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 NowIKnow.com 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 DreamingWithJeff.com 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