ESPN Bottomline 2.0

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Bruins v. Capitals Oct. 19 preview: Storify

Monday, October 4, 2010

Capitals Convention 2010: Slideshow

Well, even though I thought this was a good slideshow on the Capitals Convention 2010, I cannot sell everything. Be it money, politics or the Redskins, this is now great stuff for Sports Chutney. Enjoy.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Brett Favre's fantasy: More football


Brett is back.

A little less drama than usual, but the Favre is back in his proper place in the world – playing football somewhere in the American Midwest.

As a fantasy football owner the question becomes – how much do you really care?

Outside of Favre fan boys (who will take ye olde gunslinger with their first pick regardless and yes, these people do exist) it takes more of a discerning eye to quantify the value of Favre this year. It is his 20th NFL season.  In the “Not For Long” league, that is an eternity, especially at one of the skill positions. How is Favre holding up? Is that ankle going to be a significant problem? Can he just jump into action a month after the start of training camp and pick up where he left off?

These are valid questions. The short answers are that Favre’s arm will probably be fine, the rest of his body has held up well through the years and he is perhaps the toughest player ever to drop under center (in reference to his ankle).  Twenty years gives Favre somewhat of a right to be given the benefit of the doubt, from fans, coaches, teammates and fantasy owners alike.

Senility set in with Favre long ago. Reference various retirements for proof. More importantly though, reference his actual performance through the years. Yes, last year he was remarkable. Perhaps even MVP worthy remarkable if it was not for the Era of Manning in the NFL. Yet, can you really expect more of the same from Favre this year? Look at last year’s numbers against his career averages.

2009 (Career)

Completion percentage – 68.4 (62.0)
Yards – 4202 (3648)
Touchdowns 33 (26)
Interceptions 7 (16)
Rating – 107.2 (86.6)

Favre was 201 yards off his career high, set in 1995 (with his second best mark at 4212 in 1998). He threw for more than 30 touchdowns for the first time since 2004. He had a career-low in interceptions with his previous low of 13 in both 1995 and 1996. Remember, this is the man who owns the all-time NFL mark in both touchdowns AND interceptions.

So, the question to ask yourself is: can Favre do it again?

Short answer?

No.

Last year was a special year for Favre. It was his “Stick It To The Packers” year along with a year that his franchise has legitimate Super Bowl aspirations that came just short in overtime of the NFC Championship game. Favre was also in camp earlier last year, though that should not be as big a problem as some will make it. This year Favre seems almost like it is an also-ran type of thing. He wanted to make sure he was healthy, he wanted to miss most of training camp (a guess but after 20 years of getting beaten by large men in the sweltering summer heat, would you want to show up if you did not really have to?), he wanted his annual 15 minutes of Summer Favre Mania.

The biggest thing that I notice this year is just the way Favre seems to be approaching it. Last year it was “I am thrilled to be a Viking and we are going to go out and win a god damn Super Bowl!” This year he is saying “Well, shucks, I just owed it to Minnesota to come back.” You know, unfinished business and all.

Favre is a guy who plays with fire and the brighter the better. It is almost like Terrell Owens in a roundabout way. When Owens burned his bridge with one team, he would go to the next and be a (relatively) model citizen and productive player. Then the next year he was back in his high chair screaming at whoever would listen about the indignities he had been served.

Look at Favre’s stats for the last couple of years. The last year in Green Bay was one of his best, slightly below what he did in Minnesota in 2009 (28 touchdowns, 15 interceptions, 4155 yards, 66.5 completion percentage, 95.7 quarterback rating). For all anyone really knew, that was going to be his last year in the NFL and he had something to prove with Aaron Rodgers being the quarterback the team seemed to favor going forward (in retrospect, with good reason).

The next year, things never really clicked with Favre in New York. It did not seem like his first choice of destinations, the team was mediocre and New York is definitely not Green Bay (or Mississippi). Subsequently Favre’s numbers slipped (22 touchdowns, league-leading 22 interceptions, 3472 yards, 65.7 completion percentage, 81 quarterback rating).

No fire. No Favre.

The thing to look for in Favre this time around in Minnesota is his decision making. Last year Favre was motivated last year to take care of the ball. Hence his highest career completion percentage and his lowest ever interception total. Yet, looking back on Favre’s trends, he is been a bit of a yo-yo. His penultimate year in Green Bay he threw 18 touchdowns and 18 interceptions (much like that 22/22 split for the Jets) with a mediocre team. Without that chip on his shoulder, Favre becomes undisciplined and unfocused and is a middling to bad quarterback.

That probably will not be entirely the case this time around with the Vikings. He still has a good team around him and perhaps a bit of a chip after yet-another playoff ending interception and this time it could possibly be the real end to his career. The last shot at glory. Favre probably will not be as good as last year but he will still be decent.

Where does that put him on your draft board? Think top-10 quarterback in the draft. Perhaps eighth or ninth. That would put him in the 65 to 80 pick range, depending on the priorities of your league. Anything above that and you have gone senile along with your quarterback. Anything below and he will probably be gone.

This post can also be found at rotoinfo.com

Also, if you are not a fan of the title, it is alright. It is a colleague's suggestion for an SEO optimized version thereof. Kind of clever actually. I hope.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Bruins press release in NHL investigation of Marc Savard's contract

BRUINS STATEMENT REGARDING NHL’S INVESTIGATION OF MARC SAVARD’S CONTRACT
EXTENSION

BOSTON, MA - Boston Bruins General Manager Peter Chiarelli issued the
following statement today regarding the NHL’s investigation of the
seven-year contract extension signed by Marc Savard on December 1, 2009:

“We are cooperating fully with the League in its investigation of the
Marc Savard contract extension.  The League informed us upon their
registration of the contract on December 1, 2009 that they would be
investigating the circumstances surrounding this contract.  From that
point on, they commenced their investigation and it has been ongoing
since then. On August 4th, I met with two League appointed lawyers as
part of the investigation.  We will continue to cooperate with the
League in any future investigative proceedings if necessary and we will
have no further comment on the matter at this time.”

Monday, August 9, 2010

Fantasy Baseball -- Impact of the trading deadline on pitchers

What does the MLB trade season mean to you?

It is the part of the baseball season when good players go from the dredges of the league to contenders. Where top-tier prospects get swapped and get their chance at big league jobs with bad clubs and minor moves make all the difference when it comes for a chance at October glory.

It is also one of the last opportunities for fantasy owners to make roster changes for the final push at the coveted league title.

Owners who have players like Cliff Lee, Dan Haren and Roy Oswalt are satisfied that the marquee pitchers on their rosters have moved on to greener pastures. When it comes to fantasy, the hope is that what real-life general managers did in July (and into the waiver season of August) translates into a couple extra wins, strikeouts, runs or home runs for fantasy owners.

That is the perception at least.

It does not always work out like that though. Lee is obviously worth more to the Rangers (and to fantasy owners) than he was for the Mariners. Through 13 starts in Seattle this season, Lee was a 3.0 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) pitcher, posting and 8-3 record with a 2.34 ERA through 103.2 innings. The Mariners are dead last in the majors this year in runs scored so it would figure to benefit Lee to move over to a Texas team that historically been known for its pop and sits at sixth in the league in the scoring department.

In theory.

So it is with baseball. What seems like a no-brainer outcome – better team, better offense, more wins – is no sure thing. In Lee’s 13 starts with the Mariners the team scored a respectable 4.8 runs per game for him (slightly above the league average of 4.7). The Rangers in six starts thus far?

A tick above 2.4.

That leaves Lee at 2-2 early in his Texas career. His ERA is higher that it was in Seattle at 2.63 while his home run rate has raised from .4 per nine innings to .7 and his strikeouts per nine has decreased from 7.7 to 6.5 (his career rate is 6.8).

This will even out, to a certain extent. So far Lee’s WAR in Texas is 1.7, a little more than half of what he had in Seattle in about half as many games. Yet, The Ball Park at Arlington (or whatever it is being called these days) has never been a friendly place when it comes to pitchers and home runs, so Lee’s ERA is probably not going to drop back down the 2.00 level, no matter how much Nolan Ryan or Chuck Greenberg compel him or how many carrots are promised in his next contract. Texas is just not friendly to pitchers. Of the nine home runs that Lee has given up this year, four have come with Texas, all at home (with three coming against Baltimore in his first start in a Rangers uniform).

Lee has perhaps 10 starts left with the Rangers this year. It is a fair assumption that Texas will start scoring more than 2.4 runs per each of his starts but it is not a foregone conclusion. If he wins eight of those starts, it will be a minor coup.

So, what is the fantasy conclusion for Lee now that he is in a Ranger uniform? Trade him now. Trade him to a pitching-needy team that is willing to pay for the perceived promise of those eight wins and make them overpay for a potential Cy Young winner. If you cannot extort a fair sum from your opponent you can keep him on the roster and know that he will not be hurting you down the stretch.

Let’s take a look at some of the early returns of big name pitchers changing teams.

Haren

With Arizona – 21 starts, 141 innings, 7 wins, 8 losses, 4.60 ERA, 1.348 WHIP, 9 K/9

With Los Angeles – 3 starts, 20 innings, 0 wins, 2 losses, 3.60 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 7.2 K/9

Analysis – If you are in a keeper league, you should be very happy that Haren is out of the Arizona desert and into the California one. Yet, the Angels this year are not exactly a “good” team and Haren moves to the tougher league. So far his peripheral numbers look a little better than with the Diamondbacks but all you can really count on Haren for is strikeouts. Fantasy analysis? Keep him stashed away at the bottom of your rotation and let him help you in his one reliable category.

Oswalt

With Houston – 20 starts, 129 innings, 6 wins, 12 losses, 3.42 ERA, 1.109 WHIP, 8.4 K/9

With Philadelphia – 2 starts, 12.1 innings, 0 wins, 1 loss, 4.38 ERA, 1.297 WHIP, 6.6 K/9

Analysis – Oswalt was motivated towards the end of his Astros career and his 8.4 K/9 (over a 7.4 mark through his career) was evidence of that. As such it appears that he is going through a bit of a “dead-arm” period right now with the Phillies and his numbers has suffered the short-terms effects of that correspondingly. Good for keeper leagues but trade him now if you can.

Matt Capps –

With Washington – 47 appearances, 46 innings, 3 wins, 3 losses, 26 saves, 2.64 ERA, 1.304 WHIP, 7.4 K/9

With Minnesota – 5 appearances, 5 innings, 1 win, 0 losses, 2 saves, 1.80 ERA, 1.400 WHIP, 14.4 K/9

Analysis – There is no reason to think that Capps cannot get it done in the Twin Cities the way he was getting it done with the slightly-less-than-awful-than-usual Nationals. He is a fair candidate to make an attempt to trade for as Minnesota battles for its playoff life.

 Dan Rowinski is a Fantasy Baseball Columnist for Rotoinfo.com. If you have any questions or comments feel free to e-mail him at danrowinski@rotoinfo.com. You can follow him on Twitter at Dan_Rowinski.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Fantasy Baseball: Yunel Escobar -- Wherever you go, there you are


Yunel Escobar rounds third after grand slam
 homerun July 18 against Baltimore. Image from
Toronto Sun (via Reuters).

I am always a little skeptical when pundits and scouts say that all a struggling player needs is “a change of scenery.” Yet, with limited access to actual major league clubhouses, there is little insight I can give into how a certain player is fairing on the field because of the situation around him.

Sometimes a change of scenery is really what is needed to offer a boost of moral and productivity. Think about it: Have you ever left a job just to go somewhere else to do the same exact job and been much happier for it?

My guess is that you probably have and, at least initially, you thought that the move was the best possible thing that you could have done for yourself. Yet, one of the simplest and oldest clichés applies to the change of scenery notion of productivity.

Wherever you go, there you are.

A mere hop from one spot on the map to another is not going to change the fundamental characteristics of your personality. Yes, it may offer a temporary blip of energy and purpose, but after a while you find that you are doing the exact same things that you did not like (or others did not like about you) in the place that you left. Without fundamental character growth and maturity, a will to engage life in a professional manner, you are bound to regress back to the level of productivity that had become your statistical norm. If being complacent or angry or easy-going is in your nature, a brand new location is not going to fundamentally change that characteristic.

Given that this is a fantasy baseball article and the MLB trade deadline is ten days away, you may see what I am getting at here.

I am speaking specifically of Blue Jays’ shortstop Yunel Escobar, who was traded from the Braves to Toronto for Alex Gonzalez on July 14. I will circle back to Escobar shortly.

Think about some of the prominent trades in the last couple of years. The biggest and most pertinent name in this discussion would have to be pitcher Cliff Lee, currently with the Rangers after having been shipped from Cleveland to Philadelphia to Seattle and finally to Texas since last year’s trade deadline. Lee, regarded as one of the most professional players in baseball, has not changed a bit in the maelstrom of moves since leaving the Indians. In that period he has pitched 201.1 innings with an absurd 10.05 strikeout to walk ratio (171/17) with a 15-8 record and nine complete games. In going from Seattle to Austin earlier this month he just kept on chugging along, going nine innings in both of his first two starts with his new team. Clearly this is not a player affected by environment.

Now let’s go back and look at the trade that sent Manny Ramirez from Boston to Los Angeles in 2008. Ramirez, who was regressing due to age despite still being a very productive hitter, found new life down the stretch for the Dodgers hitting .396/.489/.743 for a ridiculous 1.232 OPS with 17 homeruns and 53 RBI in 229 plate appearances. His line before leaving the Red Sox that year was .299/.398/.529, an OPS of .926 with 20 homeruns and 68 RBI. That is a rather large statistical jump as he produced nearly as many homeruns and RBI with the Dodgers as he did with the Red Sox in nearly half the plate appearances. His OPS+ split between the two was 136 in Boston to 221 in Los Angeles (with 100 being considered average on a percentage scale).

Since that torrid stretch, Ramirez has regressed back to his career means. Take into account the alleged lack of performance enhancing drugs and his age he has not really changed as a hitter. His 155 OPS+ in 2009 and his 152 mark in so far in 2010 (in limited playing time due to suspension and an increasing injury rate) are right in line with his career OPS+ of 155.

Granted, there was no way that Ramirez could have sustained his 2008 performance with the Dodgers but it does go to show the temporary benefits of change of scenery can do for a player. In the end though, Manny is still Manny, no matter where he is playing.

Now for Escobar. This is a talented shortstop who, at the age of 27, should be approaching his prime production period of his career. His career slash line of .293/.370/.408 is respectable if a little light on the slugging side (.414 is about league average slugging) and he has a career 107 OPS+ over 450 games and 1867 plate appearances. That makes him seven percent better than a league average shortstop. His 2009 breakout, which was to be expected of a player entering his third year in The Show, of .299/.377/.436 is perhaps a touch higher than his expected overall performance over the course of his career but does offer a decent guideline into what type of player he can be – a slightly better than league-average middle infielder with a propensity for streakiness depending on his mood.

The Braves could not wait to get Escobar out of Atlanta and gave him up for a shortstop with a career OPS+ of 81 (which is, oddly enough, Escobar’s 2010 OPS+) and a couple middling prospects. For a business-like team trying to win in manager Bobby Cox’s last season, his lack of professionalism and poor fielding as a consequence were a poison on the field and in the clubhouse.

It should then come as no surprise that Escobar has been on fire in his first couple of games in Toronto going 8 for 17 with four runs, two homeruns and seven RBI. Contrast that to his run production in Atlanta (28 runs, zero homeruns and 19 RBI in 301 plate appearances) and it is clear that the change of location has lit a temporary fire under Escobar.

Before Blue Jays fans and fantasy owners get too excited though, remember that this cannot last. Escobar is at an age where he is not a likely candidate for any remarkable statistical breakout and eventually he will be what he has been all along . . . decent but not outstanding.

Ultimately it will come down to Yunel being Yunel, no matter what city he plays in.

Dan Rowinski is a Fantasy Columnist for Rotoinfo.com. If you have any questions or comments feel free to e-mail him at danrowinski@rotoinfo.com. You can follow him on Twitter at Dan_Rowinski.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Twitter -- @EarlyBird and the endless possibilities

I have been wondering how Twitter was going to make money.

I love the idea of Twitter, if not alway in practice. I tweet, a lot, and try to be more than an automaton linking my articles and breaking the occasional bit of news. As someone from the company said recently, Twitter is a "information media" platform as opposed to a "social media" platform and in that regard I believe it to be true.

Twitter has come to replace a lot of folks RSS readers and it is great if you are in the news junkie business and have an affinity to scroll. This is what makes Twitter important to me and as such I have been hoping that they would eventually acquire a business model to stay at the top of the microblogging hierarchy. Hey, I have brand loyalty sometimes too!

Yet, I have not been sure how they were going to do this. My first thoughts that Twitter, in and of itself, does not have a lot of business potential. Advertising is tricky because a vast portion of the network operate from third party clients (I am a TweetDeck and UberTwitter for my Mac and Blackberry, respectively), hence "Promoted Tweets" on trending topics does not seem like it could have scale. Placing ads within peoples timelines could work to penetrate that third party system (or, as Twitter has been doing, consolidate the third party functions to vertical integration) but that may cause a user backlash that their trusted company and platform was, more or less, spamming them.

The thing that I saw that Twitter really has as blue chip asset is the most important thing when it comes to the interwebs -- data. The Twitter data "Fire Hose" is impressive and growing. That is why it did not surprise me that the first revenue model that Twitter employed was to sell access to the data stream to Bing and Google along with other various businesses. The business-to-business model allows Twitter a marginal economic core to sustain it while figuring out other business models that will allow it to grow in to a tech powerhouse, climbing the ranks from "successful startup" up the latter to Facebook or even Google status (though I do not envision Twitter to ever be as big as Google).

Yesterday, Twitter unveiled the @EarlyBird program. Essentially, @EarlyBird is a akin to Groupon or Woot -- partnered deals with companies to distribute advertiser deals.

From Tech Crunch:


Looks like Twitter is about to start offering users exclusive, time-bound deals, events and sneak peeks, for which it has partnered with a number of (yet unnamed) advertising partners.
Those advertisers will distribute offers via the @EarlyBird account, and they get to determine the terms of the offer, including availability, amount, and pricing. And you? You get to opt in to them.
If you want to get access to said exclusive deals, you need to of course follow the @EarlyBird account, although you may also see offers if someone you follow retweets a tweet from that account. Yes, that means exclusive deals are bound to get viral pretty quickly, which will be interesting to observe given that many of the offers distributed via the account will be time-sensitive of nature (otherwise it wouldn’t be called Early Bird, of course).
I was reading this last night and, all of a sudden, everything became clear . . .


Twitter can do everything.


Name me a business model on the web. Search? Twitter has its own impressive search already and it is not a stretch to jump from Promoted Tweets on trending topics to promoted tweets on search terms integrated into the feed or on the page. Groupon, deals and partnerships? @EarlyBird has the early lead on that. Location aware partnerships, a la FourSquare, with local businesses and other media properties? Does not seem that far away as Twitter already does location. It could augment part of the service in the mobile sector to have the option to always know where a tweeter is and send promoted tweets from nearby businesses. Auctions, eBay style? Tweets seem a ready made way to operate an online auction with the proper supervision.


Twitter probably cannot (and should not) jump into straight ecommerce. Amazon and company have that taken care of. But, partnering through @EarlyBird gives them a portion of that revenue stream.


Twitter's rise and relative ubiquity compared with FourSquare and Groupon make it the perfect platform to steal the thunder from those business models as they attempt to grow. 


The only problem is that Twitter is going to need to grow up and in a hurry. The scalability issues they have been dealing with (and painfully highlighted by the World Cup) cannot exist if Twitter is going to make lasting partnerships on the advertorial and marketing level. Businesses are going to want the money they spend on these various models to payoff at times of highest traffic. The problem with Twitter right now is that times of highest traffic cause the system to fail. If they can work that out in the near future, Twitter can take off as the model Web 2.0 company heading into the next decade.


A year ago I was baffled as to how Twitter could possibly sustain itself. Now, the possibilities seem endless.

Fantasy Football -- Running Back Tandems


Every year you anxiously await to see if you land the first overall pick in your fantasy football draft in hopes to grab the stud running back who will lead you to the promised land.

For most of you, that is not going to happen.

The No. 1 pick, naturally. There are draft various draft strategies to employ that can still lead you team to fantasy football glory even if you missed out on the Adrian Peterson Sweepstakes.

In years of playing fantasy football, I do not think I have ever received the first pick. Multiple leagues a year and never once have I had that shining moment. That does not mean I have not won my fair share of leagues. It just takes a little practice.

When it comes to running backs, if you miss out on Peterson or Chris Johnson (this year’s consensus first overall pick), the drop off is significant. Yes, Maurice Jone-Drew, Stephen Jackson and Ray Rice are all fine backs but after the first couple of picks there are better first round options than a running back. That is why I like to wait if I cannot get in on the big names and go tandem style for maximum efficiency.

That means taking two running backs, from the same team in relatively short order. Some fantasy owners like to make it a sandwich. For instance, they will draft a team’s top running back, get a second-tier guy early and then come back for the backup. This method can work and does help your team avoid the nasty pitfall of production that comes about when your primary and backup running backs have their bye week (which always seems to come at the most inopportune time, doesn’t it?)

Yet there are some tandems that you will want to take rapidly to keep them together as they often work in cohort as opposed to a feature back and the guy that spells him. Drafting this way can also allow you to look for other production at other positions as these players will be on the board in later rounds at good value. So, here are half a dozen running back tandems to keep an eye on heading into your draft.

Ronnie Brown/Ricky Williams – Miami Dolphins

The Wild Cat. Got to love it. The Dolphins have resurrected their once-wretched offense in recent years by taking two talented though slightly flawed backs and turning them into the feature of an attack that can be confounding to opposing defenses (just ask the New England Patriots). Brown has always been a bit of an enigma and do not be fooled this year into drafting too high. He platoons heavily with Williams and is injured more often than you would probably like but he holds his end of the bargain pretty well when on the field. He broke his foot after nine games in 2009 so that is something to watch and he has never had more than 1,008 yards in a year but if he is good for between 800 to 1,000 yards and six or seven touchdowns, trust that the Dolphins will find a way to make the rest of the production up with Williams.

Williams, The NFL King of Cosmic Cleansing (or whatever he is doing these days) is still viable at age 33. He definitely got tired towards the end of the year in 2009 when Brown went down but if their stats do not look pretty similar (granting health, of course) by the end of the year, I would be surprised.

Bye Week -- 5

Pierre Thomas/Reggie Bush – New Orleans Saints

Thunder and Lightning. Vanilla and Chocolate. Sting like a bee, light as a butterfly. OK, so now the cliché superlatives are out of the way, Thomas and Bush are a great  tandem of complimentary backs as you will find in the league. Thomas is a top-20 back, probably just barely, and he will have days where you pinch yourself and say “did he just win this week single-handedly for me?” Because he might. Then again, he might not. He is consistent enough to start on a weekly basis but head coach Sean Payton won a Super Bowl last year with an offense that was so dynamic you were not sure what it was going to do play-to-play, let alone week-to-week.

That is where keeping Bush around comes in. Between the two there will be plenty of production to go around for one of the leagues best offenses. Bush is almost the type of player who you would like to start him at wide receiver as opposed to running back and match somebody else with Thomas but alas, that is not how the game works. Bush is also a guy you can sleep on for a couple rounds if you know that you are going to pair him with Thomas since his numbers the last couple of years has not matched his hype.

Bye Week -- 10

C.J. Spiller/Fred Jackson – Buffalo Bills

I was an ACC football beat reporter last year and there was nobody else in the conference as quick or dynamic as Spiller was for Clemson in 2009. He could be the type of back that people always envisioned that Bush would be without actually being Bush. Great vision and cutback ability, good for kickoffs and can punish when he needs to. Spiller has all the makings of a back who can have a great first couple of years in the NFL before the punishment takes its toll and he flames out after five years or so. Being that this will be his first year in the league, it is safe to put him on your fantasy roster and hope the Bills line can give him the three yards he will need to create a cloud of dust.

Jackson had a lot of carries last year and was effective as he could be considering that that aforementioned Bills offensive line is something of a cesspool. There is a reason Buffalo has been looking up at the AFC East heavy hitters for the better part of the last decade. In terms of fantasy though, the Jackson/Spiller combination should provide some decent production at good value later in your fantasy draft.

Keep an eye on Marshawn Lynch as well, who still has the potential to be a productive fantasy back if his off the field problems allow him to get in the lineup. Lynch could be a significant wrench in the duo but it is a situation worth monitoring in training camp.

Bye Week -- 6

A couple other tandems to watch out for:

Matt Forte/Chester Taylor – Chicago Bears

Taylor has always been a second banana in the NFL but Forte has not yet proved that he can be productive individually. Neither Taylor nor Forte should be drafted as stand alone guys but together have decent potential.

Bye Week -- 8

Shonn Greene/LaDainian Tomlinson – New York Jets

The opposite of Forte, Greene has a good thing going with the Jets now that he has inherited the No. 1 slot with Thomas Jones in Kansas City. He has a great offensive line and a coach who loves to run. Tomlinson will be his backup and without the punishment of being The Man on a regular basis probably still has a few shining moments (and touchdowns) in his reserve tank.

Bye Week – 7

Thomas Jones/Jamaal Charles – Kansas City Chiefs

Outside of Johnson in Tennessee, Charles was one of the best backs in the second half of 2009. He probably will not be the heavy torch carrier with Jones at Arrowhead but between them the Chiefs should be able to get back to the great ground game they had between Larry Johnson and Priest Holmes in the not-so-distant past.

Bye Week – 4

Dan Rowinski is a Fantasy Columnist for Rotoinfo.com. If you have any questions or comments feel free to e-mail him at danrowinski@rotoinfo.com. You can follow him on Twitter at Dan_Rowinski.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Washington Nationals Playbook -- Fourth of July Weekend

Taking a look at what is happening with the Washington Nationals through the Fourth of July weekend.

-- The Nationals celebrated Black Heritage Night with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder throwing out the ceremonial first pitch. The team awarded the inaugural Joe Black Award to the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission's (M-NCPPC) Department of Parks and Recreation-Prince George's County. The award, given to a person or organization that promotes the game of baseball in African-American communities, was accepted by former major leaguer Steven Carter.


Interesting tidbit on Carter -- Unknown to this reporter until researching Carter's Baseball-Reference page is that Carter is from Charlottesville, VA and graduated from the same high school that I did -- Albemarle H.S. Future note to get in touch with Carter and commiserate.


Carter played for the Pittsburgh Pirates in parts of two seasons (1989-90) a registered 23 plate appearances with a home run, double and three runs batted in.


-- The Nats lost the game 5-3 to the Mets when rookie outfielder Roger Bernadina was picked off second base by New York closer Francisco Rodriguez with Willie Harris at the plate representing the tying run.


-- Washington signed Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez to a minor league contract. Hernandez is the older brother to current Nats starter Livan Hernandez. Orlando has not pitched in the majors since 2007 though pitched eight games in the minors for the Rangers last season before being released. He posted a 90-65 career record with a a 4.13 ERA in nine seasons with four different teams and will be reporting to the Nationals' spring training facility in Viera, Fla.


-- The Mets and Nationals will continue their series this afternoon at Nationals Park with pitchers on direct opposites of the spectrum. Rookie flamethrower Stephen Strasburg (2-2 2.27 ERA) will make his sixth professional start looking for his third career win. He is opposed by journeyman knuckleballer R.A. Dickey (6-1 2.98 ERA) who has resurrected his career this season with the Mets at the age of 35.


-- Saturday's Nat's game will be on "MLB on Fox" with first pitch at 4:10 p.m. Gates to Nationals park will open at 1:30 p.m. The game will not be shown on MASN. A touch of irony: Saturday is Replica Patriotic Cap Day at Nationals Park, presented by, you guessed it, MASN.


-- Pitcher Jordan Zimmerman is on his way back from Tommy John surgery and will make his first rehab start Saturday night for Class A Potomac. Zimmerman will be on the mound for the first time since July 18, 2009 after he was yanked in a start against the Cubs with elbow pain. Zimmerman is likely to return by August if all goes well in his rehab schedule.


-- Catcher Carlos Maldonado was reinstated from the 15-day disabled list and optioned to Triple A Syracuse.


-- Trade rumors are starting to heat up for the Nats with the potential of slugger Adam Dunn being shipped out of town. Federal Baseball (part of the SB Nation network) breaks down some Washington trade rumors.


-- On Twitter -- Andy Martino (Surfing The Mets), the Mets beat reporter for the New York Daily news, posted an interesting question to his followers during Friday night's game: Which third baseman would you rather have on your roster, Ryan Zimmerman or David Wright? Given that his follower base is obviously Mets-centric, the overwhelming majority chose Wright, 30-3 at last count.


It is an interesting question. Wright is two years older and had won Gold Gloves in 2007 and 2008 before being usurped by Zimmerman in 2009. Through this season Wright is batting .312/.391/.546 with a 154 OPS+ (54 percent better than average) with a league leading 25 doubles AND 63 RBI in 79 games with 343 plate appearances. Wright's career slash line is an impressive .309/.389/.512 with and OPS+ of 137.


In contrast, Zimmerman's slash line this year is .284/.350/.480 with a 134 OPS+ and 13 home runs with 40 RBI in 73 games and 301 plate appearances. His career line is .284/.375/.498 with a 118 OPS+. That is good but Wright appears to just be in a higher category that Zimmerman at this point in their careers.


-- Happy belated birthday to centerfield Nyjer Morgan who turned 30 yesterday, July 2. He celebrated by going 2 for 4, raising his season average from .254 to .258.


-- The next Nats birthday will be that of Strasburg, who turns 22 on July 20. 


Have a happy and safe Fourth of July weekend.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Fantasy Baseball -- Putting Boesch in perspective

I have been waiting for the other shoe to drop.

How does the 25th best prospect in the Tigers organization heading into Spring Training get a call up in late April and then go on a rampage for the next two months, with little sign of slowing down?

I am talking, of course, about Detroit rookie outfielder Brennan Boesch.

It is confounding, I tell you. It is like the 25 year old woke up sometime in February and said “this is my year.” And it has been. Through 15 games and 66 plate appearances at Triple-A Toledo Boesch hit .379/.455/.621, good for an OPS of 1.076 and three home runs. Despite the small sample size, the Tigers liked what they were seeing and brought Boesch to the big leagues on April 23 and he has subsequently hit .332/.380/.602 in with 12 home runs and 45 RBI in 56 games and 229 plate appearances with Detroit.

Yet, this is a career minor league hitter with a .274/.321/.432 slash line who had 51 home runs (though also 25 triples ) in 1811 minor league at bats.

What gives?

Twenty-five is a good age for young hitters. It is about the time where you know if a player is going to be an actual major leaguer or just a guy who keeps his bags packed – the Quadruple-A variety. His minors slash line, though not overly impressive (pretty near identical to average, actually), does not show a hitter who was in over his head. Yet, there is also nothing there to suggest that the Boesch we have seen so far is the one that will be seen for the rest of his career, let alone his immediate future. Let’s take a look at some splits.

In the minors, Boesch had a ground ball/ line drive/ fly ball percentage (GB/LD/DB) of 48.7/15.3/35.9 with 16.9 percent of those fly balls (FB+LD) coming in the infield. In his short stint in Toledo in April those percentages were skewed as his line drive rate went up while his ground ball and fly ball rate went down at 36.6/34.1/29.3 with none of his fly balls coming in the infield at all. The sample size was so small and he was raking so hard that every ball he hit in the air was finding the outfield. That is simply unsustainable.

Now that he is in the majors, his GB/FB split is .75 with a 20 percent line drive rate and 19 percent of those fly balls in the infield. Yet, his home run rate has gone way up, with 15.4 percent of his fly balls going for home runs, almost twice the league average of 7.1 percent. For context, David Ortiz’s HR/FB rate this year is 19.1 percent but his career average is 13.8, still quite high against the average.

What does this tell us? Foremost, that Boesch has been hot, but any major league pitcher, general manager or astute fantasy player could tell you that. Second, he is outplaying his career norms by a little more than one standard deviation. Third, he has been getting a touch lucky.

When it comes to luck though, Boesch has always seemed to be the beneficiary of good fortune in his professional career. His minor league batting average on balls in play (BABIP, a fair measure of how lucky a hitter is, with any league average around .300) was .316. An impressive number when you consider his 1811 career minor league plate appearances and his almost exact league average of 68 percent balls in play percentage. Though his 58 at bats in the minors this year, his BABIP was .500.  So far, his major league BABIP is .379. This just cannot continue.

Then there are the home runs. Boesch is hitting a home run in his rookie season once every 17.6 at bats. That is about double the rate that he hit his 51 home runs in the minors at one per 35.5 at bats. Think of this: the major league average of at bats per home run is 36.6 putting Boesch’s minor league history right in line with major league averages.

Starting to sense a theme here?

I would hope so, because I am laying it on pretty thick. The general conclusion to be made here is that Boesch’s outstanding numbers are unsustainable given his history. At the same time it is hard to say that Boesch will just simply fall off a cliff.  He will eventually regress to his means, which are not all that bad. The thing about Boesch’s means are that they are surprisingly close to the average slash line of a major league player. Major league averages tend to fall very close to .265/.325/.414 year after year. Going back to Boesch’s career minor league line of .274/.321/.432 and, what do you know, almost the same.

Boesch reminds me of another young outfielder to come out of the minors and surprise folks with outstanding and surprising hitting before falling back to earth (and staying there) for the rest of his career (so far).  That player came out of the minors with 1429 career at bats, 53 home runs and line of .285/.332/.480, a little better than Boesch, but similar. He got called up late in 2005 and hit .300/.336/.549 in 257 at bats with 14 home runs and 45 RBI. Boesch at this point is a little above that level but if he continues his 17.6 at bats per home run, he will be at about the same as that particular hot rookie who everybody thought was going to be a mainstay for years to come.

That 2005 rookie’s name?

Jeff Francoeur.

Frenchy’s career line after five seasons is .270/.311/.430 and has been a perpetual frustration and disappointment to fans and fantasy leaguers everywhere. So, before you get too high on Boesch, remember that if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Just wait.

Dan Rowinski is a Fantasy Baseball Columnist for Rotoinfo.com. If you have any questions or comments feel free to e-mail him at danrowinski@rotoinfo.com. You can follow him on Twitter at Dan_Rowinski.



Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Bruins: A rebuttal to opinion on free agency

I was reading an article on The Hub Of Hockey and could not help to voice my opinion against it. The article, entitled "Bruins must be active during free-agency" by Mark Marino explains how it would be nice not to trade Marc Savard yet somehow find a way to dump either Tim Thomas or Michael Ryders' contracts and move after a young scorer, in this case Duck's young forward Bobby Ryan, a restricted free agent.


What really gets my goat is that a good portion of the article is still going back to the loss of Phil Kessel as the primary reason the Bruins scored 74 less goals in 2009-10 than in 2008-09.


Consider this: The Bruins last year had a 7.5 percent shooting percentage. League average is around 10 percent (2008-09 Bruins shot 10.9 percent). This, like the BABIP stat in baseball, is one that tends to come back to the mean and is somewhat a signifier of luck. How many times last year did you see a sure goal bounce away? Those goals would go in in a different year. The Bruins deficit of goals from 2008-09 to 09-10 cannot, and should not, be attributed to Phil Kessel. Yes, perhaps he was a percentage but the problems the Bruins faced last year (injuries leading to lack of length on the lines) would not have been fixed directly with Kessel. I am of the opinion that, without doing much maneuvering, the Bruins would come back to the middle of the pack in scoring. Add Horton and Seguin, a healthy Krejci, Savard and Lucic an maturation from Blake Wheeler (which is distinctly possible) and the Bruins might be looking at a good scoring team. Better than average, at least. It is not unreasonable to expect a jump in scoring though it probably is unreasonable to say the Bruins get back to 2008-09 levels no matter what they do. It was a fortuitous year that saw a majority of Bruins players perform well above expectations. 2009-10 was directly the opposite yet the Bruins made it just as far as they had the year before. The point is that Chiarelli should not get crazy in free agency and by everything he has said to this point, he will not. The UFA (and especially the RFA) market is a good way to handicap future plans, of which the Bruins seem to have a good plan that I would like to see Chiarelli develop. Look for the only real signing for the Bruins to make to be roster filler second market guys (the Begin, Yelle, Satan types) and depth moves. Fans love to salivate over free agency. It is fun. They look over rosters of who is available and concoct schemes to acquire them. Yet, a team like the Bruins (who have some questionable contracts that are hard to move) cannot afford to go big in the free agent signing period. I guarantee that in two years you will be writing the same article about how Player X needs to be moved because of his contract the same way that you are railing on Michael Ryder (who should be moved less for his performance and more for his attitude down the stretch last year, he just seemed not to care).


Chiarelli has said repeatedly that they would acquire through the trade market. From breakdown day to the draft last week, he has stressed that the Bruins will not be active come July 1. This is perhaps smoke and mirrors, but I doubt it. He does not have a lot of flexibility at this point. Yes, he would love to move one of his more cumbersome contracts and there is a fair likelihood that he does, but do not expect him to jump off the deep end. Chiarelli is nothing if not pragmatic (though sometimes his decision making is questionable, ie, Lucic/Ference contract extensions).


What I do agree with you on is that moving Savard would be a mistake, at least in the short term. Tyler Seguin can play a wing and probably should start there given the current roster configuration. He will get his chance to play center next season, an injury always comes up. If the situation becomes untenable, then make a move.


Disagree if you like. I will make some type of gentleman's wager -- If Bobby Ryan is a Bruin next year I will eat my hat (not literally, but something of that ilk).

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

What can Dunn do your you?

On most nights the Nationals cannot buy a run. It is like Washington's offense mirrors the business on Capitol Hill -- slow, stagnant and dull to watch. A perpetual filibuster impeding on progress.

Thus, the notion of trading the most productive piece of the lineup -- Adam Dunn -- would seem like a major mistake. Ryan Zimmerman and Josh Willingham have enough troubles on their hands as the Nationals offense has sputtered in June. Imagine the drop off without Dunn and a disappointing summer in D.C. becomes downright unbearable.

These are temporal concerns. That Nats are going to be better than their last two 59 win campaigns yet, at 33-44 they are on target for a 69 wins and a forgotten entity in Washington come August when Redskins training camp gets into full gear. Hence, no matter what the Nats do, the second half of 2010 is as much a throwaway as the last five years of baseball in the nation's capital.

Hence, trading Dunn now does not seem that bad of an option. He is making $12 million of his two-year $20 million contract this year and, if he was traded today, the organization that picked him up would take on approximately $6.3 million of that contract (considering a $12 million contract comes to about $74,000 a game, times 85 more games). That is not an insignificant chunk of change, about 11 percent of the Nats season payroll of $66.275 million.

Nationals president Stan Kasten knows what it takes to build a winner in the Majors. He presided over one of the greatest stretches in the history of major league baseball as the Braves president from 1986 to 2003 when the Braves won 14 straight division titles, a World Series and sported one of the greatest collection of pitching arms in the modern era.

That is what Kasten and general manager Mike Rizzo will be looking for in dangling Dunn -- pitching. Not just any pitching though. The Nats are not exactly in a position to be buyers where a stabilizing starter and reliever will put them over the top. Washington is on the lookout for close to major league ready young pitching with high upside. The ideal would be someone in double or triple A who could break the rotation by July 2011 at the earliest. 

According to the rumor mill, the White Sox and Angels are the teams most interested in Dunn. So, heading over to Baseball-Reference to check on the organizational pitching depth charts of those two particular organizations and you find . . . 

Just about nothing.

Los Angeles and Chicago are interesting teams. Both have been strong over the last decade and are too proud to throw the towel in on any season. Both started this year on down streaks only to come back in the last month to be contenders in their respective divisions once again and go from probably sellers to definite buyers. Yet, because of this competitive nature, neither team has much depth left on the farm, either from graduation or previous trades.

It is not like Dunn will bring a future John Smoltz or Greg Maddux to Washington in any deal. But, Washington could hope for a player on par with a guy like Derek Lowe (discounting the fact that the Heathcliff Slocumb for Lowe and Jason Varitek trade between the Red Sox and Mariners in 1998 was perhaps the most lopsided deal in the last 20 years), a sinker-baller that is durable to slot into the middle of the rotation for the next five years or so.

The two most promising players in the upper-echelon of the White Sox organization appear to be Daniel RHPs Daniel Hudson and Carlos Torres. Hudson, 23, was a fifth round draft pick in 2008 and is 10-3 in 15 starts this season at triple-A Charlotte. He has a 3.84 ERA over 82.1 innings and a K/9 rate of 10.6. His BB/9 is a touch high at 3.0. In six games (two starts) with the White Sox last year he went 18.2 innings with 6.8 K/9 though an abnormally high 4.3 BB/9. That figures to come down closer to his minor league average given more time in the majors. In the majors last year he had 20 ground balls (including one bunt) versus 38 fly balls/line drives (32 and 6).

Torres, 26, is a touch too old to be considered much of a prospect anymore and did not pitch particularly well in 28.1 innings last year (30 hits, 17 walks, 19 earned runs). His strikeout rate was OK at 7.0 per nine but he also sported an absurdly high 5.4 BB/9, well above his still high 3.7 rate through five plus seasons in the minors.

MinorLeagueBaseball.com rank Hudson and Torres as the 1st and 20th best prospects in the Chicago organization, respectively and it is not outside the realm of reality that Dunn would be worth the best prospect in a weak farm system along with a a guy who could end up being a useful arm to have kicking around the organization. Other names to watch would be LHP Santos Rodriguez (10th, primarily a reliever) or Jhonny Nunez (12th).

The Angels are similar in having poor depth in the system but have a significantly larger pool of pitchers to choose from. The top names on the list are LHP Trevor Reckling, who is having a terrible season after being promoted to triple-A this season (4-7, 8.53 ERA with appropriately terrible supporting numbers). 

Right-hander Garret Richards is the Angels No. 4 prospect and has played well after being a 2009 supplementary round (No. 42 overall) pick by the Angels. He is currently pitching well at low-A Cedar Rapids and projects to be major league ready by 2012. Of all the options that are available between the two teams, Richards would probably be the best though one has to wonder if general manager Tony Reagins would want to split with perhaps his best pitching prospect for half a year of Dunn's bat, especially considering that Kendry Morales will be back in the lineup in 2011.

This, as always, is just speculation but it is always interesting to size up the trade market as the All-Star game approaches and teams identify where they stand heading into the final two-thirds of the season. If Rizzo can make an acceptable trade, a lost half season of Dunn would be a player well spent.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

McNabb short on tools in D.C.

A new era is upon the Washington Redskins. Mike Shanahan now has control of the ship and Daniel Snyder once again has a big name coach to oggle for a couple of years. Larry Johnson joins Clinton Portis on a full time basis with fast Willie Parker and Ryan Torain rounding out the options for Shanahan's vaunted running scheme.

And run they will. It is what Shanahan does. Has always done. There are no other coaches in the last 20 years to craft a running game the way Shanahan did in Denver on a year-to-year basis and there is no reason to think that it is going to be any different in D.C.

Yet, Shanahan has a new (well, new to Washington) quarterback to play with -- Donovan McNabb.

The reports of McNabbs demise are, somewhat, exaggerated. His time in Philadelphia had run its course as the city never really forgave him for his fourth quarter meltdown against the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXIX (or the plethora of botched NFL Championship games before that) and it was just time for him to get out of Eagle territory. Curious that Philadelphia would trade him to the Redskins. The notion here is that the Eagles must think they sold Washington a poison pill of which will slowly kill it or that the Redskins are such a non-factor in the NFC East that, even with McNabb, they are no threat.

Are the Redskins a threat? It is a valid question.

Lets assume for a second that the defense will be adequate and the running game above average. Kind of a stretch, I know. Really though, when it comes to rounding out of the offense, who does McNabb have as toys in his play box?

Foremost, his X receiver, Santana Moss. The same Santana Moss that was just recently implicated in an Human Growth Hormone scandal in May and who, at 31, is coming off his lowest average yards per catch of his career (12.9 on 70 receptions). Even with McNabb throwing him passes instead of Jason Campbell, Moss is on the wrong side of 30 and his numbers do not project to be much better in 2010. Backing him up is Joey Galloway. Galloway is still blazing fast but if his time in New England is an indication, he is also a bit too long in the tooth. Galloway had trouble running routes in the Patriots system and could not hold onto the ball when Tom Brady put it in his hands anyway.

On the other end Malcolm Kelly and and Devin Thomas are not exactly names that bring to mind images  of touchdown dances and prolific scoring. Between the two last year they were mildly productive -- 50 catches (25 apiece), 672 yards, three touchdowns (all by Thomas). Any team with a decent second cornerback will have little trouble containing either receiver, assuming that Shanahan does not cut Kelly outright in training camp.

I know what you are thinking, Redskin fan. Who needs wide receivers when we have one of the best tight ends in the league in Chris Cooley? Well, the venerable Mr. Cooley missed the last half of 2009 with an ankle injury and this year he will definitely be asked to help in the run game as Shanahan likes his tight ends to chip in on the zone-blocking scheme. Through his career Cooley averages 3.9 catches a game at 43.6 yards and has scored 30 touchdowns since 2004. Somewhere Tony Gonzalez is snickering at the notion that Cooley is a top end tight end in the NFL.

Then there is Fred Davis, who played well in Cooley's absence last year with 48 catches, 509 yards and six touchdowns. Not bad production really but still falls in line with what an average receiving tight end in the NFL does on a yearly basis. Really, when it comes to producing offense, outside of a couple exceptions, tight ends are not viable threats as stand-alone players. They are much better in supplementary roles to quality wide receivers and running backs. It is hard to imagine, given the state of the Redskins wide receivers, that the Washington offense can take any giant leaps forward from the 22nd overall (26th scoring) offense from last year.

So where does this leave McNabb? Facing the twilight of his career with a franchise that has no option but to go through a lengthy rebuilding process in a division where the other three teams are consistent contenders.

That does not mean that McNabb will not be viable. There is a good chance that he can approximate his last three seasons -- between 3,000 to 3,500 yards with 19 to 23 touchdowns against 10 interceptions and a QB rating between 87 and 92.

The problem with those numbers? They are not all that different from Jason Campbell's from last year. Campbell was the 14th ranked quarterback in the NFL last year. McNabb?

11th.

Given his regression, age, new system and the lack of tools around him, do not expect McNabb to be much better than his predecessor going forward.

Which will probably make for a long year in the nation's capital.

Again.

A mid-summers look at the Bruins


Some of you have been missing my Bruins analysis in the last month. Just because I am currently unaffiliated though does not mean that I cannot still break a roster down with the best of them. Since you last heard from me at WEEI.com there have been some interesting developments in the Bruins orbit. Cam Neely has been promoted to president of the team, Tim Thomas had hip surgery, Dennis Wideman was shipped out of town for Nathan Horton and Gregory Campbell and the team drafted some guy you may have heard about.

In my extensive breakdown of the Bruins roster shortly after the playoffs I made some predictions about the options that general manager Peter Chiarelli had in front of him in the offseason. Some of them have come to fruition (Wideman out, scoring forward in) and some that did not (Shawn Thornton being signed to an extension). So it goes. Sports reporting is an imperfect science and for the most part the best we can do is make educated guess and watch as the sideshow plays out.

After Chiarelli's conference call when the Bruins officially received the No. 2 pick in the draft, I felt like he was leaning in the direction of Tyler Seguin. That was before the OHL playoffs and Taylor Hall's gritty performance and his proposed affinity for Bobby Orr, but in trying to read Chiarelli I thought I got the sense that he liked the speed and scoring of Seguin just a bit more. Hence, I am not surprised that he did not try to get out of the second pick or make an drastic moves to get the the first overall from Edmonton because, as he stated all along, he was happy with either. Chiarelli would have been very pleased with Hall and in the end the forward probably had the slight edge over Seguin in Chiarelli's book but not enough to do anything drastic. Really, Seguin is a gift from Toronto general manager Brian Burke and Phil Kessel and the best thing for Chiarelli to do was to take that gift, say thank you and not look back.

And so it went.

Outside of the draft, the other priorities of immediate concern for the Bruins were to get their three primary unrestricted free agents figured out. Foremost on that list was Dennis Seidenberg, who Chiarelli awarded with a four-year, $13 million contract early in June. Seidenberg was important to keep because he can be slotted into the first pair with Zdeno Chara and significantly ease Chiarelli's mind when it comes to finding a sidekick for Big Z, a mild concern last offseason before the ill-fated acquisition of Derek Morris.

Johnny Boychuk was the second player on the list as the former AHL Defensive Player of the Year proved his NHL worth as a definite top-four defenseman who grew into Claude Julien's system (and the hearts of Bruins fans) as the year went along. Mark Recchi was next in line, ponying up for his usual $1 million one-year deal. Recchi was important to keep around if he was not going to retire as he is the type of character veteran that the Bruins need in the clubhouse after losing leaders P.J. Axelsson and Aaron Ward the previous year. Recchi is accountable and keeps the team on an even keel while putting things into perspective for a squad that often presses when things are going badly. He provides good depth and a stabilizing presence on Patrice Bergeron's wing and should make a semblance of a good mentor to Seguin (especially if Savard stays in the fold and Seguin ultimately plays the wing).

Thornton was a surprise to me in terms of Chiarelli's decision to keep him around as an unrestricted free agent. Many of us supposed pundits had him figured as out because of his limited hockey abilities outside of being a standup individual and team enforcer. My thought in particular was that Chiarelli would not want to keep a roster spot for an enforcer (of any kind really) given how the post lockout rules  make the position increasingly obsolete. On a personal note, I am glad that Thornton is back. Truly one of the good guys in the league.

Outside of the imminent trade market in the next couple of days before free agency opens Thursday which could see Savard or Thomas (or both) on their way out, Chiarelli's task is now to figure out how to fit his restricted free agents under the cap. With Wideman out of town it becomes important to get defenseman Mark Stuart under some form of contract for next year as he figures to man the second pairing with Boychuk or Andrew Ference. Blake Wheeler is trade bait but I am not sure that Chiarelli is ready to cut bait on the former top-five pick, especially considering the team's need for offense and the potential that Wheeler has in that department. Figure Daniel Paille to stick around as a penalty killer who has the intangibles to make him a good fit in terms of lengthening Julien's lines and his ability to jump up in lines given the inevitable injuries that come with the 82-game grind.

So, let's take a look at how the depth chart looks heading into Monday, June 28th (lines are approximate guess).

Forwards

Mark Recchi - Patrice Bergeron - Tyler Seguin

Milan Lucic - Marc Savard - Michael Ryder

Nathan Horton- David Krejci - Blake Wheeler

Shawn Thornton - Daniel Paille 

Depth -- Maxime Sauve, Zach Hamill, Jordan Caron and Joe Colbourne will all have a chance to make the team out of traing camp with Hamill perhaps the likeliest addition as a fourth-line center after the trade of Vladimir Sobotka to the Blues. 

Note - Marco Sturm fits into this equation in the second half of the year but after destroying a knee for the second straight year Chiarelli has to figure that any production out of the German winger is gravy on top of the biscuits.

Defense

Zdeno Chara - Dennis Seidenberg

Mark Stuart - Johnny Boychuk

Andrew Ference -- Matt Hunwick

Goaltenders

Tuukka Rask

Tim Thomas

Depth -- In the event that Thomas is traded, look for Dany Sabourin to get first crack at backup duties with Matt Dalton and Kevin Regan distant players in that race.

Depth -- Adam McQuaid has proven he is NHL ready and Chiarelli has made a plethora of depth moves to bring in young defensemen to the farm. Jeffrey Penner and Andrew Bodnarchuk are probably looking at careers as Black Aces with Bodnarchuk a restricted free agent this summer.

What are the questions here? Chiarelli is probably looking for another big time defender, with the Leafs Tomas Kaberle always a perpetual option via trade. Does Michael Ryder stick around? It is a good bet that either Wheeler or Ryder will not be with the Bruins next season though with Ryder's $4 million contract, Wheeler will have to be the dangling carrot.

This is all, of course, very unscientific and since I have not been privy to insider conversations recently, really are just my best guesses based off talent available and the current organizational depth.

What do you think? What is the next move as Chiarelli retools his team into a legitimate Cup contender?

Friday, June 25, 2010

Lack of length plagues Nationals lineup

The last time the Nationals were close to the .500 mark was entering play on June 11 with a 30-31 record after a sweep of the Pirates in a series that saw Stephen Strasburg make his MLB debut. Since then, Washington has gone 3-9 to fall to nine games back of first place and mar what was becoming a promising season. In Nats standards, that means that they were not absolutely abysmal and had an outside shot at being relevant in September.

Well, that probably was never going to happen, but being near .500 in mid-June with the best prospect in baseball bringing big buzz to National Park was about as good as could be expected. It seemed a minor tweak here and a roster spot there and the Nats might actually make a run at it.

Right.

Perhaps all Washington needs is to get out of the inter-league portion of the schedule as the last four series have come against American League Central opponents and two of the three wins came against the Royals, a organization far more damaged these days than even the Nationals (though they did find a way to beat Strasburg).

For the most part, it is all about the lineup. Yes, and I have harped on this before at Sports Chutney, they lack starting pitching depth but if Jason Marquis (elbow) and Chien Ming-Wang (shoulder) come back and are productive and Jordan Zimmerman (elbow -- Tommy John surgery) makes a solid return then then the rotation is not quite a glaring weakness as it has been. John Lannan, the nominal No. 1 for the last two years, has finally had his talent level catch up with his production and is back in the minors to work things out though in a real world rotation he would be a decent fourth or fifth starter if he can keep his ground ball rate up.

The pitching has given up 4.5 runs per game the last 12 games (55 runs allowed), which is actually about league average. The problem is that the lineup has gone into a serious funk at 2.66 runs per game and the Nats have been blanked with 1-0 scores twice in the last week, not counting the 2-1 extra innings affair when Strasburg went seven one-run innings against the White Sox and left the game with a 1-0 deficit (though they would score one in the bottom of the seventh to technically take him off the hook) last Friday.

When discussing major league lineups, there is a lot to be said about length. Washington has three good to great hitters in Adam Dunn, Ryan Zimmerman and Josh Willingham, who have produced 43 of their 65 home runs and make for as stout a middle of the order presence as can be found in the majors. Yet, the trio might as well be an island and when they hit slumps there are not much other tools that manager Jim Riggleman can deploy to get the team over the hump in games where the starters give them a chance to win, as has been the case in the last six games against the White Sox and Royals.

It starts at the top. Nyjer Morgan, for all his supposed defensive prowess (great UZR/150 last year of 39.4, projected to be at -7.3 so far this year), is simply not a leadoff hitter. His slash line of .244/.304/.320 is below replacement level and his WAR of -.4 means that he has actually cost the Nationals half a win this year as opposed to where the Bill Games projected him to be at 2.4 before the season. He has 15 stolen bases but his percentage is terrible with 11 times caught stealing. Yet, Riggleman has little choice but to roll him out in the No. 1 spot every day and hope he makes some plays. Morgan will eventually come around to be a little bit better than replacement but general manager Mike Rizzo should keep his eyes open for a legitimate leadoff hitter either later this summer or in the Hot Stove. Length in the a lineup starts with two hitters at the top of the lineup who can get on base for the middle of the order and Morgan's .304 OBP just does not cut it.

Then there is second baseman Christian Guzman. He is a decent complimentary player and at first glance you might think that he is a consistent contributor with his .303 average. Yet, he has a .329 OBP, about league average and that is actually better than his career average of .308. Add to that his .389 slugging percentage (.414 usual league average) and, overall, Guzman is more of a liability than a benefit. Taken as a unit, the table setters for the Zimmerman/Dunn/Willingham trio provide scant opportunity for the big boys to feast.

On the other end the Nationals have Ian Desmond at shortstop, Ivan Rodriguez at catcher and Roger Bernadina in right. Desmond is a shell of a hitter at .251/.286/.381 and his minors line of .256/.326/.388 through five seasons does not bode well for future production. Riggleman tends to have him in the No. 8 spot which basically gives the lineup two automatic outs with the pitcher in the No. 9 spot. Despite his "hitting," Desmond has a .07 WAR, mostly because he plays decent defense with a 2.5 UZR (6.7 UZR/150 projected) thus far.

Rodriguez's line of .313/.338/.416 is good but deceiving. Of his 52 hits, 12 are doubles with one home run and one triple, making him, for all intents and purposes, a singles machine. Combine him with Desmond in the bottom third of the order and the slugging and on base percentages that lengthen a lineup are virtually nil.

Then there is Bernadina. In his first full season, he is holding his own at .284/.344/.436 with six home runs and 20 RBI in 49 games and 164 plate appearances. His OPS+ of 108 shows that he is eight percent better than league average. In a perfect world he would be a great compliment lower in the lineup but at this point might be better suited in the No. 2 slot or even leadoff. Outside of the slugging trio, he has been there fourth best hitter this year, with apologies to Pudge. He might be due for a regression with a .330 batting average on balls in play but, lucky or not, there are not a lot of options in the cupboard.

There are things to like in Washington. The core is sound with Dunn/Zimmerman/Willingham, a top-five National League starter (and likely better than that in years to come) in Strasburg and a sound bullpen with Matt Capps, Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard. Yet, there is no bench to speak of, the rest of the lineup is spare parts and starting pitching depth is non-existent. Yet, the task in front of Rizzo is not impossible. A couple key additions (maybe a big free agent hitter and a couple upgrades to the the spare parts) and the Nationals have the chance to be competitive next year. Considering how the National League fluctuates on a year-to-year basis, that may be good enough to grab a playoff spot.

There will be money to spend as well as the Washington market (even with the Orioles just to the north) figures to be able to support an above average payroll. Hey, if the Twins can have a $100 million payroll this year, the Nats certainly should be able to spend some money. Jim Bowden may have thrown the organization off three or four years with his roster bungling (and alleged scandal) but all is not lost in the nation's capital. Strasburg's buzz may help convince a marquee name into Nationals Stadium and from there it could be off to the races. Either way, the prospect of continuous 59 loss seasons should be behind the organization. There is hope to be competitive next year . . .

Or at least be in contention in September. In Washington recently, that would still amount to a major coup.