Thursday, December 15, 2016

Boston Finds Another Ace

When Boston needed an ace last year, Porcello stepped up (BoSox Injection)
When the Red Sox signed David Price to a seven-year, $217 million contract last winter, they got one of baseball’s finest pitchers in return. In a rotation without a clear number one starter, he immediately became Boston’s undisputed ace.

In his first season with the Red Sox, however, Price was anything but. He struggled mightily during the first half, carrying a 4.74 ERA into July before settling at 3.99 -- his worst mark since he was a 23-year-old rookie (as was his 1.20 WHIP). He surrendered the most hits (227) in the Majors and was prone to mid-game meltdowns, including one that ended his lone postseason start after 3 1/3 innings.

Thankfully for Boston, another pitcher stepped up to lead its rotation. Enter Rick Porcello, Price’s former teammate in Detroit who now finds himself flanking the 2012 AL Cy Young winner yet again.

Only this time, the roles are reversed. Porcello was Boston’s top starter in his second year with the club while Price is still finding his groove. After scuffling in his Red Sox debut, Porcello bounced back to win the AL Cy Young, leading the Majors with 22 wins and a 5.91 K/BB ratio.

Porcello's success wasn't just limited to 2016, either, as he was arguably Boston’s best pitcher in the second half of 2015, posting a 3.49 ERA after Independence Day. He was even better down the stretch with a 3.14 ERA over his final eight starts. Since coming off the Disabled List that August, Porcello has looked like a completely different pitcher, striking out batters at the highest rate of his career.

Once a ground-baller who struggled to miss bats, Porcello’s now a whiff-machine. He went from middle-of-the-rotation innings-eater to staff ace almost overnight–a truly stunning transformation. He began relying on his sinker again after getting away from it in the early part of 2015, mixing it with nasty change-ups and cutters. The result has been a whole new pitcher; Rick Porcello 2.0.

Of course, Porcello is unlikely to be the ace in 2017 with Chris Sale now on board and Price expected to bounce back, but he doesn't have to be. Even if he regresses to 2015 levels, he'll still be a strong number-three -- precisely what the Red Sox were hoping for when they signed him to that $82.5 million extension.

Sandoval Shaping Up

Can a slimmed-down Sandoval save his career? (Boston CBS Local)
Pablo Sandoval was probably pretty disappointed when he found out he was going to need season-ending shoulder surgery last May. Nobody wants to be told they’re done for the year when it’s only just begun, especially when your only memorable highlight was busting your belt. If there’s a silver lining from Sandoval's lost season, however, it’s that surgery might yet save his career.

Because let’s face it; even if he'd stayed healthy, Sandoval wasn't going to offer much last year. Coming off the worst season of his career, he arrived at spring training overweight (again), failed to bat said weight and wound up losing his starting job to a player making $17 million less than him. Sandoval rode the pine in April, appearing in just three games as Travis Shaw and the Red Sox got off to torrid starts.

Sandoval was stuck. His team had little use for him while his contract and recent performance made him untradeable. So he wasted away on the bench, watching Shaw’s success systematically destroy whatever shot he had at redemption in 2016.

Now, with Shaw out of the picture, Sandoval has another opportunity to get back in Boston’s good graces. He wisely used his time off to get in "the best shape of his life" and prove he’s serious about his conditioning. Hopefully he also used that time to fix his swing and work on his defense, but both should improve if he maintains his svelte physique.

A year off could do Sandoval wonders. It certainly did for John Lackey, another West Coast star who initially struggled upon signing a big contract with the Red Sox. After pitching at a historically awful level in 2011, Lackey missed all of ’12 recovering from Tommy John surgery. It was a turning point in his career, as a slimmed-down Lackey returned to form in 2013 and is still going strong into his late 30s.

After last year, Sandoval has nowhere to go but up. It’s not hard to imagine him having a similar renaissance in 2017, given that he’ll only be 30. He’ll also be extra motivated to prove himself after everything that's happened since he landed in Boston.

On the other hand, going under the knife may only hasten Sandoval’s decline. Adrian Gonzalez fell off significantly as a hitter following the same procedure, which doesn’t bode well for Sandoval -- a much lesser hitter to start with. He may also find that taking a whole year off severely disrupts his timing, which could prevent him from having the kind of start he needs to secure regular playing time again (Shaw may be gone, but Brock Holt and Rafael Devers are looming).

How the rest of Sandoval’s career plays out will likely be decided by what he does over the next calendar year. If he keeps the weight off and recovers the skills he showed in San Francisco, he'll return from the abyss. But if his body balloons and his struggles persist, he may lose his job for good.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Pudge Deserves First Ballot

Rodriguez might be the best catcher ever (Century21 Riverpointe)
Nineteen former players are eligible to be inducted into baseball's Hall of Fame for the first time this year. While a couple should be slam-dunks based on their numbers alone (Manny Ramirez says hello), it's possible none of them will be elected, especially with holdovers Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, and Trevor Hoffman all coming off near-misses last year (each received at least 67 percent of the vote). As such, the BBWAA may continue clearing the backlog of deserving candidates rather than welcome anyone new this year, although it's possible one lucky newcomer will break through.

Ivan Rodriguez is easily the strongest addition to this year's ballot, and an inner-circle Hall of Famer by any measure. He won an MVP and a World Series, along with seven Silver Sluggers (six consecutively from 1994-1999) and 13 Gold Gloves -- the most ever by a pitch-caller. He leads the position in numerous statistics, including games caught, runs, hits, doubles, and weighted runs created.  Fourteen times he was an All-Star.

Rodriguez was the perfect catcher. He hit for power (311 career homers) and average (.296 lifetime). He had speed (127 steals). He was also, as you may have inferred from his Gold Glove total, the best defensive backstop the game has ever seen. Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs both have him ranked number one, and by a considerable margin. Although his bat declined in his later years, he remained a top-notch receiver until the very end, placing fifth among NL catchers in Total Zone Runs in his final season despite playing just 44 games. Even as a 39-year-old backup catcher who couldn't hit, he was still above replacement level.

Based on defense alone, Pudge is worthy of a place in Cooperstown, but it's his contributions with the stick that make him worthy of first-ballot induction. In addition to slashing .296/.334/.464 (104 wrC+) for his career, he also approached 3,000 hits and 600 doubles, settling at 2,844 and 572, respectively. He drove in and scored more than 1,300 runs. He was an offensive force in 1999 -- the year he edged Pedro Martinez for MVP honors -- and again the following year, when he had a 1.042 OPS before a fractured thumb ended his season in late July.

Put it all together, and Rodriguez has a legitimate case as the greatest catcher in baseball history. Jay Jaffe's JAWS metric, which combines career value with peak value, ranks him third behind Johnny Bench and Gary Carter. Pudge combined Bench's defense with the longevity and offense of the previous Pudge -- Carlton Fisk. He was remarkably durable and consistent for a catcher; according to FanGraphs, he was worth at least three wins every year from 1995 through 2005 (and worth 2.9 WAR in 2006, when he batted .300 for the final time and helped lead Detroit to a pennant).

And yet, despite all that, Rodriguez will likely be barred from the Hall this year due to rumors of steroid use during his career. He never tested positive, but Jose Canseco claimed Rodriguez juiced during their time together in Texas, and Canseco's been right about these things more often than not. Some may also see Rodriguez's slimmer physique and declining home run totals during the testing era as proof, but by that point he was in his early 30s and should have been declining naturally (his last season as an above average hitter came at 32). It is suspicious, however, that he was able to catch more games than anyone in history despite spending 13 seasons in the Texas heat. He seemed especially superhuman during the late '90s, when he was putting up monster offensive numbers while catching more than 140 games per year.

Based on what happened with similar cases (Bagwell and Mike Piazza), steroid suspicion will likely prevent Rodriguez from gaining entry on the first ballot. Now that Piazza's in, however, there's no legitimate reason for keeping Rodriguez out. He was a better defender and compiled superior counting stats, plus won an MVP and was a key leader on a World Series winner. The electorate has become more forgiving of PED-associated players in recent years, but my guess is that Rodriguez may fall just short of election this year. Hopefully they prove me wrong.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Trout's Team Costing Him Another MVP Award

Trout's team is the only thing stopping him from winning MVP (MLB.com)
The regular season ends one month from tomorrow, and we still have no idea who the American League's Most Valuable Player is going to be. Will it be Josh Donaldson again? Maybe! Could Jose Altuve become the shortest MVP in baseball history? Possibly! Does Mookie Betts have a chance? Absolutely!

Mike Trout, unfortunately, has no chance. He'll get plenty of votes, of course, perhaps even enough to finish second again (something he's accomplished three times already). But because the Angels have been so bad, and the rest of the competition is so good, voters are going to give the award to someone else. Again.

Trout's annual MVP snubs are getting ridiculous. Everyone knows he's the best player in baseball, the way you know the sky is blue and the earth is round, and the stats back it up. But when the recipient is named in November, it won't be Trout. It will be Donaldson, who edged him last year, or Altuve, or maybe even Betts. Heck, David Ortiz probably has a better chance than Trout at his point. Ironically, the player with the best statistical case appears least likely to win.

Trout still has a month to build his case, but it won't matter how well he plays down the stretch. Last year he had a 1.078 OPS in September--his highest of any month--while nearly leading Los Angeles into the playoffs, and it still wasn't enough. He can hit .400 with 12 home runs over the next five weeks, and it's not going to make an ounce of difference because the Angels have been out of contention for months.

And so Trout will finish his fifth full season with one MVP award, even though he should have five. He deserved to win over Miguel Cabrera in 2012 and 2013, and he deserved to win over Donaldson last year. Ironically, the year he did win--2014--was probably his worst year, but LA ran away with the division so Trout won in a landslide (unanimously, actually).

His career is starting to look an awful lot like that of Willie Mays, who won his first MVP at 22--the same age Trout won his--but then didn't win another one until he was 33. Like Trout, Mays led the league in WAR pretty much every year and was widely believed to be the best player in baseball, but the Giants were generally mediocre and he suffered at the polls as a result. Sixty years later, the same thing is happening to Trout.

But people really need to stop penalizing Trout for the lack of talent around him, especially since playing for a winning team is not part of the award criteria. It's not his fault the Angels have failed to surround him with adequate talent, or that they've been hamstrung by overpaying the likes of Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton, and C.J. Wilson. As bad as they've been with him, just imagine how much worse they'd be without him. It's possible they'd have the worst record in baseball were it not for Trout, which, in a world where the Braves exist, is a scary thought.

So while Trout isn't leading his team to the playoffs this year, at least he's keeping them out of last place (not even peak Alex Rodriguez-on-steroids was able to do that in Texas). Trout has the talent to transform a .500 team into a contender all by himself, but the problem is that he's not on a .500 team. He's still making a huge difference in the standings, just not one that many people care about.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Jeter was no A-Rod

The numbers don't lie: A-Rod was much, much better than Jeter (Complex)
My friend and I got into a contentious Facebook argument the other day debating the merits of the recently retired Derek Jeter and the even more recently (but not officially) retired Alex Rodriguez. My buddy -- a lifelong Jeter disciple -- posed a simple question: Who is a better all-time player, Jeter or A-Rod?

My response: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HvkKd572vCw

To which my friend replied, "It's closer than you think..."

Actually, it's not, I thought to myself. But, wanting to end the debate right then and there, I waited until I got home so I could log on to Baseball-Reference and provide the overwhelming statistical evidence proving that while Jeter was a great player, he wasn't even in A-Rod's league. I wanted to hit him with some truth, Kenny Powers-style.

Sure enough, when I clicked over to B-R's handy WAR leaderboard, I found the unassailable proof I was looking for. Nestled in 12th place, between Ted Williams and Lou Gehrig, is Alex Rodriguez. Scroll further down the list, and you'll find Jeter lodged at 58th, between Harry Heilmann and Rafael Palmeiro. That should tell you all you need to know about their respective places in baseball history.

The difference between them is exactly 46 WAR, which is a lot. It's more than several Hall of Famers totalled in their careers, as well as near Hall of Famers such as Gil Hodges, Dave Parker, and Omar Vizquel. Current players with less include Jimmy Rollins, Joey Votto, Matt Holliday, and Ryan Braun -- all of whom have been playing at a high level for at least a decade. Add their careers to Jeter's, and you still don't have A-Rod's career.

Looking at it another way, a five-win season constitutes an All-Star caliber year. That means you could add nine All-Star seasons to Jeter's resume, and he'd still fall short of Rodriguez.

Like I said, not even close.

Even if WAR's not your bag, it still shouldn't be hard to see why A-Rod was the better player. As a hitter, he holds the edge in almost every meaningful category except for batting average, which is negated by his slight edge in OBP. Rodriguez was also a much better power hitter: Jeter had good power for a shortstop, but A-Rod was one of the best sluggers of all time (and the greatest slugging shortstop ever).  He places in the top 10 all time in runs (8th), runs created (8th), total bases (6th), extra-base hits (6th), home runs (4th), and RBI (3rd), Jeter does not have a top-10 ranking in any of those categories. The only one he does is hits (6th), which is largely a function of all the at-bats he received (7th-most all time) and singles he recorded (5th-most).

A-Rod was also the superior baserunner, though not by an overwhelming margin. FanGraphs credits him as being worth 35 baserunning runs during his career, while Jeter checks in at just a shade under 24. That's the difference of roughly a win over the course of their careers, which is pretty negligible. Baseball-Reference has them dead-even with 56 baserunning runs apiece, but I'm inclined to split the difference based on their base-stealing records. Rodriguez swiped 329 bases at an 81.2 percent success rate, whereas Jeter made 358 thefts at a 78.7 percent clip. A-Rod also grounded into 26 fewer double plays despite batting with many more men on base.

And then there's the issue of defense, which is muddled somewhat by Rodriguez's transition to third base midway through his career. Still, anyone claiming Jeter was a better shortstop is delusional. Jeter didn't win any Gold Gloves until after Rodriguez, already a multi-Gold Glove recipient with Texas, changed positions and helped Jeter cover the left side of New York's infield. Had Rodriguez stayed at shortstop, he likely would have added to his trophy case and denied Jeter the chance of ever winning.

That's might be speculation on my part, but the numbers back it up. As with hitting, every defensive metric under the sun rates Rodriguez ahead of Jeter. FanGraphs has A-Rod's final defensive value at plus-64 runs, while Jeter's is negative-29.7. The figures compiled by Baseball-Reference are even more disparate; Rodriguez saved his teams 25 runs in the field whereas Jeter cost his a whopping 246--approximately 25 wins.

Ouch.

Anyone who watched Jeter play on a regular basis knows this to be true, as he was so inept at reaching balls his to his left (up the middle) that fans frequently referred to him as "Pasta," as in "past a diving Jeter." He was great at going into the hole, and his gravity-defying jump-throws will live on as one of baseball's enduring images, but in the aggregate he hurt Yankee pitchers much more than he helped him.

My friend pointed out that Jeter won five Gold Gloves, which are voted on by coaches and managers. Well, just because Jeter won them does not mean he deserved any of them. I don't want to get sidetracked by digressing into why Gold Gloves fail to recognize the best fielders (basically, they're influenced too much by reputation and are susceptible to bias by the voters, who only see opponents play a handful of times every year), but I would just like to point out that Rafael Palmeiro received a Gold Glove in 1999 despite spending 128 games as a designated hitter. So yeah, maybe don't mention Gold Gloves, especially since Jeter wouldn't have any had he changed positions to accommodate Rodriguez in 2004.

But no, it was Rodriguez who moved to third base despite winning the two previous Gold Gloves at shortstop (which he did not deserve either, but at least he was above average defensively, whereas Jeter clearly was not). If Jeter was such a great teammate, how come he didn't do what was best for the team and shift to the hot corner? Granted, the Yankees never asked him to do this (as far as we know), but they shouldn't have had to. History is filled with great players changing positions (Ernie Banks, Cal Ripken Jr., and Robin Yount all moved off shortstop, for instance), but Jeter never did, even when it became apparent in his final seasons that his defense was actively harming his team. There were opportunities to move to second base and center field as well, but Jeter did not step forward and thus stayed put.
A-Rod and Jeter weren't particularly close as friends, or as ballplayers (NY Post)
As our war of words heated up, my friend never tried to make an informed statistical argument on Jeter's behalf. Jeter fans never do, because they know it is a lost cause. As incredible as Jeter's numbers are, they simply don't measure up to A-Rod's. Jeter fans have always known this and always accepted this, because Jeter's contributions extend beyond the box score. "Sure, Rodriguez has better numbers," they say, "but...(insert comment about Jeter being more clutch, a better teammate, and/or a winner)."

Not surprisingly, my friend made that exact argument.  "Jeter made everyone around him better," he informed me. "A-Rod did not."

There it was. No longer was our argument over WAR and postseason performance and Gold Gloves that may or may not have been earned. My blood immediately began to boil.

First of all, there is absolutely no way to quantify this mythical teammate effect, which works both for and against the argument. On the one hand, I can say that being a good teammate is meaningless given the number of jerks throughout sports history who nevertheless made their teams better through their mere presence (Manny Ramirez, Reggie Jackson, Barry Bonds, and Roger Clemens come to mind). On the other hand, my friend can say Jeter added five or ten wins to the Yankees every year through his intangibles, and I can't definitively prove him wrong. There's no stat measuring leadership, unfortunately.

My buddy failed to explain how Jeter made his teammates better or why Rodriguez didn't. He didn't have to, because we both knew what he meant. Jeter was "The Captain," a calming presence in the clubhouse and, above all else, a "winner." Rodriguez was captain of the Rangers for about a day before they shipped him away to New York, where he immediately became a perceived choke-artist and a constant source of distraction and controversy for his team. The Yankees would have followed Jeter off a cliff and wouldn't have hesitated to shove A-Rod off one.

That's the perception, at least, but by all accounts Rodriguez was a great teammate. He led by example with his tireless work ethic, and mentored young players everywhere he went. Michael Young and Mark Teixeira credit A-Rod for showing them the ropes in Texas, while it's no secret that Rodriguez took Melky Cabrera, Robinson Cano and others under his wing in New York. If A-Rod didn't make his teammates better, then surely the Yankees wouldn't be letting him stay on in an advisory role. And how come Jeter doesn't have a similar title? Then again, I don't seem to remember him doing much tutoring on the side during his playing days.

But that's all besides the point, because what does any of that have to do with making your teammates better? You know what makes your teammates better? Getting on base for them so they have guys to drive in. Knowing when to take your walks and pass the baton but also knowing when to expand your strike zone for the sake of getting runners home, and by taking the extra base. Playing sound defense in the field, so that your teammates have less ground to cover and your pitchers aren't afraid of pitching to contact. You know, stuff that actually helps teams win ballgames.

Rodriguez did all of these things better than or just as good as Jeter, making him a much more valuable player. Going by the above WAR differential, we see A-Rod contributed two more wins to his teams than Jeter did every year on average. A-Rod's superior value came across in MVP results as well as earnings, with Rodriguez earning three MVPs to Jeter's none (apparently Jeter's leadership couldn't have been too valuable) and making more money from his age-33 season onward than Jeter made in his entire career.

But I want to get back to the teammate thing for a second, because I have a real axe to grind there. First of all, it has been my humble opinion that Jeter's intangibles have always been grossly overrated. Yes, Jeter's teams always won, but a big reason why was because he happened to be in the right place at the right time. He debuted with the Yankees in 1995, just as the  franchise was emerging from its dark days of the 1980s and early '90s. While their first championship since 1978 coincided with his Rookie of the Year campaign in '96, he didn't transform them into winners overnight. They were leading the AL East when the players' strike cut the season short in 1994, and they reached the postseason with him playing all of 15 games the following year. Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera and Bernie Williams were already there, supplementing talented veterans such as Paul O'Neill, David Cone, Wade Boggs, Don Mattingly, Darryl Strawberry, Ruben Sierra and John Wetteland. The Yankees would have still be stacked without Jeter; they probably don't win four rings in five years without him, but they still win at least a few.

And what if Jeter hadn't been a Yankee at all? What if one of the five teams that passed on him in the 1992 draft had taken him instead? He could have been an Astro, or an Indian, or even an Expo. Can you imagine how different his career would have been had he spent the first half in Montreal? Jeter was incredibly lucky, which isn't a knock on him because all careers require some amount of luck, but try to picture him in a Reds uniform or an Orioles uniform. You can't. He was born to wear pinstripes.

But also, think about what that means for a second. Five teams had the chance to draft Jeter, but thought they'd be better off taking someone else. That was never the case with A-Rod, who was the consensus number one draft choice a year later. Scouts looked at him as a high schooler and saw a superstar. Five teams looked at Jeter and said, "pass." A-Rod was always better than Jeter, and considerably so.

Anyways, back to the notion that Jeter made his teammates better. While he may have helped his teams overachieve in the first half of this career, there's no doubt that New York underachieved during the second half of his career, when he was surrounded by an absurd amount of talent. If Jeter was able to will his teams to championships, how come the titles suddenly stopped coming once the Yankees started running out the highest payroll in baseball every year? If you want to give him credit for everything that happened pre-A-Rod, fine, but you also must acknowledge everything bad that happened under his watch, too. How come he didn't get A-Rod in line? He failed to rally those super-teams together and clearly lost control of the clubhouse, which should have never happened if he was the great captain that people make him out to be.

And lastly, if Jeter was such a great teammate, he never would have continued playing shortstop and batting second long after it became clear he shouldn't have been doing either. Sabermetrics has identified the two-hole as the most important slot in the lineup, the spot where managers should bat their best hitters. For most of his career, Jeter was not New York's best hitter, but he was still a very good one. Over his last five seasons, however, that was no longer true, as he batted an empty .283 with a .713 OPS and a 94 OPS+. He was especially bad during his final year, when he slashed .256/.304/.313. Jeter should have been batting eighth or ninth during those years, not second. The Yankees had no problem dropping Rodriguez to eighth during a playoff game or benching him outright when he wasn't hitting, but God forbid Jeter take a day off or move down in the order.

My friend's friend made a good point in comparing Jeter to Brett Favre, saying both are overrated for being good guys who played at an above-average level for a long time. I think that's spot-on. Jeter led the  league in hits twice and runs once, but he never won a batting title or an MVP award. He never hit 25 homers in a season or led the league in WAR, and he knocked in 100 runs only once. He was usually very good -- sometimes great -- but never the best.. A-Rod was right to call him a complementary player back in 2001, even if that comment ultimately destroyed their friendship.

Rodriguez, on the other hand, did things no player has ever done before or since. He holds the single-season records for big flies by a shortstop and a third baseman. He was the  youngest player to 300, 400, 500, and 600 home runs. He recorded the most consecutive seasons of at least 30 homers and 100 RBIs, and he also owns the all-time grand slams record. He's the only infielder to go 40/40. And of course, he signed the two biggest free agent contracts in sports history (Giancarlo Stanton's was an extension).

Granted, A-Rod had pharmaceutical help while Jeter, as far as we know, did not. But steroids don't explain how he hit 436 more home runs or drove in 775 more runs. They don't explain the 113-point difference in OPS. And they don't explain how, despite having the world against him and its weight on his shoulders, Rodriguez still managed to blow away Jeter's production year after year after year.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Red Sox Rundown

Boston's ace has not lived up to his new contract so far (Over The Monster)
Got to answer a few questions about the Sox last month from fellow Baseball Blogger Alliance member Peter Schiller over at baseballreflections.com. Thanks for the shout-out Pete!

Q: How are the Red Sox’s offseason acquisitions working out so far? Any concerns?

A: Alright. Their four main acquisitions were David Price, Craig Kimbrel, Carson Smith, and Chris Young. Price has been up-and-down, but overall he’s made the rotation better. Kimbrel has been shaky at times, but for the most part has been about as good as advertised. Smith has been hurt all year, so he hasn’t made any impact. Young has been solid in left field, but John Farrell’s had to over-rely on him with alternatives Brock Holt and Blake Swihart out for extended periods of time.  Price hasn’t been himself, which is definitely a concern when you’ve got him signed to the most expensive contract ever for a pitcher, and Smith underwent Tommy John which is never a positive.

Q: Who has been the most disappointing player so far this season? Will they improve as the season goes on?

A: Gotta be Price. The Sox are paying him close to $1 million per start and roughly half of his starts have been duds. He’s running the highest ERA of his career and has struggled against weak offenses like Tampa Bay and New York. He’ll have innings where he just loses it and completely melts down, which you typically don’t see from your ace. That said, he should improve as his peripherals are excellent (he leads the league in strikeouts) and he’s gotten unlucky with balls in play and strand rate. He was a monster for Toronto in the second half last year, and if he can do that again his rough first half will be forgotten.

Q: Who has been the most surprising player so far this season? Can they sustain this pace?

A: It’s a toss-up between Jackie Bradley Jr., who’s been the team’s MVP after not being able to hit at all during first three seasons (save for one month last year), and Steven Wright, who’s emerged as a Cy Young candidate and could potentially start the All-Star Game. I guess you’d have to say Wright is more surprising given his age (31) and the fact that he almost didn’t make Boston’s rotation this year. Bradley had shown flashes of brilliance before -- so we knew he had it in him -- and he’s 26, which is a normal breakout age.  Bradley has a decent shot of keeping this up based on his minor league track record, but Wright is a knuckleballer which makes his dominance unlikely to continue.

Q: What top prospects might we see before the All Star break (What type of player are they: 5 tool player, speedster, defensive, power hitter, etc.)? What will be their impact on the team?

A: Andrew Benintendi may get some run in left field with the injuries to Holt, Swihart and Young.  He’s a 5 tool player who could help Boston down the stretch, allowing Holt and Swihart to slide back to their natural positions and allowing Farrell to use Young strictly against lefties. If the Sox don’t promote him this summer, he’ll probably get called up for a cup of coffee when rosters expand in September.
The Red Sox have arguably baseball's top prospect in Moncada (Fox Sports)
Q: What top prospects are currently being blocked by current players on the big club? Will this make them trade bait, will they switch positions or will the vet eventually be traded?

A: Yoan Moncada is Boston’s best prospect and most untouchable asset, but he’s currently blocked at second base by Dustin Pedroia. Moncada seems unlikely to be traded (unless it’s for an ace-level starter in return) and Pedroia’s not going anywhere, which means he’s going to have to change positions at some point. He could convert to an outfielder, like Mookie Betts did, or possibly play third. He can play pretty much anywhere with his athleticism, so the Sox shouldn’t have any problem finding a place for him.

Q: What is the team lacking that either wasn’t addressed in the offseason or the offseason acquisition isn’t cutting it?

A: Quality starting pitching beyond Price, who hasn’t been nearly as good as expected. They have three good starters with him, Wright, and Rick Porcello, but the back of the rotation has been a dumpster fire. It’s clear the team will need to trade for another starter or two as the deadline rolls around, which will probably require sacrificing one of their prized prospects.

Q: Are they better or worse off now than they were at the end of last season?

A: There’s no question that they’re better, although it’s important to remember that they were one of baseball’s better teams in the second half last year. Adding Price gives them the ace they’ve lacked since trading Jon Lester, while Kimbrel gives the bullpen a much-needed power arm. Losing Pablo Sandoval for the year is addition by subtraction, especially since it allows Travis Shaw to play everyday. Hanley Ramirez has proven to be a competent first baseman, which is a huge upgrade over his terrible defense in left field last year.

Q: What is your predicted outcome for the team this season? Why?

A: I expect they’ll win 88-90 games and one of the two wild cards. They’re really strong up the middle and have arguably the league’s best starting pitcher and closer, but lack of depth in the rotation will ultimately prevent them from winning 95 games and the division.

Q: What players need to go (traded, released, etc.) & why?

A: Sandoval needs to go, but there’s no way to get rid of him. His trade value’s at an all-time low, and releasing him would mean eating the next three years of his contract. The Red Sox should also part ways with catcher Ryan Hanigan, as they have two great young catchers in Swihart and Christian Vazquez. They should also try to find a way to get rid of Clay Buchholz, since he’s no longer a reliable starter and doesn’t make much sense as a bullpen option.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

We Want A-Rod

A-Rod felt the love in the Bronx on Friday night (Yahoo Sports)
In the twilight of Alex Rodriguez's storied career, everyone just wanted him to go away. The Yankees wanted out from under his massive contract, their fans were sick of paying exorbitant ticket prices to watch him play, and the rest of us simply wanted a known cheater out of the game. He was too old, too expensive, and too dirty -- a corrupt politician in need of impeachment.

So when Rodriguez got caught up in the Biogenesis scandal of 2013, Major League Baseball appeased the masses by expelling him for an entire season, slapping him with the largest PED penalty ever handed down by the sport. Rodriguez did not go quietly, kicking and screaming as security dragged him out the door, but in the end he did go away..

Given his age, injury history and declining performance, the ban appeared to be a death sentence. Few saw his controversial career continuing in 2015, the year he turned 40. Nobody minded. A whole season passed without Rodriguez taking a single Major League swing. Nobody missed him. Baseball had washed its hands of Rodriguez and so, it seemed, had everyone else. When the garbage man comes to take the trash away, you don't find yourself wondering what happens to it. You're just happy there isn't a soggy bag of rotting food in your kitchen anymore.

So when Rodriguez returned for the 2015 season, the general response was similar to the one you give the smelly neighborhood dog that keeps showing up at your doorstep. He arrived early to Spring Training, eager to shed the rust that had accumulated over the past year, only to find that the Yankees were pissed. He heard boos everywhere he went. The only way he was going to make anyone happy was by retiring immediately and unceremoniously.

Eighteen months later, that's essentially what's happening except weirdly, no one seems happy about it, except maybe New York's front office. The Yankees are finally done with him (as a player) and are paying him the rest of his contract to go away -- something they said they would not do. They literally couldn't wait to get rid of him, not even letting him finish out a season that has a five percent chance of continuing into October.  But they've always wished he would go away (or at least shut up) more than everyone, if only because they were the ones on the hook for his $275 million contract. His presence was a daily reminder of the most expensive mistake in baseball history.

But while the Yankees' attitude towards Rodriguez never really changed -- they put up with him as long as he produced and were quick to cut him when he stopped -- the fans' stance on him has softened. He's not beloved, but he's no longer reviled. Not embraced, but no longer shunned. For a long time he was merely tolerated, in the way Red Sox fans tolerated Manny Ramirez. But nobody -- not Ramirez, not Barry Bonds, not Roger Clemens -- invited the hatred from his own fans that Rodriguez did. Many, it seemed, came to Yankee Stadium for the sole purpose of booing Rodriguez every time he stepped to the plate (and, if they were lucky, when he booted a ball in the field). Every strikeout in a key situation resulted in a cacophony of derision. You wonder why he didn't play with earplugs.
The Fenway Faithful got one last chance to see--and boo--A-Rod (Miami Herald)
It's ironic, then, that the same fans who never appreciated Rodriguez when he was at his best showered him with love and affection when he was at his absolute worst. Even as he calcified before their eyes, the Yankee faithful never turned on him. You don't get mad at an old pet for pissing on the living room carpet.

Rodriguez was fortunate to have the season that he did in 2015, because if he'd been this bad last year he would have been booed out of the game. But everyone loves a good comeback story, even when the central character is perhaps the most hated man in sports. And last year, Rodriguez authored one of the greatest comebacks of all time. He hit better than he had in years and led New York to the postseason. The same people booing him with gusto in April were championing his All-Star candidacy in July.

It helped that Rodriguez was suddenly likeable for the first time since his Seattle days. After being branded as a liar and a cheat, a phony and a fraud, he used his time away from the game to clean up his image and return a changed man; older, wiser, and infinitely more mature. He didn't just come back a better player -- he came back a better person.

He was also, for the first time in his career, the underdog. No one had ever done what he was trying to do. He should have been too old and washed-up to contribute anything to the Yankees besides adding player days to their disabled list. He came back to find that he'd lost his starting job -- something that hadn't happened to Derek Jeter after missing a year with injuries at the same age -- and that he'd need to earn every at-bat as the team's designated hitter -- a spot for which there'd be no shortage of options on New York's aging roster.

And yet, against all odds, Rodriguez returned to form. He slugged 33 home runs, played 151 games, and tallied 3.1 bWAR. He won games with his bat and fans with his batting gloves. He repaired his relationships with teammates, fans, media, and the Yankees organization, building up a surprising level of goodwill in a short amount of time. That hard work paid off in spades this year, as he had supporters to fall back on when things went south. It's hard to imagine the Yankees offering him a mentor role had he quit last summer.

But what's even harder to imagine is the groundswell of support he received this week. Teammates and peers were sad to see him go. Joe Girardi and Brian Cashman thanked him for everything he'd done. We want A-Rod, beckoned the Fenway Faithful, his most hostile enemies since the day he donned pinstripes.

A sold-out Yankee Stadium echoed the cries of their Boston brethren Friday night, bellowing their singular desire throughout the park that Rodriguez christened with a championship in 2009. We want A-Rod, screamed the 46,459 that turned out for his final game as a Yankee, hoping to experience one last high at the end of their 13-year rollercoaster ride together. We want A-Rod, declared fans who'd finally forgiven a man who'd repeatedly asked for their forgiveness. We. Want. A-Rod. 

Two years ago A-Rod was a cancer to his team, a stain on the game and a monster of a man. Nobody could imagine the career he'd set fire to ending so positively. But as the curtain closed and Rodriguez took his final bow, many of us found ourselves wishing he'd stay just a little bit longer.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Rodriguez Resigned to Fate

Rodriguez's days in pinstripes are numbered, and he knows it (Hardball Talk)
Alex Rodriguez was not in the Yankees starting lineup last night, although he did get in the game long enough to slap the fly-out that ended it. He didn't make an appearance at all the previous night, despite the game going 10 innings and Joe Girardi using a dozen position players.  Rodriguez was also absent from the starting nine on Sunday, when he was again limited to a pinch-hit cameo (he struck out).

That's how the summer has gone for Rodriguez, who's watched his playing time evaporate as he sinks deeper and deeper into the worst slump of his career. Since July began Rodriguez has started just nine of his team's past 28 games. And he didn't spend time on the Disabled List, so it's not like he wasn't available.

After two decades as a Major League starter, Rodriguez has finally been reduced to a part-time role. The Yankees are still giving him superstar money, but they're through giving him superstar playing time. Even in a rebuilding year where they've shipped out more talent than they've brought in, they can find better ways to fill their DH slot than with a 41-year-old failing to bat his weight.

Girardi has tried everything to revive Rodriguez's bat. He's given him days off to clear his head and work on his swing. He's continued batting him cleanup, long after it became obvious that Rodriguez is no longer a Major League quality bat, let alone a middle of the order one. He's limited A-Rod's at-bats against righties, even though Rodriguez has never shown much of a platoon split.

None of it's worked, of course, because there's no cure for diminished bat speed and reflexes. Despite Girardi's best efforts, the decline of Rodriguez has only hastened. He's down to .204/.252/.356 after going 4-for-his-last-37, which was lowlighted by a four-strikeout performance in a game at the Trop last weekend. He recently drew comparisons to Willie Mays, and not the good kind.

His collapse extends far beyond last month, though, or even this year. Including last year's Wild Card game, Rodriguez has played 119 games since the beginning of last August, coming to bat 451 times during that span. In what is now a year-long famine, he has almost twice as many strikeouts (126) as hits (79) and has slashed .196/.272/.362. That is unacceptable production for a player at any position, especially one where the sole requirement is hitting.

To his credit, Rodriguez has taken the benching quite well (at least publicly). There has been no sulking or media outbursts. He hasn't demanded a trade. Instead, he's handled everything with grace and professionalism, which can't be easy for a player of his stature.

So when reports leaked today that Rodriguez might be released, of course he was okay with it. Many see it as the Yankees finally ridding themselves of Rodriguez, who long ago stopped being the superstar they were paying him to be. But from Rodriguez's perspective, he will also get a welcome release from what has become a sad existence. The former MVP is now baseball's most expensive bench player. That might at least be palatable if the Yankees were winning, but they're not. Maybe a release will mean more playing time elsewhere (probably not). Perhaps it gives him a shot at a ring.

At this point, releasing Rodriguez is clearly in the best interests of both parties. A-Rod knows it, and the Yankees have been trying to do it for years. He's given them the green light; now it's up to them to pull the plug.


Monday, August 1, 2016

Why Didn't Griffey Get More MVPs?

Griffey won a lot of his awards in his career. But only one MVP? (CBS Sports)
I don't envy the person who had to write Ken Griffey, Jr.'s Hall of Fame plaque. There's a lot to say and not nearly enough space to say it. How do you sum up a 22 year career into a single paragraph? You have to mention the 10 straight Gold Gloves--the most by a center fielder not named Willie Mays. You can't overlook the 13 All-Star appearances, including 11 in a row at one point. And there absolutely needs to be a line about his home run total--he hit 630 of them, after all, sixth-most in baseball history.

The inscription also had to say that Griffey was AL MVP in 1997 (but failed to mention he won unanimously). What it doesn't say is how many others Griffey could, or should, have won.

It's simply mind-boggling to me that a player as beloved and talented as Griffey won but a single MVP award. He was the face of baseball for an entire decade, the same way Mantle was the face of baseball for the '50s and Babe Ruth was during the '20s. Griffey wasn't just a star or even a superstar; he was a super-duper-star. He was everywhere, on everything from cereal boxes and videogames to commercials and movies. The only athlete more popular than Griffey during the '90s was Michael Jordan.

He was so good and so popular that you would have thought he was winning the MVP every year, or at least coming close. As it turns out, Griffey had two seasons in his 22 year career where he finished in the top three of his league's MVP voting. Two.

It's incomprehensible that among players who won MVPs during the '90s, Griffey has the same number as Terry Pendleton, Ken Caminiti, Dennis Eckersley, and Mo Vaughn. None of those players were anywhere close to the player Griffey was during his prime.

I can't get over it. How how did Griffey, the face of baseball and the best player in his league for a decade, a .300 hitter who slugged more home runs and drove in more runs than all but one player during the '90s, a dazzling defender who won the Gold Glove every year, who made the Mariners relevant for the first time, win just one MVP award when Juan Gonzalez--Juan Gonzalez--won two. It doesn't make any sense.

By my count, there were a half-dozen seasons during the '90s when Griffey had a legitimate MVP case. Only once--in 1997 when he led the league in WAR (for a position player), runs, homers, RBI, slugging, and total bases--did he actually win the darn thing. Even though everyone knew he had been the best player in the American League for several years by that point, it all had to come together (Seattle making the playoffs, him leading the league in almost everything) for the MVP to go his way.

In this regard, Griffey is like another tremendous all-around center fielder who preceded him by a few generations: Willie Mays. Starting when he won his first MVP at age 23, Mays was clearly the best player in the National League for more than a decade. And yet, voters kept finding reasons to give the MVP to someone else (it didn't help that Mays's teams only made the playoffs once from his age 24-39 seasons). As such, Mays didn't win again until 34, by which point he only had one more MVP-caliber season left in him. He retired with two MVPs when he easily could have had seven or eight.

Griffey, who ceased to be healthy after turning 30, wouldn't have won that many. But he should have more than one, right? I mean, there was a four-year stretch in the late '90s where he averaged 52 homers, 142 RBI, and a .996 OPS (152 OPS+) while winning the Gold Glove every year. Surely he deserved at least one, maybe two more?

Let's go back and find out...
Griffey was more than just a great hitter, he was a freak athlete (ESPN)
1993: Griffey finishes fifth, should have won
Griffey was a great player for the first few years of his career--an instant star--but it wasn't until his fifth year/age 23 season that he became a superstar. That was the year he cranked 45 homers--blowing away his previous career high of 27, and set a bunch of other personal bests. He batted .309/.408/.617 (171 OPS+), led the league in total bases and, for the only time in his career, walked more than he struck out. His 8.7 bWAR were the most by an American League position player, plus he helped the Mariners to a winning season--which was a big deal considering they'd lost 98 games the year before.

Still, being a star on an also-ran isn't going to get you much love from the BBWAA. Seattle finished fourth in the AL West, 12 games behind Chicago, who produced the league's unanimous MVP in Frank Thomas. In retrospect, it's puzzling to see how Thomas was a unanimous selection. His offensive stats (.317/.426/.607, 41 HR, 128 RBI) were almost identical to Griffey's, but he was a first baseman. Griffey was a Gold Glove-winning center fielder, not to mention a better baserunner (Thomas had four steals to Griffey's 17). All told, Griffey was much more valuable, holding a 2.5-win edge in WAR.

The same goes for the other three players who finished ahead of him; Paul Molitor, John Olerud, and Juan Gonzalez. Molitor was a DH with half as many homers and an OPS that was over 100 points lower than Griffey's. Olerud had better hitting stats but, like Thomas, played first and was a non-factor on the bases (0 steals). Gonzalez, a left fielder, basically had the same stats as Griffey except in OBP, where he trailed by 40 points. Griffey should have won his first MVP at 23, just like Mays, or at least deserved to be a close second.

1994: Griffey finishes second, right call
Few players got shortchanged more by the player's strike than Griffey, who already had 40 homers--most in the AL--when his year was cut short with 50 games remaining. He was wielding a red-hot bat at the time, with four home runs and 13 RBI in just 10 August games. Who knows what Griffey might have done with the rest of August and September--he might have been the first man to break Roger Maris's home run record.

As good as Griffey's numbers were, they weren't as good at the time as those of Frank Thomas (MVP again) and Albert Belle, who finished third. Thomas had 30 points of batting average, 85 in OBP and 55 in slugging on Griffey, with just two fewer homers but 11 more RBI. Belle also probably had a better case, as his slash stats were all about 35-40 points better than Griffey's. Of course, it's hard to hit .350 for a full season so maybe those numbers would have come down, but we'll never know.

1996: Griffey finishes fourth, deserves second
After an injury-plagued down year, Griffey came back with a vengeance in 1996, slamming 49 home runs and knocking in 140 in just 140 games. He also batted .303/.392/.628, stole 16 bases in 17 tries, and played the best center field of his career. Not surprisingly, Griffey led the league in bWAR with 9.7--which easily would have been a 10-win year had he not missed three weeks leading up to the All-Star Break.

This was the best year of Griffey's career to that point, but voters bypassed him and teammate Alex Rodriguez (who was actually more deserving) in favor of Juan Gonzalez, who helped Texas to a division title with slightly more impressive power numbers (47 homers, 144 RBI and a .643 slugging). Griffey and A-Rod were both much better all-around players and posted superior offensive numbers at more demanding positions, which is why B-R credits both with over nine wins while Gonzalez gets less than four.

Part of the problem was that Griffey and Rodriguez stole votes from each other, as A-Rod received 10 first-place votes and Griffey got four. Had all those first place votes gone to one Mariner, he would have exceeded Gonzalez's 11 and won the award. If only the baseball writers had co-ordinated which Seattle superstar they were voting for.
It took a home run barrage to win Griffey his first (and only) MVP (NY Daily News)
1997: Griffey wins! (finally)
Griffey had his best season and Seattle won the division, making him an easy choice for MVP (he won unanimously). Upon closer inspection, however, one finds that there was a player considerably more valuable than the Kid that year, and his name was Roger Clemens. The Rocket totaled an otherworldly 12.1 bWAR in his Blue Jays debut yet finished a distant tenth in the MVP race, failing to receive even a first place vote despite leading the majors in wins, innings, FIP, ERA+, and WAR. Clemens was undoubtedly hurt by the fact that Toronto finished last in the AL East, while Griffey clearly received much of the credit for leading the Mariners to a division title. When tasked with choosing between the game's best pitcher and the best position player for MVP honors the BBWAA, as they usually do, opted for the position player. I usually prefer the position player as well, so I won't argue here.

1998: Griffey finishes fourth, deserves top-three
Griffey was at it again in '98, blasting 56 homers for the second consecutive year as he give Roger Maris another run for his money. While the rest of his numbers dipped slightly, they were still almost identical to the ones he posted the previous season. And yet, he went from winning the MVP unanimously to finishing fourth, with nary a first place vote. Ahead of him finished Juan Gonzalez (again) and two superlative shortstops, Derek Jeter and Nomar Garciaparra. While both were phenomenal in helping their teams reach the playoffs, their power numbers were dwarfed by Griffey's. He ripped 21 more home runs than Garciaparra, for instance, and nearly three times as many as Jeter. He also knocked in more runs than either of them and, despite hitting 40 points lower, more than made up for this discrepancy with his power, which allowed him to out-OPS both of them.

While the most valuable player in the American League suited up for Seattle that year, his name wasn't Griffey. It was Alex Rodriguez, the league-leader in hits and bWAR who became the third player in baseball history (and still the only infielder) to go 40/40. However, his power numbers paled in comparison to Junior's and so he finished ninth. Both were also hurt by their team's lackluster record, which saw them go from division champs the year before to nine games below .500.

1999: Griffey finishes tenth, deserves higher
Griffey's final dominant season saw him finish 10th in the MVP voting despite winning his third straight home run title (and fourth overall) with 48, complemented by his typical gaudy runs/RBI totals as well as 24 steals--a career high. While his defense was slipping by this point, he still won another Gold Glove--his tenth in a row.

I'm not going to argue that Griffey deserved to win the last MVP of the '90s, because he didn't. Pedro Martinez, Ivan Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Manny Ramirez, Roberto Alomar, and Nomar Garciaparra were all more deserving. Still, he definitely should have finished higher than Jason Giambi, Rafael Palmeiro, and Shawn Green.

So after all that, it appears Griffey deserved at least two MVP awards, maybe three if you give him '96 over A-Rod (had Griffey stayed healthy that year, it might have happened). Two is a good number of MVPs to win--that's as many as Frank Robinson, Ernie Banks, and Lou Gehrig, among others. When you win multiple MVPs, you're in pretty good company.

Like Mike Trout, Griffey had the misfortune of peaking when one of the greatest righthanded hitters in history was at his zenith (Miguel Cabrera's batting record is remarkably similar to Thomas's). Later on, his ridiculous run in the late '90s overlapped with the emergence of baseball's Holy Trinity at shortstop, not to mention some very short-sighted MVP votes. I mean, how crazy is it that a center fielder who averaged 52 homers, 142 RBI, and a .996 OPS (152 OPS+) for four years had one top-3 MVP finish? Probably about as crazy as a different center fielder leading his league in WAR every year for four years and winning just one MVP award.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Cavs' Poor Defense Puts Them Down 0-2

Cleveland's defense had no answer for the Warriors in Games 1 & 2 (TopBET.eu)
This submission comes from guest of the think tank Glen Krebs, who was probably wearing his Steph Curry Davidson jersey while writing this:

For the second straight game, the Cleveland Cavaliers' defensive issues from the regular season (but were masked by their dominance of the Eastern Conference) were exposed by the Golden State Warriors, as the Warriors trounced them by 33 points at the Oracle Arena on Sunday night.  

It's hard to believe this is the same Cleveland team that coasted to its second straight Finals, rolling over the rest of the East with its superior talent level.  Going against one of the best teams in history, however, its deep-seeded flaws have come to the forefront.  Heading back home for Game 3, the Cavaliers find themselves in a position they haven’t been in since 2008: down 0-2 in a playoff series. 

What has to be most concerning for the Cavs is that they seem to be running out of adjustments to make on defense.  Their personnel have put Tyronn Lue between a rock and a hard place in terms of defensive game planning.  Cleveland played defense at the beginning of Game 2 the same way they did in Game 1, with their guards fighting over off-ball screens and switching on off-ball screens.  Their defensive communication was still sloppy, however, leading to a series of easy lay-ups and open shots for Golden State during the first quarter.  

Lue adjusted by having the Cavs switch on everything, which incurred disastrous results as Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson were repeatedly switched onto Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.  The two bigs have shown no indication that they can adequately guard either of those two on the ball, forcing Lue back to his original game plan early in the second quarter. After that, it was all Warriors.

Although Lue seems to be running out of options, there is one key change he can make to try and (literally) slow Golden State down.  After Kyrie Irving went down with a fractured kneecap in Game 1 of last year's Finals, David Blatt reconfigured the offense to feature LeBron James catching the ball in the high post and running iso-heavy sets through him.  Although the strategy had mixed results as James had a historically inefficient Finals on offense, it did slow the Warriors down enough to keep the series competitive for the next five games. Now would seem to be the best time for Lue to return to that, as his players have repeatedly blown assignments in transition that have either led to wide-open threes or defensive mismatches that the Warriors capitalized on immediately.

LeBron must be more assertive in Game 3 (CheatSheet.com)
It will be interesting to see what LeBron’s mindset is at the beginning of Game 3.  Although he finished Game 2 with 19 points and a near triple-double, it never felt like James was in attack mode.  He seemed focused on getting his teammates involved early, finishing the first quarter with no points and five assists.   If LeBron really is the “offensive coordinator” of the Cavs as claims to be, then it was clear he wanted to spoon feed Irving and Love to get them in an early rhythm.  

While the reasoning behind this makes sense--if Irving and Kevin Love get going early they will have more confidence at the end of games--the best thing for Cleveland might be for James to attack early and often.  The consummate team player throughout his career (often to a fault), LeBron might have to let the other All-Stars worry about getting their shots while he’s on the bench.  The most important thing for him looking ahead will be getting Andre Iguodala in foul trouble at the beginning of Game 3 by using the home atmosphere to get some calls that went against him in Game 2. 

Finally, the Cavs were also out-rebounded on both ends of the floor.  Coming into the series, that was supposed to be one of their biggest advantages over the Warriors.  That was not the case in Game 2, however, as Golden State annihilated Cleveland on the boards, 46-34.  If the Cavaliers are to have any shot at making this series competitive, they need to reverse this trend immediately.  

That seems unlikely to happen, however. As much of a toll as the OKC series took on the Warriors, it forced them to focus on both individual and team rebounding in a way they hadn't all season.  Their newfound dedication to improving that weakness has completely snuffed out any advantage that the Cavs had on the glass.  Andrew Bogut and Draymond Green were active in the early going, with Bogut doing a commendable job boxing out Tristan Thompson and keeping offensive chances alive by tapping them off the glass.  After having to deal with Steven Adams and Serge Ibaka for the last two weeks, Bogut and Green must feel like a baseball player swinging a bat without the weights on it.  Barring a major injury or divine intervention, it feels like the Warriors are going to cap off the best season of all-time with a ring.

Random Musings from Game Two

1.     LeBron’s Post Problems
a.      If it’s possible for the best player in the world to improve upon anything this offseason, it’s his postgame.  The King has done a masterful job of transitioning his game to being almost completely interior-based to accommodate the strengths of Love and Irving.  Although James is a mismatch against any small forward and most traditional fours, he still has a tendency to end his post-ups by finding himself underneath the basket with a crowd of people around him.  If he can start his post moves with more of a plan and sprinkle in some counters when he gets stopped initially, he should be the best back-to-the-basket player in the league.  That’s a scary thought for the rest of the Association, considering he’s already a supersized Blake Griffin in his current iteration. 

2.     The Curious Case of Harrison Barnes
a.      For as much as Harrison Barnes has struggled this year, he has found new life against Cleveland.  Lue has tried to hide J.R. Smith and Kyrie Irving on Barnes sporadically throughout the first two games without any success.  Barnes has done a great job exploiting Irving and Smith’s ball-watching tendencies by cutting for open looks close to the basket and driving to a spot that puts the defense at a disadvantage and opens up playmaking for his teammates.  Although Barnes struggles at creating his own shot and often seems to get in his own head, his smart play on both ends of the court show he is still a valuable asset for Golden State.

3.      Richard Jefferson’s Last Stand

a.      One Finals story that never gets old is that of the veteran role player, long past his glory days who knows this is his last real chance at a ring.  Jefferson is that guy this year.  He was ignominiously traded from Golden State in 2013 to clear up cap space fir Iguodala, his four year $39 million contract suddenly an albatross.  Although Jefferson is nowhere close to the player he was as an All-Star with the New Jersey Nets of the early 2000’s, he has aged gracefully as a backup small forward for these Cavaliers.  He was one of their few bright spots in Game 2, tallying 12 points and five rebounds in a throwback performance  Here’s to hoping to he’ll be able to continue that success as the series progresses.