Friday, May 31, 2013

COURTSIDE VIEW: Shiny Spurs on Old Dusty Boots

Johnny J

The San Antonio Spurs have reached the NBA Finals for the first time since 2007. The Spurs did something I didn't think they could accomplish: they swept the Memphis Grizzlies (So much for that pick--Ed) to reach their fifth championship game in 15 years. I mean they picked up the broom and beat the heck out of them until they turned around and ran.

Side note, I'm out $40 for betting against the Spurs. I guess, I shouldn't bet against Father Time because this is the best I've seen Tony Parker and the aging Tim Duncan. If Chronos, (Greek God of Time) is right, then the Spurs should win the whole thing. The last four times the Spurs have reached the Finals, they've won it. It seems like the more people talk about the aging of the Spurs and what they're not going to do in the playoffs, they prove everyone wrong.

The core of the Spurs consist of four people, yes four. Tim Duncan, (37 years) Manu Ginobili,(35 years) Tony Parker, (31 years) and the coach Gregg Popovich. I have to give Coach Pop credit, he is one of the best coaches in the NBA winning four championships in his era. He is like what DJ Jazzy Jeff was to the Fresh Prince, "He is the DJ, I'm the rapper." They all work together. When the big four came together in 1997, it was the beginning of a dynasty. They have won 70 percent of their games with Duncan in the line-up and have won 50 games or better with him since they drafted him. Now at the end of their careers, they still playing at a high level.

"Shiny Spurs on Old Dusty Boots."

Duncan, averaged 18 points and 11 rebounds against Memphis. He looked unstoppable at time dominating inside and outside. Duncan just divorced his wife and he doesn't even seem phased by it. The man with no emotions is still playing like nothing happened. Ginobili averaged 12 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists. The former Sixth Man of the Year recipient (2008) hasn't lost his first step as he continues to drive, get foul and produce. An older version of James Harden (both left-handed too!).  Apparently "Southpaws" can play. The relentless Parker averaged 24 points and 9 assists in the series. He had 37 points in game four.  Alliyah, said it best, "Age ain't nothing but a number." The Spurs are definitely not playing like they belong in a senior citizens' home.

So with an aging core, what does Pop do to help balance the team? He puts playmakers all over the sandy floor for cheap.  Kawhi Leonard, a good wing player, can shoot the three and defend the perimeter. Salary is $1.8 million. Danny Green, (Yeah, North Carolina!) a good role player, helps spread the floor, with good three-point shooting. Salary is $3.5 million. Matt Bonner, a big man, who can also spread the floor with his ridiculous 46 percent three-point shooting. Salary is $3.6 million. Tiago Splitter, is a descent big man, who plays very well around the rim, good-shooter and rebounder (and as we explained before, Splitter and Duncan give the Spurs their best defensive alignment--Ed), and can give solid minutes on the floor to give a breather to Tim Duncan. He made $3.9 million this season. Unbelievable, economically sound role players. They fill holes with minimum costs!

The Spurs are looking to add another championship banner in their arena. Thanks to their play on both ends of the court, they are silencing their critics and my $40 bucks are long gone as the aging core is still performing. They freakin' swept the Grizzlies! "The Big Bad Bears of the South" were made to look like little kids. Their looking to go 5 for 5 in the NBA Finals since 1999. Chronos says they will.  As long as Parker keeps playing like he drank from the fountain of youth, the Spurs are going to be hard to beat. Ginobili is going to do his thing and Duncan is going to continue to not have any emotions. "My wife left me.  Oh well, game on!  DJ Pop please repeat the last song while I do my two-step.  Role players, play your game and show you're worth more than your current wage."

These shiny Spurs on these old dusty boots were made for walking and they're ready to walk all over the Miami Heat or Indiana Pacers.

More NBA content is available

Friday, May 24, 2013

POINT/COUNTERPOINT: Brooklyn Nets


Felipe M

Check out our take on the Philadelphia 76ers.
Hasan R. and I now look at the future prospects of the Brooklyn Nets for next season.  

Felipe: I thought the Nets were a very overrated, overhyped team coming into this season and I definitely think the Nets are in deep trouble after their disappointing, first round loss at the hands of the Chicago Bulls. This team looks like a perpetual, average team if they decide to bring everybody back.  The only coach that can fix their problems, Phil Jackson, doesn't want to coach that team.  Ownership has created a high-pressured environment to the club, but a veteran team with very little upside does not bring championships. 

Hasan: Nets are definitely in a bad space.  Ownership just spent without thinking what was best for the future, which probably leads to the Brooklyn Nets possibly missing out of next season’s playoffs or coming in as 7th/8th seed. 

Felipe: Let’s not forget the situation in Brooklyn was magnified because of Deron Williams.  His play and conditioning at the beginning of the year was inexcusable.  You can tell that he started taking things more serious when Avery Johnson was fired.  Not only did his play improved, but he started losing weight as well.  Nevertheless, your franchise player has to show commitment from day one, not when the coach gets fired.  I think investing all of this money and energy for D-Will to be the focal point of that team may have been a mistake. 

Hasan: Can’t argue with that statement on Williams.  D-Will earned himself the title of a “coach killer,” so best of luck to whoever the Nets hire to coach this wreck.  Deron needs to learn to play with this team and that is the key to their success. They are lucky to have Brook Lopez and if they can figure out schemes that maximize his potential and build a successful offense that utilizes him, they can eke out a bunch of victories.  

Felipe: And I know I referred to Lopez as soft at the beginning of the year, but I tip my hat off to him for making the All-Star team and showing more heart in the paint area, on both sides of the ball, than in years past.  The Bulls were still able to bully him at times, but held his own and even stepped up his production in certain statistical categories (especially blocks and rebounds) in the series vs. the gritty Bulls. 

On the downside, one of the players getting credit for helping to add toughness to Lopez’s game, Andray Blatche will probably not re-sign with the team as he played well enough to get a bigger contract than the one-year deal Brooklyn gave him this season. 

Hasan: Unfortunately, they have no choice but to reload in the free agent market and D-Will better get out there and start recruiting.  Then again, it’s hard to utilize that strategy when they are pretty cash-strapped and only time will tell who they can afford this offseason.  Other teams are better prepared for this current free agent market and the Nets may not have what it takes to create a better team to make it out of round 1 of the playoffs next season either. 

Felipe: And that’s what happens when you try to build a club in a rushed manner like the Brooklyn Nets did in the last couple of seasons.  

More NBA content is available here

POINT/COUNTERPOINT: Philadelphia 76ers


Felipe M

Had a good, but very long conversation about the future of the NBA with fellow basketball fan, and diehard New York Knicks' fan, Hasan R.  The following is our thoughts on the state of the Philadelphia 76ers

Felipe: I've always like the 76ers, but they're always missing something, I'm just not sure what exactly that is.  But they have up-and-comers JrueHoliday and Evan Turner.  They also have some good talent with guys like Thaddeus Young and Spencer Hawes and Lavoy Allen to a lesser extent.  Not sure what Jason Richardson can still bring for next season.  However, they’re getting a new coach and already have a President/GM in Sam Hinkie (formerly of the Houston Rockets). So I think Philly’s arrow is pointing up.

Hasan: Totally counted out the 76ers, but you reminded me a lot of what makes them a threat going forward.  This year was the first in a rebuilding phase anyway with Andre Iguodala gone and if Andrew Bynum actually plays for the 76ers, they have a lethal team.  Not exactly NBA championship caliber, but one that is setting itself up with a good core that should hit its stride in late 2014/early 2015.  If they can draft a wing player in the mold of Iguodala, this could be a lethal team. 

Felipe: Technically, the 76ers have been rebuilding for a few years now.  Yes, they have made the playoffs, but haven’t had a winning season since 2004-05.  And I really don’t see Bynum ever suiting up for Philly and they would have to be absolutely desperate to want him this bad.  I have to question his heart and his degenerative knees.  And the 76ers didn’t do much when they had Iguodala with the team so I doubt getting another player in that mold will help much.  I would actually suggest getting a big man (maybe a guy like Cody Zeller as his stock seems to be dropping) would prove to be helpful, but then again, it depends what kind of coach they will hire.

Hasan: They have most definitely been rebuilding for a few years and sadly this last season was a lost one.  I understand your concern with Bynum, but my above idea for Philly was that they DO manage to re-sign Bynum, and that he suits up and then you've got the 76ers vying for a dynamic wing to pair up with Evan Turner. Then hopefully get some veteran presence and they may even be able to compete for a low playoff seed this upcoming season.  

That being said, let's think about what happens if they fail to retain Bynum.  Not only does that Bynum trade look absolutely horrific in retrospect (not like the trade didn't look bad enough when it was made), but it also means that it's time to tear it all down. If Bynum is gone the most likely draft pick for them would be Cody Zeller or even Kelly Olynyk.  That also makes their second round picks extremely valuable because the best way to rebuild is through the draft.

Sadly, it is a bit tough to really judge this team without a basketball coach because we still aren't too sure about the style of play they will employ. Holding out against hope that they manage to re-sign Bynum and go ahead with my earlier idea, if only for the sheer fun it would be to watch Bynum and Holiday play together. 

Felipe: At least we agree on the 76ers needing a new coach in order for us to gauge which direction they will go in terms of personnel.  I definitely have to disagree with you on Andrew Bynum.  His best days are behind him and I just don’t see him wanting to stay in Philly and Philly would do itself a favor by looking elsewhere to start another rebuilding project.  Luckily for them, their new GM is a statistical analytics guy and hopefully, that will make him see that re-signing Bynum will prove to be a mistake.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

DERRICK ROSE: 2012-13 NBA Summary

Felipe M

I did not want to post an entry on Chicago Bulls' franchise player, Derrick Rose.  I'm so sick of reading about the guy and sharing my comments on the internet that I saw no point in doing so.  Everybody in the world has had their say on the matter.  Adding more content would be like adding fuel to a funeral pyre.  However, as a die-hard Bulls' fan, people are always asking me, around the country, what my opinions are on Derrick Rose and this season.  And a lot of times, there are people, both inside and outside of Chicago, that show how misinformed they are of the situation.  

So, once and for all, I will give my official thoughts on Rose and next time somebody asks me about him, I will just go ahead and share the link to this post.  Like most of you, I hate repeating myself...

At the beginning of the season, I was all for Rose to not come back for this campaign.  After seeing Rose play through a myriad of injuries in the last few seasons, as his style of play and the heavy minutes he gets as the Bulls' point guard AND primary scorer have been the main culprits in preventing Rose from properly recovering from his various ailments, I thought the best thing for his reconstructed knee was for him to take the year off.  From a cynic's standpoint, Rose injuring his knee against the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 1 of the 2012 NBA Playoffs was probably the best thing to happen to his health.  It would at least help him recover from his other physical ailments.  Remember, after the Bulls' playoff run would inevitably finish (whether in the 1st round or in the NBA Finals), Rose was 100% intent on playing in the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.  So as a selfish Bulls' fan, we dodged a major bullet by having this knee injury force him to skip the sporting exhibition known as the Olympics.  I was mostly optimistic about how the knee injury would force Rose to play more like a "true" point guard and help him preserve his body and shield him from the unnecessary rigors that are caused from his aggressive style.  Call me Mr. Brightside.  

The zenith of his various injuries and ailments did not come with this knee injury--that was merely a somber conclusion.  The big red flag that all of us should have been paying attention  to was when he had to be hospitalized for stomach ulcers.  Rose blamed it on "spicy food" and promised to cut back and change his diet, however at that point of his career, he was struggling with a nagging back problem (the main physical ailment, theretofore) and many people were thinking that the ulcers were really a result of taking too many NSAIDs; over-the-counter pain relief medication that is notorious for razing one's stomach lining (speaking from experience here).  If you're a pro basketball player and have stomach ulcers due to pain meds to suppress the pain from various injuries, you're either due for a cut in playing time, or are due for a long break.  The one silver lining of getting hurt was that Rose would be getting a much deserved break from NBA action.  

Then came talks that Rose would definitely, without a doubt, return in the spring in time to lead the Bulls' 2013, playoff charge.  At first, I was against the idea, citing that the Bulls, as currently built, are not good enough to go after an NBA title as the Miami Heat were looking like the potential, repeat champions that everybody thought they could be this season.  My thought was, "enjoy the rest, continue to rehab hard, continue to follow doctor's orders, and come back stronger than ever for the start of the 2013-2014 season."  

But then I started looking around and saw other NBA players with similarly serious knee injuries of their own.  We even chronicled the statuses of a few players recovering from these knee injuries: 


But the most remarkable story of the NBA season was John Wall's recovery from a stress injury in his knee.  Many people thought the knee injury was a lot more serious than the team and player lead on and there were rumors and thoughts from some publications and many fans alike that thought the injury was close to being career-threatening.  However, on January 12, 2013, Wall came back and played and was on the court for 21 minutes, scoring 14 points and helping the Washington Wizards do something that they have struggled to do up to that point--win a game.  Not only did John Wall finish the season strong (after not seeing 30+ minutes until his 5th game and playing less than 30 minutes in 8 of his first 11 games), but the Wizards went 22-18 between the months of January and March and finished 24-25 overall with Wall in the lineup.  The team won 5 total games without Wall.  That's progress!

So I was encouraged to see other players recover, slowly, but surely as each passing game saw these players getting stronger and growing more confident as they tested the limitations of their rehabbed knees.  Of course, the one superstar not doing this was Derrick Rose.  As mentioned, I was fine with him not playing at all this season.  Even after the Bulls had announced that he was cleared to practice and eventually play a real game.  

And then I read this article from Dan Bernstein, where he states that playing in live action NBA games is actually part of Rose's rehab program.  At least according to Dr. Brian Cole; the same doctor that performed the knee surgery on Rose:
"You have to play to play.  All these muscle patterns have to kick in.  You can do that off the court informally, but there's a lot of benefit to playing."
Guess who didn't wear his
green jersey on St. Patrick's Day?
(photo courtesy of Felipe M)
And then the rumors coming in March as the city of Chicago impatiently waited for his "The Return" to finally come to fruition.  "He will come back sometime during the Bulls' recent west coast trip" one report advised, while other rumors suggested he would come back in time for March 18 against the Denver Nuggets--a "welcome home" event of sorts.  Then we were told it would be against Portland, but then rationale dictated that he would have to play against divisional foe, Indiana.  However, he would not show up to any of these games.  In the meantime, Rose would neither affirm or deny the claims that he would come back on certain dates.  Instead, we were getting vague answers and excuses.  Due to the vagueness of Rose's responses, I will only quickly list the type of rhetoric he used when addressing the issue of his return:

  • I'll come back soon, after I'm finally cleared to play (gets clearance from medical staff)
  • I'll come back as soon as I'm close to 100% (reports indicate he's "looked good in practice)
  • I'll come back when I can start dominating like I know I can (reports and quotes from teammates indicate that he's "been dominating practices")
  • I'll come back when I can start dunking off my injured knee (watch this video)
  • I'm not sure if I'm coming back at all, but I wouldn't rule out anything (regular season comes to an end)
  • I never said I was going to shut it down, but I might still play (Bulls don't have enough healthy players on roster)
  • I might play in the next game, but it will depend on how I feel (Bulls defeat the Brooklyn Nets in 7 games)
  • I might play sometime against the Heat (Bulls eventually get eliminated by the defending champs in 5 games)
Rose never saw an official NBA minute.  As mentioned before, I didn't mind Rose missing the rest of the year to recover and start fresh for the 2013-14 season.  But all of this loafing and waffling from Rose was a major turn off and really put in question his leadership and character qualities that have endeared him to NBA fans all over the world.  To me, if you're going to play, then play; if you're not going to play, then just say so and get it over with!  But stop with the teasing!  What did it accomplish?  Absolutely nothing!  How difficult was it to just say the following statement?
"Due to my knee not being 100%, rather than risk further injury in an attempt to hasten my return to live basketball action, I will not come back to play for the rest of the 2013 NBA season and will, therefore, regroup with a fresh start in time for the next training camp"
Still waiting...
(photo courtesy of Ricardo Ponce)
And what the hell is he doing trying to come back for the playoffs?  The appropriate time to come back and ease yourself back into playing shape was in the REGULAR SEASON!  I've been saying this throughout Rose's injury and I will repeat myself one last time: the NBA Playoffs are not the place to be rehabbing from knee surgery.

And that's where the major disappointment in Rose comes from in my point of view: his unwillingness to continue his rehab program by playing on the court during the regular season and his Brett Favre-like, "I may not play, but don't rule me out just yet" antics that he pulled off throughout the season.  Whatever the motive for him to keep tantalizing fans of his "The Return" is beyond me.  However, one thing's for certain; he has tarnished his reputation and his likability among NBA fans.  He has become a joke.  His toughness, both physically and mentally, is now questionable at best (Brad Beal certainly questions it).  

Again, I won't forget how Rose would play with reckless abandon prior to the knee injury.  I won't forget how he personified Chicago with his style and toughness.  I won't forget how his stomach lining was ruptured due to pain meds in order for him not to miss a game.  I won't forget how the Bulls have treated their players' health in recent years and I wouldn't blame Rose if he doesn't trust the Bulls' medical staff at all.  

But I won't forget how players like Joakim Noah, Luol Deng, Kirk Hinrich, Taj Gibson and Nate Robinson were playing heavy minutes under heavy duress and various ailments in these playoffs when it would have been understandable for these players to sit out for a prolonged period of time (and in the case of Deng and Hinrich, they did and I don't blame them).  

Most importantly, I won't forget how Rose blatantly decided to jerk the team and the fans around  for the latter months of the season and playoffs.  I won't forget his indecisiveness.  I won't forget the double-talk.  And I won't forget how he went from being one of the biggest superstars in the league to becoming a punchline.

Will definitely use the rest of the summer to make me forget this episode.  Just like Rose, I too will seek a fresh start in time for training camp.  

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

COURTSIDE VIEW: Pacemaker

Johnny J

Welcome to the first Courtside View entry.  I'm your host, Johnny J!  This week's topic is all about the Indiana Pacers.  

Indiana was real good at slowing down the high-powered New York Knicks' offense (RIP--Ed). The Knicks were actually ranked 11th in scoring for the regular season, averaging 100 PPG.  The Miami Heat, the Pacers' opponent in the Eastern Conference Finals, ranked 5th with 102.9 PPG.  The Pacers will try and make the Heat play at their pace, meaning plenty of half-court ball.  Indiana knows they can't out-score the Heat and I wonder, how much do they have left in the tank after going six games with the Knicks? Indiana only averaged 94.7 PPG in the regular season (92 PPG in the playoffs--Ed) and ranked a sub-par 23rd in the league.

With Miami only averaging 12 fastbreak points per game, I can really see the pacemaker Pacers controlling the game.  They have a "team" that can have a different leading scorer every game. Yes, they have a young star in Paul George (Johnny J wrote about Paul George last month: he's really "lights out"--Ed), but he still has a lot to learn, before I put him in the top-tier list of players in the NBA.

George is a player who can potentially average a triple-double with his style of play.  He doesn't need the ball in his hands every time to make an impact in the game.  But the ball does go through his hands almost every play. Whether it's on a rebound, pass, or shot. In the playoffs he has averaged 19.1 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 5.0 assists. The most improved player at 22 has shown up!

The Knicks averaged 31.5 points from three pointers. They were second in the league, with the Heat, coming in third averaging 25.7. The Pacers averaged first in opponents three pointers percentage and field goal percentage.  The Heat likes to spread the floor, just like the Knicks did, but the Knicks couldn't hit their shots, averaging only 37% from behind the arc against Indiana. How will Miami learn from the Knicks mistakes?  Indiana, doesn't like to double team opponents. With defensive-minded players like Paul George, George Hill and Roy Hibbert, they don't have to. George was on the all-defensive second team and Hibbert could've been on the list as well. The tall, imposing freak had 19 blocks in six games (3.2 per game) against the Knicks.

The Pacers won the series 2-1 in the regular season against the Heat.  Both wins coming at home at Conseco Fieldhouse. The Pacers were 30-11 at home in the regular season and 6-0 at home in the postseason.  As good as the Pacers are at home, it is imperative that the prove that they can win on the road in this series.  That is just a fact of life: Champions win on the road!  They finished up the Atlanta Hawks on the road and they also stole game one in New York. I believe they can do it. They have the attitude of a championship team, and they stayed composed throughout the playoffs.  They're not that deep off the bench, but neither is Miami.  I also acknowledge they are young and everybody on the court, regardless of position or size, attacks the glass. They were first in rebounds averaging 45 per game. They're like beasts on the glass (We explained how the Miami Heat have struggled against good rebounding clubs this season--Ed).

I see this series going seven games without a doubt in my mind.  The Pacers can match the intensity of the Heat, but it's going to be about "who is going to want it more?"  The pressure is more on the Heat.  Not only do they have three All-Stars, but one in particular, LeBron James, is being compared to as the greatest of all time (Numbers don't lie--Ed).

This maybe the last time the big three are together.  The pacers will crash the boards and they will not send double teams as every man can hold his own defensive assignment. It will limit the threes from the role players and it will be a physical battle.  I believe home-court will be a major factor, but I believe the Pacers will steal one in south beach.

More NBA content is available here

Thursday, May 16, 2013

ULTIMATE LAGWAGON PLAYLIST

Felipe M

Today, it is, unofficially, Lagwagon Day.  Why?  Because it's May 16th!




The California punk rock band has been one of the more influential in the scene, but have been forgotten of late as they have not released a full studio album since 2005.  With that being said, I thought I would pay my respects to one of my favorite bands by compiling a "playlist" of sorts.  I will try to limit myself to 20 songs or fewer along with a favorite quote (or two) from each song.  Also, admittedly, I don't own any Lagwagon albums before 1995.  So not a lot of Duh or Trashed references on this list.  I apologize in advance:

  1. "Alien 8"--Double Plaidinum
    • "Are you a martyr for your pride?"
  2. "Gun in Your Hand"--Let's Talk About Feelings: 
    • "I'm not going to watch you kill yourself to live"; 
    • "If you're not a rebel by the age of 20, you have no heart, but if you haven't turned establishment by 30, you've got no brains."
  3. "Raise a Family"--Let's Talk About Leftovers
    • "Maybe I'm just thirty and I don't want to go to parties anymore"; 
    • "Marriage?  Mortgage? Can't afford it!"; 
    • "We ain't got no money, honey, it's true, but there's vows in Vegas."
  4. "Dinner and a Movie"--Blaze
    • "It's already better than last time I ruined another girl's life."
  5. "Violins"--Hoss
    • "I assume the role, open my mouth, and clumsy words escape"; 
    • "You put me out, the butt of a sick joke, into this ashtray life"; 
    • "I assume the role, open my claws, and grasp for your heart."
  6. "Change Despair"--...Feelings
    • "Disappointment and odds in a costume you can't take off"
  7. "Bro Dependent"--Hoss
    • "I try to focus on what I hear and listen to what I see"; 
    • "Your problem still remains: obsession, compulsion, overdoing everything."
  8. "Making Friends"--...Plaidinum, but Live in a Dive version is much better
    • "I can see you in the middle of a doubt"; 
    • "I will be a freak show when the circus comes to town and I will rain on your parade without a sound"; 
    • "I graduate this class with honors and I will never fail drama."
  9. "Razor Burn"--Hoss
    • "[Will] walk the earth alone, I'll never shave again"; 
    • "On the night she left me, facial hair grew miraculously"; 
    • "I look like a wise man, but I'm an idiot"; 
    • "She found out I was lame so I grew a beard of shame."
  10. "Mr. Coffee"--Duh
    • "Where in the this hellhole is my coffee mug?"; 
    • "I can now face the day on legal speed, the American way"; 
    • "I drink the entire pot so now it's off to work"; 
    • "Drinking coffee, I drink coffee everyday!"
  11. "Hurry up and Wait"--...Feelings
    • "We're never going to make sound check so I can't even take a shit, shower, shave, or drink coffee!"; 
    • "Come on, we're already late man, let's go!"; 
    • "Hurry up and wait!"
  12. "Move the Car"--Hoss: 
    • "The story it grows older, the story is no story here"; 
    • "Just because I don't go to the church where you reside..."; 
    • "I can be the hungry, as I eat my own word again"; 
    • "Appealing yet appalling, rising to my falling, I'm going to extreme ends"; 
    • "Feeling nothing more to hide, consider life a forgery"; 
    • "Driven to this thought: death is certain, faith is not"
  13. "Leave the Light On"--...Feelings
    • "Leave the bed sheets unclean and they will reek of you still"; 
    • "So please leave the imagery, I can twist it"; 
    • "I'd give anything to bring you back to say goodbye"; 
    • "Barry, why don't you play an 'A' for Steve?"
  14. "Automatic"--Resolve: 
    • "Compromise, build a bridge, sacrifice, sacrilege, sell yourself, automatic"; 
    • "Everyone drives all day, but none of them have a goal"; 
    • "Set a goal, make it happen, imagine love, fake a passion..."; 
  15. "Alison's Disease"--...Feelings (Bonus Track): 
    • "Murderous hands cripple her eyes and mind"
  16. "Burn"--Blaze
    • "For all the riddles solved and every puzzle you complete, can't seem to find the pieces to the heart that beats"; 
    • "At arm's length, you never get hit.  There's too much to gamble when you let someone in."
  17. "Infectious"--Resolve
    • "One positive, one negative, desperate, holding on to healthy images"; 
    • "Gained, lost, spent, but I won't think or speak of all that could have been"
  18. "Coffee and Cigarettes"--Trashed (Live in a Dive version...): 
    • "I'm getting used to getting old, but where's my ambition?"; 
    • "I feel broken down inside because my words seem to be trite"; 
    • "Recycled words don't justify, these words don't suffice; searching for the sharp words to drive the message in"; 
    • "I put the last words down then I begin to question the truth."
  19. "May 16"--...Feelings
    • "There's no gain in failure, but you succeed at being mine"; 
    • "I can paint a picture in a moment of memories and there aren't many left"; 
    • "I am extradited, uninvited"; 
    • "It's just another Saturday"; 
    • "Liberate yourself from hell"
  20. "To All My Friends"--...Plaidinum
    • "Cup half-empty, cup half-full, perspectives and beers"
Enjoy!

Be sure to catch Joey Cape on tour as he and others will perform in tribute to the late, No Use for a Name vocalist, Tony Sly.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

LINE DRIVES: v2.0--Five-Man Rotation

Is there something wrong with Stephen Strasburg?

Felipe M

I was recently asked about five starting pitchers that have not pitched up to par in this 2013 season.  Of course, it was all from a fantasy baseball perspective, but, if you have been paying attention, I basically share both fantasy and "real" baseball analysis interchangeably. So if you read between the lines, whether you're a "real" baseball fan or a fantasy baseball owner, you will get the info you are looking for.

Here's a quick look at the five starting pitchers in question (all stats are as of May 14, 2013):

Pitching Raw Stats
Player
K/BB
K/9
BB/9
H/9
WHIP
ERA
HR/9
Stephen Strasburg
3.40
9.3
2.7
7.8
1.18
3.10
0.9
David Price
3.69
8.2
2.2
10.3
1.39
4.78
1.4
Jonathan Niese
0.95
4.6
4.8
11.0
1.76
5.93
1.1
Josh Beckett
2.73
8.5
3.1
10.4
1.50
5.19
1.7
Ryan Vogelsong
2.47
8.5
3.4
12.1
1.73
7.78
2.1













We will start with Stephen Strasburg:

The issue that many baseball fans have with the young phenom pertains to his current 1-5 record.  After going 15-6 in 2012, fans are wondering if there's something wrong with Strasburg as he's off to a "bad" start.  However, if one looks at his season numbers, one can easily identify that he's having a great season so far.  He's striking out hitters at a high clip, has no, apparent control or command issues, and he's not hurting himself with the long ball.  Also, for the traditional fans out there, his ERA is pretty low for current baseball standards.  

Clearly, at plain sight, there's nothing wrong with Strasburg.  So we will take a deeper look to see what can be hidden that's making Strasburg sport a 1-5 record:

  • Right off the bat, the run support has been missing for the Washington Nationals.  At only 2.3 runs per game, even Strasburg's capabilities aren't enough to keep the Nationals in the game.  League average hovers around 4.2 runs/game.  A few more runs by the offense would help immensely.
  • Perhaps Strasburg doesn't have the stuff that he's used to having.  His Strikeout rate of 24.9% is a career low.  Then again, that stat is still above league average.  Walk rate is pretty steady to his career norms.  Matter of fact, all of his advanced pitching stats are pretty on par with his career.  However, there are a few categories that have seen a noticeable change:
    • He's now pitching in more 3-0 counts than we've ever seen him pitch in the Big Leagues.  3-0 Count% is at 5% (career high).  However, that stat puts him at league average so what that tells me is that maybe he is human after all.
    • 0-2 Count% is also a career low.  And that stat puts him slightly below league average.  Either way, you can't expect a pitcher to continually dominate with constant 0-2 counts.
    • The biggest drop in category is probably one that will shock a lot of baseball fans; Strikeouts While Looking% is at 14% (lowest since 2011).  This puts him well below league average and would explain his career low strikeout rate.
Nevertheless, Strasburg is still pitching lights out and continues to give the Nationals a chance to win; even if the offense can only muster up 2.3 runs/game in games that he pitches.

David Price: Heck of a mystery to figure out the struggles of a pitcher that has a 3.69 K/BB.  At first glance, it seems that Price might be having command issues.  And then you see that he's actually sporting a BABIP of .338.  So Price is pretty much going through lots of bad luck.  Or is he?

Lack of command or bad luck?  That is the question!  Right away, I see that his OPSAgainst is a career high .797.  However, that is only slightly above league average, so with a bit of luck, that number can drop.  However, luck doesn't explain career highs in the following categories:
  • Extra Base-Hit%: 9.3% 
  • Line Drive%: 24%
  • Homerun%: 3.6%
  • HR/FB: 11%
So there's something in his pitches that opposing hitters are seeing better than at anytime in Price's career.  Nevertheless, these numbers are mostly, but slightly above league average.  Nonetheless, one alarming stat is his strikeout rate of 21.3%--the lowest it's been since 2010.  And even then, it's still a rate that's slightly above league average and secondly, he's still sporting a career low walk rate (5.8%).  All of this comes with a career high 66% 1st Pitch Strike%!  You finally add in the fact that he is seeing a career low in run support/game (3.6) and I must conclude, although there are some command issues that are evident, most of Price's struggles seems to come at the hands of bad luck: balls that find the holes for singles or flyballs that fall safely out of the reach of his outfield.  A few lucky breaks here and there, and a lot of these stats drop down to league average.  Add to the fact that his walks and strikeouts are near elite and we're looking at a pretty good starting pitcher.
Look at it!  Its warning track has a warning track....

Josh Beckett: A lot of publicity has been made about Beckett's struggles in the last few seasons or so: decrease in velocity, commitment questions (apparently, the guy loves playing golf on his off days), the odd-even theory (more like a fallacy, but moving on...), tough AL East lineups, etc.  Whatever the excuse is, we've heard them all.  What is known is that Beckett is now pitching in a perceived, weaker-hitting National League and pitching in a notorious, pitchers' ballpark in Dodgers Stadium.  So how has he fared?

Despite the good K/9 and decent BB/9, Beckett is getting lit up because of the number of base-hits he has given up so far this year.  A deeper look that the base-hits might be a product of a high BABIP--.336--but he also has a career high 4.1% HR% and his Extra Base-Hit% is 10.3 (highest since 2010).  Furthermore, his Line Drive% is 24% (highest since 2002) and his Groundball/Flyball ratio 0.66.  All those flyballs seem to be turning into extra base-hits and only 6% of those flyballs actually stay in the infield (Infield/Flyball ratio--pop ups).  To make matters worse, he is also posting a 74% contact rate--the lowest it's been since 2011.  So even though hitters are struggling to make contact with Beckett's pitches, they still find a way to drive his pitches into the outfield.

And even his good K/9 is clouded by the fact that his Strikeout Looking% is a career worst, 20%.  Again, command issues as Beckett struggles to locate his pitches in the strike zone.  And it's been reported that he went on the DL today with a groin injury.  So that'll give him 15 days to figure out what's wrong with him. 

Jon Niese: Coming into the 2013 season, Niese was expected to have a good year, coming off a successful 2012 campaign.  Unfortunately, it has been disastrous for Niese, heretofore.  

Despite receiving almost 6 runs/game of support, Niese is only 2-4.  Despite the projections showing a pitcher with good control, Niese has displayed terrible control.  His Walk% is a ridiculously high 11% (highest it's been since 2008--his rookie year) to go along with a pathetic 10.9% Strikeout% (also a career low). 

Despite the high H/9, Niese's advanced stats didn't show any numbers lying too far off his usual norm.  As a matter of fact, he is still doing a good job inducing groundballs as his Groundouts/Airouts ratio is at 1.66.  His Line Drive% is a career low 16%.  His HR/FB is a league average 7.9%.  However, his IF/FB is at 6% (career low) so hitters are finding opportunities to drive the ball for extra base-hits (.841 OPS is highest it's been since rookie year of 2008).  

But Niese's main problem is definitely his lack of control.  He's only thrown 59% of his pitches for strikes (career low), Swinging Strike% at only 11%, and %of Pitches Swung at 42%--the latter figures are the lowest we've seen since 2008.  

As far as working the count, Niese has started out a count with a 1st Pitch Strike only 48% of the time.  His 3-0 Counts Seen% is a league (and career) high 9% and only 18% of hitters see an 0-2 count from Niese (career low).

So hitters are doing a good job in hitting their way on base, but Niese is assisting them with his terrible control.  Poor control we haven't seen from Niese since--2008--his rookie year.

Ryan Vogelsong: Everybody's favorite underdog baseball story of 2011, Vogelsong has had  a sort of fairy tale baseball experience the last couple of seasons.  This season however, the magic is disappearing.  His walks, although pretty high, is not as big of a concern as his command.  The following stats are all highs since Vogelsong joined the Giants:
  • OPSAgainst: .939
  • HR%: 4.9%
  • Line Drive%: 24%
  • HR/FB: 13.6%
His IF/FB of 11% is also the lowest Vogelsong has seen as a Giants' pitcher.  The homeruns allowed is the real red flag as AT&T Park is notorious for being a pitcher-friendly ballpark (although, teammate Matt Cain has also been struggling with the long ball this season as well).  

Despite the fact that his BABIP is a high .370, the rest of the numbers, especially the homeruns, do not indicate issues of bad luck, bur rather issues with [diminished?] skills and command.


All photos courtesy of Mike McCann's Field of Fotos.

Have been meaning to share the six baseball teams I will be keeping a close eye on, but continue to forget.  Here they are:

AL EAST: TAMPA RAYS
AL CENTRAL: CHICAGO WHITE SOX
AL WEST: OAKLAND A'S

NL EAST: NEW YORK METS
NL CENTRAL: CHICAGO CUBS
NL WEST: SAN DIEGO PADRES