Archive for July, 2010

This is the re-write, the first read very harsh and abrasive towards Chris Bosh and the way he ended his tenure, I think the word RuPaul was fairly prominent.  I have come to realize I will miss Chris Bosh but perhaps not as much as he might end up missing Toronto, where he was without question the main attraction.  In the end, life goes on, enjoy.

To discuss Chris Bosh, the Miami Heat and the Toronto Raptors, follow me on TWITTER!  @tdotsports1

*UPDATE – May 24/2011* Lebron James showing the NBA why he is the best player of all time, why the Miami Heat will beat the Chicago Bulls and make it to the NBA finals in their first season together.

Based solely on numbers it is hard to argue that Chris Bosh wasn’t the best Raptor player in franchise history.  If Vince Carter though enigmatic at times was the most talented then Chris Bosh was the most productive.  However I have a feeling Chris Bosh will be the easier of the two to get over and slowly forgotten, something that cannot be said for Vin-sanity.  Make no mistake Bosh will be booed heavily upon his return, that you can guarantee, and the first game back will be genuine ‘from the heart’ boo’s, but after that, they will boo because they feel they have to, not because they really deep down ‘Vince Carter hatred’ want to boo. 

During last night’s interview with ‘Sportsnet’ (a pretty weak effort I must add, not exactly a tough line of questioning) Bosh said he does not regret the past seven years and what was accomplished with the team.  I tried to do the math in my head quickly to try and comprehend the fact that Chris Bosh was a Raptor for seven years, it seemed like a lot less.  For one, he had an NBA body for maybe two of them with a few meaningful games mixed into a mostly unremarkable tenure, even forgettable.  Fact is trade Bosh for Lebron James in Toronto last season and the Raptors are making a deep playoff run.

Just like basketball fans across the world have already forgotten about Chris Bosh, as Dwyane Wade and Lebron James are the two big ticket items in Miami.  Legendary figures Charles Barkley and Michael Jordan didn’t even as much make mention of Chris Bosh when they weighed in on Lebron’s decision to ‘take his talents’ to South Beach.  Chris Bosh can say (and tweet) all the right things and act like it doesn’t bother him, but I can almost guarantee that if he would have known Lebron James was going to ride into town and essentially make Chris Bosh the forgotten and dreaded third wheel almost immediately he might have chosen a different team, maybe even Toronto.

Chris Bosh is a very solid basketball player, but his game has excelled the past few seasons because the ball has been in his hands and he has been counted upon to be a playmaker.  Bosh is not great off the ball, he does not possess the size or strength needed to push his way onto the block or get great position down low.  He gets the ball from 15-feet with his strong face-up game and punishes the normally bigger and slower defender.  As the third option, his numbers will plummet, and the things that the third option normally do (rebound, shot block, hustle, lockdown D) are the things we as Raptors fans know he does not excel at. 

Bosh was our go-to scorer, for better or worse, but he was anything but a clutch rebounder, big time hustle guy or lockdown defender.  You cannot blame one man for a team wide problem but when your power forward is not a huge body or a solid defensive rebounder, it shows, and how many nights Raptor fans were frustrated when the other team just killed us on the glass.  Bosh lacks that toughness, that intestinal fortitude that screams “SPARTA!!!!” 

Chris Bosh will still get his touches and a chance to chip in offensively, but one has to look no further than the defending champions in Boston to realize that for Bosh to contribute to the Heat in a meaningful way, he is going to have to make an effort to adopt the role Kevin Garnett has with the Celtics. 

KG’s PPG dropped from his career high of 24.2 (2003/2004) to 18.8 in his first season with the Celtics.  While Paul Pierce and Ray Allen will never be confused as pass first players, I’d venture to say Lebron James (20 attempts a night, 29.7 PPG last season) and Dwyane Wade (20 attempts, 26.6 PPG) dominate the ball a great deal more than the Celtics duo.  For their careers, Allen has averaged 15.9 attempts per game (12.2 in 2010) and Pierce 16.6 (12.2 in 2010).

What made the Celtics great was Garnett did everything the other two would not.  He was completely selfless as he set screens, hustled down every loose ball, rebounded with reckless abandon and played with an in your face toughness that dared a defender to drive the lane on him.  The Celtics MVP might have been Paul Pierce, but everybody knew who made that team tick, it was a healthy Kevin Garnett.  Chris Bosh is not on KG’s level in any of those categories, this isn’t to slam Bosh as a player but it’s just not what he developed into and what made him so valuable to the Toronto Raptors.

Like I mentioned above, nobody for better or worse will ever forget Vince Carter.  Carter was silky smooth out of the basketball hotbed of North Carolina, we felt lucky to have him and during his peak I think the feeling was mutual.  Bosh was goofy, almost nerdy, with his Kenyan marathon runners build and tiny head perched on top of that long body.  He was tech savvy long before it was trendy, he made funny ‘You-tube’ videos but didn’t convey (and still doesn’t) the ‘South Beach’ style.  Seriously, can you even picture Chris Bosh at a bar or club? 

During the latest interview Bosh awkwardly mentioned Toronto was “different”, again.  This time his defence was the metric system, “You hit the freeway and you see 40 KM per hour and you just know something is different”, relax it’s called the metric system and the speedometer on your Range Rover supports both.  He stated prior that Toronto “even smelled different”, yeah fresh air (compared to Miami) does smell different Chris, you’re right.  He could have mentioned in a country (USA) with a sky-high murder rate Miami (according to recent data) has 2.5 times the National murder rate – that’s different.  Ok, I have wandered off topic.

We’ll have to wait and see how Bosh handles being the forgotten man on the most unforgettable team ever assembled and whether the game and style he brings will mesh well with LBJ and Wade.  He likely envisioned playing second fiddle to Wade but still being highly utilized for the next five or six seasons but that is unlikely now and Bosh and his wonky knee will have to hope his body can grind out the type of work the Miami Heat are going to need out of him to be successful, because it certainly isn’t the 18-foot jump shots he is accustomed to taking.

The sobering reality is they just don’t make enough Roy Halladay’s, one of the greatest athletes to ever play in Toronto, hardworking and classy to the very end.  How did Roy end his time in Toronto, he sincerely thanked the fans, he took out a full page ad in a Toronto newspaper and more importantly did not call us “weird” as Bosh essentially has with his odd and awkward statements. 

Halladay is a CY Young winner, the very best at his position in all of baseball.  Not some skinny, injury prone, undersized power forward who gave us one shallow division title (before the Celtics were re-born) and no playoff success. 

Toronto fans are hoping the next chapter of the Raptors without Chris Bosh is also ‘different’, with sustained winning and meaningful basketball being that missing ingredient.

Ok, so I can readily admit it, I am a sports addict, obviously.  Anybody who devotes as much time as I do to a writing a sports blog (which may or may not ever be read by another human) would be in denial if he didn’t just admit otherwise.  Let me save you the time and anguish and say if you are reading this we will just assume you are likely one too. If I am not actually playing sports, I am writing, discussing and usually thinking about them in some manner – doesn’t everybody have a few fantasy teams out there to worry about?

I will always love sports because they provide a great outlet from the everyday grind, for me watching the Maple Leafs lose another game is a great way to unwind and escape the “real world” for at least three hours.  As a former athlete who played sports 24/7 I love watching the absolute best compete against each other.  Most of my friends are fellow sports lovers so it is a great social outlet also, nothing beats having a few beers discussing the current state of your favourite team while watching the game on the tube (or live). 

I was lucky enough to have taken in Justin Verlander’s no-hitter a couple of seasons back with my friend (he still owes me for that one) and we still talk about that game to this day, the tension, the electric atmosphere, and the sheer euphoria that ensued when “Mags” (Magglio Ordonez) caught the final out to complete the “no-no”.  It was a priceless moment which a good book just can’t always (or ever) deliver.

However, today I wanted to discuss the opposite end of the spectrum as I am sure we have all known (or heard of) one or two males belonging to this strange breed – the non-sports fan.  They are normally fairly easy to spot as they are either totally silent during any conversation involving sports or they are the one looking perplexed during a simple “Halladay or Stieb” debate.  Sure, sometimes they will try to throw you off the scent and will throw in a “Yankees sure look tough” from time to time, even if they are currently mired in an eight or nine game losing streak, but for the most they aren’t hard to spot.

To quote Seinfeld: “Not that there is anything wrong with that”, and there isn’t, to each his own.  I have a multitude of non-sporting interests, including poker, politics, fitness & exercise and I am also a confessed stock junkie but sports is something that I always come back to and cannot live without.  If it isn’t sports then I have to ask, what consumes your time, what are you passionate about and what the hell do you watch on TV?  When I have asked this question I normally receive the following standard answers:

1)      I read – I love a good book and I have even been known to read a few from time to time, including non-sports books!  Still, how much alone time does a man need, or have?   

2)      Music – Sorry, I have over 10,000 MP3s and counting and even play the guitar relatively well.  This will not end my love affair of sports and in fact they normally go together beautifully.

3)      Movies – Again, if you have seen the size of my DVD collection you will understand my passion and love for movies.  Goodfellas, 25th Hour and The Unforgiven among my favourites.

4)      Time – They just don’t have time.  Hard to argue that, and sometime a 3 hour ballgame can be redundant, but what else are you keeping tabs on, celebrity gossip?  Of course, this is also the same guy that is lighting up your email with terrible jokes and frivolously updating you on his every move via facebook.

5)      Girlfriend /Significant other – This one isn’t always easy to get around as some guys might want to watch sports (a lot more sports) but they cannot successfully navigate the always tricky “what is on TV” argument.  Maybe I am lucky in that regard, I am normally in charge of my remote control.

6)      Kids – Can’t argue this one, but get them involved in sports at an early age and you will gain an extra vote (and hopefully a small majority) in the household TV voting democracy.

This isn’t directed at the casual sports fan, nothing wrong with taking a smaller interest in your favourite team or sport so you have time to partake in all of your hobbies and interests.  I am more curious to find out how a male basically comes to lose touch with sports all together, and completely.  Is it simply a lack of interest, general knowledge, athletic ability or does the girlfriend/spouse simply wear the pants?

Gentlemen, what am I missing?

Jose Bautista is having a monster career season for the Blue Jays in 2010.  After blasting two more homeruns he is currently leading the league with 30 HRs.  While his batting average has been held down by a low .239 BABIP (career .274) his triple slash line of 254/364/580 is pretty remarkable.  In 100 games Bautista has 22 2Bs, 30 HRs, 75 RBIs, 13.6 BB% and 21.4 K% good for a Blue Jays team leading .402 wOBA.  Quite simply, Jose Bautista is enjoying one of the best Blue Jays seasons in recent memory.

Surely there will be some regression in the power stroke (20% HR/FB in 2010, career 12.4%) and he probably won’t continue to hit as many fly-balls period (53.4% in 2010, career 44.7%) but by most standards it appears Bautista has potentially turned a corner in his career after being given the chance to showcase his skill set full-time by the Toronto Blue Jays.  Most of his peripherals look almost identical if you look at BB%, K%, O-swing%, contact %, the one that sticks out his he has absolutely destroyed the fastball in 2010.  His wFB/c (runs above average per 100 pitches) on the fastball is at 2.28 (for comparison Vernon Wells in 2010 -0.55) and for his career Albert Pujols checks in around 2.6. 

However this piece isn’t meant to argue to merits of Jose Bautista but rather take a look at why the Blue Jays might be better off to keep a veteran player like Bautista.  There is a common misconception when a team is rebuilding that the path to success (or the playoffs) is linear with a near exact timeline.  The truth is rebuilding teams often arrive suddenly and without much warning – see the Tampa Bay Rays in 2008. 

Sure we knew the Rays had been stockpiling talent for years with the plethora of high and talented draft picks (David Price, Evan Longoria, BJ Upton, Jeff Niemann, Carl Crawford etc) but we did not foresee such a monumental rise in 2008, at least I didn’t and I doubt most people did.  Everything came together for that young and supposedly rebuilding team and it appears as long as the bank doesn’t totally dry up they will be highly competitive for the next decade. 

Now most people feel it was the young talent all arriving at the same time, developing like crops in the minor leagues, finally ready for harvest.  But baseball does not work that way, Carl Crawford was established and steady, Evan Longoria was a rookie sensation like no other, BJ Upton was showing signs of regression, Jeff Niemann didn’t contribute much and David Price was only ready to help out of the bullpen. 

The young talent was there, and it was real.  But without their own Jose Bautista in Carlos Pena (who was 30 during the 2008 season) who led the team in HRs (31) and RBIs (by a wide margin at 102) where would this team have been?  The Rays also had solid production from two other veteran players in Cliff Floyd, Eric Hinske and Jason Bartlett during the heat of a pennant race and the presence of a few players with a bit of veteran savvy couldn’t have hurt.

My point is who is to say the Jays couldn’t be in a similar position next season in 2011?  The likely return of a couple borderline prospects are not likely to produce anywhere near Bautista in the next 2-3 years, or ever.  The starting rotation is starting to look impressive if not deep with Ricky Romero (ranked #48 on Fangraphs prestigious top 50 trade value series) Shaun Marcum, Brandon Morrow, Brett Cecil and potentially youngsters like Kyle Drabek or Marc Rzcepcynski.

Two of the Jays best hitters from 2009 are having relatively miserable seasons in Adam Lind and Aaron Hill, one of their top hitting prospects (Travis Snider) has been derailed by injuries all season but seems primed for a breakout year, while there incumbent CFer Vernon Wells is finally hitting back around his career levels.  They recently stole Yunel Escobar (seriously did you see that play last night?) from Atlanta for a journeyman middle infielder (A.Gonzalez) and when Lyle Overbay and his $7 million depart they can either buy a stopgap to fill the need or give the highly touted Brett Wallace every opportunity to win the job.

They could have depth at catcher if they keep Buck/ Molina and JP Arencibia appears prime to burst onto the scene with his power bat (expect a low avg, high strikeout guy).  Third base is a bit bare but again there will be veteran options available or they could try Jose Bautista there fulltime in 2011.  AA and Paul Beeston have both been on record stating Rogers Corp has informed them they are willing and able to spend on the same level as the Red Sox, Cubbies and Dodgers if the team looks to be near annual contender status.

Projected 2011 line-up:

SS Yunel Escobar-DH Adam Lind-CF Vernon Wells-3B Jose Bautista-RF Travis Snider-2B Aaron Hill-LF Fred Lewis-1B Brett Wallace-C John Buck/JP Arencibia.

Add that to a very solid starting rotation/deep bullpen and depending on how AA spends a little extra cash the Jays might have in the off-season this would appear to be a team nearly ready to contend.  Carlos Pena was 30 years old in 2008 when the Rays went on a magical run to win the AL East, Jose Bautista will be 30 years old during the 2011 season.  There is no correlation of course but I’m just saying sometimes the Jose Bautista’s of the world can help turn a “good young team” into a contending team.

On the flip side, if a team wants to trade 2 or 3 of its best (and cost controlled) prospects our way for Bautista, we’d be crazy to turn them down, but I just see that type of return as highly unlikely.

While perusing the stats for the hitters on my DMB (Diamond Mind Baseball) keeper league roster I suffered what must have been a mild hallucination or some strange dream.   With a roster that features prominent sluggers like Justin Upton, Matt Holliday, Jorge Posada, Hanley Ramirez, Evan Longoria and Andre Ethier, I must have been in a daze when I sorted by wOBA and saw a strange four letter word at the top.

It read Huff, as in Aubrey Huff, who was apparently leading the way on this once proud roster filled with superstars at almost every position.  I panicked and quickly closed by internet browser, headed upstairs and tried to drift asleep, to no avail.  To confirm I had not gone crazy, I wandered back downstairs and fired up the computer and sorted my roster by wOBA and again – Huff, Aubrey (.408 wOBA).

Aubrey Huff was quietly signed in the off-season by the San Francisco Giants and was expected to compete for at-bats at first base and occasionally play the outfield.  He was coming off a pretty terrible season split between Baltimore and Detroit in which he slugged a career low .384 (ISO .144) and suffered the worst statistical season of his career (.297 wOBA).

Fast forward to 2010 and Huff has clearly been rejuvenated and it appears the Giants low key investment has paid pretty big dividends thus far.  In 96 games Huff has mashed NL pitching to the tune of 309/397/549 with 20 2Bs, 19 HRs 49 BBs and 45 Ks in 406 PAs – good for a .408 wOBA.  He has even chipped in 5 SBs (0 CS) and played multiple positions for the Giants (1.9 UZR at 1B, 4.4 UZR at LF).

In the “year of the pitcher” Huff has been a revelation at the plate, sporting a career high 12.1% BB rate and a strong 13.0% K rate while also knocking the cover off the ball for most of the season (.240 ISO).  Equally impressive is how he has handled hitting versus southpaws this year (314/390/539 – .402 wOBA). 

Take out a relatively rocky April (247/344/403 – .336 wOBA) and his line improves to (316 PAs 327/411/591 – 39 BBs, 33 Ks).

Huff will surely see a bit of regression for the rest of the season (ZIPS projects 284/354/483 the rest of the way) as Huff has been slightly aided by a 16.5% HR/FB ratio (career 13.9%) and has a bit of an oddity in his plate discipline statistics where his O-Contact% has spiked from 61.6% in 2009 to 75.2% in 2010 (60.6% career) probably partially helping to explain his slight drop in K% (2010 13.0%, career 14.4%).

Even with the expected slowdown Aubrey Huff has put together quite an impressive season.  Luckily enough I decided to give “Brennan” Huff one more season to prove himself, at the expense of letting Bill Hall go (we have deep rosters), now that would have been a tough decision to live with.  It’s a tight race between Huff and Brett Gardner for my surprise player of the 2010 season, and a race I never thought I would see.

Admit it, when you saw the NHL had rejected the Ilya Kovalchuk 17 year/103 million dollar contract there was a part of you that still hoped, still believed Brian Burke and company would pull the ultimate coup in the history of sports.  In fact, you might have even felt a press conference was imminent, where Brian Burke smugly reports that the Toronto Maple Leafs had signed Ilya Kovalchuk. 

When you realized what the cap hit was going to potentially be (6 million!) you felt instantly ill.  Stop living in denial and just come to the dark side already.  There are a bunch of valid reasons as to why Brian Burke would not pull the trigger on signing Ilya Kovalchuk, here are a few:

1)      Contract – Kovalchuk clearly covets being a one-hundred million dollar man, whether it is over 12-15 years it does not make much of a difference to him, he obviously wants that figure. 

2)      Salary Cap – Having 15-20% of your designated funds allocated to one player on a roster of 19-20 players is not cost feasible.

3)      Style – He definitely does not fit the prototypical Brian Burke type of player and he might not go to the areas of the ice that Burke wants his wingers to be able to go, he is not overly physical.

4)      Attitude – Concerns about the makeup of this player have been discussed before, does he fit in with the new attitude the Leafs are trying to instil under the Dion Phaneuf regime?

5)      Culture – Finally, the country club atmosphere that has supposedly haunted the Leafs during the “Muskoka Five” era.  Kovalchuk has the reputation of being a selfish player without much of a rapport with his teammates.  This could be doubly dangerous in a young and impressionable Maple Leafs dressing room.

There have been other arguments brought to the table, but I’d say this is a fairly good compilation of the main deterrents. 

Let me play Devil’s advocate – no pun intended:

1)      Contract – Honestly, a deal over 10 years to any pro athlete is just begging for a terrible ending, there have not been many cases where a lengthy term has worked out well for the employer.  However Kovalchuk is probably the best Free Agent the NHL has ever had, period.  The guy is 27 years old and has already posted in chronological order the following goal totals: 29, 38, 41, 52, 42, 52, 43, and 41 respectively. 

 Current Blue Jays GM said recently the team will be employing a higher risk/reward draft strategy and will be searching for high potential, high ceiling players.  The reasoning is simple yet prudent as these types of players are not available annually (or easily) on the free agent market.

  Back to hockey, Ilya Kovalchuk is that type of player – in his prime.

 2)      Salary Cap – Again, I will never argue that in a sport like hockey where depth plays a huge role in fielding a competitive team it absolutely makes little sense to commit a huge portion of your cap to one player.  However, under the current CBA (as we are learning) there are small loopholes that a team would be foolish not to at least attempt.  Signing Kovalchuk to the type of deal he is looking for would make the cap hit anywhere from 6-7 million, basically the same cap hit as a Mike Komisarek, Dion Phaneuf or JS Giguere.  Did I get your attention yet?

 3)      Style – This one I am more ambiguous on as in one regard I agree we might not need another skill oriented European.  However, this isn’t Rickard Wallin we are talking about, this one of the most skilled Russian born players the game has ever seen.  Over the years I have watched Ilya Kovalchuk play a slightly more abrasive style than the media and fans will credit.  Have we not witnessed him and Ian White do battle on countless occasions, while White may not have big size he has the heart of a lion and Kovalchuk more than held his own in that battle. 

I do not want to add another soft European, trust me, but if he comes with the skill set of an Ilya Kovalchuk, count me in as we can pare the roster of other non-performing ones – ahem Grabovski, to meet the Burke quota. 

Please note Kovalchuk is 6’2” and 230 pounds, not exactly a dwarf.

 4)      Attitude – For this I cannot argue as I do not know Kovalchuk personally, nor do I have inside access to any of his former dressing rooms, coaches or teammates.  I guess a certain leeway would be expected for a 40 goal scorer though, unfortunately.

 5)      Culture – We do not want to see the team revert back to the Pat Quinn era where players were not accountable and basically come and went as they pleased.  Does anybody remember the Leafs during the Quinn coached days?  We were a fairly talented group with solid goaltending but our team lacked any form of discipline and if there was a night that the whole bench wasn’t arguing senselessly with the referees all game I must have been sleeping.

 For better or worse Dion Phaneuf is our new leader and face of the franchise and thinking of him and Ilya in the same dressing room would make any GM nervous.  Again, I do not pretend to know what type of man or teammate Ilya Kovalchuk is, but I do know the he is basically a bigger and more skilled version of Phil Kessel, that can’t be a negative?

Kovalchuk would instantly become the most talented player to ever don the blue & white.  He makes our power-play extremely deadly.  He takes the immense scoring pressure off the small shoulders of Phil Kessel.  The guy is a threat each and every time he steps out onto the ice, defensemen fear for their jockstraps when he flies over the blue-line looking to create a scoring chance.  Imagine the possibilities?

For all the rationale, hyperbole and bluster it really comes down to a few things.  If I could add a player like this for the next 10-12 years at a cap hit within a million of Dion Phaneuf I would certainly be intrigued.  If I didn’t have to trade two first round picks (plus a second) or a single roster player to acquire him, I would bend over backwards to get it done.

After getting shelled by the Texas Rangers on June 2nd, 2010 (2.2 IP, 6 earned) Gavin Floyd’s ERA weighed in at a rotund 6.64, to the uninitiated it would appear that he was having a terrible season, but what is the truth?  During Floyd’s early season struggles it was pretty clear that luck was not on his side as his BABIP in April was 369 and in May slightly better but still high at 343, while his strand rates during those months were 55.8% and 66.8 un-respectively.  Floyd is throwing harder (FB velocity 2009-91.8, 2010-92.4), missing just as many bats (2009 contact%-77.8, 2010-77.0) and even getting hitters to chase his pitches more often (2009 o-swing%-27.6, 2010-28.3).

Someone in my fantasy league made a comment regarding Floyd’s terrible season and I commented “outside of a brutal BABIP and low strand rate, Gavin Floyd has essentially been the same pitcher” to which I was basically ridiculed.  But as we can see from this chart, Gavin Floyd was and is the same pitcher and therein lays the beauty of advanced pitching metrics like FIP or xFIP and the use of the peripherals that help gather these stats (BABIP, strand rate, HR/FB etc).

  K/9 BB/9 BABIP LOB% AVG ERA xFIP
Apr 7.8 4.1 369 55.8 301 6.49 4.09
May 7.0 2.2 343 66.8 296 5.63 4.12
Jun 8.0 2.3 281 72.5 217 2.58 3.30
Jul 6.4 2.3 290 80.0 234 1.01 3.35
2010 7.4 2.7 320 67.9 261 3.87 3.69
2009 7.6 2.7 292 69.7 246 4.06 3.69

 

When we look at K/9, BB/9 and xFIP from April all the way through this year and even from last season’s totals we see what xFIP is attempting to do for us, take out all of the noise and some of the factors pitchers cannot control (such as what happens after the ball is put in play) and give us a real idea of how said pitcher is performing, relatively speaking.

Look at how steady the xFIP column is in particular, even when Floyd had a month in which his ERA was 6.49, his xFIP remained calm and cool at 4.09.  But just as important look at his unbelievable Bob Gibson-like 1.01 ERA from July, again his xFIP tempers this and brings us all back to planet earth as it checks in at 3.35.

This is simply breaking down who Gavin Floyd is as a pitcher and this is also a simple way to explain and show the value and usage of xFIP.  I think it also helps show how useless ERA really is when evaluating a pitchers overall value and performance. 

For those curious, since that June 2nd shellacking Floyd has gone on a hellacious run – 62.1 IPs, 45 hits, 14 BB – 52 K’s, good for a 1.74 ERA and 0.95 WHIP.  All things considered Floyd is having a career year, who would’ve guessed?

This piece was recently posted on Fangraphs Community.  Check it out!

FIP: Fielding Independent Pitching, a measure of all those things for which a pitcher is specifically responsible. The formula is (HR*13+ (BB+HBP)*3-K*2)/IP, plus a league-specific factor (usually around 3.2) to round out the number to an equivalent ERA number. FIP helps you understand how well a pitcher pitched, regardless of how well his fielders fielded. FIP was invented by Tangotiger.

xFIP: Expected Fielding Independent Pitching. This adjusts FIP and “normalizes” the home run component. Research has shown that home runs allowed are pretty much a function of fly balls allowed and Home Park, so xFIP is based on the average number of home runs allowed per outfield fly.

Today, I wanted to take a closer look at the Toronto sports scene as a whole and attempt to determine which Toronto team is the likeliest or is best positioned to win a championship.  The teams that will be included in the discussion/argument will be the three majors, the Toronto Maple Leafs, Toronto Blue Jays and Toronto Raptors.  Apologies go out to the Toronto Argos and Toronto MLS as my knowledge of those two leagues isn’t what it should be.

We will rank the three teams based on key factors and issues including:

-financial sustainability (willingness and ability to spend when the need arises), 

-current roster and prospects going forward

-level of competition (i.e. – division/conference/league played in)

-season and playoff structures of each sport, travel requirements

-competence of management

-Intangibles – history/pedigree/precedent, has the team had prior success and/or titles, has there been a recent example of a team in a similar situation rise from the ashes?

FINANCIAL SUSTAINABILITY

1.       Toronto Maple Leafs

–          The Maple Leafs are an absolute cash cow, they generate insane revenues and money will never be an impediment to the Leafs success going forward.  The NHL is a salary cap world and does not allow the Leafs to really flex their financial muscles as it would like to.

2.       Toronto Raptors

–          The Raptors are owned by the same teacher’s pension fund that operates the Maple Leafs and have also shown the willingness to spend up the salary cap.  The NBA has a soft cap and luxury tax system, and so far the Raptors have not gone into the luxury tax although there have been overtones that the team would be willing depending on the situation.

3.       Toronto Blue Jays

–          The Blue Jays are owned by media mogul and massive Rogers Corporation – a company double the size of “Steinbrenner Inc”.  The Blue Jays have opened the coffers over the past few years and have spent upwards of 85-90 million on payroll.  They have also gone on record that they are willing to spend on a Boston, Los Angeles or Chicago level if the team is in a position to seriously compete.

Analysis: Contrary to popular belief (aka Americans) all of the three major Toronto sports franchises are in outstanding shape financially and all have shown the willingness to be competitive in their respective sports.  I was tempted to rank the Maple Leafs 1 and Raptors 1a as with a salary cap system firmly in place, neither can really be considered superior to the other.  The Jays still have to prove their willingness to spend to rank any higher than last.

LEVEL OF COMPETITION

1.       Toronto Raptors

–          The competition has stiffened in the Eastern Conference now that the Triami Heat pulled off the biggest coup in free agent history adding the best player in the game Lebron James to Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh.  However, the Raptors still play in a division with the aging Boston Celtic, perennial losers in New York Knicks (Stoudemire be damned), 12-70 New Jersey Nets (Russian billionaire be damned) and the 27-55 Philadelphia 76ers.

 

2.       Toronto Maple Leafs

–          The Eastern Conference is the weaker of the two NHL conferences so that helps the Leafs slightly, however the division is one of the tougher in the game featuring solid teams and tough matchups in Boston and Buffalo and emotional rivalries in Ottawa and Montreal.  Aside from Buffalo and Montreal, all of the teams in this division have improved in the off-season.

 3.       Toronto Blue Jays

–          The AL East is simply the Cadillac of sports divisions, the best and toughest division in all of sports.  Making the Jays relative success in the past 4-5 seasons even more impressive, in any other division they are perennial contenders.  The New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox spend a combined $350+ million on payroll, and are not scared to sign ‘above slot’ in the amateur drafts, ensuring their future success for generations to come.  The Tampa Bay Rays have become a model organization in terms of scouting and development and only financial concerns can stop them from becoming a powerhouse.  The Baltimore Orioles are in transition but also possess some pretty impressive young assets (Wieters, Jones, Matusz, Tillman, and Markakis).

Analysis: As I assume you have figured out already, being ranked last means you have the toughest challenge and stiffest competition.  The poor Blue Jays are in tough and will have to continue to aggressively scour the planet for top young talent, but under new GM AA have already shown a willingness to do just that.  The Raptors and Leafs are again pretty even in terms of the level of competition they will have to defeat in order to eventually win a championship – neither has a cakewalk, but definitely an easier climb than the Blue Jays.

CURRENT ROSTER/FUTURE PROSPECTS

1.       Toronto Blue Jays

–          The Blue Jays have the best current assortment of talent to work with among the three teams.  They possess good young (cost controlled) pitchers in Shaun Marcum, Brandon Morrow, Brett Cecil and Marc Rzcepsynski as well as promising youngsters in Kyle Drabek, Chad Jenkins, Deck Maguire and Zach Stewart.  They have some pretty solid regulars in Aaron Hill, Adam Lind, Vernon Wells and Yunel Escobar and are anxiously awaiting the arrival of highly touted 1B Brett Wallace, C JP Arencibia, C Travis D’arnaud amid some other interesting pieces.

 2.       Toronto Maple Leafs

–          The Leafs have a major league defence core, one of the deepest in the NHL and if all can play to their normal career levels has a chance to be outstanding.  Assuming Tomas Kaberle isn’t dealt the Leafs will line up with Kaberle/Phaneuf, Komisarek/Beauchemin, and Gunnarsson/Schenn – that is simply deep and talented.  The Leafs also have an NHL calibre backup in Jeff Finger, as well as budding youngster Keith Aullie (among other decent promising pieces).  The forward group is another story, with only Phil Kessel returning as a legitimate NHL scorer the Leafs will be depending on huge internal improvement from Tyler Bozak, Nazem Kadri, Christian Hanson and Nik Kulemin as well as immediate impacts from Kris Versteeg and Colby Armstrong.  If the trade chip known as Kaberle can net a top six forward, things will be looking up for this group.  The Leafs also possess two quality goaltenders in JS Giguere and Jonas Gustavsson – both of whom are expected to help improve the absolute sieve-like effort that was given last season.

 3.       Toronto Raptors

–          Losing Chris Bosh was a serious blow to the current roster, however I do not think the cupboard is as bare as people are making it out to be, and in the NBA talent comes and goes very quickly allowing teams to reload in a heartbeat.  They still have a 20-point scorer in 7 foot Andre Bargnani who has his warts but is pretty widely panned as one of the more intriguing front court player in the league.  Demar Derozan was picked #7 overall in the 2009 NBA draft and has already shown increase physical strength and an improve physique in the summer league, people do not give him enough credit for what type of ceiling he could have, we could be looking at a Tracy McGrady type improvement.  We have solid professionals in Amir Johnson, Leandro Barbosa, Jose Calderon, Jarrett Jack, Linus Kleiza and Reggie Evans along with budding youngsters Ed Davis (a steal for the Raptors at #13), Solomin Alobi and Sonny Weems.  It also appears Bryan Colangelo is not finished in his roster makeover and I am not that pessimistic with the roster now or going forward.

Analysis: None of these teams are properly built to win in either their current or next seasons but I have to give the Jays the overall edge in current and prospective talent, although the Leafs possess a major league defence and an experience goalie and are not far off the Jays.  The Raptors are not going to be a great team in the next 1-2 seasons depending upon what moves Colangelo can manoeuvre but in the NBA lightning can strike quick and talent is there for the taking via the draft/free agency that can help step in immediately, unlike the NHL and MLB in which players are brought along rather slowly.

MANAGEMENT

1.       Toronto Maple Leafs

–          Say what you want about Brian Burke and company, but there is a proven track record of winning and success, and even one Stanley Cup ring to show for.  Burke is surrounded by a plethora of good hockey men and the Leafs spend heavily in the front office, scouting and development areas.  The Leafs are in good hands as Brian Burke has a vision, a pedigree for success and the ability to put that plan into action.

 2.       Toronto Raptors

–          Again, see above, although he has his nay-Sayers Brian Colangelo is a brilliant basketball mind, capable of turning around an organization and able to admit mistakes.  I still have faith in BC and being able to shed the horrible Turkuglu contract shows a willingness to admit he was wrong and rectify the situation by adding a very intriguing combo guard in Leandro Barbosa.  He had a steal lined up with Charlotte (adding Chandler and Diaw for Jose Calderon) but Michael Jordan reneged at the last minute (players were told they were traded) and the deal was stopped.  He has done as well as any GM could have with the roster he inherited and is a mover and a shaker, always looking for ways to make the team more competitive.

 3.       Toronto Blue Jays

–          AA has the chance to be ranked number one on this list in about 3-4 years if he keeps up this pace.  The boy wonder has been an absolute marvel in his short stint, showing patience with his young pitching staff, tact with the media and the ability to pick a few diamonds in the rough (i.e. Jose Bautista, John Buck & Alex Gonzalez) and has totally beefed up the scouting and development, areas that had been lacking under the JP Ricciardi regime.  This team is in very good hands for the foreseeable future. 

Analysis: All three franchises are in good hands with capable front office people firmly in place.  I was tempted to move the Blue Jays to number two with Paul Beeston also firmly entrenched in the Blue Jays culture, but Burke and Colangelo just have more past success to point to as an indicator of future success.  Burke gets raked over the coals for the Phil Kessel trade and though it is nice to step to the podium and draft a young hot prospect, what did we expect to deal for a 22 year old 30 goal scorer – Lee Stempniak?

INTANGIBLES

1.       Toronto Blue Jays

–          They have history on their side as the only champion in Toronto sports (among this group) over the past fifty years so this hopefully bodes well for the future as they have shown they can put it all together.  Recent example would be the Tampa Bay Rays, they rose from a fairly similar roster situation and totally revamped their scouting and development program and are now amongst the top teams in the MLB – it shows it can be done, even in the AL East.

 2.       Toronto Raptors

–          They have at least made the playoffs and won a division in the past 5-6 years so they have one up on the Maple Leafs and in the NBA you can strike lightning in a bottle in the draft, so that gives the Raptors some hope.  Recent example would be the Milwaukee Bucks when they made a few roster tweaks after losing their franchise player (Michael Redd) to injury and looked very respectable last season, a team on the rise.

 3.       Toronto Maple Leafs

–          A team that has not won the Stanley Cup since 1967 is plain worse than a Raptors team that has never won a title in their respective sport.  A well talked about drought only adds to the pressure that is placed on the Maple Leafs in a completely hockey crazed market that is Toronto.  Recent example would be the Chicago Blackhawks, they broke the longest streak in hockey after winning the cup in 2009/2010 – unfortunately they were also built heavily through the draft with young studs Toews, Kane, Keith and company.

Analysis: This was a pretty clear cut choice as the Jays have a success laden history and a team in Tampa Bay to model their hopeful future success on – Toronto Blue Jays clearly have the best intangibles/pedigree for future success.

Let’s see how they rank on a basic scoring system with lowest total score in the five categories obviously being the best: (highly scientific I know)

1. Toronto Maple Leafs – 9 pts

2. Toronto Raptors – 10 pts

3. Toronto Blue Jays – 11 pts

Before putting pen to proverbial paper my initial thought was the Leafs are probably the closest franchise in Toronto to winning the next championship, basically I think it is easier to turn around a hockey team than basketball or baseball.  With the salary cap and the Leafs willing to eat contract or throw bad ones to the wolves or at the very least the AHL (see Finger, Jeff) they probably are the best bet – which is sort of sad but true at this point.

The Raptors and Jays are fairly even with neither really having much of an edge over the other, the NBA has more playoff participants and an easier road overall and the Jays play in the harder league (AL) and the toughest division (AL East) with two of the greatest and richest franchises in the world (New York and Boston) so it makes sense to rank the Raptors over them, for now. 

Nobody would confuse this with the golden era of the Toronto sports scene, but there is at the very least a glimmer of hope for all three, right?

What do you think?

So what could $56 million buy you if you had an empty roster and could only add from the current free agent talent (a term used loosely now that Kovalchuk has signed) pool.  Based on the fact that these players are still available we can safely assume the market isn’t exactly on fire and multiple offers are not being thrown at most of these guys as we speak. 

For fun, let’s also assume we sign these players each to one-year contracts as to not be bogged down by multiple year deals for relatively lacklustre talent – again, another safe assumption in that most of these guys will likely sign for one year.  We will sign 15 forwards, 8 defensemen and 2 goaltenders.

Without further ado, here is your Free Agent roster: (salary in parenthesis)

Alex Frolov (3.5) – Brendan Morrison (2.5) – Teemu Selanne (3.0)

Paul Kariya (3.0) – Glen Metropolit (2.0) – Maxim Afinogenov (2.0)

A. Ponikarovsky (2.0) – Dominic Moore (2.0) – Lee Stempniak (2.0)

Raffi Torres (2.0) – John Madden (2.0) – Arron Asham (2.0)

Reserves: Mike Modano (2.0), Owen Nolan (2.0), Bill Guerin (1.5)

Our top line features the enigma that is Alexander Frolov, a potential 35+ goal scorer too often disappears during stretches of games but if motivated could be a big time scorer and on this squad he will be heavily used in all situations including the power-play.  We are pretty weak at the centre position for our top two lines and Brendan Morrison will be counted upon to recapture his old playmaking form, riding shotgun is the ageless wonder Teemu Selanne. 

Our second line features the underrated Glen Metropolit, I have always been a pretty big fan of his game and he never seems to get a fair opportunity to showcase his talents, he will be given a lot of ice-time with this team and has two veteran wingers in Paul Kariya and Maxim Afinogenov looking to contribute some much needed offense.

 I could not resist forming the third line (hey, this is a Toronto based blog) but this could be our best line if all three click and work hard.  Dominic Moore has speed to burn and maybe being reunited with former Maple Leafs will bring out the best (and only time) Moore was successful.  Poni provides size and strength on one side and Lee Stempniak will bring his normal energy and strong puck pursuit and relentless hustle, hopefully he also brings his lucky late season scoring touch from Phoenix.

The fourth line is also pretty decent (not surprised our third and fourth lines are strong, as that is what dominates the remaining free agent crop) with the steady and smart John Madden playing the middle between another underachiever Raffi Torres and the sparkplug and underrated Arron Asham.  This is our energy line that could also pop the occasional goal or two.

Our reserves will have three elder statesmen in Modano, Guerin and Nolan in case Kariya goes down and we need our compliment of past their prime forwards. 

This isn’t the most inspiring group of forwards, but it is pretty decent mixture of speed, size and veteran savvy, the power-play will be pretty weak, while the penalty kill should be strong.

Defence:

Willie Mitchell (2.5) – Kim Johnsson (2.5)

Andreas Lilja (2.0) – Mike Mottau (2.0)

Andy Sutton (2.0) – Aaron Ward (2.0)

Not much to brag about here other than a bit of size and shutdown ability in the bottom two pairings, Mitchell and Johnsson both have question marks with regards to injuries but if healthy would have to log major minutes for this defensively inept squad.  I believe Lilja/Mottau would be an underrated pairing, both play a smart and sound defensive game and do not make many mistakes.  Sutton/Ward would be a brutal pairing to face as an opposing and if the minutes can be limited and matchups selective their lack of foot speed shouldn’t be exposed too often.

Reserves: Paul Mara (1.5), Marc-Andre Bergeron (1.0)

Goaltending:

Evgeni Nabokov (5) – Ray Emery (2)

Ok, so I cheated just slightly, but we all know Nabokov would prefer to be in the NHL (as opposed to the KHL) all things being equal and he would just jump at the chance to play for this winning group.  Nabokov has been a steady performer and one of the better goaltenders in the league and we will need him to be very sharp to give us a chance at the playoffs.  Hopefully he and Ray Emery will get along swimmingly, with Emery’s recent (and impending) exposure to the KHL and Russia, maybe they will find some common ground.

CAP HIT: Forwards (33.5 million), Defence (15.5 million), Goalies (7 million) TOTAL = $56 million

For a different twist, with this of course all being fantasy and hypothetical, that much free cash could have helped net us a few more quality players on teams in desperate need of some cap relief.  So we potentially could have added (amongst players dumped) Simon Gagne, Kris Versteeg, Jeff Finger and likely Brian Campbell and Marc Savard.

Every team needs a coach and who better to get the absolute most out of this group but our old buddy Pat Quinn would be the man to coach this team, he gets the nod after being unceremoniously dumped by the Edmonton Oilers.

Where would this team finish if they played in the Eastern Conference in 2010/2011?

Who would you have replaced on this fantasy roster if you built it?

Could they beat the 2010/2011 version of the Toronto Maple Leafs?

So, just what exactly is Brian Burke’s vision for the Toronto Maple Leafs? 

I’d like to share my thoughts on what I feel he is trying to do and also to shed the misconceptions being floated around.  I keep hearing the same tired and baseless complaint over and over from the Burke/Leafs bashers, that he does not want talented and skilled players and that he only wants a team full of goons.  That is blasphemy, if he could add the big and talented trio of Rick Nash, Jarome Iginla and James Neal to his “Top Six” he would do so in a second, he’s not a fool.  These are not guys that are readily available and why waste your bullets on spare parts?

But when he hesitates at adding a Maxim Afinogenov, Nik Zherdev or Paul Kariya it’s because these players are not appreciably better than what we already have and do not fit in with what Burke is trying to build – plus less cap friendly than internal options.  John Ferguson would have added one of those aforementioned pieces for better or worse and with the thought process of “if you keep adding parts they will eventually work”, he did not have a vision, and for this I think we can all say about Brian Burke, he has conviction and I for one believe in him.  His vision is simple yet effective, and luckily for Maple Leafs fans entertaining to boot.

His ideal team would consist of two solid lines of highly skilled scoring forwards, hopefully with some size and tenacity as to not be pushed around and he wants his third line to be filled with responsible, defensive oriented pit-bulls who make the opposing teams night miserable.  Mix that with a fourth line of energy guys with an enforcer or two and a big, physical, in your face shut-down defence core along with a decent goaltender and you have a Brian Burke team.

How far is the current team from reaching that vision?  I think ideally Burke would love to have Kulemin-Bozak-Kessel as his second line, an enviable second line, along with Versteeg-Kadri-Armstrong as the third line.  Unfortunately that also goes to show we are basically short three top line forwards all things being fair.  Even with our current roster our third and fourth lines are set, in fact if this league eliminated all of the top two lines in hockey and teams could only play their third and fourth lines, the Leafs would be a perennial contender.

The team is moving in the right direction and we are starting to form a pretty solid base and nucleus of talent that will lead to a contending team night in and night out, and if we can add a Joe Thornton type in free agency next season, get a solid (bigger) top six forward for Tomas Kaberle who can help take the pressure off Phil Kessel we could finally be onto something.  This is of course assuming the continued internal development of Bozak, Kadri, Kulemin, Ross, Schenn, Aullie and of course the Monster Jonas Gustavsson.

BallHype: hype it up!

Brett Gardner gets down and dirty.

What if I told you a man existed who could single-handedly unite two sides that we have been told since birth are un-unite-able, one stolen base/triple/infield single at a time? Ok, with the hyperbole firmly in place I give you the one player that both scouts and sabermetricians can appreciate and claim as their own, that man is none other than Brett Gardner.  Currently sporting a 307/399/411 slash line, 40 BBs and 50 Ks, and successful on 25 of 31 stolen base attempts.  Drafted in the 3rd round of the 2005 amateur draft, he has slowly progressed into a solid everyday ballplayer.

Forget the fact that his jersey is dirty before the first pitch and that he takes the extra base when possible and more importantly steals bases (always big with the scouting/skills crowd) and looks great running down the first base line trying to chug out another infield single – Brett Gardner just looks like a ballplayer no? Even the lame Joe Morgan couldn’t disagree Gardner has been a revelation for the Yankees this season, playing solid defence (he should be starting in CF, but we will leave that for another time), giving the Yankees a spark at the bottom of the order with his all-out hustle and blazing speed – the guy can flat out fly.

However he is also extremely “saber-friendly” for a player of his ilk and style. He rarely swings at a bad pitch (18.5% o-swing) or really at all (31.2% swing rate) and when he does swing he makes contact (91.9% contact rate). Gardner currently sports a .374 wOBA mostly due to his patience at the plate (399 OBP – 12.2% BB) and despite a small hiccup in terms of his relatively neutral UZR rating this season he has already produced a 2.4 WAR in only half a season worth of games. Not bad for a guy who was barely an afterthought in the off-season and viewed more as a depth/bench player. The left-handed hitter is not a total liability versus lefties (261/371/375 – 340 wOBA) and has really earned his keep versus righties (328/412/427 – 375 wOBA) while mostly batting 8th or 9th for the Bronx Bombers this season.

While discussing Gardner’s season with my buddy Harry (also a New York native and Yankee fan – street cred enough? His last name even sounds Italian) he had made the comment that he wished the Yanks did not pull the trigger on their trade for Curtis Granderson in the off-season. He would go on to explain it had nothing to do with any particular dislike for Granderson, or that he was absolutely sold on Austin Jackson or Phil Coke, but more so the fact he felt they had the CF answer already in-house with Brett Gardner.

Not to say Gardner is a bonafide superstar, he hits more singles than rock stars and has been slightly propped by a .357 BABIP – though not outlandish given Gardner’s propensity to hit groundballs coupled with the fact he might be the fastest player in the majors. However to say he hasn’t been the Yankees biggest surprise this season would be a lie, Gardner has performed like Ichiro with more patience, he is here to stay.