Wednesday, September 29, 2010

AL Playoff Preview and Awards Predictions

With the Yankees’ victory over the Blue Jays yesterday, the field is pretty much set in the AL for the playoffs. All four teams are locked in and are now getting their rotations set for their upcoming series starting next week.

So who’s going to represent the AL in the World Series this year? Let’s break it down!

*Note – I’m going under the assumption that the Yankees are more interested in facing the Twins in the first round than winning the division. Since it’s nearly impossible that the Rangers could catch the Twins in terms of record, I’m setting the playoff matchups as: Yankees-Twins and Rangers-Rays.

New York Yankees vs. Minnesota Twins – There are going to be two storylines for this matchup: Can the Twins finally overcome the Yankees, who won the season series this year 4-2 and absolutely owned them the past several years (16-50 since 2002 when Ron Gardenhire was named manager)? And who’s going to win a game for the Yanks besides CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte?

The upside for the Twins is that they have been a monster in the second half this year, going 46-21 since the All-Star break, and both their series against the Yankees came in May, when they were not playing nearly as well as they are now. They have a top-flight ace in Francisco Liriano (14-9, 3.48 ERA, 195 K’s, 1.26 WHIP), and their lineup has really stepped up since Justin Morneau went down with a concussion that he can’t shake the side effects.

The downside is… This is still the same Yankee team that rang them up 3-0 last postseason, except Kerry Wood is a better bridge to Mariano Rivera (Wood’s ERA since becoming a Yankee – 0.39, not to mention more than a strikeout per inning pitched and BAA of .167). Robinson Cano has blossomed into a possible MVP winner and the lineup is still one of the best in baseball.

The big question mark for the Yankees is starting pitching. Behind Sabathia, Andy Pettitte has basically used the month of September as a second spring training, Javier Vazquez is now a reliever and AJ Burnett might be too bad to be a reliever. Phil Hughes, while having a solid season, is still a postseason unknown and unlikely to get a start in the ALDS.

I gotta give the edge to the Yankees here. Sabathia should outduel Liriano, and the Yankees should score enough runs to move on to the next round. Let’s say Yankees in four.

Texas Rangers vs. Tampa Bay Rays – Having seen a lot of the Rays this year, they are quite a misleading team. Dangerous offensively… but they got no-hit or one-hit on five occasions this year. Excellent starting pitching… which has struggled of late besides Cy Young hopeful David Price. Best 8th and 9th inning tandem all year… but if the starting pitching doesn’t get through 7, the rest of the bullpen can be had.

That said, I don’t think the Rangers have the starting pitching to make the Rays pay for their lack of offense. Add in the fact that the Rays just swept the Rangers in August… in a series where they beat Cliff Lee, and before Josh Hamilton went on the DL with broken ribs.

Even if he plays, a month off for a .361 hitter like Hamilton is still a month off. Add in the fact that Neftali Feliz, while dominating at times, has struggled at times, and I say the Rays win in four.

ALCS: Yankees vs. Rays – The season series went 10-8 in favor of Tampa. AJ Burnett will have to start a game in this series. Then again, so does Matt Garza, who has not been the same pitcher since his no-hitter. The Rays’ lineup has done well this year against the Yankees’ starters… but the postseason is another beast entirely.

This is a really tough call to make here. I’ve gotta say though, that David Price beating CC Sabathia heads up in back-to-back September starts is going to be a taste of things to come. Rays in seven.

AL Award Winners!

AL MVP – Alongside Detroit’s record falling off a cliff is Miguel Cabrera’s MVP chances. He’ll still pull some 1st place votes, thanks to his sick Triple Crown categories (.328 BA, 38 HR, 126 RBI’s). But with two candidates from first place teams having excellent years as well, I don’t see the voters giving it to a team that may finish around .500 and in third place.

Robinson Cano is the next leading candidate, and he’s getting a ton of love for being the Yankees’ offensive force early on in the season. The big question is: Did he peak too early? Everyone points to his batting average dropping from his April high of .400 to .276 in July, but let’s keep in mind: His other numbers stay very similar month-to-month, he’s played a Gold-Glove caliber second base and will have only missed one game all year if he plays out the last weekend in Boston.

Josh Hamilton is the last candidate, and the American League batting champion (.361) also has 31 HR and 97 RBI’s, which got his team out to the largest lead entering September in any division in the majors. Then, he broke his ribs crashing into a wall, and has barely been seen since. He should be back in time for the playoffs – nor should anyone expect him to miss the playoffs for any reason – but was a September off enough to swing the vote away from him?

Your AL MVP – Robinson Cano, slightly edging Josh Hamilton. Games played and the defense will swing the vote.

AL Cy Young – If I have to hear Michael Kay bitch to anyone else about how you can’t give the Cy Young to a pitcher with only 13 wins, I will smack him with a book of binary code… or Felix Hernandez’ run support in his starts. (FYI, binary code is a series of 0’s and 1’s)

Throw out 13-12 for just a second. He leads the AL in innings pitched (249.2 and counting), ERA (2.27), strikeouts (232), and complete games (6). He’s only had four – FOUR! – starts where he gave up more than three runs. He’s had 12 starts where the Mariners scored 2 runs or fewer in that start. He went 5-1 against the AL East, and has more wins against winning teams than CC Sabathia. He’s only had 2 starts in which he didn’t go 6 innings.

Look, to be fair, CC Sabathia has had a great year. So has David Price and Jon Lester, who should all get some votes.

Just not first-place votes.

Your AL Cy Young Winner – Felix Hernandez. However, I am thoroughly prepared to be wrong, since I have a feeling most voters will be blinded by Sabathia’s 21 wins.

AL Rookie of the Year – This is basically a two-horse race between Austin Jackson of the Tigers and Neftali Feliz of the Rangers. I’ve gone through Jackson’s numbers for the year here - A Grand Move, or a Grand Mistake?. Feliz however did just set the rookie record for most saves in a season with 38, and has a 2.81 ERA, 0.89 WHIP and strikes out more than a batter an inning.

Basically, if Feliz’ ERA was still above 3 like it was through August, I would give it to Jackson. But, given the historical nature of the season, and the fact that he closed out games for a division winner, and the answer’s simple.

Your AL Rookie of the Year – Neftali Feliz, making it two straight years for closers winning the award (Andrew Bailey, the closer for the A’s won last year’s).

Once the playoff picture is a little clearer I’ll be back with my NL Postseason picks and award winners. Sound off in the comment section below and stay tuned!

~ David

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

NFL Week 3 Recap: Bears, Jets Climbing High; Giants, Niners Fall Flat

Another big weekend of NFL action saw a couple teams save their seasons and a couple take another step towards the draft. We’ll go no-huddle and get right to it!

-Titans 29, Giants 10 – The story all week in the NY area is how the Giants self-destructed a week after Brandon Jacobs decided to shot-put his helmet into the Indianapolis crowd. Eli Manning may have outgained Vince Young, but he made a ridiculous left-handed pick when the Giants were driving for points in the 1st quarter. Add to that 11 penalties, and you have the makings of a lost season in the inaugural year for the New Meadowlands Stadium. Give credit to the Titans as well: they played more disciplined when it mattered and didn’t turn the ball over. The Giants right now look sloppy and not ready for a good run this year.

-Jets 31, Dolphins 23 – Who would’ve thought that these two strong defenses would allow the offenses to destroy the over for this game? Mark Sanchez took another step forward in his progression, and Chad Henne was the first to blink, with a 4th quarter pick that sealed the game for the Jets. Proving they are apparently immune to negativity, the winning TD was on a 67-yard catch-and-run by Braylon Edwards, who added more fuel to the talking heads’ fire in NY by dancing afterwards. Simply put, the Jets let their quarterback play, and now they’re taking off.

-Bears 20, Packers 17 – Another game where the loser did themselves in. A lost fumble in the 4th along with 18 (!) penalties erased a great game by Aaron Rodgers (34 of 45, 316, 1 TD, 1 INT, 1 rushing TD) and dropped the Packers a game behind the Bears. In a game where neither team could run the ball – Jay Cutler was the leading rusher in the game with 37 yard – the Bears made the plays that mattered the most. Now, they have to keep the momentum going with a road trip to the New Meadowlands next week in a matchup the Giants will need desperately.

-Falcons 27, Saints 24 – Garrett Hartley better get his resume together. He’s going to be in need of a job sooner rather than later, even with the NFC Championship heroics from last year. Atlanta continued to show that the Saints are playing rather uninspired football, as they ran for over 200 yards, held the Saints to 43 rushing yards and forced 3 turnovers. A major step forward for a young team looking to make the climb to the playoffs, and a tough loss for the Saints, who need to step up and play better football starting next week at Carolina.

-Chiefs 31, 49ers 10 – Speaking of playing better football… Would someone like to let the Niners know that this might have been their season on the line here? The Chiefs absolutely embarrassed San Fran in seemingly every facet of the game, and get to prepare to continue their unbeaten start after the bye in Indianapolis. The 49ers, meanwhile, travel to Atlanta to face the Falcons in a game that they need even more than this one if they want to have any hope of winning the division like their offseason promise held. They might want to start by playing better on the offensive line, as they were held to under 50 yards rushing for the second time in 3 games, and on defense, which was gashed for over 200 yards rushing.

Now we’re going to quick hit thoughts on the rest of the weekend in the NFL:

-Steelers 38, Bucs 13 – That noise you heard was one bandwagon emptying onto another. The Steelers are looking like top contenders, Big Ben or no Big Ben.

-Patriots 38, Bills 30 – Who saw this one coming? The Bills nearly completing a huge comeback against the Pats, in a shootout???? The Pats better get their defense straightened out and fast.

-Vikings 24, Detroit 10/Cowboys 27, Texans 13 – A little bit of nice symmetry for two preseason Super Bowl contenders saving their seasons with 14 point wins.

-Bengals 20, Panthers 7 – A ho-hum win for the Bengals, who would’ve loved to see Carson Palmer play like he was back at USC again.

-Rams 30, Redskins 16 – Wow. A 30-spot to a rookie quarterback in his 3rd start. The Redskins are a mess.

-Ravens 24, Browns 17 – This game should not have been this close, but Joe Flacco had a very-much-needed good game for the Ravens. Anquan Boldin is looking like the big acquisition of the offseason so far.

-Seahawks 27, Chargers 20 – And there goes San Diego down the tubes. Couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy than Philip Rivers.

-Cardinals 24, Raiders 23 – Sign that the NFC West is the worst division in sports: When you lose one week to the Raiders, and the “best” team in the division only wins by one.

-Colts 27, Broncos 13 – Peyton Manning can have me and John as his wideouts, and he’d throw for 300 yards and 3 TD’s.

-Eagles 28, Jaguars 3 – Michael Vick continues to impress, albeit against a second-straight bad team. With the Redskins and 49ers on the schedule next, he probably won’t be tested until the Falcons come to Philly in Week 6.

Top Three Match-ups in Week 4

-Ravens at Steelers – Last week for the Steelers before Big Ben comes back, but even if they finish 3-1 in those four games, it’s a huge start for them. Baltimore can’t afford another loss to a division foe.

-Patriots at Dolphins – Expect the Dolphins’ D to bounce back from a poor performance against the Jets. I’m giving a slight edge to the Dolphins, since their offense showed some life against a Jets D that slowed the Pats’ offense in week 2.

-Bears at Giants – I don’t think anyone had the Bears, Steelers and Chiefs as the last remaining unbeaten teams heading into Week 4. Expect the Giants to bounce back from a poor game and give the Bears their first loss of the year.

I’ll be back next Tuesday with Week 4’s best and a preview for Week 5. See ya then!

~ David

Is Carmelo Anthony Worth the Hype?

As at least 4 NBA teams hold their breath while the Nuggets make up their minds about a rumored Carmelo Anthony deal, the question has to be asked:

Is he worth all the hype and attention?

In a special to ESPN, Tom Haberstroh ( nails it on the head: While he may be a prolific scorer, his overall lack of efficiency and production in areas other than scoring keep him from being an elite player.

But, in this instance, you have to say that he’s still easily a top-15 player* in today’s NBA, and if a coach could get him to post up more and shoot less 3’s, he’s a great value and asset to a team.

*For the record, I would go, in no particular order: Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant (excuse me, have to vomit), Dwight Howard, Dirk Nowitzki, Steve Nash, Carmelo Anthony, Rajon Rondo, Deron Williams, Chris Paul, Brandon Roy, Dwyane Wade, Derrick Rose, Tim Duncan and Russell Westbrook. But that’s a debate for another time.

So while he’s a top-tier NBA player, you could easily make the argument for him being at least out of the top 5, if not top 10 of the best in the game today. Here’s a guy who will score a ton for you, but he doesn’t shoot much better than league average (right around 46%), takes a lot of 3’s but hits a low percentage of them (career 31% from the arc), and doesn’t do anything else particularly well. His rebounding numbers are weak (6 per game is average for a small forward) and he has as many turnovers as assists per game (3 of each). Click here for total stats.

So what’s the big deal? He’s still a matchup nightmare on the offensive end, and while he’s an average defender at best, he has the skillset to be solid if someone flips the switch a la Paul Pierce.

Plus, you can’t forget the biggest point: How often does a top-15 NBA player become available or change teams? You know, besides this offseason?

He might not be elite, but Carmelo Anthony is definitely worth the time and energy for almost all the teams in the league today.

~ David

Monday, September 27, 2010

UFC 119: Where do they go from here?

For those who are underwhelmed by UFC 119 to those who enjoyed it, let’s breakdown each fighters prospects after the event.

Frank Mir – “All talk, no action” Mir has turned into the resident basket case of the Heavyweight Division. At this point, can he even get out of his own way to resume his once promising career? Now with Dana White against him, being cut from the UFC looks more and more inevitable. Personally I think that if he keeps his mouth shut and doesn’t lash out at the criticism, he gets one more shot…but more than likely Hubris gets him cut - Strikefarce anyone? Potential fights would include Nogueira, Gonzaga or even Pat Barry.

Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic – Cro Cop looked good when he decided to let his hands go but that was few and far between in his match. With age and motivation a growing factor in his career and coming off a flash knockout it will be interesting to see how he mentally handles this latest loss. As long as he wants to fight I see another go around with a middle-tier Heavyweight like Gonzaga. On a personal note, after Mir spoke so highly of his own standup in comparison to Crop Cop’s, I thoroughly enjoyed watching Cro Cop slip and move making Mir look silly on some exchanges.

Ryan Bader – “Darth” Bader continued to impress with a quality (in my opinion) win over Nogueira. Right now most experts are talking a Bader vs. Jon “Bones” Jones matchup. I see that matchup as self-defeating with the loser taking an unnecessary hit to his career and I hope that is postponed for a few more fights. Bader’s standup is still limited to one punch and while his athleticism may match up better to Jones, his lack of an overall game would be a severe handicap.  The down side to this thought is that the LHW division is stacked with talent and anyone in the top ten is a tough out.

Antonio Rogerio Nogueira – Not a bad loss but that is two borderline fights in a row which have really put him nowhere in the division.  He displays good hands and good Jiu-jitsu but needs to start a streak of convincing wins to put his name into any discussion. Do you put him against a mid-level fighter or let a top 10 fighter show what he is made of? With this being a loss that doesn’t drop you too far I see a high level fighter in his future with my eyes on Rich Franklin being a real good matchup.

Chris Lytle and Matt Serra – As I stated in my preview, this was a “you’ll never be a contender again but people enjoy watching you fight”. Which means their real prospects at meaningful fights is Zero but at entertaining fights - high. I do see a Matt Hughes rematch for Serra in the future if Hughes isn’t given a meaningful final run at the title. On the bright side, they are both top of the list of people to invite if you are planning a kick-ass pillow fight!

Sean Sherk – Controversy aside, Sherk showed a lot of good things in his fight except for sticking his head into a guillotine attempt over and over again. If this fight is to be believed he is still a force in the lightweight division. However, the elemental force that is Dana White’s ego will probably not allow for Sherk to enter any title discussion due to his age, positive steroid test and White’s opinion that he lost the fight. Looks for another steady diet of re-runs unless the rest of the division fails to impress, then he will be put back in the mix.

Evan Dunham – Midget wresters strike again as Dunham was on the losing side of a split decision this time (see Tyson Griffin fight). In fairness the power of a compact high level wrestler is tough for anyone to handle and most thought that Dunham handled it well enough to win the fight 2 rounds to one.  Bright future for this fighter as even Sherk stated afterwards that he sees Dunham as a future champion. This loss won’t hurt him at all, especially in the eyes of Dana White, and he will continue to be given high level matches.  Kenny Florian?

Melvin Guillard and Jeremy Stephens – What an underwhelming fight that lived up to none of its hype. Let’s state the obvious and move on - Guillard needed the win to continue to reinvent himself while Stephens was out struck and had no clue what to do when he couldn’t hit him (Think Dan Hardy). One small move up the Totem Pole for Guillard and purgatory for Stephens.

Other Thoughts & Notes

- Dana White on Frank Mir – “"I have no clue about Frank. To talk the stuff he does and then fight like he fought, that's a little frustrating. Once "Cro Cop" stuffed his takedown attempt, his heart fell out on the floor. If Frank Mir can't bully you, his heart shrinks to the size of the Grinch's. If he can't take you down, his heart shrinks to the size of a pea."
- Cro Cop related this exchange with Mir to the media:

CroCop: Let me go, lets go to the centre and fight
Mir: Let's go to the mat
CroCop: OK - if I'm on top
Mir: We'll stay in the clinch

- Props to Sean McCorkle on his undercard victory. Sean seemed to make it his personal mission to shit talk on every MMA forum but went out and backed it up.
- Matt Mittrione – The self-proclaimed “meathead” from Ultimate Fight impressed me with good athleticism and a body that is filling out as he dedicates himself to MMA. Maybe this ex-football player has something. Now if he didn’t carry his hands like Joe Frazier he’d be set.
- Ryan Bader is listed at 6’2” with at least 5’8” dedicated to his abs. WTF!
- CB Dollaway won submission of the night with a very patient guillotine. Find the video if you can. Too many fighters would have gassed themselves out at the initial attempt instead of trying to improve their position.

Hope you enjoyed my future thoughts. Sound off below with your comments!

~ John

UFC 119: A Little Less Conversation, A Little More Action Please

4 fights going to decision. Probably the worst main event in a long time for a UFC event. A controversial end to an unbeaten start to a career. At least three fights almost devoid of action and dangerous situations for the fighters. Joe Rogan apologizing in the middle of the main event and basically calling the two fighters out for not fighting.
Dana White can spin this any way he chooses: This was a bad night for the UFC.

The main event, which saw heavyweight gatekeeper Frank Mir take on Mirko Cro Cop, ended up being the worst slow dance on any fight card. Mir’s strategy, albeit a smart one, was to attack quickly in tight, and use his superior size – a phrase I’ll probably never use to describe Mir at the heavyweight level again – to muscle Cro Cop against the fence for takedowns.

Too bad the takedowns never happened, and neither man could land any clean shots. Add in the fact that Cro Cop never took a risk and only threw a handful of kicks (possible overstatement: I only remember one, but I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt), and you had a masterful jiu-jitsu artist and a heavy striker spending most of the 14-minute bout groping each other. Even a flash KO via knee by Mir couldn’t save this stinker of a main event.

Sadly, this may start to spell the end for Cro Cop, one of the most feared strikers in MMA history. For Mir, all this fight showed is that he can fight a smart fight and beat someone who's not on his level in terms of overall skill or size - but the minute he goes back up the heavyweight ladder, the beasts at the top will probably smack him right back down.

Bookending UFC with a snoozefest at each end, Melvin Guillard and Jeremy Stephens lived up to exactly zero of the hype they pushed. Guillard stayed on the outside and landed ineffective shots for most of the fight, and Stephens, save for a right at the beginning of the fight and a hook to the body in the 3rd, didn’t have the speed to keep up with him. Guillard took the split decision, setting up the night from the get-go.

Out of the five fights, Sean Sherk vs. Evan Dunham was easily the most entertaining, and also displayed the most of what MMA normally has to offer. Sherk had excellent takedowns for the first half of the fight, seemingly taking down Dunham at will. Dunham, to his credit, worked the guillotine choke during the takedown attempts, causing announcer Mike Goldberg to almost call the fight over in what’s sure to be remembered forever on YouTube. However, Dunham couldn’t put away Sherk with the submission, and eventually went to a very effective striking game for most of the second and third rounds.

Unforunately, the judges saw the cut that Sherk opened up on Dunham early in the fight and must hate blood, because they gave Sherk the split decision even with a significant advantage in submission attempts and striking to Dunham. It really was a sad way for an undefeated streak to end, and though Sherk didn’t deserve the boos at the end of the fight, the fans certainly had the right to be upset about the decision.

In what was the most confusing of the bouts on the card, Matt Serra decided that it was a good idea to stand toe-to-toe and trade punches… with a former Indiana state boxing champ in Chris Lytle. While it certainly takes guts to be punched by someone who has an advantage in the striking game, the fact that Serra threw very few kicks nor attempted many takedowns (once again, if at all) seemed like a serious lack of good fight planning by him and his corner. Lytle easily took the decision, since he seemingly ran out of gas and couldn’t put Serra away.

Ryan Bader and Rogerio Nogueira followed up with a co-main where Bader got stuffed on seemingly 2 out of every 3 takedown attempts, but “Little Nog” couldn’t make him pay for it. Even when Bader got him to the ground, only once did he do any damage after the takedown, and Nogueira couldn’t get his striking game together in fear of the takedown. Bader in a very unentertaining decision.

At the end of the “event” – which concluded, quite appropriately with the crowd booing for half of the main event – UFC President Dana White tried to explain away that the fans had unreasonable expectations for the card, and that every fight can’t be a crazy train wreck.

I don’t think it’s unreasonable, however, for the top MMA promotion in the world to display better than the ineffectual mess that passed for a monthly PPV.

Oh well, better luck next month when Lesnar jumps back in the octagon. At least he finishes his fights.

~ David

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Huge Net Return? Melo to Nets Trade Talk

Rumor du jour for the weekend is that Carmelo Anthony has approved a trade to the New Jersey Nets as part of a 4 team blockbuster. Let’s take a look at the proposed deal, and see who the big winners would be:

(Note: I’m assuming that the Nets only make the deal if Melo agrees to a contract extension)

Nets send: PF Derrick Favors, a 1-7 protected 1st rounder in 2012, and other draft picks to the Denver Nuggets, PG Devin Harris and SF Jarvis Hayes to the Charlotte Bobcats, and SF Quinton Ross to the Utah Jazz

Denver sends: SF Carmelo Anthony to the Nets

Charlotte sends: SF Boris Diaw to the Jazz, PG DJ Augustin to the Nets

Utah sends: SF Andrei Kirilenko to the Nuggets

Just off first impressions, you have to give a ton of credit to the Nuggets if this deal happens. Multiple draft picks, a young and talented PF with a high ceiling in Favors AND Kirilenko, a good-to-great SF who’s a matchup nightmare at times and a defensive ace… That’s quite a haul for a guy who probably doesn’t re-sign with Denver this offseason.

It’s pretty obvious that Masai Ujiri, the Nuggets’ new GM who was part of the Toronto Raptors’ front office last year, didn’t want to get burned a la Chris Bosh and be stuck with a whole lot of nothing next summer when the Knicks, Nets and who knows who else come knocking for Anthony’s services. And to get this much with limited leverage… it’s a nice start to his GM career in Denver. And while this most likely knocks them out of playoff contention this year, who knows what happens if they can’t make a deal and Anthony walks in the offseason.

For the Nets, it’s as simple as this: You obtain the assets to get good, cheap talent and to turn that good, cheap talent into great talent. And it’s not everyday that a top-10 talent is available. Plus, don’t sleep on Augustin, who would be a great depth pickup and could certainly push Jordan Farmar for the starting spot.

The risk is obvious: If Favors turns into a beast like he’s expected to and Anthony can’t get you to the Finals, the move’s a bust. And with the East being so top-heavy right now, you’d have to slot the Nets in behind Boston, Miami, and Orlando, and put them in the second tier with Chicago, Milwaukee and Atlanta.

The second risk is this: Is Carmelo Anthony worth it? I’ll analyze this later on this weekend, as it deserves an entry to itself.

For the Bobcats, they pick up a serious upgrade at the PG spot, as I firmly believe that Harris has a bounceback year this year, regardless of where he plays. Hayes has to be merely trade filler to make it work under the league’s salary cap rules.

Finally for the Jazz… I’m really not sure what they’re doing in the mix here, unless they’re picking up one of the draft picks involved. Kirilenko comes off the books this year, as does Diaw, and there has to be a better trade option for him down the line than dropping $8 million off the books for this year and getting two players who don’t add up to him. This would be strictly a salary dump to avoid the luxury tax for this season.

(The Jazz might get bumped out of this trade anyway: Denver supposedly favors keeping Diaw for themselves, probably due to the lower salary. Obviously my opinion of the deal for Denver sours slightly if this is the case.)

The biggest losers in this scenario has to be the Chicago Bulls and the New York Knicks (sorry John!). The Bulls need to quit smoking whatever it is that they’re smoking to think that you can’t give up Joakim Noah to get Anthony. And while the Knicks probably didn’t have the assets to get this move done anyway, it’s gotta sting doubly to know that and then see him shipped to your second-class citizen neighbors, who might soon be your first-class citizen neighbors again.

Like everyone else, we’ll wait and see, but there’s probably too much smoke for this fire to be a false alarm. Stay tuned for my analysis of Carmelo Anthony as a superstar player, and more future trade news.
~ David

Quick Hits From D1 – Alabama Survives, Boise State Takes Care of Business, Texas Gets Stomped

- #1 Alabama survived a huge scare on the road with its 13-point come-from-behind victory over Arkansas. The Crimson Tide took advantage of three Ryan Mallett interceptions, and the running game pounded out 227 yards on the ground for 5.7 yards per carry, and went exclusively to Heisman winner Mark Ingram for the winning score after Mallett’s second interception.

Next up in the buzzsaw that is SEC conference play: #9 Florida comes to Tuscaloosa in another battle of Top 10 teams.

- Boise State got the national spotlight on ABC, and certainly had the aerial assault to fit the billing. But if you could look sloppy in winning 37-24, they did so against Oregon State. Between some dumb penalties, late hits that weren’t called, and bad special teams play, this game was a lot closer than it had any right being. But the Beavers couldn’t get anything going on offense, and Boise State did what they needed to do in their last non-conference test of the season before the bowls.

Boise State now has entered the “Win and Pray” portion of their schedule, where they have to win out to attempt to keep their #3 ranking, hope that Ohio State or Alabama gets knocked off in conference play, and that Virginia Tech, Oregon State, Nevada and Fresno State all win a lot to help their strength of schedule. VA Tech especially came up huge in showing that their loss to James Madison might have been a fluke, and they could potentially run the table in the ACC.

- The Big Ten certainly got a ton of style points for most of their Top-25 teams. Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin, Michigan State and Iowa all blew out the candles on their cupcake matchups, and a couple Heisman hopefuls got some gaudy numbers out of it (Terrelle Pryor,  Denard Robinson). Penn State survived a scare from Temple and made the comeback to stay in the thick of things, and Northwestern held off a late rally to win 30-25 over Central Michigan to stay perfect on the season at 4-0.

Next week the tests start coming in conference play, as OSU goes to Illinois, Michigan goes to Indiana who is 3-0, and you have Penn State-Iowa/Wisconsin-Michigan State in Top-25 matchups next week.

- The SEC had its big week this week, as LSU held off a late surge by West Virginia to win 20-14, Auburn ran all over South Carolina in a 35-27 comeback win, and Florida aced its warmup for Alabama by stomping Kentucky.

Overall a good week for the SEC, as their two in-conference Top 25 matchups were tight games, and their two Top 10 teams held serve for another big matchup next week.

- Big winners this week have to include: Boise State (not only got the W but VA Tech got a big win in conference play and Nevada continued to stay unbeaten for a potential Top 25 matchup down the road) and Stanford (passed a huge test for the program in going to South Bend and whooping on the Fighting Irish before their matchup with #5 Oregon next week).

But the biggest winner has to be UCLA, who absolutely curb-stomped a sloppy Texas team 34-12, forcing seven turnovers in that game and winning a huge matchup on the road. No rest for the weary either as Texas gets #8 Oklahoma next week in a huge rivalry game that will probably determine which team is the Big 12 frontrunner for the rest of the year.

- Biggest losers, besides the Big Ten’s cupcakes, have to be: Arkansas (lost a huge opportunity to make a lot of noise nationally), Notre Dame (rebuilding year anyone? Also some defense please?), and the Big 12 (Texas losing right before the marquee game with Oklahoma, Nebraska looking sloppy in its win).

Another big weekend next weekend, and you’ll hear from me then!

~ David

Saturday, September 25, 2010

A Grand Move, or a Grand Mistake?

I sit around a bunch of baseball fans at my job, and during work or breaks we'll talk
baseball. The other day, the Mets fan of the group mentioned how Curtis Granderson was
starting to come through for the Yankees (this was the night after he hit two homers
against the Rays). The three Yankee fans (including myself) were pretty ambivalent
about this declaration, and the ensuing debate led to this question I had:

Now that the season is winding down, was the Curtis Granderson trade a good move for the

Now, based on the eyeball test for the season, my gut instinct was to say no. However, I
wanted to make sure that my eyes weren't lying to me. So, I dug into it, and I came to this

The only way it was worth it is if the Yankees win the World Series and Granderson has a
Brosius-in-'99 postseason.

When looking at the trade, there are several factors to consider:
1. Is Granderson an upgrade over Austin Jackson?
2. Is Granderson an upgrade over Johnny Damon?
3. Was the overall value in the package given up for Granderson matched by his production?
4. What did the Granderson move prevent the Yankees from doing/force them to do?

Let's start with the first question: Is Granderson an upgrade over Austin Jackson?

Season 127 436 71 108 17   6   21   60 49 105 12   2    .248 .325 .459 .784

Season 142 578 99   172   32 10    4   37   45 160 25    5   298 .352 .408 .760

This point makes the biggest case for making the Granderson trade. His power numbers are
significantly better, as are his RBI totals and his strikeout totals aren't nearly as bad.
Also to continue the point, it can be fairly stated that Jackson probably duplicates most
of what the Yankees got this year from Brett Gardner:

Season 143 451 90 125 19 6     5   46 75    95 42    8 .277   .384 .379 .763

It's also safe to say that, given his better OBP and lower strikeout numbers compared to
Jackson's, that Gardner was a better fit in the Yankee lineup this year. And given the
dearth of power across baseball this year, where Jose Bautista might be the only 50 HR
hitter, you could give added value to the rarer commodity that Granderson provided over
Jackson, namely home run power.

For this point, I would say that Granderson, for this lineup, was an upgrade over Austin
Jackson as an everyday player.

2. Is Granderson an upgrade over Johnny Damon?

Season 127 436 71 108 17   6   21   60 49 105 12   2    .248 .325 .459 .784

Season 135 505 79 135 33   5    8   48  67  86   10 1    .267 .355 .400 .755

This point, believe it or not, is a little murkier, and really ties into the last two
questions. Damon was actually a significantly better hitter at home (higher average, only
1 HR on the road), which was not much different from last year, when he was a catalyst for
a World Series champion. He gets on base more, walks more, strikes out less, and was a
known commodity, even if he's only a DH at this point.

That leads me to the point that probably clinches it for replacing Damon with Granderson:
You don't have to cringe when writing Granderson into your outfield lineup on a given
night. Plus, leading back to the same point from above, HR hitters have extra value this
year over most hitters, and Granderson has actually pretty even home and road HR numbers
(12 at home, 9 on the road).

So let's call it for Granderson on this point too.

Here's where it gets trickier, and requires a little more speculation:

3. Was the overall value of the package given up for Granderson matched by his production?

This has to be a resounding no. Even giving extra value to his HR total, you're still
talking about an above-average centerfielder who hit for a low average, didn't walk a lot
to compensate for his low average, struck out a lot and didn't steal many bases.

Remember, in return for Granderson, the Yankees had to give up not only Austin Jackson,
but also Phil Coke, a serviceable young bullpen arm, and Ian Kennedy, who was one of
three untouchables for Arizona at the trade deadline.

Season 30 30 0       0   185.0 155 83 78 25   66 161 9 9   99.8   1.19 .228    3.79

Now, you could also say that Kennedy has nowhere near those numbers if the Yankees hold
onto him. But, you could also say that he would have had a good amount of time to pitch in
the minors and make spot starts, which would have served the purpose of enhancing his
trade value.

Let's bring the last question into play:

4. What did the Granderson move prevent the Yankees from doing/force them into doing?

Two names for what the Yankees were forced to do: Nick Johnson (remember him?) and Javier

Season 29 25  0      0   149.2 144 87 84  29  61  118 10 9 96.2   1.37    .252    5.05

Vazquez had his off-year, in his on-year/off-year career, in a contract year, when he was supposed to solidify the Yankee rotation behind Sabathia, Pettitte and Burnett. Now, I'll admit I didn't hate the Vazquez move after the Granderson trade, because the Yankees had taken themselves out of the running for Halladay, and apparently only Seattle was aware that Cliff Lee was available.

That brings me to my second point: The Yankees had to make the Vazquez and Johnson moves, since they no longer had an outfield spot for Damon and he didn't want to DH full-time at the time, and they didn't have the prospects to get a better pitcher like a Halladay or Lee.

This stings in two different ways, or should I say the same way two different times. The Yankees were never in the running for Lee during the winter, and probably get him if they have a package with Austin Jackson and Jesus Montero during June, when the Rangers swiped him away.

(I won't include Halladay in this argument necessarily, even if the Blue Jays probably do better with Kennedy, Jackson and Montero than the package they got from the Phillies. They didn't seem to be interested enough.)

Also, with Nick Swisher having a career year in right, what does this mean for the Yankee outfield going forward? Gardner is a very unique presence in that lineup in terms of his OBP plus his speed, as well as being a good defensive outfielder. Swisher's not going anywhere, between his switch-hitting ability, HR power and overall effect on the clubhouse. And now you have Granderson who almost has to play next year due to his salary and the Yankees now having a budget that they feel the need to stick to.

Does Granderson prevent them from making the big offer to Carl Crawford that they probably should make (even if my opinion is that he's not going to be a Yankee)? Does it take them out of the trade market if an upgrade becomes available?

All in all, it just doesn't seem to add up. You'd have to think that the Yankees offense would've continued to chug along with a .300+ hitter with speed instead of a .250 hitter with power. Combine that with the fact that Damon would've given future flexibility since he could've been had for 1 year later on in free agency, and you probably don't see Nick Johnson as a Yankee, the power upgrade was not worth it.

Give me trade and payroll flexibility over Curtis Granderson.

Unless he tears up this postseason. Then I take it all back.

~ David

Preview and Predictions: UFC 119

What’s up MMA heads?!

Tonight we have UFC 119 airing Live from Indianapolis and while this is not the most star-studded card, there are plenty of interesting fights. So without further ado, here are my completely un-scientific picks:

Frank Mir vs. Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic

Going solely on star power, this fight should be more important than it really is. On one side we have a two time former champion (Mir) vs the Lion of Pride Cro Cop. Reality is that in Mir, we have a former champion who can no longer beat the best of the division (yes, his two thrashings at the hands of Carwin and Lesnar allow me to say that) and is fighting off the dreaded “gatekeeper” label as well as his own demons at the same time (Lesnar obsession much?). Cro Cop isn’t much better, looking a step slow in his last few fights and openly discussing his lack of motivation to fight anymore.  Personally, I believe the fight itself will be more entertaining than people think as Cro Cop has honed a very good take-down defense over the years and Mir is very still a talented fighter against anyone else not bigger than him.

My Pick: Has to be Mir, still good enough to beat anyone else in the division. Sub in the 2nd with an outside shot at a decision 

Wildcard: “Right leg, hospital; Left leg, cemetery” is always a consideration.

Antonio Rogerio Nogueira vs. Ryan Bader

This is the fight that intrigues me the most. Classic example of the wily veteran vs. the up and comer. Rogerio is the seemingly fresher of the Nogeuira twins and while winning a controversial decision in his last outing, has impressed so far in the UFC with very nice jiu-jitsu and hands. Bader on the other hand is another wrestling stand-out that has found a home in MMA and seems to get better with every fight.  I would pick Bader outright but Rogerio has demonstrated he is a very tough out and I don’t think Bader’s stand up has yet to evolve past having one specialty punch yet.

My Pick: Ehh…………..going with Bader since wrestling overall has been on a roll vs. jiu-jitsu guys lately. Or maybe just because I want the rise of new talent to continue. This one’s a decision.

Wildcard: Who knows, I am completely prepared to be wrong on this one.

Chris Lytle vs. Matt Serra

“Lights out” vs. “The Terror”..a fight that should be fought on nicknames alone.  This is a “you’ll never be a contender again but people enjoy watching you fight” match. For me, I believe the most interesting part of the fight will be on the ground. Lytle, the hometown hero tonight, has won most of fights via submission and Serra displays very good flexibility and jiu-jitsu. How they get to the ground however is anyone’s guess.

My Pick: Lytle via decision. Between the two there are 40 wins with only 5 of them coming via (T)KO. I don’t see that changing here.

Wildcard: Serra’s punching power ::laughs:: see above

Sean Sherk vs. Evan Dunham

Our second up and comer vs. veteran fight. Sherk has put up a nice record over his career with his 4 losses coming to current or potential hall of famers however he is getting up there in age (37). Dunham on the other hand is looking very impressive and is another good talent in the lightweight division. Dunham will have the length advantage in the fight (5’10” to 5’6”) and both will push the pace. 

My Pick: Sherk with the upset. Sherk has tons of experience and is still extremely explosive. I don’t think he is done yet.
Wildcard: Dunham relies on his length to pepper Sherk and stuff any take-downs.

Jeremy Stephens vs. Melvin Guillard

Did you see the stare down at the weight-ins?? This fight promises to be entertaining with two explosive free swingers going at it. Guillard has had a resurgence since hooking up with Greg Jackson’s camp and has won 5 of his last 6. Stephens on the other hand came off a very impressive victory over Sam Stout in which he out-punched Stout for three rounds. 

My Pick: Guillard via knockout. Jackson’s camp is a gold mine and Guillard will come with the winning game plan and skillset. Also tabbing this one for Fight of the Night or at the very least, KO of the Night.

Wildcard: In a slugfest, there is always a chance for either fighter at any time to land the winning punch.

Undercard Interest:

Matt Mitrione: He is a head case from the Ultimate Fighter but the former NFL player has looked pretty good since the show. It will be interesting to see how he continues to apply his athleticism to MMA.

There you have it, my picks for tonight’s UFC. Sound off below on your thoughts and check back in to see how I did!

~ John