I have been hired on as a writer at Bigplay.com

I have received a few messages wondering where I went off to, so I wanted to let you all know that I was recently picked up to write for http://www.bigplay.com.

If you’re looking to continue following my statistically based pieces, you can follow my author page here: https://www.bigplay.com/author/dan-starr/

Thank you again, everyone!

Best,

Dan

Black Monday: Evaluating the Job Security of Every AFC Team’s Head Coach

Tomorrow is the most dreaded day of the year for NFL head coaches, “Black Monday.” Each year head coaches hold their collective breaths as a handful of their peers are relieved from their duties. The end of 2017 observed seven new vacancies and this year another handful of vacancies are expected to be opened between now and Monday night. Let’s evaluate the NFL and attempt to predict what “Black Monday” and beyond holds for each NFL franchise in the AFC. As part of the analysis, each head coach will be given a grade of safe, hot seat or unsafe.

AFC EAST

New England Patriots (11-5) – Bill Belichick (261-123)

Job Security: Safe

At this point in his career, Belichick could burn down Gillette Stadium and still have a job. The weakness of the AFC East hasn’t hurt the Patriot’s unrivaled run of sustained excellence, but the most successful head coach in the history of the NFL won’t lose any sleep this offseason.

Miami Dolphins (7-9) – Adam Gase (23-25)

Job Security: Hot Seat

Gase’s Dolphins were plagued by injuries at the quarterback position this season (and last season). Ryan Tannehill missed a lot of time and was hampered by injuries when he able to play. Gase was hoping for a bounce-back season after winning only six games last year and ten in his rookie season but fell short of expectations for the second straight year. I don’t think his fate is tied to Tannehill’s (who may be on his way out in Miami), but a bad loss to the Bills to close out the season may have left a bad taste in the mouth of ownership. I think there is a chance he comes back in 2019, but he will need to compete next year to keep his job.

Buffalo Bills (6-10) – Sean McDermott (15-17)

Job Security: Safe

The Bills got off to a rocky start in 2018, with the continuation of the Nathan Peterman Chronicles highlighting their first half. Fortunately for second-year head coach Sean McDermott, the offense picked up in the second half with an emergent Josh Allen under center. McDermott still has the blessings of Bills Mafia after leading the bills to their first playoff berth in over a decade last season, so I anticipate that he will be back for 2019 but his job will be dependent on the growth of franchise quarterback Josh Allen.

New York Jets (4-12) – Todd Bowles (26-41)

Job Security: Unsafe

There are already reports suggesting that Jets head coach Todd Bowles has been informed by ownership that he will be relieved of his duties. Bowles has won 5 games or less in each of the last three seasons, and although franchise quarterback Sam Darnold showed Improvement at the end of the year, his progression isn’t enough to save Bowles’ job.

AFC North

Baltimore Ravens (10-6) John Harbaugh (104-72)

Job Security: Safe

John Harbaugh only has one losing season in his 11 years as head coach of the Baltimore Ravens. In a year in which his team won the division and took the bold step of starting rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson over veteran Joe Flacco, Harbaugh has silenced those that were suggesting he was on the hot seat earlier in the year. I don’t anticipate Baltimore’s offense being able to get them deep into the playoffs, but another division title ensures his future with the organization is solidified for at least one more year.

Pittsburgh Steelers (9-6-1) – Mike Tomlin (125-66)

Job Security: Safe

In his 12 years as head coach of the Steelers, Mike Tomlin has never had a losing season.  After being eliminated from the playoffs following Sunday night’s game, it is the first time since 2013 that the Steelers have missed the playoffs. Mike Tomlin’s future is safe in Pittsburgh. Since 1969, the Pittsburgh Steelers have only had three head coaches and of those, Mike Tomlin has the highest winning percentage (Noll and Cowher being the other two). 

Cleveland Browns (7-8-1) – Interim HC Greg Williams (5-2)

Job Security: Hot Seat

Greg Williams has done enough as the interim head coach to earn himself an opportunity to interview for the position in Cleveland. I am confident that the Browns will explore all options before making Williams the head coach, with Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley being a top potential candidate as Baker Mayfield former college coach.  Williams only had one other season as a head coach which spend three unremarkable seasons in Buffalo but has become one of the game’s most prolific defensive coordinators. It’s unclear whether or not Williams would be given any control over the roster, but it’s clear that the Cleveland Browns play differently under Williams than they did under previous head coach Hue Jackson.

Cinncinatti Bengals (6-10) – Marvin Lewis (131-122)

Job Security: Hot Seat

Three consecutive losing seasons have landed Marvin Lewis on the hot seat. He’s the second-longest tenured head coach in the NFL and is known to have a great relationship with Bangles ownership, but a last-place finish in the division has cast doubt on whether or not the team is going in the right direction. Continuity is important in the NFL, but Lewis has failed to demonstrate that he can get the Bengals over the hump. He’s probably out.

AFC South

Houston Texans (11-5) – Bill O’Brien (42-38)

Job Security: Safe

After a dismal 4-12 campaign last season, O’Brien has led a resurgent Texans team to a  division title and the three seed in the playoffs. Despite starting the season 0-3, the Texans won their next nine games and solidified themselves as one of the best teams in the AFC. Propelled by the successful return of Deshaun Watson after suffering a season-ending injury last year, the Texans look to have the makeup of a team poised for success in the future.

Indianapolis Colts (9-6 [one game to play]) – Josh Mc-Frank Reich (9-6)

Job Security: Safe

With a win tonight against the Titans, the Colts will have secured a playoff berth in Reich’s first year as head coach. Luck is unquestionably going to earn comeback player of the year, and the tandem appears to have great chemistry. It will be exciting to see what Andrew Luck can do with continuity in his coaching staff, and Reich might just be the guy that can elevate Luck’s game to the next level. I suspect Reich has bought himself some credit this year by exceeding ownership’s expectations and will stick around even if the team fails to take a significant step in year two.

Tennessee Titans (9-6 [one game to play]) – Mike Vrabel (9-6)

Job Security: Safe

The AFC South is chock-full of talented new coaches. Vrabel (the latest branch of the Belichick coaching tree) has brought an energy to the Titans that the team and city have fed off of all season. Similarly to their counterparts in Indianapolis, a win tonight and they’re in the dance. In his first year as head coach, Vrabel has his team on the doorstep of the playoffs and capable of competing with any team in the NFL.  Further solidifying Vrabel’s role, since his arrival, he has silenced much of the doubt surrounding Marcus Mariotta’s future as the signal caller for the Titans.

Jacksonville Jaguars (5-11) – Doug Marrone (31-35)

Job Security: Hot Seat

It’s hard to place all of the blame for Jacksonville’s five-win season on Marrone’s shoulders. Jacksonville was cursed by some of the poorest quarterback play in the NFL and will look to address that need in this spring’s draft. I anticipate that Marrone will get a chance to help rebuild the franchise with a veteran or rookie signal caller in 2019, but he will need to address his locker room issues starting with star cornerback Jalen Ramsey first.

AFC West

Kansas City Chiefs (12-4) – Andy Reid (195-124)

Job Security: Safe

Reid is known as the quarterback whisperer for good reason. Today, Patrick Mahomes reached 5,000 yards and 50 touchdowns on the season. A feat reached by only two other players, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. Reid hasn’t had a losing season since 2012, which was his last year in Philadelphia, and he has won less than 10 games only once during his tenure in Kansas City.

Los Angeles Chargers (12-4) – Anthony Lynn (21-12)

Job Security: Safe

It’s not very often you win 12 games and get saddled with the fifth seed in the playoffs. In almost any other division in football, the Chargers would’ve been the division winners and rewarded with a first-round bye. Lynn has the Chargers primed to go on the road to Baltimore in the wild card round and might even be favored to win despite losing to the Ravens at home a few weeks prior. With how well the Chargers have been playing under Lynn, this season might be Phillip Rivers’ best chance to win a Superbowl.

Denver Broncos (6-10) – Vance Joseph (11-21)

Job Security: Unsafe

Joseph will likely lose his job tomorrow. Broncos President of Football Operations John Elway is ultra competitive and anything less than excellence is grounds for change under his management. Joseph has been stuck with poor quarterback play during his tenure in failed former first-round pick Paxton Lynch and now veteran quarterback Case Keenum signed this past offseason.  Further compounding Joseph’s challenge, the Broncos are forced to play in one of the tougher decisions in football, but there were a number of games this season where the Broncos failed to be competitive. 

Oakland Raiders (4-12) – Jon Gruden (99-93)

Job Security: Safe

Ten-years and $100 million. After signing the largest coaching contract in NFL history, Gruden will oversee Oakland’s rebuilding efforts for the foreseeable future. Gruden is happy that 2018 is now in the rearview and he can begin his complete reconstruction of the Raiders roster which will be highlighted by three first-round picks, two of which acquired in blockbuster trades with Chicago and Dallas. 

Skipping Bowl Games: Assessing the Arguments

West Virginia University QB Will Grier is the latest student-athlete to opt out of playing in their Bowl Game. Grier, who is a fringe first round pick (and my favorite value QB in the draft) and former Heisman candidate, will forgo playing in WVU’s Camping World Bowl game against Syracuse University. WVU will also be missing their star OT Yodney Cajuste, a likely first-round draft pick and All-Big 12 selection.  Both players are electing to sit out during their bowl game in order to focus on preparing for the draft.

Cajuste and Grier represent a growing trend of NFL-hopeful college players that are wanting to protect their body and begin focusing on their school’s pro-day or the NFL Combine by skipping their bowl games.  Other notable projected draft picks forgoing their bowl games are LSU CB Greedy Williams, Michigan DL Rashan Gary, N.C. State LB Germaine Pratt, SC WR Deebo Samuel, Iowa TE Noah Fant, ASU WR N’Keal Harry, OSU RB Justice Hill, and Minnesota OT Donnell Greene. All players are on scholarship with their respective teams and have confirmed to their program and to the media that they are electing to skip their teams final game of the season.

Earlier in the season, we saw the reigning Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year, Ohio State DE Nick Bosa leave school after suffering an abdominal injury that required surgery. His decision was motivated by protecting his status as a projected top-five pick and preventing further injury to his body before the draft. The NFL’s first-round draft picks are given contracts that are nearly 70% guaranteed, and the top pick in the draft, which Bosa could very well be selected at, commands nearly $28M. It’s not hard to see with millions on the line, why protecting their investment is at the forefront of every elite student-athlete’s mind. But, there are some that argue that a student-athlete on scholarship is failing to live up to the contract signed with the school.

For an elite NCAA student-athlete like Bosa, a scholarship to a Division 1 (particularly a Power 5 conference) school provides their athletes with free education, housing, food program, professional athletic training, dietary supervision, education assistance, and the ability to showcase their talents to NFL scouts. On average, a four-year degree for in-state students costs ~$165,000 according to the college board. That is nearly $41,250 per year, and that number is almost doubled for an out-of-state student.

Social media has been starkly divided on the subject of skipping bowl games, and some analysts (including a few former players) suggest that skipping a bowl game after being on scholarship is a failure to live up to their end of the offer and a weak move. Suggesting that during the most important game of the year, a player sits out when the team arguably needs them most. A bowl game victory is a huge recruiting opportunity for teams and missing their most talented player(s) can jeopardize their chances at securing a win. In the case of WVU, they will be missing one of the most talented quarterbacks in the country in Will Grier. If West Virginia loses to a tough Syracuse team who beat a ranked N.C. State team and competed to the wire with then #3 Clemson, it would be easy to suggest that the absence of their star quarterback was the reason.

It could be argued, that Grier’s selection in the first two rounds of the draft is just as good a pitch for future QB recruits as a bowl win, if not better, and that goes for any position player that is electing to skip their bowl game for the draft. The ability to produce NFL players will always be a significant chip for programs to recruit elite talent.

Despite skipping bowl games being a recent phenomenon, there is a precedent for players concerned with jeopardizing their draft stock. Former Notre Dame LB Jaylon Smith was projected to be a top-five selection before he suffered a torn LCL and ACL in the Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State. Smith decided even with surgery to skip his senior year and enter the NFL Draft, missing the combine and his pro day as he recovered from surgery. Smith was still drafted by the Cowboys in the second round but likely missed out on over $20M due to his injury.

Former Michigan TE Jake Butt tore his ACL during an Orange Bowl loss to Florida State University. Prior to his bowl game injury, Butt was expected to be an early second-day draft pick but instead was selected with the first pick in the sixth round by the Denver Broncos. Butt’s NFL career has been unremarkable to date, and during the 2018 campaign, he has only hauled in eight catches for 85 yards.

In a similar vein, former USC QB Matt Barkley (now with the Bills) has become a cautionary tale for top-tier athletes projected to be drafted in the first few rounds. Barkley elected to stay for his senior season at USC instead of entering the 2012 NFL draft, and during a game against UCLA separated his throwing shoulder. By staying the extra season Barkley missed out on being a first or second-round selection (likely drafted ahead of Ryan Tannehill and Brandon Weeden) and instead was taken by the Eagles in the fourth round.

Ultimately, the saturation of Bowl Games and post-season events has depreciated the value of the modern era of bowl games. There are now 42 Bowl Games (including the BCS National Championship) and three all-star games that cater to college football.  That means 82 teams qualify for some form of playoff event.  When teams barely above .500 qualify for a post-season game, the integrity of college football’s bowl games is rightfully called into question. The league needs to accept, that in exchange for their advertising money and widespread product, their star athletes will continue to sit out of the less important bowl games (non-BCS Playoff games) more often. Although the trend is recent, I expect that more players will continue to skip these games. There is typically enough tape and advanced metrics taken through the season for scouts to develop an idea of how a college athlete will project in the NFL, and missing one game will not likely impact the draft stock of top athletes. The list of athletes below demonstrates that teams are not concerned with the character of an individual skipping a bowl game.  Most bowl games have lost their significance and just aren’t valuable enough for players to risk their future earnings over.

This, of course, would change, if players were financially compensated, but that’s another conversation altogether. Should they? Shouldn’t they? Isn’t a free education compensation enough?  Maybe it would get us another NCAA Football game, wouldn’t that be worth it alone?

Other Notable NFL Athletes to Skip Bowl Games Since 2016:

  • LSU RB Leonard Fornette skipped the Citrus Bowl (Top-10 NFL selection)
  • Stanford RB Christian McCaffery skipped the Sun Bowl (Top-10 NFL selection)
  • FSU S Derwin James skipped the Independence Bowl (First-round selection)
  • Texas S DeShon Elliot skipped the Texas Bowl (Sixth-round selection)
  • Texas OT Connor Williams skipped the Texas Bowl (Second-round selection)
  • Oregon RB Royce Freeman skipped the Las Vegas Bowl (Third-round selection)

 

Projecting the NFC East Playoff Race

Team Analysis:

The NFC East divisional race has become the most compelling storyline in the NFL. The Cowboys (7-5) sit atop the division after winning four straight games and have become one of the hottest teams in football after holding the most prolific offense in football, the Saints, to only 10 points on a nationally televised game. The Boys have risen from the ashes after starting the first half 3-5, and Head Coach Jason Garrett has been restored to life after fans were calling for his job only a few weeks prior. Carried on the shoulders of a re-energized running game and one of the most stifling defenses in the NFL, Garrett has found a way back into the ownership’s good graces. The Cowboys are the only team in the division with a positive point differential, and their biggest competition, the Philadelphia Eagles, have yet to beat a team with a winning record.

The Washington Redskins, on the other hand, are going in the wrong direction. Three weeks ago they looked like the clear favorites to win the division. They had just completed a dominant win against the Bucs and sat atop the division at 6-3. The loss of starting QB Alex Smith-who is now suffering from an infection following his leg surgery-all but assured the teams collapse, and the team’s misery was punctuated by the loss of backup QB Colt McCoy. The Redskins now have an uphill climb with a fresh face under center and a surrounding cast that has played flat the last three weeks.

The Giants are playing better, winning three of their last four. But, they beat a Bears team without starting QB Mitchell Tribusky and a Bucs team that almost came back to win after leading 24-7 in the third quarter. They aren’t statistically eliminated, but they might as well be. The Giants need more highlights of Eli throwing touchdown passes and less of OBJ.  This could be Eli’s last season in New York. Stay tuned for the obligatory where will Eli end up post… Probably Jacksonville mentoring a Will Grier or Drew Lock type?

The Eagles are the most perplexing team in the division. The defending Superbowl Champs have put together their first back-to-back wins of the season (albeit at home against the Giants and against an out-of-sorts Redskins team) and are looking like a much-improved roster. Their defense is finally returning to form, and Golden Tate appears to be up-to-speed on the offensive schemes. They still struggle to run the ball effectively, but their offense has enjoyed steadily improving play from QB Carson Wentz. He struggled a few weeks ago against New Orleans, but that game notwithstanding, the Eagles’ offense has been consistent. Despite concerns from other sports reporters suggesting that the Eagles are not high-powered enough to win in this year’s NFL (only scoring more than 30 once), it should be noted that during their Superbowl season only a year ago, they only scored more than 30 once in a 34-3 win over the Steelers in September. If their defense can return to form the rest of the way, and Carson Wentz can protect the football, they could make a run at the division. One thing is for certain, this weekend’s matchup with the Cowboys will be the deciding factor for the division title.

Projecting the Rest of the Way:

Eagles Remaining Schedule:

  • Week 14 – @ Cowboys
  • Week 15 – @ Rams
  • Week 16 – vs. Texans
  • Week 17 – @ Redskins

The Eagles NEED to win this week in Dallas. If they can’t come away with a victory, then kiss their playoff chances goodbye. It would give Dallas a two-game lead in the division, and give Philadelphia an uphill climb against two teams that will be doing everything in their power to secure first-round byes and home-field advantage in the Texans and Rams. Best case scenario they go 3-1 the rest of the way. Worst case, 1-3. Let’s call it 2-2, I think they surprise someone down the stretch.

Projected Record: 8-8

Cowboys Remaining Schedule:

  • Week 14 – vs. Eagles
  • Week 15 – @ Colts
  • Week 16 – vs. Buccaneers
  • Week 17 – @ Giants

The Cowboys are lucky, they play two teams who lack an identity in the Giants and Bucs and get the opportunity to control their destiny this week by playing the Eagles at home. The Cowboys are 5-1 playing at Jerry World this year, that has to mean something come Sunday. The Giants are better, but they may not have much to play for come week 17. I think they go 3-1 the rest of the way, the Colts might sneak up on them, or the Eagles could win a statement game. For Jason Garrett’s sake, I hope it’s the Colts on the road.

Projected Record: 10-6

Redskins Remaining Schedule:

  • Week 14 – vs. Giants
  • Week 15 – @ Jaguars
  • Week 16 – @ Titans
  • Week 17 – vs. Eagles

The Skins are down, but not out. I’m not as low on Sanchez as others. He’s a serviceable game manager and has been in the league for a while for a reason.  The Redskins enjoy the best turnover differential in the division, and if Sanchez can keep the ball secure and Jay Gruden can turn Adrian Peterson loose, their defense is good enough to keep them in a tight game. I don’t think they make the playoffs, but they might surprise a few of the teams left on their schedule. They might very well lose to the Giants this weekend, but if they win they could beat a floundering Jaguars team (who looks different each week) or an inconsistent Titans team. They will likely go 1-3 the rest of the way unless they can pull out a surprise victory or two.

Projected Record: 7-9

Giants Remaining Schedule:

  • Week 14 – @ Redskins
  • Week 15 – vs. Titans
  • Week 16 – @ Colts
  • Week 17 – vs. Cowboys

The Giants have a rough stretch ahead of them. I think they will beat this Redskins on the road this weekend,  but the rest of the stretch are games that they will be close to seven-point underdogs in.  The Titans and Colts are volatile, good teams that struggle with consistency. You never know which offense will show up on any given night, the team that will score 30 or the team that will score three. Prior to the Colts getting shutout by the Jags, they were averaging 30+ points a game during their five-game win streak, and the Titans are coming off a big Thursday night football win in which Derek Henry set the team’s single-game rushing record. Best case scenario the Giants finish 2-2. Unfortunately, I don’t think they make it that far. 1-3.

Projected Record:  5-11

Projected Final Division Standings:

  1. Cowboys – 10-6
  2. Eagles – 8-8
  3. Redskins – 7-9
  4. Giants – 5-11

I have the Cowboys winning the division. It might be worth it just to watch Stephen A. Smith agonize for a week or two until they get eliminated in the first or second round. The Eagles may find themselves on the outside looking in. Seattle seems to be running away with the first wildcard spot, and the Vikings and the Panthers are contesting Philly for the second. There are enough teams still in the hunt that week 17 might be a fun week of football to watch.

Are the Seattle Mariners Rebuilding?

Image from Mariners Blog.

Traditionally, teams that win 89 games in the previous season don’t typically become sellers in the following offseason. Those types of teams are a few players away from solidifying a roster that has a chance to make a deep run into the playoffs. The Seattle Mariners may disagree with that notion, and it isn’t because of their roster. They play in one of the most competitive divisions in baseball. The Astro’s (103-59) and the Athletics (97-65) each went to the playoffs last season, and neither team shows any sign of being on the decline.

According to the CGMs Statistical Power Rankings, the Astro’s were the most talented team and the Athletics were the seventh best team in baseball last year. The Mariners were respectably ranked 13th, but competition in the American League was fierce and as talented as the Mariners roster was going into the offseason, they were still on the outside looking in going into the 2019 season. The Mariners were in need of a top of the rotation starting pitcher (to replace a declining Felix Hernandez), a middle reliever to bridge to Edwin Diaz (now a Met) and another high-powered outfield bat to help bridge the gap between themselves and the rest of the AL West. As a middle-market team, the Mariners had little change of luring a top free agent, and instead would need to orchestrate a plus-version of Moneyball to compete with a dominant Astro’s team, and an Athletics team run by a man that can only be described as a sorcerer in Billy Beane.

The Mariners had three options:

  1. Become buyers in the offseason and spend money (which they may not have, they paid $157,000,000 for their roster) on free agents, or trade for bonafide MLBers by mortgaging what little talent they had left in their already depleted farm system.
  2. They could sell off some of their more expensive chips, and attempt to maintain their roster’s integrity by acquiring younger players while trying to outlast the dominance of the Astros at the expense of the immediate.
  3. Blow it up, sell off their pieces, reload their farm system, and wait three to five years for Houston to hit the cliff.

From what we can tell, the Mariners are exercising option two. In the last week, they made what will likely be the biggest trade in the offseason, sending the MLB’s best closer in RHP Edwin Diaz, who posted 57 saves, a .79 WHIP and a 1.96 ERA to the New York Mets along with 13-year veteran 2B Robinson Cano. Cano, coming off an 80-game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy, hit .303 last year and was serviceable at second base, but is still owed half of the 10-year $240M contract he signed with the Mariners. In return, the Mariners received a compliment of young and veteran players from the Mets. The deal was headlined by fifth overall pick OF Jarred Kelenic, who projects as a top 50 MLB prospect without ever having stepped in a professional batters box, and is joined by another top 100 prospect in RHP Justin Dunn who is still a year or two away from the bigs, but is a candidate for a training camp invite. The Mariners also received three MLB-ready players in OF Jay Bruce, RHP Anthony Swarzak, and RHP Gerson Bautista. Bruce had a rough 2018 campaign, but has a lot of pop in his bat, a plus arm, and is one of the best clubhouse personalities in baseball. Bautista projects as a plus reliever and has good “stuff” that should keep him around in the league for a long time. Swarzak is a veteran middle reliever who should immediately fill the 7th inning role for the M’s despite a down 2018 season.

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The trade accomplished a few important things for the Ms:

  1. It replenished their weak farm system with three young prospects that project as starting to all-star caliber players.
  2. It dumped the contract of 2B Robinson Cano who was still owed $120M.
  3. It brought in serviceable talent at multiple positions.

The Mariners continued making moves a few days later by trading their leadoff hitter and two-time all-star, SS Jean Segura along with RHP Juan Nicasio and LHP James Pazos to the Phillies. Segura, the 28-year old breakout star who the Mariners acquired in a trade with D-backs hit .302 in his two years with the Mariners. In return, the Mariners received 1B Carlos Santana-who posted a career-low batting average (.229) and OPS (.766)-and Phillies former top prospect, SS J.P. Crawford. Although Crawford has maintained himself as a top 50 prospect since 2013, his MLB service time has been forgettable.  He’s hit .214 in 225 plate appearances and struck out 59 times over that span. What he did manage to do well was flash what may be the best glove in baseball along with posting a respectable .333 OBP.  I have doubts that he will become a better player than Segura has become, but he’s young and the Mariners could be the change of scenery and the fresh start he needs.

The salary dump of Cano and Segura should help the Mariners sign a few players to fill some gaps over the next few years, but what these trade really do for the franchise is cement the next five years at a few positions. Dunn, Kelenic, Crawford, and Bautista should be in a Mariners uniform for a long time to come. The Mariners may not be better than they were Yesterday, but playing in the AL West all but guarantees that for the next few years, their ceiling is the wild card. Mariner fans should be pleased with the trades, despite giving up Segura and Diaz. If J.P. Crawford and Jared Kelenic can live up to their potential, it’s going to be a fun team to watch down the road.

Analysis: Assessing the Effectiveness of the CGMs MLB Statistical Stratification (Power Rankings)

Introduction:

The MLB season is in the books, and it’s time to look back and evaluate how the CGMs MLB Statistical Stratification System performed.  Roughly 60 Games into the MLB regular season I attempted to create a new stratification method to replace conventional power rankings. You can read that article here to learn about the system’s methodology. Baseball is a game where analytics can tell a story, but there fails to be a comprehensive and universally accepted formula for stratifying team performance. Most rankings are determined by the eyeball or litmus test in which random value is applied to one of many different categories to determine performance. I set out to standardized value sets so that from one set of stratification to the next, teams are being evaluated on a consistent scale. To select these variables I looked to baseball statisticians such as Bill James to determine what factors play the most significant role in team performance. By weighing those categories (OPS, BA, WHIP, ERA, and Fielding Percentage), I generated a formula which produced a composite score that closely correlates with a team’s record. For this analysis, I am going to repeat my previous approach to see how the teams stacked up at the end of the year and verify whether or not my approach has validity. Additionally, I will make assertions about ball clubs by breaking down the data set and identify weaknesses in the methodology.

Previous Findings:

In my June rankings, I found that the formula had a close correlation with the league standings.  At that point in the season, I was able to determine that the Tampa Bay Rays were underperforming by comparing their composite score to their record, at the time of the initial analysis, the Tampa Bay Rays wear a slightly better than .500 team (28-27), But they were ranked as my sixth best team. As the season unfolded, it turned out that my metric was accurate, as the Rays finished the season With 90 wins in a tough AL East Division that produced two 100-win teams and the World Series champions.

Similarly, I found that The Los Angeles Dodgers were underperforming according to my metric. At the time of the initial analysis, they were 4 games under .500 (26-30) but ranked in the middle of the pack which means they should have had at least two to three more wins at that point in the season. The Dodgers finished the regular season with 92 wins and the highest run differential in the National League (+194).

New Data Set: 

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Click here to view the original data set.

End of the Season Stratification:

  1. Houston – 4. (103-59)
  2. Boston –  4.2 (108-54)
  3. Cleveland – 4.9 (91-71)
  4. LA Dodgers – 5.95 (92-71)
  5. Tampa Bay – 7.25 (90-72)
  6. New York Yankees – 7.8 (100-62)
  7. Oakland – 7.95 (97-65)
  8. Washington – 8.89 (82-80)
  9. Atlanta – 9.4 (90-72)
  10. Milwaukee – 9.55  (96-67)
  11. Chicago Cubs – 9.55 (95-68)
  12. Colorado – 10.3 (91-72)
  13. Seattle – 13.65  (89-73)
  14. Arizona – 14.3 (82-80)
  15. Pittsburgh – 15.35 (82-79)
  16. St. Louis – 16.7 (88-74)
  17. LA Angels –  17.5 (80-82)
  18. Cincinnati – 17.75 (67-95)
  19. Minnesota – 18.9  (78-84)
  20. NY Mets – 19.5 (77-85)
  21. Toronto – 20.2 (73-89)
  22. San Francisco – 20.85 (73-89)
  23. Philadelphia – 21 (80-82)
  24. Detroit – 22.7 (64-98)
  25. Texas Rangers – 23.5 (67-95)
  26. Kansas City – 23.55 (58-104)
  27. San Diego – 24.05 (66-96)
  28. Chicago Sox – 24.7  (62-100)
  29. Miami – 24.8 (63-98)
  30. Baltimore – 27.1 (47-115)

Overperformers:

  • Philadelphia – Hard to imagine saying a sub .500 team overperformed, but according to our metrics they should’ve lost a few more games.
  • St. Louis – 88 wins may have been the upper end of their feasible spectrum, especially in one of the most competitive divisions in baseball.

Underperformers:

  • Washington – This shouldn’t come as a surprise, Washington could barely hold a lead all year. The only team with a bullpen that gave away more leads was the Mets.
  • Pittsburgh – If the Cardinals overperformed then the Pirates underperformed. They stratified as a better ballclub than their division rivals, yet managed to lose five more games. Managing might be the unmeasurable factor in their failure to top the Cards.

Findings, Data Set Problems, and Trends:

  • Teams with a composite score <10 tended to have more than 90 wins, Washington being the only exception.
  • Fielding percentage is being evaluated too highly in the data set. The deviation from the best defensive team to the worst was only .008% (Astros .989 and White Sox .981), yet it is being graded at 10% of the weighted composite score. In future data sets, I will need to weigh it less severely and allocate the free percentage toward other metrics.
  • Findings may at times be spurious due to some metrics being part of others (OPS and BA).
  • Composite scores are built off rankings from other statistical categories, the deviation between teams may be exaggerated based off actual performance in each category, but the ranking of teams remains accurate because they are all being evaluated on the same scale.

A Better Way?:

This is by no means the best way to stratify teams, as I highlighted in the previous article, regression analysis can tell us more about which of these metrics is both statistically significant and impactful (coefficient value). Previous baseball analyses have largely done this work for us, identifying the value of these metrics which has become a staple in player analysis but rarely used to evaluate overall team performance. To improve upon the CGMs Stratification System, a regression identifying the impact of each variable on team performance would help in better weighing the metrics to hone in on a more accurate composite score.  Until then, this methodology is among the few to evaluate team performance outside of team record.

Analysis: MLB Power Rankings, A New Statistical Stratification of Analyzing and Projecting Team Performance

Introduction:

I am of the mindset that a weekly power ranking fails to accurately reflect the MLB’s rankings. It’s useful to demonstrate weekly trends but fails to effectively stratify a team against its peers in any meaningful way.  Teams get hot, or play poor competition and go on streaks similar to what the Rays did earlier in the year when they began closing ground on the division-leading Red Sox. Week-to-week teams can rise or fall significantly, and while it makes an interesting read, the weekly rankings don’t mean much. A periodic ranking over quarters of the season paints a more complete picture of what’s happening, and with this in mind, I set out to stratify the league through the first ~60 games.  

I am stratifying teams based off of a new system that I’ve created that focuses on statistical analysis rather than simply a team’s win-loss record. This counters the popular argument that ‘you are your record,’ but this is a Power Rankings, not a simple breakdown of standings and a team’s performance/trend over their last 10 games. The purpose of this approach to stratification is to determine how talented a team truly is. Some teams may be playing well, but due to strength of schedule, or catching a streaking team, they may be underperforming their actual ability. Similarly, a bad team may be overperforming. To say that a team’s record has a spurious relationship with their talent is foolish, but I don’t think it tells the entire story. I predict that the weighted variables that I will be presenting in these rankings will correlate strongly with a team’s record. 

I am heavily stealing the propositions made by Eric Walker and Bill James, the fathers of sabermetrics to contribute to my narrative and give context to my weighted categories. I choose five variables to assist in creating my power rankings. Surprisingly, or not, runs scored, runs against, and wins are not included in the calculation. Instead, I chose variables that when combined tell a story about the team. Earned Run Average (ERA), Batting Average (BA), Fielding Percentage (FP), On-base Plus Slugging (OPS), and Walks and Hits Per Inning Pitched (WHIP). When combined, these statistics offer a holistic measurement of team performance.

Methodology:

Now, anyone that is familiar with statistics understands right away that some of my independent variables influence others, which may be the first flaw in my argument. But, each category plays its own role in the narrative, and thus must be included because they still measure different events in the game.  Without running a regression analysis, it’s impossible to determine which of these variables has the most impact (coefficient) on our dependent variable (which is performance – wins/losses) and which are actually statistically significant. Fortunately, others that have come before me have done most of the legwork. Enter Eric Walker, Bill James, and others (a good article by Adam Houser argues similar points and can be found here: https://www.iwu.edu/economics/PPE13/houser.pdf).

OPS may be the most important offensive stat in modern baseball. As Walker and James put it (and House agrees), the best way to generate offense is through the ability of a hitter to not get out. Getting on base is the BEST way to do this. The image of Billy Beane and Sandy Alderson in Oakland yelling at old scouts and telling their minor league managers to ensure their players are drawing walks is visceral to this point. The heralded stat of batting average is important because getting a hit leads to having a runner on base, but it only contributes so much as to add extra bases to a players ability to already get on base (measured in the OPS/OBP) for the purposes of this article. OPS contributes another thing if you’re getting on base. Walker also stated that the next most important statistic is slugging percentage, which is also measured by OPS. To advance and drive in runners, putting the ball in play is absolutely necessary.  The batter doesn’t need to be safe at first to generate runs or advance runners into scoring position.  These are not novel concepts to anyone who has read his works, or Moneyball, but they are important to the new formula, and as such OPS becomes the most important measurable offensive statistic for the purposes of this new rankings metric. It will thus be weighted more heavily than the other offensive statistic (BA), which is self-explanatory.

Fielding percentage is often overlooked. Defensive runs saved has become a popular metric to measure individual players, particularly when valuing fourth outfielders, but it is not significant enough to warrant a lion’s share of this metric. Most teams deviate by less than .01%, and while ensuring that teams are converting the putouts that they should be making, it is weighted less than other categories even though it is the lone metric that measures a team’s fielding efficiency.

WHIP was found by Houser to be the most effective measure of pitching/defense. I similarly find it the most important metric to measure a pitcher, but ERA offers a more holistic team rating. You might be asking, why have WHIP if you have ERA? Both measure the talent of a pitcher against a batter, but an ERA also measures the team defense and coaching strategies, whereas WHIP primarily measures the battle between a pitcher and the batter. This may be up for debate and could be argued as my second flaw in the measure, but I’ll try to explain my reasoning. An earned run could be scored by a team forfeiting a run with a runner on second and third with one out, and taking the out at first on a ground ball as opposed to challenging the run at home. This is a defensive strategy decision, and not necessarily a product of the pitcher vs. batter. Similarly, a manager’s decision to bring in a certain pitcher to face a batter (ie lefty specialist, deciding to pull a pitcher prematurely, or leaving one in for too long).  The resulting hits/walks/runs would then be on the manager, a metric which we, unfortunately, do not measure in a coherent data set. In the absence of this, we lump defensive decisions, strategy, and managerial choices together with the pitcher vs. batter duel as part of the narrative for ERA, whereas fielding percentage measures the team’s ability to not commit errors that lead to unearned runs.

WHIP, our last metric, previously discussed as the most important defensive statistic by Houser,  measures the average number of Walks and Hits Per Inning Pitched that a team’s pitchers give up. This is critically important because it is essentially the defensive counter metric to OPS. It is the ability of a defense and pitcher to prevent runners from getting on base.  As such, it will be weighted heavily in this equation. Again, having both ERA and WHIP may be counter-intuitive, but teams are being stratified against one another equally, but teams are being stratified equally and the two metrics as we have discussed measure different events. So it shouldn’t prevent the end result from being accurate. 

Weighted Percents:

Unfortunately, without a regression offering the statistical significance and coefficient, I need to use my narrative to determine the weights. After a few conversations with people telling them my idea (some of which liked the idea as a tool for projecting a teams success, others subscribe to the win-loss being the end all be all) I think I’ve come to a balance. I wanted to have offensive and defensive metrics weighted equally for the sake of the overall rankings, so below you will find my weighted breakdown of each category.

  • ERA: 20%
  • WHIP: 20%
  • FP: 10%
  • BA: 15%
  • OPS: 35%

Data Set: Accurate as of 6/1/2018

Google Docs view for those that cannot see the data set: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1KKwtf9tOEnfpzuGlglTg_GbCALtcsYgCzWhQ5KX1MVU/edit?usp=sharing

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Results – Power Rankings:

Using the weighted averages and the data set above, I created a composite score that averages the rankings of each team. The team with the lowest score rounded to the nearest hundredth will be ranked highest. Example: Houston’s ranked a 4.3 based on my metric, and as such are ranked first. To the right of their ranking, I put their current record as a way to determine how well the metric is correlating with their record, and whether or not teams are overperforming or underperforming (based on the metric). Below are the results.

  1. Houston – 4.3 (36-22)
  2. Boston –  4.35 (39-18)
  3. Chicago Cubs – 6.8 (30-23)
  4. New York Yankees – 8.15 (36-17)
  5. Washington – 8.2 (32-24)
  6. Cleveland – 8.25 (30-25)
  7. Tampa Bay – 8.5 (28-27)
  8. Atlanta – 8.95 (34-23)
  9. Seattle – 9.15 (34-22)
  10. LA Angels – 10.45  (30-27)
  11. Pittsburgh – 10.65 (29-27)
  12. Milwaukee –  11.45 (36-21)
  13. Detroit – 13.9 (27-30)
  14. Philadelphia – 15.35 (31-23)
  15. Arizona – 15.55 (28-27)
  16. St. Louis – 15.9 (30-24)
  17. LA Dodgers – 15.95 (26-30)
  18. Colorado – 16.05 (30-26)
  19. Oakland – 16.4 (29-28)
  20. San Francisco – 16.95 (26-30)
  21. NY Mets – 18.15 (27-27)
  22. Minnesota – 20.5 (22-30)
  23. Kansas City – 20.5 (20-36)
  24. San Diego – 22 (25-33)
  25. Chicago Sox – 22.1 (16-37)
  26. Cincinnati – 22.55 (20-37)
  27. Toronto – 22.6 (25-32)
  28. Miami – 24.65 (20-36)
  29. Texas Rangers – 24.85 (24-35)
  30. Baltimore – 26.05 (17-40)

Conclusions:

  • The Rankings System seems to correlate well with team performance.
  • Including both ERA and WHIP was justified based on variations seen in Cleveland, Colorado, Tampa Bay, Atlanta, NY Yankees, St. Louis. These illustrate the value of having both metrics, but as expected, most WHIP statistics strongly correlate with ERA.
  • Tampa Bay Rays are underperforming according to the Rankings System.
  • LA Dodgers are underperforming according to the Rankings System.

The Way Forward:

  • The next step for this system is to run regressions to more accurately weigh each category and determine if any other statistics should replace or be included in this stratification methodology. 
  • Take this stratification methodology and build on it to project teams likely overall records and success in the future. 

Shoutout to the Mercer University Weighted Average Grade Calculator.

Commentary: 2018 NFL Mock Draft

With the NFL draft less than 24 hours away, it seemed only right to drop my latest mock. For this mock, I am presenting a clean first round without trades. Of course, we all know that’s never going to happen, with teams like Cleveland and Buffalo having more than enough ammunition to climb back into the first round, trade up, or trade down, and other teams, such as Houston and Kansas City being without picks on day one. The rumor mill has been flying the last few days, but let’s see if we can make sense of it all.    

1. Cleveland Browns – QB Sam Darnold, USC

It was reported that someone close to Browns GM John Dorsey all but assured the Browns would be selecting Allen with the first pick, but as of this week, Schefter’s source suggested Mayfield is in the mix for the Browns here. Maybe I should go back and watch Draft Day again and assume it’s, “Allen no matter what,” but my gut is telling me Sam Darnold is the top quarterback in the draft. Darnold played for two years in a pro-style offense at USC. He has the personality and demeanor to thrive in an often hostile market and can make all the throws. He doesn’t have the top end arm strength of Allen, nor the accuracy of Rosen, but he may have the highest ceiling of any quarterback in the draft.

2. New York Giants – QB Josh Allen, Wyoming

No player helped themselves more than Josh Allen during their pre-draft workouts. He has the size, arm strength, athleticism, and personality that GMs and coaches fawn over. He’s coming from the FCS and an offense that lacked prostyle complexity. If the Giants stay put at two, he could be a guy that could sit behind Eli Manning for a year or two and develop until he’s ready to take over.

3. New York Jets (from Indianapolis Colts) – QB Josh Rosen, UCLA

Josh Rosen is widely regarded as the purest passer in the draft. His touch and accuracy are what made him an early favorite to be the first quarterback drafted. His personality concerns and the workouts of Mayfield, Darnold, and Allen have depreciated his value, but his talent and the high demand at the quarterback position will undoubtedly carry him into the top five.

4. Cleveland Browns (from Houston Texans) – RB Saquon Barkley, Penn State

If Cleveland decides to stay at four and draft a player instead of trading down with a team like the Bills hungry to draft a quarterback like Baker Mayfield they have the opportunity to get the best athlete in the draft. Cleveland has revolutionized their offense by bringing in Tyrod Taylor, Jarvis Landry, Carlos Hyde and will likely add their future franchise quarterback. Add a piece like Saquon Barkley to that puzzle, and the team will have weapons at every position on the field and give new Browns GM John Dorsey a strong foundation to build a competitive football team.

5. Denver Broncos – DE/LB Bradley Chubb, NC State

After signing QB Case Keenum their demand at the quarterback position is tempered for now. If the quarterback they want is available at five, then they may pull the trigger, but with the possibility and reports of the Bills trying to leverage their two first round picks to move up to Cleveland’s fourth overall pick, that hope is fading quickly. Instead, the Broncos select the most talented defensive player in the draft to learn from future Hall of Famer LB Von Miller.

6. Indianapolis Colts (from New York Jets) – LB Tremaine Edmunds Virginia Tech

Indianapolis hasn’t had a quality pass rush since Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis were coming off the edge. Tremaine Edmunds is a versatile linebacker with enough athleticism to rush the passer or drop back into a soft zone coverage. He is still raw in some aspects of his game, but he has the potential to be exactly what Indianapolis needs to help out their struggling defense in a division filled with young quarterbacks that teams need to pressure.

7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – DB Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama

Tampa continues to struggle with their defensive backfield. They need help at the safety position and someone that can match up against versatile tight ends. Fitzpatrick is one of the few guys in this draft that meets that profile, and he is largely grouped among the top two or three defensive backs in the class. I could see Derwin James from Florida State here as well, but Fitzpatrick is coming from a talented Nick Saban defense that implements pro concepts.

8. Chicago Bears – G Quenton Nelson, Notre Dame

If the Bears are sold on QB Mitchell Trubisky as their franchise quarterback, they will need to invest in protecting the young signal caller from a repeat of the abuse he took last season. Nelson is the best interior lineman in the draft and will provide a strong framework to continue to build the rest of the Bears line around.

9. San Francisco 49ers CB Denzel Ward, Ohio State

Even after adding CB Richard Sherman, San Francisco still needs to add talent to their secondary. I could also see LB Roquan Smith going to San Francisco following the legal troubles of LB Reuben Foster, but the NFL is increasingly becoming a pass-oriented league and Denzel Ward is widely regarded as the top coverage cornerback in the draft. The first round is stacked with defensive backs, and San Francisco could trade down and still secure a starting caliber corner or linebacker if they want to add to their value and recoup the second round pick they sent to New England for QB Jimmy Garoppolo.

10. Oakland Raiders – DB Derwin James, Florida State

Oakland has been looking for solid safety play since Charles Woodson’s retirement to play opposite Karl Joseph. Derwin James may be the most talented true safety at the top of the draft, and Oakland is in the perfect position to draft him.

11. Miami Dolphins – LB Roquan Smith, Georgia

Miami has struggled to get consistent play from their front seven. The addition of DE Robert Quinn helps them with their pass rush, but the team still lacks an elite linebacker that can play sideline to sideline. Smith might be the only backer in the draft that fits the bill and is certainly the most talented of the first-round graded linebackers.

12. Buffalo Bills from Cincinnati Bengals QB Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma

A desperate team might try to trade up earlier in the draft if Mayfield gets past Denver, and that desperate team might be the Bills, but in a perfect world, the Bills can get their guy at 12. After trading QB Tyrod Taylor to the Browns the team is in the mix for drafting their franchise quarterback, even after signing AJ Mccarron. Mayfield’s size may work against him, but QBs Russell Wilson and Drew Brees who have combated the size stereotype may give teams the confidence to select Mayfield early in the first round.

13. Washington Redskins –  WR Calvin Ridley, Alabama

The Redskins are in need of a talented wide receiver and Ridley is the consensus number one available. As a freshman, Ridley hauled in 89 passes for over 1000 yards and seven touchdowns. Over the next two years, his production decreased, but he continued to be a reliable target, with 72 receptions as a sophomore and 55 as a junior. His numbers may have been impacted by the run-heavy offense at Alabama and I expect Ridley to produce at the NFL level.

14. Green Bay Packers – LB Harold Landry, Boston College

Even though he regressed during his senior year, Landry was the lone bright spot at Boston College this season.  He’s a prototypical 3-4 outside linebacker that can get to the quarterback in a hurry and would be a perfect compliment to a linebacking corps that has Nick Perry and Clay Matthews already coming off the edge. Landry would add a new dynamic to the Packers pass rush, and would be a value selection in the middle of the first round.

15. Arizona Cardinals – CB Josh Jackson, Iowa

Jackson led the FBS in interceptions at Iowa and his superior ball skills could make him the first corner off the board. Arizona needs another corner to pair with CB Patrick Peterson and the two of them may have the best backfield.

16. Baltimore Ravens – WR James Washington, Oklahoma State

The Ravens added WRs John Brown and Michael Crabtree in the offseason to replenish their light wide receiver corps that struggled last season. Washington is a true deep threat that can complement the possession receivers of Brown and Crabtree and provide Flacco with a receiver that can take the top off a defense.

17. Los Angeles Chargers – OT Mike McGlinchey, Notre Dame

Notre Dame produced the two best offensive linemen in the draft between McGlinchey and Nelson. McGlinchey is a tall framed tackle with quick feet who will be able to stand up against some of the more elite pass rushers in the NFL. His struggles will come against bull-rushing lineman that leverage strength and use his height against him to get low and drive to the quarterback. Much like Giants OT Nate Solder when he came out, McGlinchey needs to add to his frame to become an elite tackle in the NFL.

18. Seattle Seahawks – CB Mike Hughes, UCF

With the departure of CB Richard Sherman Seattle has a void at the cornerback position. Hughes plays physically and likes to press at the line of scrimmage despite his size and his aggression would fit in well with Seattle’s defense. He has shown good ball skills, but has lacked instinct in coverage and will need to be coached up before he can utilize his elite athleticism. I expect him to be a starting corner in the NFL and will contribute in the return game on special teams.   

19. Dallas Cowboys – WR Christian Kirk, Texas A&M.

The departure of WR Dez Bryant leaves a hole at the wide receiver position. Kirk is a smooth route runner with good hands that can be a reliable target for QB Dak Prescott. Kirk consistently produced during his three years at A&M, catching 234 passes for nearly 3000 yards and 26 touchdowns. He may be a reach at 19, but the Cowboys have a need and Kirk can make an immediate impact as a returner on special teams.

20. Detroit Lions – DT Maurice Hurst, Michigan

Hurst is a three-technique that can keep his pads low and drive with quickness off the snap to beat interior lineman don’t get off the ball quickly. He lacks elite strength and can be handled by more aggressive and physical lineman, but has good hands and can separate and get at the quarterback. He will fit well in a 4-3, but won’t likely translate as a 3-4 end. Detroit needs a defensive tackle with his skill set, and I think there’s an opportunity for him to be on the board when the Lions are on the clock.

21. Cincinnati Bengals (from Buffalo Bills)  OL Frank Ragnow, Arkansas

Cincinnati needs help in the trenches and Frank Ragnow is a technically sound lineman who started for three years with the Razorbacks. He only put up 26 reps at the combine, but he plays with physicality on tape and as a team captain has leadership qualities that you look for out of a center.

22. Buffalo Bills (from Kansas City Chiefs) – OL Isaiah Wynn, Georgia

Wynn played Tackle and Guard at Georgia, but his height and body type project him to be an interior lineman, which may be a better match for his skill set. Buffalo lost C Eric Wood and OG Richie Incognito in the offseason, and need to replenish the interior of their offensive line. Wynn is an athletic and strong lineman with good footwork that should be an immediate starter. He could play tackle, but if he can fill out his frame, and develop his strength, he should move to guard or even in the NFL.

23. New England Patriots (from LA Rams) –  LB Leighton Vander Esch, Boise State

The Patriots relied on a linebacking corps of Kyle Van Noy and Elandon Roberts during the 2017 season as star LB Dont’a Hightower once again found himself on the injured reserve list. Leighton Vander Esch is a talented linebacker that can drop into coverage and play inside against the run. At Boise State, he tallied 141 tackles and projects as a prototypical 4-3 linebacker.

24. Carolina Panthers – OT Orlando Brown, Oklahoma

With the departure of Kelvin Benjamin I could see the Panthers targeting a big receiver such as the Notre Dame product Equanimeous St. Brown or SMU’s Courtland Sutton, but between their aging defensive line and porous offensive line, Carolina needs to strengthen their trenches. Despite his struggles at the combine, Brown is a versatile and talented lineman that can start on day one for the Panthers.

25. Tennessee Titans – DL Vita Vea, Washington

Vea is the best true nose in the draft that can effectively two-gap and plugs against the run. He would be a perfect fit in Tennessee’s 3-4 scheme if he falls this far and would provide DE Jurrell Casey with much-needed help at the point of attack.

26. Atlanta Falcons – DL Marcus Davenport, UTSA

Davenport is a raw pass rusher that has the potential to be one of the steals of the draft. He dominated Conference USA competition and performed well at the Senior Bowl. Aside from his handwork needing to be coached up and refined, his tall 6-6 frame limits his ability to get low and drive, but he has the versatility to play at end or as a 3-4 linebacker.

27.New Orleans Saints – QB Lamar Jackson, Louisville

Lamar Jackson is a talented quarterback who performed well against college football’s toughest competition, but his makeup concerns some teams. Mobile quarterbacks open themselves up to more opportunities for contact and staying healthy is paramount in the NFL. His feet will provide intrigue for coaches and general managers that want a true playmaker at the quarterback position, but he will need to become a pass-first quarterback to succeed in the NFL. Fortunately, Jackson has the arm talent to make that transition at the next level, and if he finds himself in the right opportunity where he isn’t forced to be the starter on day one where he can learn behind a veteran like Drew Brees, he will have a real chance to be a starting caliber quarterback in the NFL for a long time to come.

28. Pittsburgh Steelers – LB Rashaan Evans, Alabama

Star LB Ryan Shazier is on the road to recovery, but the odds are greatly stacked against him that he manages to get back on the field during the 2018 season in a meaningful way. Shazier was the Steelers best linebacker in coverage and one of the teams leading tacklers whose production cannot be replaced easily. Evans has the ability to play inside, drop into coverage, or move outside to rush the passer, and that versatility will likely make him an ideal target for a Pittsburgh team that needs help in their front seven.

29. Jacksonville Jaguars – WR Courtland Sutton, SMU

Sutton might be the second most talented Wideout in the draft. He has a good frame and attacks the ball at its highest point. The Jaguars lost WRs Allen Hurns and Allen Robinson to free agency and are needing to add another talented receiver to their corps. If Sutton slides to the bottom of the first round they could get a reliable big target that Bortles can rely on for a long time to come.

30. Minnesota Vikings – OL Billy Price, Ohio State

Price can only be described as a physical freak. He’s quick and strong with the ability to blow defenders off the ball without getting outside himself. Chances are that he will be available at the bottom of the first round due to an injury he sustained at the combine, but he should be ready for training camp, and Minnesota will need to upgrade their line to protect their $84 million dollar investment in Franchise Quarterback Kirk Cousins. The big knock on Price is that he is not as polished as some of the other interior lineman and has personality concerns that have depreciated his stock and flagged him for some teams.

31. New England Patriots – DL Harrison Phillips, Stanford

The Patriots defense was ranked 29th in yards allowed per game, but 5th in total points allowed. It’s hard to imagine another year where the defense gives up the similar yardage not resulting in more total points. Strengthening the defense has to be a priority. Alan Branch barely saw the field during the Patriots playoff run, indicating that the team may be ready to move on from the veteran defensive tackle. Phillips fits the profile of a Bill Belichick player. He’s an Academic All-American that performed well off and on the field for the Stanford Cardinals, leading the team in tackles as an interior lineman. He performed well in the pass rush, tallying 7.5 sacks and forcing two fumbles. He earned honors as a first-team all-conference player and AP third-team All-American. He would be a perfect compliment to Nose Tackle Malcolm Brown as a three-technique in the Patriots system. Alternatively, USC’s RB Ronald Jones may be a good selection for New England at the bottom of the first round to replace departing RB Dion Lewis.

32. Philadelphia Eagles – CB Jaire Alexander, Louisville

Alexander recently visited with the Eagles and reports are that the team is high on him as a target for the bottom of the first round. The Super Bowl Champion Eagles are in need of a well-rounded corner that can play physical and cover in the slot, and Alexander has the makeup that they are looking for.

Top 5 Players Available:

  1. DT Da’ron Payne, Alabama
  2. CB Isaiah Oliver, Colorado
  3. C James Daniels, Iowa
  4. LB Malik Jefferson, Texas
  5. OL Connor Williams, Texas

Commentary: Five Bold Predictions One Week into the MLB Season

1. An Angel will win the MVP award and he won’t be named Mike Trout. This prediction may not seem as bold as it did when I had originally made it before the regular season, but I’m doubling down. Shoani Othani will win the MVP and AL Rookie of the Year Award. He’s off to a blistering start and has been key to the Angels’ early success. He throws high 90’s and touches 100, hits to all fields, has one of the highest exit velocities in all of baseball, and the best part is, he’s fun to watch. He has to come down to earth at some point in time, but I can’t stand when people disregard the early part of the season. Every game and every at-bat counts. You can’t take those Angels wins away from them, and chances are, you can’t stop watching Shoani Othani. With any new player, I get concerned about what happens when scouting reports get fully developed. People will find a way to get him out, batters will figure out what he’s throwing, but until then, he will continue to rake and sit guys down.

2. Both Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton will hit more than 50 home runs. This might not come as a huge shock either, but let’s not act like hitting 50 homers is an easy task, each of these guys did it last year, but that doesn’t mean they will have similar production this year. Already Stanton is having serious problems at the plate. He’s on a record-setting pace for strikeouts during the early stretch of the season. He’s already struck out 23 times, one less than Roger Marris did during the entire 1968 season when he 310 ABs. Comparisons throughout generations are difficult, as the game has changed dramatically and launch angle and fly balls are more valued from hitters than they were in the past, but Stanton looks different than he did last year. There have been analysts that have broken down his swing mechanics and the results are telling. He’s shortened his stride at the plate and opens his hips differently than he did in previous years. This causes two problems, first, he won’t be able to hit the high and tight fastball as effectively as he has in previous years, and second, he will not be able to hit effectively to all fields, making him a more one-dimensional hitter. That being said, I fully expect a professional hitter playing for a team with the resources like the Yankees to get himself sorted out. Stanton is coming from Miami to New York, and the ballpark dynamics couldn’t be more different. I expect a few more of Stanton’s deep flyouts in Miami turn into pole hugging home runs over the short fences at Yankee Stadium.

3. The New York Mets will head to the postseason after winning only 70 games last season. The Mets had a historical injury prone 2017 season which saw 20 players have 28 different DL stints.  Those injuries came to key pieces of the Mets roster. OF Yoenis Cespedes spent 80 days on the DL, SP Noah Syndergaard spent 145 days on the DL with an arm injury, SP Matt Harvey spent 79 days, SP Steven Matz spent 113 days,CP Jeurys Familia spent 106 days and OF Michael Conforto spent 48 days on the DL with a freak shoulder injury that occurred when he swung his bat. This season, the Mets are entering the year health, and with the additions of veteran 3B Todd Frazier replacing injured David Wright, 1B Adrian Gonzalez as the bridge to top prospect 1B Dominic Smith, and the return of slugger OF Jay Bruce, the team is poised to take advantage of a weak NL East. The Nationals are their biggest schedule hurdle, but the Mets traditionally have played well against the NL East favorites, already sweeping them once this year, and could feasibly make a run at a Wild Card spot. I still expect the Nationals to win the division, even with their early struggles, but if the Mets stay healthy and their bullpen continues to be among the best in the MLB, then they have every opportunity to make a postseason run. They have three long arms in their bullpen that can bridge the middle innings and both Seth Lugo and Robert Gsselman have been lights out so far.

4. Chris Sale will win the AL Cy Young and Max Scherzer will win the NL Cy Young Award. At this point Scherzer is like Meryl Streep at the Oscars, everyone knows he’s in going to be one of the top two candidates, and it comes as no surprise at this point. Every fifth day you get to watch something special. Scherzer threw over 200 innings (in the National League) and had a 2.51 ERA last season. This year, the 33-year old is off to a hot start, he has a .90 ERA and has struck out 27 batters through 20 innings pitched. Sale, similarly tallied over 200 innings last season and held a respectable 2.90 ERA. This year, he has a 1.06 ERA through 17 innings and has struck out 23 batters. These two are the most dominant arms in the sport and continue to be durable and consistent. So long as they remain healthy, there’s nothing to stop their Cy Young bid.

5. The Texas Rangers will be must-see TV, at least every fifth day. Bartolo Colon and Adrian Beltre in the same dugout. They have more fun playing the game of baseball than anyone else. If you happen to catch the Rangers play some interleague baseball there’s a chance you can see a unicorn. https://www.mlb.com/video/must-c-colons-first-home-run/c-671207583

Commentary: Facebook to Broadcast 25 MLB Games: Mets-Phillies Game Today at 1PM

At 1pm the Mets-Phillies game will air exclusively on Facebook. This will be the first MLB game exclusively broadcasted on a social media platform. The move stems from an MLB initiative to expand viewership and attract a younger audience. The MLB has long struggled to captivate younger fans and has lagged behind the NFL and NBA viewership in recent years. The long average game time (3:05), long season (162 games), and slow pace of play have been attributed to the games viewership stagnation. To Major League Baseball’s credit, while the NFL has seen a drastic decline in its viewership over the past couple years, the MLB has not seen their decline at the same rate. Locally broadcasted games have remained relatively steady and some markets have shown growth, but the MLB continues to struggle with younger audiences, and their nationally televised broadcasts continue to pull comparatively weak ratings. Further contributing to the MLB’s problem, in a new trend, stadium attendance was down last season, but the MLB is actively trying to fix their problem, by introducing rules to improve the pace of play and shorten the game.

Facebook is one of the most heavily trafficked websites, and the social media platform caters to an audience that the MLB is trying to access. By exposing a younger viewership to baseball they may have the opportunity to slowly expand their fanbase and ensure the future of the sport at the same time. Over the next two months, Facebook has the broadcasting rights to nine MLB games, all mid-week afternoon games, and will broadcast a total of 25 games throughout the entire season. The Facebook broadcasts will be produced by the MLB Network and the games are accessible on any web-enabled streaming device from Facebook’s Watch MLB Live page. One feature of the broadcast is that it will be largely interactive, with the MLB Network team leveraging the social media platform to bring their audience into the game. Their goal is to engage with as much of the social media conversation as practicable without hindering the call of the game. Today’s broadcast will act as a barometer for the MLB and may prompt future investment in exploring social media as a broadcasting service to expand their audience.

Fans new to baseball will experience a good NL East matchup during today’s Mets-Phillies game which will showcase the aces of each pitching staff, Noah Syndergaard, and Aaron Nola. Both had strong outings in their season openers, Syndergaard struck out 10 batters, and Nola threw five shutout innings in only 68 pitches before being controversially pulled in a game that the Phillies eventually lost. Wins in the NL East have been hard to come by, and both teams are in a sprint to avoid an early chase of the division-leading Washington Nationals.

To watch today’s broadcast visit: https://www.facebook.com/MLBLiveGames/ 

Photo Credit: Newsweek

Reaction: Patriots Trade WR Brandin Cooks to LA Rams for 1st Round Pick

Today, the Patriots traded their talented WR Brandin Cooks and a fourth-round pick to the LA Rams for their first-round pick (23rd overall) and a sixth-round pick. The deal comes only one season after the Patriots acquired Cooks from the Saints for the 32nd overall pick in last year’s draft. With the Patriots favorite target Julian Edelman on IR for all of last season, Cooks turned in a respectable 2017 performance, totaling 65 receptions for 1,082 yards and seven touchdowns. The previous year with the Saints, he totaled 78 receptions for 1,173 yards and eight touchdowns.

The trade comes as a surprise after WR Danny Amendola left for the division rival Miami Dolphins and questions regarding whether or not star TE Rob Gronkowski will continue to play remain open-ended. Recent reports suggested that the Patriots would be willing to trade the tight end given his supposed unhappiness with the culture in New England, but trading Cooks and letting Amendola walk suggests that Gronkowski will remain in New England for now. The 23rd overall selection opens up the door for the Patriots to select a lineman to replace departing OT Nate Solder, or a wide receiver such as Sutton, St. Brown, or Kirk. Their 32nd selection still gives them the opportunity to sure up their front seven or draft one of the tight ends projected at the end of the first round.

The Rams get a speedy deep threat wide receiver to replace departing Sammy Watkins (now with Kansas City) to pair with WRs Tavon Austin, Robert Woods, and Cooper Kupp. The Rams continue to make moves to sure up their position atop the NFC West and capitalize on the momentum that they have generated this offseason. If Jared Goff takes the next step in his development, this team could easily find their way into the NFC Championship game. The Rams moves indicate that they are acutely aware that their window may close quickly, as RB Todd Gurley and QB Jared Goff are still on their rookie contracts, and GM Les Snead is doing everything in his power to put the team in the best position possible to win within the next two years.  Cooks will play this season on the fifth-year option of his rookie deal. After which, the Rams will need to franchise or sign the wide receiver to a long-term deal.

 

Photo Credit: NESN

 

Commentary: Who Is Winning The NFL Free Agency So Far? Top 3 Free Agencies

It’s hard to quantify what a free agent or trade addition will do to help a new team in the coming year. You can never be sure how a player will fit into a new scheme, or play alongside different personnel. So what then becomes the metric to determine how well a team is doing in their offseason additions? Do we have to wait like Mike Mayock and refuse to give out grades? No, there’s no fun or intrigue in waiting to give out offseason grades and rating a teams additions. Instead, we have to assess whether or not the additions have helped make the team better than the previous iteration. For some teams like Cleveland with a lower floor, the additions mean a lot more than other teams that may have added a good player to an already competitive team. So with this in mind, I will begin the objective and abstract process of determining the top three offseasons to date.

Los Angeles Rams
Aqib Talib, Sam Shields, Nickell Robey-Coleman, Lamarcus Joyner, Ndamukong Suh and Marcus Peters. There’s not much else that needs to be said about that. Following the departure of standout Cornerback Trumaine Johnson, the defensive backfield became a question mark. They elected to use the franchise tag on Joyner instead of WR Sammy Watkins, but the team still had holes to fill at the cornerback position. That hole was quickly filled by veteran Aqib Talib, acquired in a trade from Denver, and rising superstar Marcus Peters. The retention of Nickell Robey-Coleman gave the unit their third corner, and veteran Sam Shields provides another reliable defensive back that can contribute on passing downs.
The team did elect to move on from talented Linebackers Alec Ogletree and Robert Quinn, but both were casualties due to the team’s transition to a 3-4 defense. Quinn’s high cap number also contributed to his departure, and both were moved for mid-round picks that can be used to improve upon their weakened front seven. The retention of Defensive Lineman Dominique Easley alleviates some of those concerns if he can stay healthy, but the signing of Suh provides the team with their another standout 3-4 end to compliment Aaron Donald. If the Rams manage to draft or bring in a veteran linebacker, the team will have greatly improved an already strong Wade Phillips led defense.
The offensive unit still has some holes to fill and the team may be in the market for another receiver after losing WR Sammy Watkins to Kansas City. The Rams will likely pursue a veteran to add to their trio of Woods, Austin, and Kupp, but there have been rumors that the New York Giants are taking offers for Odell Beckham Jr. ODB has reportedly refused to set foot on the field until he signs a new contract, so the Giants may be best served by trading the talented wide receiver and there are few teams that are in the mix to compete now with the cap and desire to trade for Beckham who is not guaranteed to resign. The Giants, who appear to be trending down as the rest of the division trends up, need to seriously consider the impact of an ODB trade on their future, and the Rams are just the team that wants to exploit their weakness. As recently as today it was reported that ODB, “wants in,” on the Rams.

Cleveland Browns
Cleveland is the one team that you can point to that has added to their win total this offseason (which after last year wasn’t hard to do). Losing hall of fame Left Tackle Joe Thomas is a big blow to the teams offense, but the additions of RB Carlos Hyde, WR Jarvis Landry, QB Tyrod Taylor, OT Chris Hubbard on offense, and the defensive additions of CB T.J. Carrie, CB E.J. Gains, CB Terrance Mitchell, and S Damarious Randall have put this team in a position to compete in 2018 and beyond. They still sit comfortably with the number one overall pick in this year’s draft, with which they will likely draft their quarterback of the future, the fourth overall pick, and eight total picks in the first four rounds.
If you look around the division, Pittsburgh remains the far and away favorite until Ben Roethlisberger decides to retire, and indications are that it could be sooner rather than later after the star quarterback reportedly considered walking away prior to last season, but the rest of the division aside from Cleveland is not making any significant strides to improve. The long game of the Browns may very well make put them in a position to succeed by 2020, but much of their potential success rests on the shoulders of Head Coach Hugh Jackson and new General Manager John Dorsey. Renewing their commitment to Jackson came as a shock to much of the league after two straight seasons ending in last place finishes, but Cleveland, which has been a carousel for coaches and quarterbacks understands that continuity breeds success… Assuming they have the right man for the job.

Chicago Bears
The Chicago Bears have quietly gotten better during a free agency which has seen the division rival Vikings reaching a historic agreement with their new Franchise Quarterback Kirk Cousins, the LA Rams moving former centerpieces and acquiring star defensive talent, and Cleveland bringing in playoff QB Tyrod Taylor, and elite WR Jarvis Landry, completely reshaping their offense. The Bears are currently at the bottom of the NFC North, a division which is quickly making a case as the most competitive in the NFL, but with a few key additions and the retention of some of their more impactful pieces, the bears are putting themselves in a position to compete in 2018 and beyond.
To do that, QB Mitchell Trubisky will need to take the next step in his development and improve upon his rookie campaign. This offseason, the Bears were able to move on from some of their more expensive contracts and bring in impactful players that can help on the offensive and defensive side of the ball. Their most robust signing came in the form of a three-year $42M contract with WR Allen Robinson, who instantly improves the Bears passing game and gives Trubisky a legitimate #1 receiving option. To further cement their commitment to improving their offensive attack, they also brought in WR Taylor Gabriel on a respectable four-year $26M deal and TE Trey Burton on a four-year $32M contract. In moving on from QB Mike Glennon (who is now with Arizona), the team was able to bring in veterans Chase Daniel (two-years $10M) and Tyler Bray to compete as Trubisky’s backup. Daniel will likely secure the job in camp, but both are experienced guys who will positively contribute to the quarterback room and help Trubisky develop. The Bears may not be in the mix to win the division this year, but they are well on their way to fielding a roster that can make a splash in the division.