Thursday, April 18, 2013

A Look Back at Orlando's Season

Well, that was fun. Not so much the winning a quarter of all the games that you participated in part of it, but the watching the young pieces come together part was fun.The last time Orlando was this bad, it was 2003 and Tracy McGrady was surrounded by the likes of Juwan Howard and Tyronn Lue. This time, there is at least something to look forward to on this team.

One thing I recently realized about this team, is that there are no lottery picks on it. This team SHOULD have finished with the worst record in the league. The Bobcats (2nd worst record) have Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Kemba Walker and Bismack Biyombo (along with Ben Gordon and Tyrus Thomas, if we're being technical). All former lottery picks. The Cavaliers have Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson. Our young talent (Tobias Harris, Nikola Vucevic, Moe Harkless, Andrew Nicholson) was all drafted outside of the lottery. Credit due to GM Rob Hennigan. If he can find talent like that outside of the lottery, I'd love to see what he can do with lottery picks and a little cap space.

I've waxed poetic about Nikola Vucevic in the past, but I feel every word of praise has been deserved. He was great this season. As of that post, he was sitting at 12 PPG/11 RPG on 52% FG. He finished the season at 13 PPG/12 RPG on 52% FG and became just the sixth person in the past 30 years to post those numbers. The other seven: Charles Barkley, Tim Duncan,  Dwight Howard (3x), Shaquille O'Neal (2x) and Buck Williams. (To be honest, I was ready to throw that list out when I saw Buck Williams on it, until I did my research. he won a Rookie of the Year, an All NBA team, four All Defense teams and is the only member of the 16K points/13k rebounds club that isn't in the Hall of Fame. Not bad.) There were 18 20/20 games in the NBA this season. Vuc had four of them. In 25 games after the All Star break, Vuc threw up nearly 15 and 13 a game, on 51% FG shooting. The moral of this story is that Vucevic is good. And I think he can become really good. Guys that young don't put up numbers like that and just fade away. If he doesn't progress one bit past his current stage, he's still a solid NBA player. With that way he improved month by month, I have a hard time believing his progression stops there.

Tobias Harris was a very welcome surprise to Orlando. I was unimpressed with him at Tennessee and he mostly rode the bench in Milwaukee before coming to Orlando and throwing up numbers. In the 27 games he played with Orlando, he averaged at 17/8.5 on 45% FG shooting. Granted, 27 games is the equivalent to only a third of a season, but I have no reason to believe that Harris couldn't have sustained those numbers given a whole season of playing time in Orlando. The only players in NBA history to match Harris' numbers at age 20 are Shaq, Chris Webber and Elton Brand. Again, they did it over the course of an entire season, but Harris was impressive in his own right. He arrived in Orlando in late February, and didn't start until March. In 16 March games, he averaged 18 and 8 on 43/36/77 shooting. I would have been content with that. Then in eight April games, he averaged 20/10/3.5 APG, though his percentages took a hit, 44/21/64. As with Vucevic, guys that produce that young tend to find a way to have decent NBA careers at the worst. I look forward to a full season of him next year.

Blog Universe favorite, Moe Harkless had a rough start to the season but really took off after the All Star break. In 46 games before the break, Harkless at 5/4 per game on 46/17/57 shooting. Yikes. In those 46 games, he hit double figure in scoring just four times. After the break, he scored in double figures in each of his next 10 games. In 30 games after the break, he averaged 13/5, and added in 1.6 SPG on 46/32/57 shooting. Not only the numbers, but he just looked more sure of himself after the break. At 19 years old, he may have the most potential of anyone on this team.I see a lot of Paul George in his game and I'm hoping he takes the strides to improve his shot that Paul George did from his rookie year until now.

The jury is still out on Andrew Nicholson.


As you can see from his shot chart above, he is at or above league average from almost every spot within the three point line. And the spot where he is below league average, he has tended to not really shoot from. He knows where his bread is buttered, which is a good thing. However, he doesn't contribute much in terms of rebounding or defense, which is a bad thing. He's been pretty inconsistent, but so have his minutes so I can't really fault him there. Still, with his ability to score, I imagine he can be a productive big man off the bench.

Even rookie second rounder Kyle O'Quinn looks to be a viable third center at the worst. Hennigan knows his stuff on the draft. I recently read that he plans to work out as many as 80 players in the draft. Under previous GM Otis Smith, the Magic routinely worked out 8-10 players and drafted Daniel Orton without ever bringing him in for a workout. Amazing how that pick didn't pan out. I will probably jump into a little more NBA draft scouting to determine who I would like to see suited up in Orlando next year. I'm leaning toward Nerlens Noel, but there is still plenty of time left. It's playoff time, now.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Tigers

You may have noticed that I haven't been keeping up with my Tigers post.  I kind of realized that, on top of it being a lot of writing for me, it's also probably not very interesting for a non-Tigers fan to read.  So I may just do a once-a-week check-in.

When I started those posts, my main concern was the bullpen.  That's still a big concern.  It's not just the lack of a closer; there's not really a go-to shut-down guy in the bullpen.

The closest thing to that description is Al Alburquerque.  My love of him has been well documented.  When he's on, he's as close to unhittable as you can get.  A fastball with great late movement.  An absolutely filthy slider.
The problem is, his control has always been an issue.  Still, if you need a couple strikeouts out of the bullpen, he's the guy to turn to.  But he could just as easily walk a few guys or throw a couple wild pitches.

Smyly could also be very good.  He's been spotty so far this year, but I really like him.  So far, his role has been long reliever (which makes sense, seeing as how he was in the running for the 5th starter's spot during Spring Training), but I could see them turning to him in high leverage situations.

Coke is pretty good against lefties, but terrible against righties.

Dotel is pretty good against righties, but only decent against lefties.

Benoit can be good, but he's also prone to throwing a few gopherballs.

Villarreal was good last year, but has been an absolute train wreck this year.

Downs has seemed decent, but I haven't seen much of him yet.

The starting rotation is as good as anyone in the league.  But the bullpen is kind of a mess.
It seems like I've seen this before.  Last year, the bullpen started off pretty shaky, but rounded into shape as the season went on.  I hope that happens this year, but I'm not overly confident.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

The Detroit Experiment: Game 4

Result: Tigers win
Score: 8-3
Record: 2-2

Another afternoon game on a work day.  Another game I listened to on the radio.

Detroit goes home, and their bats wake up.  Kind of hoped that would happen.  Fielder got loose for 2 HRs (including one that may have knocked an old man unconscious), and Avila hit a solo homer, himself.

Also, Smyly pitched 4 perfect innings in relief (with 5 strikeouts).  Which was nice, because he looked less-than-impressive in his appearance in the first game.  The Tigers are going to need him going forward, so it was good to see such an impressive performance.

It should be noted that the Tigers beat the Yankees today 8-4, notching 17 hits in the process (Cabrera finally got in on the action, going 4-4 and a walk).  Tomorrow afternoon is Verlander vs. Sabathia.  Very much looking forward to that.

Verlander, Ghostface and Adrian Younge

I'm completely on board with the Verlander extension.  I know it's a lot of years/money, but I think he'll live up to his part of the deal for the vast majority of the contract.  Maybe even the entire contract.  The deal was 7 years, $180 million.  Like you said, there's an option to kick that to 8 years, $202 million if he hits certain levels.  I know one of those involves him being in the top 5 Cy Young voting in his 7th year.

I like this deal for a couple reasons:
1. I was terrified of him hitting the free agent market and losing him to a team that threw a 10 year, $250 million contract at him or something.  I love watching him pitch every 5th game.  I wasn't ready to lose Verlander to the Dodgers/Yankees/Angels/Red Sox.

2. He's 30 right now, and at the top of his game.  So this deal will pay him until he's 37.  For a pitcher without a history of injuries, that's not a horrible risk.  He's sure to diminish as he gets deeper into his contract, but that's the risk they're taking right now.
But I honestly think he'll be effective through the entire contract.  He has a fastball that can hit 100+, but his command and his secondary pitches are so good that he should be able to compensate for the loss of velocity in his fastball.  I think he'll age well, and I think he's very capable of turning himself into a lower velocity fastball guy who can still get guys to swing and miss with his pinpoint control and his nasty breaking balls.

I will say that it's hard to look at Halladay struggles right now (at age 35) and not be a little concerned.  Same build.  Same general profile.  Halladay struggled with injuries last year, and was far from effective in his first start this year.  Though I do think that Halladay will be okay, he does have to make some adjustments in order to still be effective (which he is currently in the process of doing).  I can see Verlander going through a similar thing 5 years down the line.  But he's such an intelligent pitcher, and has such great command of his secondary pitches, I think he'll be fine.
Honestly, I'm more concerned about paying Fielder big money in his 40s than paying Verlander big money in his mid-to-late 30s.

I've given Wolf a few spins.  Right off hand, I would say that "Domo23" and "Lone/Jornada" really jumped out at me.  I need to give it a few more listens.
Really looking forward to the new Ghostface Killah album, Twelve Reasons to Die.  It's no secret that I'm a huge Ghostface fan, but I'm also a pretty big fan of Adrian Younge, who is producing the album.  He did great work on the Black Dynamite soundtrack, as well as his work on Something About April and the new Delfonics record.  I love his style.  He's kind of all over the map, but seems to go back to R&B-meets-Ennio-Morricone as his staple.  I think Twelve Reasons to Die is going to be amazing.  I'm already penciling it into my top 5 albums of the year.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Baseball. And Draft Life. And Wildcats.

How do you feel about that Verlander extension? $180 million is a lot of scratch, but seven years for a guy that's 30 would probably concern me a bit. To his credit, Verlander is a workhorse and I haven't read any in depth details about of there are certain options for the contract, but as a fan, how do you feel?

Haven't been able to catch any Reds baseball yet, and I probably won't until they catch the Braves for a series. Still, we're off to a 2-1 start so I can't complain. Shin-Soo Choo is actually getting on base, something we haven't had from a leadoff hitter in some time...small sample size be damned. I'm looking forward to a full season of Todd Frazier in the field to see if he can duplicate last year's success. And I've learned to stop waiting for Jay Bruce to make a leap. Not saying that he won't, but I'm not counting on him to erupt for 45 HR's and 130 RBI's this season, though he's certainly capable of it.

The college basketball season isn't over yet, and I'm already ready for next season. Calipari really outdid himself with this one. Six of the top 18 recruits in the country are heading to Lexington this fall...where they will join returning players Alex Poythress, Willie Cauley-Stein and Kyle Wiltjer (all top 40 recruits in their respective classes). And the #1 recruit, Andrew Wiggins, has yet to decide, so the rich may get richer. If Wiggins is like me, and I can't imagine any reason why he wouldn't be, he commits to UK anyway. It's reported that his final three schools are FSU, UNC and UK. No way I'd want to be THE guy on a FSU team that went 18-15 this past year. North Carolina should be solid next year, but solid might not cut it with #3 recruit Jabari Parker joining a Duke team fresh off the Elite Eight. Also, Harrison Barnes didn't exactly explode under Roy Williams system at UNC. I/Wiggins wouldn't want to take that chance. Why not stack the deck and sign with UK? We could truly have something special next season, i.e. undefeated season, Fab Five, type of special next year. Do the right thing, Andrew.

I've talked myself into Nerlens Noel being the missing piece for the Magic. In my mind, I had already locked Noel into a Tyson Chandler type of career (and I still think that may be his calling", but man I'd love to see him next to Nik Vucevic in Orlando. Vucevic would still play center, but Noel would be the PF that protects the basket a la Serge Ibaka, Josh Smith, young Kevin Garnett and the type of defender I believe Anthony Davis will become. Noel's offensive game will need a lot of work to function as a PF, but so did Ibaka's and now he has a jumper defenses have to respect. Vucevic's ability to shoot up to 20 foot would also help space the floor around him until he is able to refine his offensive game. I was watching some scouting report film on Noel, and I forgot how much I loved watching this guy play. Never slow to get back on defense, never jogging up the court or bitching at referees, the first one to hit the floor for a loose ball. Watching him in Orlando would be a treat.

Bengals picked up John Skelton. So that's cool.

I'm lying. That's not that cool. The draft is later this month and I don't really have any particular players I want. just positions. We need offensive line help (especially if Andre Smith walks), linebacking help (preferably someone that will allow us to move Burfict to MLB and Maualuga back to SLB), a running back and a safety. I feel like we can function everywhere else. This free agency has been lackluster so I'm hoping we remedy that with a great draft.

Not sure if you've gave it a listen yet, but "Wolf" is fantastic. The second half of the album is cool, but the first half has been getting steady spin from me. "Jamba", "Cowboy" and "Awkward", all fantastic. Great album.

Also, this song is dynamite.




The Detroit Experiment: Game 3

The result: Tigers loss
The score: 8-2
Record: 1-2

This was an afternoon game, and I have a job, so I wasn't able to watch this one.  I was able to listen to the radio broadcast, though.  Ain't technology grand?
They will have another afternoon game tomorrow, so I guess I'll be listening to that one, too.

Not a great start to the season.  In three games, they didn't really get their bats going.  Which, with the line-up they have, is a little ridiculous.
Still, I'm not overly concerned.  They'll start hitting at some point.  They have too much talent not to.  I know their home/road splits weren't great last year, so getting off to a slow start in Minnesota isn't terrible (last year, their winning percentage was .617 at home and .469 on the road).

Even knowing that, it's a little disappointing.  I get all excited for baseball season, then it starts like this.  Oh well.  Not too long ago, I expected the Tigers to be terrible.  I guess the fact that I have expectations that can be dashed is quite an accomplishment.

I had high hopes for Porcello this season, but he got hit pretty hard, and Villarreal got hit even harder.

The score looks worse than most of the game actually was.  The Tigers were up 2-0 in the 3rd, only to see the Twins tie it up in the bottom of that inning, then take a 3-2 lead in the 4th.  And it stayed that way until the Twins rocked Villarreal for 5 runs in the 8th.

I have high hopes for the upcoming homestand, starting tomorrow against the Yankees.  They should be able to get their bats rolling against Nova.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Detroit Experiment: Game 2

Tigers lose, 3-2.

I didn't get to watch much of the game today.  I caught the first 3 innings, and tuned back in for the 9th.  As it turns out, that's all I really needed to see.

With a 2-1 lead heading into the bottom of the 9th, Leyland appeared to once again be playing the match-ups.  Benoit was left in for the first batter of the 9th, a righty.  Unfortunately, he walked him.  With a lefty coming to the plate, they called upon Coke.  Seemed like a good plan.  And it worked.  Coke got the first batter to fly out.
Then, with a righty up, Leyland left Coke in.  Which was a poor move.
For his career, Coke is a lefty specialist.  There's nothing wrong with that.  He's very good against lefties, and bullpens need guys like that.  But he is not a closer, no matter what he did in the playoffs.

He gave up a single, sending the runner at first to third.

The next batter - also a righty - hit a ball deep to left center.  It looked as though Jackson or Dirks could get to it.  But neither did, and two runs scored, giving the Twins the walk-off win.

There's no way to tell why neither Jackson or Dirks caught the ball.  It's possible Jackson lost it in the sun.  It's possible they were both calling for it and there was just a bit of miscommunication. 

Either way, I'm curious to see where the closer role goes from here.  Will Coke keep getting the nod until this happens a few more times?  Will it go to Benoit?  Dotel?  Or will he finally listen to me (and hundreds of others) and give Alburquerque a shot?

Tigers are now 1-1, with one heartbreaking loss under their belts.  For as much as I miss baseball season, I sometimes forget just how hard some of these losses can be.

Monday, April 1, 2013

The Detroit Experiment: Game 1

True to my last post, I'm going to attempt to do a little write-up on each Tigers game I watch this season.  Seeing as how I typically watch 100+ games a season, you may want to get ready for a long series of inane posts.
As I stated before, I don't want to do straight recaps or anything.  You can get that anywhere.  I intend to use this as a place to post random thoughts about the games, and perhaps pick out a few storylines to follow throughout the season.  My preseason pick of a storyline is the lack of a closer, and what that means for the Tigers.  Luckily, we got to see a little of that today.  I'm sure more storylines will present themselves as the season rolls along.

I always get excited about Opening Day, and this year was no different.  With the Tigers playing at 4:10, I left a little early from work in order to catch it.  As a general rule, I try not to miss a Verlander start if I can help it.

So I went home, cracked a few (cheap) beers, grilled up a couple hot dogs, and settled in for the first Tigers game of the season.

The Tigers won 4-2.  They seemed to be rolling early on, with 2 runs in the first and 1 in the second.  But the offense stalled (the only other run scored on a wild pitch with the bases loaded...which led to a terrific Prince Fielder sprawling slide into home), and what appeared to be an easy win ended up being more stressful than it should've.

First of all, Verlander - he of the recently inked extension - didn't come back out for the 6th.  He had thrown 91 pitches through 5 innings, and didn't really run into any real trouble.  3 hits.  2 walks.  7 strikeouts.  Perhaps he wasn't the sharpest I've ever seen him (I think the cold had something to do with his breaking ball not having quite as much bite as it normally does), but he was breezing through the line-up.  And, for a guy who routinely throws 110+ pitches an outing, pulling him after 91 seems a bit silly.
Maybe Leyland didn't want to put any early wear on his arm, especially against a Twins team not exactly known for its offense.
So they threw Smyly in, hoping to get a couple innings out of him.
They got 4 painful outs.  And, over the course of the 42 pitches it took him to get those 4 outs, he gave up 3 hits and walked 3.  Not what you would call an efficient outing.
I'm hoping this is just a blip for him.  He was fantastic last year, and almost got the 5th starting spot in the rotation this year.  I think he'll be fine.  I hope he'll be fine.

Albuquerque looked fantastic.  He gave up a hit off a hanging slider, but that was about all he gave up.  His fastball looked great.  Best I've seen it.  Some nasty tailing action.  If he can keep that up and can still throw his nasty slider?  He's going to have a magnificent year.

Benoit got through the 8th pretty easily.

Which brings us to the 9th.  All through Spring Training, Leyland was saying he would just see how the closer role went.  After Rondon self-destructed and got send back to the minors, it appeared the closer position would be a kind of "closer by committee" situation.
I didn't quite believe it then.  It seemed like Leyland was leaning towards Coke, which seemed to make a little bit of sense.  He became the closer during the World Series run last year after Valverde imploded.  Even if his splits show him more as a lefty specialist, I was fully convinced that Coke would enter the season as the closer (even though I felt Albuquerque would be the better option).

As it turns out, Leyland can surprise me from time to time.
Benoit came back out in the 9th.  He got the first batter - Willingham, a righty - out.  Then Coke came in against the left-handed Morneau and the switch-hitting Doumit.

So, for as least one game, Leyland threw away the notion of using a straight closer and went with the match-ups.  I really love that approach.  I wouldn't mind seeing how it works for the entire year.  With the group of guys they have in the bullpen, it seems to be their best option right now.  And I couldn't be more excited about it.

First post: done.  Hope you'll tune in for game 2 on Thursday.