Sports

Who is the most average player in the MLB?

BY RYAN MILOWICKI

The month following the end of baseball season is usually reserved for the recognition of superlatives. Beginning with the presentation of baseball awards and culminating with the unveiling of the Hall of Fame ballot, this past month has been about honoring the best in the game.

This project bears no such motivation.

When I saw names like Freddy Sanchez and Orlando Cabrera on this year’s ballot, I began wondering, who is the most “average” player in baseball today? I thought this would be a simple enough question to research, but I quickly learned that I needed to properly define and evaluate the multiple meanings of the word “average.”

The wonderful community of sabermetricians has created a beautiful statistic called Wins Above Average (WAA) that serves as a crucial first step in this endeavor. Unlike its more famous big brother, WAR (Wins Above Replacement), WAA compares major leaguers to their peers, not the mythical “replacement player.” Scoring 0.0 in WAR means that you’re a bad player who can easily be replaced with a minor leaguer, while scoring 0.0 on WAA means roughly that you are an average MLB-caliber player. For the purposes of this project, WAA is going to be our initial guide.

INITIAL FINDINGS

As is the case with any statistical study, sample size is key. To ensure that all the players I studied have accrued enough playing time to merit observation, I limited my research to active players who have appeared in at least 400 career games. For simplicity’s sake, I limited my search to position players, since sabermetrics work a little bit different for pitchers. These constraints narrowed down my starting pool to just north of 250 active major leaguers.

I then sorted all of these players according to their career totals in WAA. Unsurprisingly, A-Rod (76.0) and Albert Pujols (68.2) are at the top, and Jeff Francoeur (-11.9) is at the bottom (as Jon Bois expertly recounted). In theory, the player whose career WAA is closest to absolute zero should be the “most average player.” In this case, the player whose career WAA is exactly 0.0 is outfielder Jay Bruce.

Jay Bruce is the most average MLB player in the game today.

That doesn’t sound right, does it? It shouldn’t, because Jay Bruce has had his fair share of excellent seasons, most notably his slew of 30+ HR, 95+ RBI seasons with the Reds early in his career. However, Bruce has also had a number of equally disappointing seasons in his nine-year career. As fate would have it, these two types of Jay Bruce campaigns have essentially cancelled out, leaving his WAA at a perfect 0.0.

Such varied season-by-season inputs don’t exactly click with the type of player we’re seeking. Surely a player good enough to finish in the Top 10 of MVP voting twice does not suddenly become an “average” player thanks to a couple awful seasons.

It’s clear that the simple mean definition of average is not enough for our baseball purposes. However, we will still harvest some of the career WAA data. Moving on to the next round of scrutiny are the 58 active major leaguers whose career WAA is between -2.0 and 2.0 (including Bruce).

A DIFFERENT TYPE OF CONSISTENCY

To put Jay Bruce’s plight into more statistical context, his WAA in 2013 was an impressive 3.2, good for second on the Reds behind only Joey Votto. Yet the very next year, he recorded a career low with a -2.9 WAA, the worst total on the Reds.

Such wild extremes in Jay Bruce’s career gives his career WAA a high standard deviation, a fact masked by his too-perfect-to-be-true overall totals. To start working through this problem, I took a look at the season-by-season totals of each of the 58 finalists to see whose yearly totals were the least random.

I ranked all 58 players in accordance with the overall variance of their year-by-year WAA, with the least scattered players ranking the highest. As expected, Jay Bruce fell to 57th under this scrutiny. The only player ranked lower than Bruce? That honor (?) belongs to shortstop Alexei Ramirez, who slipped to a career-low -4.0 WAA this season after reaching as high as 3.3 in his time with the White Sox.

Were I to end my research with this metric, the title of “most average player” would belong to Detroit shortstop Jose Iglesias, immediately followed by Matt Adams, Travis Ishikawa, Shane Robinson, and Eric Sogard. In his five major league seasons, Iglesias has yet to surpass 0.6 in seasonal WAA, but has never fallen below -0.1. This creates a very consistent body of work which grants him the win here.

However, the individual components that comprise value-related statistics like WAA and WAR are have the capability to cancel themselves out in a similar fashion to the aforementioned Jay Bruce debunking.

Players like Jose Iglesias are known as good fielders but pedestrian hitters. So in effect, their above-average fielding metrics cancel out their near-bottom hitting ability to give them the semblance of being a completely “average” MLB player.

ANOTHER TWEAK

In order to level the playing field and remove the final source of “happy accident” imbalance, I dove further into the components that make up WAA.

There are four main areas in play here: runs created from offense, runs created from baserunning, runs created from defense, and the reward/penalty associated with defensive position. The first three are self-explanatory, but the final category is slightly less intuitive. In simplest terms, the average corner outfielder or first baseman is expected to generate offense, so those players must generate more runs to elevate themselves above average. As such, their score in this statistic is typically negative, while positions with lower offensive mandates (catcher, middle infielders) receive a positive bump (i.e. less offense is needed to be above-average for their positition).

With those same 58 finalists, I proceeded to rank them according to their variance among those 4 WAA components. As before, the lowest variance resulted in the highest rankings. Clubhouse leader Jose Iglesias fell to 20th in these rankings, due to the high disparity between his glove and bat.

The winner of “most average” by this metric was Marlins outfielder Marcell Ozuna, whose career totals in all four WAA components were within just 9 runs of each other. Poor Alexei Ramirez ranked near the bottom in this list as well, surpassed only by Kurt Suzuki, Kendrys Morales, Nick Swisher, and Juan Uribe.

FINAL ADJUSTMENT

Armed with two ranking systems which shook out very differently, I decided to make them work together to create my final rankings. By my utopic definition of “average,” I am looking for a player who shows consistency season-to-season (like Iglesias) while doing so with a balanced assortment of skills (in the vein of Ozuna).

Comparing the two sets of rankings, I averaged each player’s positions together to create one final ranking. As such, a high ranking on one of the two lists is not good enough to make my final cut. For what it’s worth, Jose Iglesias finished 7th in my final rankings, and Ozuna finished 18th.

Before revealing the five players who have earned the honor of “most average” players in today’s MLB, I just want to give a shoutout to Alexei Ramirez. Of the 58 players whose career WAA fall within my boundaries of average, Ramirez sported by far the most erratic statistics. In addition to having the widest gap between his best and worst WAA seasons, he also had one of the five biggest disparities between his offensive and defensive skills. Stay unique, Alexei. Never change.

AND THE WINNERS ARE…

5. Andres Blanco

One of the longest-tenured players that isn’t a household name, Blanco made his major league debut with the Royals in 2004. A situational player for the majority of his career, Blanco registered career highs in games played, home runs, and RBI in his last two seasons with the Phillies. His career slash line of .264/.317/.388 is far from awe-inspiring, but par for the course for a utility infielder.

Career WAA: -1.1
Season-to-season variance ranking: 9th
Tool set variance ranking: 10th

4. Travis Ishikawa

Best known for his walkoff home run that won the 2014 NLCS for the Giants, Ishikawa floundered in AAA throughout 2016 but has been a prototypical platoon first baseman since making his MLB debut in 2006. He had the lowest career WAA of all players I studied, but his better-than-average glove kept him afloat.

Career WAA: -2.0
Season-to-season variance ranking: 3rd
Tool set variance ranking: 15th

3. Marwin Gonzalez

The first placing player to be an everyday starter, Gonzalez recently finished his fifth season with the Astros. His positional bonus/penalty was offset by his recent switch from the left side of the infield to first base, aiding in his high ranking here. However, should he remain at first base in future seasons, the balance will begin to turn against him unless his power numbers increase beyond 12-15 homers a year.

Career WAA: -0.7
Season-to-season variance ranking: 7th
Tool set variance ranking: 11th

2. Lonnie Chisenhall

Similar to Gonzalez, Lonnie Chisenhall benefited from a recent position switch after finding a new home in right field halfway through the 2015 season. The cornerstone in Chisenhall’s “most average” campaign was his impressive balance of skills, trailing only Ozuna, Stephen Vogt, and Scooter Gennett in that ranking. In his six year career, Chisenhall has lost just 8 runs of generated offense to the average, compared to +5 in fielding and +4 in baserunning. This parity makes Chisenhall the only of these five players to register their best ranking in the tool set category, as well as the only listed player with a positive career WAA.

Career WAA: 0.6
Season-to-season variance ranking: 12th
Tool set variance ranking: 4th

1. Matt Adams

I for one was quite surprised to see a full-time first baseman top these rankings. The positional penalty associated with first base is the highest of any, but Adams‘ season-to-season consistency is what puts him over the top. In his five seasons with the Cardinals, he has never strayed further than four-tenths of a win from absolute zero. As Albert Pujols’ replacement in St. Louis, his power numbers have been fair, not great, but his batting average has occasionally placed near the top of his position (especially in 2013 and 2014).

If it sounds like I’m stretching to find superlatives for a middling player, that’s exactly my intent, because by my metrics, Matt Adams is the most middling player in today’s MLB.

Career WAA: -0.4
Season-to-season variance ranking: 2nd
Tool set variance ranking: 12th

Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you in 12 days for the beginning of my countdown of the 101 Biggest Hits of 2016!

 

 

 

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A Fool’s Errand, Chapter 2: The Long And Winding Road

IMG_1832

BY RYAN MILOWICKI

For the prologue of this series, read here.
For Chapter 1 of this series, read here.

The Royals are back in business! It’s been quite a while since I’ve updated you on the travails of the semi-fictional 2005 Kansas City Royals, but I assure you that I have been slowly but surely plugging away. At the time of publication, I have just finished my 100th game at the helm of the Royals, and they are sitting at a middling 49-51. It has been extraordinarily difficult to stay consistent with a team this untalented (don’t tell them I said that), and the best adjective I can use to describe the squad is streaky. Just last week, I had an 8-1 stretch bookended by a pair of 5-game losing streaks. The Royals have not been over .500 since a loss to the Tigers dropped them to 20-20. On paper, this would sound like my endeavor to take the game’s worst team to the World Series is irreparably ill-fated.

But the AL Central is having a mighty struggle in this iteration of the 2005 MLB. The would-be world champion White Sox are 18 games under .500, and the division is becoming a dogfight between my Royals and the Minnesota Twins. Currently sitting just a game and a half back, the Royals still have a great opportunity to win the division. Under the old Wild Card rules, no Al Central team has a realistic chance at snagging the extra spot, so it is a war of attrition to make the playoffs.

I consider it a proud accomplishment that the team is this close to .500, given that an already-lean squad has been routinely depleted by injuries. Captain Mike Sweeney, Tony Clark, David DeJesus and Angel Berroa have all spent time on the Disabled List, forcing various bench players and AAA help to contribute. Some (Ken Harvey) have, most (Abraham Nunez, Ruben Mateo, Mendy Lopez) have not. On the whole, the team is struggling mightily offensively, with several players’ averages hovering well below .200. Compared to my Blue Jays team last year, this is a much weaker offense, with approximately half of the home runs and even lower averages.

To add another bat and a set of wheels to the Royals, I traded surprise power threat Ruben Gotay and benchwarmer Donnie Murphy to the Yankees for Tony Womack, and he is almost solely responsible for the team’s stabilization. His 21 homers and 10 steals have cemented him at the top of the Royals order, and has helped Angel Berroa ease back into the lineup.

With a struggling lineup, the only way to keep the team in games is via stellar pitching. Thankfully, my pitchers have been up to the task and have the lowest ERA in the majors. The rotation has been as of yet unaffected (knock on wood) by injury, and none of my five starters has missed a start yet. Their records might not show it, but they are performing much better than their real-life counterparts. In the bullpen, my boys have been greatly overachieving. Jeremy Affeldt has been a great choice as closer, with 22 saves in 23 opportunities. The 7th and 8th innings have been locked down as well, with setup man Jaime Cerda’s ERA hovering around 2.00 and righty Scott Sullivan dazzling with a 1.05 ERA.

It won’t be easy to try and scrounge up a playoff spot, but with my spring classes completed, I am certainly game for the challenge. MVP willing, my roster is finally returning to full strength and with it my confidence in the team. Stay tuned for further updates as the playoff race heats up, I hope the Royals will be a part of it!

Until then,

Ryan

STATS THROUGH 100 GAMES

Record: 49-51 (2nd Place in AL Central, 1.5 GB)

Batting Average Leaders (Qualified): Ken Harvey (.243), Mike Sweeney (.241)
Home Runs Leaders: Matt Stairs (22), Tony Womack (21), Mike Sweeney (20)
RBI Leaders: Tony Womack (43), Matt Stairs (40), Mike Sweeney (38)

Team Runs Scored: 304 (30th in Majors)
Team Runs Allowed: 318 (1st in Majors)

APPENDIX

Complete Batting Stats

KEY: Pos. Player: Games,  AVG/OBP/SLG,  HR, RBI, SO, BB, OPS

LF Matt Stairs: 99 G,  .201/.221/.414, 22 HR, 40 RBI, 58 SO, 10 BB, .635 OPS
2B Tony Womack: 97 G,  .225/.267/.459, 21 HR, 43 RBI, 83 SO, 22 BB, .726 OPS
1B/DH Ken Harvey: 96 G, .243/.265/,463, 18 HR, 33 RBI, 30 SO, 10 BB, .728 OPS
RF Terrence Long: 92 G, .185/.210/.375, 19 HR, 34 RBI, 64 SO, 12 BB, .585 OPS
C John Buck: 83 G, .188/.246/.333, 11 HR, 22 RBI, 44 SO, 22 BB, .579 OPS
RF/3B Eli Marrero: 79 G, .192/.227/.355, 14 HR, 23 RBI, 37 SO, 13 BB, .582 OPS
1B/DH Mike Sweeney: 78 G, .241/.266/.479, 20 HR, 38 RBI, 41 SO, 10 BB, .745 OPS
CF David DeJesus: 77 G, .215/.233/.407, 16 HR, 21 RBI, 45 SO, 7 BB, .640 OPS
3B Tony Graffanino: 67 G, .199/.206/.283, 4 HR, 8 RBI, 27 SO, 2 BB, .489 OPS
SS Angel Berroa: 59 G, .195/.208/.270, 4 HR, 10 RBI, 41 SO, 4 BB, .478 OPS
SS Mendy Lopez: 39 G, .194/.232/.313, 3 HR, 8 RBI, 19 SO, 7 BB, .545 OPS
RF Abraham Nunez: 22 G, .085/.085/.136, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 7 SO, 0 BB, .221 OPS
C Paul Phillips: 17 G, .182/.224/.200, 0 HR, 1 RBI, 3 SO, 3 BB, .424 OPS
RF Ruben Mateo: 9 G, .042/.115/.042, 0 HR, 0 RBI, 6 SO, 2 BB, .157 OPS

1B Tony Clark: 15 G, .294/.294/.725, 7 HR, 8 RBI, 7 SO, 0 BB, 1.019 OPS
(Currently on 60-Day DL)

Complete Pitching Stats

KEY: Pos. Player: W-L, ERA, Games, Innings, K, BB, WHIP, K/9, BB/9

SP Zack Greinke: 8-9, 2.58 ERA, 20 G, 150.0 IP, 65 K, 0 BB, 0.93 WHIP, 3.90 K/9, 0 BB/9,
SP Brian Anderson: 6-7, 2.97 ERA, 20 G, 142.1 IP, 40 K, 1 BB, 1.05 WHIP, 2.53 K/9, 0.06 BB/9
SP Mike Wood: 8-8, 2.67 ERA, 20 G, 138.1 IP, 53 K, 2 BB, 0.92 WHIP, 3.45 K/9, 0.13 BB/9
SP Jose Lima: 5-6, 3.52 ERA, 20 G, 125.1 IP, 27 K, 1 BB, 1.26 WHIP, 1.94 K/9, 0.07 BB/9
SP Jimmy Gobble: 6-9, 3.16 ERA, 20 G, 122.1 IP, 34 K, 1 BB, 1.19 WHIP, 2.50 K/9, 0.07 BB/9

MRP Scott Sullivan: 4-0, 1.05 ERA, 32 G, 51.2 IP, 19 K, 1 BB, 0.64 WHIP, 3.31 K/9, 0.17 BB/9
SU Jaime Cerda: 4-0, 2.05 ERA, 39 G, 48.1 IP, 17 K, 0 BB, 0.87 WHIP, 3.17 K/9, 0 BB/9
LRP Dennis Tankersley: 1-5, 4.69 ERA, 21 G, 40.1 IP, 20 K, 1 BB, 1.36 WHIP, 4.46 K/9, 0.22 BB/9
CL Jeremy Affeldt: 1-2, 1.96 ERA, 33 G, 36.2 IP, 19 K, 0 BB, 0.68 WHIP, 4.66 K/9, 0 BB/9, .200 BAA (22 SAVES)
LRP Shawn Camp: 3-3, 2.10 ERA, 15 G, 30.0 IP, 14 K, 2 BB, 1.10 WHIP, 4.20 K/9, 0.60 BB/9
MRP Nate Field: 1-1, 5.73 ERA, 13 G, 22.0 IP, 6 K, 2 BB, 1.64 WHIP, 2.46 K/9, 0.82 BB/9
MRP D.J. Carrasco: 2-1, 3.00 ERA, 17 G, 21.0 IP, 5 K, 0 BB, 1.14 WHIP, 2.14 K/9, 0 BB/9

 

 

A Fool’s Errand, Chapter 1: Good Times, Bad Times

Royals1

BY RYAN MILOWICKI

Just hours after the Kansas City Royals recorded the final out and won the 2015 World Series, a slightly more-pixelated, much less-talented Royals squad took the field for the first time. As anyone who read my previous article knows, I am attempting to take the worst-ranked team in MVP Baseball 2005 through a full season on MVP difficulty on my slightly laggy TV and try against all odds to eke out 82 wins or more with a roster that could only muster 56 in the real world. It will be a strenuous commitment requiring patience and perseverance, but I’m hoping that this chronicle of my trials and tribulations will be an adequate way to help me push through and reach the finish line.

THE SQUAD

In order to capture as much realism as the Gamecube will allow, I will try to do as little roster tinkering as possible. After spending some time adjusting my lineups, doing some minor AAA call-ups and send-downs, and organizing the pitching rotation, here are your 2005 Kansas City Royals:

Batters:
Pitchers:

With the exception of Dennis Tankersley and Abraham Nunez, who spent the entirety of their 2005 seasons in the Royals’ farm system, the remainder of this roster all spent their real-life year with the Royals, albeit in some different roles.

Tankersley has a solid stamina rating and decent stuff, making him an ideal long relief man and possible spot starter if any of my starters appear on pace to lose 15+ games (like Greinke and Lima actually did that year). The person sent down to make room for Tankersley was Mike MacDougal, who actually was the Royals closer in 2005. However, Affeldt has a much livelier fastball (in the game at least) and has the added benefit of being a southpaw. I like the idea of MacDougal gaining late-inning experience with the AAA Royals and being a late-season call-up if I have need for a right-handed bullpen arm.

As for Nunez, he was a part of the default roster from the onset, despite never clawing out of AAA in reality. One notable person missing from the actual Royals roster and freeing up a space in MVP is third-baseman Mark Teahen, who was a rookie in 2005 and thus not present in the game. As such, I decided to let Graffanino play third and kept Nunez on the MLB bench as a switch-hitting pinch hitter possibility.

MVP wasn’t kidding when they ranked the Royals as the worst team in the game. Zack Greinke is a 21-year-old ace here, and he’s a few years away from becoming one of the game’s most dominant pitchers. He struggled mightily in 2005, going 5-17 with an abysmal 5.80 ERA over 183 innings. On the game, Greinke has average stuff except for an inexplicable 56 mph curveball eephus pitch which takes over a second to reach the plate. The rest of the Royals rotation is frankly hideous, and real-life Lima logged a 6.99 ERA in 2005 as a qualified starter (the fourth-highest single-season ERA of all time).

On the offensive side of things, the forecast isn’t much brighter. Mike Sweeney was the only real-life Royal to reach .300, and he also led the team with just 21 home runs. My power-first approach to MVP 05 may not work with a roster so resplendent in strength, but I will accept it as my initial strategy while I adjust to the new timing of the game. 

THE BEGINNING

Game 1 @ Tigers: DET 4, KCR 0 (0-1, L1)

The uncertainty that accompanies the first moments of a long-term endeavor is a feeling of wonder, anxiety, excitement and self-doubt all wrapped up into one, and I couldn’t help but worry about the fate of this Royals team after a swift 4-0 Opening Day loss in which I could only muster three hits against the Tigers’ Mike Maroth (a former 20-game loser). Greinke pitched well but tired quickly in the seventh inning, and I pulled him after he gave up a two-run homer to light-hitting Fernando Vina. The bullpen failed to impress either, giving up another Vina homer and making a comeback virtually impossible.

Game 2 @ Tigers: KCR 4, DET 2 (1-1, W1)

My first win of the season was exciting in many ways, predominantly because of the seven shutout innings I got out of Brian Anderson. I think I figured out the pitching side of things with the new timing, and even got a few strikeouts to go along with a lot of first-pitch outs. On the hitting side of things, I was hitting the ball well to the opposite side of the field, and the first three runs were completely manufactured without a home run. A Ruben Gotay homer in the top of the ninth provided the insurance I would need to survive another shaky outing from my bullpen. Perhaps a more contact-based strategy inherently formed from my

EDIT: Never mind. Since game 2, every run I have scored has come via a home run.

Every.

Single.

Run.

Game 3 @ Tigers: DET 7, KCR 3 (1-2, L1)
Game 4 @ Angels: LAA 10, KCR 3 (1-3, L2)

Yikes. My first doubts about this season creeped in as I endured two consecutive shellackings. Jimmy Gobble and Jose Lima combined to give up 15 runs in a combined 6+ innings over their two starts, and both sport an ERA above 13.50 (1.5 earned runs per inning). I was out of these games from the beginning (the Angels scored 4 runs before recording an out), but I did make some strides with the bats. Ruben Gotay hit two more home runs (putting him at 60% of his real-life total through 5 games), Matt Stairs showed his power, and Tony Graffanino established himself as my most reliable contact swinger. Other than these three however, the rest of the team is struggling, with no one else batting above .250. Catcher John Buck is 0-14 with 6 strikeouts.

Game 5 @ Angels: KCR 6, LAA 2 (2-3, W1)
Game 6 @ Angels: KCR 3, LAA 0 (3-3, W2)
Game 7 vs. Mariners: KCR 3, SEA 1 (4-3, W3)

Now that’s more like it. My offense came alive in my first winning streak of the year, hitting several home runs. Mike Wood and Zack Greinke also held the potent Vlad Guerrero-led Angels offense in check, with Greinke throwing a complete game in his second start of the season. That eephus is quite fun to utilize, and it quickly is taking over as his go-to strikeout pitch.

Game 8 vs. Mariners: SEA 5, KCR 1 (4-4, L1)
Game 9 vs. Mariners: KCR 2, SEA 0 (5-4, W1)

Redemption, thy name is Jose Lima. After getting absolutely bombarded by the Angels’ bats, Lima turned out the best start of this young season. He retired the first 15 Mariners he faced, and ultimately threw eight innings of three-hit ball. His ERA is still over 6.00, but that has to be one of the greatest first start of the year to second start of the year turnarounds in history.

I still haven’t made any progress on weaning myself off home runs, and JOHN BUCK STILL DOESN’T HAVE A HIT. I’m starting to get worried now, because I put in backup catcher Paul Phillips a couple games ago and he went 0-4 as well. If I make it to game 15 and Buck still doesn’t have a hit, I’m just going to call up the AAA catcher and see what he can do.

In the season’s saddest moment thus far, first-baseman and team captain Mike Sweeney went down with a sprained knee after valiantly diving after a foul ball. He only needs to go on the 15-day Disabled List, but I’ll need to find a replacement for him. I doubt I’ll be able to find a Jeromy Burnitz-esque messianic slugger in the nearly-depleted free agent market, but I settled on 33-year-old Tony Clark. He has a strong left-handed bat against right-handed pitchers, making him an excellent platoon candidate with Ken Harvey once Sweeney returns from his injury. Plus, he hit 30 home runs for the Diamondbacks in his actual 2005 season, so maybe he can be a long-term asset as well.

Game 10 vs. Tigers: KCR 5, DET 3 (6-4, W2)

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Baseball is a beautiful game, and anything can change from one day to the next. John Buck has been the butt of this entire article, but he looked like Ted Williams in Game 10. Erasing his 0-24 start, Buck became the first Royal this year to bat 1.000 for a game by going 3-3 with a towering solo homer, a double, a single, and a walk. His average for the season still sits at an abysmal .111, but virtual Buck heard something when I called him out after game 9, and his pixelated biceps delivered the performance of the short year.

In another touch of poetic wonder, Tony Clark had three hits in his Royals debut, including the go-ahead two-run homer and a down-the-line double. Following his home run, the replay camera cut to Mike Sweeney on the bench, sitting on the bench but raucously cheering the success of his replacement. It’s selfless behavior like that which earned Sweeney the captaincy, and the Royals are starting to mesh together as a team. I won’t be able to submit this to ESPN as an Instant Classic, but this game had so many great elements that it will go down as the first of (hopefully) many memorable games this season.

It’s too early to forecast, but I’m beginning to feel good vibes from this Royals team. I’m four games ahead of my start with the Blue Jays team, despite even worse pitching and less consistent hitting. They seem to have the knack for delivering just enough clutch offense in the games when the pitchers decide to show up. Blowouts are blowouts, and I’m at peace with that. But the Royals are 5-0 thus far in games decided by three runs or fewer, and that speaks to the grit and determination these boys have. They may be at the bottom of the talent heap, but they appear to be near the top of the league in the as-of-yet unmeasurable heart heap.

STATS THROUGH 10 GAMES

Record: 6-4 (T-1st Place in AL Central, 4-way tie with MIN, CHW, and DET)

Batting Average Leaders: Tony Graffanino (.324), Ruben Gotay (.303)
Home Runs Leaders: Matt Stairs and Ruben Gotay (4 each)
RBI Leaders: Ruben Gotay (6), Matt Stairs (5)

Those ghastly RBI:Home Run ratios don’t appear to be going away anytime soon.

Team Runs Scored: 30 (29th in Majors)
Team Runs Allowed: 34 (8th in Majors)

Here’s hoping the offense continues to pick up, and that my over-achieving pitchers don’t regress to their actual skill levels. No matter what happens, I can tell it’s going to be a fun ride with the Royals. Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you guys next time for the next leg of the journey!

Until then,

Ryan

 

 

A Fool’s Errand: One Final Attempt To Conquer MVP Baseball 2005

BY RYAN MILOWICKI

As many of you know, I play a wide variety of video games across many genres, but none is closer to my heart than EA Sports’ masterpiece MVP Baseball 2005 on my trusty Nintendo Gamecube. Like FireflyFreaks And Geeks, or any series cancelled before its time, the MVP series came to an abrupt end after the wonderful 2005 entry which still holds up 10 years and 9 MLB: The Shows later. I’d be frightened to estimate the number of hours I’ve put into this game, but I’d conservatively estimate that from getting it for Christmas at age 12 until the present day, I’m at least 10 percent of the way to Gladwell’s 10,000 hours required to truly master any skill.

Chances are that if you’re aware of my relationship with MVP 05, then you also know that I am constantly looking for ways to keep improving my skill at the game. In high school, after completing a 162-0 campaign with my beloved 2005 Pittsburgh Pirates (real-life journeyman Sean Burnett went 32-0 without yielding a single run the entire season), I began exclusively facing the computer on the game’s hardest “MVP” difficulty. In my senior year, I finally beat the Hall of Fame team with the worst-ranked Single A minor league team in an exhibition game (after probably 50 or so attempts).

As I got to college, I began to crave the grueling grind of baseball’s long season against a ruthless computer giving no ground on MVP difficulty. This January, I made my first attempt at playing a full season without simulation or rage-quitting without being the Pirates. To give myself a sporting chance without gaming the system too much, I needed to pick a team that was in the bottom half of the league skill-wise, but not so horrible that I would get too frustrated to make it through 162 games. I settled on the Toronto Blue Jays, a team with a few good players on either side of the mound (or so I thought). Keeping the game’s fair trades and budget system in place, I was ready to put my MVP skills to the ultimate test.

This setup absolutely demolished me in the first week of playing. Carlos Delgado was a free agent, unbeknownst to me, and abruptly signed with the Yankees. Making solid contact against very good pitching was a monumental task, and any pitching mistakes on my end suffered immediate consequences. Sitting at 2-6, the Blue Jays took another hit when starting third-baseman Corey Koskie went down with a broken foot. Would I have expected this injury to vastly alter my fortunes and fundamentally change the way I played MVP 05? Never in a million years.

But that’s exactly what happened when I went to the free agent market to find a replacement. Only having the rights to players in the MLBPA, baseball video games often have abnormally thin minor league rosters and free agent markets, so I had to get crafty. The best bat available and willing to negotiate with me was aging outfielder Jeromy Burnitz. I quickly signed him to a one-year deal and penciled him into the DH spot, knowing that he could always fill in as a corner outfielder if any other injuries occurred. Sliding Shea Hillenbrand from the DH to first base, and Eric Hinske from first to third, I had a lineup once again. In his first appearance in a Jays uniform, Burnitz hit a pair of towering home runs, and a legend was born.

Taking the boom or bust approach in real baseball would never work, but in the world of MVP 05, it’s the only surefire way to assure yourself of scoring against computer pitching who almost never issue any walks. And so, I began swinging for the fences with every one of my players, to results equally effective and hideous. In the process, Burnitz set the single-season record with 82 home runs, in addition to 60+ apiece from Hillenbrand and Vernon Wells. Lurking behind these insane power numbers (417 team HR) was a woeful team batting average (.222) and only 690 runs scored over the course of the season. With some of the ugliest RBI:HR ratios of all time, here’s a quick look at my main contributors’ lines for the season:

Anchored by peak-period Roy Halladay, my rotation was slightly more successful than the bipolar offense. With MVP difficulty, the computer is very hard to strike out, and no pitcher had more than 90 strikeouts for the year. But, I handled myself rather well under pressure and was reasonably able to work out of jams, leading to a team ERA of 3.49, slightly better than average in the real world. My rotation depth was pretty woeful, and I actually got lucky when 5th starter Dave Bush went down for the year with an ACL injury, as replacement Scott Schoeneweis proved to be more than adequate. Take a quick look at how my starters fared:

With the exception of Halladay’s numbers, the rest of these guys were either decent or pretty bad. Notice though, they actually won games! As I played with this team more and more, I improved at hitting the long ball, adjusting the lineup accordingly, working through injuries, and doing my best to get quality starts out of the rotation. I finally creeped over .500 around the beginning of June, and then really started winning in the second half of the season. Stuck in the AL East, the gauntlet of the Torre Yankees and Francona Red Sox was a difficult hill to surmount, and even the Orioles put up a surprising fight. When all was said and done, four teams in the division finished at or above 87 wins, led by the Yankees with 102. Somehow, some way, despite my sabermetrician’s nightmare of a season, the Blue Jays grabbed the Wild Card spot (that’s right, only one Wild Card) with a record of 95-67. Continuing to pick up steam as the season went on, I beat the Yankees in a hotly-contested five game ALDS, then swept the White Sox in the ALCS. Facing the Cardinals in the 2005 World Series, I took care of them in five games to inexplicably bring the title north of the border (if only David Price and Tulo could have done the same in the real world).

Now I know what you’re thinking. This article is over, right? You’ve conquered MVP 05, Ryan. Do something else with your life! But striving for excellence is not an endeavor which has a finish line. There are always ways to improve, ways to do the unthinkable. I will not be satisfied until the hundreds of scratches on the disc render the game unplayable.

See, the real purpose of this article is to start the journey anew. I’m going to go through another season game by game on MVP difficulty, but with a few added constraints (some intentional, some unfortunate):

  • Instead of having the freedom to pick my team, I am going to take my chances with the lowest-ranked organization with the game’s default rosters (the Kansas City Royals, in a very timely twist of irony).
  • The TV in my room inexplicably has a tiny amount of input lag, resulting in the game being maybe a tenth or so of a second ahead of the image on the screen. As such, I have noticed that precision pitching has become nearly impossible. Going through this season will require me to become even better at hitting my spots, pitching to contact, and hoping that I keep the ball down. In addition, the impact of the lag is felt on hitting timing as well, meaning that it will be much more difficult to hit home runs with any regularity. I will have to work on manufacturing runs and hitting to all sides of the field. At the end of the day, the lag does not render the game unplayable in any way. Rather, it removes me from 10 years’ worth of a comfort zone, and will force me to adjust my game accordingly in order to succeed with the weakest team possible.

So over the following months, I am going to chip away at completing another full season. I know it’s going to be difficult, even moreso than my quest with the Blue Jays. I am going to lose my fair share of games, and I don’t know if it’s realistic to expect me to be a .500 team with the deck stacked against me from both a team and mechanical perspective. What I can guarantee though is that I am going to do my absolute best to keep a record of my foolhardy journey to see if I can emerge, bloodied but never broken.

Why do I do this? Because I love baseball and its long season. Because I’m not ready for real baseball to be over, signaling the start of winter with it. Because finding new challenges to overcome is a valuable mindset in any of life’s endeavors. But most of all, I do it because MVP Baseball 2005 is the greatest sports game ever made, and I owe it to the game that defined my childhood to spend the last months of my student life with it. Be sure to check back periodically to see if/how/why I’m surviving and persevering.

Until then,

Ryan

Which MLB Teams Have The Most Loyal Fans?

BY RYAN MILOWICKI

Forget about Facebook likes, customized phone cases, or jerseys. The most credible and measurable sign of fan loyalty is and always will be physical attendance. More so than in the other major professional leagues, Major League Baseball has a very bipolar relationship with fan attendance. In the NFL, there are only 8 home games per year, and anything less than a sellout can result in a local blackout of the television coverage. With 41 home games in the NBA and NHL, teams in these leagues traditionally are able to regularly fill their smaller indoor arenas. But when it comes to the lengthy 162-game schedule of an MLB season, the sheer enormity of 81 home games brings forth an interesting dynamic. MLB stadiums range in capacity from 35,000 to roughly 50,000 seats, making them much larger than multi-purpose arenas, but a good deal smaller than their football counterparts. With 10 times more games per year than the NFL, no such blackout deal exists for television coverage of MLB games. This makes sense on a variety of levels, as demanding 81 sellouts (with many of the games on weeknights) is far too high of a standard to universally uphold.

Despite the time constraints and number of games, some teams have no trouble routinely filling their stadiums. In fact, the Boston Red Sox recently finished an incredible 820-game sellout streak, which lasted from 2003-2013. That stands as the longest such streak in professional sports history, narrowly breaking a record set by the NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers (who notably are the only major professional team in the state of Oregon). But the Red Sox and teams like them are the exceptions to a troubling rule. As the image above suggests, plenty of teams struggle mightily to fill their ballparks on a regular basis, or even half-capacity in some instances.

To fight this constant attendance battle, teams resort to a wide variety of promotional tactics, ranging from giveaways to post-game concerts and fireworks. But as the adage goes, the easiest way to bring people into the ballpark is to put a winning team on the ballfield. But does supporting a winning team when they win count as fan loyalty? Surely it’s much easier to be a consistent ticket-buying Yankees fan (who have made the playoffs 13 times in the past 15 seasons) than say, a Blue Jays fan (no playoff appearances since 1993). Perhaps a better way to try and objectively measure fan loyalty is to look for those teams who still come out to support their team even when their performance might not be consistently playoff-worthy.

To research this topic further, I analyzed attendance data for all 30 MLB franchises for the past 15 seasons (2000-2014) and ran them through a variety of statistical criteria of my choosing. To begin, I compiled every teams’ number of wins and home attendance total for each of the aforementioned seasons. For each year, I divided their home attendance by their win total to create a stat I call Average Attedance Per Win (AAPW for short). This number is much different than the actual attendance per game, because it also takes into account games hypothetically won on the road. So for teams that were over .500, their AAPW is typically lower than their expected average attendance (since they won more than the 81 games they played at home). As such, teams under .500 can typically expect a higher AAPW number than their actual average attendance for that season.

After running the numbers for the AAPW of all 450 individual franchise seasons that have made up this new millennium, I was unsurprised to discover that perennial contenders like the Yankees and Cardinals scored highly on this metric, while teams like the Miami Marlins, Tampa Bay Rays, and now-defunct Montreal Expos had abysmally low AAPW numbers. So does the analysis end there? I found it to be too easy of a conclusion to say that the historically most successful franchises have the most loyal fans, so I decided to add one more wrinkle to my statistical analysis.

A successful team with a high AAPW should be expected, as should a struggling team having a low AAPW. What I’m looking for to determine the most (and least) loyal fanbases are outliers, teams that disproportionately fill their stadiums unconditionally or leave plenty of empty seats during pennant races. In order to do this, I created two makeshift rankings for the MLB teams. First, I calculated every  team’s average win total for 2000-2014 and ranked them accordingly (#1: New York Yankees, #30: Kansas City Royals). After that, I took each team’s 15 AAPW totals and averaged those as well, leading to another set of rankings (#1: Los Angeles Dodgers, #30: Miami Marlins). To find the outliers I sought, I took the two rankings and compared them side-by-side.

For a cross-ranking analysis, I created one final stat which I nicknamed “The Diff.” Simply put, it serves as the difference between a team’s ranking on the Average Wins list and their placement on the Average AAPW list (so Wins Rank – AAPW Rank). If a team has a positive number for their Diff, it means that their fans came out to the ballpark more readily than their cumulative win total would suggest. To the contrary, a negative number for the Diff suggests that a team’s fans weren’t quite supporting their club to the extent that their win total merits. The Diff leveled the playing field much more than I would have expected, and removed all bias (positive or negative) related to any piece of isolated data. The Yankees (#1 in wins, #3 in AAPW) actually have a Diff of -2, placing them in the middle of the pack in terms of fan loyalty. And as for teams like the Rays (#25 in wins, #29 in AAPW), their Diffs are also closer to zero than you might expect, indicating that their disgruntled fans still fall within the realm of loyalty normality.

But there were a few notable outliers on both ends of the spectrum who had extremely large values for their Diffs. So without further ado, here are the teams my research deems as having the most loyal and least loyal fans, beginning with the least loyal side of things.

#5 Least Loyal: Toronto Blue Jays

Wins Rank: #14  AAPW Rank: #26  The Diff: -12

Despite being mired in the longest active playoff drought in the MLB, our friends to the north have been a quietly competitive team. They’ve finished at or above .500 eight times in the past 15 seasons, averaging 80 wins per season in that time-frame. But the Blue Jays’ biggest disadvantage is the incredibly competitive division in which they play. The AL East is almost always the most stacked division each season, with the usual dominance of the Yankees and Red Sox being supplemented in recent years by the surprising Rays and the resurgence of the Orioles. As playoff baseball eludes Toronto, so too does attendance. Despite playing in the fifth-largest MLB stadium, the Blue Jays struggle to fill the now-25-year-old Rogers Centre (née SkyDome). The home-run power of sluggers Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion has helped in recent seasons, but the Jays perennially rank in the bottom half of the league in attendance.

#4 Least Loyal: Cleveland Indians

Wins Rank: #13  AAPW Rank: #25  The Diff: -12

When the Red Sox set the MLB record for consecutive sellouts, they broke a record held by the Cleveland Indians. From 1995-2001, the Indians sold out Jacobs Field an impressive 455 straight games, due in part to their Thome/Ramirez/Lofton/Vizquel heyday and in part to the five-season hiatus the Cleveland Browns spent out of the NFL. Despite being the most consistent team in Cleveland’s recent history (with eight postseason trips in the past 20 years, compared to seven for the Cavaliers and one for the Browns), baseball hasn’t seemed to be a priority for Cleveland fans since the Browns came back to town. With renovations for 2015 that removed thousands of seats, Progressive Field now is the fifth-smallest ballpark in terms of capacity, following a season which saw the Tribe finish 29th in attendance.

#3 Least Loyal: Chicago White Sox

Wins Rank: #10  AAPW Rank: #24  The Diff: -14

Although their rivals across town have the more famous World Series drought, the White Sox suffered through a similar spell of bad luck themselves. When they won the World Series in 2005, it ended their 88-year run without a title, and marked their first American League pennant since 1959. Even with this recent change of fortune, the White Sox have had considerably more difficulty with attendance than the Cubs. Ballpark prestige is a major factor in this disparity, as U.S. Cellular Field (or Comiskey II if you’re an embittered Sox fan) was seen as a downgrade from their nostalgic original home.

#2 Least Loyal: Atlanta Braves

Wins Rank: #3  AAPW Rank: #20  The Diff: -17

The Atlanta Braves have one of the more confusing tales when it comes to the success/attendance dichotomy. Over the past 20 years, the Braves have been one of the National League’s most successful teams, making the playoffs 14 times, and finishing under .500 only three times. Yet, their attendance has dwindled steadily in recent years, taking them from 5th in 1999 to 18th in 2014. Citing the poor location of Turner Field (built for the 1996 Summer Olympics), the Braves recently announced that they are building a brand new ballpark for the Braves which will open for the 2017 season. This makes Turner Field’s 20-year stint as the home of the Braves one of the shortest ballpark tenures of the past 100 years.

#1 Least Loyal: Oakland Athletics

Wins Rank: #6  AAPW Rank: #28  The Diff: -22

Even though it brought winning baseball to Oakland, Billy Beane’s frugal “Moneyball” approach to the game left ballpark upkeep and fan experience as consequential detriments. Playing in the ancient and creaky O.Co Coliseum (their home since moving to Oakland in 1968), the Athletics have always struggled with attendance, even though they are one of the MLB’s most consistent teams. Playoff success eludes them however, and their rivals across the bay have won three World Series in the past five seasons (in a beautiful ballpark I might add), further alienating the fans from Beane’s approach. As long as the Athletics continue to play in the cavernous Coliseum, not even their eight 90-win seasons in the past 15 years will solve their lingering attendance problem.

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Let’s transition now to the five teams who have experience the most loyal fanbases, sticking by their teams through a combination of both good seasons and bad.

#5 Most Loyal: Milwaukee Brewers

Wins Rank: #24  AAPW Rank: #12  The Diff: +12

One of the most-used phrases in the discussion of sports attendance is the “honeymoon period.” This refers to the first few seasons a team spends in a brand-new stadium, where attendance generally spikes a result of interest in the new ballpark. The Brewers opened Miller Park for the 2001 season, right at the beginning of my research time interval. After the initial 178% jump in attendance for Miller Park’s first season, the team’s fortunes began to turn around. In addition to maintaining high numbers of fans in the ballpark, the team was a playoff contender between 2008-2011, further cementing the loyalty of the fanbase. Although the Brewers have trailed off in the NL Central in recent years, they still perennially rank in the Top 10 for attendance.

#4 Most Loyal: Baltimore Orioles

Wins Rank: #28  AAPW Rank: #13  The Diff: +15

Having the same divisional problem as the Blue Jays, the Baltimore Orioles have nonetheless been extremely successful at developing a strong and loyal fanbase. Opening within a few years of the SkyDome, Oriole Park at Camden Yards is a much more picturesque venue, often called one of the most beautiful parks in the MLB. And even after the face of their franchise, Cal Ripken Jr., retired in 2001, the Orioles have still been able to generate solid levels of attendance, even though the Orioles have been one of the worst teams historically. Their massive turnaround in the past three years (including their first division title since 1979 this year) hints at continued support, now that winning baseball has found its way back into Baltimore.

#3 Most Loyal: Houston Astros

Wins Rank: #26  AAPW Rank: #9  The Diff: +17

When looking at the past 15 years, it really is a tale of two eras for the Houston Astros. From 2000-2008, the Astros were a very solid contender in the National League, routinely finishing over .500 and winning the NL Pennant in 2005. In the past six season though, the franchise has taken a turn for the worse, finishing under .500 every time and moving to the highly-competitive AL West. Aided by a honeymoon period from Minute Maid Park’s 2000 opening and the overwhelming success of the first few research years, the Astros get the benefit of the doubt here. Their attendance has fallen heftily along with the team’s performance, as is to be expected when a team begins to lose often. However, since bottoming out in 2012, attendance has risen in each of the past two season for Houston, hinting at a future as bright as their touted prospects.

#2 Most Loyal: Colorado Rockies

Wins Rank: #27  AAPW Rank: #6  The Diff: +21

Despite many years of futility, the Colorado Rockies have never had much trouble populating scenic Coors Field. Its unique location paired with the always-exciting high-scoring affairs that usually transpire within its confines make it a great place for a casual baseball fan to take in a game. Despite finishing in the bottom five for Average Wins, the Rockies cleared 3,000,000 in home attendance twice in the past 15 seasons, a number usually reserved for the New Yorks and the Bostons of the world. Throw in their surprise run to the World Series in 2007, and it’s clear to see that the Rockies are simply a fun team to watch play. The games they play tend to be exciting in some fashion, even when the home team doesn’t end up winning.

#1 Most Loyal: Chicago Cubs

Wins Rank: #23  AAPW Rank: #2  The Diff: +21

I had a hunch when I began my research that the Cubs might find their way into the top spot on this ranking. After all, it takes diehard fans to withstand the longest title drought in professional sports history. Although the Cubs have no recent World Series titles to their name, they have something which few other franchises can boast: one of the biggest destination ballparks in the country. Still going strong at 100 years old, Wrigley Field is as beautiful as it is historic, and any baseball fan can conjure up images of the ivy-covered outfield walls (and of Steve Bartman and Moises Alou’s notorious postseason encounter). So much of the heartbreak that encompasses being a Cubs fan is that they often are quite good. In addition to the aforementioned infamous 2003 NLCS, the Cubs have made the playoffs twice more in the past decade, often fielding very talented teams. This relentless pursuit to reverse history coupled with genuinely exciting players has kept the Cubs squarely in the Top 10 of MLB attendance year in and year out, despite their frustrating lack of postseason glory. With Joe Maddon now at the helm and having won the Jon Lester sweepstakes, the Cubs have every reason to believe that attendance has nowhere to go but up in 2015 for them and their loyal fanbase.

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Thanks for reading! I’m glad to have dipped back into the sports article groove, and I had a lot of fun researching and writing this analysis. Be sure to look out for future articles mixing my love for sports with my love for stats!

 

2014 NBA Awards Predictions (Sunday Sports Column)

 

kdlbj

BY COREY MUELLER

Now that the NBA regular season has come to a close, it’s time for the experts to vote for the many awards given out to the best players of the year.  I’m no expert, so ranking the NBA 1st, 2nd, and 3rd team is not for me, but I can give my thoughts on the other categories.  Although the official ballots are not available to the public, Grantland’s Zack Lowe had access to a ballot through Bill Simmons, and that article can be found here .  I’ll be basing my predictions off of said ballot, as well as my personal opinion and limited knowledge through my fantasy basketball experience.

kd

Most Valuable Player:

1. Kevin Durant

2. LeBron James

3. Stephen Curry

4. John Wall

5. Paul George

The debate between KD and LBJ has raged on all year, but I have to give it up to Kevin Durant.  Only 25-years-old, KD won his 4th scoring title in 5 years, the first since one Michael Jordan did it in the late ‘80s, early ‘90s.  Durant also becomes only the 5th player to win 4 or more scoring titles, joining MJ, Wilt Chamberlain, Allen Iverson and George Gervin.  There’s no taking away from the stellar year LeBron had, though, as he shot 56.7% from the field and scored his most 3s since joining the Heat in 2010.  Lebron, however, saw a decline in most of his stats.  The 29-year-old superstar averaged a rebound (from 8.0 to 6.9) and an assist (from 7.3 to 6.4) less this year than last, as well as going from .9 blocks per game to .3.  There’s no questioning LeBron’s defensive presence on the court, but his stat sheet has shown a slow decline from previous years.

Kevin Durant has shown similar stats, like a decline from 1.3 blocks to .7, but his 4-point average jump is nothing to brush off.  KD also averaged an assist more per game, most likely due to Russell Westbrook’s absence.  Durant was able to lead the Thunder to a 59-23 record this season with Westbrook out for 36 games, while LeBron and the Heat posted a 54-28 record in the East.  Durant missed 1 game all season; LeBron sat out 5, in which the Heat went 2-3 (including losses to the Celtics and Sixers).  The discussion of the team surrounding both players always arises in the Durant VS. LeBron debate, but this year is shaky for both teams.  Westbrook only played 46 games, and Dwyane Wade played 54 of the 82 regular season games. That discussion can be saved for another day, but in short, Durant seemed to carry more of the responsibility on the Thunder than LeBron had to on the Heat.

The stats are strikingly close, but I have to give the edge to Kevin Durant this year.  Both had outstanding years this season, but KD did just a little more.  As for the other candidates, Curry led the Golden State Warriors this year with his highest points-per-game totals, as well as career high assists and most 3-pointers made in a season.  John Wall was able to swing the Wizards from a 29-win team in 2013 to a 44-win, playoff contending team in 2014. He had career high points, assists, and steals this season, but it may be premature to give him MVP this early in his career.  Finally, Paul George, last year’s Most Improved Player, had his best scoring season yet and was able to lead the Pacers to the 1st seed in the East, despite the huge slump Indiana has been in the last 2 months.  Had this slump not occurred, George would be right up in the debate with LeBron and KD, but unfortunately his stats dropped significantly since February.

noah

Defensive Player of the Year

1. Joakim Noah

2. Roy Hibbert

3. DeAndre Jordan

This was a tough decision as well, as Hibbert was so good until he and the rest of the Pacers seemingly stopped playing for the last quarter of the season.  Hibbert is one of the largest threats, literally, to have protecting the basket.  At 7’2”, he gets in the way of any attempt to get to the hoop, and he causes opposing teams to miss nearly 60% of their shots when he’s near the rim or shooter.  Noah, however, is a much quicker defender and never messes up a pick-and-roll defense.  When I picked Joakim Noah up on January 15th, a week after Luol Deng was traded, Noah was averaging 1.1 blocks per game, but finished the season with 1.5 blocks to his name.  Noah was on an upward curve while Hibbert sloped downwards, and Noah’s 1.2 steals per game heavily outweighs Hiibert’s .4.  Noah also posted 4 triple-doubles this year, an impressive stat for any player, but even more so from a center.  Hibbert also only grabbed a meager 6.6 rebounds to Noah’s 11.3.  The scale tips more heavily in favor of Noah, especially with the overall performance Noah put up this year.

DeAndre Jordan was my last candidate because of his shear dominance on defense and third-most blocks on average per game this year.  Jordan is terrifying to go up against, and he grabs more than 13 boards per game, but Noah does it without a team of elite stars around him.  I couldn’t include Anthony Davis in this category for the fact that he missed 15 games this year.  Davis’ impressive 2.8 blocks and 1.3 steals would have gotten him this award had he stayed healthy; unfortunately, his sputtered injuries make it difficult to give him it when Noah and Hibbert missed 3 games combined this year.

dragic

Most Improved Player

1. Goran Dragic

2. DeMarcus Cousins

3. Anthony Davis

Goran Dragic shot 50.5% from the field and 40.8% from beyond the arc, 6% and 9% higher in each respective category from last season.  He’s scoring 20.3 points, nearly 6 points more than last year, because of his high efficiency from the field.  Dragic fits in Phoenix’s fast-paced offence, and thrives off the pick-and-roll.  Eric Bledsoe and Dragic pair up extremely well in Phoenix, and they led the Suns to a 48-34 record, missing the playoffs by 1 game.

DeMarcus Cousins of the Kings is my #2, even though it’s only his 4th year in the league.  He averaged 5 more points this year and nearly doubled his blocks per game, and shot almost 50% from the field this year.  Unfortunately, he’s still immature on the court, complaining and getting unnecessary technical fouls.  This poor attitude, as well as the terrible 28-54 record that the Kings held this year, hinders him from receiving this award.

Based purely on stats, Anthony Davis should be the Most Improved Player this year.  He went from 13.5 points to 20.8, as well as added 2 rebounds and half an assist per game to his stat sheet, but I also have to take into consideration his injuries.  Just like the Defensive Player of the Year, he missed too many games to be eligible for this award, and his limited affect on the Pelican’s 34-48 record also hurts his chances at this award.

gibson

Sixth Man of the Year

1. Taj Gibson

2. Jamal Crawford

3. Manu Ginobili

Taj Gibson stepped his game up this season with the Bulls.  Boozer had an average, if not below average, season, and this called for great help from Gibson.  Gibson didn’t shy away, and made the Bulls frontcourt one of the most intimidating both offensively and defensively in the entire NBA.  Gibson averaged a career best 13.1 points per game and played every game, even starting a few with an injured Boozer.  His presence down low drew a few double-teams and this opened the floor for the Bulls, but he also provided immense help on defense.  He averaged 1.4 blocks and .5 steals off the bench, which is impressive even if he were a starter.  He aided his team more than any other bench player in the league.

Jamal Crawford seems to be a candidate for this award every year, especially because of his 18.6 points per game and .9 steals.  He is, however, on the star-studded Clippers where JJ Reddick can score 15 points off the bench because of the supporting cast.  It’s not fair to say the team around Crawford is too good, but they sure do make it a lot easier for him to get open on the perimeter when 3 of the other players potentially could pull a double-team on any given play. Unfortunately, Crawford missed 13 games and the Clippers didn’t suffer at all from it: they went 11-2 without him.

Finally, Manu Ginobili rounds out this category for my predictions.  Ginobili put on a strong showing, as usual. Unfortunately, he played 800 minutes less than Gibson and 500 minutes less than Crawford this year. He has the highest Player Efficiency Rating out of the three, but he is, again, on the bench too much.  He’s only averaging 22.8 minutes per night, and his assists, rebounds, and steals have all seen a decline.  Gibson, due to minutes and higher stats overall, gets this award in my book.

mcw

Rookie of the Year

1. Michael Carter-Williams

2. Victor Oladipo

3. Trey Burke

The rookie class this year was weak. There’s no other way to put it, but this year’s rooks heavily underperformed.  We saw flashes of greatness from Michael Carter-Williams, especially in the season when he nearly posted a triple double with points, assists and steals (22-12-9).  MCW only played 70 games this year, but he’s more deserving than any other rookie this year.  Yes, Oladipo played in 80 games, but he came off the bench in nearly half of them.  MCW started all 70 games he played, and had significantly better points, assists and rebounds. The only thing Oladipo bested MCW in was shooting percentage, and that was 41.9% to MCW’s 40.5%.  Both horrid, but it only gets worse behind them.  Trey Burke is one of the few other honorable freshmen this year, playing 70 games in Utah.  He shot 90% from the free throw line and dished out almost 6 assists per game, so keep an eye on him as he matures in the league.  Unfortunately, no one compares to Michael Carter-Williams from this year’s rookie class, so the award, in my opinion, is his.

thib

Coach of the Year

1. Tom Thibodeau

2. Gregg Popovich

3. Jeff Hornacek

This was probably the most difficult category to rank, solely due to the fact that Popovich is consistently the best and the success of both the Bulls and Suns were incredibly impressive this year.  Thibodeau deserves this award, though, after losing Rose to injury and Deng in a trade that should have sunk the team.  Thibodeau came out in a press conference after the trade and said the team wasn’t going to tank, and they did far from that.  A lot of the credit goes to my Defensive Player and Sixth Man of the Year, but the team went 34-15 after letting Deng go.  Thibodeau still ran his staunch defense and utilized players like DJ Augustin in his offensive scheme, ultimately putting the Bulls in the 4th seed in the East.

Not much can be said for Gregg Popovich because we have come to expect the Spurs to be dominant.  Popovich should win the Coach of the Last Two Decades award, but unfortunately that doesn’t exist (yet….).  The unageing Spurs run Popovich’s system nearly flawlessly, putting themselves in first in the West with the best record in the entire NBA.  Given the circumstances, though, Thibodeau’s season was much more difficult and deserving of this award.

I know I gave three awards to Bulls members, but they were all incredibly deserving of their respective awards.  We’ll soon see how accurate I am when the awards are given out!

 

 

 

 

 

I Think I’ll Go To Boston (Sunday Sports Column)

sizemore

 

BY COREY MUELLER

“Please come to Boston for the spring time.
I’m stayin’ here with some friends
And they’ve got lots of room.”

Apparently, Dave Loggins’ message works, especially for former members of the Cleveland Indians.  Many Tribe members have left for Boston in the spring and seen great success in Beantown.  The inspiration for this article comes from the Red Sox’s newest addition, Grady Sizemore.  Thinking about it, my hometown Indians have seen quite a few players leave for Boston in the last decade and a half.

The first came back in 2000, when Manny Ramirez packed up to go to Boston after being offered a $119 million dollar contract, which would’ve made him the highest paid player at the time.  Manny being Manny, though, pursued an even higher contract, and was offered $160 million over 8 years to play in Boston.  Manny was good in Cleveland, but he was arguably one of the greats in Boston.  He played 8 seasons in both Cleveland and Boston, but won 2 World Series with the Sox and 0 with the Indians.  Manny was an All-Star every single year, from 2001 to 2008, while he was a member of the Red Sox.  He was the AL batting champ in ’02 and the AL homerun champ in’04 when Boston won its first World Series since 1918, where he was also named World Series MVP.  Ramirez was surrounded by superstars in Cleveland, but he became a legend in Boston with Big Papi and the rest of the 2004 comeback Red Sox.

The next was in 2009 when Victor Martinez left in a trade for SP Justin Masterson and continued to be a presence behind the plate in Boston.  Martinez was on pace for his best season yet in 2010, batting .302 with 20 HRs and 79 RBI before breaking his thumb.  He was unable to finish the season, only playing in 127 of the 162 games that year.  He was on pace for 26 HRs, 101 RBI and 82 runs, which would’ve been arguably his career best season.  He also hit .336 with 41 RBI and 8 HR in just 56 games with the Sox in the 2009, which is significantly better than any other stretch of games he had in the rest of his career.  He was an All-Star in his one-year stint with the Sox, and a 3 time All-Star in Cleveland.  Martinez saw success in Cleveland and Boston, but the Indians saw reason to get rid of one of the best hitting catchers of the 2000s.  Despite his injuries, Martinez should be considered one of the best overall players of the past decade, especially for the Indians and the Red Sox.

This next one may be a slight stretch, but the Boston Red Sox Manager, John Farrell, made his major league debut in 1987 with the Cleveland Indians.  Then, from November 2001 through the end of the 2006 season, Farrell was the director of player development for the Cleveland Indians.  After that, he became a pitching coach for Terry Francona and the Red Sox.  He then became manager of the Blue Jays before returning to the Sox in 2013.  In just one year, Farrell turned the Red Sox around from the worst in the league to the World Series champions.  This former Indian saw success in Boston when he placed second in voting for the 2013 AL Manager of the Year (behind Cleveland’s Terry Francona), finishing the year with 97 wins.  The upcoming year should be interesting for Farrell, and we’ll see if he continues his success in 2014.

Now, if Grady Sizemore follows the curve of these other players, he’s in for one of his best years yet.  Sizemore hadn’t played since 2011, and was a disappointment for his last three years in Cleveland.  Sizemore won the job for center field back right before the season started, and did not disappoint in his first game back.  He went 2-4 with a homerun, his first since July 15th, 2011.  Since then, Sizemore has been named the leadoff batter for the Sox, where he is currently batting .300 over 4 games.  Watching Opening Day, Sizemore still looked like his old self, hitting and running the bases well.  Usually, it’s difficult for guys like Sizemore to make a comeback after nearly 3 years off, but Grady has the potential to have a huge year in Boston.  If he follows in the footsteps of the other former Indians that followed the path to Titletown, he should have a career year this season.  ESPN only projected Sizemore to have 6 HRs, 28 RBI and 28 runs, but he’ll have to cool down significantly to have that bad of a year.  Grady’s Ladies have moved to Boston, and Sizemore’s friends have made plenty of room for him in Fenway.  I’m no expert, but from Sizemore’s start to the year, it’s shaping up to be one of his best.  Keep an eye on Sizemore and watch for a big year from him in Boston.