Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Hot Starts, Slow Finishes


We've been here before. Kind of. Last year the Lions started 6-3, finished 7-9. The Lions started 4-4 in 2012, then they lost their final 8 games. Historically the Lions have had problems with that hot-start/cold-finish issue (2004, 2007), but almost no players or coaches remain from those teams. So, the Lions made the playoffs in 2011. In the next 3 seasons the Lions have had decent starts and really poor finishes in the last 2. Will this 3rd straight good-start end the same way?

I hesitate to make predictions about this team because I've been burned SO many times. Last year I predicted them for 11 wins. With 7 games left I thought I'd guessed low (they would have needed to go 5-2 but their remaining schedule was weak), but they fell apart. So why should 2014 be different? Well for starters, each of those last couple of late-season meltdowns featured the bad version of Stafford showing up bigtime. I don't know which Matt Stafford has been showing up the last 6 weeks, but it isn't the good one. Calvin Johnson coming back next Sunday or after the bye week will help a lot. Also, remember that Stafford is learning a new offense and I expect him to IMPROVE over the course of the season.

Their remaining games are ATLANTA (a BAD 2-5) in London, MIAMI (an average 3-3) at home, ARIZONA (a GOOD 5-1) away, NEW ENGLAND (an iffy 5-2) at home, a crappy CHICAGO team twice, a crappy TAMPA team once, and MINNESOTA and GREEN BAY. The Cardinals and New England are probably the only tough teams left, and Green Bay looks better now than they did vs. Detroit in week 3. I expect at least 2 wins out of the ATL/MIA/AZ/NE run of games. I expect 4 wins out of that CHI/TB/CHI/MIN run. That GB game... who knows. The last game is hard to predict, since possibly GB and Detroit could be resting up for the playoffs. Looking ahead is always dangerous, especially since we still don't know how good NE, MIA and GB are (throw the Lions in that category too), but 11 wins is not out of the question this year.

Every year since 2011, an article (usually several dozen) is published to the effect of "the Same Old Lions are gone" and this year is no exception. We keep looking for signs that this team is ready to shed the stigma of a perpetually disappointing team. As long as I can remember, the best the Lions have done is hint that they might be ready to turn the corner, make the leap. Then they fall apart. I repeat my question from earlier - why is this season different? Well...
  • As we mentioned, the offense isn't exactly playing over its head. Stafford has been... meh. CJ has barely played. The run game is just not there. Pass blocking isn't there. This offense can only go up.
  • This defense is GOOD. I can't remember a Lions defense that looked this stout (the aptly named Jerry Ball notwithstanding). Opponents are averaging 15 points per game, and less than 300 yards. The Saints, the #2 offense after Indianapolis, racked up 408 yards on Detroit. This sounds like a lot, but against everyone else New Orleans has averaged 442.8 yards. On top of that, the defense stood tall when they needed a stop, they got a pick that led to a TD and then stuffed the Saints offense on 4th and short. A far cry from that 2011 playoff team that couldn't stop Drew Brees to save its season.
  • Another aspect of this defense is the ability to generate big defensive plays. The Lions are tied for 3rd in sacks, 3rd in INTs, and middle of the pack in forced fumbles. They've scored 2 TDs (Rashean Mathis returned a pick and Don Carey returned a fumble) and had a safety as well. They are 2nd in 3rd down conversions NOT allowed, meaning they get off the field.
Ok, that paints a pretty picture. An offense that really should be producing more, and will as soon as CJ gets healthy. A defense that stops the other team, scores points and makes big plays. So what's the other side?
  • The. Kicking. Game. The Lions are on their 3rd kicker, after Freese and Henery lost the job due to EXTREME incompetence. Prater hasn't looked stellar either, however. He's missed 2 out of his 4 attempts, and his make from only 21 yds (basically an extra point) dinked in off the upright...
    I think he's rusty from a long layoff. Other than a couple of down years, he's converted between 80-95% of his FGs prior to this year & 78% of FGs at 50+ yds. He'll even out.
  • There is a reason the Lions have a history of bad finishes to a season - they get figured out. Gunther Cunningham, gotta love him, but that wide-9, rush 4 thing he did for the last several years got figured out pretty quick. About mid-way through the 2011 season, opponents figured out that they could send a RB to chip the DEs, the interior line could double Suh every play, and Cunningham would never make them pay by sending a blitz. If opposing offenses solve Teryl Austin's D, will he be able to adjust?
    They never figure Austin out. Cunningham's problem wasn't just his lack of blitzing, he also ran his basic defense every week. Austin actually varies up his game plans and has better personnel to work with. Austin has basically out-coached or coached a draw against every team the Lions have faced so far.
The Lions are 5-2 despite having one of the worst offenses in the NFL. Their defense is #1, so it balances out. They would be 6-1 or possibly even 7-0 if they had a decent kicking game. The offense should get better as Stafford learns Lombardi's system and Calvin Johnson gets back, and don't expect the defense to regress much because a) the talent is better, and b) so is the coaching.

Per Gregg Easterbrook, teams that start 5-2 make the playoffs 67% of the time and win the Super Bowl 6% of the time. This is not to say that these are Detroit's odds, just that historically this is what has happened. Recent team history is against them. Which history wins?

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Tigers Hopes & Dreams... Realistically Speaking

Kind of a slow week this week. The Red Wings are in mid-season form (meaning they're losing shootouts & getting out-hustled), the Pistons are still in pre-season, and a wide variety of articles breaking down the Tigers' season and hopes for the future, displaying varied degrees of insanity on the part of the writer.


My favorites of this last came courtesy of Lynn Henning and Tom Gage of The Detroit News. Henning, never reliable for objective, fact-based reporting, conjectured that a healthy Bruce Rondon would've gotten the Tigers a World Series title. Bruce. Rondon. This guy. Other than a REALLY hot fastball, this guy was the definition of average as a reliever in 2013. A mediocre WHIP and ERA, some outings where he dominated and some where he was wildly disappointing. Ok, I'd have taken him over Joba and Coke (sounds like a cocktail in the Mos Eisley cantina), no doubt... But Henning is saying a setup guy with less than 30 innings of MLB experience would have been the difference between 0 playoff wins and 11 playoff wins is CRAZY.

Tom Gage exhibited a different version of crazy, namely saying that "all is well" and Dombrowski should basically bring the same group of players back, minus Soria and Chamberlain and Ezeqiel Carrera, adding Austin Jackson back to the mix, and paying Scherzer, Victor Martinez, and Donny Kelly Baby raises to stick around. He actually suggests offering Scherzer $27 million per year over 6 years, which is INSANE. Scherzer made $15M in 2014 and they offered $144M over 6 years (a $24M/yr average), which he declined. The way Detroit's payroll is set up, Miguel is roughly getting $22M, Verlander is getting $20M, and in 2014 they had 6 other players making $10M or more. They would need to pay Victor at least $16-$18M to get him to stick, which is a $4-$6M raise. They can't afford to pay Scherzer $10M more than he's making right now, and there's no need to do it! They've got 3 VERY good pitchers under contract, Porcello is decent, and they can get a solid 4th or 5th starter for something like $6-$10M without hurting the World Series odds too much.

The Tigers needs are bullpen, CF, bench depth, bullpen, defense, bullpen, and bullpen. Walkoff Woodward put it pretty well: FIX THE BULLPEN! Assuming Scherzer walks, the Tigers could make a run at drawing James Shields away from KC, but that would take $18-$20M. Or they could try to get someone slightly cheaper like Jason Hammel, Edinson Volquez or Kyle Kendrick, or they could take a flyer on a guy recovering from an injury like Josh Johnson or Wandy Rodriguez. This would save something like $10-$15M over reupping with Scherzer, money which would be better spent on the bullpen and their CF situation. The big name CFs going into free agency are Rasmus, Young and Aoki, all of whom are better defensive CFs than anyone Detroit had in 2014. Cheaper options out there are Nyjer Morgan or Franklin Gutierrez. I like Morgan. He's a speed demon, pretty good defensively, and he handled the bat well with limited opportunities in 2014.

The big problem is the bullpen. Joe Nathan is most likely coming back, for better or worse. Joba is gone, Soria is probably gone, and Phil Coke is 50/50. The best relievers under contract are probably Albuquerque, Rondon, and Hardy in some order. Rondon would be the setup guy if healthy. The Tigers could do what they did last year, swing for the fences with a couple of big name, high priced closers, or they could go after 2 or 3 solid arms. Luke Gregerson is available, with an ok strikeout rate, a pretty good walk rate, and 4 straight years of sub-3.00 ERAs. Scott Downs is getting old but still gets lefties out and would be a good replacement for Phil Coke (who doesn't). Former Tiger Andrew Miller (a lefty who gets out everybody), should be Dombrowski's #1 target for the 'pen. He had a fabulous season (great WHIP & ERA, crazy K-rate, etc.), and followed it up with a great post-season as well:


That's 7 and 1/3 innings, 1 hit allowed, 1 walk yielded, and 8 strikeouts. I know, small sample size, but Miller was that guy all season and last year and, to some extent, the year before. Ausmus did a pretty bad job of managing his bullpen, so some of the mess that resulted in the Divisional Series sweep, but he didn't really have a shut down guy like Miller in his 'pen either (not that Ausmus would've used Miller anyway - Al Albuquerque was probably the Tigers' 2nd or 3rd best arm in the 'pen, didn't pitch at all in October).

If the Tigers are going to make some noise in October next year, they need a couple solid relievers after the closer (I didn't like Nathan closing games last year & would have rather had Soria, but Dombrowski is probably keeping Nathan on & ditching Soria), Ausmus needs to manage his 'pen better (probably the hardest thing for a new manager to figure out), the defense needs to improve (getting Iglesias back at SS and signing a quality CF will help a lot, although Castellanos is still a butcher at 3B), and the bench needs to get deeper.

I thought Aumus's rookie season as a manager was a mixed bag. He did some interesting things on offense, which was a little more varied than when Leyland was in charge, but he was way too committed to a shaky back end of the bullpen. It was almost like he was obstinately ignoring Joba's performance at the end of the season (ERA climbed from 2.40 on 7/23 to 3.57 on 9/28), and the fact that Nathan was the worst closer in baseball who still held that role. Hopefully he's learned a lot, but he may give us another Alan Trammell performance from the dugout.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Adventures in Announcing

I got carried away with breaking down the Lions' defense yesterday, so I didn't talk much about the game. One point about the viewing experience that I wanted to bring up but never got around to was the incredibly bad play-by-play on the Fox broadcast. It was like going to see a play and for some reason King Lear is wearing white Nikes under his otherwise impreccable period garb. It was a nagging flaw throughout the game that kept on cropping up and distracting me from the action.

My initial impression of Fox's play-by-play guy for the Lions game was not favorable. Mike Goldberg decided to show up to the game with his thin hair slicked back and wearing a short, grizzly goatee. The overall look was more like the guy taking bets on the game, not a man who planned on showing up on television.

Fortunately you mainly hear the play-by-play guy, you don't have to see him. This is where he really shone. A couple examples: He mistook a Vikings receiver Greg Jennings for Golden Tate, the Vikings' punter for the Lions' punter, he called Minnesota's coach Mike Zimmer "Dom", presumably thinking of retired & long-time Yankee's bench coach Dom Zimmer (hilariously getting the incorrect sport, city, and vitality of the coach in question). He also mistakenly referred to Minnesota's coach as "Jim Caldwell" who is actually the Lions' coach, and that Norv Turner (Minnesota's OC) was calling plays for Detroit.

My favorite slip ups were how inaccurate he was in calling out yardage. Joique Bell had a first down run he called as a "7-yard run" when Bell had clearly gotten past the first down marker. There was another run that ended easily a yard shy of the yellow line that Goldberg excitedly declared "powers for a first down!" I get screwing up names your first day on the job (although presumably he would have prepared ahead of time by going over the rosters several times), but anybody should be able to tell the difference between an 11 yard run that crossed the yellow line from a 7 yard run that didn't.

Apparently Goldberg's biggest sin wasn't being the worst announcer ever but the way he responded to his critics, after which Fox sent him packing. His twitter response cost him his job, not his incompetence. This article makes an excellent point, that Fox would be better served by moving someone actually familiar with football, like Pam Oliver, to the announcer's booth. Is football so testosterone driven that Fox would rather have a guy with zero NFL experience calling games over a woman with 20 years on the sidelines? Am I asking a stupid question?

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Lions have the #1 Defense???

That last post was written mainly over the course of 2 days, with some finishing touches put in today. Well, a number of things are going on right now that I'd like to touch on, namely:
  • The Lions have the #1 defense in the NFL, and won on Sunday to pull to 4-2
  • The Red Wings opened their season with a nice win over Boston
  • The Pistons have opened their pre-season strongly, with KCP and Drummond looking pretty good (until KCP went down with a knee injury that'll probably have him out for some weeks)
Ok, first things first - WHAT? The Lions have the #1 defense in the NFL? Setting aside the fact that the last time they had a good defense, it featured Chris Spielman and Jerry Ball, this team has lost it's starting MLB and half a dozen DBs (a position of weakness to begin with). How is this defense this good?

Well, scheduling helps. 5 of the 6 of the offenses they've faced - the Giants, the Jets, the Packers, the Bills, and the Vikings - are among the league's worst (Detroit also falls in the bottom 10, fyi), and the Panthers' offense is only fair to middlin'. The next 2 weeks feature a couple of the top 5 offenses (the Saints at #2 and the Falcons at #3), which should prove to be sterner tests than Detroit has faced so far. Still, Detroit's defense is part of the reason those offenses are so bad. Even when adjusting for strength of opponent, Detroit's D is still #1.

How did they get so good? Looking at this season in comparison with the previous 10, the differences are pretty stark:
 
 

There's definitely been some trending up since they were the bottom defense for 3 years in a row, but the last 2 years they were only average. What happened? Well, in 2009 the Lions drafted DeAndre Levy in the 3rd round, in 2010 they picked Suh (and Willie Young although he's getting it done for the Bears now), in 2011 they picked Nick Fairley (and no one else, apparently), in 2012 they got Tahir Whitehead, and in 2013 they got Ansah & Slay.

Whitehead has stepped up capably for the injured Tulloch (2 picks yesterday!). Suh, Ansah, FA pickup George Johnson and Nick Fairley are all playing solidly on the defensive line. Slay has come out of nowhere as a solid cover corner, and then there's Levy...


Levy is currently 4th in tackles, he's got half a sack, a crazy INT, and a tackle for a safety. He's putting together a solid Pro Bowl season after getting ripped off last year (tied for 2nd in the league in INTs as a linebacker and he doesn't get in???). It's only 6 games into the season, but right now Levy is in the Defensive POY conversation and the Lions have the top defense. We've come a long way.

As surprisingly good as the defense has been, the offense has been equally surprisingly bad. The kicking game bears part of the blame, adding 2 more misses yesterday and 1 make. Following this season as closely as I have, I've become a connoisseur of botched FG attempts and I can say that yesterday's 2 misses were quality misses (I'm at least 75% serious when I say that). Seriously, while the two missed FGs didn't make me happy, I think Prater was a little rusty and will be better down the road.

The offense has lacked that downfield element since Calvin Johnson sprained his ankle in week 2 or 3. The running game has gotten gradually better the past 2 weeks, despite missing Reggie Bush. Matt Stafford wasn't particularly effective, but he took care of the ball this week.

The main problem has been the pass blocking, which was a strength last year. The Lions have allowed the 3rd most sacks in the NFL, and Stafford has little time to get set before he has to get rid of the ball or move out of the pocket. The main culprit yesterday was Dominic Raiola, who twice allowed a rusher to blow right up the middle. One play he got beat, the other he completely missed his assignment. He may have had a hand in one of the other sacks, but I can't remember. The point is, Raiola seems to be falling off rather steeply. He's at the point of retirement and may have stayed on a year too long. Travis Swanson is the rookie waiting in the wings, but I don't expect him to step in for Raiola unless the vet gets injured.

I do know this - the offense will have to step up to keep up with New Orleans. That Saints defense is pretty bad, but the Lions just don't have an offensive playmaker without CJ in the lineup.

***

Not much to say about the Wings yet. They won their first game, getting the game winner on the power play (an area of weakness last season). Then they lost game #2 against the Ducks 3-2. The Ducks' first goal was Howard's fault when he misplayed the puck behind his own net. The game winner was thanks to the refs swallowing their whistles when Getzlaf hooked Kronwall to steal the puck in Detroit's end. Stuff happens, what are you gonna do?

Nyquist is the goals leader with 2 thru 2 games (on pace for 80!) and Franzen is the points leader with 3 assists. Datsyuk is still out with a shoulder.

***

The Pistons are in the preseason, so I'll keep this short as well. Drummond looks good, shooting 9 for 9 in his last game and hitting shots as far out as 12 feet (now if he can just get that to translate to the free throw line). KCP continued his hot streak from the end of last year by scoring 18, then 20, then 12 in the last game before going down with a knee injury of some type. Hope it isn't bad.

They don't make revisionist history like they used to

I had a dental appointment Wednesday afternoon, so I was driving around when the Rich Rod bomb hit Detroit sports radio. An article posted on ESPN featured the former Michigan HC, during which he reflected on his time in the maize and blue.

(On a personal side note, that was the least agonizing dental check up I've had in a while. The dentist commented on my pristine teeth, asking if I'd significantly changed my diet or something. The first time I'd gone to see him I had several cavities. At that point I had gone about 4 years in between check ups, so I thought that might be the reason. But then I got to thinking, and the most significant change in my life between then & now was when I got married. My marriage has had a ripple effect on every aspect of my life, changing it for the better in all sorts of ways. I don't always think of them as they occur, but it's nice to see these little reminders. Anyway, back to guy-stuff...)

Rodriguez basically said that he never got a chance to succeed at Michigan because there were people behind the scenes sabotaging him. This statement is bolstered by the fact that he started successful programs at West Virginia and now at Arizona, schools not traditionally known as football powers. So, is there something there? Was Rich Rod merely a victim of some old guard backlash?

Well, kinda. Maybe. A little. Ok, probably more than a little.

The so-called "bomb" hit during 97.1 The Ticket's Valenti & Foster show. Mike Valenti bleeds for no team like he bleeds for the Spartans, and he relishes the opportunity to educate Michigan fans on how far their (our) program has fallen, from time to time. Rich Rod was a bad fit (even Valenti doesn't try to deny that), there were signs that Rich Rod's tenure was being undermined (the book Three and Out describes this whole saga in better detail):
  • Rich Rod wanted his DC from West Virginia, Jeff Casteel, to come with him to Ann Arbor, only Michigan refused to pony up the $600k it was going to take to get Casteel. Since Casteel followed Rich Rod to Arizona (and is coaching a pretty good defense there) and Brady Hoke's DC is making $750k, the hand of a saboteur may be at work here (btw, The Hand of A Saboteur sounds like the name of a 1930's spy movie)
  • There was significant player exodus following Rodriguez's hire, which indicates a lack of support within the program. Reportedly Lloyd Carr advised QB Ryan Mallett to transfer to another school, and also had a meeting with the players stating he would sign their transfer papers if they wanted out. More on Rich Rod's side of this later, but the main thing is that when Brady Hoke needed his incumbent QB to stay, Denard Robinson stuck with the maize & blue because everyone was pulling for Hoke
  • The practice violations thing... I didn't like Rich Rod at the time and even I thought it was ridiculous. When a player narcs on a coach about violations, it's usually a personal vendetta between the player and that coach. When multiple players do it, there's got to be someone organizing them. Word was, it was Lloyd Carr. Again, contrast with all the former players getting behind Hoke, despite The Morris Incident and his crappy coaching
I need to read this book Three and Out but based on this excerpt, Michigan is reaping what is sowed. Now Rodriguez isn't entirely faultless here, a topic I covered a week ago but I'll rehash here with the benefit of a little more knowledge (oh what a fool I was, if I only knew then what I know now, blah blah blah):
  • Rodriguez didn't really try very hard to keep players from the previous regime. Yeah, Lloyd was undermining him from the start, but he didn't exactly hold up a boom box playing Peter Gabriel outside their dorms, pleading them to stay... It was more of a "sorry you're going, don't let the door hit you on the way out"
  • A lot of the players who transferred from Michigan gave reasons like "it's not the same here as it used to be" and "Michigan lost its family culture", things like that. Apparently Rodriguez's coaching staff could teach sailors a few phrases
  • He was woefully ignorant of the history, traditions, etc. of Michigan football, which was probably the biggest sin in the eyes of the average fan. You know, things like this happened...
  • Not exactly a great recruiter, despite his ratings, and ostracized the in-state HS coaches
All told, Rodriguez probably walked in the door in Ann Arbor with a knife in his back. It still doesn't mean he was the right fit. Revisionists will take his record at WZ and AZ, compare with UM & say "it's not your fault", but that isn't entirely the case.

Suppose that Rodriguez came into Michigan with the rails greased. He gets his ideal DC, Carr tells Mallett to stick it out instead of telling him to look for greener pastures... Rodriguez still did everything wrong his first year. He tried to implement a drastically different offense AND defense without the personnel to do so, he alienated the fan base by not embracing the Tradition of Michigan (and it is possible to radically change things without ignoring tradition, Rich Rod just never figured out how to do that), and he failed to continue Michigan's good relationships with local HS coaches. He always seemed to have good recruiting classes, but the best in-state recruits went elsewhere.

If we were comparing strictly coaching acumen, Rich Rod laps Hokemania in the first mile. It's hard to say what might have happened had the old guard at Michigan welcomed Rodriguez with open arms, they way they did with Hoke. His first year would've been better, certainly. The defense wouldn't have been the worst in football with Casteel running the show. But Rodriguez still would have been wrong. Not because he wasn't a "Michigan man", but simply because he's not a "big program" coach.

The blog Good Bull Hunting speculates that Rich Rod would've failed at Alabama as well, had he accepted that job in 2006 instead of taking the Michigan job in 2007 (I know you're all salivating at the idea of a Nick Saban tenure at Michigan... sorry). Players still would have left, even if the old guard was still on Rich Rod's side. He was too different too soon. He was kind of a slime ball. He and his coaching staff swore a ton, even for football coaches. There are two different schools of thought football coaches take with language - 1) the drill sargeant from Full Metal Jacket who is abusive and curses a blue streak, and 2) the disciplinarian who makes you do down-ups for every eff bomb (my middle school coaches largely fell into the 1st category while my HS coaches were mainly in the 2nd). Carr didn't swear too much, Rodriguez did/does (doesn't seem like a big difference but it speaks to a whole mindset). And that wasn't the only difference. I got the feeling that even if Rodriguez had the full support of Carr & Co, there would have still been a high attrition rate. Look at the number of Rich Rod's own recruits that jumped ship... 8 of his 4-star recruits transferred out of the program (counting Forcier, who was really kicked off the team by Rodriguez first).

So, wistfully look at Rich Rod at Arizona, but remember that he's at least 50% responsible for his own demise at Michigan. This doesn't absolve the Establishment at Michigan from the current state of affairs. The hiring of Brady Hoke was a farce, and David Brandon should bear a large portion of the blame for that. If Michigan has a prayer at nabbing a top coaching candidate this winter, Brandon has to be out the door and the hiring process has be much better. The people calling the shots at Michigan have to hold themselves to their own standards and stop with the political maneuvering. The program is going down the toilet and they're fighting over who gets to be king of the midden heap.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Closing It Out

This serves me right. As soon as I talk up Stafford, he turns in a Bad Stafford performance (yep, that's him at #22 in QBR for the week). Bad Stafford, for the uninitiated, takes bad sacks, throws hard and inaccurate passes, fumbles from time to time, and gets intercepted because he throws hard and inaccurate passes. Calvin Johnson can boost a Bad Stafford performance into the Mediocre Stafford range, but unfortunately CJ had a bad wheel and was ineffective all day. He probably shouldn't have dressed, to tell the truth.

With a Bad Stafford suiting up, basically no CJ (and no Joique, and later no Reggie Bush), the offense was BAD. Buffalo's defense is actually pretty good, but Detroit's so-called "high-powered offense" should have been able to muster more that 1 touchdown. Seriously, the offense was shut out after the 1st quarter. Setting aside the kicking issue for one second, that is HUGELY problematic. Here is a summary of the Lions' drives from the 2nd quarter onward:

I'd like to point out that the Lions had 2 drives that started in Buffalo territory. The first was a 3 & out, the 2nd was Stafford's interception. The kicking failures overshadowed the failure of the offense to get into the red zone, excepting the one TD drive. No drive lasted longer than 57 yards.

The Lions as a whole played good enough to win (barely), but for the kicking game. 9 points were taken off the board by missing 3 long-ish FGs. The average conversion rate on FGs that long is about 80%. What happened is like Chauncey Billups getting fouled on a 3-pt attempt at the buzzer and then missing all 3 free throws. About halfway down in this Bill Barnwell piece, he breaks down how unlikely (and unlucky) Detroit has been. If Lions kickers had hit all their FGs, they would likely be undefeated right now.

Suggestions have been made on who the kicker du jour should be, since the new guy is clearly out the door. My recommendation for the next kicker tryout is to have guys kick against a rush. Line up the FG unit like you would in a game, pump in crowd noise, and have 11 guys try to block the kick. That should simulate the gametime pressure enough to weed out the weak-kneed kickers.

***

The Tigers got swept in the first round of the MLB playoffs, exhibiting similar weaknesses as the Lions had on Sunday. A dearth of offense, and catastrophic failure from one position group. Kicking in the NFL is a lot like late-inning relief pitching in baseball. It's a specialized position, you typically see the kicker/reliever in action for a small portion of the game, but their contributions are often critical to winning the game.

In game 1 & 2 the Tigers' bullpen blew up in the 8th inning. Both times. Then on Sunday, the offense left their good bats at home. Oh, and they pitched to Nelson Cruz.

Cruz killed them in 2011, and he followed up with equally impressive numbers this post-season. With Texas he hit .364 with 6 HR and 13 RBI in 6 games, accounting for 14 of Texas' runs (about 36% of the offense). In this series he accounted for exactly 1/3 of Baltimore's scoring, including both runs in the 2-1 clincher on Sunday. For his career he's hit .297 in the playoffs with 16 Hr in 37 games. That prorates to 70 HR over a season which is INSANE, given the fact that the competition is so much better. Here's an idea: WALK HIM.

Really the story of this post-season was the bullpen wetting the bed. In the game 1 debacle, Cabrera had just brought the Tigers to within a run of tying the game at the top of the 8th. Unfortunately Final score: 12-3, Baltimore. Then in game 2, Detroit carried a 6-3 lead into the 8th. It didn't stick. Some of this had to do with Ausmus's insistence on sticking with Joba Chamberlain as his 8th inning guy, despite him carrying in a 5.82 ERA from his last 24 appearances of the regular season (ERA for the Division Series? 108.00). Still, the bullpen as a whole (depite Joe Nathan, oddly enough) killed this Tigers team.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Andre Drummond is pretty sweet. How did we get him again?

 

I was reading an article about young NBA players getting ready to exit their initial rookie deals, and the name Thomas Robinson came up. So did Austin Rivers. That got me thinking, the 2012 NBA draft REALLY worked out well for the Pistons. Let's take a look.

Going into the draft, it was generally accepted that Detroit needed an athletic big who could protect the rim. The Pistons were picking 9th, right in their usual range. In 2010 the got Greg Monroe with the 7th overall pick, in 2011 they picked Brandon Knight with the 8th pick, then in 2013 they drafted Kentavious Caldwell-Pope 8th, and this summer they landed in the 9th spot again, costing Detroit the pick. Anthony Davis was the presumptive #1 in this draft, and the player who ticked off everything on the Pistons' wishlist. He blocked a crazy amount of shots, had a decent offensive game, and led Kentucky to an NCAA Championship. Detroit failed to win the lottery, so he was out.

General concensus was that the Pistons were either taking John Henson, a poor man's Anthony Davis with less upside, or Meyers Leonard, an athletic 7-footer who was more offense and less defense. We already had a less athletic, more skilled version of Leonard in Greg Monroe, so I was busy talking myself into John Henson when word broke that the Pistons might end up with Andre Drummond. Drummond had been projected to go as high as #2 overall, but questions about his motor and under-performing expectations in his freshman season led to a drop in his draft stock. Still, a number of dominoes would have to fall for him to still be available for the Pistons at 9th. Here's how it happened:
  1. New Orleans takes Anthony Davis. No shocker there. Davis had a pretty good rookie season (out-shone by the revelation of Damian Lilliard, who we'll get to in a moment) and followed that up with a stellar sophomore season. Then this summer he was one of the USA's best players in the FIBA World Cup of Basketball. I'd say he's working out.
  2. Charlotte takes Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. This was domino #1. Kansas PF Thomas Robinson was projected to go 2nd by a lot of people. The Bobcats needed a big, but they also needed a wing player. They decided to draft Scottie Pippen without a jump shot. This hasn't improved, as MKG is an absolute offensive disaster when he strays further than 3 ft away from the hoop.
  3. Washington takes Bradley Beal. The Wizards had acquired Nene in a trade with Denver the previous season and paired him with Emeka Okafor, who they had picked up in a trade 8 days before the draft. They weren't looking to add another big. Beal was a good prospect, and followed an injury-riddled rookie season with a solid 2nd year.
  4. Cleveland takes Dion Waiters. This was the first "reach". Cleveland had needs at the wing spot as well as at center, and Waiters was merely an average-shooting shooting guard. Harrison Barnes was on the board, who I liked, as were Thomas Robinson and of course Drummond. Waiters has turned from an average shooting college player to an average shooting pro. He hasn't lit it up like you might hope a #4 overall pick would, but he's been ok. He's kind of been a pain in the ass though.
  5. Sacramento takes Thomas Robinson. The word was if Robinson was gone, Sacramento was taking Drummond. Charlotte and Cleveland both passed on Robinson for wing players, so the door was open for Sacramento. Robinson is really the first "bust" in this draft, getting traded twice and averaging less than 5 ppg and less than 5 rpg over his first 2 seasons.
  6. Portland takes Damian Lillard. A risky pick at the time, but one with a high upside. Lillard had absolutely lit it up his senior year at Weber State and was considered the top PG in the draft. On the other hand, there were concerns about his level of competition and that he might be more of a combo guard. The verdict? Portland got a steal. Lillard won the ROY, and then re-upped by improving in his 2nd year and did pretty well in the playoffs.
  7. Golden State takes Harrison Barnes. Barnes was the guy I wanted if Drummond wasn't available. A brand new SF wasn't high on Joe D's wish list because hey, we still got Tayshaun. I was of a different opinion. Barnes was one of these guys who was supposed to be a stud, only it never happened. He was a good college player, but never the great player he was supposed to be. That's kind of been the case in the NBA as well. He plays good defense, but his offense is kind of... meh.
  8. Toronto takes Terrence Ross. They had taken centers Ed Davis and Jonas Valanciunas in successive drafts, so the Raptors definitely weren't going big here. Still, Terrence Ross was a BIG reach. Ross was another average-shooting shooting guard, and his collegiate level of competition was much lower than Waiters'. He's turned into a 3-pt gunner, averaging 10 ppg by mainly spotting up in the corner.
  9. Detroit takes Andre Drummond.
    This was as excited as I've been about a Piston draft pick since... ok, it's been a while. Very few times have I felt like Dumars made the right pick. Tayshaun, Monroe, and Drummond. The kid's rookie season was extremely frustrating, because coach Lawrence Frank insisted on starting Jason Maxiell over Drummond for most of the season, and he limited Drummond's minutes to less than 20 per game during the first half of the season. He led a suprisingly strong Pistons' bench unit during his rookie year and finished strong, looking good for year 2. Drummond delivered. He averaged a 13 & 13 with some blocks & steals, and in April unleashed this:
    That's right, a 26 & 26 game he dropped on Chicago paired with 3 steals, a 23 & 18 game on Brooklyn, a 22 & 13 game on OKC, a 19 & 20 game on Boston and a 19 & 17 game on Atlanta. That is a crazy stretch of basketball. If the Pistons had been at all relevant at the time, this would have gotten more ink.

    Notable Duds: Thomas Robinson, obviously, as already explained. The guy taken with the pick after Drummond was Austin Rivers, who had maybe the worst rookie season in history. The strangest case, however, was Houston's #16 pick Royce White. Due to some anxiety/OCD issues, White had some weird contract stipulations and never played his rookie year. He got traded, then released. The next year he logged a TOTAL of 9 minutes over 3 games with Sacramento, generating zero significant stats and then was released again.
Out of the 2012 draft, Davis, Drummond and Lillard all seemed posed to become super stars. Beal and Waiters might make it as lesser stars as well, and there have been a couple others from that draft that look like players (Terrence Jones, Jared Sullinger, Mo Harkless, etc). This was a deep draft.
 
After whiffing with Brandon Knight the year before (when Kemba Walker, Kawhi Leonard, and the Manimal were all available), Austin Daye in 2009 (Ty Lawson), and virtually every other 1st rounder that came after Tayshaun Prince (going by Win Shares, only two 1st-rounders from the 2002 draft had better careers than Tay), getting Drummond was awesome. It was the perfect combination of being lucky, being right, and having a lot of other people be wrong. In a really deep draft, Detroit got the 2nd best player. The amazing thing is, as good as he's been, he's getting better.