Monday, May 4, 2015

How did the Lions draft?

The NFL Draft is over, and I have to say, it was kind of boring. There were a couple of points of interest (would the 2nd pick get traded, when would player X with character concerns get picked, etc.), but most teams made the right pick most of the time. The Lions more or less followed suit, although I'll get into that in a minute.

 Every website has some kind of draft analysis, draft winners/losers, best steal of the draft/reach of the draft, etc. I'm kinda doing that (so mark me down 1 for lack of originality), but I'll also include suggestions for what the Lions could've done differently for the higher picks.

Round 1, pick #28 - RG Laken Tomlinson, Duke


The Lions had the 23rd pick but traded down with Denver and took Tomlinson. This isn't a terrible pick, but it's not a particularly good one either. I'm almost always a fan of trading down, and the Lions got a pretty good haul for only moving back 5 picks (they gave up the 23rd pick for Denver's #28, 5th round pick, a 2016 5th rounder, and RG Manny Ramirez). The trade added picks and temporarily filled a need at guard (Ramirez can still play, but he's only got a year or 2 left in the tank), but it cost them a change to draft a legit LT in DJ Humphries.

The trade also lessened the need to draft a guard, at least from this high in the draft. Guard isn't a premium position and Laken Tomlinson, despite being the top-ranked guard in the draft, wasn't considered a 1st round talent. He probably wouldn't have been available when the Lions stepped to the podium in round 2, but a comparably talented guard would have been there. The guy I really wanted them to take in round 1 was Malcolm Brown, the DT from Texas who slipped all the way to the Patriots at 32nd overall. Tomlinson should be serviceable, but I think Mayhew could've done better with his 1st round pick. Grade: B-

Round 2, pick number 54 - RB Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska


I have no problem with this pick. Running back was a position of need, I believe Abdullah was the best available, and I was a little surprised to see him fall this far in the draft. He's a bit small and has a fumbling problem due to his small hands, but I think he's still a better back than the other guys left in this draft. His 40 time wasn't all-world (4.60 at the combine, 4.54 at his Pro Day), but he was off the charts with his shuttle times, vertical and broad jumps. This would indicate a supremely athletic RB, fast between the tackles and good at changing direction. The tape holds that theory up, so forget about that 40 time.

My love of this pick aside, had the Lions wanted to go a different direction, CBs Quinten Rollins and Senquez Golson were both available with the 54th pick. Instead, they address this need in round 3. Grade: A

Round 3, pick 80 - CB Alex Carter, Stanford


I like the player, I don't like the trading up. Still, it only cost the Lions a 5th round pick to move up 8 spots, so that's not too bad. He doesn't possess elite speed but he's not exactly slow either, and his height, weight, and 41" vertical make up for the lack of top-end speed. He didn't get a lot of picks over his career at Stanford, although he managed quite a few knockdowns.

The Lions had equivalent needs at DT and OT, and top talents like DTs Carl Davis, Xavier Cooper,and OT TJ Clemmings were all available. There was some crazy talent that dropped, I would've rather seen the Lions take advantage of that rather than sacrifice picks to move up the board. Grade: B

Day 3:
Round 4, pick 113 - DT Gabe Wright, Auburn
The Lions finally addressed the DT position, but they traded back into the 4th round to do it. I hate this pick.  Wright's production at Auburn leaves much to be desired, unlike OSU's Michael Bennett (taken in round 6, no less!). Trading up cost the Lions their 2016 3rd round pick. Not a good value swap. Grade: C-
Round 5, pick 168 - FB Michael Burton, Rutgers
Meh. The Lions' running game uses the fullback position and they let Jed Collins walk, so FB was a need. If Burton can adequately fill in for Collins, call this one a win. Grade: B
Round 6, pick 200 - CB Quandre Diggs, Texas
A solid pick, for a 6th-rounder. He's small, so he projects as a slot corner, but he's not particularly quick. He'll need to work on technique to win a job. Grade: B
Round 7, pick 240 - OT Corey Robinson, South Carolina
Robinson is a big dude, but had weight and motor issues. I think he gets cut. I'd rather the Lions had taken a flyer on La'el Collins. Collins was a 1st-round prospect, until word broke that the police wanted to ask him some questions about his ex-GF's murder. He's not a suspect, so why not spend a 7th rounder on him? Everything he's done - flying down to Baton Rouge to answer questions, cooperating fully with police - are the actions of an innocent man. I hope the Lions pick him up as an UFA. Grade: C-

OVERALL DRAFT GRADE: B-
The Laken Tomlinson pick was iffy, I hated trading back into the 4th round, and I thought the Lions passed up a lot of talent in this draft (namely Malcolm Brown, Michael Bennett, Collins). Still, Mayhew definitely addressed team needs, although he waited a bit long for my taste to get to DT. He got some good players in Abdullah and Alex Carter, and some solid starting-level guys in Tomlinson and Burton. Whether or not these guys pan out, as always, remains to be seen.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Loving/Dreading the Draft

Happy Draft Day! For many fans it's the pinnacle of the NFL season. For Lions fans, it's a weird brew of intense hope and intense dread. We're like a dog that's been taken through some sick version of Pavlov's experiment, so now we're conditioned to expect the worst every time the bell rings.

Dave Birkett evaluated Mayhew's past drafts (I thought he was overly kind in his assessments) and also broke down the Lions' needs by position, which being roughly identical to my own list, I happen to agree with him. He goes into WAY more depth, including possible picks at each position, but here's the jist:
  1. Offensive Line is the biggest need, at almost any position on the line
  2. Defensive Line, and again, at any position
  3. Defensive Back, CB slightly ahead of S
  4. Running Back
  5. Wide Receiver
After that come QB and special teams, which really aren't needs. That should be enough to paint a picture of my expectations as a fan. The Lions have to take the best lineman available with the 23rd pick. If they pull an Ebron (referring to last year, when they drafted a TE with the #10 pick) and totally ignore need (and even BPA - best player available) for getting a guy they just happen to like... Mayhew needs to be fired. And not in the usual, "Turn in your ID and your parking pass, please" kind of way, but in a way more in keeping with the traditional way of deposing a leader who persists in the same mistakes and refuses to see reality, despite the clamour of a weeping populace. Ok, maybe that's a bit extreme, but Mayhew's been working up to this.

As soon as the last college game has been played, the March of the Mock drafts begins. ESPN's Todd McShay has submitted no less than 5, and Mel Kiper is on #4.0 (both have the Lions taking OT La'el Collins). On the other side of things, NFL.com's Mike Mayock only does one mock draft a year and he's got a knack for knowing what's going to happen. Here's his mock, published yesterday. He's got the Lions starting a run on OTs, taking Andrus Peat from Stanford.


He could play RT or LT, probably start out at RT and move over as he gets his legs. If the draft played out that way, I wouldn't be mad. I also like Cameron Erving, who can basically play everywhere on the offensive line, and DT Malcolm Brown. My fear is that Martin Mayhew pulls a Millen (which he's done before, with Jahvid Best) and trades up for Todd Gurley.

Last year the Lions took Eric Ebron and I put my head down on the bar in exasperation (I was watching from TAP at MGM). It was a bad pick, obviously bad, and it paid nearly zero dividends in 2014. We can talk all day about who Mayhew should've taken (most of the next group of players taken - Odell Beckham Jr, Aaron Donald, Taylor Lewan, CJ Mosley, etc. - look like perennial Pro Bowlers in the making), but the fact is once again Mayhew chose poorly. So, like every other Lions fan, I'll be paying attention to the draft with a ready supply of alcohol nearby in case/when this goes horribly wrong.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Lions stink at drafting, Pistons are once again drafting from the 8th spot

The Lions are TERRIBLE drafters. Matt Millen was one of the worst drafting GMs in football history, which I've already covered at length, but it's worth mentioning how bad Martin Mayhew has been. Going back to his 1st draft in 2009, 3 players are left from that draft (if you really want to count Pettigrew), all of 2010 is gone, and 2011 is gone. In actually evaluating his draft choices, he gets a useful player out of about a third or a quarter of his picks. Looking at the later picks, he might get one useful player out of every 10 guys.

As bad as Mayhew has been at drafting, he's been ok at free agency and trades. This year has been the exception, although I do like the Haloti Ngata trade. Leaving are Suh, Fairley, Sammy Hill, Dom Raiola, Rob Sims, and now last season's find George Johnson. Replacing them are Ngata, Tyrun Walker, who knows, Travis Swanson, who knows, and who knows. Mayhew already needed to have a good draft, now with Suh et al gone, he needs to knock this one out of the park.

With the draft coming up in 2 weeks, let's review: Prior to the free agency shakeup, I thought RB was a possibility for the Lions in round 1. They could still go with Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon, but I happen to agree with Mel Kiper Jr here - the Lions will draft the top lineman available with the 23rd pick, offense or defense, unless there was tremendous value at another position. The second round could go very much the same, although RB & CB become likely options there as well. Through rounds 1-3, the Lions should end up with 2 lineman and another player, either RB, CB, or WR/KR. I could see DE joining that group also.

I don't think Mayhew's job is necessarily on the line here, but it should be. Lewand too. They've done a terrible job of building through the draft and managing the cap (although they were hamstrung a bit by the old CBA). They failed to keep Suh, which is enough to put them on the hot seat in and of itself. Mayhew needs to kill this draft, and he really needs his 2014 draft to vindicate itself. Outside of Travis Swanson, it looks pretty busted.

***

The Pistons' season is over, once again failing to either make the playoffs or to tank for a top 5 pick. Once again, they're most likely drafting 8th (pending the lottery results). Last year the guy I wanted Detroit to pick was Julius Randle. He of course went 7th to the Lakers, and the Pistons lost their semi-protected pick when Cleveland leap-frogged them, pushing Detroit's pick out of the top 8 and sending it to Charlotte (result of Dumars' less-than-inspired Ben Gordon trade). In 2013, I wanted McLemore (we got KCP). In 2012 I wanted Drummond, which actually worked out for once (I was also kind of rooting for Harrison Barnes to fall to us, but that was because I didn't think Drummond would last that long). In 2011 I wanted us to trade back and get Kenneth Faried. In 2010 I was hoping DeMarcus Cousins would slip to the Pistons at 7, although Monroe's turned out ok. In 2009 I wanted Detroit to draft Ty Lawson at 15th, instead they passed him up for Austin Daye.

You get the idea. Half the time, the ideal guy gets taken 1 or 2 picks ahead of the Pistons or Dumars decided to pass up the better player for a bust. I'd like to think that Stan is going to change this trend, but the 9-6 run the team went on at the end of the season suggests he's not open to the concept of tanking (even 3 more losses would've put Detroit in a tie for the 6th pick - these things kill me). Stan Van Gundy doesn't need to kill this draft like Mayhew does, but he does need to get a quality player.

1. Knock it out of the Park

Justise Winslow, SF - Duke
6'6", 222 lbs
College Per Game Stats: 12.6 pts, 6.5 rebs, 2.1 ast, 1.3 stl, 0.9 blk
Shooting %: .486 FG%, .418 3P%, .641 FT%


The Pistons would need no small amount of luck to land Winslow, either getting a top 3 pick via the lottery or something weird to happen on draft day, because Chad Ford has him ranked 6th and I fully expect Winslow to be drafted higher than that. He's an absolute beast on offense and defense, and he can shoot the 3 or attack the rim. The only real knock on him is Winslow's a touch short for an NBA SF, but I think his ferocity more than makes up for the lack of another inch or 2. It's going to kill me when the Nuggets take him 1 pick ahead of the Pistons.

2. Solid Backup Plan

Mario Hezonja, SF - Barcelona
6'7"(ish), 200 lbs
Euro Per Game Stats: 6.2 pts, 2.0 rebs, 1.2 ast, 0.6 stl, 0.1 blk
Shooting %: .470 FG%, .403 3P%, .767 FT%


Some teams rank Hezonja ahead of Winslow. Hezonja got burn in Spain's Liga ACB, which is much tougher competition than you'd see in college or the D League. He did come off the bench, but had he played in college he might've averaged 18+ ppg. He possesses more prototypical size for an NBA SF (he might actually be 6'8") and has a really nice shot, which Detroit is always needs. On the downside, his defense isn't great and he might be a pain in the ass.

3. The Best of the Rest

Stanley Johnson, SF - Arizona
6'7", 237 lbs
College Per Game Stats: 13.8 pts, 6.5 rebs, 1.7 ast, 1.5 stl, 0.4 blk
Shooting %: .446 FG%, .371 3P%, .742 FT%


Stanley Johnson is like Justise Winslow-lite. He does similar things, but he doesn't do them as well. I've only watched him play in 2 games, both times he sort of faded into the background. For a guy with a rep as a game changer, he looked more like a 3 & D type to me.

Kevon Looney, PF - UCLA
6'10", 210 lbs
College Per Game Stats: 11.6 pts, 9.2 rebs, 1.4 ast, 1.3 stl, 0.9 blk
Shooting %: .470 FG%, .415 3P%, .626FT%


Looney might be the perfect stretch 4 to pair with Drummond. Maybe. There's a lot of good, raw material to work with, but it's unclear what he will become. He rebounds, defends and shoots the 3 well, but he will most likely never be a feature scorer. He didn't really shoot the 3 a TON either, so we don't have a big enough sample size to definitively say that he's a legit shooter. He's not terribly athletic and he needs to add about 20 lbs of muscle, but most of these weaknesses (like lack of a post game) are more like strengths when you pair him with Drummond.

Kelly Oubre, SF - Kansas
6'7", 204 lbs
College Per Game Stats: 9.3 pts, 5.0 rebs, 1.5 ast, 1.1 stl, 0.4 blk
Shooting %: .444 FG%, .358 3P%, .718 FT%


Oubre came in with a lot of hype and didn't deliver. Not really. Many think he's got more upside than the other SFs in this draft - Winslow, Hezonja, and Johnson - but he has much more to work on. He looks pretty average for a supposedly deadly outside shooter, and that might be attributable to his shot selection. His defensive effort comes and goes, but he's an athlete and might end up as the best of this group.

The Pistons have needed a SF since Tayshaun lost his legs in 2008, but for whatever reason they have failed to address this. This looks like a pretty good draft for SFs (of course you never REALLY know until you know, right?), so odds are the reign of mediocrity is nearing an end. They could go PF here and get Looney or even PG if one of the top guys falls, but most likely Stan Van Gundy drafts a 3 here.

The Pistons have had terrible lottery luck, but at 2.8% it's not like they're expected to get a top pick (3.3% for the #2 pick, 3.9% for #3). I'd love to see them get the #3 pick and walk away with Winslow, but most likely they stay at #8 and take Hezonja or Stanley Johnson. Check out ESPN's Mock Lottery Draft to see how different scenarios might play out. I'll check back in on the draft after the lottery & combine with an update.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Detroit Tigers: the "let's not totally overreact" edition

The Tigers started their 2015 campaign with a STRONG 6-0 record for the first 2 series. The top 4 players ranked in batting average in the AL are all Tigers, and the team as a whole is leading all of baseball in runs and OBP. The team's slash stats (avg./on- base%/slugging%) is .355/.433/.550, and the closest comparison to that would be Victor Martinez's line from last year - .335/.409/.565. Basically the whole team is playing like Victor Martinez did last year, only with slightly less pop and more getting on base. Since Victor finished 2nd in the AL MVP voting in 2014, its freaking amazing that a whole team could basically put up those numbers.

On top of that, the Tigers are 2nd in team ERA for all of baseball. The team has allowed 12 earned runs (16 unearned) through 6 games, scoring 47 themselves. In other words, the average score of a Tigers game is 7.8 Detroit, 2.7 Other Guys. On top of THAT, the Tigers are currently 2nd in Defensive Runs Saved (basically a stat that calculates how many runs your defense saved over or under an average defense). This is a HUGE improvement over last year, when the Tigers ranked 3rd from the bottom.

Obviously - OBVIOUSLY - not all of this is sustainable. Iglesias and Cabrera aren't going to finish the year with a .500+ batting average, the Tigers aren't going to score over 1,200 runs on the season (the 1999 Indians are the only team since 1950 to exceed 1,000 runs scored), and the Tigers aren't going to finish the season 162-0 (since beginning this post the Tigers lost to the Pirates, but I should add that they aren't going 161-1 either). So what can we draw from the Tigers' hot start and what should we be suspicious of?


Defense - Gose has looked pretty good in center, Cespedes has been brilliant in left field, and Torii Hunter was basically a stick in the mud with a glove on the end, so even JD Martinez's sub-par defense in RF is a big improvement. Castellanos is still a butcher at 3rd, but Iglesias covers a LOT of ground at SS. The defense is sustainable and might even improve as Castellanos logs more innings.


Offense - This is pretty obviously unsustainable. The offense could be really good, but they aren't going to bat .350 as a team. Iglesias and Gose will tail off eventually, JD Martinez's HR pace will eventually slow (he's currently on pace to hit 90+), and Cabrera's best season ever would be a downgrade from what he's done so far. On the flip side, expect more production from Cespedes and Victor than you've seen. I think the offense will be pretty good, but not '27 Yankees-good.


Pitching - This might be the least sustainable of the three. Verlander coming back might help (and it might not), but that bullpen is going to be a stumbling block if 1 or 2 of the younger guys (like Ian Krol or Angel Nesbitt) don't really break out. With Nathan & Rondon out already, there's been talk of the Tigers bolstering their 'pen with Rafael Soriano. This would be in keeping with their current strategy of bringing in over-priced, past-their-prime closers to fill the bullpen. The starters are passably good - Price is a legit stud, between the two of them Verlander & Sanchez should be a solid #2 & #3 (if they can stay healthy, which is a HUGE 'if'), Greene looks like a younger, cheaper Porcello, and Simon... Look, you don't need your 5th starter to pitch 250 innings, strike out 220 guys, or hold the opponent to 2 runs a game. I'm perfectly happy with a mediocre 5th starter, as long as the bullpen is good. Unfortunately, I'm not real excited about the bullpen.

Sparky Anderson always said you need to be at least 40 games into the season to properly evaluate a team (the blueprint for that being the '84 team that started 35-5). We're still 33 games away from reaching that, but what we've seen so far looks REALLY good. But the message is "let's not totally overreact". It's April, the regular season ends in October. Fortunes will be won and lost, empires will rise and fall, then rise again, hitting streaks will turn into slumps, then streaks and then slumps again... There's a lot of baseball to still be played. So, enjoy the team, but wait a minute before you get that Tigers 2015 World Champions tattoo (didn't work out too well for the Kentucky fan who did that).

Thursday, April 9, 2015

It's time to be worried about Verlander

2014 was not a good year for Justin Verlander. By most statistical measures, it was one of the 2 worst seasons he's ever had. He allowed more baserunners, runs, and struck out hitters at a lower rate than he has since 2008, which was probably his worst season. His WAR in 2014 was even lower than it was for that abysmal 2008 campaign. Verlander needed to make an authoritative step back towards the Cy Young-level dominance that we'd come to expect from him. Then he left early in his last spring start with "cramping" in his triceps. This was actually a triceps strain (cramping never really happens in the triceps), which caused him to miss his first regular season start. Now it looks like he's going to miss start #2 when it was announced that he would go on the DL and Kyle Lobstein was getting called up to take Verlander's spot in the rotation.


Verlander is 32. In the spring of 2013, the Tigers signed him to a deal that would pay him $28M/yr from 2015 through 2019, with a $22M option for 2020 if he wins the 2019 Cy Young Award (unlikely). That's a lot of money for a pitcher going into his early-to-mid-thirties. But Verlander is a superhuman who can throw 100 mph in the 9th inning, right? Actually, he hasn't done that in a while.

The last year Verlander was REALLY good was 2012. His fastball averaged 94.7 mph, topping out at 101.5 and bottoming out at 91.1 mph. In 2013, he dipped a bit. Average velocity was 94.0, max was 99.9 and min was 91.1. Then in 2014 his average fastball fell to 93.1 mph, with a max velocity of 98.0 and a minimum of 91.1. Ok, that's an incremental decrease in max and average velocity for the past 2 years. So what? Well, his fastball has also been increasingly hittable. In 2012, opposing hitters hit .238 against his fasball. In 2013 they hit .278, and in 2014 they hit .283. That means in addition to decreasing velocity, Verlander's fastball is probably losing some of its side-to-side motion as well. That's not good.

Verlander's off-speed pitches - a changeup, a curveball and a slider - haven't experienced the same decrease in velocity, but they HAVE experienced the same increase in hittable-ness. The changeup went from holding opposing hitters to a .244 batting average in 2012, to .270 in 2013 and .278 in 2014. His curve got VERY hittable, going from a lights-out .129 in 2012 to .192 in 2013 to .264 in 2014. All of this is to say that in each of the last 2 years, Verlander has been more hittable and throw a slower fastball than the year before (thanks to fangraphs for the stats).

The 2015 optimist would say, "Verlander was recovering from surgeries the last 2 years, so he wasn't at 100%. He'll be back this year." That is a possible explanation. Or, he could just be getting old and worn down, and his body might be breaking down a little bit. This triceps thing has me worried. My optimistic side will point to Nolan Ryan, who was an effective pitcher into his mid-40s. Like Verlander, Ryan was an innings eater who threw fire and often led the league in strikeouts (including 4 straight years from age 40 to 43). The worried part of me will counter, "how many other pitchers did what Ryan did?"

The facts are these: Verlander has dealt with injuries now in three straight springs. His numbers have steadily declined the last 2 seasons. He's on the wrong side of 30, and he's set to be one of the highest paid pitchers in baseball for the next 5 years. He could absolutely turn this around, but count me among the worried.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Opening Day & what to wear to your pickup game

I took a minor hiatus the past few weeks to go out east for a wedding, recover from the ensuing sickness I picked up while traveling, do fantasy baseball stuff, etc. Since then, most of March Madness happened, the Pistons finally stopped losing JUST in time to miss out on a top draft pick but not soon enough to get a playoff spot (with 5 games left they would need to win out and the 4 teams in front of them would need to lose out, so...), and the Red Wings decided to do the exact opposite and have nearly played themselves out of the playoffs... But none of that stuff matters. It's April, and baseball is here!


The last time I went downtown for Opening Day was 2008. Following the Tigers' first World Series appearance since 1984, expectations were HIGH. Dombrowski traded for Miguel Cabrera, Dontrelle Willis, Edgar Renteria, and Jacque Jones. Everyone thought they'd score 1,000 runs, win the World Series, and take a lighter to the record books (this very much didn't happen, in case you needed me to tell you that). If you've never been downtown for Opening Day, do it at least once. You can walk into one of 500 parking lots with a beer tent set up, or go to either the Fillmore or the State theater to watch the game projected on a big screen while drinking cheap beer and eating cheap nachos. It's a lot of fun.

Unlike the 2008 Opening Day, the Tigers opened 2015 with a win. David Price was lights out, new guy Yoenis Cespedes debuted with a double and a triple (and robbed Kurt Suzuki of a HR), and both JD Martinez and Alex Avila homered. There was a bit of controversy at the end - Price wasn't able to get the final out in the 9th, so Joe Nathan came on to get the save (how you can get a save with a 4 run lead and 2 outs in the 9th is beyond me). Torii Hunter, now back with the Twins (sorry Torii), pulled off on a hack at a ball out of the strikezone. It was close, but not that close. He checked his swing in time. But homeplate umpire Joe West called it a strike, game over.

West is not one of the most-loved umpires in baseball. He's very opinionated, which isn't a good characteristic for that profession, and his handling of in-game situations leaves MUCH to be desired. What West should have done was checked with the 1st base ump (who has a better view), or at least allowed Torii to appeal to 1st base, which is his right. One of my biggest pet peeves in baseball is the unaccountability of its umpires, but that's a-whole-nother post that I'm not going to get into right now.

Back to the game - things I liked:
  • Offensive production from players not named Miguel Cabrera or Victor Martinez. 9 of 10 hits and all 4 runs and RBI came from other players. 
  • Cespedes made his presence felt behind the plate, in the field, and on the base paths.
  • Good defense in general - Iglesias provides better hitting from the SS position than we saw last year, and a MUCH better glove, and the OF defense is greatly upgraded by moving JD to RF (his better position anyway, and where Torii was an absolute butcher last year) and replacing him in LF with Cespedes
  • Pitching was REALLY good.
There wasn't really anything I didn't like. I wish Price had been able to finish the game, but it allowed Nathan to get his feet wet. Pitching is going to be crucial to the Tigers' season. They are going to need Price to return to form (he's trended down the past 2 seasons), they need Anibal Sanchez to stay healthy for once, they need Verlander to be at least a #3 guy, and Alfredo Simon and Shane Greene need to at least hold serve. I expect a lot more than that from Greene, who had a REALLY nice rookie year with the Yankees last year.

The main concern is the bullpen. Nathan HAS to be better than last year, or else Ausmus has to be quicker to pull him for Soria. Nathan was the worst closer in baseball in 2014. After that, the 'pen is kind of a mess. I have no confidence in Joba Chamberlain, whose numbers dropped drastically after the All Star Break last year. Al Albuquerque was actually the Tigers' best relief pitcher last year, but he has no consistency. He'll be lights out for a couple of games, and then his slider won't be there and he's very hittable. If a couple of vets can return to form and one or two of the youngsters (Albuquerque, Ian Krol, Rondon, Angel Nesbitt) can step up, the bullpen won't be the weakness it's perceived to be. But don't expect great things.

***

I was recently doing some online window shopping for sports gear (my basketball shoes are starting to lose their edge) and came across some really cool stuff. I was watching a Q&A with DreAllDay, and when he was asked which basketball shoe is the most comfortable, my ears perked up. He mentioned the Jordan XX9 (which is prohibitively expensive to me), as well as his personal favorite, LeBron's Nike Zoom Soldier VIII. This sent me on a quest that ended up leading to some pretty cool gear.

1. It's all about the shoes.

 
Prices vary depending on the store. I already included the link to Foot Locker, which has the best price at $95, but these range as high as $140. If you can get a basketball shoe with a player's name on it for under $120, you're doing good. A lot of these are gaudy messes (Shaq & Kobe had a LARGE number of hideous kicks), but the ones that aren't are usually the best shoes on the court. I tended to get the more generic Nikes (by far the best brand for basketball shoes) to save $, but the extra $30 it takes to go the next step up is worth it.

2. It's also kind of about the socks.


Like the shoes sock technology has come a long way from the early days of basketball. Unlike shoes, it took a LONG time before anybody produced anything that was little more than a tube of cotton. The best sock out right now is either the Nike Hyper Elite or Under Armour's Undeniable Crew socks. Both feature extra padding in the toe & heel, arch support, seamless toes, and moisture-wicking fabric. The right sock can help reduce blisters and other foot or ankle injuries, so get something that works. Also, socks are more specialized now. The 2 socks I mentioned are best for basketball. They work for pretty much anything, but don't use a socker or baseball sock for basketball unless you double up with something else.

3. Shorts & underwear.
Shorts are probably the least important. Just get something that is light-weight and doesn't retain water. I wore a pair of shorts when training for the marathon last year that were made out of something that soaked up my sweat like a sponge. The last 5 or 6 miles I had to periodically wring them out as I was running. So, get yourself some dri-fit shorts or something with moisture-wicking fabric. Don't spend more than $25 on a pair.

As far as the underwear goes, you want something that will keep you dry (general rule for any article of workout gear, especially if you sweat like I do) and will minimize chafing. I like Under Armour's boxer briefs, like the HeatGear BoxerJock. This stuff changed my life, because I had constant problems with chafing as far back as high school.

4. Shirts - just get something comfortable.
Again, dri-fit is a good way to go. For basketball, I like the sleeves to be not too long, and it should be loose but not too loose. Again, both Nike and Under Armour have good shirts but Nike's are cheaper. Now, you can also get into compression gear, which helps you with endurance and muscle fatigue, or if you play a lot of ball and crash into people or hit the floor a lot, they have padded undershirts & shorts. I'm not Dwyane Wade, so I don't go that route, but I guy I play with does. If you want to look cool though...


...this is the sweetest shirt I have ever seen in my life. Had this existed back when I was in high school, there is a 100% chance that everyone on my football team would have one (we were the Waverly Warriors & our colors were black & gold). For some weird reason, it's really hard to find in a size other than small, but there are a couple of places where other sizes are available.


Under Armour also has some superhero-themed compression shirts in their Alter Ego series. The Superman one is my favorite, but the Venom one is pretty sweet too, and of course the Punisher one. I like the new Spiderman shirt too, but the earlier version looked like some Halloween USA stuff.

If you really want to look good, nothing looks better than doing some crunches, some cardio, and hitting the weights. It's cheaper than getting some $70 superhero compression shirt (which isn't going to look good anyway unless you're fit). I've just started training for running a half marathon this fall, and if I get my weight back down to where it was, I'll be running it in that Wu Tang shirt. As far as basketball goes, wear whatever feels comfortable, but get yourself some quality socks and the best shoes you can afford. It's not going to make you shoot straighter, but your body will handle the pounding a lot better.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

A Contrast in Maturity

The loss of Ndamukong Suh was a process with origins several seasons back, when the Lions first restructured his contract in 2012, but the nuts & bolts of the process began a year ago when the cat & mouse game of trying to get Suh to sign an extension began. Through the entire process, Suh did not distinguish himself well.


First of all, this is a business. It's also personal, but sometimes it's "just business". There is a weird mix of loyalty, brotherhood, and integrity, with cutthroat negotiating, using people as commodities, and lots and lots of lying. There were certain things Suh did & said during this process that, while not overtly slimey or reprehensible, were still less than what you would expect from a decent person.
  • Negotiations with Suh were tabled for months because he fired his agent and then dragged his feet in naming a new one - it was Mayhew said he believed Suh would sign with Roc Nation Sports in February, but actually signed with Creative Artists Agency in March and then officially signed with Roc Nation in September in conjunction with CAA.
  • He opted to not show up for the offseason workouts, working out at home in Portland instead. These are "optional" and his lack of participation was pooh-poohed by the coaches, but he was the only vet who didn't show up. Also, Suh had often expressed a desire to expand his leadership role, which he wasn't going to do by staying home.
  • During this period he tabled contract discussions multiple times.
  • Asked during the season what his plans were for free agency, Suh dodged the questions. One time he said, "My agent will decide where I play."
You get the idea. Nothing really terrible there, but at the same time he cops out of responsibility while using some underhanded moves to stall contract talks. I don't HATE him for that, or even really blame him, but it certainly made me like him less even before he signed with Miami.

In contrast, I give you Kris Bryant. Bryant killed it in the minors last year for the Cubs and is clearly ready to play with the big league club, but Chicago is planning on keeping him down there for the first 2 months of the season. This will give them an extra year of arbitration with him. I'm not really a fan of this move, but teams have been doing it for years and years. Anytime a top prospect is expected to make the jump to the bigs, I expect him to start the year in the minors and then get brought up.

Kris Bryant's agent is Scott Boras, probably the biggest name in the business. Boras has started a war of words vs. the Cubs organization, saying they don't care about winning if they don't bring Bryant up right now. When asked about this, Bryant could've copped out and taken the Ndamukong Suh route ("talk to my agent about contract stuff"), or he could do what he did (from the Buster Olney article):
But when reporters approached Bryant on Thursday, he did not play dumb, and he did not hide behind Boras. From Jesse Rogers' piece:
"Scott works for me," Bryant said Wednesday morning. "He does a great job. It's nice to have a bulldog working for you rather than a poodle. He definitely sticks up for his players and wants the best for them." 
And later in the piece:
Bryant says he's trying to limit the distractions and there's nothing he wants to do more than "bring a World Series to Chicago" but the issue of him making the team keeps coming up. With Boras' involvement, it's become a national story. Bryant doesn't seem to mind.
"He's the best that's ever been in this game," Bryant stated. "He's kind of polarizing. Some guys don't like him but as a player you have to love him. He's there fighting for you every day. He wants the best for you. It's not just for him. He's a great family man. I can call him at any time of the night and ask a question. He's there to answer it. That's the type of guy you want on your side."
Wow. Imagine if Suh had taken that angle instead of doing what he did. But then he would not be Suh. I never really LIKED Ndamukong Suh. I liked what he could do on the field. I marveled at it. But nothing ever attracted me to Suh the Person. I'm not going to lie and say I'm glad he's gone, but I'm not as disappointed as I'd be if he had half the integrity and leadership of Kris Bryant.