When I saw that Roberto Alomar and Pat Gillick would be entering the Baseball Hall of Fame together it was pretty exciting to see two key members of the back-to-back World Series champion Toronto Blue Jays being recognized.  Naturally the first thing that came to my mind was “the trade” Pat Gillick pulled off and how much that seemingly turned the Jays from a strong team to a championship calibre squad.

On December 5th, 1990 the Toronto Blue Jays sent 1B Fred McGriff and SS Tony Fernandez to the San Diego Padres for 2B Roberto Alomar and 1B/LF Joe Carter.  Gillick and the Blue Jays are often lauded for the deal and it is considered by many Blue Jays fans as a steal for Toronto, I wanted to take a different look at that trade today. 

Although the Blue Jays obviously went on to become the first non-American franchise in baseball history to win not only one World Series title, but two in back-to-back variety (1992 & 1993), is that enough for you to consider the trade successful?  Most GMs in sports consider any trade that nets a championship a success, no matter the cost – flags fly forever right?

Without the titles was the trade as big of a success as people make it out to be, I wanted to take a quick look at that today.  Let’s start with what the Blue Jays received from both Roberto Alomar and Joe Carter.

Carter, the hero of the 1993 World Series with his series-winning walk-off homerun against the Philadelphia Phillies and the “Wild thing” Mitch Williams will always be considered a Blue Jays legend.  Carter played 7 seasons for the Toronto Blue Jays and gave the team 203 HRs and produced a 9.8 WAR (Wins above replacement level player).

Alomar, the only Blue Jays player to ever be enshrined in Cooperstown is one of the greatest second basemen to ever play the game (behind only Joe Morgan and Rogers Hornsby in my opinion) but played only 5 seasons for the Jays.  Alomar had 832 hits, 206 steals, 451 runs and produced a 22.3 WAR during his short but productive reign.

The Blue Jays let both Carter and Alomar walk as free agents and received nothing in return for either of them so there are no assets to also take into account, which hurts the overall value of the trade when we look at what we gave up.

Tony Fernandez is one of the franchise’s great all-time players and though he returned to the Jays on a few different occasions I just wanted to add up his total value since leaving the Jays originally in the Alomar/Carter trade. 

Fernandez went on to play 9 more MLB seasons with various teams and even returned to the Jays for two more years (1998 & 1999) and was still productive and as popular as ever.  In the 9 seasons since the trade he amassed 1134 hits, 108 SBs, 547 runs and produced a solid 17.7 WAR.  He wasn’t a superstar but played the game hard and will go down as a 1980s Blue Jays icon along with George Bell, Jesse Barfield, Lloyd Moseby and Dave Stieb (among others).

Fred McGriff had a surprisingly productive career and even jacked 30 HRs as early as 2002.  McGriff went on to hit 368 HRs and produced an impressive 39.9 WAR.  He finished his career with 493 HRs, 1550 RBIs and a .382 wOBA.  He was easily the most productive player in the trade and a guy the Jays likely regretted dealing all things considered.

Again this is not to say the trade shouldn’t have been made and I am not implying it wasn’t a successful deal.  Losing McGriff was the biggest loss but we did have a very successful 1B of our own pretty shortly after when Carlos Delgado took over and had some of the best offensive seasons in Jays history.  You can never take those two championship banners from Toronto and that is the bottom line here but to say the trade was a total steal is wrong.

We got 5 productive seasons from Alomar, 7 from Joe Carter,  and two rings but also gave up young stud first-basemen and one of the best Blue Jays middle infielders of all-time.  Maybe I am just too big of a Tony Fernandez fan!

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As the All-star break draws near the baseball pundits are starting to announce, proclaim and reason as to who they feel are the most deserving “first half” award winners.  As I love to read about baseball I am always scouring the net for anything related to the game.  As I have read more and more pieces about who should be the AL MVP I am stunned to see that it is not the slam dunk answer it should be.

Here are the two most widely mentioned candidates:

  AVG OBP SLG OPS HR BB% K% wOBA WAR
A 348 405 583 989 16 8.1 18.4 .422 4.4
B 331 467 687 1154 28 19.8 18.1 .481 6.1

 

On what planet would anybody even give minor consideration that Player A (Red Sox Adrian Gonzalez) can even sniff the jock of Player B (Blue Jays Jose Bautista) let alone give the asinine opinion that Adrian Gonzalez is the more “valuable” player than the best hitter in baseball?  Don’t give me the helps his team win more games, or the Red Sox have the better record and Jose Bautista while a great hitter hasn’t helped the Jays more in the win-loss column.

Jose Bautista is so far superior to almost any hitter in baseball none of those things matter, for this season.  When there is a needed “tie-breaker” because the players are neck and neck in terms of statistical analysis than fine, I will begrudgingly accept the old and tired win-loss debate.  But for the first half of 2011 how can any knowledgeable baseball writer even think of not saying Jose Bautista is the game’s best?

To further illustrate my point let’s compare Adrian Gonzalez to another player:

  AVG OBP SLG OPS HR BB% K% wOBA WAR
Ad.Gonz 348 405 583 989 16 8.1 18.4 .422 4.4
B 275 395 569 964 17 16.0 22.0 .414

 

Player B has pretty solid stats right across the board and is neck and neck with Adrian Gonzalez in most categories.  Player B is the ZIPS rest of season projections (courtesy of Fangraphs) for Jose Bautista.  Now a caveat, when a player like Bautista who has scorched the baseball world in the first 79 games of the season the ZIPS projections will be that much more conservative for the rest of the season stats.  If I had to vote for MVP, of course I would give it to Adrian Gonzalez with this comparison yet it goes to show just how talented Jose Bautista is.

Maybe Jose Bautista has just been luckier, Adrian Gonzalez has a .389 BABIP while Jose Bautista has a .322.  Jose Bautista does have a higher HR/FB this year (26.7) but it isn’t that far off last seasons (21.7).  Jose Bautista has played RF and 3B and has the highest WAR in baseball as well as the MLB lead in HRs, BB%, ISO, OBP, SLG%, wOBA and in some cases by a wide margin.

To quote Anderson Cooper it is high time we started “Keeping them honest” when it comes to misinformed and highly impartial baseball writing and opinion.  This year (for one half of a baseball season) the race for the AL MVP is not even close, it is Jose Bautista, all day every day.

#Beastmode – follow me on twitter.

With the news that Toronto Blue Jays slugger and all-time leading (one time) All-Star vote getter Jose Bautista (that was a mouthful) will be entering the 2011 All-Star Game Home Run Derby I have heard more than a few people mention the possibility of the dreaded “jinx”.  I am not sure where this started and there isn’t a worse crowd than the baseball world to bring out mostly unfounded superstition.

But I was bored and I thought I would give a lazy effort to see if there was any merit at all to this theory that a player will magically fall off after hitting in the derby.  For this exercise I must caution it is very rudimentary and doesn’t include a few things I was either not in the mood to look up like HR/FB ratio in the second half and overall FB% which would have given us a much better overall indicator of any supposed drop off.

Second a lot of players are just going to simply tire down the stretch and their homerun numbers suffer.  Third some of the players on this list aren’t really just homerun hitters and possibly had big first half numbers (hence, making the all-star game) that were never sustainable over a full season and thus the inevitable second half decline to bring their overall numbers back into line.

I included the past five HR derby’s and used the two finalists from each as presumably the longer you go in this competition the worse it will supposedly “wreck” your swing.  The “1st half” numbers are in bold and the “2nd half” or post all-star game numbers aren’t.

2010 HR AB/HR HR AB/HR
D.Ortiz 18 14 14 19
H.Ramirez 13 25 8 27
2009 HR AB/HR HR AB/HR
P.Fielder 22 14 24 12
N.Cruz 22 13 11 15
2008 HR AB/HR HR AB/HR
J.Morneau 14 26 9 28
J.Hamilton 21 18 11 22
2007 HR AB/HR HR AB/HR
V.Guerrero 14 26 13 20
A.Rios 17 20 7 41
2006 HR AB/HR HR AB/HR
R.Howard 28 11 30 8.8!
D.Wright 20 17 6 40
2005 HR AB/HR HR AB/HR
B.Abreu 18 18 6 44
I.Rodriguez 6 49 8 25

Again with a very basic look at the past five homerun derby finalists we see that of the twelve players involved seven had worse overall performances when considering AB/HR.  While it isn’t a comprehensive study I don’t feel that anything conclusive could be shown with the data presented nor did I expect it to. 

Some guys have hot second half’s like the unreal 2006 season by Ryan Howard (seriously, what a season!) and some guys were always going to fall off in terms of overall power (like David Wright in 2006). 

So for anybody thinking this could potentially ruin the best hitter in the game, think again.  If Jose Bautista goes on to a worse second half it will have nothing to do with a serious version of batting practise.  For those curious here are Jose Bautista’s current HR numbers heading into the all-star game. 

Bautista – 27 HRs, one every 10 ABs.

Bryan Colangelo is taking a lot of slack from the Raptors fan base for selecting 7-foot Lithuanian centre Jonas Valanciunas with the 5th overall selection the 2011 NBA Draft.  Frankly, most of the arguments I have heard as to why the pick might have been subpar are well, subpar.  I applaud the pick of Valanciunas at the number five spot and think Colangelo did well to think of the next 4-5 years of the Raptors franchise and not just make a pick that would have appeased the masses.

I hear Brandon Knight’s name a lot as a guy we just had to take and while I see some definite strong points to his offensive arsenal I really do not see the playmaking point guard the Raptors desperately need.  Seven other teams had the opportunity to take him and they all passed and his draft stock dropped like a rock on draft night leading me to believe that the people who get paid to know things we never will know something we don’t.

For Bryan Colangelo this draft was a no-win situation so I think he made the best of it for the franchise’s future.  He was chastised for not taking a player who could instantly step in and make an impact but last I checked this draft was relatively weak outside the top two in terms of NBA-ready talent and Lebron James wasn’t available at the Raptors pick. A lot of analysts have said that Valanciunas could be the best player of the draft when all is said and done.

Point guard is one of the hardest positions to come into and make a huge impact in your rookie season.  This is the floor general, the quarter back, the leader and face of the team in some respects if you lack a point forward.  If we look at last year’s NBA draft and first overall selection PG John Wall was very highly touted and thought to be an instant impact at the NBA level.

Wall, while solid was not overwhelmingly successful as was expected of him as he averaged a respectable 16 points, 8 assists, 4 rebounds and 4 turnovers.  He shot a reasonable but unspectacular 40% from the field and 29% from 3-point land. 

Raptors point guard Jerryd Bayless as a starter (in 14 games) averaged 18 points, 7 assists, 3.6 rebounds and 3 turnovers.  Bayless shot 46% from the field and 33% from 3-point land.  Are Raptors fans saying that Bayless was an “impact” player?  He essentially posted identical numbers to John Wall albeit in a smaller sample size as a starter but I think you see my point.

I think the Raptors are still in good hands and no I am not drinking the Bryan Colangelo kool-aid but I like the moves he has made recently.  Dwayne Casey was the best candidate for head coach on paper and we got him.  Chris Bosh could have walked to Miami for nothing but BC was able to get our own first rounder back in the sign and trade and he took the highest rated C and European in the draft at #5 overall.

All of the reports on Valanciunas that I have read are very positive and it sounds like he has a high motor, very strong rebounding instincts (some say best in the NBA draft), solid work ethic and some toughness.  If you take a longer view of this selection you can’t deny that this is probably what is best for the team going forward.

The Raptors are going nowhere next season and the upcoming NBA draft in 2012 is supposed to be one of the best drafts in recent years so one more year in the lottery wouldn’t hurt anyone.  It sure beats trading for Stephen Jackson, blowing our money on Samuel Dalembert and bringing back Allen Iverson as most short sighted fans sometimes suggest.  Believe in the rebuild and believe that the man who deftly scooped Demar DeRozan and Ed Davis still knows what he is doing.

I know it’s not cool to say these days but I still believe in Bryan Colangelo and I am still excited about the direction of the Raptors.

Coming into the 2011 season the expectations were fairly high for Texas Rangers starter Derek Holland and most had envisioned he would take another step forward into developing into one of the better young starters in the game.  The twenty-four year old left hander has been among the game’s best pitching prospects for a few seasons and was a sleeper among many analysts for this current season.

On the surface it would appear he isn’t progressing at all with a pedestrian 4.68 ERA and 1.53 WHIP but given his age, lack of major league experience, home ballpark and overall numbers I think Derek Holland is coming along rather nicely.  I decided to compare Holland to another young and promising (if not already established) left handed starter in David Price. 

Price is one year older than Holland so I thought it prudent to compare Holland’s current 2011 season to Price’s 2010 season, his first full season and breakout year to see how they stack up.  Price has seemingly had better overall stats than his peripherals would suggest and does pitch in a relative pitcher’s park while Holland has never quite seemed to pitch the way his secondary stats would seem to project.

Although the 2011 season is still rather young and only gives us a small sample size to use for Derek Holland it is still rather interesting to see some of the similarities between both the two south paws.

  ERA xFIP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP GB% HR/FB
10-Price 2.72 3.83 8.11 3.41 0.65 .270 43.7 6.5
11-Holland 4.68 3.65 7.24 3.32 0.91 .346 46.4 10.5

 As you can see, very similar numbers overall.  David Price has benefited from a very strong Tampa Bay defensive unit and has also seemed to get rather fortunate with balls in play compared to Holland so far this season.  Overall Derek Holland has pitched quite a bit better than his 4.68 ERA would suggest and actually has a lower mark than David Price’s 2010 season.   

Let’s see how they like to attack hitters.

10-Price FB – 74% (94.6) CB – 15.6% (77.5) CH – 5.5% (84.2) SL – 4.9% (86.5)
11-Holland FB – 60% (93.3) SL – 15.9% (82.8) CH – 15.4 (85.3) CB – 8.6% (75.6)

 Velocity is relatively the same across the board but as you can see Price throws his fastball harder and more often and doesn’t rely much on his secondary offerings, at least not compared to Derek Holland.  I find this odd given Holland can clearly dial up the fastball when he needs to, perhaps the control and command of this pitch isn’t where he needs it to be.

  O-Swing Z-Swing Swing O-Contact Z-Contact Contact SwStrike
10-Price 31.1 66.9 48.5 68.6 84.6 79.3 9.8
11-Holland 28.9 64.9 45.8 68.2 89.4 82.3 8.0

 Again, pretty similar numbers across the board in terms of contact and swing rates.  Price’s stuff is clearly superior at this point as he seems to be able to limit contact, get hitters to fish out of the zone and swing through his offerings better than Holland at similar stages in their careers.  David Price in 2010 was a lot more experienced as a starting pitcher at the major league level than Holland is this year so with a little more seasoning and experience Holland could seemingly take another step forward overall.

David Price has taken a big step forward by commanding his fastball this season and has lowered his BB/9 to a remarkable 1.53.  His fastball hasn’t lost an inch and has been worth a cool 1.27 runs per 100 pitches thrown thus far in 2011 and has continued to be a real catalyst for his increased success thus far. 

He has basically abandoned the slider he threw earlier in his career and curveball from last season for increased fastballs and change-ups with the latter being thrown a career high 10%.  Both pitches show huge dominance when thrown and it seems David Price has gotten himself into a groove and has found his niche on the mound.

David Price has three of his four pitches with positive run values per 100 pitches with only the slider (which he has reduced his dependency on) showing a negative value.  Derek Holland has thrown slightly more curveballs and changeups when compared to last season but a lot of that might have to do with being in the rotation full time this year and needing the extra weapons.

For his career only Holland’s slider and curveball show (slight) positive run values while the oft-used changeup just hasn’t been an effective pitch for him thus far in his young career with a negative 1.83 runs per 100 pitches.  The changeup is probably one of the tougher pitches for a young hurler to properly develop a feel for or maybe Holland struggles enough his fastball velocity pitch to pitch that hitters don’t full respect his heater.

When I watch Derek Holland pitch he can often touch 95/96 MPH in an at-bat but will also dip down below that.  Whether he is mixing in more two-seam fastballs I am not sure but it could be a case of a tall lanky kid struggling with his mechanics and delivery.  He needs to be throwing his fastball with confidence and he needs to be throwing it harder.

Derek Holland will likely never have the relatively repeatable and smooth delivery of a David Price but I think maintaining or increasing his fastball velocity will go a long way to lessening his dependence on and likely increasing the effectiveness of his lackluster (to this point) secondary offerings.  Getting a little better defense and luck with balls in play might also help.

Any way you look at it Derek Holland is still a pitcher with a bright future ahead of him.

After another dominating performance by St. Louis Cardinals top pitching prospect Shelby Miller on May 27th, 2011 (7 IPs, 3 hits, 1 earned, 1 BB and 12 Ks) the team has decided to promote the youngster from Class A to ‘AA’ ball.  With nothing left to prove the 20-year old will move to a much more difficult ‘AA’ Texas League and join the Springfield Cardinals.

Simply put Shelby Miller has probably been one of the best pitching prospects in all of baseball so far this season.  In 53 innings, Miller has given up only 40 hits, 17 earned runs, 20 walks and an amazing 81 strikeouts.  The kid could hopefully improve on his weak groundball tendencies as he definitely pitches up in the zone to achieve his awesome strikeout numbers but that is just nitpicking at this point.

Miller hasn’t even had much in the way of luck on balls in play this year with a .343 BABIP, his HR/FB ratio is a bit low (under 0.4) but as you can see, the sky is the limit for this strikeout machine. 

Overall he has a 2.89 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, .204 BAA, 3.4 BB/9, 13.7 K/9, 4.0 K/BB

Shelby Miller is climbing the prospect charts and he may rank near the top of all of the major prospect website’s ranking sheets if he continues to absolutely dominate opposing hitters.  I am super intrigued to see if Shelby Miller can continue to dominate at a much more difficult league against stiffer competition and tougher overall hitters at such a young age.

Derrick Rose is an amazing basketball talent and there is almost nothing he cannot do on the court.   But after only three games of the monster NBA Eastern Conference finals series with the Miami Heat it has become abundantly clear to me that the real MVP of the NBA is not playing on the Chicago Bulls.  Lebron James had a relatively quiet scoring night (22 points) in game three but he was absolutely the most dominant and “valuable” player on the court.

In almost 44 minutes LBJ put home 22 points on 6 of 13 shooting (9 for 9 at the free throw line) to go along with 6 big rebounds and a stellar 10 assists with zero turnovers.  When the ball was in his hands the Bulls were on their toes with something seemingly good about to happen for the Miami Heat, whether he found the open man or just used his massive frame to get into the lane and ultimately on the free throw line.

Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh have definitely helped take the load off of Lebron James, which was the whole point of him signing with the Heat but the real MVP of this series and really the entire NBA season is none other than Lebron James.  An MVP has the ability to dominant the play for extended minutes and make the players around him better on a nightly basis, can we really say with a straight face that Derrick Rose does this better than LBJ?

As much as it probably pains a lot of people around the NBA after watching the playoffs unfold thus far there is no doubt who the best player in the game truly is.  In fact as opposed to becoming irrelevant or “out of the conversation” I think the exact opposite is happening, Lebron is showing everybody he might still go down as the best player to ever play the game of basketball.

Lebron’s struggled in game one (as did the entire Heat team) as he scored only 15 points on a paltry 5 of 15 shooting night but even taking that game into consideration he has made Derrick Rose look like just another good player, but not an MVP of the league.  Lebron has scored only 3 fewer points, has shot better, rebounded better, and more importantly has even more assists than the point guard Rose.

Lebron James is the best player in the NBA by a wide margin and the Miami Heat are going to beat the Chicago Bulls on their way to the NBA finals.  Although Lebron James going to Miami was supposed to take him out of any MVP discussions the fact is there is nobody more valuable to their teams than the best player of the past 10-15 years.

Lebron James could and should have been the NBA’s most valuable player in 2010/11 and honestly if he so choose he could have strung off ten or more MVPs in a row given his talents and new situation in Miami.  I am not afraid to say I was completely wrong when I felt he was going to make major personal sacrifices when he decided to “take his talents” to South Beach.

Scoring, rebounding, shot blocking, defensive presence, size/strength and playmaking Lebron James has no equal.  Scary to think but he is actually better than ever and the true MVP.

Yesterday afternoon Toronto Blue Jays prized hitting 3B prospect Brett Lawrie continued his monumental start at the ‘AAA’ level going 2-4 with 2 homeruns, driving in 4 and walking once.  Lawrie, only 21 is one of the youngest players in the league and has shown he has all of the tools and talent to one day become an integral part of the Toronto Blue Jays line-up. 

Though some have called on the Jays to bring the youngster up as soon as humanly possible I feel general manager Alex Anthopoulos and company have handled the kid perfectly.  Through 43 games Lawrie has absolutely raked, slashing 346/403/633 with 15 2Bs, 11 HRs and even 9 SBs to boot.  What more could a team ask of its star prospect with an ISO approach .300?

 

“I’m very pleased with how he’s responded to us asking him to be a little more selective in his at bats,” said Anthopoulos. “I’m more excited about him today than I was in April when he was hitting .430.”

I feel the exact same as the Jays have felt, Lawrie has been impressive but if he thinks he will be able to walk all over AL East major league pitching on a nightly basis without a much more selective approach he is going to be sadly mistaken.  As it stands now Lawrie has a less than stellar 6.9 BB% and while his K-rate is only 19% what has me most excited is seeing the adjustments and progress he is making at the plate.

 “When I look at a game report for Lawrie the first thing I look at is the number of pitches seen per plate appearance,” said Anthopoulos. “When they’re not going to give him a lot to hit we need to see that he’s made the adjustment, and he’s starting to do that.”

Over his past ten games (and 40 ABs) the Jays top prospect has slashed 375/490/800 (including  7 extra-base hits) and though it is a small sample size the most impressive stat that stands out in my mind is the 9 BBs to go with only 7 Ks – a stellar 18+ BB%.  If Lawrie continues this trend and focuses on taking quality at-bat after quality at-bat we might have a true star in the making.

While I don’t think Brett Lawrie is destined to become the major league leader in the walk category given his natural ability to square the bat on the ball in a very consistent matter any added patience and increase plate discipline could see Lawrie go from good to great, especially at a valuable corner infield spot like third base. 

So when will we likely see Brett Lawrie on the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre?  When he is fully ready to take over on a full-time basis and not a second sooner, and if that also happens to save his pending “super two” status even better, but that would be purely coincidental of course (wink, wink).  Be patient Jays fans this invaluable seasoning and progress being shown by our star prospect could go a long, long way in helping Lawrie be the best player he can possibly be.

Prospect guru John Sickels took in a recent Las Vegas 51 game and wrote a glowing scouting report on Brett.

**UPDATE, Ken Rosenthal reports Brett Lawrie will be called up as soon as Friday June 3rd, 2011**

 
Ken Rosenthal

@Ken_Rosenthal Ken Rosenthal
All signs point to #BlueJays promoting Lawrie on Friday. Move not official yet. #MLB
 
**02Jun2011 UPDATE** The saga continues, Brett Lawrie was beaned by a pitch during a game 31May2011 and injured his hand.  Turns out it was only a bruise so hopefully nothing to worry about.

The second I heard that Nike Golf was releasing another combo iron set I was instantly intrigued and when the brand new Nike Pro VR (Victory Red) Combo irons hit the market I was going to test them out.  Well that test turned into a purchase and that will turn into another review of a great iron set as I received a lot of great feedback about my review on the Taylor Made Burner 2.0 irons.

Why did I make the switch?  I loved the Burner 2.0s and still recommend them to anyone looking for added distance, forgiveness and overall technology built into a top iron but in the end they weren’t for my bag and I wanted more of a players iron going forward.  The offset in the Burner 2.0s was nothing I couldn’t get used to or play on a regular basis but I guess I just didn’t want or need that much extra “bulk” on my irons for forgiveness.

The Nike Pro VR Combo set comes in 3-iron to pitching wedge so I will have to put my gap wedge back in the bag but it’s a Cleveland CG14 and it is still in pretty good shape.  The irons are broken up smartly with the harder to hit 3 and 4-irons a full cavity with some added help for some launch and forgiveness, which is a good idea for these types of irons that you need it for.

There is not much offset in either the 3 or 4-iron (less offset than Titleist AP2s) but you can slightly see the cavity when you address the ball, again, it is only slight but that could turn some golfers off.  To me, I know it is there to help so I accept it and move on.  These clubs require a fairly skilful player regardless of a cavity however and the 3-iron as always takes a solid swing each time, though a lot of players will simply replace it with a hybrid of choice.

There is a split-cavity on irons 5 through 7 and these look stunning in the bag and at address, very reminiscent of the Titleist CBs in my opinion and you will end up loving hitting these clubs in particular.  A lot has been written about people wishing that Nike would potentially offer an entire split-cavity set and I can definitely see that set being a success.  A lot of talk on Twitter about this as well, follow me on twitter  (@tdotsports1) if you have any questions or want to discuss further!

Now for the great part a full muscle-back blade for the 8, 9 and pitching wedge irons.  No fooling around, not much technology just a true beautiful blade, and boy are they beautiful.  Bring your A-game as always when striking a blade as they offer little in the way of help or forgiveness.  I must say I shanked my first 8-iron when I went to Nike demo day in my area (in front of an attractive female rep too – doh!).

Once I grooved my swing and bore down I got the hang of it but it had been a while since I played a true blade, short iron or not it took some adjustment.  These started to fly pretty nicely and I was surprised at the distance I could get out of them on a solid strike, I could work them nicely high or low, draw or fade, which was expected from a blade.

LOOKS:

These clubs are stunning in my opinion and look absolutely beautiful in my bag.  A shiny chrome finish and simplistic understated appearance and you think you are playing a Titleist blade set (outside of the Nike swoosh, which I didn’t mind). 

At address the 5-iron through to the pitching wedge are classic and beautiful and inspire a lot of confidence with little offset and blade appearance.  I compared looks at address to the Nike Pro VR Combo irons with the following sets and found almost zero difference: Titleist AP2s, Titleist CBs and Srixon Z-TX.  All looked great when looking down at the club(s).

Lots of pictures out there.

FEEL:

I will break this up in terms of type of club – cavity, split-cavity and blade.

Cavity (3 and 4-iron)

These had a pretty solid feel and though there is some help on the back of the club you still need to put a great stroke to get a good result from the 3-iron.  The 4-iron was a bit easier to hit.  Feel was solid and there was some feedback and miss-hits as well as a little forgiveness.

Split-cavity (5, 6 and 7-iron)

These felt smooth, soft and just plain nice.  These will quickly become trusted and favourite clubs in your bag.

Blade (8, 9 and PW)

The 8-iron will definitely take some adjustment and reading a few other reviews I don’t think I am alone in stating this.  The feel is typical with a blade, when you hit it on the screws it feels so buttery smooth and when you are off a bit you feel it, a slight vibration.

PERFORMANCE – DISTANCE/ACCURACY/WORKABILITY:

These aren’t going to go as far as the Taylor Made Burner 2.0s and I wasn’t expecting them too, the face isn’t as hot and the lofts aren’t nearly as supped up.

Club Burner 2.0 Nike VR Combo
3-iron 19* 21*
4-iron 21* 24*
5-iron 24* 27*
6-iron 27* 31*
7-iron 31* 35*
8-iron 35* 39*
9-iron 40* 43*
PW 45* 47*

 Loft isn’t everything of course, but just look at the difference at the Burner 2.0s they are a nearly a full club stronger on each iron.  If distance is what you crave, you can’t go wrong with the Burners.  The Nike Pro VR Combo’s have a standard loft specification for the most part, on par with nearly every other “players” iron.

My accuracy and distance control was definitely better with the Pro VR Combo’s in comparison to my Burner 2.0s but again this is to be expected as on my approaches I will be hitting (hopefully) only 100-165 yards out and will require the use of either a split-cavity 6 or 7-iron or a bladed 8-iron to pitching wedge – and these clubs proved to be deadly accurate when struck soundly.

I found I could do what I wanted with the ball in terms of shaping the ball flight and I hit some high fades, lower draws and knockdown shots with relative ease.  These clubs can be worked if you need to do so.  I didn’t find the average trajectory to be high or low, just a boring mid flight but a lot of that could have something to do with the weather (cool-ish), wind (fairly windy) and condition of my lies at the range (suspect).

A good video review of the Nike Pro VR Combo irons, a trusted source.

OVERALL: 

This is a great overall set and exactly what I was looking for in terms of a player’s iron with the hope they force me to continue to work on and improve my overall swing and keep me sharp.  These look great, feel amazing and the combo aspect where you get three sets in one is a smart feature and the new Nike Pro VR Combo set is one I was more than happy to put in my bag.

As I did with my Taylor Made Burner 2.0 review I will be sure to update you on my progress as I continue to practise and play with the new iron set.  For what it is worth I was debating between the Nike Pro VR Combo set and the very popular Titleist AP2 set but in the end I just found the Pro VR Combo’s to be the perfect set for me, I encourage you to get out and try all the latest new (and used) clubs to see what is best for your game and golf swing.

The past decade has seen some amazing baseball, some amazing performances and some amazing advances in the way we view and analyze the statistics that make the game so great.  I thought I would have some fun and do some top ten “WAR” (Wins Above Replacement) lists for hitters, pitchers and fielders.

I am pretty sure a lot of the following names won’t create many surprises but some might stick out a bit when you go ten deep.  Let’s start with the hitters, the most valuable players on most rosters as they have the ability to play and produce value to the club day in and day out if they can manage to stay reasonably healthy.

Top Ten Position Players from 2001 to 2010

*I included Fld (fielding runs) to see how much value a player derives from their defense and positional adjustment/value.

  WAR AVG OBP SLG wOBA HR RBI Fld
Albert Pujols 80.6 .331 .426 .624 .434 408 1230 62.4
Alex Rodriguez 70.7 .299 .394 .577 .413 424 1236 -1.4
Lance Berkman 53.4 .297 .412 .547 .405 302 1017 4.4
Ichiro Suzuki 50.7 .331 .376 .430 .354 90 383 SB 126.1
Chipper Jones 50.7 .308 .412 .536 .402 247 856 -23.1
Scott Rolen 50.1 .284 .367 .492 .368 195 826 117.1
Carlos Beltran 49.0 .283 .366 .509 .379 251 903 37.4
Derek Jeter 46.2 .310 .380 .445 .366 156 721 -59.4
Todd Helton 45.6 .321 .428 .539 .410 226 871 27.7
Chase Utley 44.3 .293 .380 .514 .388 177 650 84.3

 

Any surprises for you when you look at this group?  For me I am surprised to see Lance Berkman check in at number three and as you can see he has derived nearly all of his value with the bat, ditto A’Rod.  Ichiro Suzuki is on the other end of the spectrum, gaining value with speed and defense as well as a high batting average.  Scott Rolen is another guy who gets a lot of value from his stellar defense but his overall body of work is pretty impressive and an underrated guy over the past decade.

Derek Jeter got no help from his well documented poor fielding skills and though he is oft-injured Carlos Beltran has produced great value over the past ten seasons.  Todd Helton might have seen a lift from his home park of Coors Field but his overall body of work is also impressive and the most valuable second basemen over the past decade Chase Utley rounds out the top ten.

Top Ten Pitchers from 2001 to 2010

  WAR IP W-L ERA FIP K/9 BB/9 HR/9
Roy Halladay 60.5 2066.1 156-72 3.05 3.18 6.9 1.6 0.7
CC Sabathia 49.6 2127.0 157-88 3.57 3.58 7.5 2.8 0.8
Roy Oswalt 47.6 2015.0 150-83 3.18 3.34 7.4 2.1 0.8
Randy Johnson 46.1 1636.2 124-71 3.44 3.22 10.0 2.2 1.0
Johan Santana 46.0 1822.2 131-66 2.94 3.31 8.9 2.3 0.9
Javier Vazquez 43.8 2102.2 127-117 4.07 3.81 8.2 2.3 1.2
Mark Buehrle 41.8 2220.0 144-109 3.84 4.15 5.0 2.0 1.0
Andy Pettitte 41.7 1806.1 140-83 3.80 3.57 7.0 2.5 0.8
Curt Schilling 40.9 1359.0 106-51 3.50 3.15 9.1 1.4 1.1
Mike Mussina 38.1 1553.0 123-72 3.88 3.50 7.4 1.8 0.9

 

Roy Halladay is a stud, plain and simple.  You already know my absolute love for “Doc” if you have read any of my past work, twitter posts or baseball rants but just look at his utter and sheer brilliance over the past decade.  Halladay easily outpaces CC Sabathia in overall WAR and has less innings pitched- that is incredible.  Roy Halladay would also rank as the third most valuable player (WAR) in ALL of baseball, including everyday players.

It was pretty amazing to see Randy Johnson’s name so high on this list given his age and lack of overall IPs but it does show just how dominant ‘The Big Unit’ was over his career, even in the latter stages.  Curt Schilling also finds himself in the top ten and he easily has the lowest total IPs on the list but just look at his K/9, BB/9 and FIP – the dude was a stud, bloody sock and all.

Top Ten Fielders from 2001-2010

*total UZR

  POS UZR Plays OOZ UZR/150 RZR
Adrian Beltre 3B 125.0 1647 523 15.3 .728
Andruw Jones CF 119.1 1643 430 19.1 .852
Carl Crawford LF 116.2 1949 409 15.0 .783
Scott Rolen 3B 107.1 1486 402 14.7 .746
Ichiro Suzuki RF 98.7 1820 361 13.0 .793
Chase Utley 2B 80.1 1886 297 13.7 .843
Albert Pujols 1B 63.3 1267 446 7.5 .804
Joe Crede 3B 59.3 1174 326 10.8 .732
Ryan Zimmerman 3B 57.1 968 335 13.1 .718
Alfonso Soriano LF 56.2 951 212 13.6 .878

 

 Adrian Beltre is the Roy Halladay of fielding, he is consistent as they come and continues to be an above average fielder with the Texas Rangers.  Andruw Jones was a marvel in centre field for the Atlanta Braves for many years and his awesome work there still allows Jones to rank so highly even though his defensive skills were seriously eroding late in the decade (and he was playing left field).

If I would’ve used the Fielding Runs in the WAR calculation to see who got the most value from their glove not much would have changed in the rankings.  The top three would’ve been Andruw Jones, Ichiro Suzuki and Adrian Beltre.  Nice to see Albert Pujols on this list as it shows just how valuable a player he really is and why he will likely sign the biggest contract of all time in the coming offseason.

There you have it a small snapshot of the past decade in MLB baseball and some of the names that led the way in the batter’s box, pitcher’s mound and in the field. 

Can’t wait to do this again in 2021, any guesses as to who will be amongst the leaders in the three categories?  Given the way he has presumably turned his career around a full 180 degrees, maybe Jose Bautista?