Tuesday, January 17, 2017

2017 National Baseball Hall of Fame Ballot

The 2017 National Baseball Hall of Fame announcement is tomorrow. I don’t have a hall of fame vote, but have attended induction weekend in July every year since 2009 and am eagerly awaiting another class. Here’s how I’d vote if I was lucky enough to be able to.

Tim Raines: It’s absurd that Raines has had to wait this long. He has a better stolen base success rate than Rickey Henderson and a higher career on-base percentage than Willie Mays. Yet he is still not in the hall of fame as he enters his final year of eligibility. It’s hard to think of a player whose long wait was as unwarranted as Raines’ exclusion for so many years. It looks like he’s going to get in, but it’s way overdue. He should be at the top of everyone’s ballots.

Jeff Bagwell: 1991 NL rookie of the year, 1994 NL MVP, 449 career homers, a lifetime batting average of .297, and a career on-base percentage of .408. Bagwell’s case is strong. While he’s shy of the 500-homer plateau, Bagwell was still a very productive player in 2003 and 2004 before a shoulder injury in 2005 put an abrupt end to his career. Without the shoulder injury, Bagwell likely could have easily stuck it out for a couple more seasons and hit 51 more home runs. But that should not be an argument used against him. He belongs in Cooperstown.

Vladimir Guerrero: Guerrero is often remembered for his free-swinging approach at the plate. But his offensive numbers were terrific as his home run total was identical to Bagwell’s 449, but his lifetime batting average 21 points higher at .318. Not only was he one of the game’s most dangerous hitters throughout his career, but in his time as a right fielder in Montreal and his early days in Anaheim, running on Guerrero and his arm was like playing Russian roulette. He may not make it this year, but he shouldn’t wait much past 2018.

Ivan Rodriguez: Jose Canseco’s book isn’t enough for me to leave Pudge off my ballot. Rodriguez is one of the best two-way catchers the game has ever seen. Canseco’s book is the only known evidence against Rodriguez and if you look at his numbers, there is a not a huge spike that would indicate Rodriguez was a steroid user.  His statistics increased steadily as he entered his prime and for the most part decreased steadily coming out of his prime. However, due to the speculation, Rodriguez’s voting percentage is the one I’m most interested in seeing tomorrow.

Fred McGriff: Despite being known as the crime dog, McGriff was a victim of playing by the rules throughout his career. As Tom Verducci points out here, McGriff is the only player without steroid ties to hit more than 475 home runs and not be enshrined in the hall. If there was no strike in 1994 and 1995, McGriff would have had another 67 games to hit seven more home runs to get to the 500-homer benchmark. It does not make any sense why he never gets close every year.

Curt Schilling: Yes, he is certainly not a model citizen. But it’s silly to invoke the character clause as many do against Schilling. His career peaked in the heat of the steroid era which says a lot for a starting pitcher at that time. Additionally, he was one of the game’s best postseason pitchers. He’s borderline for sure, but gets a nod from me.

Edgar Martinez: This is where it got tough for me. My last three players all played positions that just simply are not as valuable. That said, Martinez’s offensive numbers and advanced metrics are too good to ignore. As a National League purist, it hurts my soul to advocate for a designated hitter, but I don’t think the argument against Edgar is strong enough to keep him out.

Trevor Hoffman: I don’t put much weight into saves as a statistic, but Hoffman continually found ways to get outs 25, 26, and 27 without the overpowering stuff that other closers possessed. His change-up carried him throughout his career and if it weren’t for Tony Gwynn, he’d probably be the face of the San Diego Padres. Whether that says more about the Padres or Hoffman is a debate for another day. I can see where those that do not vote for Hoffman are coming from, but for Hoffman to have the kind of career he had as a closer without a fastball that topped out in the upper 90s, is impressive enough for me.

Billy Wagner: From an analytical perspective, plenty of people will argue that Wagner was better than Hoffman.  Wagner’s voting percentages have not been close, and he’s in danger of coming in below five percent and falling off the ballot. But in addition to the analytical argument in his favor, it’s hard to say he didn’t pass the eye test either. He had that overpowering stuff Hoffman didn’t have and would regularly blaze his upper 90s, and occasionally triple digits, fastball past hitters. It was hard not to enjoy.

Notable exclusions: I understand the arguments for Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens and agree with them to an extent. Yes, both are Hall of Famers without taking steroids. However, we never got to see that play out throughout their respective careers and I cannot get behind placing either one or any known steroid user into the Hall of Fame. Of course, the Baseball Writers Association of America cannot vote for Pete Rose, but the fact that any player that used performance-enhancing drugs would get into the hall of fame over Pete Rose makes me cringe. Mike Mussina is an interesting name and certainly had a terrific career. But, he did not pass my eye test when it comes to Cooperstown. There are many great players that are left out of the hall of fame and in my opinion, Mussina is another one. Lastly, Larry Walker had an exceptional career, but there’s too much inflation in his home-road splits for me to vote for him. Take that Coors Field.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

State of the Eagles entering vital offseason

If your favorite football team’s general manager or owner is having a press conference during the first week of January, that’s usually not a good sign. Either the team is making a coaching change or is holding an end-of-season media day. Last year, the Eagles were making a coaching change, and this year in the first week of January, president of football operations Howie Roseman was addressing the media looking back on 2016 and discussing what’s next.

In 2016, the Eagles posted a 7-9 record for the second straight year. However, there seems to be more optimism surrounding the Eagles right now than there was at this time one year ago shortly after Chip Kelly was fired. Mainly because in Carson Wentz, the team appears to have the elusive franchise quarterback that they haven’t had since Donovan McNabb still wore the midnight green. Additionally, the end of the 2015 season was a clear indication that the team had quit on Kelly as evidenced in several blowout losses in the second half of the year. This season, except for a home game against Green Bay and a road game in Cincinnati, the Eagles were competitive in almost every game they played which has sparked a debate over how close the team is to contending for a Super Bowl.

                                                     Michael Perez/Associated Press

Roseman made it clear at his press conference today that there are still glaring deficiencies on the roster that need to be addressed. The Indianapolis Colts have been mentioned on Philly sports talk radio as the prime example of what the Eagles cannot afford to amount to. A team with a franchise quarterback and a roster devoid of talent elsewhere. Finding the right players to supplement the roster and fill the holes is what this offseason is all about. You did not need to watch every play of every game to know the Eagles need help at wide receiver and cornerback. Despite selecting Wendell Smallwood in the fifth round of last year’s draft, the Eagles certainly need to add a running back this offseason considering Ryan Mathews likely will not be back and Darren Sproles has hinted at 2017 being his last year in the NFL. They could also use some depth and linebacker and edge rusher. One of the team’s better players, defensive tackle Bennie Logan, is set to become a free agent.

Yes, it goes without saying that some of these roster holes are a direct result of indefensible personnel decisions by Kelly. But there’s nothing the Eagles can do about those decisions now. As a matter of fact, it seems very plausible that previously released wide receiver DeSean Jackson may return to Philadelphia in free agency. What matters now is if the Eagles have the right people in place to ascend from the NFC East cellar. Roseman indicated today that vice president of player personnel Joe Douglas will be heavily involved in draft preparation, but Roseman said he will still have final say. It doesn’t seem like current head coach Doug Pederson is going to be all that involved on the personnel side but after one season, questions remain as to if Pederson can be a successful NFL head coach. Between the moves made by Roseman and Douglas in the upcoming offseason and how Pederson fares in his second season, 2017 is going to be a pivotal year in determining the trajectory of the Philadelphia Eagles. Nobody’s expecting a Super Bowl, but it’s fair to expect a better roster and for the Eagles to win some more close games. That is how you can measure progress for this football team this year.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Everyone loses with Sixers' logjam at center

It’s been the biggest question facing the Sixers during their thorough rebuilding effort that stretches back to the 2013 NBA Draft.  The team has accumulated several high draft picks during the last four drafts and has more on the way. However, almost all the lottery picks the Sixers have made during what’s been coined as “The Process” have been used on centers. As the team created a logjam of big men, fans and media alike began to speculate on what the end game was. It was apparent that a trade would ultimately have to be made. Nerlens Noel sat out his first season while rehabbing from a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Joel Embiid missed his first two seasons while recovering from a broken navicular bone. Jahlil Okafor missed the end of his rookie season with a torn meniscus. This season is the first time in which all three are healthy and it’s only becoming more obvious that all three will not be able to remain on the Sixers roster for the team’s long-term future. Here’s a look at why nobody involved in the situation is benefitting:

Nerlens Noel: The Kentucky product has been at the forefront of most discussions involving the frontcourt glut. Since the preseason, Noel has made several comments about his discontent surrounding the situation. After Friday’s home loss to the Lakers, a game in which he only played eight minutes, Noel spoke with reporters and said he’s “too good to be playing eight minutes.” For several reasons, Noel is the at the core of the issue. His recent knee injury that kept him sidelined for the first six weeks of the season and cut into the amount of time coach Brett Brown had to experiment with. The NBA’s trade deadline is approximately two months away and it would have helped the Sixers to have had those six weeks at the beginning of the season to evaluate different frontcourt combinations with these three centers and other recently drafted big men like Richaun Holmes and Dario Saric. Noel’s rookie contract is set to expire after this season. The clock is ticking on the Sixers to either trade him or re-sign him. Lastly, Noel’s open displeasure about the situation has not helped anyone’s cause either. Front offices across the NBA have reportedly grown skeptical about his character which hurts Noel’s desire to be traded and any return the Sixers may get. Noel’s assessments about the situation, as honest as they were, aren’t doing himself or the team that’s employing him any favors.

                                                Bill Streicher/USA Today Sports

Jahlil Okafor: After Okafor was drafted, debates already started about whether Okafor or Noel would be the right big to attempt to pair with Embiid. It’s been 18 months since the team selected Okafor and those debates have not stopped. The Sixers have recently attempted to play Okafor and Embiid together and it doesn’t seem to be working. Okafor’s lack of agility and quickness make it virtually impossible for him to guard stretch power forwards on the perimeter, and in handing that task over to Embiid, the Sixers are minimizing one of their franchise players as Embiid has proven to be a fantastic shot blocker and defensive anchor which is another thing Okafor cannot do. Offensively, Okafor’s range is very limited outside of the paint and therefore this forces Embiid to play almost exclusively on the perimeter when he is in the game with Okafor. While Embiid has proven to be an effective three-point shooter, his offensive repertoire stretches well beyond outside shooting and therefore Okafor is again minimizing Embiid. Given that Okafor’s skillset does not seem to be properly suited next to Embiid, it’s likely that Okafor would either be forced to accept a lesser role, or, regardless of what happens with Noel, also be moved.

Joel Embiid: Embiid has been as advertised so far in his rookie season and it looks like the Cameroonian was worth the wait. There’s no doubt that Embiid and 2016 number one overall pick Ben Simmons are the cornerstone pieces the Sixers should move forward with. However, Embiid has sounded less than thrilled recently about playing with Okafor and it’s hard to blame him when seeing some of the concerns about the fit between the two come to fruition. We have yet to see Embiid play with Noel this season, however the franchise is doing itself a disservice if it does not maximize Embiid’s full skillset.

Brett Brown: As if he hasn’t dealt with enough already. Brown is currently in his fourth season on the Sixers’ sideline. He spent the previous three seasons shuffling through rosters of journeymen who are fringe NBA players at best and now the result of that is a loaded front court that is currently posing more questions than answers. Brown told reporters it would be “an extreme challenge” if Noel, Embiid, and Okafor were all on the roster for the rest of the season. Whenever Simmons returns from a broken foot, Brown will only have more on his plate and must figure out who the best players are to help Simmons reach his potential.

Front Office: The architect of all of this is no longer with the Sixers. Towards the end of last season, ownership made a change and forced former general manager Sam Hinkie out the door and brought in Bryan Colangelo to seemingly enter the next phase. Perhaps Hinkie had an idea of how he would address this if given this past offseason to push the buttons, but that’s a moot point now. Many of the concerns about Noel in a contract year have fans eagerly anticipating a trade to be made and Colangelo has now stepped into a situation in which he likely has very little leverage in trade negotiations. Thanks to Noel’s open displeasure and contract situation, many believe the team has no choice but to cut their losses. However, executives throughout the NBA are aware of the Sixers’ roster imbalance and would be wise not to give up too much in a trade.  After all, if Noel gets to free agency and signs an offer sheet with another team, then the Sixers either lose him for nothing or match the offer sheet and the front court problem will only linger. If Okafor is the big that the team would rather move, then it’s difficult to say the return would be much better. Many of the concerns about Okafor’s fit with Embiid could be concerns for other teams. Okafor has been billed as a throwback big man and his skillset is not ideal for a front court player in today’s NBA. Regardless, balancing out the roster is going to be a challenge for Colangelo and even if a trade is made, it’s not likely the Sixers will be on the winning end of it.