With NHL free agency practically wrapped up, I went through all the signings and picked out my five favorites. By the way, these are in no particular order.
Dale Weise, four years, $9.4 million with Flyers
Dale Weise’s trade to the Blackhawks was the best thing that could have happened to him. He went from being an unproductive wing in Montreal to making things happen in Chicago. His +/- with the Blackhawks went up to 4, and he raised his Corsi percentage 4%. The change in scenery was huge.
This is a great signing by the Flyers. Weise isn’t only an underrated player, but gives them much needed experience and leadership. And at a bargain too!
Kyle Okposo, seven years, $42 million with Sabres
Okay, its a huge contract Kyle Okposo got in Buffalo. But the Islanders were never gonna give him that, and it was pretty much a given that New York wasn’t gonna resign him.
Plus, this Sabres team is really good all the sudden! This is a huge signing. Its another scorer for an already speedy Buffalo team.
Buffalo’s giving him this money because they know what he’s capable of. Sure, last year was a down year. But Okposo’s done much better before. There’s no reason for him to already be heading downward.
Alexey Marchenko, two years, $2.9 million with Red Wings
Alexey Marchenko is one of my favorite young players in league. The guy is a great passer and racks up assists. Its a cheap contract that may turn into a bargain the second year. Marchenko’s got a ways to go, but is promising and exciting.
Andrew Shaw, six years, $23.4 million with Canadiens
I loved the trade that gave Montreal Shaw’s rights. Now it looks genius.
It’s AAV is just under $4 million, which is well below what numbers I expected Montreal to offer him. I couldn’t believe that other teams didn’t match.
Shaw is a huge addition to a team that had a rough year and traded their best player. His signing makes the P.K. Subban trade look a little better.
The loss for Chicago is massive. Shaw’s a fan favorite and has been one of their best players the past four years. Its another young player Chicago has lost. Man, the cost of winning is huge.
Mikkel Boedker, four years, $16 million with Sharks
A lot of people crapped on this signing by San Jose.
It was a smart move by Colorado to get him at the deadline, but the Wild turned it around and made the playoffs instead. Ever since then, no one’s been a fan of Boedker.
If you’re San Jose, you’re signing a guy who’s produced in the past to a flyer contract. You’ve been so close to the Cup. Why not? This is a risk worth taking by the Sharks. The only way it turns out poorly is if Boedker falls off the cliff of productivity.
Tim Duncan’s retirement yesterday was no surprise, at least to me.
After watching that second round playoff series against the Thunder, I thought there was no way he was coming back. It seemed like the Spurs knew that when they signed Pau Gasol to a two year, $30 million contract. He just looked really broken down. It wasn’t the productive Tim Duncan anymore.
One of the most amazing things about Duncan is not that he survived 19 seasons in the NBA, but for all 19 of those he was productive. He never wore down. Sure, the regular season rest throughout his career played a big part of that, but to be reliable as he was for that long is unheard of.
Duncan definitely had a prime, but was never unproductive, like Kobe Bryant was his final two seasons. Duncan retired when he knew he was done. He knew next year would not go well for him. He was smart, unlike Kobe. He did what so many guys don’t do: Retire at the right time.
But the reason I paired Kobe and Duncan together in one column isn’t totally because they retired at the same time, but because they were two of the three best players of this generation of basketball. My generation of basketball (Thanks to Reddit for identifying the generation. I agree with the time frame).
The best player of my generation is LeBron James, who has now made his way into the top five all-time. But Duncan and Kobe are both top twelve. Via my top 25 GOATs list, Kobe is 9th and Duncan is 12th. Thats a pretty impressive generation. I’ve grown up with some great players.
One of my points here is that its sad and a little ironic to have these legends retire in the same offseason. But the positive is that they aren’t gonna hurt themselves anymore. It would have been heartbreaking and legacy-hurting to have Duncan play again. Kobe already hurt himself enough with these two extra seasons. Him playing one more wouldn’t have been surprising, and probably not legacy-altering since we all know Kobe is ignorant that way, and always has been.
While Kobe and Timmy are both all-time GOATS and are two of the three best players of this generation, they both have also had quite the emotional impact on me, and thats meant in a negative connotation.
Check out this chart that I made:
The mid-late-2000s Suns teams that I grew up with, and that (kinda) got me into basketball, never made the Finals. Their legacy is credited to their innovation, and I consider it a NBA tragedy that they never won.
The reason they never won the Finals? The chart above explains, and the reason is part of the point of this column.
Tim Duncan and Kobe Bryant destroyed my childhood. They beat us practically every year. So while I have the utmost respect for Duncan (Sorry Kobe!), those guys hold a dark place in my heart.
The problem is that you can’t hate Duncan. Even if you truly do in your heart (Which I don’t. Kobe maybe), its not something you can admit. You’ll get killed for it.
Thats why I have so much respect for Duncan. He was too hard to hate, even though he beat us three times growing up.
I think one of the things we’ll remember the most about Duncan the player was how polished he was. It showed up when you watched him and in his stats. No one moved better, rebounded better, or kissed one of the glass better. The guy was so polished, so smooth with the ball.
There’s many things we can applaud Duncan for, but the underrated aspect will be him retiring at the right time. Not many guys have done that. Duncan did. Like so many other things in his career, he did it. He did it and didn’t complain. Did it and got it done. Thats the Tim Duncan I’ll remember.
Since we’re at the halfway point, and this is my first MLB column of the season, I thought it’d be fun to pick out my favorite storylines from what has been a rather uneventful season. Baseball doesn’t change as fast as other sports, and has the longest season out of the other sports. That must be why the playoffs are so amazing. Anyways, here’s five of the most interesting storylines as we approach the All-Star break.
The NL Central’s Surprising Mediocrity
Yes, the Cubs started out as the best team in baseball for most of the season, and have an insane run differential, which is in a race for the best of all-time. Yes, the Cardinals are very talented and keep getting awesome production out of rarely know guys. And yes, the Pirates have one of the best young cores in baseball. But all three of these teams have issues, and its holding them back.
Chicago is near the top in every stat, except when you take a deep dive on their bullpen. The Cubs are either near the bottom or close to average in every stat when it comes to their bullpen.
Looking at ERAs of their relievers, you wouldn’t see too much of an issue. But the issue lives in FIP, where the majority of Cubs relievers have a line above 4.00. Thats not great!
Chicago is basically giving up too many home runs, or issuing too many walks late in games. The fact that practically no one in the bullpen can quit doing this is problematic, and it means that the Cubs have a trade to make. They need at least one shutdown guy, and a couple other experiment-type players to make this group better.
The Cardinals are mostly in a bind because of the Cubs hot start. Even with Chicago’s issues, they’re still doing just fine. They’re up eight games on St. Louis. The Cardinals haven’t been able to catch up. Its simple as that.
Matt Carpenter hitting the DL won’t help. He’s been their most productive player this season, posting a 3.5 WAR.
St. Louis has been okay defensively, but its hard to say that will help them catch the Cubs. The Cubs were hard to catch out of the gate, and still will be. The Cardinals just need to keep doing their thing and not collapse, like the 3rd team we’ll address in this section.
The Pirates 8-18 stretch dropped them back not too much in the standings, but far back when it came to confidence. The Pirates have rebounded since, winning six in a row. But this is a team with suddenly a lot of rumors around them. And its going to be something of high interest at the All-Star break.
First, the issue: Pittsburgh can hit the ball well. They’re a top ten offense, even with guys like Andrew McCutchen not totally being themselves. Pitching is where they have struggled, especially with walks. Francisco Liriano has the 18th highest walk percentage in all of baseball, which is 18th out of 243 players. Yikes!
Once these walks are issued for Pittsburgh, it seems like they can’t recover. And then it takes over the entire team, bringing down everyone’s performances. Thats why the horrible 26 game stretch occurred.
Pittsburgh has questions to answer about themselves. Andrew McCutchen is one of them.
I think Pittsburgh needs to wait. Its not like everyone is playing poorly this season. The offense is fine. If Pittsburgh wants to gain back lost ground, and make the playoffs, they need to address their rotation first. Plus, this is a down year for McCutchen. Trade him at peak value when you suck, whenever that might be. But not now. They’re too close still.
The Baltimore Orioles Leading The AL East
Baltimore has been just as lucky as they have been good. The Orioles have one of the best offenses in baseball, which goes lengths in a season where scoring and pitcher breakdowns have been common.
The reason I doubted this team before the season was their offense, because it was built around power hitters. But this has been a funky (and boring) year, where pitching has not been dominant, and scoring has. Thats why Orioles’ hitters have flourished.
The trends of this season have also hurt the Orioles, as they posses one of the worst rotations in baseball. Chris Tillman has been the only reliable starter, but even he is giving up almost eight hits per nine innings.
However, the Orioles’ bullpen has been able to get the rotation out of disastrous starts. Baltimore is getting great contributions out of all their relievers. In fact, three of their top twelve producers via WAR are relievers. This has saved the Orioles from relying too much on their offense.
Baltimore has been very lucky though, since no one else has been as competitive as them. They lead Toronto by only two games, but teams like Boston and Tampa Bay should have been much better. Then again, this is the AL East. Mediocrity reigns, and nothing should ever be surprising.
As long as the season’s trends stay the same, and the AL East remains it’s good old self, Baltimore should be fine.
Jose Ramirez’s Rejuvenation
The Indians have been one of baseball’s biggest surprises, depending on who you talk to. I had a good feeling about this Indians team at the beginning of the season, though was worried about their outfield and defense.
Defense was their biggest issue last year and coming into the season, and Jose Ramirez was a big reason why. Playing mostly at shortstop last year, Ramirez posted a DRS of -2. With Francisco Lindor’s callup, Ramirez has been forced to be moved around the field this season. Turns out, its the best thing thats happened to him.
Despite being a below average defender in the outfield, Ramirez’s defense has improved in the infield. Also, he’s hitting! After hitting .219/.291/.340 last season, Ramirez’s OBP is up to .355 this season.
The reason for Ramirez improving at the plate? He’s figured out how to hit sinkers and cutters. Pitch f/x shows major improvement in Ramirez’s ability to hit those pitches. All of this has came together for Ramirez, and he’s been an important part of an Indians team thats been through a lot.
This was tweeted three days into the season.
cano it's me i've been wondering if after all these years you'd like to be mvp
Robinson Cano is currently 7th in WAR, based on Baseball Reference’s version of the stat. In the whole league.
It would take even more improvement from Cano and his team to enter the MVP race. Part of the reason he’s behind in the race is because of his team. Seattle started out the season as a good story, and a very fun team to watch, but have slowly fallen back as Houston has lifted off (More on that later.) and as Texas has torn through everyone else.
Cano is batting .311/.367/.550 with 56 RBIs at the halfway mark. He’s almost hit more home runs this year than he did all of last year. Cano’s biggest improvement has been in slugging and OPS, where both marks have been raised at least a 100 points. He’s hitting the ball harder, which is a great sign as he ages.
However, strikeouts are still a major issue for Cano, as he’s already at 56 on the year. But if I’m the Mariners, I think I’d rather have his vision decline rather than strength as he ages.
The Astros’ Saving Their Season
Houston’s season was off to a really rough start, with the Rangers coming out of the gate hot, and Seattle being a great story. It really seemed like they were just scared of spotlight not totally being on them. They’re a young team, so its understandable.
But a 10-1 stretch as the Mariners started to decline turned Houston’s season around, and now they’re 6.5 games back on Texas in the AL West.
Its baseball. Stuff happens. But what has led to this Astros’ season overall?
First, Jose Altuve is batting .346 right now, which is pretty good. Carlos Correa is awesome. The Astros also smack the ball. They have six guys on the roster who have hit more than 10 home runs this season. As we talked about with the Orioles, that goes lengths this season.
Houston is actually very similar to Baltimore, in the sense that they can’t pitch. The difference is that a bad division has bailed the Orioles out.
Dallas Keuchel has a 5.02 ERA this season after winning the AL Cy Young last season. First, Keuchel’s velocity on most of his pitches this season has dipped, which is concerning for a guy who’s 28.
Keuchel’s main struggle? He’s lost his sinker.
The top numbers are batting averages (per month of the season) against Keuchel’s sinker in 2015. The bottom is 2016 (per month of the season). Guys are hitting his sinker this year, and weren’t last year. The other problem? Keuchel’s sinker is his most relied on pitch. Thats whats led to his high ERA, and super high WHIP.
Even with their ace’s struggles, the Astros have turned their season around because of offense, which has been aplenty in this so-far boring MLB season.
Kevin Durant’s decision to leave Oklahoma City for Golden State can be described as weak, smart, scapegoatish, and even a little surprising. If you think about it enough, all of those adjectives fit in some way.
Surprising is probably the word that fits the least. There were many reasons for him to leave, a lot of which I wrote about here. But things change, and when that happens, someone is left upset. Before meeting with teams, the report was “There’s a 90% chance Durant returns.”. That got the hopes up of Oklahoma City.
I think one of the biggest influences in Durant leaving besides winning was the people. Durant, in meeting with other teams, was around people like Danny Ainge, Pat Riley, Steve Kerr, Bob Meyers, Tom Brady, and Jerry West. Where is someone of that caliber in Oklahoma City? Part of it is the small market problem, and the fact that the Thunder franchise is relatively new. I think Durant felt he couldn’t win the title with the Thunder, due to surroundings, competition, coaching, and lack of influence.
It does seem a little weak of Durant to go to the Warriors, the NBA’s powerhouse the past two seasons. But the only thing missing for Durant’s legacy is titles. He’s already made his mark as a player. We know what he is, which is one of the best scorers we’ve seen. His “game” part of his legacy is cemented. Now its about achievements. Achievements that weren’t attainable in Oklahoma City, and thats not his fault.
Its a smart decision, because, well crap, this is now the best team we’ve ever seen on paper. Now we get to watch it come together and dazzle us. The Warriors now enter the regular season being the heaviest title favorites we’ve perhaps ever seen. Golden State now has four of the best twelve players in the league on the same roster, as Bill Simmons pointed out this podcast. Based on my research, no team has ever had four of the top twelve players in the league based on PER and win shares in any single season. Three of the top twelve has been done plenty of times (How many times have we referred to a team’s “Big Three”?). But this, this is something we’ve never seen before.
Durant’s decision is a little bit of a scapegoat too. I don’t agree with the Stephen A. Smith/Charles Barkley hot take of him “cheating his way to a championship”, but yes, he’s going to Golden State to win a championship. Thats what this is about. Its all about winning for him.
Its not like his role is going to be reduced in Golden State. He won’t have to take less shots or have a lesser burden. There’s a lot pressure in Golden State now, and thats gonna take production.
Where this is a scapegoat move is when it comes to expectations from the media. Durant, as we all know, has never been a fan of the media, and lets be honest, is super sensitive. In Oklahoma City, when things went wrong, the blame was on him. He was the guy. And he hated it. He couldn’t handle that. Going to Golden State, if things (somehow) go wrong, there’s a 1/4 chance he’s to blame.
Royce Young had a great string of tweets about Durant and the media. And a lot of was really revealing. Some of them changed my mind a bit on this situation.
My criticism of Durant and his decision is simple: He left Oklahoma City because he didn’t like the pressure. Its a scapegoat move.
I am fine with him leaving when it comes to winning, but the fact that he can’t handle being the guy is what bugs me. Going to Golden State relieves so much pressure when it comes being the guy.
Pressure is applied when it comes to producing, but is relieved when it comes to being the dominant one. This is how Golden State is gonna work for Kevin Durant.
Basketball wise, the Warriors are going to be even more unguardable. You have to figure someone will be open for a three on every possession. KD is a huge upgrade over Harrison Barnes. Replace Barnes’ performance in the Finals with KD’s overall stats. Think that series ends a little differently?
Its hard to write about since there shouldn’t be any issues. Lets just watch the amazing happen.
As for Oklahoma City, its detrimental to the city and franchise. Durant built basketball for Oklahoma City. He made them what they are today as a basketball town. And now he’s gone. Partly for basketball reasons, partly for pressure reasons.
As for the future of the Thunder, they have decisions to make. Russell Westbrook is a free agent next Summer. One report had Westbrook being a reason for Durant’s departure, basically saying that Westbrook’s game takeovers never sat well with Durant. I don’t think they sat well with anyone: Players, fans, or writers. I can see Durant’s frustration with that.
Perhaps Westbrook will be better without Durant. He can be turned loose, but thats dangerous when you have someone as erratic as Westbrook can be. As we know, there’s bad Russ and good Russ. Next season, we’ll see both. It depends on who shows up in games. The Thunder still have Steven Adams and Victor Olidipo. They’ll produce, so Russ will have some help. But expect a lot of Russ-takeover games next season, that is, if he’s still on the team.
The Thunder have to explore trading him. If they know he’s gone next Summer, then they should start fielding offers. You can’t lose both for nothing, especially those two being top ten players.
A trade would give the Thunder a ton of new assets, which will be needed to surround a new core of Olidipo and Adams. However, I wouldn’t expect a rebuild to take long. Even though OKC won’t attract free agents, the Thunder are one of the best teams in the league when it comes to drafting. I mean, they did draft both Durant and Westbrook. With Sam Presti’s eye for talent, a Thunder rebuild would take a lot less time than somewhere else.
Durant’s decision wasn’t too shocking. Thunder fans should be sad, but not stunned. They knew this was possible. And they have a right to be angry. Part of it is basketball, part of it is Durant’s unsteady character.
No matter how you feel about it, the Warriors are going to be incredible to watch next season. Can we just enjoy it for once?