Buy or Sell: D’Angelo Russell, Pittsburgh Pirates and Utah Jazz

While Joel Deering, Mickayeen Farner and I were discussing, Joel brought up D’Angelo Russell’s move to the Golden State Warriors, and labeled Russell as the next Steph Curry. Mickayeen immediately disagreed. So the two decided to debate it out here in this week’s Buy or Sell. Along with Russell vs. Curry, we’ll also bring up the Pittsburgh Pirates after they crushed the Chicago Cubs 5-18 and the Utaz Jazz and their Western Conference chances. 

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D’Angelo Russell by Erik Drost is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Aman: D’Angelo Russell is capable of being the next Steph Curry?

Mickayeen: I’ll start with the classic Player A/Player B scenario. These are the first four seasons of Steph vs the first four seasons of D’Lo:

Player A (per game): 16.5 points/ 3.7 rebounds/ 5.1 assists
Player B (per game): 19.2 points/ 4.0 rebounds/ 6.1 assists
Seems pretty close on the surface, but when we dig deeper and look at more advanced numbers, we see where the separation really is:

Player A: 35.3 3P%, 49.2 eFG%, 76.2 FT%, 51.9 TS%, 28.2 USG%, 6.6 WS, 4.6 VORP
Player B: 44.6 3P%, 54.8eFG%, 90.1 FT%, 58.6 TS%, 24.2 USG%, 24.7 WS, 11.2 VORP
Explanation of those stats: 3P% is simply three-point percentage; eFG is adjusted for the three-point FG is worth one more point than the two; FT% is free-throw percentage; TS% is a true measure of efficiency, taking into account, two-pointers, three-pointers, and free-throws; USG% is usage percentage, or the estimate of team plays used by a player while he was on the floor; WS is the estimate of number of wins added by the player, similar to WAR in baseball; and VORP is an estimate of points added per 100 possessions.

Player A is D’Angelo Russell and player B is Stephen Curry through their first four years in the league. I mean, it’s not even really that close when you look at it. Steph shot 10% better from three-point land, was more efficient in every single category, and scored more points per game despite having a lower usage rate than D’Lo. The counting stats wills look closer when looking at the per 36 minutes or per 100 possessions because of that higher usage rate, but make no mistake about it, even though D’Lo is a really good player, he is no Steph, and the efficiency numbers and advanced metrics reveal that truth.

Joel: Looking at Mickayeen’s breakdown of D’Angelo Russell against Steph Curry, I can see how one might think to say Russell is the next Curry is ridiculous. However, there are several other stats we can look at that will say otherwise.

In their first four seasons in the league, Russell made 589 three-pointers, while Curry made 644. Curry made 55 more three-point shots than Russell. However, Curry also started more games and played more minutes per game. During their first four seasons, Curry started 28 more games and averaged 5.6 more minutes per game than Russell.

When you do the math, you’ll find that Curry averaged 2.55 three-point shots made per start. Looking at Russell, he averaged 2.63 three-point shots made per start. At that pace, had Russell started as many games as Curry during their first four seasons, he would currently be at 662 three-point shots, 18 more than Curry.

Moving on to their points per game, Steph Curry beat out Russell in points averaged per game during their first four seasons. We could go back to the starts argument here, but I won’t. Instead, I’ll compare how long it took each player to get over 20 points per game. It took both Russell and Curry until their fourth NBA season to average over 20 points per game, Russell averaging 21.1 and Curry 22.9.

Next, we’ll look at their assists. How long did it take each player to average over six assists? It took both of them until their fourth NBA season, with Russell averaging 7.0 and Curry 6.9.

Next, let’s look at the playoffs. Steph Curry didn’t take his team to the playoffs until his fourth NBA season. D’Angelo Russell didn’t take his team to the playoffs until his fourth NBA season. What seed were their teams in their first playoff appearance? They were both six seeds.

Finally, I’ll just add that D’Angelo Russell is the youngest player in NBA history to reach 500 three-point shots made. Russell may not have the same shooting percentages as Curry, but there are plenty of other similarities between the two guards.

Mickayeen: The Utah Jazz are favorites to win the Western Conference?

Joel: As it currently stands, I don’t think the Jazz are considered the favorites to win the Western Conference. They’ve made some really nice moves this offseason, which I think definitely makes them contenders to win the Western Conference, but I wouldn’t go as far as to say the favorites.

Looking at the teams in the Western Conference, you’ve got the Nuggets (Should be even better than last season), Warriors (Will still be contenders despite losing Durant and Klay being out), Blazers (Consistently tough), Rockets (Despite drama, should still be there), Lakers (Should be in the playoffs this season), Clippers and several other teams. Among all those teams, I don’t think I’d take the Utah Jazz as favorites. Do they have the pieces to win the Western Conference? I think they do. Are they the favorites? I think at least a few other teams would be favored at this point.

Aman: I was about to buy this, but then the Los Angeles Clippers did two things. First, they signed NBA Champion Kawhi Leonard from Toronto Raptors. Due to that, Paul George signed from Oklahoma City. To be honest, even Leonard alone would’ve pitted the Clippers as favorites for me. And adding onto Joel’s points, the Houston Rockets can be NBA title contenders, forget the Conference. The Trailblazers, Warriors and the Lakers will likely be in the hunt, not to forget the kind of damage the Denver Nuggets can do. Therefore, I sell this.

Joel: The Pittsburgh Pirates will finish with a better record than the Philadelphia Phillies by the end of the season despite the Phillies having Bryce Harper?

Mickayeen: I wish I could buy the Pirates being better than the Phillies by the end of the season, but I just can’t. Even as it stands right now (July 3rd), the Phillies are 3.5 games better, have a +6 run differential while the Pirates have a -39. The Phillies are the more talented team overall and will probably finish 5-10 games better than the pirates. You can never say never in sports, especially baseball, but this doesn’t seem like it’ll finish close.

Aman: In terms of wins and losses, both teams seem similarly consistent this season. The Pirates have just won two fewer games, but the reason I buy the Pirates doing better than the Phillies this season is the away ratio. The Pirates have a batter away record winning 22 games compared to the Phillies’ 20.

 

Now that you have our takes on these intriguing debates, let us know your thoughts by commenting below!

  • Is D’Angelo Russell set to be the next Steph Curry?
  • Are Utah Jazz favorites to win the Western Conference?
  • Will the Pirates beat out the Phillies?

What you missed this weekend: 3/29-3/31

As the Basketball season wraps up and looks to put an end to all the madness next weekend, things are just starting to swing off in the MLB.

This past Thursday was opening day of the Major League Baseball season and you can see what we at Fourth Quarter Sports thought about the divisions and playoffs here. 

Don’t forget about the NBA playoff picture and where we are entering the few games of the season. So let’s see what we missed?

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PNC Park – Pittsburgh, PA by Dan Gaken is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

NCAA Basketball

Two No. 1’s go down an ugly fashion:

Despite Auburn’s best player Chuma Okeke getting injured, Auburn still defeated North Carolina astoundedly 97-80. Malik Dunbar accumulated 13 points in this game while Bryce Brown and Daniel Purifoy won 12 points each. Jared Harper got nine points, but more importantly, 11 assists. This win is important as Auburn aim for their first Final Four in history.

While Auburn is aiming for Final Four, Texas Tech have made it with their 75-69 win over Gonzaga. Though close, throughout the last minute, it was even tighter. Josh Perkins of Gonzaga’s five points in the next half-minute wasn’t enough as Gonzaga stumbled in the hunt for a win.

Though Perkins is not perfect. In the last minute, when Gonzaga was just trailing by two points, Perkins stepped outside of bounds, allowing Texas Tech the free throws they needed to win.

Perhaps earlier Gonzaga could’ve used a window of opportunity to win. When Texas Tech’s Tariq Owens was caught out of bounds while defending the ball, when Gonzaga should’ve been awarded the ball, they fouled seconds later, allowing Texas Tech to score more. The stars of both teams did show up. For Gonzaga, Rui Hachimura scored 22 points, Brandon Clarke with 18 and Perkins with 16. But what cost Gonzaga were the 16 turnovers.

Along with the excess of free throws, Texas Tech’s Jarret Culver scored 19 points and Matt Mooney surprisingly scored 17 himself.

Virginia finally makes the Final Four:

For the first time since 1984, Virginia has made the Final Four! Tony and Dick Bennet become only the second father-son coaching duo in history to be coaching in the Final Four. In Bennet’s words, he described the sensation as, “I’ve always dreamed of coaching in a Final Four…This seems [easy]’ — I didn’t realize how hard it was.”

Auburn makes first ever Final Four with thrilling OT win (By RahimAli Merchant):

Coming into the tournament as the conference tournament champ, you should be one of the favorites to go far in the tournament. That was necessarily the case for Auburn as they reach their first ever Final Four.

Auburn was on the edge of an upset in the first round as they won by a point against New Mexico State. They used that to fuel them to two huge wins over Kansas and No. 1 North Carolina before finally taking down their conference rival Kentucky in overtime. I knew Auburn was a sleeper team in the tournament, but they proved a lot in the NCAA tournament and I think they could beat Virginia and fight the Spartans for the National Championship next Monday night!

Duke’s 17 turnovers cost them a Final Four berth:

The reason this was an upset was that Duke was the no. 1 seeded team. And Duke lost by one point. Michigan State won 68-67. R.J. Barrett had the chance to win the game for Duke, but only one of his free throws went in. And Michigan State move on to the Final Four.

Players declaring for NBA Draft:

UCLA’s small forward Kris Wilkes
Oregon’s center Bol Bol
San Diego State’s forward Jalen McDaniels

MLB

Bryce Harper’s first homer as a Phillies player:

Expectations on Phillies’ new signing Bryce Harper were high, but his maiden home run for the team shattered all of that. Harper’s home run went for 465 feet and the Phillies went on to beat the Atlanta Braves 8-6.

Yu Darvish’s big return:

For the first time in nearly 11 months, Yu Darvish stepped onto the grass to pitch. Unfortunately, it didn’t go to plan. Darvish’s only two innings saw seven batsmen walk. The two runs which Asdrubal Cabrera was able to score off of Darvish resulted in the Texas Rangers triumphing over the Chicago Cubs 8-6.

Yelich making history:

Christian Yelich is already such a good player, being the reigning MVP, but this season might just be even more fun to watch. In all of MLB history, Yelich is now the sixth player to be an MVP who opens the following season with a home run in each of his first four matches. The last one was truly special as in the ninth innings, Yelich won the game for the Milwaukee Brewers against the St. Louis Cardinals.

Yankees SS Troy Tulowitzki homers for the first time since ’17:

It’s been a two-year wait for Tulowitzki, but he finally was able to score. After suffering through ankle and heel injuries, Tulowitzki was able to hit a homer in the ninth inning against the Baltimore Orioles. However, the Yankees still went on to lose 5-3.

Goldschmidt hits 3 HRs in 2nd game with Cards:

It’s hard enough to score one home run, but Paul Goldschmidt hit three home runs in his second ever match for the Cardinals against the Brewers. His first came after facing nine pitches from Freddy Peralta before his tenth one was hit far enough. By the end of the game, Goldschmidt had accumulated three homers and five RBIs as the Cardinals won 9-5.

NBA:

Despite their poor effort in make the playoffs, Lakers Vets want to return next season: (By RahimAli Merchant)

With the arrival of LeBron James in LA, the Lakers expectations were huge! It was a playoff or bust type of season and as we can see from their 35-42 record. The Lakers will miss the playoffs for the sixth straight season, but they are hopeful for a better run next season. With a lot of cap space and roster spots available, the Lakers front office has to decide what they want to do.

Two of the teams veteran players, Rajon Rondo and Javale McGee, have made it clear that they want to be back. McGee has an a career season offensively and Rondo has been the Rondo Lakers fans once hated when he was a member of the Boston Celtics. They have both managed to play a lot of minutes due to injuries to guys like Lonzo Ball and Tyson Chandler and when given the chance, they made the best of it.

As of now, the Lakers have been officially checked out as most then half the roster is injured and will sit the rest of the season. Can Rondo and Mcgee be apart of the 2019-20 Lakers and help lead them to a playoff?

Spurs retire the jersey of one of Argentina’s greatest athletes:

The Spurs’ most beloved player, Emanuel Ginobili was rewarded with the retirement of his no. 20 jersey. The ceremony was held at the AT&T Center after the Spurs beat the Cavaliers 116-110. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich reflected on Ginobili’s career afterward. He noted that with him in the team, were Spurs able to win the championships they won. Ginobili was also accomplished with an Olympic gold which he won for Argentina in basketball in 2004. En la termina, gracias Manu. 

Wade-Dirk final battle:

Dwayne Wade and Dirk Nowitzki played their final game against each other when Miami Heat took on the Dallas Mavericks. Wade found success in the last chapter with his eleven points pushing Heat to a 105-99 win over their opponents. Though the rivalry between the two people at times did heat up, a public jersey swap earlier made things much more positive. In the loss, Nowitzki scored two more points than Wade, but the Heat’s win allowed them an eighth-place spot in their conference.

Thunder striking:

Oklahoma City Thunder’s 107-99 win over the Indiana Pacers including an amazing 24-0 run in favor of the Thunder. In total, Paul George scored 31 points that night. Steven Adams pitched in with 25 points and 12 rebounds while Russell Westbrook made his name in 17 points, 11 rebounds and 12 assists, being his 29th triple-double of the season.

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2019 MLB predictions preview: NL Central

As if this division wasn’t already tough to decide, the St. Louis Cardinals’ biggest acquisition makes them an easy favorite in the division. However, the Milwaukee Brewers and Chicago Cubs have led this division for the past three years, and they won’t go out easily.

The Cubs and Brewers both made the playoffs last year, and it’s very likely they’ll make it again. So let’s look at all the transactions these teams have made and predict who wins the division! 

NL Central Preview
St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Michael Wacha – 2013 NLDS Game 4, Cardinals at Pirates” by Colleen_S is licensed under CC BY 2.0

1. St. Louis Cardinals

  • 2018 Record – 88-74
  • Postseason result – Missed playoffs

Off-season acquisitions:

  • Acquired first-baseman Paul Goldschmidt in trade from D-backs for pitcher Luke Weaver, catcher Carson Kelly, infielder Andy Young, and a 2019 first-round round draft pick
  • Signed relief pitcher Andrew Miller (Indians)
  • Signed catcher Matt Wieters (Nationals, minor)

Off-season departures:

  • Pitcher Tyson Ross (Tigers)
  • Starting pitcher Luke Weaver (Goldschmidt trade)
  • Closer Bud Norris (Blue Jays, minor)

2019 PREVIEW / BIG QUESTION

In what may be the best division in baseball, the Cardinals are looking to build off of a strong finish in 2018 and will take over in the stacked NL Central in 2019.

The pitching staff is talented, they’re young, and they’re led by 18-game winner and sixth-place Cy Young finisher, Miles Mikolas. Carlos Martinez (27), Jack Flaherty (23), and Michael Wacha (27) are the young guns in the middle of the rotation and combined for 24 wins last year. Future ace Flaherty will have a Cy Young-caliber season, but the health of the rest of the staff (Wacha and Martinez) is worth monitoring. Is this the end for Adam Wainwright?

Andrew Miller had a “down year” in 2018, but at 33 years-old, still struck out 11.9 batters per nine innings. Miller is a perfect veteran addition to lead a talented, young bullpen and will be the set-up man for closer Jordan Hicks. Hicks must cut down his walk totals, and if he does, could become the next great closer with his 100+-mph fastball.

Matt Carpenter and Paul Goldschmidt at the top of the lineup is unfair for opposing pitching staffs. Their presence at the top of the lineup will mean big numbers for Marcell Ozuna and Yadier Molina. Dexter Fowler should have less pressure and have a bounce-back year, and youngster Harrison Bader could blossom into one of the best outfielders in the NL. The Cardinals have a deep bench with Jose Martinez (19 HR, 83 RBI), Jedd Gyorko (11 HR, 47 RBI), and Tyler O’Neill (9 HR). St. Louis committed the most errors in MLB last year and must clean up their defense in order to compete for an NL Central title, but adding Goldy may prove to be the best off-season move by any team.

The big question is, can the starting staff stay healthy enough to help carry an offense that is nearly a lock to produce, and can they clean up their team defense? Pitching and defense win championships, and if they can clean up those areas, this team is ready for a run.

  • Prediction: 97-65

 

NL Central Preview
“Christian Yelich” by Ian D’Andrea is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

2. Milwaukee Brewers

  • 2018 record –  96-67
  • Postseason result – Lost to Dodgers in seven games in NLCS

Off-season acquisitions: 

  • Signed catcher Yasmani Grandal (Dodgers)
  • Signed second baseman Brett Lawrie (Blue Jays, minor)

Off-season departures:

  • Starting pitcher Wade Miley (Astros)
  • Outfielder Curtis Granderson (Marlins)
  • Relief pitcher Joakim Soria (A’s)
  • Starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez (free agent)
  • Second baseman Jonathan Schoop (Twins)

2019 PREVIEW / BIG QUESTION

The Brewers used a magical September to force a one-game winner-take-all game and defeat the Cubs to win the NL Central in 2018. Fueled by a video game-like run by Christian Yelich – who went on to win the MVP – the Brewers won the Central for the first time since 2011.

For 2019, the Crew will be able to rely on a lineup that, top to bottom, may be one of the best in the NL. Fueled by Lorenzo Cain at the top, Yelich and the rest of the Crew will be able to feast on NL pitching yet again. Yelich had a quiet 2018 postseason compared to his play over the final two months of the year, but the Brewers are built to score runs. Ryan Braun may not be an everyday player anymore, but the lifetime Brewer is still a threat whenever he’s in the lineup.

Reliever Josh Hader became a household name last year, propelling himself into one of the top weapons in the game coming out of the ‘pen. Hader and his 15.8 K/9 was feared by opposing managers, and that will continue for some time, as Hader is only 24-years old. Joined by revivals from flamethrowers Corey Knebel and Jeremy Jeffress, the Brewers have cooked up the bullpen recipe needed for postseason success.

Starting pitching will be interesting to watch, as the Brewers overachieved in that department last year. Is Jhoulys Chacin the real deal, or was his career year just a fluke? And how big will the losses of starters Gio Gonzalez and Wade Miley impact the staff? Hader may be a weapon, but if he gets overused and gets hurt, the Brewers lose a huge dimension of their team.

The big question for the Brewers won’t be their offense or loaded bullpen, but their starting pitching. Can the Brewers’ starters prove 2018 wasn’t a fluke and help propel the Crew one step further into October?

  • Prediction: 93-69

 

NL Central Preview
Cubs starter Jon Lester delivers a pitch during the first inning of #NLCS Game 5.” by Arturo Pardavila III is licensed under CC BY 2.0

3. Chicago Cubs

  • 2018 record – 95-68
  • Postseason result – Lost 1-0 to Colorado in Wild Card one-game playoff

Off-season acquisitions:

  • Signed infielder Daniel Descalso (D-backs)
  • Signed relief pitcher Brad Brach (Braves)
  • Signed relief pitcher Xavier Cedeno (Brewers, minor)

Off-season departures:

  • Second baseman Daniel Murphy (Rockies)
  • Relief pitcher Justin Wilson (Mets)
  • Relief pitcher Jesse Chavez (Rangers)

2019 PREVIEW / BIG QUESTION

The Cubs staggered down the stretch in 2018, plagued by a tired pitching staff and ineffective offense, unable to reach the NLCS for the first time under Joe Maddon.

Jon Lester – an 18-game winner in 2018 – is 35 and must continue to defy age as the ace of the pitching staff. Surrounded by Cole Hamels, the oft-injured Yu Darvish, and above average back-end starters Jose Quintana and Kyle Hendricks, the Cubs need to get back to 2016 numbers if they want to go anywhere this year.

The bullpen, who finished with an NL-best 3.35 ERA, performed well, but was tired at the end of the season. Closer Brandon Morrow returns from injury and gives the Cubs a top-tier option at closer after the Cubs went closer-by-committee much of last year. The big problem for the bullpen was walks, as they surrendered 273 free passes, fifth-most in MLB. The hiring of 37-year old Tommy Hottovy as pitching coach could help spark the entire staff, but he is now the third pitching coach in three years.

After faltering down the stretch, the Cubs fired hitting coach Chili Davis and hired Anthony Lapoche to hopefully add a spark to an offense that had the third-fewest RBI in MLB with runners in scoring position. Javy Baez is a superstar and finished runner-up in the MVP voting. Anthony Rizzo had another fantastic season after a miserably slow start, and Kris Bryant needs to return to MVP form after battling injuries most of the year. Super-utility player Ben Zobrist continues to defy age, having one of the best seasons of his career at age 37 and will remain a valuable piece to Joe Maddon’s roster chess game. Willson Contreras must be more consistent, but the Cubs did nothing to provide him with a veteran backup at catcher.

The big question for the Cubs is, will a third hitting and pitching coach in as many years affect what the Cubs have built? Is that the answer to propelling them back into World Series contention? Anymore, it’s World Series or bust for Cubs fans. 

  • Prediction: 90-72

 

NL Central Preview
Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto (19)” by Keith Allison is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

4. Cincinnati Reds

  • 2018 record – 67-95
  • Postseason result – None

Off-season acquisitions:

  • Acquired outfielder Matt Kemp, outfielder Yasiel Puig, starting pitcher Alex Wood, and catcher Kyle Farmer from Dodgers for starting pitcher Homer Bailey and prospects
  • Acquired starting pitcher Tanner Roark in trade with Nationals
  • Acquired starting pitcher Sonny Gray in trade with Yankees
  • Signed relief pitcher Zach Duke (Mariners)

Off-season departures:

  • Starting pitcher Homer Bailey (trade with Dodgers)
  • Outfielder Billy Hamilton (Royals)
  • Starting pitcher Matt Harvey (Angels)

2019 PREVIEW / BIG QUESTION

Wow. What an off-season for the Reds. Trying to keep pace with the Cardinals, Cubs, and Brewers, the Reds made a snowstorm of moves and acquired three starting pitchers and two all-star outfielders.

Wood, Roark, and Gray will now highlight the front-end of a rotation that includes promising youngster Luis Castillo, who led the Reds in innings last year. Alex Wood remains an injury risk, but top to bottom, the Reds rotation is now a formidable one. Pair a solid rotation with some very nice bullpen pieces in Michael Lorenzen (81 inn., 3.11 ERA), Jared Hughes (72 G, 1.94 ERA) and budding superstar closer Raisel Iglesias (30 SV, 2.38 ERA), and the Reds pitching staff could make some noise.

Joey Votto remains one of the best at getting on base in all of baseball, and he’s surrounded by holdover on-base fiends Scooter Gennett, Eugenio Suarez, and Jose Peraza. Jesse Winkler will become a household name in 2019 with an opportunity to play a full season. Add in Matt Kemp and Yasiel Puig to a lineup already littered with talent, and the Reds will surprise people this season. The Reds will have to score runs to keep up with the rest of the NL Central, and they may have made all the right moves to do just that.

The big question for the Reds will be, can the new stable of starting pitching give them an opportunity to compete and not make every game a track meet? Scoring runs won’t be a problem, but consistent pitching may be. 

  • Prediction: 84-78

 

NL central Preview
Starling Marte” by Ian D’Andrea is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

5. Pittsburgh Pirates

  • 2018 record – 82-79
  • Postseason result – None

Off-season acquisitions:

  • Signed outfielder Lonnie Chisenhall (Indians)
  • Signed starting pitcher Francisco Liriano (Tigers, minor)
  • Signed outfielder Melky Cabrera (Indians)

Off-season departures:

  • Second baseman Josh Harrison (Tigers)
  • Shortstop Jordy Mercer (Tigers)

2019 PREVIEW / BIG QUESTION

The Pirates did little to improve a roster that was middle of the pack in 2018. In fact, they didn’t re-sign middle infielders Josh Harrison or Jordy Mercer, opting to replace the two longtime Pirates with a trio of youngsters in Erik Gonzalez, Kevin Newman, and Adam Frazier. Frazier will likely lead off and had mild success from that spot in 2018, but the Pirates lack firepower behind him, outside of Starling Marte and Corey Dickerson. The Pirates ranked 25th in home runs in 2018 with 157, and that number won’t get much better in 2019.

Chris Archer headlines a decent rotation, but Archer hasn’t displayed the same kind of dominance he showed while with the Rays. Jameson Tallion and Trevor Williams are decent middle-of-the-rotation arms, each finishing with sub-3.20 ERAs. Outside of those three, starting pitching is a big question mark for Pittsburgh, with Nick Kingham and Joe Musgrove rounding out the starting five. Closer Felipe Vasquez may be the best player on the Pirates, as he finished 2018 ranked sixth in MLB and third in the NL with 37 saves. If Pittsburgh falls out of contention, Vasquez, Tallion, Williams, and Archer could be hot names at the trade deadline.

The big question for the Pirates is…is it time to rebuild? Or will the team play carefree with little expectations and play spoiler in the loaded NL Central?

  • Prediction: 70-92

 

NL CENTRAL PREDICTIONS

  1. St. Louis Cardinals (97-65)
  2. Milwaukee Brewers (Wild Card, 93-69)
  3. Chicago Cubs (Wild Card, 90-72)
  4. Cincinnati Reds (84-78)
  5. Pittsburgh Pirates (70-92)

*Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference, FanGraphs, and ESPN

 

 

MLB Hall of Fame

Cullen Jekel’s Imaginary MLB Hall of Fame Ballot

On January 22nd, Major League Baseball will announce the next group of players who have been voted into the MLB Hall of Fame. There are 15 players returning to the ballot after missing the cut last year, while another 20 players are eligible for the first time.

The voting rules are pretty straightforward. Each eligible writer can vote for up to 10 players on a single ballot. If a player garners at least 75% of the votes cast, he’s inducted. A player stays on the ballot for up to 10 years if he earns at least 5% of the vote. If a player doesn’t get to 75% of the vote by his 10th year on the ballot, he falls off the ballot.

MLB Hall of Fame
Main Gallery, National Baseball Hall of Fame, Cooperstown, New York, July 2005” by Marcbela is licensed under Public Domain

Here, I’m not going to look at each of the 35 players on the 2019 ballot. Instead, I’m going to vote for 10 players and explain why I’m voting for each of those individuals. I won’t delve into the why I didn’t vote for the other 25. This is the second time I’ve done this, and I’m going my hardest to stay consistent with my thoughts from 2013. Though, of course, there is change regarding some certain players, as my thought process has changed on at least one of those players.

Note that I’m not predicting who will make the Hall of Fame this year. I’m not going to pretend that I know what other, more seasoned baseball writers think about this process. Yes, I’ve read some articles where those writers explain their ballots, but not every writer does this. Some have hard-and-fast rules about who they vote for. Many won’t vote for guys who have been even connected to steroid use. Some won’t vote for guys with personal character flaws.

To each his or her own.

Now, in no particular order, here’s how I would vote for the 2019 MLB Hall of Fame.

 

MLB Hall of Fame Votes

Barry Bonds

Year on Ballot: 7th
Last Year’s Vote: 56.4%

Yes, he’s the face of the Steroids Era. However, in my estimation, home runs saved baseball after the 1994 strike. Bonds is one of the three mashers responsible for bringing baseball back from the brink of irrelevance. Put an asterisk by his name if you want, but the numbers can’t be ignored. The Home Run King deserves a spot in Cooperstown.

With his voting percentage creeping up over the years, from a low of 34.2% in 2014 to last year’s high, there’s a chance the actual voters will get this right and induct the former Pirate and Giant before his 10 years is up.

 

Roger Clemens

Year on Ballot: 7th
Last Year’s Vote: 57.3%

With hitters seeking every advantage they could find, it was no surprise that pitchers would, too. So if I’m going to vote for Bonds, I’ve got to vote for Clemens, The Rocket. A man who won 354 over a 24-year (!) career that included stops with the Red Sox, Blue Jays, Yankees and Astros.

In that time, Clemens won seven Cy Young awards, with six coming while pitching for those AL East teams. His seventh came with the Astros when he was 41. He also won MVP in 1986. His 4,672 career strikeouts rank third all-time behind only Nolan Ryan and Randy Johnson.

Again, put an asterisk by his name if you want, though I feel it’s unnecessary. Regardless, he deserves enshrinement.

 

Sammy Sosa

Year on Ballot: 7th
Last Year’s Vote: 7.8%

When writing about Bonds, I stated that he was one of three mashers I feel are responsible for saving baseball after the 1994 strike. The other two were involved in the Great Home Run Chase of 1998: Mark McGwire (who’s fallen off the ballot) and this man, former Cub Sammy Sosa.

It’s interesting comparing Sosa to Bonds and Clemens. All three players were connected to performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) and all three are in their seventh year of voting. But unlike Bonds and Clemens, both of whom garnered over 50% of the vote last season and have a reasonable shot at getting inducted before their 10 years is up, Sosa is closer to falling off the ballot before his 10-year mark.

Why, exactly, is that? It seems that it’s because Bonds was more of a complete player than Sosa. Plus, while Sosa hit those home runs, he isn’t at the top of the all-time list. In that 1998 Home Run Chase with McGwire, Sosa finished second. While he’s great, he’s not an all-time great.

At least that’s the perception. I disagree. He kept the Cubs relevant through some very lean years. He made seven All-Star games and even won the MVP in 1998. That was the year he finished with 66 home runs to McGwire’s 70. In three seasons, he hit more than 60 home runs, and added 50 home runs another year. He led the league in runs scored three times, home runs twice (ironically, in none of the years he hit more than 60), RBIs twice and total bases three times. Before all the PED talk, he collected two 30-30 seasons. His 609 career home runs rank ninth all-time.

Sosa is an all-time great. He’s got my MLB Hall of Fame vote.

 

Scott Rolen

Year on Ballot: 2nd
Last Year’s Vote: 10.2%

Rolen scored a 56.9 on the Jaffe WAR Score System (adorably abbreviated as JAWS) compared with 55.7 averaged by other Hall of Fame third-basemen, as determined by Jpos. That means the former Philly, Cardinal, Blue Jay and Red is better than the average Hall of Fame third-baseman.

That somewhat surprises me, but for the fact that the position is underrepresented in Cooperstown. Overall, Rolen slashed .281/.364/.490 with just over 2,000 hits. 316 of those hits went for home runs. But the seven-time All-Star also earned a whopping eight Gold Gloves at the hot corner, including winning seven in a eight-season span between 1998 and 2006. He earned his first Gold Glove at the age of 23, his last at the age of 35. That’s impressive.

 

Mariano Rivera

Year on Ballot: 1st
Last Year’s Vote: N/A

Never one too high on closers, it shocked me when, in later 2018, the Eras Committee elected to the MLB Hall of Fame Lee Smith. He’s a former closer for, among others, the Cubs and Cardinals. Smith, grandfathered into the 10-year limit, had a whopping 15 opportunities to be elected to the Hall of Fame by voters. He earned 50.6% of the votes in 2012, but only 34.2% in his last year of eligibility, 2017.

Simply, at best, he’s a questionable Hall of Famer.

On the flip side is the greatest closer of all-time, Mariano Rivera. He spent his entire 19-year career with the New York Yankees, winning five World Series in that time. As a closer, he rarely pitched more than an inning per outing, but his 56.2 WAR (according to Baseball-Reference) is higher than that of several hitters appearing on the ballot. That includes Jeff Kent (55.4), Omar Vizquel (45.6) and Fred McGriff (52.6). That’s pretty incredible.

The 13-time All-Star is also baseball’s all-time saves leader with 652. Without question, Rivera is a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

 

Roy Halladay

Year on Ballot: 1st
Last Year’s Vote: N/A

Looking at Halladay’s numbers as a whole, one wouldn’t think he’s an MLB Hall of Fame pitcher. But with Halladay, who died on November 17, 2017 in a plane accident, his healthy seasons show he was the dominant pitcher of his era.

In 2002, Halladay finally started more than 20 games in a season. He made the All-Star team that season with Toronto, finishing the year 19-7 with a 2.93 ERA, 157 ERA+, and a 1.191 WHIP. He followed that up by winning the Cy Young in 2003, going 22-7 with a league-leading nine complete games, two of them shutouts, with a 3.25 ERA, 145 ERA+, a 1.071 WHIP and 204 strikeouts.

In 2004 and 2005, Halladay appeared in only 40 combined games. In the following six seasons–four in Toronto, two in Philadelphia–he would finish in the Top Five of voting for the Cy Young Award every season, once again capturing the award in 2010.

What you’re looking at is essentially a guy who pitched the equivalent of eight full seasons. He finished with eight All-Star appearances, two Cy Young Awards (one in each league), and he placed in the Top Five in Cy Young voting in seven of those eight seasons. He led the league in wins twice, complete games seven times, complete game shutouts four times, innings pitched four times, ERA+ once and WHIP once.

Debate longevity all you like. To me, that dominance is more than enough to get the call to Cooperstown.

 

Larry Walker

Year on Ballot: 9th
Last Year’s Vote: 34.1%

Walker is hurt by the “Coors Field Factor,” in that most of his offensive prowess came during his time with the Rockies in the thin-aired Coors Field. It baffles me why that’s being held against him. It’s not like he had much of a say in the matter. And it’s also not like he didn’t hit well outside of Coors Field.

In his 17-year career that began in Montreal, went through Denver and ended in St. Louis, Walker went to the All-Star Game five times, he earned seven Gold Gloves, three batting titles, three Silver Slugger awards and the 1997 National League MVP. For his career, he slashed .313/.400/.565 for a .965 OPS.

No, Walker’s career home run and hit numbers don’t scream Cooperstown, but his peripherals do. Looking at his overall hitting numbers and defensive capabilities, it’s a shame Walker will fall off the ballot after next season.

 

Mike Mussina

Year on Ballot: 6th
Last Year’s Vote: 63.5%

In the past, I’ve been reluctant to include Mussina, but after taking another look at his numbers, I’ve changed my mind. His 63.8 JAWS tops the 61.8 for other Hall of Fame pitchers. His 270 career wins over 18 seasons is nothing to sneeze at. Sure, his ERA is high (3.68), but considering the competition he faced–he spent his entire career in the AL East. It was first for the Orioles (1991-2000), then the Yankees (2001-2008)–that shouldn’t be a surprise.

While the seven-time All-Star and five-time Gold Glove winner never won a Cy Young, he finished in the Top Ten nine times and the Top Five six times. In 2008, his final season, he finally won 20 games after flirting with it on five separate occasions.

 

Manny Ramirez

Year on Ballot: 3rd
Last Year’s Vote: 22.0%

I’m stunned Ramirez doesn’t get more love in the MLB Hall of Fame voting, but then again, he had some suspensions and his colorful attitude drove more people crazy than it did endear fans and writers to him.

But I loved Manny-Being-Manny.

His flamboyant style of play was a calling card of the dominant Indian teams of the mid-90s. He even made the usually unbearable Red Sox worth watching as they undid the Curse of the Bambino. Forget his later stints with the Dodgers, White Sox and Rays (which was a thing, evidently), and remember Manny Ramirez for what he was on the field: a big kid on the field having the time of his life while belting 555 career home runs to go along with a .312/.411/.585 slash line.

Put an asterisk by his name if you must–just put him in the MLB Hall of Fame.

 

Edgar Martinez

Year on Ballot: 10th
Last Year’s Vote: 70.4%

I’m also changing my tune on Edgar Martinez, a solid hitter who averaged 24 home runs per season for 18 years, all with Seattle. He won two batting titles and five Silver Sluggers, while going to the All-Star Game seven times.

Why the hold up?

Well, he played the majority of his career as a designated hitter. Martinez would become the first full-time DH enshrined in Cooperstown. And I can’t think of a better player to get that honor.

The designated hitter rule came to be in 1973, and it’s about time those guys started getting into the MLB Hall of Fame. Like writers using Coors Field against Walker, why should playing the bulk of his career as the DH be held against Martinez? He didn’t choose the role, but he certainly thrived in it, slashing a career .312/.418/.515. His team, the Mariners, exploited the rule better than any team during Martinez’ career, and it’s really only been matched since by the Boston Red Sox with David Ortiz. But even Ortiz, bound for the MLB Hall of Fame when eligible, didn’t do it for 18 years.

Martinez is about to make history by making the MLB Hall of Fame. And he’s got my vote for it.

Mount Rushmore: National League Central

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Ferguson Jenkins” by ScottRAnselmo is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

Chicago Cubs

  • 1B/SS Ernie Banks, 1953-1971
  • SP Fergie Jenkins, 1966-1973, 1982-1983
  • LF Billy Williams, 1959-1974
  • 3B Ron Santo, 1960-1973

Banks (“Mr. Cub”), Jenkins and Santo were easy picks for me. All three are Hall of Famers. Banks spent his entire career with the Cubs, collecting over 500 home runs and 2,500 hits to go along with consecutive MVP awards in 1958 and 1959.

During his first stint with the Cubs, Jenkins won at least 20 games six different times while earning the 1971 Cy Young Award.

Santo, meanwhile, would spend all but his final year with the Cubs, winning five Gold Gloves at the hot corner while reaching the All-Star Game nine times.

The final spot gave me some pause, as I considered three players for it: Hall of Famer Billy Williams, Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg and Sammy Sosa. Sosa will always have a spot in my heart, as I’m a firm believer he and Mark McGwire helped save the game of baseball with their home run chase in 1999. Yet, I also recognize his numbers are tainted.

Ultimately, I went with Williams over Sandberg, as the outfielder had better overall numbers even though Sandberg collected more accolades.

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Pete Rose” by Kjunstorm is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Cincinnati Reds

  • OF/1B Pete Rose, 196-3-1978, 1984-1986
  • C Johnny Bench, 1967-1983
  • 2B Joe Morgan, 1972-1979
  • OF Frank Robinson, 1956-1965

Bench, the game’s greatest defensive catcher, was a no-brainer. For the most part, so was Pete Rose. Yes, he’s been banned from the game, but he shouldn’t be. He deserves to be enshrined in Cooperstown.

For Morgan and Robinson, I had a bit of digging to do, mainly because they didn’t spend as much time with the Reds as did the other player I was contemplating: SS Barry Larkin. Morgan’s time in Cincinnati was too dominant to pass, though, as he helped the team to consecutive World Series titles in 1975 and 1976, winning the MVP both of those years.

Neither Robinson nor Larkin won a World Series with the Reds, though both were on pennant-winning clubs. But Robinson’s numbers surpassed Larkin’s. Sure, the two were completely different players in completely different eras, but I’m giving the edge to Robinson, who averaged a higher WAR per season while with the Reds than Larkin.

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Major League Baseball Hall of Famer Robin Yount.” by Scott Ableman is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Milwaukee Brewers

  • SS/CF Robin Yount, 1974-1993
  • 3B/DH Paul Molitor, 1978-1992

Here’s the thing about the Milwaukee Brewers: last season and 1982 withstanding, they have not been a good franchise. Hence, only half of Milwaukee’s Mount Rushmore has been filled in. Granted, Young and Molitor–both Hall of Famers, both in the 3,000-hit club–were spectacular. But after them you’ve got…Rob Deer? Ryan Braun? Prince Fielder?

And as far as pitchers go–yikes. CC Sabathia had a memorable stint with the Brewers in 2008 that lasted all of 18 games. Zack Greinke got out of there as quickly as he could. Would-be Hall of Fame pitchers Rollie Fingers, Don Sutton and Trevor Hoffman all played for the Brewers as their careers were winding down.

For that matter, so did the (former? rightful?) Home Run King, Henry Aaron.

Maybe someday Christian Yelich’s face will be up there with Yount’s and Molitor’s.

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Wilver (Willie) Stargell Statue” by David Brossard is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Pittsburgh Pirates

  • RF Roberto Clemente, 1955-1972
  • SS Honus Wagner, 1900-1917
  • LF/1B Willie Stargell, 1962-1982
  • RF Paul Waner, 1926-1940

The first spot undoubtedly goes to Clemente, who died in a plane crash after the 1972 season and who collected exactly 3,000 hits during his Hall of Fame career.

Wagner gets the nod, too, as he’s the one exception to my rule of not picking anyone who played the majority or entirety of his career during the Dead-Ball Era. His numbers are too good and he’s too much of an influential figure in baseball’s history to put on the sidelines.

Stargell finished just shy of 500 career home runs, but he led the Pirates to multiple World Series titles during his career, the entirety of which he spent in Pittsburgh. Making seven All-Star squads, he also helped keep the franchise afloat after Clemente’s death.

With Paul Waner, I once and for all settle the greatest Pittsburgh debate: Paul or Lloyd? Paul. It’s always been Paul.

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Wide Stance” by Dave Herholz is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

St. Louis Cardinals

  • 2B Rogers Hornsby, 1915-1926, 1933
  • SP Bob Gibson, 1959-1975
  • 1B/LF Stan Musial, 1941-1963
  • 1B/LF/3B Albert Pujols, 2001-2011

Really, an embarrassment of riches for the St. Louis franchise, from the Gashouse Gang through a dominant 1960’s squad, through a 1980’s team that reached three World Series, to Tony La Russa’s tenure, which stretched from 1996-2011 and included three trips to the World Series with two titles. The other four I considered for spots were shortstop Ozzie Smith, starting pitcher Dizzy Dean, third baseman Ken Boyer and left-fielder Lou Brock.

Much like Wagner with the Pirates, Hornsby is one of the key figures in baseball’s formative years, and he played the bulk of his career with the Cardinals. His numbers for that time-period are astounding.

Gibson led staffs that played in three World Series in the 1960’s, winning two. In the year they lost, 1968, he had one of the greatest years ever by a starting pitcher, going 22-9, completing 28 of the 35 games he started and leading the league in strikeouts with 268. He won not only the Cy Young, but also the MVP. Oh, and his ERA? 1.12.

Pujols is a surefire first-ballot Hall of Famer whenever he decides to hang ’em up. (Which may be sooner than later.) During his first 11 seasons, all with the Cardinals, he slashed .302/.382/.554 to go with 445 home runs, 455 doubles, 1,291 runs and 1,329 RBI. He made the All-Star team nine times, won Rookie of the Year in 2001 before collecting three MVP awards, and also won the World Series twice, in 2006 and 2011.

But the best Cardinal of them all was Stan “the Man” Musial, who missed all of the 1945 season due to Military Service. He would finish his Hall of Fame career with 475 career home runs, 725 doubles, 1,949 runs scored and 3,630 hits. He won three MVP awards to go with three World Series titles (he was also the general manager of the World Series-winning 1967 squad), seven batting titles, and 24 (!)* All-Star Game appearances.

*MLB played two All-Star Games from 1959-1962.

All in 22 seasons. Each and every single one of them with St. Louis.

What to Make of the Pirates Hot Start

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Felipe Rivero by Keith Allison is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

BY JUSTABOYANDHISBLOG

The 2018 season symbolizes a new era of Pirates baseball. In the offseason they traded franchise icon, Andrew McCutchen to the Giants and ace Gerrit Cole to the Astros. These moves made it seem as if the Pirates were beginning another rebuild. The Pirates made three straight playoff appearances from 2013-2015. Since 2015, they haven’t made the playoffs or had a winning record. Through six games this year they’re 5-1, which has had some wondering if they could finish above .500 this year. A lot of things have to go right for that to happen, but it’s not impossible. This season’s first six games has shown what this team will need to do to shock the baseball world.

Many people don’t see the Pirates as playoffs contenders because of their pitching staff. Their rotation is lead by Ivan Nova, who is the only starter with more than three years of MLB experience. Their number two pitcher is Jameson Taillon, who has ace stuff, but last year was his first season in the majors. The rest of the Pirates rotation consists of Trevor Williams, Chad Kuhl and Joe Musgrove. Like Taillon, both Williams and Kuhl have one year of MLB experience. In order for this team to make a playoff run they’ll need these pitchers to surpass expectations. They’ll also need them to pitch deep into games, as Trevor Williams was the only starter through their first six games to go six innings.

The performance of the starters is key because the Pirates have a very young and inexperienced bullpen. They have one of the best closers and young arms in baseball in Felipe Rivero. Outside of Rivero, George Kontos is the only other bullpen arm who has had success in the majors. The bullpen will be a big factor in whether or not this team surprises people, as early on they have struggled.

With a full healthy season from both Gregory Polanco and Starling Marte, the Pirates offense should be much better. Their biggest offseason acquisition, Corey Dickerson, is a good replacement for McCutchen. The offense should keep this team competitive on a nightly basis. The pitching will determine how far this team will go. The National league central is one of the most competitive divisions in baseball and only got better in the offseason. The Brewers added Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain to improve their offense. The Cardinals added power with the acquisition of Marcell Ozuna. Facing these teams will show if the Pirates can exceed expectations or not.

So far this season the Pirates have played the Tigers, Twins, and Reds. Both the Tigers and Reds are not supposed to be playoff teams this year. The Twins could be, as their young talent and their improved rotation could make them surprised contenders. Through six games, the Pirates have shown they have what it takes to be a competitive team. The real test will come when they play teams expected to be in the postseason. If the pitching can continue to keep them in games and the offense continues to hit, then this season will be one to remember for the Pirates.