3 April 2012

Spring Training Stats.... Do They Matter?

A few weeks ago I was at the ACC watching the Leafs lose to the New York Islanders 5-2. The Leafs had an early 2-1 lead, but four straight goals by the visiting Islanders was more than enough to hand the  once playoff-bound Leafs their 8th straight home loss and send many of their heart-aching fans into various (often drunken) outbursts of "Let's Go Blue Jays!" Whether or not these fans were simply mad at their beloved Leafs continuing downward spiral towards last place in the Eastern Conference or they are actually aware of the Blue Jays' seemingly imminent rise to the spotlight in the world of Toronto sports, it does not matter. Both in Toronto and just about everywhere else in the major leagues the Jays are making a name for themselves
Although everyone in the history of baseball will say that spring training does not matter, it is still nice to have a winning attitude in an organization. The Blue Jays have the best record in the Majors at 23-7-1 (the 1 is a tie and that pretty much sums up how teams really don't care about the actual outcome of the games.) What does matter however, is the incredible outings that the Jays are getting from their starting rotation and projected opening day bullpen players.

Last year the Jays scored the 6th most runs in the whole major leagues so the fact that we are leading the Majors in runs scored in the spring is just ensuring fans and management that we really don't have to worry about the offence. What is much more impressive and the reason why every fan who has followed spring training cannot wait for this Thursday's season opener is the fact that the jays have given up only 104 runs, good for 2nd best in the majors. The Jays have played 31 games and the only two teams ahead of them, the much improve Miami Marlins and the World Champion St. Louis Cardinals have played 6 and 8 fewer games, respectively. Yes, we are not going up against big league hitters every day and that could (and probably does) have a lot to do with this low total, but that doesn't matter. Our pitchers are hitting their spots (most of the time, other than Cecil's last outing) and they are pitching confidently.

Ricky Romero is pitching unbelievably well, having given up a grand total of 0 earned runs throughout his 4 starts and Brandon Morrow has shown that he is willing and able to become what we all know he can be, an elite pitcher in the major leagues. Jose Bautista has picked up where he left off (except for the last 40 games last season he's been the best hitter in all of baseball) and Henderson Alvarez and J.P. Aaroncibia are looking to have breakout seasons for the Jays. Great (godly if you are Brett Lawrie) springs are an easy way to boost confidence. In order to succeed for the whole season the Jays are going to have to stay healthy and some of the younger guys are really going to have to pick up some of the slack, hopefully they an do it. The Jays open up their season on Thursday against a beaten up and generally mediocre Cleveland team, hopefully they can keep up the torrid pace that they are on right now.

Until Doc comes back and leads the Jays to their first World Series since 1993,

9 February 2012


Whether or not the Toronto Maple Leafs will be playing in mid-April is totally up to them. Right now the Leafs sit in the 7th spot in the Eastern Conference with 62 points, 1 point ahead of Ottawa, 3 points ahead of Florida for 9th and Winnipeg sits 10th with 56 points. As of now it seems unlikely that there will be more than those 10 teams fighting for a playoff spot when the end of the season comes around and there are only 9 points separating 9th from 2nd, so the East, as of now, is wide open. Nevertheless, the Leafs have a very good chance of making the playoffs. With 28 games to go, the Leafs are a mere 6 points back of recently-mediocre Boston for the Northeast division lead, which would move them all the way up the standings into 2nd place.

Great hockey teams (like Detroit and Boston) win the Stanley Cup when they have a hot goalie, that's just the way it is. Good teams (like the Leafs) make the playoffs when they have a hot goalie, and good news for Leafs fans: we have two goalies that are capable of getting hot. James Reimer and Jonas Gustavsson are both B level goalies, and that is okay. As we just saw with Reimer's shutout streak, when a goalie is playing well, the Leafs win. I would not be surprised to see coach Ron Wilson use the "if you win, you play the next game but if you lose, you don't" tactic on these young goaltenders that are both fighting for ice time. If both guys are able to stay healthy and continue to play well, the Buds will make the playoffs.

All good teams need a guy who can just put the puck in the net, the Leafs have that in Phil Kessel. In a losing effort on Tuesday night, Kessel scored his team-leading 30th goal of the season, and it was beautiful. It won't make any highlight reels, but Phil is skating and getting his shots through, his quick release is killer for goalies and as he does here, when he is cutting across the middle of the ice the shot to the far side is an impossible save for the goalie as he is tracking Phil through the middle of the ice. Whether you like him or not, Kessel is our best player and it is awesome to see him finally playing like it. In his first two years with Toronto he had -8 and -20 ratings, this year he is +7. In his first two years his shooting percentages (goals per shot) were 10.1% and 9.8%, this year he is at a career high of 15.6%. If Kessel and the two goalies stay consistent, the Leafs will make the playoffs.

The Leafs are in Philly tonight and will play against an undermanned Flyers team that has lost 3 in a row for the first time since last March. Danny Briere is still out and Ilya Bryzgalov will miss the game due to the flu. Jofferey Lupul will make a return to Philly to play his old team, he was never able to score more than 50 points as a Flyer and he already has 56 this season. I doubt that many Flyers fans will care/remember him. I see his relationship to the Flyers' fans similar to Leafs' fans relationship with Kyle Wellwood. He never did much for us and we often forget he is in the league until we see him on one of the three teams he has played for since Toronto, and Leafs fans say in unison: "Hey, that's Kyle Wellwood! I remember him..." and that is about it. Don't look for Simmonds or Hartnell to run Lupul or anything like that. Do, however, look for Kessel to score for the fourth game in a row or Grabovski's line to get back on track after being blanked in Tuesday's loss to Winnipeg. Prediction: 3-1 Toronto.

Until Claude Giroux wins the Conn Smythe for the Maple Leafs

14 January 2012

But I Have to Study...

Tonight has the capability to be one of the best nights of sports in recent memory. As a Leaf fan, the leafs have a chance to beat the best team in the NHL tonight, the New York Rangers because Martin Biron will get the start and we are at home. Tim Tebow is squaring off against Tom Brady in the AFC Divisional game, but he doesn’t have a chance to win, right? The Raptors are playing the NBA leading Chicago Bulls tonight so if there is a commercial in the Leafs game, the Football game, the Intercontinental Curling Championships and The King’s Speech, feel free to tune in. Finally, arguably the most anticipated game of the NBA season so far will tip off at 10:30pm EST when the Lakers and Clippers play for the first time this season.

Approximately 7:09 pm. Leafs and Rangers drop the Puck. Right now we (the Leafs) are sitting in 7th place and a win tonight would bump us into 6th. Phil Kessel has gone two games without a point for the first time this season, which in the long run is probably a good thing; the slump (I love that he is so good that I can call two scoreless games a slump) will help him mature as a player. This is the first time in his five seasons in the NHL that he has been consistent on a game-to-game basis, so it will be interesting to see how he reacts tonight. Ron Wilson hasn’t said who will get the start in between the pipes tonight but I would not be surprised to see James Reimer in goal after a shaky start from The Monster last night that essentially cost us the game. Prediction: Leafs win 4-2 and Joey Crabb scores his first goal at the ACC this season.

Approximately 8:04. Broncos win the coin toss (there is no such thing as luck when Tebow is involved, duh!) Matt Prater kicks a touchback. Then one of two things will happen. Tebow will lose, as he should, or Tebow will win. The way that the whole world is watching (the Steelers vs. Broncos game was the most watched Wild Card game ever) there is no other outcome. Yes, if Tebow loses it will most likely be due to Tom Brady scoring more points than Tebow is capable of, but Brady will not receive as much credit as he should. And if Tebow wins, well, I guess we shouldn’t be surprised anymore. But I, as a long time football fan, watch Tebow, and watch Brady, and simply say “but he can’t win!” well, I can’t wait to see what happens. Prediction: I am going to do what Mike Wilbon did on Pardon the Interruption yesterday and not say anything simply because I will be wrong.

Also at around 8pm, Amir Johnson will win the tip off for the Raptors, then Rasual Butler will hit a shot for the Raptors to go up 2-0, and that will be the extent to our success. The Raptors play terrible offense and the Bulls are the best defensive team in the NBA. But hey, I am not going to give up on the Raptors just yet, I will take the Raptors at +20 simply because the Bulls will have that lead at the end of the 3rd and will rest their starters for the fourth. Prediction: 89-72 Chicago.

Finally, at approximately TEBOW TIME (10:41pm) the Lakers and Clippers will play for the first time this season. Kobe Bryant is proving that he is not too old, not the seventh best player in the NBA (as ESPN ranked him before this season) and most importantly that he is a viable candidate for MVP this season, at age 34. I mean the man is insane, he has a torn ligament in his wrist but he wants to play so badly that he takes a shot of cortisone before every game and has said multiple times that his hand is so numb he can’t even feel the ball in his hand. Well, three straight 40+ point games has silenced everyone, and tonight’s game he will have extra(!) incentive to win because the temporary title of best team in L.A. is on the line tonight. Blake Griffin will do something awesome, Andrew Bynum will dunk over him and Chris Paul will do Chris Paul type things. It will be an awesome game. Prediction: Kobe wants it too badly, 106-102 Lakers.

Until Chris Paul throws an Alley-oop to Jarryd Bayless. 

2 January 2012

Thank You, Greedy Old Men

We have just concluded our first full week of the 2011-2012 NBA season, and it was incredible. The Miami Heat are playing like the team we know they are, and it is scary. Kevin Durant is playing with a chip on his shoulder and James Harden's beard is better than ever. Ricky Rubio is already becoming one of the most exciting players in the NBA and with some help from Kevin Love and Michael Beasley the Timberwolves could have a legitimate chance at the playoffs this season. And, as much as it pains me to say it, the Raptors are still longshots in the playoff race. Yes, all this just sounds like normal headlines that would emerge at the start of an NBA season, so what makes this year different? To put it simply, the shortened schedule. With teams playing 4 games in 5 nights multiple times and the NBA's first ever back-to-back-to-back scheduled games, NBA fans will be treated to good basketball every single night.

One thing that the shortened season will bring us is upsets that would otherwise be impossible. Fatigue will have huge tolls on every team but especially older ones. The Celtics, Spurs and Lakers were three of the top 6 teams in the NBA last season but I would be surprised to see any of them finish in the top 4 of their respective conferences. With multiple games every single night and different factors playing into every different game (fatigue, travel schedule etc.) The NBA is going to have one of it's most exciting seasons in history.

In the NBA right now, there are essentially 8 superstars, Lebron James, Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade and Derrick Rose, Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, Dirk Nowitski and Carmelo Anthony. The NBA knows this, and as the great people that they are, they chose to have these players play each other a lot. Because of the shortened season, Eastern Conference teams only play 3 teams from the West twice, and vice versa. The Heat got OKC, the Lakers and Dallas, not the easiest schedule, but at least it's the most entertaining! OKC got Orlando, Boston and Miami. And to put this into perspective, the Kings will play the Pistons, New Jersey and Charlotte, (three of the worst teams in the East.) The point is, the list of title contenders playing title contenders in the regular season is going to be such a regular thing this season that we are almost going to spoil ourselves. There is only one day with fewer than two games until February and on that night the Knicks play the Celtics and OKC plays the Clippers.

Some early season things to look out for and a few predictions:

Rajon Rondo will challenge Derrick Rose for the title of best point guard in the East. He recorded the first triple double of the season on Sunday with 18 points, 11 rebounds and 14 assists.

Derrick Rose will notice that Rondo has gotten better, and he will then up his game to a totally new level. Look for Rose to average 25 points a game this season (he averaged just under 21 last season.)

Lebron and KD to duke it out for the scoring title. Both have already scored over 30 points in this young season twice.

The Heat, Trail Blazers and Thunder are all still undefeated and I don't think many people will be surprised to see the Thunder and Heat atop their respective conferences when the All-Star break rolls around.

Happy Holidays to all.
Until Derrick Rose throws an alley-oop to Demar DeRozan wearing a Raptors uniform

3 December 2011

Cross-Sport Power Rankings

I haven't blogged in a long time, I started a baseball awards review post but I never got it done, so I will add baseball players into this for the last time until June.

1. Drew Brees
The only reason why Drew Brees wouldn't be number one on this list would be because he is the reason I lost in fantasy football this week, but I'm over it... For any of you football fans, the Monday Night game was only a good game when Drew Brees was on offense. He absolutely picked apart the Giants defense, completing 24 of his 38 pass attempts for 363 yards and 4 throwing touchdowns. Plus, probably the most impressive play of the game, was an acrobatic 8 yard rushing touchdown. Brees is automatic right now. PREDICTION: The Saints will meet the Packers in the NFC Championship game.

2. Justin Verlander
Yes, he hasn't played in over two months and most of us have forgotten about baseball by now, but last week Verlander became the first pitcher to win the MVP and Cy Young since another Tiger Willie Hernandez did it in 1984. He also joins some pretty unreal company on this list, with the likes of Bob Gibson and Sandy Koufax, two of the greatest pitchers of all time. Verlander deserved the MVP (Bautista would have won if the Jays won 5 more games, but I'm not going to talk about that) Click on his name for his stats from his historical season.

3. Phil Kessel
Still sitting atop the NHL in points and goals, Kessel and the Leafs are making a name for themselves as legitimate contenders in the East. Saturdays game against Boston is a big one and Kessel hasn't scored in four games, tying his longest drought of the season, some would say he is due.

4. Sidney Crosby
The best player in the NHL is back. He has 2 goals and 9 assists in his first five games, keeping up the incredible pace that he was on last season. With him back in the line up, the Presidents Trophy (most points in the league at the end of the regular season) is the Penguins' to lose. PREDICTION: Sid will be in the top ten of points by the All-Star break.

5. Marshawn Lynch
With over 100 yards rushing in four of his last five games and a touchdown in each of those games, Lynch is the hottest running back in the NFL. On Thursday night he picked apart the Eagles defense for 148 yards and 2 touchdowns.

Just missed: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Brian Elliot, Tom Brady, Victor Cruz, J.R. Smith

Until every player on this list is on a Toronto team,

3 November 2011

Blue Jays in the Free Agent Market

Wouldn’t it be great if come April Albert Pujols was starting at first base for the Blue Jays? Yes. Will this happen? Probably not. The MLB free agent market has just opened and, although the field isn’t deep, the Jays could do some damage. Our only big contracts are ones to Yunel Escobar, Jose Bautista and Ricky Romero, so the Jays are free to do a lot. We, right now, have the fourth lowest payroll in the American League, but we can easily change that. We need a second baseman (Kelly Johnson will be a free agent) we need some help in the bullpen, maybe the starting rotation and an everyday centre fielder wouldn’t hurt. I also wouldn’t mind trading Adam Lind but I know that isn’t going to happen. Either way, though, almost all of our needs can be found in the free agent market.

Let me start with the single worst aspect of the Blue Jays’ game last season, the bullpen. Our bullpen blew us 25 saves in a mere 58 opportunities, that is good for the worst save percentage in the majors. By save percentage I don’t just mean the ninth inning, either, I mean after the starter is pulled and the team has a lead. Now I am not sure if Alex Anthopolous (who has done a great job thus far) is willing to bring in a bunch of bullpen guys, but he should. The star-studded free agent bullpen pitchers include: Johnathon Papelbon (0.93 WHIP this season) Ryan Madson (32 saves) Heath Bell (40+ saves in 3 consecutive seasons) Fransisco Rodriguez (good, best years may be behind him) and Johnathon Broxton (missed last 130 games, high risk signing him, most likely to come to Toronto.) We also need a left handed reliever because right now Luis Perez is the lone southpaw. If Anthopolous doesn’t sign one of these guys or make a trade for a legitimate closer, then this offseason will have been a failure.

Position players: Need: 2B. Could improve: Everywhere except RF, 3B and C
The best case scenario would be for the Jays to sign reigning NL batting champion Jose Reyes (SS) and just move Yunel to 2B, but that probably won’t happen. I know there is talk of getting Aaron Hill back, but we traded him for a reason, I don’t want him back. Anthopolous will most likely have to trade for a second baseman, his first look to go should probably be Colby Rasmus.

Bringing in Grady Sizemore would probably be the best move for the Jays to improve the outfield, but many of us forget that Travis Snider does have the potential to be a 30 home run hitter. Other options include Johnny Damon as OF/DH, Jimmy Rollins as backup infielder, and, of course, either Prince Fielder or Pujols would be nice too. I can’t realistically see the Jays signing any more than one of these players, but Anthopolous knows where the team is right now better than anyone, and I trust him.

Starting Pitchers: Need #2/3 starter. Could improve: #4 starter
The Jays have more than their fair share of #4/5 starters on the active roster. (By #5 I mean the fifth best starter in the rotation) Dustin McGowan, Luis Perez and Jesse Listch can all pitch in this spot, but none of them can pitch in the #2 slot. Brandon Morrow could, but he will probably go 14-12 next year with a 3.80 ERA and 400 K’s, #3 starter material. Kyle Drabek has the stuff… Man, if I had a nickel for every time I have heard that. Obviously big name starter C.J. Wilson would help out the Jays, but he isn’t what we are looking for so Anthopolous won’t sign him. Mark Burhle isn’t what we are looking for either, but he would be a great addition to our pitching staff. We can expect 10-15 wins from him, but his real value will be a veteran presence on one of the youngest pitching staffs in the majors. Other free agent starting pitchers include: Edwin Jackson (extremely inconsistent) Yu Darvish (Chinese Phenom, will end up in New York or Boston) I really can’t see Anthopolous signing any of these guys, so we may be stuck with the same pitching staff (including Kyle Drabek, hopefully) as last season, unless he makes some trades.
This could be an extremely productive offseason, or the Jays could sit back. Either way, I have high hopes, and PREDICTION: The Jays will be in the playoffs before the 2014 season.

On a side note, the best player in the Major Leagues over the last two seasons is Jose Baustista, and he just won his second straight Silver Slugger award as well as becoming only the third player in history to win back-to-back Hank Aaron awards.

Until Albert Pujols hits 50 HR's for the Jays,
- Riley

25 October 2011

Cross-Sport Power Rankings

I got this idea from ESPN, but they don't do a very good job. Cross-Sport Power Rankings are essentially a list that ranks players from different sports in terms of how well they are playing at the time I write the post. ESPN does like 500, I think I'll stick to a top 10.

1. Aaron Rodgers
He has a season Passer Rating at 122.4, second place is Tom Brady with 104.8. He is the only player in NFL history to have a passer rating of above 110 in 5 straight starts, he has done it in 7, and counting. He has a completion percentage above 70 percent and is averaging almost 10 yards a pass. He has already thrown for 17 touchdowns and rushed for 2, that gives him more personal touchdowns than 24 NFL team's have scored with their whole offense. He has thrown 3 INT's, and his team is 7-0. MVP, here we come, back to back Super Bowls? Why not.

 2. Mike Napoli
Napoli joined Mickey Mantle as the only player to have multiple RBIs in 4 World Series games. He made two game winning plays last night (he hit a two-run double to go up 4-2, and threw out Allen Craig at 2nd for the second last out of the game,)and who knew that was even possible!

 3. Phil Kessel
Maybe a little biased.. but he is leading the NHL in goals and points, and leading the leafs to a 5-2-1 start. I BELEAF

 4. Derek Holland
I am going to try to fit as many baseball players in here as possible because it is their last chance to be here until April. Either way, Holland deserves to be here. 8.1 innings of shutout ball against a team that had erupted for 16 runs the previous night. If this series goes 7, because of the off day, I would bet Holland will be the starter.

 5. Drew Brees
 31/35, 5 TDs, 325 yards, 0 INT's. Automatic? Unfair? Yup. The Saints are 5-2 and look like the early favourites to win the NFC South, and it is all to do with Drew Brees. He has only thrown under 320 yards once and has thrown for at least3 TD's in four of his seven games.

6. Johnathon Quick
Quick is 5-0-1 with a microscopical 0.81 GAA and a save percentage of .972. In six games, he has three shutouts. Dallas will not be able to keep up their hot start and the Kings will win the Pacific conference, and (Prediction) make it to the Stanley Cup Final.

 7. Neftali Feliz
This guy is so much fun to watch. He throws almost 100 MPH and walks enough guys to at least make his saves interesting. Other than the walks, though, he is lights out. In 3 appearances (2.2 innings) he has given up no hits and struck out five. He has walked one player in each appearance, but stranded them every time. Going against my previous prediction (sorry) Feliz will throw the last pitch of the 2011 World Serires.

 8. Albert Pujols
Ok, you must have noticed by now, I love Pujols. He probably doesn't deserve to be on the list given the last two games when he has been really quite. But three days ago he became one of three players to hit three home runs in a World Series game. Joining arguably the best clutch hitter of all time, Reggie Jackson, and dis-arguably the best hitter of all time, Babe Ruth. Pretty good company.

 9. Sergio Aguero
This guy plays soccer for Manchester City, they just beat Manchester United 6-1! I didn't know you could score 6 goals in a match. Well Sergio is leading he Premier League in goals with 9 in 8 games... keep it up!

 10. Dirk Nowitski
I miss the NBA, but i bet Dirk is still on fire.

 Just missed: Adrian Beltre, Nikolai Khabibulin, Allen Craig, Brodie Smith #21, every college football player.

Until Aaron Rodgers is the QB of the Toronto NFL team,
- Riley