is in his 20's. The team is trying to avoid commitments to pitchers in their 30's.
    • Each player has had at least one strong season in the majors. The trio of De La Rosa/Ranaudo/Webster all have promise but none of them have translated that to Major League success. It was clearly important to find guys that have done it before.
    • The Sox must believe they have a strong infield defense. Joe Kelly gives up the fewest ground balls in the rotation at about 48% (still well above average), so the infield is going to get a workout. These days, pitchers with high strikeout rates are all the rage, but if you have the right players you can find value in guys who generate specific kinds of contact.
    • The goal was to find players better than the players they had on the roster without dipping into their pool of top prospects. They dealt from a position of strength in getting Porcello and offloaded a couple young pitchers they no longer wanted to get Miley. Masterson only cost money.
    • The rotation overall may not be elite but it will be deep. Each pitcher has a high likelihood of being at least average. Combine an average start with an elite offense and the team should win a lot of games.
    • If any of the new or incumbent starters are hurt or ineffective, the team still has Ranaudo, Workman, Wright, Owens, Rodriguez and Johnson to step in. Or, they could dip into that depth to acquire any number of other pitchers mid-season.
    • If a trade for an "ace" does present itself, any of these guys can be bumped from the rotation. If Ruben Amaro lowers his demands, the team will have no problem sticking Masterson or Kelly in the bullpen or trading away Buccholz or Miley.
    Bottom line, the moves improve the team. I think there is a lot of upside with these guys and Ben Cherington did a great job to pivot so quickly when they lost their number 1 target. There is still a lot of off-season left so the rotation could change, but if the season started tomorrow (now that Rondo is gone baseball can't come soon enough) I would be very comfortable with this crew.