Monday, June 30, 2014

"If I Ran The Mets..." by Dad

            As a long time, which translates to long suffering, Mets fan, the question I have to ask myself is: What would I do differently? I f I had Sandy Alderson’s job, not an enviable task, how would the Mets be different? And my one line answer is: If I ran the Mets, the Mets would run.
     And to be more specific, the 2015 Mets would run like the 1985 Cardinals.
     The first fact to face is that no one will consistently hit the ball out of Citi Field, even with the fences brought in a tad. That was the lesson of Jason Bay, and the tragedy of David Wright, and the mistake in signing Curtis Granderson. If you need any single piece of evidence of how badly miscast Granderson is for that stadium, just think back to the player he was for three days last month at Yankee Stadium -- home runs on back-to-back days and a carefree swagger not seen at Citi.
     The next thing to take into account is that Alderson, to his great credit, is building what could be a really good pitching staff of young guns in both the rotation and, finally, the pen.
     So what should a GM do with a pitching-rich team in a cavernous ballpark?  He shouldn’t stockpile power hitters, because his need is speed. And this leads us exactly to the 1985 Cardinals – a pitching-rich team, in a cavernous park, built on speed, especially in the outfield.  
     The beauty of outfield speed in this scenario is two-fold, with each fold so obvious that I can’t see how anyone, read Sandy Alderson, could miss it. First, if your team can’t generate runs the Earl Weaver way (“The best play in baseball is the three run homer”), then you play small ball with fast gap hitters. Guys who can steal bases, for sure, but these same guys can more frequently score from first on a double, from second on a single, tag from third on shallower fly balls, and ground into fewer double plays. And defensively, to bolster the confidence of a young pitching staff, they can run down anything hit anywhere near them, which is especially important when your outfield is vast.  In Citi Field, speed is win-win on both sides of the ball.
     Which leads me to the ‘85 Cardinals, a great team so little dependent on the long ball that their second baseman, Tommy Herr, was one of the very few players in major league history to have 100 more RBIs than home runs. With just 8 homers, Herr drove in 110 runs, and is to me symbolic of that team’s unique greatness.
     But let’s look at that whole team. 
     First, pitching. 
     That staff was everything we could ever hope this Mets staff could grow up to be. John Tudor went 21-8 with a 1.93 ERA. And yes, Tudor was nominally the ace, but Joaquin Andjuar also won 21. And Danny Cox won 18, with a 2.88 ERA. 
     And the pen?  Remember that this was just before the era of the single, dominant 9th inning closer eating up saves. On that staff, five different pitchers had saves. Jeff Lahti led with 19, Ken Dayley had 11. After those two guys, the soon to be dominant Todd Worrell had 3 wins and 5 saves.
     And now, the speed that supported that great staff. 
     In the outfield, there was Vince Coleman with his 110 stolen bases, followed by Willie McGee with 56 and Andy Van Slyke with 34. The fourth outfielder on that team, Lonnie Smith, stole a dozen bags in just 96 at bats.
     And it wasn’t just the outfield. Second baseman Herr, the aforementioned RBI machine, also stole 31 bases. And his 31 was matched by his double play partner, a shortstop you may have heard of named Ozzie Smith. On this team, even the third baseman ran, with Terry Pendleton stealing 17 bases. Heck, platoon catcher Darrell Porter stole 6.
     The only slow guy on this team, remembered now as the one power bat inserted in the line up in order to keep opposing pitchers honest, was first baseman Jack Clark. And how many home runs did team leader Clark hit? All of 22. 
     The ’85 Cardinals were not a team built on the long ball. But now, almost thirty years later, they are the model that I believe Alderson should be using to build the ’15 Mets on.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

"My Planet Defending NBA Team" by CBoh

Bob Ryan and more recently Bill Simmons have a fun gimmick, where they imagine a scenario in which elite, athletic aliens come down from space and challenge earth to a game of basketball for world domination. The way they do it is to build a team of the great basketball players of all time to defend our planet.

I am going to steal this gimmick, but use only current players. This is not a list of who I think are the best players currently playing, but my way of building the best single team to defend our planet, taking into account chemistry, team roles, and different lineups.

Pg- Chris Paul
The definition of a true point guard, in every sense of the term.  Born to lead a team. With a squad filled with so many elite, “alpha” players, Chris Paul controlling the offense like a maestro is exactly what this team needs.  One of the most respected players in the league, he has the skill set and reputation to run the offense to perfection, get everyone shots, and control the tempo of the game, however fast or slow they need to play. Defensively, he's one of the best at coming up with steals, and with this starting unit behind him, will be in a position to gamble for balls knowing who is behind him to cover him.
Sg- Paul George
With so many offensive weapons on the team, Paul George gets the starting spot at shooting guard for his defensive prowess and athletic ability.  His height and athleticism will allow the team to come out with a high-pressure defense that requires a lot of switching and athletes that can guard multiple positions. He will not be required to take on a heavy burden on offense, and this will allow him to do be unleashed defensively to do the great Paul George things he is known for.
Sf- Kevin Durant
An absolute basketball force. Offensively he is a man who was born to score the basketball. This season showed exactly what this man is capable of doing, posting almost 35-5-5 for the month of February. An unselfish player who cares more about his teammates than any superstar I can remember, and one who has an absolute disdain for losing. A perfect recipe for a player on a team when the fate of the earth depends on its winning. Defensively, he has unreal length and absurd athleticism that fits this starting lineup MO of causing complete havoc on the defensive end. 
Pf- Lebron James
Hands down the greatest player alive. If he wasn’t forced to take such an offensive burden, he could be defensive player of the year every year, and also has one of the most complete offensive games the NBA has ever seen. Unselfish to almost a fault but can take over a game better than anyone in the league. His size even allows him to slide into the power forward position.
C- Joakim Noah
In maybe an unpopular opinion, Noah gets the start over Howard or Gasol. All three bring intensity and skill defensively, but I believe Noah brings the most assets to the table and fits in best with what the starting line up in trying to accomplish.  He can be the defensive stud that anchors the absolutely menacing defensive starting unit. He can not only throw great outlet passes to start the fast break, but this season he proved more than capable of grabbing a rebound and running the fast break himself. Noah anchoring the paint allows the rest of the starters to use their length and athletic ability to absolutely wreak havoc and gamble for steals or blindside blocks, knowing that Noah is behind them for back-up.

So that’s the starting five of my planet defending line up. In my next posting, I’ll talk about my bench and overall game strategy.  The stakes are high.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

"Why Don't People Like LeBron?" by Bojo

Despite my less-than-creative title (it’s been a long week), I think the unique way the public seems to feel about LeBron James is certainly worthy of a discussion. He seems to inspire a unique and not-seen-before type of vitriol, and while this may be a function of the fact that he is the most prominent athletic superstar since the Twitter age began, no other athlete these days seems to be as unexplainably controversial.

So what gives?

I personally have a two-pronged theory. The first part of that theory is that LeBron suffers from what I call A-Rod syndrome: basically a complete inability to relate to us mere mortals, and as a result, an incredibly self-conscious and awkward public persona. Related to this A-Rod syndrome is a strange lack of self awareness, best exhibited by The Decision, but manifesting itself in everything from his dramatic on-court exits because of cramps, to his on-going Twitter battles about his hairline. I think these things, while hard to verbalize, can be picked up on by the public, and it results in a weird relationship between star and fan.

The second part of my theory is summed up well by a quote from The Wire: ‘If you come at the king, you best not miss.’ In this analogy, Michael Jordan is the king. The second that LeBron walked away from Cleveland and abandoned what would have been a truly amazing story line if he had brought championships to his forlorn hometown, to team up with (not one) but two other dominant players, he went down an irreversible path of definitely not coming at the king in a correct way. He had already missed his mark.

So even if he truly wasn’t taking the easy way out (who knows the true depths of how inept Cavalier management was in those days), the truly triumphant story line of LeBron’s career- the hometown hero elevating both himself and his city- was abandoned. Everything else that came after that could always, at least in the eyes of the dubious, be considered a disappointment. And I think that is exactly what has been seen over his years in Miami, despite their unarguable success.

So, fair or not, that is my best summation of a truly unique, and distinctly 21st century sports media happening. I almost enjoy sitting back and watching what surrounds LeBron as much as I do what he does on the court, even though I think all of it is unfair to LeBron the man. But, at the end of the end of the day, if you come at the king, it really is in your best interest not to miss.