Saturday, May 27, 2006

The Architect of the 2006 Detroit Tigers

Joe Dumars gets all the credit in Detroit for taking a wretched excuse of a basketball team and molding it into championship-caliber material within a few years. While Dumars deserves all of the credit he has garnered, there is another General Manager in Detroit that has done every bit the job Dumars has done. Since I’m obviously not talking about Matt Millen or Ken Holland, I’m sure you’ve figured out that I’m talking about Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski. Those of you that have read this blog regularly know that I have been a fan of Dombrowski for quite some time. However, I think Dombrowski’s masterpiece has been lost on Tigers fans and the Detroit media as Tigers-Mania has gripped the town. Jim Leyland has received the bulk of the accolades thus far while Dombrowski continues to come up short in the respect department. I’d like to shed some light on how Dombrowski inherited a pile of bile (so to speak) in 2001 and molded that pile of bile into the best team in MLB by 2006. Considering Dombrowski did the nearly the same thing with the Florida Marlins in 1997, I doubt we’re dealing with a coincidence.

Dombrowski’s Welcoming Gift

To properly credit Dombrowski it is necessary to be reminded what he was given when he signed on to lead the Tigers in 2001. For years, former Tigers GM Randy Smith buried the organization under a pile of bad drafts, bad contracts and horrible player development. Luckily for Tigers fans, the difference between Dombrowski and Smith has been akin to the difference between Scarlett Johansson and Kelly Osbourne. Here is the list of everyday players from the 2001 season:

2001 Detroit Tigers

C Robert Fick
1B Tony Clark
2B Damion Easley
SS Deivi Cruz
3B Jose Macias
OF Bobby Higginson
OF Juan Encarnacion
OF Roger Cedeno
DH Dean Palmer

Team Batting Average: .260

Main reserves: Shane Halter, Randall Simon, Wendell Magee, Brandon Inge

SP Steve Sparks
SP Jeff Weaver
SP Chris Holt
SP Jose Lima
SP Dave Mlicki

RP Matt Anderson
RP Todd Jones
RP Danny Patterson
RP C.J. Nitkowski

Team ERA: 5.01

Click here to see the entire 2001 roster. This is not recommended for pregnant women, people with heart problems, or small children.

The Idiot’s Guide to Shrewd Moves 101

The only player on that list that still remains with the Tigers (other than Todd Jones who left and re-signed this season) is Brandon Inge. In five seasons, Dombrowski got rid of all everyday position players and pitchers. Through a number of shrewd moves, Dombrowski acquired young, talented players to fill the minor leagues. Those moves paid off as the Tigers had the best combined record of any minor league organization in baseball last season. Slowly, but surely, the players that he acquired either made their way through the minor leagues or took their lumps in the big leagues on bad teams. While the Tigers were piling up 100-loss seasons, a movement was underway. It’s just that most people were too focused on the losses to see it happening. Here are the transactions that Dombrowski has made since his arrival in 2001:

2-1-02 Claimed OF Craig Monroe off of waivers from the Texas Rangers

7-6-02 Traded P Jeff Weaver for P Jeremy Bonderman, 1B Carlos Pena, and RP Franklyn German

1-11-03 Traded P Mark Redman for P Nate Robertson, P Gary Knotts, and P Rob Henkel

12-8-03 Signed OF Marcus Thames

12-15-03 Drafted 1B Chris Shelton in the Rule-5 draft

1-8-04 Traded SS Ramon Santiago and SS Juan Gonzalez for SS Carlos Guillen

2-2-04 Signed C Pudge Rodriguez to a four year deal

1-6-05 Traded INF Anderson Hernandez for C Vance Wilson

2-7-05 Signed OF Magglio Ordonez to a five year deal

6-8-05 Traded RP Ugueth Urbina and INF Ramon Martinez for 2B Placido Polanco

12-8-05 Signed RP Todd Jones to a two year deal

12-12-05 Signed P Kenny Rogers to a two year deal

Dombrowski was maligned for the contracts he awarded Pudge Rodriguez and Magglio Ordonez since both players were coming off injuries. Dombrowski was also criticized for trading Jeff Weaver in 2002 and signing Todd Jones and Kenny Rogers this past off-season. In five years of work, I can’t seem to find a single move that backfired for Dombrowski. The Tigers didn’t give up on any players that eventually made it big for another team. The Tigers were burned on the contracts given to Fernando Vina and Troy Percival but those were unexpected injuries. Dombrowski always cashed in his most valuable commodities when their values peaked (i.e. Mark Redman, Jeff Weaver, Kyle Farnsworth, Brian Moehler). He never let a player leave Detroit without getting value for him. Even more amazing, out of all the trades he has made since 2001, the Tigers didn’t give up even one player that is contributing meaningful numbers in MLB today. Urbina is in jail. Weaver was never the same after the trade to the Yankees. Redman’s best seasons in MLB were with the Tigers. The prospects that the Tigers gave up in the Guillen and Polanco trades never materialized. There is a common saying in sports that goes something like, “you have to give to get”. Presumably, what you give has to be worth something in order to receive value in return. In five years, Dombrowski has gotten without giving time and time again.

The Draft Guru

As excellent as Dombrowski has been in building a formidable Detroit Tigers ball-club and supplying depth to the minor leagues, his true impact won’t be felt for a another 2-3 years. Dombrowski has stockpiled the farm system with quality “arms”. He has a plethora of prospects in the minor leagues that have major league potential. Each draft brings in 5-6 new prospects that the Tigers expect to make an impact in the future. Before Dombrowski arrived, it would take 5-6 years for the Tigers to get 5-6 prospects through the draft. Here are just some of the names that the Tigers have accumulated through the MLB Draft since Dombrowski’s arrival:

Brent Clevlen drafted 2nd round of 2002 MLB draft

Curtis Granderson drafted 3rd round of 2002 MLB draft

Joel Zumaya drafted 11th round of 2002 MLB draft

Jordan Tata drafted 16th round of 2003 MLB draft

Justin Verlander drafted 1st round of 2004 MLB draft

Jeff Frazier drafted 3rd round of 2004 MLB draft

Nate Bumstead drafted 32nd round of 2004 MLB draft

Dallas Trahern drafted 34th round of 2004 MLB draft

Cameron Maybin drafted 1st round of 2005 MLB draft

Kevin Whelan drafted 4th round of 2005 MLB draft

Jeff Larish drafted 5th round of 2005 MLB draft

The Tigers own the 6th overall pick in next week’s 2006 MLB Draft which is quite a coup for a team with the best record in MLB.

Sorting Through the Rubbish

Like most things that he’s done well, Dombrowski has also failed to gain praise for his ability to recognize the Tigers that were worth keeping on the 2001 team. While orchestrating the mass exodus of virtually every Tigers player in the organization, Dombrowski managed to identify the only players that were worth keeping. Looking back on who he decided to keep and let go, I can’t see even one obvious mistake. The following players are just a few players that were in the farm system in 2001 that remain with the organization today: Fernando Rodney, Jamie Walker, Omar Infante, Brandon Inge, and Humberto Sanchez

Rodney is a premier set-up man. Walker is a situational-lefty with a miniscule ERA. Inge is a quality third basemen and one of the premier number nine hitters in MLB. Infante is proving to be a valuable commodity for Jim Leyland this season. After Verlander and Zumaya made the team out of Spring Training, Sanchez immediately became the Tigers top pitching prospect. He hasn’t disappointed. In nine games for Double AA Erie Sanchez is 5-2 with a 1.87 ERA. Even more amazing are his 68 strike-outs in 57.2 innings.

Know When to Say When

Another aspect that Dombrowski has thrived in is his ability to cut loose players that the Tigers had invested a lot of time and money into without any sort of return. While the temptation exists to milk the investment to the last possible drop, these players were “busts” that had run their course in Detroit. These ill-fated experiments included Matt Anderson, Carlos Pena, and Eric Munson. Each player has failed to succeed in other organizations while the Tigers replaced them with productive major leaguers.

The Quantum Leap

For the first time in decades, the Tigers have a legitimate shot at being the best team in MLB. Likewise, for the first time in decades, the Tigers are dealing from a position of strength. They have a potent roster from top to bottom. Every position is filled with a viable major leaguer. Come the July trade-deadline, the Tigers will now play the role that was customarily held by the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. The Tigers can make a run at a superstar pitcher like Dontrelle Willis because the depth in the minor leagues allows it. Dombrowski could dangle Humberto Sanchez, Kevin Whelan, and Jordan Tata in front of a re-building Florida Marlins team in an effort to acquire one of the most dominant left-handed pitchers in the game. We all saw how brilliant Dombrowski was without any leverage. Just imagine what he can do dealing from a position of power. I expect Dombrowski to explore all options come the trade deadline including making a run at a top-of-the-rotation starter. He did the dirty work for five years with little to no credit. Now, he gets to do the fun stuff.

Some People Wouldn’t Recognize Brilliance if it Hit Them in the Face and said, "Hello, my name is Brilliance. How are you?"

While Jim Leyland deserves some credit for the clubhouse atmosphere and his selection of a competent coaching staff, Dombrowski is the real hero. He hasn’t received anywhere close to the recognition as Leyland despite being the architect of the whole operation. In fact, one would think that his name is Dumb-rowski by the way he has been treated in the media. A few months ago, Rob Parker wrote an article in the Detroit News bashing Dombrowski. Apparently, Parker had forgotten the mess that was the 2001 Tigers organization. It’s almost humorous to read this now but it is somewhat consistent with how Dombrowski has been viewed in Detroit by fans and the media for the last five years. The knowledgeable Tigers fans could see what Dombrowski was doing from day one but those fans were few and far between. It takes time to revamp an entire organization from A-ball to the Major Leagues. Dombrowski fixed 15 years of neglect in just five seasons. More impressively, he pulled it off without 99% of the baseball world noticing.

As I mentioned earlier, Parker wasn’t the only writer who continually degraded Dombrowski’s efforts. Here is an excerpt by Pat Caputo while he was contributing to a write-up on the state of the Tigers’ farm system for Baseball America in 2004:

“While the Tigers made a comeback to moderate respectability at the major league level in 2004, improving from 43-119 to 72-90, the farm system may have hit a new low. Given the organization’s dismal track record in player development over the past quarter century, that’s quite a statement.”

Has there ever been a more clear case of a writer attempting to hit the Tigers while they were down? In the same article, Caputo lists the Tigers top-ten prospects as:

  1. Curtis Granderson, of
  2. Kyle Sleeth, rhp
  3. Justin Verlander, rhp
  4. Joel Zumaya, rhp
  5. Humberto Sanchez, rhp
  6. Tony Giarratano, ss
  7. Jeff Frazier, of
  8. Ryan Raburn, 2b
  9. Eric Beattie, rhp
  10. Eulogio de la Cruz, rhp
What a bunch of losers, eh? It’s not like all of these players unexpectedly succeeded. It’s just that it was easier to pile on to the criticism rather than wait three or four years to see the payoff. Dombrowski hired David Chadd as the new director of scouting in 2003 which was widely regarded as a heist from the Boston Red Sox. Dombrowski has one of the best assistant GM’s in the business in Al Aliva. He recently added money to the payroll for more scouting in Latin America. With the roster that was inherited in 2001 combined with the payroll limitations given by Owner Mike Illitch, I can’t imagine anyone doing a better job than what Dombrowski has done in Detroit. It’s inconceivable that the turnaround of the entire organization could’ve been done any faster. When Dombrowski finally gets the respect he deserves and is revered in Detroit as a mastermind, it should be remembered how much flack he endured while he was stuck with all of the dirty work. Eventually, writers like Parker and Caputo will have to eat crow or risk being institutionalized.

Every time a Tigers fan smiles after a victory, he/she should give credit where credit’s due. Dombrowski deserves the same status as Joe Dumars here in Detroit. Think of it this way; is it easier to overhaul a 12-man NBA roster, or an entire MLB organization including the minor league system and a 40-man major league roster?

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Tigers Fever is Upon Us

Considering that I’m posting this because the Tigers have THE (no ties) best record in MLB three weeks into May, and considering that might not happen again for 50 years, it is imperative that I get this out before Friday’s game against Cincinnati. For all I know, the Tigers will keep playing this winning brand of baseball all season long. Just in case that doesn’t happen, here is the first ever, “Tigers have the best record in MLB on May 18” post. The tone of this post won’t be specific and the message might be pointless. I won’t spare the Tigers criticism just because they have a good record as is commonplace among some fans. What I will be doing, though, is giving everyone the credit they’ve earned and take a look at what might lay ahead. I know there are some people out there that feel that criticism can only be directed at “sinking ships”. As anyone who’s ever been in charge of the success of an organization, only focusing on improving things when things are going bad is going to lead to a quick, and painful down fall. The best organizations (sports or otherwise) are the ones that critique themselves through the good times and bad.

I’d like to take a look at each of the positions on the team and discuss how each has performed thus far and how we can expect them to perform fro this point on.


The offense has been a roller coaster all season long. One game, the Tigers will explode for nine runs which will be followed by a three game-stretch where they won’t score four runs. The offense is built on power. The Tigers are second in MLB in home runs. While that might be a reason to be excited, the down side is that they’re 15th in runs scored and 20th in OBP. The Tigers have been dreadful at “small ball”. They are 26th in SB’s. They have the 7th most strikeouts and are 27th in walks. Basically, the Tigers have been long ball or bust. It’s easy to make the excuse that the Tigers don’t have speed. For some people, that’s enough of an argument. For other people, the 27-13 record means the Tigers have nothing to worry about. For knowledgeable baseball fans, these numbers are troubling. For those that think the Tigers simply can’t play small ball because they don’t have speed, keep in mind that Curtis Granderson, Pudge, Carlos Guillen, Craig Monroe, and Placido Polanco have decent speed. There is no reason why these players can’t steal a base or two every now and then. There’s also no reason why speed should have anything to do with the ability (or inability) to lay down a bunt. The Tigers are quite possibly the worst team I’ve ever seen at bunting. They are also just as bad at moving runners home from third base with less than two outs. The Tigers are 27-13 because of their pitching. The offense has been average at best. The little things like stolen bases, bunting, sacrifices, and base running have been among the worst in baseball. Unless Jim Leyland changes what he’s been doing, the Tigers offensive mediocrity will get in the way of making the playoffs.


The pitching has been dynamite. Justin Verlander is the real deal. Considering he’s the Tigers’ fifth starter and, quite possibly, the Tigers’ fifth best starter, that says something about the depth of the staff. The Tigers lead MLB in ERA. They have seven team shutouts which is by far the best in baseball. The only weakness on the staff is the bullpen’s inability to keep runners off the bases in tight games. While the pen has converted 18 of 20 saves and has 23 holds (4th in all of baseball), the Tigers have had their fare share of sticky situations in the ninth inning.


The Tigers lead the majors in preventing stolen bases. The Tigers are also 5th in double plays turned and 2nd in defensive efficiency rating (DER). The Tigers have gotten an admirable effort from Brandon Inge at third. Carlos Guillen and Placido Polanco are as reliable as they come in the infield. The outfield probably isn’t anywhere near the best in baseball defensively but they haven’t been terrible either. Defense in baseball is like an offensive lineman in the NFL. You only hear about either if one of them is bad. The Tigers have been pretty good on defense this year which is something new for Detroit.


Pudge hasn’t been fantastic this season but he’s been good. His average is above .300 as usual. He’s drawing more walks than last season. He still seems to be in tremendous shape. He’s a deterrent to opposing base-runners. The Tigers invested a lot of money in Pudge two years ago and they’re getting what they paid for. With 30+ teams willing to spend tons of money on free agents, few teams are lucky enough to get something for nothing. The Tigers did the next best thing by getting something for something.

First Base:

Chris Shelton is fine just the way he is. Unless you got caught up in Shelton’s nine home runs in his first 13 games, you don’t expect anything more than a slightly above average power-hitter that can hover around .300 all season. Jim Leyland had Shelton hitting in the 6th spot from the get-go and that move has paid off. Shelton’s slump of late has been minimized by the fact that he is not in the middle of the order. Although his impact hasn’t been minimal, the 3-5 hitters in the lineup have been able to pick up the slack. Shelton is also an above average fielder with a knack for being in the right position. He orchestrated an out earlier this week by allowing a ball down the first base line to roll back into fair territory. The thing I like about Shelton the most, though, is the fact that he puts things in perspective. When he was hitting nine home runs in 13 games, he admitted that he was just going with the flow. When he went 2-4 the other day, the TV reporter asked him if he was now back on track and Shelton said something to the effect of “It’s one game. If I put a few of these games together, then we might have something.” Shelton seems to be somewhat back on track which is something the Tigers would gladly welcome.

Second Base:

Nobody in baseball strikes out less than Placido Polanco. For at team that seems to be trying to manufacturing runs as much as your average National League team, Polanco would be a perfect fit in the two-hole. Unfortunately, Polanco has been injured as of late. However, with less than two outs and a guy on first or second, Polanco is “money” at advancing the runners. This is an art that has been lost on virtually every other Tigers hitter. While I can’t discount Polanco’s ability to move runners over, it takes more than one hitter of Polanco’s ability to make for an effective offense. Polanco has been solid in the field and gives the Tigers the best second baseman they’ve had in years.


Carlos Guillen has been a professional-grade hitter ever since the Tigers finished runner-up in the Rich Aurilia sweepstakes. Guillen can hit effectively from both sides of the plate. He can hit the ball to all areas of the field. He can hit for power or simply get on base. There is no question that Guillen’s prowess on the base paths has been compromised by his knee injuries. Leyland needs to recognize this before he continues with the “Guillen getting thrown out trying to steal second” game-plan.

Third Base:

If the Tigers were like most teams in MLB and relied on power and run production from their third basemen, then Inge would clearly be a disappointment. However, Inge often hits ninth and hits very well for a ninth hitter. It would be my preference to have Jim Leyland use the hit and run less with Inge at the plate. Inge is not one of the better contact hitters on the team. Leyland’s aggressive use of the hit and run has led to way too many rally-ending plays. Inge is one of the top end-of-lineup power hitters in baseball. He is above average as a third baseman considering he is a converted catcher. Inge has been a pleasant surprise in the field and with the bat this season.


Magglio Ordonez is finally healthy. His numbers have been through the roof these past few weeks. The baseball world “threw a fit” when the Tigers signed Mags to a long-term deal. The fact that the only way the Tigers could compete is to make such offers seem to be lost on most baseball “experts.” The Tigers used that strategy on both Ivan Rodriguez and Mags and now it’s paying off. The Tigers have two All-Star caliber hitters in the middle of the lineup. Plus, Mags has sweet hair.

With Cameron Maybin in the fold, the Tigers only need a fill-in centerfielder for three years. Curtis Granderson should be able to get the job done. He has taken a lot of criticism as a leadoff hitter because of his less than stellar average. However, his OBP is much higher than our leadoff hitters of the past. He also leads the team in walks and it’s not even close. My biggest complaint with Granderson is not actually with Granderson. Leyland has done a borderline-awful job at managing base runners this season. Last weekend, Granderson was on first with no outs in a 1-0 game (Cleveland was leading). Cleveland’s catcher, Victor Martinez, is THE worst catcher in MLB at throwing out base runners. He had thrown out 3% (yes, 3) of base runners this season. Instead of sending Granderson (Leyland’s leadoff man, mind you), he opted for a hit and run which turned into a double play. I was screaming at the TV imploring Leyland to send Granderson. You can imagine my state of mind when the DP happened. Some people might point out that Granderson did try stealing later in the game (with the game in hand) and was thrown out. What those people won’t tell you is that Cleveland called a pitch-out which is a guaranteed out. Granderson has been average at the top of the lineup and considering what the Tigers have had in years past, average is fine by me.

Craig Monroe has taken some heat for his .230-ish batting average. That might have been a problem last season when Monroe was our best power-hitter. However, with Monroe often hitting in the #7 or #8 spot, Monroe’s 9 HR’s and 20+ RBI’s will do just fine. Monroe is more than adequate in the field and provides end of the lineup pop with Brandon Inge. Few teams in MLB can put hitters like Monroe and Inge back to back in the 8 and 9 spots.

The Bench:

Leyland has been liberal in his use of the bench this season. He has used Ramon Santiago, Vance Wilson, Omar Infante, Marcus Thames, and Alexis Gomez far more than I had anticipated entering the season. To everyone’s surprise, these players have delivered time and time again. Thames has a thunderous bat which often provides havoc at the end of the lineup. Wilson allows Leyland to keep Pudge in the game as DH which is a big upgrade over Trammel’s substitution patterns.

Pitching (again):

Kenny Rogers has been worth far more than $8 million this season. His numbers are fantastic (7-2 2.91 ERA) thus far. However, his biggest impact might be from his constant mentoring of the other four starters in the rotation. Some people thought that giving Rogers all that money was a kin to throwing it away. However, Dombrowski took a gamble and it has paid off again. Jeremy Bonderman was all set to be the staff ace before Rogers signed. He has pitched well for the most part. His good games are as good as it gets. His bad innings are the stuff of nightmares. However, Bonderman has weathered the storm early on and boasts a sub 4.00 ERA and is among the league leaders in K’s and K/9. Maroth and Robertson have been pleasant surprises as they have both improved since last year. If they both can continue to pitch effectively, the Tigers will not go away before the end of the season. The biggest question mark coming into the season was how effective Justin Verlander could be in the fifth spot. Although Verlander has had shaky performances (Angels), he has done more than anyone could have hoped with a 5-3 record and a 3.18 ERA.

The Bullpen has been good but has the potential to be fantastic. As good as Fernando Rodney’s ERA and Todd Jones’ save total have been neither pitcher has gotten into a groove. When those two get going, the Tigers will have the best bullpen in MLB. There isn’t a team in MLB that can bring a guy into a game in the 7th inning that’s anywhere near as good as Joel Zumaya. His consistent 100+ MPH fast balls leave opposing players shaking their heads. Zumaya might very well be the best pitcher in the Tigers’ pen, if not on the staff. Jamie Walker has been weak as of late but his 1.04 ERA means that he has been good way more than he’s been bad. Jason Grilli, Bobby Seay, and Ramon Colon/Jordan Tata don’t see much game action and that’s not such a bad thing. That means that we’re playing close games where Zumaya-Rodney-Jones is the preferred order.

Of the Tigers that have pitched 14+ innings, none has an ERA higher than 3.86. The domination by the pitching staff has truly been a team effort.


I know it’s chic to give Jim Leyland all of the credit for the Tigers being 14 (yes, FOUR-TEEN) games over .500 but it’s important to avoid “Larry Brown Syndrome”. Whereas Leyland has brought a sense of professionalism to the Tigers that has been missing since Sparky Anderson, Leyland has been far from brilliant over the first two months of the season. Leyland’s impact is felt in the locker room and on road trips. He gives his team confidence by standing behind them. Don’t get me wrong, that is a vital component for a team to be successful. However, the health of Mags and Carlos Guillen, the mindset of Pudge, the emergence of Chris Shelton, and the dominance of the pitching staff have more to do with the Tigers success than Leyland’s arrival. Remember, Bob Cluck (Tigers former pitching coach) said all along that the Tigers would have a dynamite pitching staff in ’06 well before Leyland arrived.

My beef with Leyland has been solely in the area of game-management. As I mentioned above, his handling of base runners has been atrocious. Yesterday, he ran a suicide squeeze with Mags on third base. Except, he forgot to tell Brandon Inge who happened to be the hitter. Leyland failed repeatedly to send runners on first with no outs against the worst defensive catcher in baseball against Cleveland last week. The Tigers were fortunate enough to leave Cleveland with three wins but that was no thanks to Tigers base running. Leyland also cost the Tigers a game against Baltimore by leaving in Fernando Rodney for two innings after he gave up a two run lead in his first inning. Rodney, who was clearly having an off day, came back in the ninth to lose the game. While I admire Leyland’s confidence-building approach, when a pitcher is struggling and you have other options, you make the switch. It seemed like Leyland had already decided Rodney was going two innings before Rodney even threw a pitch.

I have also been disappointed with Leyland’s refusal to allow his starters to finish games. While the Tigers bullpen has been impressive this year, time and time again, Leyland has pulled a starter after the eighth only to see Todd Jones or Fernando Rodney allow two or more base runners. Pitchers love complete games. Anybody who tells you less would be lying. That doesn’t mean that Leyland shouldn’t go with the pen or should always award his starter by giving them a complete game. What I am saying is that when a pitcher has gone 8 innings with less than 100 pitches, stay with the guy that just went 8 innings without giving up a run instead of bringing in a guy who puts runners on base like it’s his job, or the guy who can’t help but walk the leadoff man. The Tigers have seven shutouts this year with no complete games. The last three shutouts have seen the starter go eight before bringing in a reliever in the ninth. It seems like Leyland is pandering to the save statistic rather than going with what has worked for eight innings.

I understand that saves are important to relievers. I understand that saves are how relievers make money. However, when a starting pitcher has gone eight innings and allowed zero runs, obviously his stuff is on that night. Whether the closer’s stuff is on that night is a totally different story that won’t be known until that pitcher comes into the game. If the game is 3-2 and the starting pitcher has a high pitch count, by all means, bring in the closer. But, if the game is 1-0, and the starting pitcher is breezing, stay with what got you there. Starting pitchers LOVE complete game shutouts. In seven chances, Leyland has awarded exactly zero of his starters with a complete game shutout. I would venture to say that a complete game shutout is ten times more meaningful to a starter than a save is to a reliever.

Leyland obviously knows the game of baseball. He'll only get better as he gets acclimated to being on the bench six days a week. I like Leyland's candor. He's good for the organization. He gets pissed when the Tigers don't play hard. He defends his players. I just hope he improves his in-game management.

Looking forward:

The Tigers haven’t jumped to a 27-13 record and the best mark in MLB with smoke and mirrors. The Tigers have easily the best pitching staff in baseball. They have allowed twenty less runs than the next best team (St. Louis). They have allowed 41 less runs than the next best team in the AL (NY Yankees). Those are unbelievable statistics. They have pop from 1-9 in the lineup. They have a good defensive infield. They have the best defensive catcher in baseball. They have lights-out middle relief. This is a team that will be in contention all season. There will be trade rumors as the deadline approaches but the Tigers don’t have many weaknesses. Unless a starter goes down, the Tigers do not have room to acquire another starting pitcher. The bullpen is packed. The lineup is stacked. No matter how many Joel Zumaya for Dontrelle Willis trade rumors you here, the Tigers don’t need anything via trade barring an injury. The only thing standing in the way of the Tigers and the post-season is the fact that there are two elite teams standing in the way. The Tigers have to either beat out the Chicago White Sox to win the Central Division, or beat out the NY Yankees/Boston Red Sox (whoever doesn’t win the East) for the Wild Card. Considering that the ChiSox won the World Series last year and the Red Sox and Yankees have payrolls of $120 million and $199 million, the odds don’t look to be in the Tigers favor. Having said that, the Tigers are easily one of the four best teams in the American League. Whether the Tigers make the playoffs or not, this team will experience a meaningful September for the first time in many, many years.

My prediction for the Tigers was 87-75. As it stands now, I’ll stay with that prediction. The Tigers have done well to dispatch of the Twins and Indians thus far but both of those teams should improve as the year goes on. The Tigers also have to contend with the ChiSox on a number of occasions. If the Tigers can play .500 ball against the ChiSox, then they will have a chance at the division. Considering Chicago’s penchant for beating up on the bad teams, anything less than a .500 record against them will likely spell a second place finish in the Central for Detroit. The only difference between the Tigers and ChiSox right now is that the Sox are excellent at manufacturing runs. They play “small ball” as well as any team in baseball. Considering both teams have dynamite pitching staffs, small ball will likely play a deciding factor in many games. The Tigers must improve in this department to contend.

Friday, May 12, 2006

I loathe Bonds with conviction

I make every attempt to put my distaste for certain athletes in perspective. I’ll be the first to admit that my dislike for Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls of the early 90’s was solely based on the fact that they dethroned the Bad Boys. I despised them with all of the childhood hate I could muster up. Likewise, my rage against the Notre Dame leprechaun was uncontrollable and purely childish. I honestly think that seeing that leprechaun suffer pain would’ve made me happy. Flash forward 15 years and I can see that those thoughts would be irrational and irresponsible for anyone over the age of 17. Through the years, I’ve formed a personal code for which reasons to dislike an athlete are deemed reasonable or unreasonable.

For instance, my distaste for Carmelo Anthony comes from a number of places. His desire to prove to the Pistons that they made a mistake by “disrespecting” him is just one of the reasons. His involvement in a number of high profile situations involving connections to street crime and the “snitch” campaign is another reason. My distaste for Shaquille O’Neal comes from his belief that he is “allowed” under the rules to physically punish opposing players without being called for a foul. I also don’t care for his refusal to give proper respect to teams that have beaten him in the playoffs. He often says that his team lost because they didn’t play well and not because the other team was better. I have not seen an ounce of humility from him in his 13 seasons. I happen to value humility highly. Keep in mind that I was the President of the Shaquille O’Neal bandwagon in 1992. Neither of those two players can hold a candle to my disdain for Kobe Bryant. Bryant and selfishness could soon be interchangeable words in the English language.

While Carmelo Anthony, Shaq and Kobe are three people that I only know through the press, it is entirely possible that each is an upstanding citizen who deserves nothing but the best in life. Even though my personal code allows me to dislike them, it’s entirely possible that my distaste for them is irrational since I only know what has been reported in the press. However, the first person that I have truly hated post “irrational childhood hatred” that I feel no remorse whatsoever for said hatred, is none other than Barry Bonds. Although, Kobe is making a sound case at becoming number two on the list. Each passing day, I hope for some sort of miracle in the form of Bonds not passing Babe Ruth on the home run list. There’s nothing deeply rooted about my wish for Bonds to fall short of Ruth and Aaron. I simply don’t believe he deserves to break the record.

Before I go any further, I want to point out that I think Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, Sammy Sosa, and Jose Canseco don’t deserve to be recognized for their accomplishments either. I wrote a paper in college during the fall of ’98 that discussed the impact of the McGwire-Sosa home run race. McGwire and Sosa polarized baseball fans in a time when baseball was struggling to bring in fans. I was enamored by the race. I was engulfed by McGwire and Sosa’s larger than life personas. Two players were breaking records in a sport with 100+ years of history. I loved every minute of it. But, we now know that the great home run race of ‘98 was a fraud. Mark McGwire was on steroids and Sammy Sosa was likely on the “juice” as well. I no longer look back on that season with affection. I have stricken those accomplishments from my memory. I have stripped McGwire and Sosa’s careers in my mind down to one word: inflated. Inflated numbers. Inflated forearms. Inflated recognition. Those guys made millions of dollars off of cheating and frankly, the money is all they should be left with.

I don’t want to get sidetracked here but I want to address something that I think is ridiculous. I have heard countless reporters and TV personalities say that baseball fans are hypocrites for lambasting players that used steroids because the fans were the ones that wanted the home runs. That has been said so much that it has actually become an accepted belief. Somehow, the fans longing for home runs are responsible for the “steroid era”. It’s as if we injected the steroids into their bodies ourselves. Ken Griffey Jr. hit 50+ home runs on a number of occasions without using steroids. Alex Rodriguez is well on his way to hitting 700+ career home runs without the aid of steroids. The same can be said for Albert Pujols and a number of other rising stars in baseball. Those are the types of players that fans want to see hit home runs. Fans don’t deserve to be dooped by steroid users because they like home runs. That’s a ridiculous misuse of logic.

Back to Bonds. My hatred for Bonds is equal parts the above paragraph and his deplorable personality. Anybody who hasn’t read “Game of Shadows” needs to do so pronto. If you haven’t read the book or the excerpt from the March 13 Sports Illustrated, this article will give you a nice summary. If you have time, read the excerpt from Sports Illustrated. Bonds comes off as a total jerk with hardly a positive personality trait to speak of. He’s vindictive and jealous. He’s egotistical and confrontational. He hates the media because they have shed him in a negative light. From all accounts, the “negative light” has been justly bestowed. So essentially, he hates the media for telling the truth. Bonds seems to have a “little man” complex where he often ridicules other people in an effort to make himself feel better. He’s long felt that nobody wants to see him succeed. When he was winning MVP awards during his pre-steroid phase, I had nothing but good feelings towards Bonds. He was a talented five-tool star with a seemingly likeable personality. In fact, the San Francisco Giants became one of my favorite teams when he arrived from Pittsburgh. I had the pleasure of seeing a Giants-Cubs game at Candlestick Park back in the mid 90’s when the Giants consisted of Bonds and Glenallen Hill and loved every minute of it.

As Bonds got older, his “real” personality started to show in the press. He once made a statement to the effect that he’s “beating all of the records of your white hero Babe Ruth so now people have to respect me” and that people don’t want him passing Ruth for racial reasons. I’m sure there are people out there that feel that way but for Bonds to generalize that thought to “baseball fans” in America was ridiculous. My guess is that there’s not a “complex” that Bonds doesn’t have.

Anyhow, after reading the damning evidence from “Game of Shadows”, I could not understand for the life of me why the feds hadn’t charged Bonds with perjury. Thankfully, the feds wisened up and changed their minds. Also, Bud Selig announced that MLB would investigate Bonds. Bonds will pass Ruth on the home run list very soon. Despite his claims otherwise, there is also a very good possibility that Bonds will pass Aaron as the all-time home run leader. My only hope is that justice will be served in the form of a perjury conviction or a MLB finding that Bonds did indeed take steroids rendering an asterisk next to Bonds’ name. Bonds should not have the honor of standing at the top of a list littered with non-steroid users. At the very least, I get some comfort in knowing that Bonds has to live with the fact that he cheated and that he’s a scoundrel.

I can vividly remember Bonds’ disgust by the Ken Griffey Jr.-Barry Bonds debate of the mid-90’s. They were regarded as the two best in baseball. Bonds felt he was obviously the better player. Ten years later, Griffey’s accomplishments stand far and beyond Bonds’. Griffey did his damage without the aid of performance enhancing drugs. In all honesty, Ken Griffey Jr. stands to gain the most from the Bonds inquisition. If all steroid users are taken out of the equation, Ken Griffey Jr. stands alone as the premier power hitter of the last forty years.

Joe Morgan discussed Bonds and racism on Baseball Tonight the other day. It seems that it’s almost impossible to root against Bonds without being labeled a racist or having the word “racism” pop up. Morgan basically said that it’s impossible to root against Bonds without it being racism. Like I mentioned above, I’m sure there are bigots out there that hate Bonds because he’s black. That’s unfortunate and unacceptable. However, that represents a minute percentage of baseball fans. I’m rooting against Bonds because he’s a cheating jerk. If “Game of Shadows” is an accurate depiction of Bonds, then he is a reprehensible human-being. I’ll be the first to apologize to Bonds if he is vindicated on all counts. Bonds thought that America was enamored with McGwire’s ’98 home run binge was because he was white. He also felt that his own accomplishments were not met with the same fanfare because he was black. It’s that kind of thinking that perpetuates the racism talk in our society. There is one thing similar about Bonds, McGwire, Sosa, and Palmeiro and it’s not their race. Each is an embarrassment to baseball and to themselves. There is one thing similar about Alex Rodriguez, Ken Griffey Jr., Albert Pujols, Vladimir Guerrero; they are human beings that I would love to see break the all-time home run record. Bonds is a delusional, self-enamored, steroid-using man. Being black has nothing to do with that.

Monday, May 08, 2006

How to lose a game in MLB

The Tigers proved on Saturday why they are still the same old Tigers. There is reason to be excited about the future since the organization is talented at every position and at every level. However, until the Tigers quit doing the things that have made them the “same old Tigers”, they will continue to be closer to the doormat that has frequented the cellar in the American League for the last 15 years than a playoff contending team.

As usual, I sat down on Saturday with great anticipation for a Tigers victory with Jeremy Bonderman on the mound. The Tigers blasted the Twins last weekend and took the first game of this series. On paper, this game seemed like a mismatch. But, as some dude on Sportscenter says, “that’s why they play the games.” The Tigers played the quintessential Tigers game on their way to a 7-6 loss to Minnesota. This loss wasn’t a normal loss. The 7-2 shellacking that the Tigers took from the Angels on Thursday was a normal loss. The 4-2 loss that the Tigers suffered at the hands of Johan Santana on Sunday afternoon was a normal loss. In both instances, the other team played better and the Tigers deserved to lose. The Angels are a good ball-club that will give the Tigers fits every time they play. This loss to the Twins was much different.

The Twins were nine games behind the Tigers in the standings entering Saturday’s game. They were struggling in every aspect of baseball. They were last in the AL in ERA. They were struggling in the lineup. By all accounts, this was a game the Tigers should’ve won, and more importantly, needed to win. These are the types of games that end up being the difference between winning the Central Division and finishing 5-10 games back. The Chicago White Sox keep playing teams they are supposed to beat and they keep beating teams they are supposed to beat. The Tigers must follow suit.

The way the Tigers lost this game was annoying for the casual fan and extremely troublesome for the diehards. There were four things that made this game a disaster that was much worse than what the scoreboard indicated. If a team wants to summon up the ghosts of the 1919 ChiSox and lose a game on purpose, I guarantee that doing these four things will get the job done.

1). The Tigers left 10 men on base. They struck out ten times and had zero walks. The Tigers have struggled this year in moving runners over. Saturday was no different. Time after time, Tigers hitters come up with runners in scoring position with no outs only to strikeout or pop-up in the infield. The Tigers have been amazingly inefficient at the plate this season. For all the talk of the Tigers being more disciplined this year, not much has changed. With a runner on second and no outs, a run should almost be a guarantee if played right. The Tigers have consistently failed to put down good bunts, let alone bunts at all. They’ve consistently failed to hit the ball out of the infield to move runners over. The most basic principles of baseball are the things that the Tigers are struggling with. That’s never a good sign.

2). I’m as big of a Jeremy Bonderman fan as there is. I think he has a bright future. He’s only 23 years old and he has improved since his early days as a Tiger. However, the first inning mental block that has plagued his short career is something that needs to be addressed. Too many people talk about it as if it’s normal and OK. It is not OK for a MLB pitcher to have issues getting out of the first inning. Obviously, Bonderman and the Tigers don’t want to have problems in the first inning. I’m not saying they haven’t worked on this issue but unless Bondo wants to become the next Chuck Knoblach, the Tigers need to get over this significant mental hurdle. Right now, the difference between Bondo being an All-Star ace, and just an average pitcher is the first inning.

3). For all the talk about the Tigers bullpen this year, I wouldn’t bet a dollar on any game that the Tigers are up one run in the ninth inning. Despite having issues with walking the leadoff hitter, Fernando Rodney has been pretty good. He has put the Tigers in far more precarious situations than his ERA would otherwise indicate. Combine that with the mess that is Todd Jones and the Tigers don’t have nearly the force to close out games as most Tigers fans believe. Joel Zumaya is an unbelievable pitcher. He was throwing gas yesterday with pinpoint accuracy. However, Zumaya is currently the 7th inning guy. Rodney and Jones are patrolling the 8th and 9th innings and that isn’t such a good thing. Jim Leyland will likely stick with Todd Jones as he doesn’t want to mess with his confidence. However, that will not be the last time Jones blows a victory. Jones and Rodney must understand the importance of NOT walking the leadoff man in the ninth.

4). While the first three are troubling and not all together shocking, the fourth reason the Tigers lost yesterday came as a huge surprise. Anybody who’s anybody has attributed the Tigers success this season to Jim Leyland’s arrival. Gone were the days of second-guessing the Manager’s decisions. Or, at least they were gone until yesterday. With one out, and the go ahead run on third base in the ninth yesterday, the Tigers had an ace up their sleeve. They had the luxury of putting the batter (Luis Castillo) on first base bringing a game-saving double play into the picture. This seemed like the no-brainer of no-brainers. The first pitch was a designed pitch-out which led me to believe that the Tigers were indeed going to walk the batter. What followed has left me speechless even 12 hours after the game ended. The Tigers proceeded to pitch to Castillo. The Twins only needed ONE run to win the game. Walking Castillo could not have hurt in any possible way. Castillo is one of the better contact hitters in the league. Instead of increasing the odds of a successful outcome, the Tigers pulled the infield in and hoped for the best. In MLB, simply hoping for the best is not acceptable. Leyland blew the call and the Tigers paid the price.

In one short nine-inning game, the Tigers went from ten games over .500 and .5 games behind the White Sox, to being the same old Tigers that give games away for inexplicable reasons. Sure, the Tigers are more talented than in years past. Sure, the Tigers will win more games than in years past. Unfortunately, winning more games and being a contending ball-club don’t have to be one in the same. The Tigers have the same old Tigers issues and this season will have the same old Tigers results—golfing in October.

Monday, May 01, 2006

2006 NFL Draft Grades

The 2006 NFL Draft was one of the more remarkable drafts in recent memory. From the craziness at the top with the Texans signing Mario Williams before Saturday, to the giant slides by superstars like Matt Leinart, Winston Justice, LenDale White, and Jimmy Williams, this draft had it all. The interesting thing about analyzing drafts is that some of the worst looking drafts on draft day can end up looking real good five years down the road. It is for that reason that fans must keep an open mind when discussing how their teams did. With that in mind, I have graded the drafts of each NFL team. My criteria for grading includes a number of factors. The most prominent being the overall value of the class, whether the team made the right move in the first round, and how teams did considering their specific situation. For instance, I won’t fail teams like Atlanta and Washington just because they didn’t have a first round pick. Heeding my own advice from earlier, I didn’t give a failing grade to any team. That doesn’t mean that there weren’t any major gaffes on draft day. That just means that I don’t feel comfortable calling any of the draft classes a total loss.

Houston Texans

Rd. Ovr.
1 #1 Mario Williams DE NC State
2 #33 DeMeco Ryans LB Alabama
3 #65 Charles Spencer OG Pittsburgh
3 #66 Eric Winston OT Miami (FL)
4 #98 Owen Daniels TE Wisconsin
6 #170 Wali Lundy RB Virginia
7 #251 David Anderson WR Colorado St.

The Texans made a bold move in passing on Reggie Bush. Since they already have Dominick Davis in the fold, I think it was the right move to select someone else. However, I don’t think it was the right move to keep the #1 overall pick and take Mario Williams. How many people heard of Williams in college? He may end up being good but to take him #1 overall is a huge gamble considering his knock for being an underachiever. Half of the teams in the NFL were likely trying to trade into the top position including the Jets who had two first round picks. Based on the first pick alone, I would’ve graded the Texans at a C- but they made up for it with high value selections in the second and third rounds. Ryans, Spencer, and Winston will have an immediate impact in Houston.



New Orleans Saints

1 #2 Reggie Bush RB USC
2 #43 Roman Harper S Alabama
4 #108 Jahri Evans OG Bloomsburg
5 #135 Rob Ninkovich DE Purdue
6 #171 Mike Hass WR Oregon St.
6 #174 Josh Lay CB Pittsburgh
7 #210 Zach Strief OT Northwestern
7 #252 Marques Colston WR Hofstra

I didn’t envy the Saints’ position by any means. Bush is a can’t miss prospect at a position that the Saints don’t need a “can’t miss” prospect. However, the Texans passed on Bush with Dominick Davis in hand. The Saints have Deuce McAllister who’s better than Davis. Considering how many things Bush can do (i.e. punt returns, pass receiving) he will fit it in to any offense. I would’ve explored trade options with the Jets or Raiders before taking Bush which they very well could’ve done. The rest of the Saints draft looks like a random group of subjects in a science experiment rather than a group of NFL players. Their one good pick was already a position of strength. New Orleans better hope that Bush is good.



Tennessee Titans

1 #3 Vince Young QB Texas
2 #45 LenDale White RB USC
4 #102 Calvin Lowry S Penn St.
4 #116 Stephen Tulloch OLB NC State
5 #137 Terna Nande OLB Miami (OH)
5 #169 Jesse Mahelona DT Tennessee
6 #172 Jonathan Orr WR Wisconsin
7 #215 Cortland Finnegan RS Samford
7 #245 Spencer Toone OLB Utah
7 #246 Quinton Ganther RB Utah

The Titans punctuated Matt Leinart’s slide by taking Vince Young with the #3 overall pick. Apparently, Norm Chow, Leinart’s former Offensive Coordinator in college, didn’t have enough pull to bring Leinart to Tennessee. There is no doubt that Young is a physically gifted quarterback. I have no doubt that he’ll equal or pass the career of Daunte Culpepper. Getting LenDale White at #45 was a coup. White will likely take his slide in the draft personally and hopefully for the Titans, that means good things for the future even though they already have Travis Henry and Chris Brown in the backfield. Getting Jesse Mahelona at #169 was also a steal for a team that has dire needs on the defense. While the Titans brought in some talented players, they failed to address gaping holes on defense with early picks. Young and White might have been worth it but the Titans will continue to be awful on defense next year.



New York Jets

1 #4 D'Brickashaw Ferguson OT Virginia
1 #29 Nick Mangold C Ohio St.
2 #49 Kellen Clemons QB Oregon
3 #76 Anthony Schlegel ILB Ohio St.
3 #97 Eric Smith S Michigan St.
4 #103 Brad Smith WR Missouri
4 #117 Leon Washington RB Florida St.
5 #150 Jason Pociask TE Wisconsin
6 #189 Drew Coleman CB TCU
7 #220 Titus Adams DT Nebraska

The Jets made an excellent pick by taking D’Brickashaw Ferguson over Matt Leinart. Even if Chad Pennington gets hurt again, success in the NFL is built on the offensive and defensive lines. The Jets will have an athletically gifted tackle for the next 15 years barring an injury. Nick Mangold was the top center in the draft providing the Jets with a second building block on the offensive line. Kellen Clemons may be a reach at #49 but some analysts think Clemons could end up being the Tom Brady of this year’s draft. Anthony Schlegel is a hard-nosed MLB with the ability to excel in the NFL. The Jets did a good job in selecting talented players with potential. Leon Washington and Brad Smith were excellent late round gambles. I do think that Eric Smith going in the third round was a bit high but maybe the Jets know something that I don’t.



Green Bay Packers

1 #5 A.J. Hawk LB Ohio St.
2 #47 Daryn Colledge OT Boise St.
2 #52 Greg Jennings WR W. Michigan
3 #67 Abdul Hodge ILB Iowa
3 #75 Jason Spitz C Louisville
4 #104 Cory Rodgers WR TCU
4 #112 Issac Sowells OT Indiana
4 #115 Will Blackmon CB/WR B. College
5 #148 Ingle Martin QB Furman
5 #165 Tony Moll OT Nevada
6 #183 Johnny Jolly DT Texas A & M
6 #185 Tyrone Culver S Fresno St.
7 #253 Dave Tollefson DE NW Missouri St.

Brett Favre told the Packers’ front office that he would come back if they showed him that they were serious about winning this year. Clearly, this 13-man draft class shows that the Packers are living up to their promise to Favre. There are no less than seven potential Pro-Bowlers in this draft class. A.J. Hawk will be no worse than a poor-man’s Brian Urlacher. He will be a star immediately. The Packers needed help at linebacker and on the offensive line. They brought in two solid prospects in each area. Colledge and Spitz should provide immediate relief to an overmatched line. Hawk and Hodge will bring athleticism and ability to the linebacker corps. The Packers also needed to fill the void left by Javon Walker at receiver. While it remains to be seen if Greg Jennings or Cory Rodgers can give the Packers a dependable target, the Packers tried to address the position. The Packers also made two low risk-high reward picks in bringing in Will Blackmon and Ingle Martin. This was an excellent draft.



San Francisco 49ers

1 #6 Vernon Davis TE Maryland
1 #22 Manny Lawson DE NC State
3 #84 Brandon Williams WR Wisconsin
4 #100 Michael Robinson WR Penn St.
5 #140 Parys Haralson DE Tennessee
6 #175 Delanie Walker WR Central Missouri
6 #192 Marcus Hudson S North Carolina St.
6 #197 Melvin Oliver DE LSU
7 #254 Vickiel Vaughn S Arkansas

The Niners had two first round picks and they used them wisely. Vernon Davis should make things much easier for Alex Smith. Davis could be to Smith what Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates were to Trent Green and Drew Brees. Manny Lawson fills an immediate need at defensive end. Some analysts thought Lawson was one of the most underrated players in the draft. Parys Haralson was an excellent value at #140. He will add help to a overmatched defense. The Niners made some interesting picks in the latter rounds. Unless Brandon Williams and Michael Robinson turn out to be solid NFL-ers, the strength of the Niners draft was with their two excellent first round picks and the theft of Haralson in round five.



Oakland Raiders

1 #7 Michael Huff S Texas
2 #38 Thomas Howard OLB UTEP
3 #69 Paul McQuistan OT Weber St.
4 #101 Darnell Bing S USC
6 #176 Kevin Boothe OG Cornell
7 #214 Chris Morris C Michigan St.
7 #255 Kevin McMahan WR Maine

The Raiders are an aging team with needs at every position with the exception of wide receiver. While it’s possible that the Raiders can get by with Aaron Brooks/Kerry Collins, Lamont Jordan, Randy Moss and Jerry Porter on offense this season, it would not have been possible for the defense to “get by” with the group of players slated to start the ’06 season. The Raiders brought in three players with star potential in the draft. The Raiders made a lot of teams upset by picking Michael Huff at #7. He will be a star in Oakland. Thomas Howard is an unheralded linebacker who will be a solid NFL player barring injury. Darnell Bing was a high value pick at #101 overall. I question the Raiders selecting Paul McQuistan at #69 overall but the offensive tackles were going off the board quickly which may have left the Raiders no choice. Overall, the Raiders addressed team needs which should pay immediate dividends in ’06.



Buffalo Bills

1 #8 Donte Whitner S Ohio St.
1 #26 John McCargo DT NC State
3 #70 Ashton Youboty CB Ohio St.
4 #105 Ko Simpson S S. Carolina
5 #134 Kyle Williams DT LSU
6 #143 Brad Butler OT Virginia
6 #178 Keith Ellison OL Oregon St.
7 #216 Terrance Pennington OT New Mexico
7 #248 Aaron Merz OG California

The Buffalo Bills made one of the worst draft picks in NFL history by taking Donte Whitner at #8 overall and that has nothing to do with Whitner’s potential in the NFL. There is little doubt that Whitner would’ve been available 10-15 spots lower in the draft. The Bills could’ve traded the 8th pick to drop down in the first round. There were a number of teams clamoring for a chance to draft Matt Leinart as he slipped further and further down the first round. The Bills made another terrible pick at #26 picking John McCargo who was almost certainly going no higher than the late second round. The Bills don’t get a failing grade, though, because they made some nice picks in the later stages. Ko Simpson and Kyle Williams are high values in the 4th and 5th rounds. Ashton Youboty may have also been a stretch at #70 but at least Buffalo made an effort to improve its secondary. Whitner and McCargo may end up being fine NFL players. Regardless, the Bills goofed big time on their two first round picks.



Detroit Lions

1 #9 Ernie Sims LB Florida St.
2 #40 Daniel Bullocks S Nebraska
3 #74 Brian Calhoun RB Wisconsin
4 #141 Jonathan Scott OT Texas
6 #179 Alton McCann CB West Virginia
7 #217 Fred Matua OG USC
7 #247 Anthony Cannon OLB Tulane

After the Lions made Ernie Sims their first round draft pick at #9 overall, the Lions could earn no higher than a C+ in my book. So, considering they earned a C+, things didn’t go all that bad after the first round. There are a lot of people that think Sims was a great pick at #9. While I understand the excitement Lions fans must have over not picking a quarterback or a wide receiver, the Sims pick is only slightly better than the Bills taking Donte Whitner. Ernie Sims is an OLB that stands 5’11. Who was the last OLB that excelled in the NFL that stood less than six feet tall? Sims has experienced a number of concussions. Who was the last NFL player to experience multiple concussions and then go on to have a solid career, let alone a career at all? If there’s one position where a player shouldn’t have a history of concussions, it’s at linebacker. Even worse is that while Matt Leinart was falling down the boards creating a situation where the 9th pick was being coveted by a number of teams, Matt Millen had already made up his mind that he was not going to trade the pick. How can a GM decide not to trade the pick before hearing the offers? There were so many question marks on Sims that if Millen really wanted him, he could’ve traded down and still taken Sims. I could go on and on about how bad the Lions messed up this pick but it starts to get old after a while. Jonathan Scott and Fred Matua were two of the best value picks in the entire draft. Hopefully Daniel Bullocks becomes what many people were hoping Michael Huff would become. Aside from the first round gaffe, the Lions ended up with a nice draft class.



Arizona Cardinals

1 #10 Matt Leinart QB USC
2 #41 Deuce Latui OG USC
3 #72 Leonard Pope TE Georgia
4 #107 Gabe Watson DT Michigan
5 #142 Brandon Johnson OLB Louisville
6 #177 Jonathan Lewis DT Va. Tech
7 #218 Todd Watkins WR BYU

The Cardinals were the lucky benefactors of the Bills’ and Lions’ refusal to trade down in the draft. Leinart fell right into Dennis Green’s hands. The Cardinals needed a quarterback and they might have gotten the best one in the draft. Every pick the Cardinals made was an excellent value. Latui may have been the best guard in the draft. Pope will give Leinart an athletic freak to throw to for years to come. Watson, along with Pope, was slated to be a first round draft pick in many mock drafts. Jonathan Lewis is a tremendous value at #177. This draft class is clearly a change from the classes of the past. This team will be a force to be reckoned with in the future and this draft class will be one of the big reasons why.



Denver Broncos

1 #11 Jay Cutler QB Vanderbilt
2 #61 Tony Scheffler TE W. Michigan
4 #119 Brandon Marshall WR C. Florida
4 #126 Elvis Dumervil DE Louisville
4 #130 Domenik Hixon WR Akron
5 #161 Chris Kuper OG North Dakota
6 #198 Greg Eslinger C Minnesota

The Broncos had an up and down draft. I can’t fault the Cutler pick. For a team as good as the Broncos, it is OK to take risks in the draft. If Cutler turns out to be a Pro-Bowl quarterback, then the Broncos made one of the best moves of the draft. Even if he doesn’t pan out, the Broncos won’t feel it. The Broncos also used the draft to pick up Javon Walker from Green Bay. When healthy, Walker is easily one of the five best receivers in the NFL. Greg Eslinger will be a starter on the Broncos’ offensive line for many years. He was a steal in the 6th round. Elvis Dumervil was a low risk-high reward pick. The Broncos made some slick picks with high reward potential. However, Tony Scheffler was a reach at #61 especially with Leonard Pope and Dominique Byrd still on the board. The Broncos had a chance to bring a game-changing tight end into the mix with Javon Walker. If Cutler doesn’t work out, this could end up being a weak draft class.



Baltimore Ravens B-

1 #12 Haloti Ngata DT Oregon
2 #56 Chris Chester OG Oklahoma
3 #87 David Pittman CB Northwestern St.
4 #111 Demetrius Williams WR Oregon
4 #132 P.J. Williams RB Georgia Tech
5 #146 Dawan Landry S Ga. Tech
5 #166 Quinn Sypniewski TE Colorado
6 #203 Sam Koch PT Nebraska
6 #208 Derrick Martin CB Wyoming
7 #219 Ryan LaCasse DE Syracuse

The Ravens have fallen off a bit on defense in recent years. The main reason for this is that the defensive line isn’t clogging up the middle like it used to do. As a result, Ray Lewis isn’t free to roam around searching for a ball-carrier to destroy. Haloti Ngata is just what the doctor ordered. Ngata will free up room for Lewis and Peter Boulware creating havoc on defense. Chris Chester will provide much-needed help on the offensive line. The Ravens made some interesting picks by taking unheralded players. LaCasse was a value in the 7th round. While Ngata was a brilliant pick, the rest of the draft falters. The Ravens could’ve done much better with their later picks but it’s important to note that seven of their picks were in the fourth round or later.



Cleveland Browns

1 #13 Kamerion Wimbley DE Florida St.
2 #34 D'Qwell Jackson ILB Maryland
3 #78 Travis Wilson WR Oklahoma
4 #110 Leon Williams ILB Miami (FL)
5 #145 Jerome Harrison RB Washington St.
5 #152 DeMario Minter CB Georgia
6 #180 Lawrence Vickers FB Colorado
6 #181 Babatunde Oshinowo DT Stanford
7 #222 Justin Hamilton S Va. Tech

The Browns were Green Bay-lite in the ’06 draft. With needs at virtually every position, the Browns drafted at virtually every position. The defense will be deeper and better with the addition of Wimbley, Jackson, Minter and Oshinowo. All four of those players could be starters this season making this an extremely successful draft for Cleveland. Travis Wilson and Jerome Harrison will provide some depth on offense. Neither will make an immediate impact but they likely won’t have to. Vickers was the top FB in the draft. Cleveland will look back on this draft in ten years and consider it one of the best in franchise history.



Philadelphia Eagles

1 #14 Brodrick Bunkley DT Florida St.
2 #39 Winston Justice OT USC
3 #71 Chris Gocong DE Cal Poly
4 #99 Max Jean-Gilles OG Georgia
4 #109 Jason Avant WR Michigan
5 #147 Jeremy Bloom RS Colorado
5 #168 Omar Gaither OLB Tennessee
6 #204 LaJuan Ramsey DT USC

No team in the draft had a better first and second round combination than the Eagles. I was shocked that no team traded up to take Winston Justice as he free-fell out of the first round. Many analysts felt that Bunkley was better than Ngata. Justice will immediately pay off for the Eagles. Max Jean-Gilles was a steal in the fourth round. Jason Avant and Jeremy Bloom will help the Eagles immediately in the passing game and special teams respectively. Virtually all of the Eagles’ picks were excellent value with the exception of Chris Gocong in the third round.



St. Louis Rams

1 #15 Tye Hill CB Clemson
2 #46 Joe Klopfenstein TE Colorado
3 #68 Claude Wroten DT LSU
3 #77 Jon Alston OLB Stanford
3 #93 Dominique Byrd TE USC
4 #113 Victor Adeyanju DE Indiana
5 #144 Marques Hagans WR Virginia
7 #221 Tim McGarigle ILB Northwestern
7 #242 Mark Setterstrom OG Minnesota
7 #243 Tony Palmer OG Missouri

For the first time in recent memory, the Rams have put together a stellar draft. With the exception of taking two tight ends in the first three rounds, the Rams brought in value with every pick. Tye Hill was the best cornerback in the draft. Claude Wroten is a dominating defensive tackle. Victor Adeyanju and Mark Setterstrom were also excellent values. This draft class may not produce an All-Pro but this class will anchor the Rams’ franchise for years to come.



Miami Dolphins

1 #16 Jason Allen DB Tennessee
3 #82 Derek Hagan WR Arizona St.
4 #114 Joe Toledo OT Washington
7 #212 Frederick Evans DT SW Texas State
7 #226 Rod Wright DT Texas
7 #233 Devin Aromashodu WR Auburn

When it seemed like every team was rich with two picks per round, the Dolphins represented the poor by only having three picks in the first six rounds. The Dolphins did their best to bring in value with each pick. Jason Allen was probably a reach at #16. A trade probably could’ve netted an extra second round pick and still allowed Miami to draft Allen. Derek Hagan should provide depth at receiver. Joe Toledo is a project who has potential. Rod Wright is a great pick in the 7th round. Nothing jumps out as being great but the Dolphins did about as good as could be expected with the limited picks they had.



Minnesota Vikings

1 #17 Chad Greenway OLB Iowa
2 #48 Cedric Griffin CB Texas
2 #51 Ryan Cook C New Mexico
2 #64 Tavaris Jackson QB Alabama St.
4 #127 Ray Edwards DE Purdue
6 #149 Greg Blue S Georgia

The Vikings had four picks in the first two rounds and they have virtually nothing to show for it. Chad Greenway is a solid linebacker who will help the Vikings on defense. After Greenway, the only good value picks were Edwards and Blue. If my team had three second-rounders, I would’ve hoped for much more than what the Vikings got. This draft was light in numbers for the Vikings and will be light on impact as well.



Dallas Cowboys

1 #18 Bobby Carpenter OLB Ohio St.
2 #53 Anthony Fasano TE Notre Dame
3 #92 Jason Hatcher DE Grambling
4 #125 Skyler Green WR LSU
5 #138 Pat Watkins S Florida St.
6 #182 Montavious Stanley DT Louisville
7 #211 Pat McQuistan OG Weber St.
7 #224 EJ Whitley OT Texas Tech

I like Bobby Carpenter as much as anyone. He’s a relentless linebacker who’s much closer to A.J. Hawk than most people realize. However, he might have been a stretch at #18. The Cowboys could’ve traded down ten spots and still picked Carpenter. The Cowboys did get good value with Pat Watkins and Montavious Stanley in the 5th and 6th rounds. Fasano in the second round was a bit puzzling considering the Cowboys have Jason Witten. Overall, this draft will yield help down the road but it remains to be seen who will be doing the helping.



San Diego Chargers

1 #19 Antonio Cromartie CB Florida St.
2 #50 Marcus McNeil OT Auburn
3 #81 Charlie Whitehurst QB Clemson
5 #151 Tim Dobbins ILB Iowa St.
6 #187 Jeromey Clary OT Kansas St.
6 #188 Kurt Smith PK Virginia
7 #225 Chase Page DT North Carolina
7 #227 Jimmy Martin OT Va. Tech

The Chargers made a splash with their first two picks. Cromartie should give the Chargers a nice 1-2 punch at cornerback with Quinten Jammer. A team as good as San Diego can afford to pick equal parts on need and best available. Cromartie may qualify as both. Marcus McNeil is a steal at #50. McNeil should give the Chargers power on the offensive line for years to come. Tim Dobbins was a good value in the 5th round. Charlie Whitehurst could provide some insurance in case Phillip Rivers falters or gets injured. The Chargers didn’t bring in much in the later rounds but the first four picks were good enough.



Kansas City Chiefs

1 #20 Tamba Hali DE Penn St.
2 #54 Bernard Pollard S Purdue
3 #85 Brodie Croyle QB Alabama
5 #154 Marcus Maxey CB Miami (FL)
6 #186 Tre Stallings OG Mississippi
6 #190 Jeff Webb WR San Diego St.
7 #228 Jarrad Page S UCLA

The Chiefs had a relatively weak draft. Tamba Hali was supposed to be a top 15 pick earlier in the year but he fell on most draft boards making this pick a bit of a stretch. However, it’s understandable why the Chiefs would target at talented defensive end with their first pick. Unfortunately for the Chiefs, there picks after Hali didn’t get better. Bernard Pollard is a decent safety but was probably a stretch in the second round. Brodie Croyle may end up being a solid back-up in the NFL but the Chiefs have other needs that needed to be addressed. The Picks after Croyle were questionable at best. If I were the GM of the Chiefs, I would’ve made a serious run at Javon Walker.



New England Patriots

1 #21 Laurence Maroney RB Minnesota
2 #36 Chad Jackson WR Florida
3 #86 David Thomas TE Texas
4 #106 Garret Mills FB Tulsa
4 #118 Stephen Gostowaski PK Memphis
5 #136 Ryan O'Callaghan OT California
6 #191 Jeremy Mincey DE Florida
6 #205 Dan Stevenson OG Notre Dame
6 #206 LeKevin Smith DT Nebraska
7 #229 Willie Andrews RS Baylor

No surprise here. The Patriots only got better with their ’06 draft. Laurence Maroney is going to cause teams fits in the Patriots system. He was one of the more underrated players in the draft. Chad Jackson was a steal at #36. His speed will open up the passing game for Tom Brady. David Thomas was underrated headed into the draft. Ryan O’Callaghan and LeKevin Smith were excellent picks. The Patriots had as good of a draft as anyone.



Tampa Bay Buccaneers

1 #23 Davin Joseph OG Oklahoma
2 #59 Jeremy Trueblood OT B. College
3 #90 Maurice Stovall WR Notre Dame
4 #122 Alan Zemaitis CB Penn St.
5 #156 Julian Jenkins DE Stanford
6 #194 Bruce Gradkowski QB Toledo
6 #202 TJ Williams TE NC State
7 #235 Justin Phinisee CB Oregon
7 #241 Charles Bennett DE Clemson
7 #244 Tim Massaquoi TE Michigan

Tampa Bay’s best pick may end up being Alan Zemaitis at #122. He’s the only pick in the first four rounds that may have been rated higher than where he went. Davin Joseph was not a good start for the Bucs. Joseph was one of the top rated guards in the draft but going #23 was far too early. Jeremy Trueblood will provide some depth at the tackle position. The jury is still out on Trueblood and Maurice Stovall. If those two players end up being solid NFL-ers, this draft may look a bit better in a few years. As of now, the Bucs failed to make a splash.



Cincinnati Bengals

1 #24 Johnathan Joseph CB S. Carolina
2 #55 Andrew Whitworth OT LSU
3 #91 Frostee Rucker DE USC
4 #123 Domata Peko DT Michigan St.
5 #157 A.J. Nicholson OLB Florida St.
6 #193 Reggie McNeal QB Texas A & M
7 #209 Ethan Kilmer WR Penn St.
7 #231 Bennie Brazell WR LSU

The Bengals certainly had an intriguing draft. They took a cornerback with “potential” at #24 which is a combination that makes most NFL fans extremely nervous. Andrew Whitworth was a solid pick in the second round. Frostee Rucker is probably remembered more for his name than anything he did on the football field. Domata Peko might end up being better than a fourth round pick. A.J. Nicholson was a low risk-high reward pick. The Bengals didn’t surprise or disappoint. This is a draft class that could really go either way.



New York Giants

1 #32 Mathias Kiwanuka DE B. College
2 #44 Sinorice Moss WR Miami (FL)
3 #96 Gerris Wilkinson ILB Ga. Tech
4 #124 Barry Cofield DT Northwestern
4 #129 Guy Whimper OT E. Carolina
5 #158 Charlie Peprah S Alabama
7 #232 Gerrick McPhearson CB Maryland

The Giants made two high value picks in the first and second round. Kiwanuka might be the highest value pick in the first round at #32. Sinorice Moss was thought to be a first round pick but fell all the way to the Giants at pick #44 of the second round. Both players will help the Giants this year. Gerris Wilkinson is a solid linebacker for a 3rd round selection. The rest of the draft wasn’t impressive but the later rounds usually aren’t.



Chicago Bears

2 #42 Danieal Manning S Abilene Christian
2 #57 Devin Hester WR/CB Miami (FL)
3 #73 Dusty Dvoracek DT Oklahoma
4 #120 Jamar Williams OLB Arizona St.
5 #159 Mark Anderson DE Alabama
6 #195 JD Runnels FB Oklahoma
6 #200 Tyler Reed OG Penn St.

There was only one team in the draft that did worse than the Bears and that was Buffalo. The Bears traded out of the first round to take a guy they could’ve gotten in the third round. Each of the Bears’ first three picks was earlier than those players were expected to go. The Bears badly needed a receiving threat at the tight end position. With the deepest pool of talented tight ends in years, the Bears came up empty. The Bears were in a position to fine tune a roster that was good enough to make the playoffs last year. Instead, they dropped the ball.



Carolina Panthers

1 #27 Deangelo Williams RB Memphis
2 #58 Richard Marshall CB Fresno St.
3 #88 James Anderson OLB Va. Tech
3 #89 Rashad Butler OT Miami (FL)
4 #121 Nate Salley S Ohio St.
5 #155 Jeff King TE Va. Tech
7 #234 William Montgomery C Va. Tech
7 #237 Stanley McClover DE Auburn

Just a few weeks ago, Williams was thought to be a top 15 selection. Instead, he fell into the Panthers lap at #27. Carolina had more pressing needs than at the running back position but considering how injury prone its backs have been, Williams will provide a much needed insurance policy. Richard Marshall has first round talent which is good for Carolina considering they got him at #58 overall. Stanley McClover was an excellent selection in the 7th round.



Jacksonville Jaguars

1 #28 Mercedes Lewis TE UCLA
2 #60 Maurice Drew RB UCLA
3 #80 Clint Ingram OLB Oklahoma
5 #160 Brent Hawkins DE Illinois St.
6 #213 James Wyche DE Tennessee
7 #236 Dee Webb CB Florida

I really like what Jacksonville did in the draft. Mercedes Lewis will give Byron Leftwich a talented pass-catching threat at wide receiver. Maurice Drew is an underrated back who could end up being a bona fide starter in the NFL. James Wyche and Dee Webb were some of the better picks in the later rounds. Jacksonville clearly made the most of having only six picks.



Indianapolis Colts C+

1 #30 Joseph Addai RB LSU
2 #62 Tim Jennings CB Georgia
3 #94 Fredie Keiaho ILB San Diego St.
5 #162 Michael Toudouze OT TCU
6 #199 Charlie Johnson OT Oklahoma St.
6 #207 Antoine Bethea S Howard
7 #238 TJ Rushing RS Stanford

Indy fans can’t be happy with this group. The Colts badly needed help on the offensive line. Instead of using a 1st or 2nd round selection on one of the many highly rated offensive lineman, Indy waited until the 5th and 6th rounds. Joseph Addai is a running back with “potential”. However, the Colts could’ve traded up three spots and nabbed Deangelo Williams. For a team that’s only a few pieces from being a Super Bowl Champ, this draft comes up short.



Seattle Seahawks

1 #31 Kelly Jennings CB Miami (FL)
2 #63 Darryl Tapp DE Va. Tech
4 #128 Rob Sims OG Ohio St.
5 #163 David Kirtman FB USC
7 #239 Ryan Plackemeier PT Wake Forest
7 #249 Ben Obomano WR Auburn

The Seahawks brought in three solid players with their first three picks. Rob Sims is an excellent value in the fourth round. He will help fill the void left by Steve Hutchinson. Kelly Jennings will give the Seahawks depth at cornerback. It remains to be seen if Jennings will live up to being a first round selection. He might have been a better value later in the draft. Darryl Tapp certainly has potential. For a team that reached the Super Bowl, you can’t complain with bringing in three solid players to an already impressive roster.



Pittsburgh Steelers

1 #25 Santonio Holmes WR Ohio St.
3 #83 Anthony Smith S Syracuse
3 #95 Wille Reid RS Florida St.
4 #131 Willie Colon OT Hofstra
4 #133 Orien Harris DT Miami (FL)
5 #164 Omar Jacobs QB Bowling Green
5 #167 Charles Davis TE Purdue
6 #200 Marvin Phillip C California
7 #240 Cedric Humes RB Va. Tech

The Steelers had one pick total in rounds 1 and 2. They had eight picks in rounds 3-7. The Steelers had one of the better drafts in the NFL. Santonio Holmes is a solid wide receiver that will help fill the void left by Randal-El. Anthony Smith is a starting-caliber safety. Orien Harris was one of the better value picks in the entire draft at #133. Omar Jacobs could end up being one of the better quarterbacks in the draft. He will give the Steelers some insurance for Big Ben. Overall, this draft will help keep the Steelers machine well oiled.



Atlanta Falcons

2 #37 Jimmy Williams DB Va. Tech
3 #79 Jerious Norwood RB Mississippi St.
5 #139 Quinn Ojennaka OG Syracuse
6 #184 Adam Jennings WR Fresno St.
7 #223 DJ Shockley QB Georgia

If it weren’t for the heisting of Jimmy Williams in the second round, Atlanta would’ve received a D. The Falcons badly needed help in the secondary and there was no way they could’ve imagined Williams being on the board for their first pick. With only five picks in the draft and no first-rounders, the Falcons have to be content with Williams.



Washington Redskins

2 #35 Rocky McIntosh OLB Miami (FL)
5 #153 Anthony Montgomery DT Minnesota
6 #173 Reed Doughty S Northern Colorado
6 #196 Kedrick Golston DT Georgia
7 #230 Kili Lefotu OG Arizona
7 #250 Kevin Simon ILB Tennessee

The Redskins were a little bit like Atlanta in that they had no first round pick. Unfortunately for the ‘Skins, they had no third or fourth round pick either. The best value pick may end up being Kevin Simon in the 7th round. Rocky McIntosh might have been a bit of a stretch in the second round but he may help fill the void that Lavar Arrington left. The ‘Skins reached on virtually all of their late round selections. This was one of the worst drafts of the weekend.



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