Monday, April 30, 2007

Lions draft assessment

Considering the Lions ended up going with “Good Scenario #1” from last week’s “The Perfect Draft Scenario” post, I am obviously pleased with what Millen and Co. did with the second overall pick in the NFL Draft. It’s important to note that just about every other “good” scenario that I had mapped out never really had a chance of happening because teams weren’t much interested in trading—or at least trading fairly. Reports surfaced early in the draft that Tampa Bay was reluctant to give up its two second round picks to the Lions for Calvin Johnson. Since the Lions were probably looking for more than two second-round picks, I think it’s safe to say that discussions never really reached a serious level. Cleveland had no interest in Brady Quinn—at least at #3 overall—so scaring the Browns into moving up a spot to secure Quinn was also off the table. When nobody offered anything beyond mediocre, the Lions did the only smart thing left to do—take Calvin Johnson.

When Miami passed on Quinn at #9, it became apparent that Quinn had a long wait ahead of him. The longer his wait lasted, the more the idea of a team trading up to get him became a possibility. I started to wonder if Millen had thoughts of trading up. A draft class featuring Johnson and Quinn would surely set the Motor City on fire with optimism. The Lions would have needed to trade up 12 spots from 34 to get to where Quinn was inevitably drafted. I was thinking that something along the line of this year’s second and third round picks and next year’s second would be something I think the Lions would have to seriously consider. I’d even throw in two of the four fifth-round picks that the Lions had this year. Any discussion of next year’s first round pick would be a deal- breaker in my mind. So when Cleveland traded up 13 spots from 35 and gave up its second round pick and next year’s first round pick, I was very thankful that the Lions weren’t na├»ve enough to get involved in a trade that costly. While conventional wisdom says the Browns gave up too much to get Quinn, the Trade Value Chart shows it even more vehemently. The 22nd pick in the draft is worth 800 points. The 35th pick in the draft is worth 600 points. That means that theoretically the Browns only had to give up an extra 200 points (equivalent to a mid-third round pick) along with their second round pick to match-up point-wise. Instead, the Browns gave up a first-round pick next year which will more than likely be in the top 12. The 12th overall pick in the draft is worth a whopping 1,200 points. Nobody takes the Trade Value Chart as the final authority on trading draft picks. It is merely a guideline. However, I’m not talking about a hundred-point difference; I’m talking about 1,200 points. The first thing I thought when I heard about the Browns trading up wasn’t that Quinn finally got drafted but rather how sweet of a deal Dallas made. While I hope Millen at least made an inquiry about trading up to draft Quinn, he once again made a correct decision in the first round. Judging the first round alone, I would have to give the Lions an A. Part of this grade is also due to the Lions not giving into to some local media pressure to draft Gaines Adams on need alone. That would have been a nightmare.

Unfortunately, the draft moves on after the first round which is something that Millen may not have been aware of. The Lions’ draft fell apart the moment the draft entered the second round. First, the Lions allowed Arizona to jump in front of them to draft Alan Branch who had inexplicably fallen out of the first round. Anybody with even a remote sense of football knowledge can tell you that Branch is a bona fide first round talent. If the Lions weren’t planning on taking Branch with the 34th pick then they have more problems than I thought. Arizona certainly thought the Lions were going to take Branch which is why they traded up right in front of Detroit. I have to think that Oakland called Detroit before they finalized the trade with Arizona to see if Detroit was interested. All it cost Arizona to move up five spots to take Branch was a fourth-round pick. I would have done that deal in a second if I were Millen. Branch is a first-round talent and all it would have cost the Lions was a fourth-round pick. Missing out on Branch was a disaster. Arizona had their stuff together and it showed. They also took Buster Davis in the third round. Davis is better than all three of Detroit’s second round picks, in my opinion.

The Lions—possibly reeling from losing out on Branch—quickly traded out of the 34th pick which allowed them to pick up an extra third round pick. This was actually a good move. If Branch is who the Lions wanted and there was nobody else they thought was worth taking, then trading down was the right move. Regrettably, the Lions followed that move up with a series of dreadful decisions the first of which was drafting Drew Stanton with the 43rd pick. I am not a Stanton-hater. I think he is a smart QB with the potential to be an adequate starter in the NFL. I am, however, a “reach” hater. After making two other trades, the Lions had a total of three second-round draft picks. Since Stanton was a borderline 2nd round pick, the Lions reached to take him with their first second-round pick. The Lions could have ended up with LaMarr Woodley, Drew Stanton, and Buster Davis/Marcus McCauley/Daymeion Hughes. Instead, they ended up with Drew Stanton, Ikaika Alma-Francis, and Gerald Alexander. The latter two were serious reaches. Alexander was a borderline third-round pick. Alma-Francis was viewed similarly. Woodley is a fierce pass-rusher with size and quickness. There isn’t any question in my mind—or in most scouts’ minds—as to whether Woodley is superior to Alma-Francis. There has been plenty of speculation that Alma-Francis and Alexander would have been available in the third or fourth rounds which I am inclined to believe as well. Reaching for players or drafting “projects” is fine for the fourth and fifth rounds but the second round is where teams still get starters. It’s just disappointing that the Lions turned three second-round picks into two “projects” and one QB that has as many shortfalls as strengths. I would love for someone from the Lions to write to me two year’s from now about how wrong I was hear. I just don’t think it’s going to happen.

The Lions actually came away with a low risk/high reward type player in the fourth round in A.J. Davis. He is a player that has never really put it all together at the same time but has a tremendous amount of physical ability. He was one of the top 25 players coming out of high school according to at least one prominent recruiting service. He is extremely fast. The Lions have drafted an abundance of cornerbacks that fit the injured/underrated mold in the past few years. None of them have really panned about but that’s what the fourth round is for—not the second round! The Lions also drafted a guard from Texas Tech with a low risk/high reward label in the fourth round. The Lions appeared to have made a steal last year in the seventh round by drafting USC’s Fred Matua but they subsequently released him. Hopefully, this guy (Manuel Ramirez) has a better fate. The rest of the draft featured Johnny Baldwin and Ramzee Robinson. I know absolutely nothing about either player so I’m not even going to pretend to know what I’m talking about.

Since the first round is probably worth 70-75% of a draft grade, the Lions could receive no less than a C- from me and that’s if I gave them a 0% for rounds 2-7. I’ll give the Lions a D for their non-Calvin Johnson selections. Tied into that D is how they handled the trading of Mike Williams and Josh McCown. The Lions may have taken the best trade available—which is what they said they did—but if you’re only getting a fourth round pick in return for a first-round pick two years ago and your back-up QB, then why trade them at all? The Lions fumbled the Mike Williams era in Detroit from the moment they drafted him. The Lions weren’t going to win last season and everyone knew it. Yet, they sidelined Williams for basically the whole season. The Lions were just as responsible for Williams’ plummeted stock around the league as Williams was. They could have showcased him last season in an attempt to garner trade interest from around the league. Instead, they basically put up a sign that says “offer us nothing for Mike Williams and we’ll trade with you.” That brings Detroit’s overall draft grade to a B- . Had the Lions drafted Gaines Adams at #2 as some suggested, I would have given the Lions an F-. I am genuinely excited about seeing a non-overweight, non-habitual drug test-failer, top five wide-receiver selection actually put up meaningful statistics in Detroit. For the next couple days, that excitement will be tempered a bit as I try to get over the rash of questionable draft picks the Lions made after Johnson.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Perfect Draft Scenario

The following scenario is for entertainment purposes only. There is a better chance of understanding the lyrics to a 50 Cent song than there is that the Lions will attempt the following. Please, for your own sanity, do not get your hopes up.

The Lions should show faux interest in drafting Brady Quinn. They should call Cleveland and let them know that they are going to draft Quinn unless Cleveland wants to throw them a second round pick. If Cleveland wants Quinn bad enough, they will have no choice but to make the move. The Lions would then have the third pick to go along with two second round picks.

Then, the Lions should call Tampa Bay and Atlanta and let them know that they are planning on drafting Calvin Johnson with the third pick unless either of those teams wants to “ante up.” If both Atlanta and Tampa Bay want to trade their two second-round picks, then the Lions are presented with a dilemma. Atlanta has the better combination of second round choices at # 39 and #44 (Tampa Bay has #35 and #64). However, trading with Atlanta likely means passing on Thomas, Peterson, and possibly Adams. It also means eliminating and possibility of trading down one spot to Arizona. The best option would be to trade with Tampa Bay. TB will almost certainly be interested in moving up to take Johnson.

The Lions could then offer the fourth pick to Arizona who is, by many accounts, enchanted with Joe Thomas. The Lions could again pick up an extra second round pick by dropping down a spot to fifth. This would leave the Lions with the fifth pick and the option of picking Adrian Peterson or Gaines Adams, or the option of trading down a couple spots again. If Arizona doesn’t want to trade up, then the Lions can simply draft Joe Thomas to go along with four second round picks.

Something tells me that no NFL team would ever attempt this because of the complexity. I don’t believe it is complex in the slightest. Every move features a more-than-acceptable exit strategy. If any of the teams declines a trade at any point, the Lions could easily stay wherever they are at that point and draft a very good player. If the Lions choose this scenario—and it would make my year if they did—these are the picks they would end up with:

1 #5
2 #34
2 #35
2 #36
2 #38
2 #64
3 #66

No team has ever had more leverage in the history of the NFL draft. The four teams immediately following the Lions all have their eyes on specific players. The Lions are in the enviable position of not caring who they end up with because their needs are so pronounced. If they play their cards right, they could end up with Adrian Peterson and five second round draft picks or Joe Thomas and four second round draft picks. Imagine the possibilities of trading up with five second-round draft picks. They would have no problem snatching up Patrick Willis somewhere in the mid-first round. As fantastic as this idea sounds, the Lions will probably not even consider it. The fact that no team has ever done anything this elaborate before probably keeps the Lions from giving it much thought.

Assuming the Lions won’t be bold enough to rake in possibly the greatest draft haul in NFL history; it makes sense to discuss the more likely scenarios. By my calculations, there are only a few ways the Lions can screw up with their first round draft pick on Saturday and they all have something to do with Gaines Adams. I don’t think we’re out of danger completely with respect to the Lions passing on Brady Quinn and—if Oakland passes on him—JaMarcus Russell. But, I think the Lions are looking in other directions. I do think we’re very much in danger of seeing the Lions draft Adams. I know there are more than a few local media members who are begging the Lions to draft Adams. I can kind of see where they’re coming from. The Lions have an awful pass rush. So, it stands to reason to want to draft a defensive end. The 1998 Chargers needed a quarterback. So, they took Ryan Leaf. I’m not suggesting Adams is the defensive version of Leaf. I’m just saying that you can’t be stubborn enough to draft on need when the value isn’t there. I’ve read on more than a few occasions that there are six elite “prospects” in this draft. The only reason it’s six is because Adams has been inexplicably thrown in with the group of Russell, Quinn, Calvin Johnson, Adrian Peterson, and Joe Thomas. I’m not sure how an undersized defensive end managed to reach “elite” status but it has happened nonetheless.

Just Say No to Defensive Ends

Draft “busts” are not specific to any position. No position is immune to a bust, either. However, I think that drafting a defensive end produces the most diminished returns of any other position. Defensive end prospects often shoot up the draft charts because they are in the unique position of “raising eyebrows” at the NFL Draft Combine. No other position consistently produces athletes that stand 6’5, weigh 260 lbs, run the 40-yard dash in 4.6 seconds, bench press 25 reps of 225, and vertically jump 40 inches. Scouts salivate over those numbers. If numbers were all that mattered, then teams would draft defensive ends with their first pick every year. Adams could be a solid pro. He had tremendous success in college and has impressive “measurables.” Adams would be a great pick for a team in the mid-first round. Drafting Adams at #2 or #4 would be a monumental reach. One only needs to look at past drafts to see how rare it is for a defensive end to live up to his pre-draft hype. Additionally, a large percentage of the elite defensive ends in the NFL were drafted outside of the first round. Here is a list of the Pro Bowl defensive ends over the last three seasons along with where they were drafted:


Julius Peppers-------First Round
Aaron Shobel--------Second Round
Jason Taylor---------Third Round
Derrick Burgess------Third Round
Will Smith------------First Round
Aaron Kampman-----Fifth Round
Dwight Freeney------First round
Michael Strahan------Second Round
Osi Umenyiora-------Second Round
Kyle Vanden Bosch---Second Round
Aaron Smith----------Undrafted
Bertrand Berry-------Third Round
Patrick Kerney-------First Round

Two things stand out. First, only Peppers, Taylor, Freeney, and Strahan are what I would call unbelievable players. The others are very good but not necessarily worth the second pick in the draft. So, even a good defensive end is usually not a dominating player. Second, notice the number of players that weren’t selected in the first round. Not only is the defensive end position one that produces its share of busts, it is also a position that produces a bevy of low-round values. The Lions signed James Hall as an undrafted free agent in 2000. He produced 11.5 sacks in 2004 before battling injuries his last two years in Detroit. I know there is a huge difference between “serviceable” (James Hall) and “game-changing” (Julius Peppers). Clearly it pays to draft someone of the caliber of Peppers in the top five. Peppers is a once-a-decade player. Adams is no Peppers. Considering the value that can be found in the later rounds and the relative letdown of top ten picks at the position, it just doesn’t make sense to draft a defensive end that has as many question marks as Adams. There are too many elite players available to draft Adams out of need. Having said that, I think there are far more “correct” decisions the Lions can make on Saturday than “wrong” ones.

It has been written by many sources that the Raiders will likely select JaMarcus Russell with the first pick. I don't think it's a "slam dunk" decision. Al Davis loves him some freaky wide receivers. It would not surprise me if he took Johnson. If the Raiders do take Johnson, then the Lions lose a lot of their leverage with the #2 pick. But, that doesn't mean they still can't make a few trades. I do not think they should draft Russell if he is there. I think they would be better off trading down a spot to Cleveland because Cleveland will want Russell. Then, the Lions could either draft Joe Thomas or Adrian Peterson or trade down again. For this post, however, I'm going to assume that the Raiders will draft Russell.

Here are the scenarios in which the Lions could end up with a successful first round:

Good Scenario One:

Draft Calvin Johnson with the second pick.

Johnson is no Charles Rogers or Mike Williams. Rogers and Williams didn’t have anything close to Johnson’s level of athleticism. Also, Johnson was honest enough to admit to marijuana use before the draft. Some may argue against this but I think that shows at least some integrity. The Lions had to wait until Rogers failed the first of many drug tests before they found out that he was a marijuana user. Jon Kitna is good enough that he could do some damage with Johnson and Roy Williams.

This also allows the Lions to listen to trade offers even after the pick. It can’t hurt to listen. If Tampa Bay or Atlanta wants to offer up an enticing package, then let them.

Good Scenario Two:

Trade down and draft Joe Thomas.

It would be my preference that the Lions not draft Joe Thomas with the second pick. He would, in all likelihood, be available at pick #4. The Lions could pick up extra draft picks and perhaps a player at a position of need. Thomas could be a very good tackle. The Lions haven’t had even a “good” tackle since the days of Lomas Brown and his annual holdouts. The second quickest way to improve the running game is to draft Thomas. The quickest way is to draft Adrian Peterson but the Lions already have 87 running backs that are expected to receive playing time so I’m not sure the Lions want another one.

Good Scenario Three:

Trade down and draft Adrian Peterson.

Passing on Peterson would be very much akin to the Texans passing on Reggie Bush. Peterson has everything you could ask for in an NFL running back with the possible exception of being good at avoiding injury. He is drawing comparisons to Eric Dickerson and I don’t think those comparisons are far off. He is the type of player that you draft regardless of need.

Good Scenario Four:

Trade down and draft Calvin Johnson.

There is really only one option that makes this possible. Cleveland is apparently concerned that the Lions may be thinking about Brady Quinn. The Lions could force a trade with Cleveland and pick up an extra draft pick ala 2004 when the Lions were able to squeeze a pick out of Cleveland that ended up turning into Kevin Jones. The Lions would pick up an extra pick for dropping down one spot. This would still allow Matt Millen to explore trade options with Tampa Bay at #4 and Atlanta at #8. I would really like to see Millen attempt to trade with Cleveland. It’s really a no-lose situation—unless Cleveland bamboozles Detroit by selecting Johnson. That would be a disaster.

Here are the scenarios in which I think the Lions will have wasted the leverage of having the second pick in such a top-heavy year (notice that Adams is prominently involved in each one):

Bad Scenario One:

Draft anyone other than Johnson with the second pick.

Drafting anyone other than Johnson immediately destroys any leverage that the Lions had by having the second pick. They can trade down and still draft Thomas, Peterson, or—if they must—Adams. The only player that makes sense to draft with the second pick is Johnson.

Bad Scenario Two:

Draft Gaines Adams with the second pick.

This one also falls under “Scenario One” but I want to highlight the importance of not doing this. The absolute worst thing the Lions could do is draft Gaines Adams with the second pick. This would be a monumental blunder and devoid of any logic or reason. I am convinced the Lions know how valuable the second pick is this year with Calvin Johnson being on everyone’s wish list. So, I don’t think this will happen. It is possible, though.

Bad Scenario Three:

Trade down to #3 and draft Adams.

It would defy reason for the Lions to trade down one spot to the third pick and then not trade down again to the fourth pick only to pick Adams. Cleveland wants Quinn. Tampa Bay wants Johnson. The Lions could take advantage of knowing that instead of taking Adams at either #2 or #3.

Bad Scenario Four:

Trade down to #4 and draft Adams.

If the Lions trade down to the fourth pick, the first three selections in the draft will likely be JaMarcus Russell, Calvin Johnson, and Brady Quinn. That would leave the Lions the choice of Joe Thomas or Adrian Peterson. Picking Adams over those two would be foolish.

Bad Scenario Five:

Trade down to #8 and draft Adams.

There are so many opportunities to trade multiple times within the top five (see first paragraph) that it doesn’t make sense for the Lions to trade from second to eighth. Clearly picking Adams at #8 would be better than picking Adams at #2 but that’s about all it is better than.

I’m still unsure whether I think Adams is a good value at #8. If the Lions take him with the eighth pick, we just have to hope he turns out to be pretty good. A trade to eight means the Lions would pick up two second round picks from Atlanta at a minimum. This would give the Lions three second round picks which is more than enough to trade back into the first round. Whether those picks will be enough to trade high enough into the first round to draft Patrick Willis is yet to be known. Thomas and Willis or Peterson and Willis would be a much better haul than Adams and Willis, in my opinion. While this wouldn’t be a terrible draft haul, the sheer number of more favorable options makes this scenario a relatively bad one.

Monday, April 23, 2007

The Not-So-Good Role Reversal

It appears as though Todd Jones and Fernando Rodney have switched roles from last season. Jones now occupies the post of “reliever not nearly as good as his statistics might otherwise indicate” while Rodney is in charge of “reliever that gets smoked seemingly every time out without being in danger of being demoted.” Grumblings of Rodney being injured have started to pop up but Rodney was terrible near the end of last season as well so this seems more like a trend—and the repercussions of predictably throwing the same pitch over and over again—rather than an injury-caused slump. Jones was awful for a good portion of 2006 without ever being in danger of losing his post. Rodney had a decent 2006 statistically even prompting Jim Leyland to say that Rodney should have been the team’s All-Star representative. However, Rodney had a 5.00 ERA over the last five months of the season which is not good. The apparent role-reversal for 2007 seemingly would leave the Tigers in the same place as 2006. Unfortunately, the Tigers haven’t magically meshed “shaky bullpen” with “wins” in ’07 as well as they were able to in ’06.

Teams with shaky bullpens don’t make the World Series very often, let alone two years in a row. I hesitate to call the ‘pen shaky with Joel Zumaya on board but he alone is not enough to offset the struggles of Rodney and the lack of any other pitcher that could be described as being “very good.” I know the bullpen was lauded last season as being one of the best in baseball. It certainly was one of the best bullpens the Tigers have had in 20 years. The problem is that—other than Zumaya—the rest of the significant contributors in the bullpen were just average. No other Tigers reliever had an ERA of less than 3.50 with the exception of Jamie Walker who was the least used by a significant margin.

I don’t want to over-blow the situation. All players struggle at some point in the season. The Tigers can definitely make the playoffs even if Jones and Rodney aren’t lockdown pitchers. There is little question, though, that the American League Central is one of the strongest—if not the strongest—divisions in baseball. The Tigers play 54 games against Chicago, Minnesota, and Cleveland. Against teams of that caliber, the bullpen becomes vital. The Tigers already have six losses from its bullpen in just 18 games. Even more amazing is that of the 15 combined starts by Jeremy Bonderman, Justin Verlander, Nate Robertson, and Mike Maroth they have lost a combined one game. Yet, somehow the Tigers stand at 10-8. And possibly even more amazing is the fact that in their 12 combined starts, Bonderman, Verlander, and Robertson have a cumulative ERA of 2.24 yet only have three wins between them.

Obviously, the bullpen is not getting the job done. They have done a miserable job of finishing quality starts by the starters. Unfortunately, the offense has joined the bullpen in ineptitude. The following may very well blow your minds: Gary Sheffield, Craig Monroe, Sean Casey, and Brandon Inge are batting a combined .146. It would take me another three or four paragraphs to properly put into prospective how terrible that is but I’m assuming you get the idea. And almost unbelievably, the Tigers are still fourth in the AL in runs scored. We saw a less ridiculous version of this phenomenon last season when the Tigers struggled mightily against good pitching but still finished 5th in the AL in runs.

It is because of that reason—along with the bullpen—that I can’t say the Tigers are better than the Chicago White Sox. This might cause a few recriminations but I am pretty confident that the Chicago White Sox are a better baseball team. In fact, I think there is a good chance that they were the better team last season. I don’t believe the difference is huge but I think it’s big enough that the White Sox will consistently beat the Tigers this season as they did last season. Hopefully Chicago finds another way to miss the playoffs like they did last season but to count on that would be foolhardy. Detroit is unquestionably better in the starting pitching department. However, Chicago is considerably better than Detroit offensively and has a more consistent bullpen. Sure, both teams will light-up fourth and fifth starters against the Devil Rays and Royals. The difference is that Chicago puts runs up against good pitchers while the Tigers wave wildly at pitches from anyone named Garland and Halladay. It’s frustrating as a fan to see Roy Halladay or even someone 80% the caliber of Halladay on the mound against the Tigers because that usually signifies offensive futility. The Tigers were 7-11 against the Chisox last season. At no point—in any of the 18 regular season games—did I feel the Tigers were the better team. I had a difficult time feeling that way this past weekend as well. The Sox score runs against everyone. That is the difference.

As a Tigers fan in general, I must admit that I am thrilled to see a winning product on the field. Everything else is just “icing on the cake.” However, the Tigers play to win and fans watch to see wins. If the Tigers are going to make that happen, they have to start playing better very, very soon. Four of the five AL Central teams are above .500 at this point. There isn’t any reason to think that any of the other three teams are going to tail off. The six losses that the bullpen has already given up will hurt the Tigers significantly when they are looking for wins at season’s end against a stacked September schedule. As it stands now, I don‘t see the Tigers having a better than 25% chance of winning the AL Central. Keep in mind that if they don’t win the Central, they have to beat out a slew of capable teams in the American League let alone the AL Central.

Hopefully the Tigers will get things going soon. A good place to start would be to promote a pitcher from the minor league system. I know the Tigers want to develop Andrew Miller, Jair Jurrjens and the like but it shouldn’t be at the risk of hurting a championship-caliber baseball team. It also couldn’t hurt to use Zumaya more often. I understand the whole “protecting our young pitchers” mantra. I’m not suggesting that Leyland attempt to kill Zumaya’s arm. If there’s ever a time to use him more, it’s when the bullpen is accounting for 75% of your losses. Zumaya was a starting pitcher for years in the minors. Many people—including Dave Dombrowski—had aspirations of him being a starter in Detroit. He can handle an increased workload. The offense won’t explode as many keep predicting. It has been assumed that the offense will just magically blow up at some point. Rod Allen feels so strongly about it that he mentions it 48 times per game. I don’t think there is any doubt that the lineup will eventually “get it going” against the end-of-the-rotation pitchers but you’d have to have an awful lot of money to convince me that this team will get it going against good to great pitching anytime soon. The lineup is no different than last season’s.

I don’t want to sound all “doom and gloom” here. Somehow, someway the Tigers not only made it to the playoffs last season but entered the World Series as the favorites under somewhat similar circumstances. It’s not like this team hasn’t inexplicably won before. So, maybe—and hopefully—I just wasted 1,311 words and five minutes of your time.

A note of interest: The Gary Sheffield trade is probably looking pretty bad at this point considering Sheff’s slow start. In a cruel twist, though, Humberto Sanchez is now out for the season with elbow damage. He is scheduled to have Tommy John surgery. No matter how bad Sheffield has been, the trade has to be viewed as a raging success. Dombrowski strikes again

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Nothing to see here

This has been a fairly boring week in the sports world. My week started late per my four-day vacation in Toronto so I’ve been on somewhat of a mental break from anything that requires thought. I did, however, manager to attend a Pistons and a Tigers game in Toronto over the weekend. Through some strategic planning and a bit of luck, I was able to knock out a trip to the Air Canada Centre and the Skydome in one trip. Here is a bit of a tip for those of you planning on seeing the Pistons play in Toronto: call Flip Saunders and ask him if he’s planning on building a 16-point lead and then turning the game over to the powerful nucleus of Lindsey Hunter, Jason Maxiell, Ronald Dupree, Carlos Delfino, and Amir Johnson for the majority of the second half. I understand the importance of getting those players playing time and resting the starters but you start making reservations for a win in your mind right around that 16-point barrier. It would have been a whole lot more bearable if the Raptors fans weren’t acting as if it were the playoffs already. They definitely have some good fans in Toronto. Anyhow, here are a few cluttered thoughts…

  • I would not want to be the manager of the Philadelphia Phillies ever. It has turned into a one-way ticket to the unemployment line. First it was Terry Francona. He gave way to Larry Bowa whose tenure was eerily similar to Charlie Manuel’s right down to the underachieving and clubhouse tirades. The Phillies never start off the season playing good baseball. The team never reaches expectations no matter how good the roster is. Call me crazy but I think it might have something to do with Philly’s pitching. Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Bobby Abreu, Jim Thome, Scott Rolen, and Pat Burrell all have something in common: they aren’t pitchers. So, the next time Jimmy Rollins wants to predict that the Phillies will win the pennant or the next time a Philly beat-writer wants to encourage Charlie Manuel to stage a blowup, they may want to look at Philly’s team ERA over the last ten seasons. I believe the problem lies somewhere in the following numbers:

    Yr ERA NL Rk
    07 5.55 16 of 16
    06 4.60 11 of 16
    05 4.21 10 of 16
    04 4.45 13 of 16
    03 4.04--8 of 16
    02 4.17 --9 of 16
    01 4.15 --6 of 16
    00 4.77 11 of 16
    99 4.93 13 of 16
    98 4.64 14 of 16
    97 4.87 12 of 14

  • I don’t want to hear anything from the Dice-K contingent about not receiving run support; at least he has a win. Jeremy Bonderman has a miniscule 2.25 ERA in 28 innings to go with a .86 WHIP. He has received a whopping ten runs of support in his four starts. This “no run support for Bondo” thing is nothing new. Last season, the Tigers scored four runs or less an unbelievable 19 times in Bonderman’s 34 starts. Kenny Rogers and Justin Verlander each had 12 such occurrences. It’s pretty difficult to get recognized around the league with zero wins.

  • I lived in Europe for four years. One of the things that I was envious of was the rest of the world’s passion for soccer. Soccer around the world is like college football here. It’s frenzied and crazy with quite possibly a lot more alcohol. Passionate doesn’t even begin to describe the worldwide obsession (sans the U.S.). I think it would be fantastic to be able to share in that sort of fanaticism. Unfortunately, I can’t force myself to like soccer any more than I can force myself to watch The View. The problem is that the U.S. brand of soccer is a jalopy to the world’s Ferrari. The U.S. can’t field a good team when it combines all its best players on one roster. Now take that team and disperse it to the 13 different teams in the MLS and you have a watered down version of a team that already can’t compete in the World Cup. Suffice it to say, there isn’t much to be interested in. I don’t think it’s a fluke that every other country in the world loves soccer (with the exception of Canada but I believe hockey counts as soccer in some circles). It is so simple but so difficult. It requires the most conditioning of any sport in the world. It also features intercontinental match-ups which is something American sports lack. There is a pride factor involved in soccer that just isn’t present in American sports. Even the leagues around the world feature teams from many different countries squaring off. So to say that soccer is an inherently flawed game or that there isn’t anything intriguing about it is too much of a cop out. If America was a World Cup contender every four years, this country would go “bonkers” over soccer. If the MLS had anything close to the talent of the Premier League or The Bundesliga it would sell out most of its games. While bringing David Beckham and Zinedine Zidane to the MLS will probably have a small positive effect on fan interest, bringing over two passed-their-prime stars is not the answer to bringing soccer to the American mainstream. It didn’t work with Pele and it certainly will not work with Beckham and Zidane. A soccer revolution in America won’t happen until the U.S. soccer team can have consistent success in the World Cup. Americans don’t want to watch second-rate soccer which is what they feel they are getting with MLS. The thing that amazes me the most is the fact that so many kids play soccer in America yet the National Team never gets better. How can Americans be so good at baseball, football, and basketball and be so terrible at soccer? I blame the “Soccer Moms”. They just aren’t getting it done!

  • This is a bit unrelated to anything going on in the news but is there a better jump-shooter in the NBA than Antonio McDyess? Does he ever miss a jumper? I would love to see him go up against Steve Nash in a 15-footer competition. Since McDyess has suffered such devastating knee injuries, he doesn’t spend much time around the basket. That means that the vast majority of his shots are jump shots. That makes his 52.7% shooting from the field that much more unbelievable.

  • It has been quite satisfying watching the Pistons over the last few games. With the #1 seed in the conference wrapped up, the Pistons were able to give an ocean full of playing time to Amir Johnson. For those of you that don’t know much about Johnson, he is the guy that is supposed to erase “the Darko pick”, “the Okur decision”, and “the Darko trade” all in one swoop. In the sports world, hype is almost never lived up to. For instance, look at any NFL or NBA draft of the last 20 years. I doubt there is one single draft where even half of the players lived up to the hype. So, it’s understandable if you’re taking the route of caution when projecting Johnson’s career. However, I think he is a Jermaine O’Neal (hopefully the healthy version) in the making. He is extremely athletic and seems to understand the game very well. He also appears to have some range from behind the arc. There are some aspects of his game that need fine-tuning (i.e. being able to dribble more than twice without turning the ball over). Although to be fair, I think his shortcomings have a lot to do with getting too excited and trying to do too much. All of his “awkwardness” will disappear as soon as he starts getting consistent playing time. If the Pistons can’t break through again in the next two years, we at least have a promising young frontcourt in the making with Amir Johnson, Jason Maxiell, and Tayshaun Prince. Now just pray that Johnson doesn’t suffer a gruesome injury (i.e. C-Webb, Amare, J.O., ‘Dyess). Athletic power forwards are the most susceptible to such injuries.

  • If I had to take one team to come out of the Western Conference, I would take San Antonio. The Spurs are playing as well as they’ve ever played. They have a well-rested threesome of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker. They have a deadly group of role players and the most underrated coach in NBA history. Add that to the sour taste of last season’s playoff loss to Dallas and San Antonio should be the odds on favorite to win the NBA Championship. One thing that I’ve learned about the NBA is that things don’t change nearly as much as the basketball media makes it appear. Despite Dallas and Phoenix’ gaudy records this year, SA was always the most complete team just like they were the most complete team last year (despite losing in seven to Dallas). SA stills has the best defense in basketball. It still has the best center in basketball. It still has the best coach in basketball. So don’t be surprised if (or when) the Spurs win yet another NBA Championship in two months.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Legitimizing Beilein

I don’t usually put a whole lot of stock in the decisions of a couple of high school basketball recruits. The University of Michigan is a big enough player athletically that rarely is it the case that one or two recruits will have a significant impact on any of its programs. Michigan’s 2007 basketball recruiting class is an exception to this line of thinking. Securing re-commitments from Manny Harris, Alex Legion, and Kelvin Grady will directly impact the legacy that John Beilein will have at Michigan. Harris and Grady are already on board. Legion seems to be leaning towards the same decision. For this post, I’ll be assuming that Legion eventually re-commits (If he doesn't, feel free to print out a paper copy of this post and set it on fire).

Much has been made of Beilein’s ability as an X’s and O’s wizard. Likewise, much has been made of his supposed shortcomings in the recruiting “game” (more on “the game” later). For those of you that can remember back into the 80’s and beyond, Michigan has seemingly always had a coach that was proficient in either recruiting or coaching (or neither) but not both. The best example of this was Steve Fisher. I’m not going to say that Fisher was the worst X’s and O’s coach ever but his ability to recruit far outweighed his ability to game-plan. Indiana outclassed Michigan with less “talent” on a regular basis during his tenure. A good portion of the local media has characterized Beilein as being cut from a similar one-dimensional mold.

Whether Beilein is actually a one-dimensional coach is still up in the air. His recruiting success, or lack thereof, at previously dormant West Virginia is hardly a reason to label him a poor recruiter. Nonetheless, that image is what Beilein is bringing to Ann Arbor. Even worse than simply having an image as a poor recruiter is that Beilein has also been portrayed as not having interest in recruiting the PSL. You can bet that every AAU coach and every rising high school star in the area have taken notice to those accusations. That reputation could prove to be crippling to Beilein’s success at Michigan if it sticks.

Enter Harris, Legion and Grady. There is no doubt that they are highly talented prospects. Any school in America would gladly take those players. So saying that they are important to Michigan basketball probably sounds obvious. However, there importance to the program in terms of fixing Beilein’s image is even more important that whatever it is they bring to Michigan on the basketball court. Beilein’s ability to keep those three from asking out of their LOI(s) sends a clear message to the Michigan high school basketball community that Beilein can relate to Detroit players and that he is very much interested in the Detroit basketball scene.

Magnifying the impact of keeping the trio is Beilein’s refusal to play “the recruiting game.” “The game” refers to doing whatever it takes to secure a commitment from a high-profile recruit. I don’t have statistics on this since “the game” is an unofficial existence, but I would guess that 75% of top 25 programs play “the game”. Think Blue Chips. Tubby Smith didn’t like “the game” which is why he is now at Minnesota. Beilein doesn’t like it either which is why he was chosen by Michigan. Beilein is on the “up and up” on the recruiting scene. His goal is to sell his style of play and the university. Had Beilein not been able to secure the trio of re-commitments, he would have seen his credibility on the local recruiting scene drop to nil. A coach that plays “the game” can turn things around without much of a rapport with the area coaches. A “straight arrow” like Beilein doesn’t have that easy out. Just think how much easier it will be for Beilein to sell the program with Harris, Legion and Grady in the fold. That alone gives Beilein credibility. Amazingly, “street cred” in the college basketball world is really all that matters in terms of recruiting. Most coaches get “street cred” by playing “the game” but Beilein might have attained it just by keeping three players that were otherwise planning on getting as far away from Ann Arbor as possible when Tommy Amaker was fired.

Michigan could have all but guaranteed success had it been willing to bring in a coach that entices recruits beyond normal means. John Calipari would have—and probably already has—played “the game” in Detroit. He would’ve galvanized the PSL behind the Michigan basketball program. Calipari knows how to get things done on the recruiting trails. That’s why Memphis (yes, Memphis) is a basketball powerhouse. Unfortunately, the Michigan Athletic Department—at the behest of the Michigan Board of Regents—can’t afford to risk another ugly scandal. Calipari may do things the same way that 75% of the other major programs do it but Michigan operates under a zero tolerance platform. That is something that Calipari cannot guarantee. That is why Bill Martin considered Calipari for all of zero seconds; and that is also why Beilein was his frontrunner possibly even before Amaker was let go. This will be important to remember three years down the road when Beilein inevitably gets criticized for missing out on some in-state players. Doing things the right way only appeals to so many recruits and AAU coaches.

I don’t want to understate the impact that Harris, Legion, and Grady will have on the basketball court. It’s just that their on-court contributions won’t be nearly as far reaching or as immediate as their contributions in terms of legitimizing the Michigan program under Beilein. Michigan will probably surprise a few people next year but it will be a difficult endeavor for the program to overcome a lack of veteran leadership and a bevy of players that don’t necessarily fit into Beilein’s preferred system. Michigan’s five best players (Sims, Udoh, Harris, Legion, and Grady) will likely be freshmen or sophomores.

I don’t want to cloud the “big picture” with all of the recruiting talk. The big picture is that for the first time in many years, Michigan has a basketball coach that has a chance to be proficient in both recruiting and X’s and O’s. It’s accepted that Beilein is skilled in the latter; Harris, Legion, and Grady will go a long, long way in proving his worth in the former. There is no question that the Michigan basketball program can be a force nationally when it's running at full capacity. I sense that we're about to see that happen.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Holland had to do it

The first two things that come to mind when I think of Pavel Datsyuk are: 1) I can’t believe he is almost 29 years old already, and 2) he isn’t as good as he is skilled. Nowhere in even the first minute of thought (or ever) on the subject of Datsyuk does the idea of him being the franchise player enter my mind. I’m not trying to knock Datsyuk. I just won’t be confusing him with “Stevie Y” until he adds a new dimension to his game. So, I understand to some extent why there was a fair amount of backlash from the Detroit media with regards to Ken Holland’s decision to sign Datsyuk to a seven year contract extension worth close to $47 million. That comes out to an annual salary of $6.7 million which would have been among the top 15 salaries in the NHL this season. I don’t think Datsyuk has proven to be that type of player, yet.

It certainly seems a bit illogical to pay top dollar for a player that isn’t a top-dollar player. But, I think the Red Wings absolutely had to make the decision to re-sign Datsyuk. I don’t think it’s a question of right or wrong. To borrow and slightly alter a line from the immortal Chainsaw from Summer School, “Resign Datsyuk. Had to be done.” The NHL is not the NBA. There is no such thing as a luxury tax in the NHL. The Red Wings can’t throw millions at players in free agency anymore and expect to land a superstar; there are 29 other teams trying to do the same thing with the same amount of money. As a result, the Wings have to keep whatever semblance of star power they have.

The NHL is also not like the NFL. There aren’t 22 starters in the NHL like there are in the NFL. The Detroit Lions traded one of the top cornerbacks in the league (or so Dre Bly has been dubbed) because they know that losing one or two players doesn’t usually make or break a franchise in pro football. The same cannot be said for the NHL. The Colorado Avalanche lost Peter Forsberg and they’re out of the playoffs. The Edmonton Oilers lost Chris Pronger and they’re out of the playoffs, too. It is so difficult to replace “skilled” players for a reasonable price in the NHL because of the hard cap. This makes it of the utmost importance to develop and keep your skilled players. The Tigers have done a fantastic job of this by keeping the likes of Jeremy Bonderman and Carlos Guillen under contracts for a reasonable amount of time at a reasonable price—and MLB doesn’t even have a cap.

The Red Wings have been fortunate enough to have two of their own draft picks develop into highly skilled players. In the present day NHL, that is half of the equation. The other half is keeping those players. Who wouldn’t love to have Sidney Crosby? Unfortunately, he is not available. All that’s available is Datsyuk and a crop of marginal free agents looking to break the bank. As a result, the Wings had to keep Datsyuk or risk the uncertainty of free agency. Every NHL team has the same dilemma. Do they slightly overpay to keep a player they know is pretty good or, do they let the player walk only to enter a bidding war that will almost surely result in paying even more money for a player that isn’t as good as the player you let walk in the first place? It is my guess that the teams that choose the latter are the teams that will be at the bottom of the NHL standings and vice versa.

The local media has lambasted Holland for the signing. The number one reason for said lambasting has been Datsyuk’s failures in the postseason. Granted, Datsyuk hasn’t done much of anything in the playoffs but the Wings as a team haven’t done much of anything either. The Wings have secured the #1 or #2 seed in the Western Conference in each of the last three postseasons without as much as a trip to the Conference Finals to show for it. Based on that track record, there isn’t a player on the roster that should be re-signed. Obviously, that isn’t true. Players struggle. I always loved how Barry Bonds was ridiculed for years for his postseason failures when he only amassed 97 postseason at-bats in his first 16 seasons. Similarly, Datsyuk is widely recognized as a playoff choker after playing only 21 playoff games in three years (he played 21 playoff games in his rookie year when the Red Wings won the Stanley Cup but wasn’t a front-line player yet.) Steve Yzerman didn’t start having team success in the playoffs regularly until his 12th season and we know how that turned out. It is way too early for a final decision on Datsyuk’s legacy.

Some may argue that it is similarly way too early to be handing out a $47 million extension. Unfortunately, that decision was made because of the league’s financial parameters. You have to “play the cards you’re dealt” and by the rules that govern the game. The Wings can’t go out and sign Joe Thornton for $200 million. Nor can the Wings afford to go out and pay $45 for a fringe player just to appease the fan base anymore. GM’s now have to moonlight as financial wizards. As hard as it is to believe, Ken Holland probably saved money in the long run by tying up Datsyuk now. In fact, Holland has been masterful in virtually every move he has made since the initiation of the hard cap which should be reason enough to give him the benefit of the doubt on the Datsyuk signing. If you’re like the Pat Caputo’s of the world and think three playoffs over 21 games is enough to cast a player as a playoff choker for the rest of his career, then you probably don’t understand this move. If you’re one of those people that would have gladly accepted A-Rod for a couple of minor leaguers after his choke-job in the playoffs last season, or understand the new obstacles presented by the NHL’s hard cap, then you probably understand why this move had to be made.

If you were looking for the perfect move (i.e. trading four tooth picks for Todd Bertuzzi), then you were asking the impossible. I could make a laundry list of complaints about the Datsyuk signing. Seven years from now he’ll be 36 years old. That’s more than enough reason to blast this move. However, that would be a waste of time. The only thing that makes this move a good move or not is whether it was better than the alternative. For instance, if a robber holds a gun to your head and demands your wallet, you will probably give him/her your wallet. I can think of a number of awful consequences of giving up your wallet but those consequences hardly matter since it was better than getting your head blown off thus making giving up your wallet the right move. If you can’t offer a better alternative, then signing Datsyuk was the right move. The ultimate compliment to this move would be convincing Dominik Hasek to play for five more seasons.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Complacency is the killer of dreams

The 2004 NBA Finals were equally a dream come true for the Pistons (and their fans) as well as the start of a crippling disposition. It has been three long years since Detroit ruled the NBA which is far too long for a team that annually boasts “the best starting five in the NBA.” With Chris Webber essentially replacing Ben Wallace, this season has been no different. The Pistons have a strong bench to compliment its bevy of All-Star starters. Unfortunately, three years of “the best starting five” has yielded a big, fat pile of nothing. I believe that something happened in 2004 that may very well prevent the Pistons—at least this version—from ever winning a championship again: complacency.

I know treading in the waters of psychobabble is a dangerous endeavor but I think it applies here. The Pistons are obviously a good basketball team. They have reached the Eastern Conference Finals in each of the last four seasons and barely missed a second NBA Championship against the San Antonio Spurs in ‘05. In both seasons since the Championship, though, the Pistons have underachieved. They should have beaten the Spurs in the Finals. They played two dreadful basketball games in games one and two. It was as if they relished falling behind two games to none. Then, of course, they stormed back with three straight wins and very narrowly missed winning game six. Some might applaud the Pistons’ effort in that series but I think it’s evident that had they come to play in game one, things may have turned out differently. Last season, the Pistons coasted through the regular season with one of the best starts in NBA history. The playoffs proved, yet again, to be another disappointment. They were dismantled by Miami. It looked like the Pistons felt they had the series won before it even started thus keeping them from ever really showing up.

While the last two seasons seem to be compelling evidence of the Pistons’ complacency since 2004, following the regular season closely proves to be even more revealing. The Pistons often play lackadaisical in the first half of games. They seem to relish falling behind early in the same way that Wayne Gretzky’s Edmonton Oilers did in the 80s. The problem is that the Pistons are nowhere near as dominant as those Oilers teams. They cannot afford to fall behind or coast against any of the upper echelon teams in the NBA. It may work against the Indiana Pacers but it won’t work against Miami, San Antonio or even a Chicago Bulls team missing Ben Wallace and Andres Nocioni. Every so often, the Pistons play with a certain level of authority and the results can be resounding (i.e. the second half of the April 3 Pacers game). I know teams can’t play perfectly every night. But, the Pistons seem to play flawlessly on most occasions when they are down in the second half. That proves to me that they hold back. I’m not suggesting it’s a conscious decision. In fact, that is just the problem. I believe it is an almost unavoidable unconscious problem.

A few years ago, my weight was close to that of a walrus. I assure you that it was not a pretty sight. Nonetheless, I got to a point where I had to do something about it. I started running on the treadmill everyday. I started off with a near-walking pace until I could build up my stamina to run. Every week I got better and better. I worked out hard in the gym and soon the pounds were melting off of my body. Each new accomplishment brought even more determination. Weeks became months and my weight loss went from 10 to 20 to 50 to 97 pounds. In just six months I had chiseled off 97 pounds of fat and what was left was a specimen fit for an amateur bodybuilding competition. I still remember the day that I lost that 97th pound. I couldn’t believe it. Unfortunately, that was the only day where I would keep that 97th pound off. Something happened to me that day. It is four years later and while I am nowhere near that walrus-weight, I am far from happy with my current physical conditioning. No matter how hard I try, no matter what technique I use, I cannot regain that determination. My reference point for what is an acceptable weight has continually increased for three years. Each time my weight increases, I end up rationalizing that I’m still in pretty good shape and if I wanted to, I could “turn it back on”. That has led to the contradiction of contradictions: the fact that I know I can do it is making it impossible for me to do it. It is a weird phenomenon. It’s almost as if I would have been better off losing 70 pounds and then losing the rest at a later time.

I see so many parallels between my own complacency and what seems to be the Pistons’ complacency. My inability to regain that fire that allowed me to reach places I never thought I could reach is not something that I enjoy. I want it back in a bad way. I believe the Pistons fight the same demons. They achieved success so quickly and so unexpectedly that they never developed the sense that if they don’t play well, they will lose. The Pistons often have “team meetings” that result in a few games of superior play. Those spurts are always followed by a return to complacency. Again, I can relate. Numerous times I have attained a drive strong enough to get me through two, three and even six weeks of intense exercise and healthy eating. But, it always ends disastrously. I always end up back at the same place.

Just because the Pistons seem to be surrounded by an unwavering level of complacency does not mean they aren’t trying to fight through it. It’s so easy to say, “Chauncey needs to drive more”, or “‘Sheed needs to play in the post”. I’ve said both of those things numerous times. But, that’s like someone telling me that I need to eat better or run more. I’m well aware of how important those two components are. The problem isn’t knowing what to do. It’s doing it.

Even though I have failed to regain that determination over and over again, I am still trying to recapture it. I have confidence that one day I will get back to the shape that I dream of when my mind wanders. Whether that’s a fools dream or not, I have no idea. The fact that my complacency has lasted four years and the Pistons’ complacency has lasted three years does not bode well for either of us. As much as I can assure you that I will not stop trying to break away from my mental constraints, I am convinced the Pistons will do the same. Unfortunately, trying is only half the battle.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Predictions for the baseball season

Baseball is back and I am happy about that. I have put together a list of predictions for the season that I will immediately remove from my memory bank as soon as I post this. Some of my predictions are bolder than others but I would be happy with a 33% success rate by the end of the season considering how specific some of the predictions are. I have a sneaking suspicion that the Tigers will be squeezed out of the playoffs by Boston or Chicago in the last week of the season. I hope that doesn’t happen but it would not surprise me in the least. One thing that Tigers fans might have to realize is that being good doesn’t guarantee a playoff spot. It takes a requisite amount of luck and good fortune to stay afloat for 162 games. I’m sure Boston never considered not making the playoffs last season. Either way, I will be happy. I’ve been begging for respectability from the Tigers for 15 years and now that I’ve got it, I’m not going to piss it away on a “playoffs or bust” mentality. Obviously, making the playoffs would be nice =)

Here are some other baseball predictions……

Jeremy Bonderman will finish with an ERA between 3.80 and 3.99.

No Tigers pitcher will win more than 17 games.

No Tigers hitter will hit 30+ HRs (five will hit 20+).

The Tigers will finish sixth in the AL in runs behind New York, Chicago, Cleveland, Toronto, and Boston.

The Tigers will finish fourth in the AL in ERA behind Oakland, Los Angeles, and Minnesota.

The Tigers will win 87 games.

The Tigers will finish .500 against Cleveland, Minnesota, and Chicago plus/minus two games.

Joel Zumaya will be the Tigers best pitcher for the second consecutive year. (By the way; Sports Illustrated mentioned in its Tigers preview that Fernando Rodney out-pitched Zumaya at times last season. That’s like saying that, at-times, Matt Stairs out-hit Albert Pujols. As long as they understand that these are the same statements, then I have no problem with it.)

Fernando Rodney will continue to be intolerably unreliable. Todd Jones won’t have as many bumpy rides as he did last season but that will not be enough to calm fans when either is in the game. Anybody who willingly watches Rodney and Jones (Jones is close to being taken off my banned list) pitch in a close game should refer to this post from last June.

At some point this season, Jim Leyland will reiterate his stance that Fernando Rodney should make the All-Star team.

Adam Dunn will hit 50+ HR’s

Grady Sizemore will win the AL MVP. (If he doesn’t, Travis Hafner will)

Albert Pujols will win the NL MVP by a huge margin.

Dice K will win 18+ games and finish third on the Cy Young ballot.

Barry Bonds will hit 30+ HR’s

Dice K will win the AL ROY

Mike Pelfrey will win the NL ROY

The AL Division winners will be New York, Cleveland, and Los Angeles. Boston will narrowly beat Detroit to win the Wild Card.

The NL Division winners will be New York, St. Louis, and Los Angeles. Philadelphia, Atlanta, Milwaukee, San Francisco, Arizona, Florida, and San Diego will all duke it out for the NL Wild Card. This is a toss-up but I’ll go with Atlanta to bounce back and make the playoffs.

Sammy Sosa will hit between 18 and 22 HR’s.

The NL Cy Young will be a five-man race between Jason Schmidt (LA), Chris Carpenter (STL), Carlos Zambrano (CHI), Ben Sheets (MIL), and Dontrelle Willis (FLA). I’m inclined to think Sheets will win it if he stays healthy. If he doesn’t, I’ll go with Schmidt.

The AL Cy Young will be a one-man race with Johan Santana winning the award for a third time. Roy Halladay and Dice K will round out the top three.

The Yankees will have the most wins in the AL.

The Mets will have the most wins in the NL.

Florida will finish above .500 in one of the toughest divisions in baseball.

The Royals and Devil Rays will be significantly better on the field this year but they will still each lose 100+ games.

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