Quantity the Name of the Game in the NFL Draft

goodell

FROM MY RECLINER, NJ – It’s always been a popular belief that the best NFL teams build through the draft. But last week Steve Palazzolo brought it to a new level. He sent out two tweets to really hammer home how important draft picks are.

Group 1

Group 2

So, according to those tweets, the correlation between wins and the draft is purely based on the number of picks. Not which rounds they’re in, and not who’s drafting them. So do we buy it?

First, is there anything about the teams in group 2 that stand out? Basically, is there another reason why these teams didn’t succeed last season?

On the surface it doesn’t seem so. Almost all have been to the playoffs in the last few years, the majority have a stable quarterback situation, and only two of the teams — Detroit and Tampa Bay — had bad coaches.

Wait, what about injuries?

According to Football Outsiders the New York Giants were the most injured team in football last season, and San Diego, Atlanta, New Orleans and Tampa Bay all find themselves in the top 10. But so do Green Bay, New England and San Francisco, and two AFC playoff teams in Denver and Indianapolis.

But can the difference really just be the number of players selected? Shouldn’t it matter what round the picks are in? Why don’t we break the numbers down and see what the actual difference was in amount of picks between these two groups:

Table 1

So it looks like group 1 had more picks in every round except the third, and even that difference wasn’t significant. But overall, the biggest difference is in the later rounds. Group 1 has 2.1 more picks in rounds 1-3 and 8.8 more picks in rounds 4-7. Ok, so it isn’t the case of a few teams having an inordinate amount of top picks.

So, what is it?

I got it! There are good players available in the later rounds, just not a lot of them. By having more picks these teams have a better chance of finding that diamond in the rough. So why don’t we see how successful the two groups have been at finding players in each round:

Table 2

Well that didn’t go quite to plan. Group 1 only had a better success rate in two rounds, one of which they had less picks! How could they do worse with more chances?

There’s actually a very obvious explanation for this. Even if they found more players in these drafts, the percent should be lower. Think back to elementary school, if the denominator (amount of total picks) grows, you’d need a corresponding growth — or better — in the numerator (total number of active players) to end with a higher percent. So instead let’s just look at the total number of players the two groups yielded in these drafts:

Group 1 Total Players (Avg.): 16.9

Group 2 Total Players (Avg.): 14.4

Now that’s more like it. While the percent was lower, group 1 walked away with almost three more players on average in these drafts. Now that might not seem like a ton, but check out this table provided by Kevin Seifert at ESPN charting drafted players still on their original team:

Original-Draft-Picks-By-Team-Draft-Picks1398686800557

The biggest gap is between the Packers and Bears with 18. But those two teams are extreme outliers; the only two in the NFL separated from the next closest team by more than one player. Removing them, the largest gap is 13 (Jaguars – 17 to Falcons – 30), and that’s over the course of a decade at least.

The numbers we’ve been discussing are just from the last four drafts. More importantly, “total players” only charts whether a player is on a team, not whether they’ve actually had an impact. So instead let’s look at the difference between starters from the two groups.

Group 1 Starters (Avg.): 8.88

Group 2 Starters (Avg.): 7.5

Again, 1+ starter might not seem like a ton, but that’s out of just 22 players, and it’s quite possible the 8.88 starters from group 1 are better than the 7.5 from group 2.

Think about it, there’s a reason group 2 teams couldn’t win ten games last season. Doesn’t the quality of the starters have to be the top reason? And with less total players drafted, there is less competition for those starting spots. So it’s likely the starters from group 2 had less competition and less quality competition.

How can we measure that? Instead of starters, let’s look at the number of impact players these teams have drafted since 2010 (we’ll define impact player as a Pro Bowl player, or an above average quarterback).

Group 1 Impact Players (Avg.): 3.13

Group 2 Impact Players (Avg.): 1.7 

Now that’s a pretty big jump. That’s close to two more players on average, and while that doesn’t seem huge, once again, think about how few impact players there are in the league. How many players from each team make the Pro Bowl each season, or an All-American team?

On top of that, all of these players are still on their rookie deals. In a league run by a salary cap, that point can’t be overstated. That’s especially true for the five playoff teams in group 1. All five of them got their quarterbacks after the first round (granted the Patriots got theirs years ago). That means they were free to use their first-round picks on other areas of need, and also means they’re paying bargain basement prices for the most important position on the team.

If there is anything we know about the draft, it’s that it’s a crapshoot. Even the best GMs fail to yield top results, and even the most talented prospects don’t pan out. So what’s the best strategy? Increase your odds by picking more often, even in the later rounds.

To illustrate that just a bit further indulge me in just one more table:

Table 3

The difference in impact players from group 1 to group 2 was as large in rounds 1-3 (4) as it was in rounds 4-7 (4).

With the draft just a little more than a week away, don’t forget how valuable each selection can be. In fact, it might be smarter for your favorite team to trade down and accumulate more picks, than trade up for that one stud. A fact especially true this year during a draft that everyone loves to describe as deep.

13 Down on the Quest to 90 Wins

Mets Header

FROM MY RECLINER, NJ – Before the season, New York Mets general manager Sandy Alderson said the team could win 90 games. It didn’t take long for the media to jump all over that; no one took it seriously, and it became a running joke.

The start of the season did nothing to change the narrative. The Mets were swept by the Washington Nationals in the first series, striking out a record 31 times in the first two games  and featuring a bullpen that looked like it could be the worst in the league. News that closer Bobby Parnell was going to miss the season certainly didn’t help. I got more texts with this clip than I knew I had friends:

But something changed. Even with that disastrous start, the Mets are actually three games above .500. At 13-10 they’re on pace to surpass that 90 win prediction! But being a Mets fan is all about the unexpected punch to the gut. This team reels you in with false hope, before flaming out in the worst possible way.

So can the Mets realistically continue to play this well? Let’s start by looking at what they’re doing right. 1) They have the tenth best starters ERA in MLB. 2) They’re eighth in the league in defensive runs saved (DRS). 3) They’re fourth in the league in stolen bases.

There is nothing else they do that ranks in the top half of the league. Even if you remove that awful first series, their bullpen ERA does not land in the top half of the league. Offensively they’ve been well below average: they rank 26th in home runs, 23rd in runs scored, 29th in average, 26th in OBP, last in isolated power (ISO), and are tied with three other teams for the second worst strikeout rate in baseball. Like bullpen ERA, none of those numbers improve much if you remove that first awful series, or even look at their production over the last two weeks when they’ve posted a 9-4 record.

So for the Mets to continue this level of production they don’t need to hope for an unexpected offensive explosion, or a dominant bullpen to emerge. Knowing that, let’s look at what the Mets did do well and see if those numbers are maintainable.

10th Best Starting Pitcher ERA

This was always the presumed strength of the Mets. The team has been stockpiling arms for years with the belief that strong power arms and defense are the best way to win a championship. Right now the rotation consists of Zack Wheeler, Jenrry Mejia, Jon Niese, Dillon Gee and Bartolo Colon. Watching these guys pitch, they all pass the eye test. Well, except Colon…

Messages Image(767002817)

The advanced stats back them too. In the last 14 days the Mets are seventh in the league in fielding independent pitching (FIP) and ninth in true ERA (tERA), two stats that try to calculate pitchers performances while removing the element of chance. The only number that works against them is their low batting average on balls in play (BABIP).

The idea behind BABIP is once a ball is put in play there is a great deal of chance involved with whether it becomes a hit or an out. So if your BABIP is low the thought is you’ve gotten lucky (or unlucky if you’re a hitter), and the opposite if your BABIP is high. For the most part the theory holds up with the number averaging around .300 with most teams falling between .290-.310. The Mets currently have the tenth lowest number, but even that is .280 so it’s unlikely a return to the norm will affect the staff’s numbers much.

On the flip side, the Mets have been above average in both home run rate, and home run-to-fly ball ratio, suggesting the Mets will give up less home runs as the season progresses. Certainly makes sense since they play their home games at pitcher-friendly Citi Field.

All these numbers hold up when you look at the individual pitchers. While Mejia and Niese are likely to regress, Colon and Wheeler should see improved numbers — which keeps the Mets overall numbers more or less in line with what they’ve been.

Speaking of Mejia, he has quickly worked his way into a prominent role with the Mets. Years ago he was one of the team’s top prospects, but mismanagement and injuries forced him to the background. Now he’s showing everyone how great his stuff is with ridiculous strikeout and swing and miss rates that has led to a sparkling 1.99 ERA and 3-0 record. But that ERA isn’t exactly sustainable. Both his FIP and tERA are right around league average. He’s being helped by a BABIP of .250 that’s allowed him to strand batters at a LOB% of 92 percent!

There is good news, though. His BAA of .193 is so incredibly low that even if the BABIP evens out, he should still be able to limit hits. For example last year his BABIP was .329 and he still kept batters to a .259 average. What’s hurting Mejia in advanced metrics is a ridiculously high BB% of 14.4 percent which has led to 5.56 walks per nine innings (BB/9). But those numbers are by far the highest of his career. Last year, in limited action, he had a 1.32 BB/9, and has mostly had a BB% below 10 percent for his career.

As for Wheeler, despite a relatively average 3.99 ERA, he actually has improved his numbers across the board from last season. He also has the best FIP and tERA on the team at 2.98 and 2.95, respectively. No one disputes how great his pitches are, and when he was in AA a scout said he might be the best pitcher in the minors. In fact, most people thought he’d prove to be better than Matt Harvey when the two were still in the minors. But his problem has always been control, and last season his main black mark was a BB% of 10.7 percent.

This season he’s lowered that number to an acceptable 8.7 percent. What’s been killing him is a BABIP at .349, by far the highest on the team, which has allowed hitters to bat .267 against him — the worst number of his career. Those numbers will drop and, if Wheeler continues to show his improved control, he’ll morph into the ace the Mets were expecting he’d be.

8th Most Defensive Runs Saved

This is another area the Mets were supposed to be good at. Last year they were awful in the outfield to start the season. It certainly didn’t help that Lucas Duda was one of their outfielders:

Duda Outfield

But out of necessity the Mets switched up their outfield, and that part of their defense became one of the best units in the league. They also found Juan Lagares, who has statistically been the best center fielder in baseball.

Lagares ranked sixth in the majors last season in DRS, even though he played, by far, the fewest innings. The only center fielder ranked ahead of him was Carlos Gomez, who played over 400 more innings than Lagares.

This season the Mets added two great defensive outfielders in Curtis Granderson and Chris Young. The three outfielders are tops on the team in terms of DRS. In fact, the only players with more than one DRS this season are outfielders, and that’s with Lagares missing the past few weeks due to injury. So what was supposed to be a great outfield has been playing great, with no one surpassing their career averages. Yeah, I think that’s sustainable.

Now for those of you who don’t think fielding is important, give this a read. Yes, that’s right, fielding looks to be almost as important a tool as hitting. Both arm strength and fielding was graded as 0.43 in relationship to wins above replacement (WAR), while average and power was 0.53.

4th Most Stolen Bases

There are only three players on the team with more than one stolen base: Granderson (2), Daniel Murphy (4), and Eric Young Jr. (11). Murphy is on pace to steal 32 bases, while he set his career-high at 23 last season. EYJ is on pace for over 80 stolen bases and, while he led the NL with 46 stolen bases last season, over 80 is not happening. But two stolen bases is a modest number for Granderson who has stolen more than 20 bases three times in his career. And so far David Wright and Chris Young — two players that have proven to be good base stealers in their careers — have only one each. It wouldn’t be shocking to see the Mets keep on a similar pace for the rest of the season.

The one thing that could change that is less playing time for EYJ. He is the fourth outfielder, and has gotten a lot of his playing time because Young and Lagares have traded off DL stints to start the season. So even if Terry Collins continues to get him at-bats, it’s likely he’ll see less than he is currently. But if we refer to that same FiveThirtyEight article, speed only has a 0.13 correlation with WAR, making it the least important metric to the Mets start so far. So even if there is a small dip in their stolen base rate, it shouldn’t have a huge affect on their win total.

But what about the Mets opponents? Have they just been beating up on bad teams to start the year?

The Mets are 6-7 against teams above .500 and 6-1 against teams below .500, including a series sweep against the worst team in the majors, the Arizona Diamondbacks. Overall, Mets opponents this season are 78-83. So if there is a reason to temper expectations, the early schedule is it. But that 6-7 record includes an 0-3 number from their opening series sweep by the Nationals, a series that hasn’t proven to be truly indicative of their talent level.

Also, if you look ahead, the Mets schedule doesn’t get much harder. From now till June 5th they play 23 games against teams below .500 — The Phillies (9), Marlins (5), Diamondbacks (3), Pirates (3) and Cubs (3) — and just ten against teams above .500. Sure, the season doesn’t end in June, but the Mets can expect some reinforcements in June and July.

Right now they have several pitchers in their minor league system that will likely be added to the bullpen or rotation by then. There’s top prospect Noah Syndergaard — a pitcher many believe can be better than Wheeler — Rafael Montero, Jacob deGrom, Vic Black and Jeff Walters. Those guys can help stabilize the rotation, protect against injury, and improve a bullpen that’s been league average at best this season. And with such a surplus, the Mets may even be able to swing a trade for an impact bat if they remain in the playoff hunt.

We’re only 23 games into an 162-game season. It’s very easy to scream small sample size. Even the most optimistic fans have good reason to remain skeptical. But looking at the numbers, the Mets actually have a good chance of chasing that 90-win milestone and possibly snagging a wild card spot. So laugh all you want, but I like seeing the glass half-full that way.

JK who am I kidding. Mets aren’t winning 90 games.

Why The Stanley Cup Playoffs Reign Supreme

JOE SAKIC

AT THE EDGE OF MY SEAT, NJ – It’s April, one of the best times of year. Not only has the MLB season started, but both the NBA and NHL playoffs are in full swing. Oh, and the NFL Draft is right around the corner. But does this time of year really compete with the NFL Playoffs? Or the drama of October baseball? What about March Madness? All of these tournaments advertise themselves as the most exciting, so which is it?

To properly answer this we have to determine what makes a postseason great. First has to be the quality of the teams in the tournament. While seeing a great team is always exciting, what makes exciting postseason games is having close scores. So not only do we want a good top seed, but we need lower seeds that can hang with the big boys.

So how do we calculate that? For the NBA, MLB and NHL it’s more important that the series is competitive than each game is competitive. Obviously you want both, but a seven-game series is better than a four-game sweep even if all four games were won by a smaller margin of victory. Plus, calculating score can be misleading. What about a baseball game that was tied till the seventh, or an NHL game that features a couple empty-netters, and an NBA game with tons of free throws at the end of the game? So for this piece we’ll focus on series length for those leagues.

For the NFL, the only way to look at it is calculate the amount of blowouts, and close games. For the purposes of this exercise we’ll define a blowout as a win by 17+ points, and close games will be any game decided by < 3 points or in overtime. While this method can fall victim to the same fallacies as NHL, NBA and MLB games, there are far less of those elements in an NFL game. And with no series totals, it’s really the only method to determine it. The same can’t be said for NCAAB. You either get to a point where you’re including games that weren’t crazy competitive, or eliminate games that were.

Here are the numbers for the four leagues (All numbers since 2000):

League | Number of Sweeps (%) | Number of Seven Game Series (%) 

MLB      |   11 (26%)                            |  11 (26%)                                                              

NBA      |   26 (12%)                            |   39 (19%)                                                       

NHL      |  19 (9%)                               |   56 (27%)                                                        

League | Number of Blowouts (%) | Number of Close Games (%) 

NFL       |  50 (42%)                               | 38 (30%)                    

League | Championship Sweeps | Championship Game 7s

MLB      | 4                                            | 3     

NBA      | 2                                             | 3

NHL      | 0                                             | 6

League | Championship Blowouts | Championship Close Games

NFL       | 3                                                | 5

Looking at the numbers above, the two that jump out are the NHL and NFL. Both have a high number of competitive games. But the NHL has had far less non-competitive match-ups; only 9 percent of all series ended in a sweep, and there wasn’t a single sweep in the title game. The NFL, meanwhile, had 42 percent of games end in a blowout. It’s not good if almost half your games aren’t competitive.

But that can’t be the only factor in deciding the best tournament. More importantly, we need a proper metric to rate March Madness. So why don’t we start with something the NCAA Basketball tournament is certain to win: the amount of “Cinderella” champions. To compute this we are going to categorize any tournament champion lower than a 2-seed as a “Cinderella” team. There is one drawback for this category, though. Since the majority of data on the MLB only has four teams from each conference in the postseason, there aren’t really any teams that qualify. Baseball has completely removed that aspect from their postseason. So while they won’t be included in the table, it’s pretty safe to say they finish in last in this category.

League | Percent of Cinderella Champions | Percent of Upsets

NBA      | 14%                                                                 | 16.7%

NHL      | 39%                                                                 | 39%

NFL       | 34%                                                                 | 25%

NCAAB| 26%                                                                  | 34%

The NBA is just god awful at providing upsets. The first-round features almost no upsets, and only one lower seed has ever made it to the NBA Finals. The 14 percent is from two 3-seeds (the 06-07 Spurs and the 10-11 Mavericks) In fact, even the fifth-seed only has a 25.9 percent chance of winning their series. There’s a greater chance an MLB postseason series ends in a sweep than a first-round NBA series ends in an upset.

The NCAAB actually fairs pretty well in this metric. But both numbers fall short of the NHL numbers. Even more, upsets in the NCAA tournament have negative effects. Even with 16 of the 30 NHL teams making the postseason, all teams prove to be competitive. If you don’t count shootout losses (and there’s no reason you should) there hasn’t been a team below .500 that has made the postseason in over a decade. In addition, from 2000-10 five eight seeds won their first-round series, and two of those teams went on to win their next series as well. In fact, the eighth-seeded Los Angeles Kings beat the sixth-seeded New Jersey Devils in the Stanley Cup Finals back in 2012.

In the NCAA, even teams that pull off an upset don’t prove to be great teams. No team lower than an 8-seed has won the tournament, only 26 percent of teams ranked lower than a 2-seed have won the tournament, and 11 percent below a 3-seed. So maybe low seeds manage to pull off an upset or two, but they basically never wind up winning the title. Even look to this season. It was exciting to see Mercer, Dayton and Stanford pull off upsets, but what were we left with? Neither Kansas nor Duke — two top teams with top 3 NBA Draft talent — even made the sweet sixteen. Instead we were forced to suffer through Mercer vs. Tennessee, Stanford vs. Dayton, and Dayton vs. Florida. That’s bad games in the top 32, Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight. When the stakes got higher, the games got worse.

So even in a category March Madness is known to dominate, the NHL postseason has proven to be better. In the end, the NHL has the most competitive match-ups, and the most upsets. It also has the most continuous action *cough*football*cough*, even in the final minutes (I’m looking at you basketball!). Even ESPN anchor John Buccigross agrees:

Using this data it looks like the postseason ranks: 1. NHL 2. NCAAB 3. NFL 4. NBA 5. MLB

 

THE BILLY MUMPHREY THEORY: Why the Mets snagged a big return for Ike Davis

Austin-Meadows-4

FROM MY RECLINER, NY – Let me tell you a story. That is what I love to do, after all.

It’s a story about a kid named Bill Mumphrey. For those who don’t know, Billy Mumphrey is a simple country boy — some might say, a cockeyed optimist — who got caught up in the dirty game of world diplomacy and international intrigue. Billy Mumphrey is also a Mets fan.

For Billy, rarely, if ever, is there a comfortable middle ground. His story is one of love, deception, greed, lust and unbridled enthusiasm. For poor Billy, the line between soul crushing, Ruben-Tejada-is-at-bat despair and I can taste the playoffs like a $7 ballpark hot dog, is razor thin when it comes to his prized Metropolitans.

Thus is the life of an obsessive sports fan, I suppose.

So, when the Mets shipped first baseman Ike Davis to the Pittsburgh Pirates on Friday, Billy Mumphrey had some thinking to do.

The move was not unexpected, as the Mets shopped Davis for months during the off season and had clearly, and inexplicably, chosen Lucas Duda in the Duda-Davis-Josh Satin triumvirate first base competition.

Although Billy mourned the loss of Ike, a fan favorite, whose jersey he bought when Davis was called up in 2010, the stages of grief are nearing their completion, occasionally volleying between anger and acceptance, with occasional pit stops at depression.

Now, all that matters to Billy is what Sandy Alderson got in return because, like I said, Billy Mumphrey’s sports life is a compulsive and complicated mix of dizzying highs and getting kicked in the groin lows and must constantly be assessed and reassessed — there is no middle ground.

The answer, you ask, to Billy’s all important question: RHP Zach Thornton and a player to be named later.

To which he initially responded:

But, hold on. What’s this? Hope? Is that you knocking at the door?

Being the cockeyed optimist he is, Billy came up with a theory. A theory that will prove all the doubters wrong, a theory that will justly place Sandy Alderson back on the Iron Throne of Major League Baseball general managers and prove once and for all that he’s the White Wizard of trades.

There will be doubters, yes. But Billy doesn’t have time for them. To mix a fruity cocktail of two different classic stories: He’s an idea man, don’t take the wind out of his sails. He doesn’t need your damn negativity.

Below is the Billy Mumphrey Theory. Let the unbridled enthusiasm begin.

1.  Billy knows Sandy Alderson has a track record

Remember when Sandy Alderson got Zack Wheeler for two months of Carlos Beltran? Remember when he pried Travis d’Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard away for a 38-year-old knuckleballer? Remember when he snagged Dilson Herrera and a PTNBL (which turned into fireballer Vic Black) for a playoff run with Marlon Byrd and John Buck?

The point is, with the exception of trading Angel Pagan (you could argue that was a decent trade at the time) Alderson has been a magician when dealing players. Wheeler, Syndergaard and d’Arnaud are currently cornerstones of the organization and all were acquired for players no longer considered a part of the Mets’ future.

So, until the word comes down that the Mets sold low on Davis and settled Adam Landecker, Billy is rolling with Sandy.

2. Billy knows Sandy wanted a lot for Ike

Keeping in toe with the first point, it seems highly unlikely that the Sandy Alderson of Wheeler and Syndergaard and d’Arnaud all of sudden waffled on Ike’s asking price.

It was well reported that Alderson’s price for Davis was high throughout the off season, which is one of the reasons Davis stayed put so long. There were rumors about the Brewers’ Tyler Thornburg, the Orioles’ Dylan Bundy and Eduardo Rodriguez and the Pirates’ Nick Kingham as potential Alderson targets. All considered to be lofty prizes at the time.

So, as the story goes, Alderson stayed put and decided not to trade Davis for less than what he believed to be market value for a young first baseman with 30 home run potential.

There’s the possibility Alderson’s asking price came down, but Zach Thornton and a PTBNL? That would be like asking for a mackinaw and  getting a seven-year-old fruit roll up.

Then there’s this quote:

“We’re very happy with the trade. We’re happy for Ike, in the sense that he’ll get another opportunity elsewhere. It’s a situation that we needed to resolve here, and we’re happy with the return.” — Sandy Alderson

If Sandy’s happy, Billy’s happy, too.

3. Billy knows Sandy isn’t impulsive

The idea that Alderson would dangle Davis all off season with no significant interest, then make the decision to proceed into the regular season with him and two other first basemen, only to ship the one with the most potential off in mid-April makes no sense.

Unless, of course, the return was considerable.

Alderson made the decision to keep Davis. Just like he made the decision to keep Ruben Tejada. Both were tough, steadfast decisions, as any impulsive general manager would’ve signed Stephen Drew and traded Ike for peanuts a long time ago.

Sandy didn’t.

The notion that he, all of a sudden, would change course and ship out Ike for Thornton and a nobody just doesn’t compute. At the very least, he should be consistent and get Drew on board.

4.  Billy knows the PTBNL is “significant”

Here’s the tweet that backed thousands of Mets fans away from the ledge:

Here’s the tweet that pushed them off:

Normally, a PTBNL is code for “meaningless org player changing hands.” However, that’s not always the case. Vic Black, who the Mets acquired from the Pirates last season, wasn’t exactly meaningless.

Like I said, Billy’s an optimist, so let’s ride with Heyman on this one, since he’s the guy who broke the trade in the first place.

“Significant” to Billy means top 10 in the Pirates’ system, so basically, much, much better than Zach Thornton. Here’s a link to Keith Law’s top prospects by organization (Sorry, Insiders only). Notice anything? That’s right, Thornton is conspicuously absent.

2. Billy knows the PTBNL is from the Pirates 2013 draft class

Here’s more from Billy’s favorite CBS Sports Insider:

Heyman, you brilliant bastard. Of course!  Players taken in the amatuer draft can’t be traded until a year after they’ve been picked, so it makes sense that the Pirates and Mets wouldn’t be able to announce the player’s name until at least June.

Plus, Alderson hints as much: “Players are named later for a variety of reasons, so I really can’t get into it any further than that,” he said. “Because if I were to give you the reason why the player’s [not] been, named it would lead you in the right direction.”

So, if the PTBNL is indeed the linchpin of the deal, then it must not only be someone the Pirates drafted in 2013, but it must be one of their top picks.

Meet Austin Meadows and Reese McGuire.

Both Meadows and McGuire make Law’s and Baseball America’s top 10 in the Pirates’ system and would be steals for Alderson.

I suppose there’s still the possibility that the Pirates will be sending another pick from2013, maybe JaCoby Jones or Cody Dickson,but that doesn’t exactly line up with Heyman’s “significant” claim. Neither guys are ranked in the Pirates’ top 10 by Baseball America or Keith Law. They fall just inside the top 20 on MLB.com’s list.

So, here’s what Billy knows: Sandy has a great track record, he wanted a lot in return for Ike, he isn’t impulsive, the PTBNL is significant, and it’s most likely from the 2013 draft class (Austin Meadows or Reese McGuire).

But then again, you’ve probably read one too many Billy Mumphrey stories.

 

 

 

 

The Painful Departure Of Ike “The Real Hebrew Hammer” Davis

 

Ike Davis

FROM MY RECLINER, NJ – The New York Mets traded Ike Davis to the Pittsburgh Pirates. It’s no secret the Mets have been shopping the first baseman, General Manager Sandy Alderson said as much at the start of the off season. Davis had never truly established himself as a quality starter, and the team seemed more invested in the success of a Lucas Duda-Josh Satin platoon.

What was shocking about the trade was the timing. Alderson scoffed at trading Davis during the off season because what was being offered. Like a true Jewish mother, no one was quite good enough for his boy. Then, just a few weeks into the season, Alderson ships Davis off to Pittsburgh for Zach Thornton — a reliever they could’ve had for nothing during the Rule 5 draft — and a PTBNL. So what changed with the Mets and Pirates only a few weeks into the season to prompt this move?

It likely wasn’t anything to do with the Mets. The team couldn’t be worried about Ike’s value diminishing. Prior to the trade this was Davis’ line:

.208 BA/.367 OBP/1HR/5RBI 1 2B and 4K/6BB (24 at-bats)

He also had a supremely unlucky BABIP of .211. Sure the .208 average looks bad, but the BABIP screams small sample size. So what happens? In one game with the Pirates, Davis raises his numbers to .259/.412. Those numbers are even more encouraging when you look at how he played at the end of last season. After being added to the major league team in August he slashed:

.290/.468/3HR/8RBI/ 7 2B and 17K/24BB

Lucas Duda did have a solid start to his season. Current numbers:  .269/.356/3HR/9RBI 1 2B (52 at-bats)

But that’s with an ugly 16K/5BB, and his career numbers don’t offer much to get excited about. His slashline is .247/.356 and he’s never hit more than 15 homeruns in a season. The idea that Duda’s play allowed the Mets to trade Davis is laughable at best.

Which brings up the bigger question: why not try to trade Duda? Davis was a first-round pick who hit 30 homeruns in a season, and is also a potential gold-glover at first base, while Duda isn’t exactly what you’d call an athlete. Duda’s personality fails to inspire much confidence either. Just watch this Mets Christmas Card:

Look how miserable and nervous he looks. Hell he needed Justin “Instantly Cut” Turner to accompany him. And now he’s the starting first baseman for the New York Mets.

So if Davis is the better player and has more upside (and likely a mensch), why was he traded? It’s clear Alderson had no faith either Duda or Davis was turning into a star in New York. Duda, because…well do I really need to explain any further? And Davis because he’s a head case whose struggled with the media and struggled to get over the Mendoza Line for most of his career. The difference is, while Davis had trade value, Duda…

And to be honest, that would be quite a coup for the Mets. Sandy would win Executive of the Year for that one. So if Sandy didn’t believe in either one, he was trading the guy who could get something in return.

But the timing means the impetus was likely on the Pirates end. It’s certainly reasonable. After a surprising playoff berth last season, they’re below .500 and haven’t gotten great contributions from first base.

The speculation is the PTNBL is a Pirates’ draft pick from 2013, which is the reason he’s got to be named later — draft picks can’t be traded until a year after the draft. So, if that’s the case, it’ll be June by the time we find out how much the Mets got for Davis.

If it’s anything outside of first-rounders Austin Meadows and Reese McGuire, the Mets made a mistake. No one else in that draft even cracks the Top 20 of Pirates prospects. It seems unlikely Alderson would accept that when he held on to Davis after receiving lesser offers over the winter, but you never know in baseball.

The point, at the end of the day, is the Mets have one of the worst lineups in baseball. Curtis Granderson and Chris Young haven’t done much to change that. Davis was one of the few players on the team with true upside. He’s had real success at the major league level after all. That’s more than a lot of Mets’ batters can say.

While his start wasn’t earth-shattering this year, he didn’t look lost. Last season he looked hopeless and swung at everything. This season, coupled with his improved approach at the end of last year, gave reason for optimism. Now, in the hitter-friendly confines of PNC Bank Park, it won’t be shocking to see Davis match his career-high of 30 home runs. If he does, and all the Mets got was a low-level prospect, it’ll be a huge failure.

*Update: Davis hit a Grand Slam after the writing of this piece. SMH

Morning Struggles and Eventual Bliss

Taco Bell

AT THE KITCHEN TABLE, NJ – Taco Bell started serving breakfast on March 27th. Today is April 11th. To say I’m disappointed it took me this long would be an understatement. After the breakfast menu announcement I was literally counting down the days, drawing giant Xs through each day on the calendar as the days passed, salivating over the different combinations — I eventually settled on the idea of just ordering one of each.

Taco Bell breakfast was especially meaningful to me, as a person who all but gave up on breakfast years ago. Sleep became my breakfast. Ten minutes more of sleep beat out any amount of breakfast food. Only recently — with the discovery of bacon — did I realize the error of my ways. All I know now is I wasted 23 years of my life hating bacon, and I beg, every day, for bacon’s forgiveness.

But getting to Taco Bell before 11 AM has proven to be the closest thing to impossible I’ve ever been faced with. It’s not all laziness…

Ok, it’s mostly laziness.

On days off it’s hard to want to get out of bed and dressed that early. On work days, it’s hard to want to get up even earlier to stop by a place that might give me diarrhea while I’m at my place of work.

Lucky for me I work near Penn Station. A very central and busy location with it’s own Taco Bell. Despite the potential bowel pitfalls I decided it was worth the risk. Of course, nothing great in life ever comes easy. The Taco Bell at Penn Station, for reasons I can’t begin to comprehend, was not open for breakfast. It was perhaps my harshest defeat yet.

I stayed positive. I had the day off today, and thought for sure I’d be able to wake up in time. A last minute trip to Philly, and the subsequent drive home put a damper on that. What had once seemed to be a leisurely stroll to the nearest Taco Bell turned into a mad scamper to beat the 11 AM deadline. I left my house in pajamas, boat shoes, unkempt hair and without glasses. But I made it. Sweet lord, did I make it.

Granted when I actually got up to order, “everything on the menu” seemed like a bit much. I settled on a crunchwrap, and even built up the courage to get a cup of coffee.

***As a side-note, I can’t tell how I feel about myself that I had no problem was over-the-top excited for Taco Bell breakfast, but was somehow worried they’d screw up the coffee***

It all was fantastic…sorry, that wasn’t descriptive enough…

It reaffirmed my spirituality, for only a divine being could have been responsible for the creation of something as wonderful as that crunchwrap.

Crunchwrap

The hash brown was expertly salted and offered the right amount of crisp, the egg was both fluffy and melted in your mouth, and the bacon bits offered the perfect exclamation point to every bite. All of that was wrapped perfectly in a tortilla that almost made me feel cultured (gotta stress the almost).

Each bite was better than the last, and before I knew it the wrap was gone. An especially sad revelation when I realized it’ll probably be a long time before I get to Taco Bell for breakfast again. In the end it was worth it. I might not be Ronald McDonald, but I think that endorsement should mean something.

With One Game to go: Recap of a Magical Night in Philly

Union Hockey

ON CLOUD NINE, PHILLY — Union is now 2-0 all-time against Boston College. That’s just an outrageous statement. A few years ago very few people outside of  Schenectady — the small Upstate New York town that’s home to the Dutchmen — had heard of Union. Now they’re undefeated against arguably the greatest college hockey program of the last decade.

But if you’ve been following college hockey you know that’s no longer that crazy. Union has now been in four straight NCAA tournaments — a big accomplishment when only 16 teams in the nation make it. They’ve won three Cleary Cups in the last four years (awarded to the regular season champion of the ECAC conference), and three straight Whitelaws (the trophy for the ECAC tournament winner). This season marked their second trip to the Frozen Four in the last three years.

Last time they made it was my senior year at Union, and the games were in Tampa Bay, Fla. Armed with a press pass and a place to stay I made the trip, only to see them fall flat in the final period to Ferris State; a closer game than the 3-1 score indicates. I stayed to watch BC dismantle Minnesota. Even came back that Saturday to watch BC win its third national title in six years. All that did was build the legend of BC and Jerry York in my mind, making this 2-0 record even more mind-blowing.

This year I didn’t think I’d be able to make the trip. There was no way I’d miss the championship on Saturday, but Thursday was proving to be difficult. On Wednesday that all changed. I got a call from a friend who had an extra ticket and, when my boss realized I was a Union alum, I was offered the day off. It was a sign. I took the day and the ticket, and was ready for my trip to Philly.

Parking proved to be a problem. It didn’t matter. I was making it rain in every and any attempt to make it to the game on time. Unfortunately I arrived a couple minutes into the first period. I was walking up the stairs when the buzzer sounded for the first BC goal.

Down 1-0 is never a time to panic. That didn’t stop my inbox from filling up with texts from panicked friends. But I was there with Zach Pearce. My WRUC Sports Talk radio co-host, and partner for the Union Hockey fan blog. One of the few guys who might be as big an optimist as I am. “Ya Gotta Believe” should be tattooed to our foreheads.

I realized it was the third straight year I had made a trip to an NCAA Final Four. Two years ago it was for Union in the Frozen Four. Last year it was for Syracuse in the Final Four (I went to Syracuse for grad school), and, of course, now this year for Union once again. The last two times my team lost in the semis, while I stayed around and watched some other team hoist the trophy. “This time,” Zach told me, “It’s going to be different.”

It’s crazy, but I hadn’t seen Zach since we graduated back in 2012. Zach is not the easiest person to get a hold of, even for a text or phone call. But he’s oddly dependable when it comes to hockey, and that’s what it took for the two of us to finally catch up after almost two years. Sports can ultimately be viewed as meaningless but they have a strange way of bringing people together, whether it’s old friends or complete strangers hugging over the outcome of a game.

When Union scored their first goal there were no strangers in our section. Everyone yelled, jumped, hugged and high-fived. After the 2012 Frozen Four loss to Ferris State, and the 5-1 loss last year to Quinnipiac it’s hard to take goals for granted in these games. Each one is like winning the lottery, and Union added a second for good measure. BC added their own goal to tie it at 2-2 before the period had ended, but the tone had been set. Union could hang with the big boys in this one.

You just shouldn’t have bothered telling that to us. We literally walked laps around the arena until the next period started in an attempt to lower our heart-rate and calm ourselves down. It didn’t really work.

Our mind was only taken off the game when a nervous undergrad from Penn State walked up to us. He was a writer for his school’s paper and was working on a story. Penn State had recently changed their hockey program from a club sport to Division I. With Union’s recent ascension, he was trying to find a way the Nittany Lions could make a similar climb.

To be honest, it’s a question I’ve never really been able to answer, and have never found someone who could answer it. The three things I settled on was 1) Great coaching. Both in terms of improving skill level, and building a strong in-game system. 2) Players who both fit into the system and buy into a team approach. 3) Depth. This point plays into the first two, but this school isn’t built on stars. Union has never had a top recruiting class, and only one player on the team has been drafted (And that was after his freshman year, while most college prospects are drafted before they commit to college). In contrast BC had 10, and Minnesota and North Dakota each had 14. Without relying on a top-line or player, Union doesn’t worry about rough stretches. There is always a player that manages to step up.

The third period was tense. No one made a sound until Union took the lead again with a power play goal. It was Daniel Ciampini’s second goal of the night, and I’m pretty sure I lost my voice right then and there. But with any great game there are as many lows as there are highs.

After throwing a vicious hit, Union forward Matt Hatch was tagged with a major penalty that sent him to the locker room and gave BC a five-minute power play. It was a moment that could not only give BC the lead, but bury Union before they could get their fifth skater back on the ice. And yet, I wasn’t worried.

It’s not that I didn’t care, it’s that I fully believed in this team. That’s probably one of the main characteristics of this team: they don’t get flustered. They have been through every situation imaginable and have found ways to win. If there was a team that could fight off this penalty, they were on the ice draped in garnet.

To just say they killed the penalty would be an insult to their effort. BC only managed three shots on goal; they barely had time to set up before a Union player would send the puck sliding down the ice. It was arguably the greatest penalty kill I have ever seen in my lifetime. The entire section knew what was happening before it was over. With three minutes left in the power play everyone was on their feet screaming, clapping, buzzing and getting louder each time the puck hit the far wall.

When the power play ended Union did us one better. With a steal in the neutral zone, Kevin Sullivan had the puck on his stick and flew down the ice on a breakaway. Two BC defenders were at his side trying to catch up and knock the puck away. Sullivan was able to get the shot off, and when the puck rebounded right back to him as he and the two BC defenders flew to the right of the net, he somehow managed to throw the puck back into the slot where a trailing Mike Vecchione was there for an easy goal.

To spare you from repetition I’ll simply state that we went crazy after that goal. Crazier than we had for any other goal that game. And that process repeated itself for each subsequent goal.

With a 4-2 lead you’d think you could rest easy, but with less than two minutes left BC made it a one-goal game again. They pulled their goalie with over two minutes left, and with the extra attacker knocked in their third goal.

After a center-ice faceoff the Golden Eagles were setting up in the Union zone again, but this time Union defenseman Mat Bodie was able to intercept the puck and fling it down ice. Ciampini was ahead of the play, killing any chance of an icing, and easily tapped in an empty-netter to give Union a two-goal lead once again.

BC made one final attempt scoring a fourth goal with just over four seconds left, but that was as close as they’d come. And just like that Union was heading to the national championship game. The moment wasn’t lost on anyone.

No, Union wasn’t a heavy underdog in this one. If you isolate the event, a win wasn’t shocking. But for a program that had never made it to a national title game, that less than a decade ago was a joke in their own conference, a win against BC in the Frozen Four meant everything.

People came out of the woodwork to either congratulate the team or book their tickets for Saturday. No matter how closely they followed, no one wants to miss the chance to see Union win its first national championship.

Zach and I celebrated the only way we knew how. We hugged and cheered with everyone in the rink until the very last person had left. We then went to the lobby and did the same. Finally we found the one bar in the rink and had one to celebrate. They gave us our drink in a souvenir Flyers cup, and even that didn’t affect the taste. Not today, nothing could chase the taste of victory from my mouth.

At the bar we met an older looking Union fan. We quickly started up a conversation with him. We thought if this meant a lot to us, it must be indescribable to him — presumably a fan for a lot longer. To our surprise he wasn’t a Union alum. In fact, he had played hockey for St. Lawrence, one of Union’s ECAC foes. He was donning Union apparel because his son was on the team.

His son was Mark Bennett, a player who was a freshman when we were seniors. The crazy part is Zach and I were talking about him during the game. It was another example of how deep this Dutchmen team is.

Our senior year Bennett seemed like one of the top recruits. He was a hard-nosed player, who played the game the right way. We both thought he had a bright future ahead of him. But he was a healthy scratch for the game against BC, and might be one again on Saturday.

His dad was upset, obviously. Any parent wants to see their kid playing in the big game. But Mark didn’t complain and, when pressed, his dad didn’t really either. “How do you complain about a guy who’s led his team to two Frozen Fours?” he said. Even he realized this team was incredibly deep, and that – not any shortcomings from his son — was the reason Mark was on the bench for this one.

We got one more story out of the interaction: what the recruiting process was like. When Bennett was recruited, Nate Leaman was still the head coach (he has since moved on to Providence — a school that can give out athletic scholarships — while Rick Bennett (no relation) has taken over as head coach). Leaman told Bennett that he had personally gone to seven games of his. That he saw immense talent and projected him to be a top-six forward and a special teams contributor. He told him no other ECAC coach could honestly say he spent as much time scouting him.

It goes back to the question posed by the Penn State student. What made Union College so good? That story gives us a glimpse of their recruiting. They find the players that fit in their system, that fit the qualifications they’re looking for, and they get them. For one last example, look to Ciampini. The junior had a hat trick against BC, and has been one of Union’s top players all season. When asked why he picked Union he simply said, “They were the only ones that offered.”

Now he and the Dutchmen have a chance to face another college hockey powerhouse in Minnesota, one win away from the ultimate prize.