Monthly Archives: November, 2014

Patriots Climb to 2nd in Football Outsiders’ Rankings

As I do every week, I checked the Football Outsiders Week 12 DVOA rankings today eagerly. After beating up what FO ranked as the best defense in the league 2 days ago and while holding a good offense (as long as the Lions have Calvin Johnson) to 9 points, the Pats had to finally rise up past what they were at 5th last week, right?
Oh yeah. The Pats rose. They rose all the way to 2nd, and boosted their DVOA percentage overall from 19.6% to 25.7%, which is a huge jump. After week 10, they were 8th, and then 5th in week 11, and now 2nd behind only the Broncos in Week 12.
Last week, the Pats were ranked 4th, 13th, and 4th in offense, defense, and special teams, respectively. This week, they’re 4th, 10th, and 3rd, which isn’t the kind of jump you’d expect given the overall jump from 5th to 2nd. They’re a ways back of the Broncos and Packers in terms of offense, but surprisingly, the team in 3rd who they’re barely behind (17.8% to 17.1%) is the Steelers. I know that Big Ben has had some amazing games this year, but they’re also had some flops. Kinda weird, but whatever.
I find this week’s rankings really interesting because the AFC has basically been the same at the top for 3 years. Both in 2012 and 2013, the Broncos and Pats were at the top FO’s rankings. In fact, in both 2012 and 2014, the two were/are at the top of the entire league. For a league that’s all about parity… well, maybe it’s not all about parity. It come down to quarterbacks and coaching, like we always hear, and the Pats and Broncos are just better than everyone. John Fox is no Bill Belichick, but the Broncos organization is great at giving Peyton Manning whatever he damn well pleases. And Belichick is Belichick, and that’s how you get the best teams being the best for the relatively long stretch of time (by NFL standards) of 3 years.
Next week’s challenge: Destroy the Packers by enough to take over their reign as 2nd best offense in the league.

Red Sox Sign Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval

By now, you’ve heard the news.  The Sox have signed Hanley Ramirez to a 4 year, $88 million deal with a vesting option of another $22 mil in the final year.  They’re also about to sign Pablo Sandoval to a 5 year deal of probably about $100 million.

The question going around New England today, and rightfully so, is where Hanley will play.  He can apparently move to the outfield, but he would become the 87th outfielder there.  Yeonis Cespedes would likely be the one traded… nevermind, you’ve heard that before also.

So let me try to say one thing that you might not have heard: Ben Cherrington is clearly following the Daryl Morey strategy of “Just Collect Assets.”  Cherrington is betting that he can cash in those assets in order to actually fill the needs that the Sox will have, aka starting pitching.  And the strategy seems like it should work much easier in the MLB than NBA, where the rosters are greater and it’s easier to trade for a starting pitcher like Mat Latos than a superstar like, say, Dwight Howard.

Also, to break down the signings themselves, I asked what the Red Sox should pay Sandoval, and I said that my limit for 5 years would be $115 million, so by those standards, the Sox are getting a good deal.  With the Hanley deal… Hanley is 2.5 years older than Sandoval, and he’ll be playing a less important position, and I don’t think he’s as good of a player as Kung Fu Panda, despite what many others, and the dollars themselves, might think.  But to pay a guy for only 4 years, you have to pay extra per year, so the deal becomes worth it.

My heart doesn’t usually get in the way of my head.  In fact, it was Daryl Morey himself who said “You can’t afford to be emotional.”  But I really, really want Jon Lester on the 2015 squad.  Hopefully the owners feel that there’s enough cash left for him, and then this offseason will have been awesome.

David Pastrnak Called Up

Well, if there was ever a time to call up a rookie like Pastrnak for no more than 9 games, probably, then now is the time.  With David Krejci, Brad Marchand, and Chris Kelly injured, and with Simon Gagne being Simon Gagne, it’s time for the B’s to give their 2014 1st round pick a shot.

Here’s my biggest concern.  David Pastrnak, who is 18 years old, is 5’10” and 165-170 pounds.  That might be a problem.  Even Ryan Spooner has a good 5-15 pounds on him. (I’m using ranges because I refuse to believe that official listings for athletes are “official.”)  Pastrnak is very gifted offensively, which is the appeal for having him on the team in his rookie year, similar to Tyler Seguin 4 years ago.

But there are differences between the two.  Seguin was the 2nd pick, while Pastrnak was the 25th.  And maybe more importantly, Seguin had a more polished game for the North American style of hockey, while Pastrnak started playing in North America with the Providence Bruins last month.

But this still might be a good move, provided that Pastrnak’s time with the Bruins does get his feet wet enough to constitute a real learning experience.  He can get some ice time on a scoring line at right wing, and that’ll be that.

The Bruins cannot, however, have Pastrnak play 10 games unless he’s absolutely transcendent.  Once a rookie plays 10 games, then that burns a year off of his 3 year Entry Level Contract.  Given how cap strapped the B’s will be for a few years (although this year will probably be the worst), the B’s need to use the full 3 years of Pastrnak’s ELC.

So that’s the first main issue, but I think Peter Chiarelli knows that.  As far as where Pastrnak will play… well, I don’t even think Claude Julien knows that.  Depends on who’s healthy, depends on which lines are available.  I’m not gonna pretend to have any idea.

Bruins Play Habs Tonight; Everybody Injured

Here are the Bruins lines tonight.  I’m going to add a little something after each line.

Smith-Bergeron-Griffith
Smith on the left? Hasn’t happened since Marchand’s huge slump over a year ago.  Ok…

Lucic-Soderberg-Eriksson
Love this line.  Soderberg and Eriksson usually play really well when it’s Matt Fraser or Chris Kelly on the line, so let’s see how dominant they can be with Lucic there.  I’d like to see Claude experiment with this line in the future.

Paille-Campbell-Gagne
This is the 3rd line?  Gregory Campbell and Simon Gagne shouldn’t be on the 4th line of an NHL contender, let alone the 3rd.  What does this say about the 4th?

Lindblad-Khoklachev-Fraser
Ok now this is weird.  I know that Claude’s options were slim, but doesn’t it seem really weird that Fraser is on the right and Reilly on the left? They both do better on the other side.  I know that you can’t move Reilly off of a line with Bergeron, but there’s a clear correlation between how Fraser does and what side of the ice he’s on.  I would have probably swapped Griffith and Fraser, and then had Reilly and Fraser switch sides.  I like the idea of having 3 Providence teammates play together, which is why Simon Gagne shouldn’t be 4RW.  But I’d rather have Griffith bite the bullet and play on the 4th than have Fraser and Smith both play on sides that don’t help them.  But it’s hard to blame Claude for this one. Remember the 24/7 episode last year when Mike Babcock said that he was thinking of allowing his 14 year old daughter to play because there were so many injuries?  Yeah, that’s what Claude is dealing with, so it’s hard to blame him.

What this game really might come down to is whether or not Tuukka plays like Tuukka or “Versus Montreal Tuukka.”  Niklas Svedberg played last night so that the Vezina winner could play like the Vezina winner against Montreal, so let’s hope that he actually does.  

Patriots Re-sign LeGarrette Blount

Yeeee buddy.

Yes, that was a Jersey Shore reference.  Let’s move on.

Because Bill Belichick is the kind of reactionary coach who listens to what I think on this issue, he re-signed LeGarrette Blount Force Trauma on a 2 year deal.

As much as I wanted the deal yesterday, it’s important to note that this doesn’t change a whole ton, at least of right now.  The biggest aspect of this is that Jonas Gray was the only runner the Patriots had who had shown signs of being able to run in a disciplined and effective way between the tackles in 2014.  Brandon Bolden is mainly for special teams, James White is a work in progress, and Shane Vereen is better at all of the other things he does.

If Gray goes down, now there’s insurance.  Blount and Gray are relatively similar types of runners, although the difference in stature between the two will be a nice change every once in awhile.  But Blount is mainly insurance for Gray.

That doesn’t mean we can’t be pumped about it.  Now, the Pats have 2 runners who we actually have faith in, which hasn’t always been the case with the Pats.  Even in 2003 that was the case, and it was the case before Blount started going off last year because Stevan Ridley liked to pretend that the football was covered in Vaseline.  And if Jonas Gray unfortunately turns out to be a one game wonder, there’s a backup option.

Also, as Mike Reiss pointed out, we also have to look at this move from the perspective of next year.  Ridley, Vereen, and Bolden all head into free agency, leaving Blount as an option with Gray and White in case they’re the only ones left.

I doubt that both Ridley and Vereen will leave.  I like Vereen a little better because he’s more versatile, but he’s the one who’s more likely to go.  Ridley will be coming off of an ACL tear, and he’ll want to prove himself for a full season before really trying to hit the free agent market.  He’s probably gone after 2015, but this coming February, I see him signing a 1 year, prove it deal.  Vereen might go, although hopefully Belichick sees his versatility as a reason to keep him.  But there is a good chance that one of the two leaves, especially since there had to be a reason for BB to draft James White.  But whether either of them leaves or just Brandon Bolden — who will only stay if he’s made officially and exclusively a special teamer — it’ll be helpful to have Blount on the veterans minimum.

As for the concerns about Blount in the locker room based off what happened in Pittsburgh, I’m not having any of it.  Blount was grateful for the opportunity he got last year, and he knows that, after getting released 10 games into a 2 year contract, he better be on his best behavior.  Besides, this is the Patriots.  Ignore the Noise.

ignore the noise

Adam McQuaid Is Injured Again

Well, I’m shocked.

It’s time for Adam McQuaid’s yearly injury, and this time it’s a thumb injury that will keep him out 6-8 weeks.  Stanley Cup of Chowder did a great piece on McQuaid’s lenghy list of injuries that just never seems to end.  McQuaid might be one tough hombre, but his body and his durability don’t seem to agree.

Frankly, this loss isn’t huge, and may actually benefit the Bruins.  Claude Julien’s biggest problem as a head coach has been his reluctance to move on from his favorite guys when they’re just not that good anymore (Thornton, Campbell, Ference, and now McQuaid [note that I’m not including Chris Kelly here, because the desire to move on from Kelly is more on Chiarelli.  Kelly is a fine player, so it’s not Claude’s fault for playing him a decent amount — he’s just not worth $3 million]).  Adam McQuaid, with all of his injuries slowing him down, shouldn’t be the 5th defenseman (now 4th with Chara out) on a contender.  At best, he should be the 6th, and he should be the guy willing to drop the gloves more than anyone else to boost his, now that enforcers are correctly dying out.

Here are the Bruins possession stats for the year.  Look at McQuaid’s.  While he is playing against barely above average competition and starting a little under 50% of his non-neutral zone shifts in the defensive zone, his corsi is barely average.  What’s more, his corsirel is -9.0.  The Bruins are significantly worse with him on the ice than off.  Both Zach Trotman and Kevan Miller are putting up better numbers, Joe Morrow is pretty similar and obviously has a higher ceiling, and even Matt Bartkowski has performed better in his few games back in the lineup.  I’d take all of them over McQuaid.

McQuaid is in the final year of his contract that pays him $1.56 million this year, which is more than a 6th-8th defenseman should get.  That means that putting his salary on LTIR might actually save the Bruins some money.

With Chara still out, the Bruins are probably going to have Hamilton, Miller, and Krug on the right side defenseivly and Seidenberg, Morrow, and Bartkowski on the left.  I’d rather put Trotman in for Morrow and put Krug back on the left, but I’m ok with this.  It’s still early in the season, so it’s nice that just about everyone in the B’s defensive lineup minus Seidenberg still has room to improve (and maybe we can include Seids, since he is coming back from injury still), so these reps at this point in the season should be helpful.

Final point: McQuaid should not be brought back by the Bruins at any longer than a 1 year deal next summer, and maybe not at all.  There are too many options defensively, and too many guys who need reps.

Red Sox Make Offer to Jon Lester

The Red Sox have finally offered Jon Lester a contract, according to Gordon Edes of the Worldwide Leader.  I don’t say finally because it took them awhile into free agency to make the offer, but just because we’ve been waiting for this very offer since the bitter but hopeful afternoon of July 31.

But I want to look at another piece on ESPN right now, this one by David Schoenfield and referencing Jim Bowden.  In the piece, Bowden predicted that Lester would get 6 years, $138 million, for an average of $23 million per year.

At first glance, that seemed low.  Max Scherzer turned down 6-144 before the season, and he wouldn’t have done that if he and his agent didn’t know what they were doing.  Despite a minor step back from his amazing 2013, Scherzer was still great in 2014, so I think he’ll beat $144M.  What’s interesting about Lester, Scherzer, and Cole Hamels, who got an eerily similar 6 years and $144 million before 2013 started, is that they’re all born within 8 months of each other, so we can compare them pretty well.

Now, Hamels has a major difference from Lester and Scherzer: He got paid right before his age 29 season, while Lester will turn 31 in January and Scherzer in July.  That definitely matters, but that also means that it’s been 2 years since the deal was signed, and the price for free agents has also risen by a noticeable amount in those couple offseasons.

Hamels was a damn good pitcher, but he had never had a season of more than 4.6 WAR by Fangraphs’ metrics.  Lester just came off a season of 6.1, and we all know of his postseason filth.  Scherzer’s peak has been better than Lester’s, so it’s hard to compare the two.  I’d personally go with Lester because of the postseason performances, but I probably wouldn’t even argue with someone who took Scherzer.

All this makes me feel correct about my original gut feeling that $138 million was too low.  I’d (really, really) love for the Sox to keep the Lester deal to 5 years, because he’s not the bulkiest guy and it’s always a risk to be paying for a guy’s age 36 season with a number that starts out with “20” and has 6 more zeros after it.  If they do that, I fully expect Lester to get over $25 million per year, and I’d be more than happy about that, even if there’s a big buyout or vesting option attached for the 6th year.  If the Sox go to 6 years… well… I’d still want them to go up to $25 or maybe even $26 or $27 million per year for Lester.  Payroll flexbility doesn’t start Game 1 of the playoffs, and when a team has very little, if any, bad contracts on the roster (Thanks, Dodgers!), they can afford to spend this kind of cash — so long as the players deserve it.  I think Pablo Sandoval does, and I know that Jon Lester does.  He’s a superstar, and you have to pay for those guys.

 

Steelers Release LeGarrette Blount; Should Pats Re-sign Him?

After leaving the field early in the Steelers’ embarrassing loss to the Titans last night, they have released LeGarrette Blount.  The obvious question becomes whether or not the Patriots should scoop up the guy who rushed for 166 yards and 4 TDs 10 months ago in the playoffs against the Colts.

But this question comes at an interesting time, because the Pats now have a new guy who ran for 4 TDs and even more yards in Jonas Gray.  It’s easy to say that Gray will fill the hole that Blount left, and that the Pats no longer need to consider Blount.

But I don’t see why not give him at least a workout.  I wouldn’t try to take many of Jonas Gray’s carries, but I think there is a lot we can learn from his performance Sunday Night where he rolled through Indianapolis with more fury than George Sherman rolling through Georgia.

While Gray had 37 carries, the next highest rusher in terms of attempts was… Julian Edelman… with 2 carries.  Shane Vereen only rushed once.  As Bill Barnwell masterfully pointed out, the Patriots’ game plan on Sunday night was to use Cameron Fleming as the 6th offensive lineman, create enough holes, and have a disciplined runner hit the holes at any cost.  That’s why the Pats chose Gray over Vereen on over 95% of those non-Edelman carries.

So is Gray really the only guy for that role?  And if he is, do we really want him to be?  Obviously a guy who was on the practice squad 5 weeks ago will not get 37 carries every game, but if the Pats are going to try to use the gameplan that demands such disciplined running, wouldn’t it be nice to have a different guy as an option?

Blount should never viewed as a significant threat to Gray’s carries, let alone his roster spot.  But I wouldn’t mind if he was a threat to the roster spots of either Brandon Bolden or James White.  Bill Belichick won’t cut White, who was a 4th rounder 7 months ago, because there’s no way that White’s value in his eyes has gone decreased that much.  So the question is whether or not you’d rather have Brandon Bolden than Legarrette Blount.

I’d take Blount.  He’s done it before for the Pats, specifically within the past year, while Bolden hasn’t done much at all.  Whatever personality issues Blount may have had in Pittsburgh shouldn’t be much of a concern, because he generally seemed to love Belichick, and he really seemed grateful for the opportunity that he got last year.  Of course, a guy with a checkered past who was on his last chance in New England shouldn’t be stupid enough to be a bad teammate in Pittsburgh, but it seems like a safe bet to think that Blount will be on his best behavior for 2.5 months in Foxboro.  Remember, Blount was a factor last year when Stevan Ridley was on the roster, and now Ridley’s done for the year.  Blount’s not a long term answer, but he’s a fine 3rd running back for 2 months.

Adrian Peterson Suspended for the 2014 Season; When Should He Be Allowed Back?

Adrian Peterson was suspended earlier today for “at least” the rest of the 2014 season, in a surprise to just about no one.  With the NFL clearly being the kind of governing body that reacts based on public reaction, we could all expect Peterson to not play a game in 2014.  Just can’t see how the NFL would bring back Peterson this year, especially after the Ray Rice issues.

It probably sounds like I’m taking shots at the NFL and Roger Goodell — which I really, really like to do — but here, I can’t.  Goodell actually handled this suspension perfectly (at least right now — it’s a little weird that both he and the Vikings flip flopped back in Week 2, but I’m just talking about the final ruling today).  ALmost pains me to say it, but Goodell nailed this one.

When you read his explanation in a letter sent to Peterson, Goodell put the emphasis on the right aspects of the situation, for the most part.  While I wasn’t a fan of him saying, “While an adult may have had a number of options when confronted with abuse…” because that’s clearly Goodell thinking of the Rice situation during this letter in  a completely different situation, he made up for it on the 3rd bulletpoint:

“Third, you have shown no meaningful remorse for your conduct. When indicted, you acknowledged what you did but said that you would not ‘eliminate whooping my kids’ and defended your conduct in numerous published text messages to the child’s mother. You also said that you felt ‘very confident with my actions because I know my intent.’ These comments raise the serious concern that you do not fully appreciate the seriousness of your conduct, or even worse, that you may feel free to engage in similar conduct in the future.”

THIS is the kind of stuff that the NFL, and the fans, have to care far more about.  Too often, there’s only a debate of whether or not people deserve a second chance.  We hear arguments like, “It’s a kid, so there are no second chances,” or “This is America, I think that a guy does deserve another shot.”  Both of those points are legitimate, but they leave out the aspect of the guy actually doing what he needs to do so that he can get another crack at the only way of making a living that he’s ever known.

If and only if Adrian Peterson goes through serious counseling, shows real remorse for his actions, guarantees that he won’t do such a thing again, actually follows through on that guarantee, AND becomes a spokesman against child abuse and against physical punishment of children in general, then he should be able to return in 2015.  A full season’s worth of a suspension is fair, especially because he hasn’t shown much remorse for his actions, as Goodell said.  But once he does, and once he starts to speak out against what he did, then he should be allowed back.

The obvious, and correct, comparison here is Michael Vick.  While Vick did actually serve his due time in prison, which is an important distinction because the federal government is far more competent in terms of punishment than the state of Texas, Vick came back from his prison sentence and immediately became one of the most prominent animal rights spokesmen.  He’d go back to neighborhoods like the one he grew up in, talked to the same kinds of kids who also viewed the men who were involved in dogfighting as role models like he did, and told htem all just how wrong he was and just how much remorse he had for what he had done.  That’s the key, and that’s what Adrian Peterson needs to do.

So, for right now, All Day hasn’t done nearly enough to earn his spot back on the Vikings.  Not even close, because he’s gotta truly realize, and then help others realize, just how wrong he was.  That kind of message is the one that both AP and the NFL want out there: You can have a second chance, but your past will never disappear.  Do everything you can to atone for your mistakes, and show everyone that they can come back from mistakes.  THEN you’ll earn your spot back.  But you’re not either denied or given a second chance, you have to earn it.

What Should the Red Sox Pay for Pablo Sandoval?

As you know by now, Pablo Sandoval is in Boston, and everyone is saying that the Red Sox really, really want him as the 3rd baseman for the 2015 squad.  As you probably also know, free agency prices in the MLB are skyrocketing by the day, as evidenced by 31 year old Russell Martin getting $82 million over 5 years.

For whatever reason, there have been 2 different price points in my mind since the World Series.  The 1st is 5 years, $110 million, or $22M per year.  The 2nd is 7 years, $122.5 million, or $17.5M per year.  Those seem like the two benchmarks to use in their respective number of years.

I’d sign Sandoval to both of those deals, but it’s clear to me that the better option of the two would be the 5 year deal.  In just about any sport, but especially baseball, which doesn’t have any stipulations on contracts, the years are usually what the teams end up regretting, rather than the dollars.  If the Yankees had signed A-Rod to a 5 year, $137.5 million deal instead of 10 years, $275 million — even if they would have had to boost the dollars significantly on the shorter deal in order to make it more realistic — they would have gotten a guy who was still averaging more than 4 WAR in those 5 years.  But in the last 5 years of the deal, they’re getting an injury plagued 2013, suspended 2014, and who the hell knows in 2015, 16, and 17.  Same thing with Ryan Howard, Mark Teixeria, and so many others.

So where exactly is the piece of hay that breaks the camel’s back?  (This is operating under the assumption that the Sox are budgeting themselves similarly to how the did last year, so we can’t just use the common sense response of, “They print money.  They can pay him whatever they want.”  Where is the magic dollar amount that the Red Sox should adopt the Bill Belichick mindset of “That’s one penny more than we’re willing to pay, so the answer’s no.”?

On the free agent market, each WAR is about $6 million right now, but over the length of a long term deal like Sandoval’s, that number will probably rise to an average of about $7 or $7.5M over the life of a contract.  An average player is worth about 2 WAR, and Sandoval should be worth an average of about 3 or 3.5 per year for the next few years.  This should tell you 2 things.  First, an average MLB player is worth $12 or $13 million right now.  Sports are beginning to run the world.  Second, Pablo Sandoval should be worth this kind of money, especially because you do have to give him some bonus points for how he steps up in the postseason.

For 4 years, I’d pay him $25 million per year.  An even nine figure salary for Sandoval if he takes that short of a deal.  Not a penny more.  For 5, I’d pay him $23 a year, or $115.  For 6 years, $20.5 per.  For 7, $17.5 per.  I wouldn’t go beyond the original number I laid out for 7 years, just because that’s soooo long for a 28 year old who is only 5-11 yet weighs 245.  For reference, Zdeno Chara, who admittedly plays a sport that shreds body fat way more than baseball, is 6-9 and about 260.

The focus has to be on cutting the years.  If the Sox can’t do that, then at least protect themselves by having a vesting option in the final year or 2 of the deal so that they aren’t stuck paying over $20 million for nothing.

But here’s what no one can deny: Pablo Sandoval would be a huge acquisition for the Boston Red Sox.  I’m rooting for it to happen, and no matter what the terms are, my reaction will be complete happiness if and when they sign him.  And that should be your reaction, too.