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Tuesday
Mar292016

Thoughts from the Throne 3 - NFL Free Agency

Hi again. Back onto our soap boxes we go with some of the most pressing topics of the NFL free agency period. (There was a decent time gap between Torsten and Shaun, so some of Torsten’s comments are dated, blame Shaun.)

 

What is the best NFL free agent signing so far?

 

Shaun: I think this is a combo platter for the Raiders. Bruce Irvin adds another pass rusher to work opposite Khalil Mack. He adds championship experience to a young team with a lot of talent. The other is Kelechi Osemele. Osemele is one of the best run blocking guards in all of football, and the Raiders need help there. Their biggest weakness is in the running game, and Osemele instantly improves that part of the game even before they add a dynamic back to the mix. He is not a bad pass blocker either, which will help Derek Carr, who is proving to be the real deal at quarterback.

 

Torsten: If you ask me, it’s one of the most recent. When the Patriots brought aboard Chris Long with a one-year deal, they once again demonstrated that they are just that much smarter than everyone else. Sure, it’s probably easier to recruit players to a team with a consistent track record of winning. But rewind the clock two years, Long is considered an excellent all-around defensive end, not unlike you might expect from a guy once taken with the second overall draft pick. Sure, the last two years have been injury struck for him, but a guy with his track record, even at age 31, could have gotten more money and years. Instead, the Pats get him on the cheap for one year. If he stays healthy and pays off, it’s the genius move of the off-season. If he gets hurt again or experiences a surprising drop off in his level of play, it’s no big deal because the Pats are fairly deep at the position and there’s no commitment beyond this year. It’s the perfect high reward, no risk move.

 

What is the worst NFL free agent signing so far?

 

Shaun: Here comes another duo. The New York Giants overpaid for Olivier Vernon and anything above the veteran’s minimum is overpaying for JPP. Vernon was solid as the number two pass rusher opposite Cameron Wake, but now he is opposite the man who went in for more surgery in Jason Pierre-Paul. The stupidity of a fireworks accident aside, JPP struggled all year trying to find a glove/club that worked for him and has had many surgeries and lost multiple fingers, so of course they re-sign him.

 

Torsten: I don’t have to go very far down the list. I don’t think Malik Jackson is a bad player by any stretch, but if you don’t think his 2015 level of play was inflated at all by being between Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware, you probably have some reevaluating to do. I get it, you’re Jacksonville. The offensive core of Bortles, Robinson, Hurns and Yeldon has you oozing with optimism. You just need that defense to keep up. But for the circa 90 million used to sign Jackson, they could have signed two or three solid players. Add to that the expected return of Dante Fowler, and thing look rosy. But no. 90 million for Malik Jackson. Jeebus…

 

What was your reaction when Brock Osweiler signed with Houston?

 

Shaun: There was nobody I was more sure of in the 2012 NFL draft than Brock Osweiler to the Broncos (outside of Andrew Luck at the top of the draft). They were coming off a year with Tim Tebow at QB, and John Elway had said they wanted a tall, strong armed, pocket passer, so Osweiler was the perfect fit. Even after they signed Peyton Manning I was pounding the table that it was inevitable Elway drafted Osweiler. Now, after winning the Super Bowl, Elway gets the chance to give the prototype he wanted the reigns to his team…and he gets away. When it finally happened, there was enough rumbling that it wasn’t a surprise, but leading up to it I was shocked that Elway let him get away.

 

Torsten: “Holy sh*t!” That’s it. That was my reaction. It wasn’t the fact that he signed with Houston – they were once again done in by ruinously bad quarterback play so it made sense they’d try to address the issue – it was the money, obviously. Upon closer inspection the money doesn’t appear to be quite as absurd as it did at first. But if we’re talking about initial reactions, “shock” would be a good way to describe mine.

 

Who should the Broncos get as their quarterback?

 

Shaun: With RG3 now in Cleveland, I actually think Josh McCown could be a really good fit. He and Sanchez could compete for the starting gig and draft a developmental QB at the back of the first or second round. Guys like Connor Cook, Dak Prescott, and Christian Hackenberg will almost certainly be there for their first pick, and one or two might be there at their second. Dak Prescott has been referred to as the right handed Tim Tebow, so that might be enough to squash his chances in Elway’s eyes, but a trio of Sanchez, McCown, and a developing rookie to go with their defense is enough to be a playoff team.

 

Torsten: Not Mark Sanchez! Kidding. But not really. Look, Sanchez is good enough and experienced enough to justify being employed as a back up quarterback in the NFL. But he’s a risk-taker, and with that amazing defense, the Broncos just need a quarterback who will protect the ball so they can win the field position battle. I think they could win with Ryan Fitzpatrick short term, but the perfect solution isn’t on the market this year. Here’s what I tell Kubiak and Elway if I’m their personnel advisor or something. “Offer Buffalo a conditional 7th rounder for EJ Manuel, tell him your vision for the position (don’t turn the @#$%ing ball over) and have him compete with Sanchez for the job.” I really don’t think they need the media circus that would come with bringing in RG 3, or worse, Manziel in to compete for the job.

 

Homer Corner: What do you think of your team’s free agency (including trades) activity so far this NFL off-season?

 

Shaun (Patriots): When I first saw all the moves the Patriots were making, I loved it, but have soured in it some. They have a history of selling a year or two early than too late, but Chandler Jones can really disrupt a game. They deal him for a draft pick and Jonathan Cooper, who is an outright bust thus far in his career. They also trade for Martellus Bennett, who I like but is more of a mini-Gronk than an Aaron Hernandez type (murderer not included) that so many have talked about. I do like Chris Long, but they are bringing in a guy who is already a couple years past his prime. The guy I really do like is Shea McClellin. I loved him at Boise State but he really struggled with the Bears. His skill set allows him to be versatile, so a Mike Vrabel comp might be thrown out there, and if he is ½ the player Vrabel was it will be a steal.

 

Torsten (Rams): I think the jury is still out. I often get accused of giving the Rams unfairly low grades because of my dislike for Jeff Fisher, though hindsight almost always proves me right. So far though, I’d have to say they get a C+, with an asterisk indicating it could climb to a B+ or fall to an F.

They’ve done some things right so far. Not paying Janoris Jenkins and Rodney McLeod the crazy money that the Giants and Eagles did was smart. Both are good players but not close to worth that kind of cap-crippling money, especially when they have good depth in the secondary. The commonly agreed upon biggest hole they have is wide receiver, but nobody on the market was worth spending money on, and they haven’t, s that’s good. Keeping Will Hayes was critical – he’s quietly one of the best players in the NFL at his role (rotational defensive line). Keeping Mark Barron was a good move too, even if they overpaid slightly. Cutting Chris Long, James Laurinaitas and Jared Cook was understandable, but here’s where the question marks come up. You can make the argument that all three players had begun performing at a level not commensurate with their salary cap number. This is probably accurate, especially in Long’s case because of injury, but all three guys were still performing at a “useful” level. On a business level, cutting them makes sense so you can replace them with equal or higher performing players at a more cost-effective level. But that only really applies if you actually replace them. So far they haven’t. Here’s how their grade could go up. They use their number 15 overall pick to grab Ohio St. linebacker Darron Lee to fill the void left by Alec Ogletree who slides to the middle for Laurinaitas, and they package their two second rounders to move up and grab Eastern Kentucky’s Noah Spence to fill the void left by Long’s departure, and then sign a veteran pass-catching tight end like Owen Daniels on the cheap. Obviously these are hypotheticals and the names, especially Spence’s in a deeeeeeep DL draft, are interchangeable. But this kind of drafting would make the early moves of free agency make sense. Here’s how their grade could drop. They expect Hayes to become a full-time starter at 31, expect Barron to take over Ogletree’s outside linebacker spot (which he did admirably in 2015) instead of the hybrid backer/safety role he’s better suited (and built) for, and expect young guys like Bryce Hager and Ethan Westbrooks to take huge leaps forward that they’re not ready for. Lastly, and because Jeff Fisher IS an idiot when it comes to roster construction, you can’t rule out that he packages their first rounder and both of their seconds to move up to first or second overall and select Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott, because the thought of a Gurley/Elliott backfield is too much for his aging prostate to take.  

Monday
Mar142016

Thoughts from the Throne – 2. Spring Training / MLB

We’re back as promised! Many more random text conversations have transpired and now, here we are, ready to take down some of the elephants in baseball’s room. So why don’t we just start with the biggest one.

Did MLB get it right with Aroldis Chapman’s 30 game suspension?

Shaun’s Thoughts: To be determined. In a perfect world the Jose Reyes decision would have come first (correction, in a perfect world there wouldn’t be any domestic violence) but baseball could not wait for the Reyes trial to take place before deciding on Chapman. The fact there was no appeal means this was a negotiated and agreed to punishment, and in reality Chapman will only miss about 15 appearances. The real question comes when all the facts and legal processes play out with Reyes. Will they be able to truly drop the hammer with a full year suspension should it be warranted, or will 30 games become the number all appeals get dropped to. That is where the jury is still out (no pun intended) on the success of the Chapman suspension.

Torsten’s Thoughts: No, quite the opposite. It’s great that they want to make statement against domestic violence, but everything here just smells bad; the alleged greater ban if Chapman appealed is basically extortion. The number of games seems arbitrarily chosen. The threshold for criminal charges not being met is odd. The alleged firing of the gun in the garage is terrifying, but if it wasn’t at his girlfriend, is a separate issue from the DV. I just don’t know. At the risk of oversimplifying, I’d like to see an iron-clad policy in place resembling this: If you’re detained or arrested on suspicion of DV, you’re suspended, with pay, immediately until an investigation can be completed. If you’re confirmed to have actually engaged in DV, you’re suspended for 81 games without pay. If the DV resulted in injury, it’s 162 games. You can’t start serving your suspension while incarcerated. Again, I know I’m probably oversimplifying, but it shouldn’t be difficult to put a policy in place that’s transparent and iron-clad.

Are there any free agents still out there that can help a contending team?

Shaun’s Thoughts: Alex Rios did not have a great year last year, but he can still help a club as a fourth or fifth outfielder. I may be a bit biased as I got to know him a little over the past two springs, but he is impressive. He is from Alabama, grew up in Puerto Rico, and has played more games for a team based in Canada than any other team. He would bring a great locker room presence that can relate to all players regardless of background, he can act as an additional coach, and he can still perform some on the field. He could be a sneaky good pickup for young club looking to make a run. Oh, and he is the type of guy that after you meet in person, you realize he could steal your girl and you wouldn't even blame her, just saying.

Torsten’s Thoughts: Tim Lincecum. I’m reading he still wants to be a starter but if a team can convince him to transition to a bullpen role, he has shown the ability to be dominant. There’s precedent. Joe Blanton was a useful starter for years, became an oil spill, reinvented himself as a reliever, and was spectacularly good for Pittsburgh. Playoff caliber teams NEED guys who can shut town teams for multiple innings out of the pen. I’m a little befuddled, actually, that he’s resisting making the switch. If I were ever good enough to pitch in the big leagues, I would have preferred relieving over starting. The opportunity to meaningfully impact as many as 80 games in a season sounds more fun than meaningfully impacting 30ish.

Who is your breakout player for 2016?

Shaun’s Thoughts: Saying Mookie Betts would make a play for MVP has actually become somewhat trendy, and Xander Bogaerts was quietly one of the best shortstops in the game last year, but I am not choosing either of them. Instead I am going to pick somebody that last year would have been too easy, but this year is being overlooked. Byron Buxton was the top prospect in all of baseball going into last year for a reason, and we all know what a year it was for rookies. This year, if Buxton can stay healthy, he will become a household name to even the casual fan. He plays great defense and can really run, but at the plate he has fantastic bat control and enough strength in his wrists to show real power. He will officially arrive this year.

Torsten’s Thoughts: I have two. One in the breakout young player mold that most people assume this question is about, and one in a vet finally getting meaningful playing time and justifying it mold (think Justin Turner last year). And sadly for me, they’re both Mets. Michael Conforto looks like the absolute real deal. He’s got that mid-prime Bobby Abreu thing going on, and I mean that in most complimentary imaginable way. If you’ve forgotten how good he was, look up his stats from the early 2000s. My breakout vet is Jacob DeGrom, which is weird because going into his third season, he’s not exactly a vet, and he’s already broken out since he was an all-star in 2015. But I think this is the year you see him take the leap to elite status. If I had to guess a Cy Young winner for this coming season and Clayton Kershaw was not an option, it would be DeGrom.

BONUS Homer Corner: What Red Sox (Shaun) and Dodgers (Torsten) prospect are you dying to see in a Spring Training game?

Shaun’s Thoughts: I really want to see Anderson Espinoza throw in a Spring Training game. He has a big fastball but has hardly thrown in America, much less above complex league ball. Seeing Yoan Moncada play has been fun, but he is their top prospect and too easy to pick. The guy who I am really interested to see how he does this spring is Mauricio Dubon. He will likely be moving back to short since Javier Guerra has been traded and can play good defense up the middle. The question is just how quickly can the bat develop?

Torsten’s Thoughts: Two. And neither are Urias. People who know way more than me universally agree that if he stays healthy he’s basically a can’t miss guy. I really want to know what all the excitement is about when it comes to Jose De Leon and Cody Bellinger, who nobody really knew anything about before last year. Depending on who you believe, De Leon’s inclusion at last year’s trade deadline in any discussions for a front line starter was a deal breaker for the Dodgers, and some are saying Bellinger is Adrian Gonzalez’s heir apparent at first base. With lofty praise such as that, whose curiosity WOULDN’T be piqued?

Monday
Feb292016

Introducing Thoughts from the Throne: The NFL Draft

Welcome to the Stain's Thoughts from the Throne. Shaun and I are well aware that we've been light on the content for the past year or so. Both of us being new fathers, as well as general laziness, has contributed greatly to that. That said, we do want to post more frequently, and we think we have the solution with Thoughts from the Throne. 

It's pretty simple. We talk about sports all day long. We debate, we bicker, we agree, we wax poetic, and at the end of the day, the conversation dies and starts anew somewhere else another day. For the purposes of sharing our thoughts with you, our conversations were wasted. Well, no longer.

See, the beauty of a blog like ours is that we can share things the way we honestly feel about them. Not watered down, not catering to anyone, just our truth. So what we're doing now, once a week or more, is taking a few questions floating around the sports universe and telling it how it is. Think of it as kind of a mail bag, like we would have if we had enough readers to generate one. :)

We hope you enjoy Thoughts from the Throne. Our first edition will focus on the upcoming NFL draft, with a bonus question pertaining loosely to FIFA and its lengthy tradition of corruption. 

Roberto Aguayo is considered by some to be the best kicking prospect ever. What round can you justify taking a kicker?

Shaun’s thoughts: If Al Davis was still alive and running the Oakland Raiders, I would say first round to the Raiders as he has selected a punter (Ray Guy) and kicker (Sebastian Janikowski) in the first round in years past. In a non-Al Davis world, I would say a fifth round pick might be a reach, however the new PAT rules proved to be very impactful, making kickers even more important. Now I would say a third round pick could be justified if it is a contender looking to solidify a championship roster, otherwise I still wouldn’t take one until day three.

Torsten’s thoughts: I say it a lot. When was the last time a team with a lousy kicker won a Super Bowl? I don’t think you could ever justify using a first or second rounder. That’s where you’re looking for players who have an impact on a high percentage of plays throughout the game, whereas a kicker (or punter for that matter) only impacts a few. That said, those plays lead directly to points. If I’m a team with playoff aspirations, or even already a legit contender, and have a dodgy kicking situation (I’m looking at you, Carolina, Houston, Cincinnati…), I’m starting to give it serious consideration in the third round. Just look at Super Bowl 50. Graham Gano clanked a very makeable kick with the outcome still in doubt. It didn’t ultimately affect the end result, but it could have.

Robert Nkemdiche is a freakish athlete but has serious off-field red flags. Do you see him going in the first round?

Shaun’s thoughts: Yes, so long as he doesn’t fall out of any more hotel windows. He might be the best defensive tackle prospect since Ndamukong Suh who went number two overall after a certain favorite team of a Stain writer took Sam Bradford. Without the off-field issues, Nkemdiche might be in the mix to go number one, but a team at the back end of the first round who is, again, a championship contender should definitely take a flyer on him.

Torsten’s thoughts: If I’m the GM, no. I’m not against second chances, nor am I suggesting that he isn’t worth using a second rounder on, but my confidence that his incident is an aberration rather than a habit (minus the whole falling thing) isn’t there. For my first rounder, I want a guy who won’t have his ability to make a difference on the field impacted by those pesky four-game suspensions. That said, he’s absolutely a first rounder in April. There are a few teams who would take a serious look at him but on the off chance he’s still on the board when Seattle picks, he wouldn’t get by them.  

How many quarterbacks go in round one? Where do you see them landing?

Shaun’s thoughts: Two, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see four. Despite the small hands, I still feel Goff goes number two to the Cleveland Browns. I have been a big fan of Carson Wentz for over a year now, and would love to see him go to the Cowboys. If Joey Bosa does not fall to them, I could definitely see them taking Wentz, and I would love that (although I would like the Bosa pick more and see the Cowboys get a Connor Cook or Paxton Lynch in the second round). Should the Cowboys not take Wentz, it will get really interesting to see who moves up for him as the 49ers and Rams would suddenly be in the bidding war to get him. The Christian Hackenberg-Bill O’Brien connection is real and I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Texans take him in the first round, but ultimately I don’t think it happens. I could also see the Arizona Cardinals getting their QB of the future in Lynch, but again I don’t see it happening.

Torsten’s thoughts: Two. And they both go early. I would be beyond shocked if Jared Goff or Carson Wentz was still on the board after the first five or six picks. The drop-off from those two to Paxton Lynch isn’t necessarily all that severe, but there is some very intriguing mid-round talent at the quarterback position for teams willing to develop a guy for a year or two, such as Connor Cook, Dak Prescott, or Cardale Jones. Another guy I haven’t personally watched play, but read some complimentary things about this weekend is Western Kentucky’s Brandon Doughty. Why would you reach for Lynch when a handful of other guys in his tier project to be there for you in rounds two and three?

With the FIFA presidential election complete, what will be the next corruption scandal that rocks the sports world?

Shaun’s thoughts: NFL. With all the concussion issues, poor accounting, and Goodell losing the initial court battle with Tom Brady, there will soon be something big that happens that will really impact the NFL. If I were to guess, there will be a document that comes out that proves the NFL has been falsifying medical documents when it comes to head injuries that leads to a law suit big enough that the NFL owners fire Goodell.

Torsten’s thoughts: I’ve thought for years now that the NFL had a serious gambling problem with its referees. Referees’ “performance” in 2013 and 14 had me convinced I was right, but in 2015 I started to waver. Don’t get me wrong, they didn’t suddenly become good. But the dubious calls in 2015 looked far more like general incompetence than in previous years where they looked like poorly disguised endeavors to impact the result of the game as it pertained to the Vegas lines. A large scale NFL scandal certainly wouldn’t shock me, but sadly I think it might be the NCAA. It’s well established that the NFL crapped the bed with concussions. It’s tragic to see guys in their 40s and 50s descend into mental illness and ultimately kill themselves. But now we’re starting to see it with young men in their 20s. It breaks my heart, but what I think is going to happen is some 22-year-old is going to eat the business end of a gun. They’ll find CTE in his brain, and some video will surface of him obviously having sustained a concussion but being allowed to continue playing anyway. And that will be the tip of the iceberg.

Well, on that uplifting note… thanks for reading. If you have something you’d like us to discuss in a future column, email us at thestainsports@gmail.com or tweet us @thestainsports.

Wednesday
Dec302015

What Constitutes a Successful Fantasy Football Year?

I guess it’s all about perspective. For example, I played in seven leagues this year. If a crystal ball had informed me with the somewhat vague but iron-clad guarantee that I would finish no worse than third in any of my seven leagues, I would have gone on my way with a smug sense of self-satisfaction. The fact that I would stand to win only one of these leagues, however, was left out. Seven leagues. Seven top three finishes. But only one top finish? And while the odds are in my favor, not even that is guaranteed, as the one I may win is a points league that plays all 17 weeks, and while I have a lead going into the final week, nothing is ever certain. So now, having all the facts instead of just the vague promise of top three finishes across the board, I have to ask myself: Has this season been a success for me?

First, a little more about me. I consider myself, in as non-arrogant of a way as possible, the best fantasy football player in all of my leagues. This isn’t because I’m so much smarter than everyone else, or anything like that. I’ve just been playing for a very long time, and over the years I’ve gotten a pretty good handle on assessing players’ fantasy values relative to where they’re drafted, and their likelihood of success in a given week. That’s fantasy sports in a nutshell right there. Get pretty good at that one thing, and you’ve got most of the battle in hand.

Here’s the rub. While I consider myself the best player in all of my leagues, a significant number of the other players feel the same way about themselves! There’s a bit of player overlap, but not a ton. For example, Shaun, my partner here at The Stain, and I are in two leagues together. Several of our good friends, including Shaun’s wonderful soon-to-be wife, are in multiple leagues with us. But again, not a lot overlap. Out of a possible 76 or so players, about 60 are unique. Of those 60, probably half consider themselves to be top dog. That’s a ton of confidence.

That’s also the way I want it. I don’t play fantasy football (or any fantasy sport for that matter) to take candy from babies. I’m not trying to rip anyone off with ridiculous trades. I don’t want to build some insane roster of the 10 best players and just bulldoze everyone else who was left with scraps to choose from. I want the playing field to be level, and I want to have a slightly better roster thanks to astute mid and late round draft selections, and I want to win more weeks than I lose thanks to informed and intuitive line-up decisions. It’s one thing to be Kramer in a karate class with twenty 5-year-olds and come away as king of the hill, but it’s entirely another to stand at the starting line of an obstacle course with a large group of your peers and equals, and come away the champ.

So, is finishing among the top three in all of my leagues a success? Financially, I can say it is. Most of my leagues pay out for third place, and all of them do for second. But while a bit of a financial reward is nice, that’s not really why we play. A quick calculation in my head reaches a total in the neighborhood of $2,000 in prizes for winning all of my leagues. A couple grand would be a cool little bounty, but with a wife, kid on the way, and a mortgage, it’s a little bit south of the income I need to be providing. Ultimately, the real reason we play is so after we win, we can walk around like a ****ing peacock with its feathers spread and talk smack until the end of time. Yeah. So essentially, since at best I’m going to win one of seven leagues, it’s been an epic failure.

Well, not exactly. See, when you’re drafting your fantasy team, you’re not doing so with the thought, “This is the lineup I’m trotting out in the FINALS in four months!” Well, you might be, but if that’s what you’re doing, you’re in for a rude awakening come playoff time. Speaking of playoff time, that’s really what you’re drafting for. So many things can and do happen over the course of a football season that change the outlook and composition of your fantasy roster. You’re trying to prepare bye weeks, and… ok, segue.

When it comes to bye weeks, there are three prevailing philosophies. 1) Try and stagger your bye weeks so you don’t have a week where most of your top players are unavailable to you. 2) INTENTIONALLY try to have all of your top players have the same bye weeks so you’re essentially punting that week in exchange for being able to field your strongest possible line up all the other weeks. And 3) Don’t pay attention to bye weeks at all, draft the best possible player for your positions of need and cross the bye week bridge when you get to it. Personally, I’m 75% number 3, and 25% number 2. I’m zero % number one because, for right or for wrong, my brain cannot get wrapped around the concept of “let me figure out a way to field a less than optimal line up for weeks 4-11.” Can’t. Do. It. So, I pick the player I want and say heck with it. If it comes down to choosing between two players I like equally, and one of them has a bye week that matches a player at the same position I already have, I will choose that one so I can have both active for the maximum number of weeks. I don’t know if it’s right or wrong to do it this way, but it’s the way that makes the most sense to me.

Back to preparing for playoffs, in addition to bye weeks, you’re trying to create depth for flexibility, and put yourself in a position where an injury doesn’t destroy you…dammit! Ok, another segue.

Handcuffs. They’ve been ingrained as accepted fantasy strategy since the invention of the game. In the late rounds, you pick the back up to your top running back(s). That way, in the event that the top guy gets hurt, the backup seamlessly slots in. I effing hate this and almost without exception, don’t do it. I would rather try to find a player that projects to be productive without needing another player to get hurt for that to happen. And those players are indeed available in the 14th round. All this, of course, goes out the window when the bye weeks are done. At that point, you’re adding the backups to your stars and dropping your late round flyers and other fringe players since roster flexibility is far less vital when you’re not dealing with byes anymore. And I’m also a hypocrite, because in the one league where I owned Adrian Peterson, I stashed Jerick McKinnon too. I did so against all of my instincts, and everything I believe to be good fantasy strategy, and I did it because of a combination of factors. 1) AP is still the best fantasy RB, in that you can sharpie him in for top 3 stats at his position for the season before it even starts, unless 2) he gets hurt, which as a 30 years old back in the NFL, is an ever increasing possibility, and 3) when the end comes for RBs, it often comes quickly and it isn’t pretty. Also, 4) after the awful events of last year involving his kids, you never know what else might surface that could get him suspended, and 5) his leash is not long for any shenanigans. Lastly, 6) because of Minnesota’s offensive system and style, their running game can be successful with the back-up.

Here’s why I still hate it and feel the need to shower every time I tell people I hate handcuffing, yet the dirty secret of having McKinnon on my bench all year rattles in my brain. Do you really know who the handcuff is? In AP’s case, is it really McKinnon, or is it Matt Asiata? You’re not only using a valuable roster spot on a player who in a best-case scenario never sees the field, you don’t even really know if he’s the right leech to be sucking up that roster spot. Ask 100 fantasy “experts” before the season started who Jamal Charles’ back up was, they probably would all have told you Knile Davis. Who the eff is Charcandrick West anyway? And who the double eff is Spencer Ware!?  Let’s foreshadow to your 2016 fantasy football draft for a moment. Let’s assume you got a high pick and ended up choosing Rams’ stud RB Todd Gurley. We’re reaching the later rounds of your draft and your starters are pretty much all accounted for. You’re now in a spot where you are starting to accumulate depth, take flyers on boom or bust guys, or if you’re so inclined, go a little earlier than recommended to secure a top defense. (note: conventional wisdom dictates that you wait until your last two picks to get your kicker and defense. In ESPN standard scoring leagues, that’s all fine and good. But of my 7 leagues, 3 had some form of modified scoring in place that placed increased value on defenses. Always check that stuff before your draft.) Or, do you snag Tre Mason, Gurley’s presumed back up should he get hurt? Maybe in a 14 or 16 team league, where the waiver wire is a barren wasteland of suck, you do. But in a regular old 10 or 12 team league, there are still going to be guys available to draft that don’t require an injury to the starter to be able to provide you with some production. PPR darlings like Bilal Powell and Theo Riddick are a couple that come to mind. Anyway, let’s say the worst happens and Gurley goes down for an extended period with an injury. You’re not worried because you have Mason. After all, he looked capable as a rookie. Then, on the first drive of his first game as the starter, he coughs up a fumble in the red zone. And just like that, the Benny Cunningham era begins. Wait, maybe you also had Cunningham on your roster! Except, that while being a pretty good football player in general, what with special teams contributions and all, he’s just not a viable fantasy guy. So now the Rams have some weird hybrid thing going on with a combination of Cunningham, Tavon Austin, and perhaps Mason gets another chance in the backfield, but are you starting any of them now? Exactly. Meanwhile, you probably could have had Darren Sproles this whole time, or LeGarrette Blount.

Here’s another example. Say you end up with Marshawn Lynch. You lucky dog, you! Regardless of format, Lynch is an amazing fantasy back. Hedging your bets, you make sure you also get Fred Jackson and/or Christine Michael. After all, Beastmode has taken AND given a lot of hits. Who the eff is Thomas Rawls?

The examples don’t end there, but in case you printed this article so you could read it on the toilet, I don’t want you to get hemorrhoids so we’re going to keep moving.

We’re trying to build a roster that will get us into the playoffs, where anything can happen. And I was 7 for 7 there. So huge success? Gosh, who the heck knows at this point. Well, let’s look at what went right for me and what went wrong.

 

What went right:

 

First and foremost, I must say that contrary to what normally happens, I was very fortunate on the injury front this season. I had one league in which I lost Andrew Luck, Jamal Charles, Steve Smith Sr., and Julian Edelman to injury, and several others where I lost one or two of those guys, but by in large, I was lucky. Even on that one team where I lost everyone and their mother, I was able to “make do” replacing Luck with a combination of Ryan Fitzpatrick and Kirk Cousins. Receiver was fortunately deep and I got lucky with Doug Baldwin, and at running back, well, you’ll see in the next section who I got a little lucky with.

Also, when I like a player, I try to get him on all of my teams. Some players who play in as many as or even more leagues than I do try to avoid having the same player on every team so if they get hurt or something goes disastrously wrong, it doesn’t scuttle every single team you have. Me, I go the other way. If I like someone, I’m betting on him to go big and help all my teams. Quite often, I’m right. This season it was DeVante Freeman (6 of 7 teams), DeAndre Hopkins (5 of 7 teams), Delanie Walker (4 of 7) ((you may be seeing a trend here, I apparently like guys whose names start with De…)), Eric Decker, Carson Palmer, Tyler Eifert (3 of 7 each) and more.

And then there’s when I don’t like a player. I will simply not draft him. Almost regardless of what round we’re in. If we’re being realistic, even if you don’t like LeSean McCoy but he’s somehow available late, you’re going to take him. But for the most part, that doesn’t happen. And I was rewarded immensely for having the following players on exactly zero of my teams: DeMarco Murray, Peyton Manning (I did pick him up on waivers to make one start for me in one league), Calvin Johnson (not terrible, but for where he gets picked?), Alfred Morris, Eddie Lacy, DeVante Adams (another guy I snagged on waivers for a week or two when desperate times arose), and Ryan Tannehill.

 

What went wrong:

 

Sometimes, I’m just wrong about a guy. This season it was Jordan Matthews and Melvin Gordon who disappointed me the most. I had those guys on multiple teams. I would have had Carlos Hyde on all of my teams had others not shared my enthusiasm for him. And perhaps the most epic example ever of me being wrong about a guy was last year when I went early on Cordarelle Patterson in every one of my leagues, and compounded my error by bragging after his huge week 1 performance against my Rams. Oh, did I ever sh*t the bed there. It happens.

This year like every year, I also avoided some guys like the plague that I could easily have had, and would have benefitted from. Jordan Reed, Cam Newton and Blake Bortles (seriously, I got SO lucky QB was deep this year…), Darren McFadden, and probably a few other guys. One notable star who I had on zero of my teams was Odell Beckham Jr. To be fair, this isn’t because I didn’t think he was going to be good. It’s just that people were using first rounders and high second rounders on him that I felt would be better spent on guys like AJ Green, Julio Jones, the aforementioned DeAndre Hopkins, and DeMaryius Thomas. This incorrect thought on my part didn’t kill me as all of those guys were good this year, but sheesh. And again, to be fair to myself, I also didn’t have Dez Bryant on any of my teams; also not because I don’t think he’s good, but because I think he kept getting picked earlier than I had him slotted.

Then there’s the stuff that happens that really has you shaking your head. I lost one final to a guy who only squeaked into the playoffs by winning the last regular season week by 4.5 points because his opponent had Andy Dalton who got hurt. In the finals, he rolled out the Blake Bortles / Allen Robinson stack, and also Tim Hightower (whom he was awarded over me due to waiver priority). Nothing I can do about that. I lost other playoff matches where nearly everyone on my opponent’s roster seemed to be going against catastrophically bad defenses like New Orleans, Cleveland, and San Diego, while my poor players were travelling to Seattle, Kansas City, and Carolina. Hey, you can call that bad planning on my part if you want, but I will freely admit that I don’t look to see who a player’s week 14 and 15 opponents are before I draft them. Shame on me I guess. And then I lost one final because the team I was able to trot out there simply wasn’t that great. And then I picked the wrong week to sit Kirk Cousins, the wrong week to play Denard Robinson, and watched the combination of Brandin Cooks and the Arizona D lay ruin to my dreams on my opponent’s behalf.

Boy, for a guy who is trying to convince you (and himself) that this season was a success, my section on what went wrong sure looks longer than the one on what went right.

So there you have it; a successful fantasy season, odd as it is, in a nutshell. Got any good fantasy stories from this season to share with us? Hit us up on Twitter.

Friday
Oct162015

The Insufficient Team the Geniuses Built – Why Ned Colletti Gets an Unfair Bad Rap

Ever since Ned Colletti first took over as General Manager of the Dodgers, he’s been subjected to varying degrees of ridicule. Dodger fans have acquired a reputation as a Starbucks-sipping bunch that show up in the third inning, leave in the seventh, and are more consumed with taking selfies with the field in the background than what’s actually happening on said field. While there’s an element of truth to that, more than three million fans a year keep the turnstiles at Dodger Stadium turning, and after not seeing a World Series appearance, let alone a win since 1988, they’ve become a demanding bunch. Especially in the social media era where every misstep can be instantly reported to the masses, each successive season without hardware has added fuel to the fire. As the supposed architect of the roster, Colletti has been the target of much vitriol and blame. Others have shared it, (see: Mattingly, Don) but there’s no arguing who has gotten lion’s share.

Why He Deserves (Some of) It: Let’s be honest. He wasn't a very good GM. Yes, this article is intended to convey some sympathy for the man, but it’s also intended to be accurate. Jason Schmidt. Andruw Jones. Brandon League. Those are just a few of the players signed to laughably bad multi-year deals under Colletti’s stewardship. Moreover, conventional baseball wisdom is that it takes far more than just the 25 man roster to make it through a successful season – “It takes 40,” is a semi-popular refrain. Yet ever short-sighted, Colletti disproportionately focused on the front half of only the first 25. In a fantasy world where nobody ever gets hurt or worn down during the 162 game grind, that could potentially work. Reality, however, is a different story. People do get hurt, and when the next guy is a sub-replacement level player who is expected to step in for a serviceable major leaguer, the result is never going to be good. Then, there’s the man himself. He just comes off as a meat head. He may be smart, he may be dumb, but appearances are what matter where public opinion is concerned, and he does himself zero favors in this department.

The Book: It’s called The Best Team Money Can Buy, by Molly Knight. It’s a well-crafted book, and Knight is a fabulous story teller who knows her baseball, all the way from game play to the business side of it. But the picture it paints of Colletti is remarkably one-sided. And as people are prone to do when they read something from a source who has acquired some accolades along the way, they treat it as gospel. So thanks to the passage where Colletti allegedly cursed out a staff member for the perception that he was undercut in an attempt to acquire reliever Joaquin Benoit from the Padres, everyone who has read the book is quick to tell you what an a-hole Colletti is. They’ll also throw in that shortly after, Benoit reported shoulder pain and threw only a few innings the remainder of the way, conveniently leaving out that he recovered well and had an elite-by-any-standard 2015 season. I’m not going to accuse anyone of making anything up to sell a book. Colletti may very well have cursed at a staff member. But he also may not have. There are passages in the book that sound odd. For example, Andre Ethier was quoted as saying “That won’t help me in arbitration,” after unselfishly moving a runner from second to third with a grounder to the right side of the infield. Did he say that? Maybe. But hadn’t he already signed his six year, $85 million dollar contract at that point, rendering arbitration irrelevant? My point is, skepticism is healthy. While Knight could have had no way of knowing that Andrew Friedman and Farhan Zaidi were going to take over when she started writing the book, the did join the Dodgers before the release date, so the opportunities to make last minute edits were still there. Again, it’s a good book and worth reading, but to just assume there isn’t a whiff of agenda anywhere in it is to be too trusting.

The Bloggers: Oh, the bloggers. Yes, there's an element of the pot calling the kettle black here. That said, we bloggers are bloggers because we have opinions, Internet access, Twitter accounts, and a lucky few of us even have some loyal readers and followers. What many of us don't have is an earthly clue of what we're talking about. You can't read one Fangraphs article and become an expert on sabermetrics any more than you can read one book on economics and rival Ben Bernanke. But that doesn't stop us. Dodger bloggers in particular, and I'm not going to call anyone out by name here, but you know who you are, are particularly bad about this. Current analytics has one of catcher Yasmani Grandal's strong suits being pitch framing. Suddenly, every pitch called a strike when Grandal is behind the plate is a result of genius framing. "Grandal is helping his pitcher out left and right!" one hopelessly overenthusiastic tweet from early in the season read. The pitcher? That was Clayton Kershaw, he of the three Cy Young awards in four years, the last two with AJ Ellis as his primary catcher, he of the hopelessly bad framing ability. Nobody is disputing that the ability to be a good pitch receiver has value, but it's apparently much easier to hop on the bandwagon of a trendy metric and throw a bunch of gasoline on the fire than it is to ask questions about it, like for example, "do umpires compensate when a reputationally good framer is catching?" or "is a framed strike one weighted differently than a framed strike three?" or "how can Yadier Molina suddenly be an awful framer after being excellent just one season ago?" Again, not saying it isn't valuable. Just saying it might be worth being a little more analytical when talking about analytics. 

Here's what else the (we?) bloggers are responsible for. I was talking about the Dodgers and their roster with an acquaintance from the billiards league I play in shortly after they were eliminated by the Mets. Neither of us had consumed a drop of alcohol at this point, so it wasn't your usual pool hall conversation. That said, the topic shifted to Colletti versus the "geniuses," and suddenly the floodgates opened. According to this fellow (whom I like personally, and consider to be generally intelligent and insightful - we'll call him Brandon because...well, that's his name.), all of the Dodgers failures this year were a direct result of Colletti's utter idiocy when compiling the Dodgers' roster for the last 8 years. He correctly identified about a dozen moves made by Colletti that ranged from calamitously bad to mildly unfortunate, which was fine by me. But any time I brought up a recent move that worked out well for the Dodgers (Hyun Jin Ryu, the Adrian Gonzalez blockbuster, Zack Greinke, etc.), he said, "Those are all Stan Kasten!!! Colletti had nothing to do with those." Whether that's accurate or not (I don't believe it is), you can't assign blame when things go wrong but divert credit when they go right. If Kasten truly gets the credit for every personnel move that went right since he became team president, then he deserves the blame for not stopping Colletti from making the moves that went wrong. Plain and simple. So when I asked him why he felt this way, he told me to read a particular article by a particular blogger who I regard to be...well, an @$$hole. He's not a complete moron, and does offer the occasional astute analysis, but he's prone to the uninformed rant, and if questioned, makes it personal. Yet, in the Twitter era, this is where people get their information. 

The Successors: Ah yes, the "geniuses." The twosome who were going to transform the Dodgers into a perennial powerhouse by forsaking traditional scouting methods in favor of spreadsheets and algorithms. That, believe it or not, is not me indicting them. If it works out, it looks great. If it doesn't, however, it begs questions. Here's the thing with Friedman and Zaidi, they're a bit tough to read. They can come off as personable and even a little self-deprecating at times, embracing their geek labels with a good natured and affable charm. And then, in the next breath, they can come off as utterly smug and condescending, like you're not worth an explanation because you wouldn't understand their genius anyway. Well, let's take a look at how the geniuses did. Here are the guys they got.

Howie Kendrick - Well, let's start off with a win for them. Nobody can argue against the qualities of the dependable keystone, who turned in a nice campaign for the Dodgers, both on offense and defense. It is worth noting, however, it cost them Dee Gordon, who is many years younger, many dollars cheaper, and had a spectacularly good season for a bad Miami Marlins team. 

Brandon McCarthy - Wow. As brainless of an signing as there has been since the invention of free agency, this one went predictably south and fast. McCarthy has never lacked for talent, but for the first time in a decade-long professional career, he managed to stay healthy for a full season and parlayed it into a four year deal with the Dodgers. After just four starts, he was done for 12-18 months with Tommy John surgery. It can be argued that elbow injuries can't be predicted, it can also be argued that the elbow injury merely preempted him from inevitably hurting something else as the season went on. This was a firable mistake. (no, they shouldn't really be fired. Yet. They deserve more than one year to prove their acumen.)

Brett Anderson - Basically a left-handed version of McCarthy, this one was a win. Why? They only gave him one year, and he managed to stay mostly healthy. They needed him to pitch at a mid-rotation level and he did that, and arguably more before crapping the sheets in his lone post season start.

Jimmy Rollins - Veteran leadership, veteran schmeedership. No position player on the Dodgers was worse, and it can be reasonably argued that no position player across the National League was more hurtful to his team. He was woeful on offense despite double digit home runs, and abysmal on defense. He didn't make a ton of errors, but anything hit farther than a foot to either side of him was practically a guaranteed hit. What makes this signing worse is that Rollins was already terrible last season for Philadelphia and 36 year olds in decline don't often rebound.

Yasmani Grandal - The true conundrum, Grandal is a sabermetric darling. He has some pop, draws walks, and is an excellent pitch framer. But to watch him play paints a different picture. He's lousy at containing the running game, can't block pitches in the dirt, allows way too many passed balls, and that's just defensively. Useful only as a platoon player (something Andre Ethier gets constantly lambasted for by detractors), Grandal is only useful offensively when hitting left-handed. And even then, he finished the season hitting a woeful .067 down the stretch. Yes, he's young, and can improve, but he better. Because to get him, the Dodgers paid the Padres (!!!) to take Matt Kemp and his contract. Kemp may be a nuclear reactor leak defensively, but in an era where right handed power is precious, he still hit more than 20 home runs while playing in the spacious expanses of PetCo Park. 

Mike Bolsinger - I don't care what anyone says, if signing McCarthy was a firable offense, this is the signing that gets them a reprieve. Without Bolsinger's mid-season performances, this team doesn't make the playoffs. He faded badly down the stretch, but he was nothing less than a season-savor for the Dodgers. And he cost them next to nothing. 

Mat Latos - The less said about this one, the better I think. I will admit that once all the top starters (Hamels, Cueto, Price, and company) had been moved, I thought Latos was a nice consolation prize. Wow, was I wrong. Even though his first appearance was statistically solid, it was clear he has little left in the tank. It speaks to the value of actually watching someone pitch before you trade for them. It's worth noting that he didn't cost them any prospects of note to acquire, but you can't tout the virtues of "organizational depth" when getting a guy like Joe Weiland (in the Grandal trade) and then trade three minor league pitchers for one washed up big leaguer. 

Alex Wood - Marginally more successful than Latos, Wood offers intrigue. He's young, left-handed, and a fierce competitor. He's also already had one TJ surgery, has a funky delivery, and an alarming downward trend in fastball velocity the last two years. He had a couple of nice starts and also a couple of worrisome implosions, including in relief in game 3 of the NLDS. The jury is still out on this one, but it's worth mentioning he cost Cuban third base prospect Hector Olivera.

Luis Avilan - Acquired in the same trade as Wood, he's a solid left-handed middle relief / LOOGY. He doesn't inspire confidence when subjected to the eye test, but it would be unfair not to note he was among the league leaders in scoreless appearances, and retired Curtis Granderson with runners on and the season on the line in the NLDS. 

Kike Hernandez - Hernandez justified his acquisition by inventing the rally banana alone. Even if he never got a hit. Which he did quite a bit of. He appeared overmatched in the playoffs, but Jacob DeGrom and company can do that to hitters. He has a bright future. 

Joel Peralta - An interesting acquisition, for sure. His bad appearances outweighed his good ones, and he cost the Dodgers Jose Dominguez, a young righty with a 100 mph fastball to get. Dominguez has been DFA'd by Tampa Bay, so it can be argued Peralta didn't cost anything, but guys who throw 100 don't grow on trees (unless the orchard belongs to the Mets) so it's a curious move if nothing else. 

Chris Hatcher - From bullpen dumpster fire to late inning relief ace down the stretch, nobody improved as the season went on more than Hatcher. I'll admit, I openly sobbed most times he entered a game for the first three months of the season, and then openly bitched whenever Mattingly went to Pedro Baez instead of Hatcher in a clutch situation down the stretch. I know I'm a hypocrite. I don't even care, bro. Do you even lift?

The verdict? Well, the geniuses did enough to make their mark on the big league roster, didn't they? But what kind of a mark was it? A gold seal, or a giant sh*t stain? Or somewhere in between. 

Well, you'd be hard pressed to find someone in that group who had the impact of a Justin Turner, Adrian Gonzalez, Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, or Kenley Jansen this year. Even erstwhile contributors like Andre Ethier, JP Howell and Scott Van Slyke had more of an impact than some of those guys. What do they all have in common? They joined the squad on Colletti's watch. 

It's human nature to want to point fingers when something goes wrong. Just remember, one finger is often not enough to do the pointing. 

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