Tebow: The Chronicle of Narcissism

It’s difficult to contextualize the situation that occurred at Tebow’s showcase.  A  former NFL Quarterback and first round draft pick showing off his skills to almost every MLB team.  A 29 year-old baseball player trying is to begin his MLB career, more than a decade late compared to when most people try to enter the league, as a late teen.  Tim has also not played organized baseball since 2008 before he was a junior at Nease high school in Ponte Vedra, Florida.  Out of high school, Tebow was not projected to be an early round pick.  If he were to end up as a middle round pick in the draft (in 2010 when he graduated high school) then he would likely end up in a short-season, low A rookie ball.  After splitting time between the pig skin and the bat, Tebow dedicated himself full time to football for his final two years of high school sports and went on to be drafted 25th overall in the NFL draft in 2010.  After spending time with the Broncos and the Jets, from 2010-2012 he then turned to broadcasting for his career path.  Then he bounced around a few practice squads in the preseason before deciding to hang up the pads and pick up a glove.

To project him as a baseball player, it may be beneficial to look at his success as a football player.  At the University of Florida, he was a successful passer, but the instant a passing play broke down, he would try to scramble and run for positive yardage.  These types of mobile passers haven’t translated well to the NFL, which demands a confident, pocket-passer that can stay in the pocket, thread the needle, and take the hit.  The level of physical ability from college to professional football is a big leap, and with faster defensive backs, the mobile passer is largely ineffectual.  Tebow had moderate success with Denver, but was inconsistent.  If we look at his football career as a whole, he lacked the skill and finesse to be an average quarterback in the league and failed to adapt to the higher level of competition.  

Tim has been preparing for nearly two years for his showcase.  He did work with a few former big leaguers to prepare to see some professional pitching.  He is represented by the same agency as Yoenis Cespedes.  In terms of his performance, he had a peppy 6.7 second sixty yard dash, and had flashes of raw power.  He may be challenged defensively in terms of his throwing accuracy.  Ironically his arm got him drafted to the NFL, but his strength may be his shorting coming as a ball player.  He needs to be able to make accurate throws to bases as an outfielder. He likely will be a corner outfielder, and before we see how his swing attacks live pitching we can’t determine if he has the game power to stay in left.  Likely he would be a left-handed right fielder with a power, but in accurate arm.  The biggest test for Tim is still how well his ‘hit’ tool is against live pitching.  He took some BP and then live pitching in his performance for the scouts, but that is less of a test than minor league pitching.  He is very difficult to scout because he is so much older than other American players coming out of schools.  

He is a gifted athlete, and no one is trying to say otherwise, but it is very unlikely that he ever advances through the minors.  To give him any chance of making it to the bigs would be too optimistic.  He will not be competitive at the major league level.    These are all thoughts that have gone through Alderson’s head about Tebow, but there is nothing to lose.  But maybe the orange and blue felt right for Tim.  

Sandy Alderson, GM of the New York Mets, acknowledged the minor league signing as somewhat of a novelty, with nothing to lose.  Though he has denied that in a formal interview.  That’s the only way to look at it.  It’s a nice, distracting story with very little risk to the team.  It would have been more appropriate if he signed with Atlanta due to their huge demographic of southern fans.  Tebow is a hometown boy and fan favorite of many in Florida and the south, but he signed with the New York Metropolitans.  He isn’t off to the big city just yet, seeing as he has been assigned to the Single A, St.Lucie Mets.   

Many writers and executives in the industry have had mixed reactions to the showcase in the signing.  Many people, myself included, believe it’s arrogant to assume that any major league team would want a 29 year-old left handed ‘outfielder’ who’s veering off the road of their projected career path.  Because that’s exactly what he is, a 29 year-old that has not played organized baseball in a decade.  Compare him to a lifer minor league outfielder.  Tebow has not seen live pitching in a decade, he only ever saw high school arms, he has not been coached like a minor league player would.  It preposterous to believe that he could pick up a bat and try again and be able to compete with the best players in the world just because he also played football.  He lacked the capabilities to play quarterback, a highly technical and skill based position in the NFL, but he thinks he is capable of playing the highest skill game in major North American sports?  I think it’d be a little more appropriate to sign with the Jacksonville Jaguars practice squad or with the Atlanta Braves for that matter and continue to be a novelty.  

 

Mets Summer Mitigation Strategy

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It’s no mystery that the New York Mets Offense has been seriously lacking so far this season, arguably worse than they did last year and that was without Yoenis Cespedes.  The club is currently tied for third in the National League for home runs at 92 so far through 70 games, yet they are 13th in the NL in runs scored at 252.  The Mets have the second worst batting average as a team, only ahead of Philadelphia, with a value of .233.  The team lives and dies from the home run, and with streaky hitters (Cespedes, Duda when healthy) it leads to inconsistent run scoring.  deGrom hasn’t had a win in nine starts due to complete lack of run support.  Jacob is 0-3 in his past four starts, three of which were quality starts in which he earned the loss because the team was shutout for three consecutive deGrom starts. In the other start he went seven innings yielding one earned run with ten strikeouts and no walks, in a no decision.   The team needs to heed Collin’s warning to ‘shake things up’ and make a few moves.  

I’m suggesting a few small moves that make sense for all teams involved and can help the Mets improve in the coming weeks before the All Star break.  New York has key match ups before the All Star break, with seven against the NL Central Leading Cubs in a rematch of the NLCS, and seven versus the NL East Division leader and rival, Washington Nationals.  I’m suggesting three moves that will improve the offense and give opportunities to young hot bats.  

I’m suggesting a trade to the Tampa Bay Rays for one of their relievers, 29 year old Danny Farquhar.  The Rays have 4 outfielders on their disabled list: Brandon Guyer,  Steven Souza Jr., Mike Mahtook, and Gold Glove Centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier.  Also 1B/DH Steve Pearce just injured his hamstring and is expected to be out for several weeks.  The Rays just acquired Orlando Arcia from Minnesota, who hit 20 homeruns in 2014, and has performed well below replacement level since then.  The Rays are seven games below .500 and six games out of the wild card.  I’m proposing a trade offering: OF Alejandro De Aza, 2B Kelly Johnson, and 27 year-old minor league OF TJ Rivera for right handed reliever Danny Farquhar.  This move offers De Aza a chance to play in center field, Rivera is capable of testing the big leagues in right field, Johnson can play second and Forsythe can slide over to play first (a position he appeared at 26 times in 2015).  The additional position players would bolster a struggling Rays offense, as stop gaps, if nothing else for a team that could compete for a Wild Card berth in the American League.   

De Aza is making $5.75 million this season, Kelly is making $2 million, and Rivera is making AAA money and has accumulated zero MLB service time.  The thrifty Rays, and Tampa would only be losing $527,000 for Farquhar.  We can halve all these salary values seeing as the season is already nearly halfway over and only the remaining salaries would be paid by the new teams on a per game basis.   If and when David Wright spends the remainder of the season on the 60-Day DL, then the insurance policy on his contract will pay the Mets $5.5 at the end of the season.  The Mets can entirely offset the contracts of De Aza, Rivera, and Johnson with $3.75 million.  The Mets would take on $263,500 for Farquhar towards the team payroll, and still net a positive $1.75 million left over from the insurance payout.  This effectively buys a reliever and creates opportunities for prospects to contribute to the reigning National League Champions.  

Waiting in Las Vegas are two capable prospects that are knocking on the door for opportunities to play in centerfield and at secondbase.  I’m advocating for 2011 first round pick, Brandon Nimmo and 22 year-old Dilson Herrera to be called up to replace De Aza and Johnson.  Nimmo is slashing .323/.407/.506 with 27 extra base hits in 60 games.  Similarly Herrera is slashing .291/.339/.491 with 31 extra base hits for AAA Las Vegas.  Nimmo is 23, lefthanded, and the same age as Conforto.  Unlike Conforto, Nimmo is capable of handling center field defensively.  Herrera is only capable of handing second base due largely in part to his size, an alleged 5’10” and weighing in at $1.55.  Herrera, in an Altuve-like, size-defying manner has already hit 6 homers in 150 major league at bats during the past two Septembers. Of course this would displace Walker from second, here’s how I see it shaking out.  

Herrera would not be called up to sit on the bench as Johnson has, but rather to start at second base.  I would see the dominos then falling by moving Walker to third base and Flores to first base to platoon with Loney.  The infield from right to left would read: Walker at thirdbase, Cabrera at shortstop, Herrera at second base, and Flores/Loney at first.  This would get the spark plug Herrera into the lineup, ideally at the top of the order.  

The Mets defense up the middle has been a significant improvement from last year’s most common double play combination of Flores and Murphy.  Cabrera and Walker have had great chemistry and the concerns over Cabrera’s range are muted by great hands and consistent above average plays.  The advanced metrics still have him pegged at below average, but in relative terms the middle infield defense has improved from 2015.  There is cause for concern that there could be negative externalities from the rearrangement, but the nonexistent offense that ranks dead last in all of baseball with a batting average with runners in scoring position at paltry .209.  The pitching-rich team should value offense significantly more than defense because the team is squandering great pitching because they’re incapable of scoring three runs a game consistently.  The team with great defense doesn’t help them win 2-0 games, but just an average offense could lead to many 3-2 victories.  In this proposed orientation, Walker can produce average thirdbase defensive metrics, and Herrera can certainly handle second base.  Flores should start at first versus lefties and Loney should versus righties.  Loney will likely be a late game defensive replacement over Flores when facing lefty starters.  The addition of Herrera to the lineup over Loney should lead to an improvement in scoring opportunites.  Loney has been no slouch with 22 hits in 76 at-bats, producing a .289 average.  The front office has been hesitant to bring up Herrera to start but he certainly seems ready and able to start on Opening Day 2017, assuming Neil Walker signs elsewhere this winter as a free agent.     

The Mets seem poised to re-sign Jose Reyes since he was designated for assignment by the Colorado Rockies nine days ago, following his 53 game suspension for his domestic abuse allegations.  However, his character has been a concern from a public relations standpoint.  I believe the moral boost to the fans, the addition of his presence ,and his leadership in the clubhouse would heavily outweigh the tarnished passed of Reyes.  This young team needs a verbal leader that Reye’s youthful spirit can provide in the absence of captain David Wright.  He offers a top of the lineup bat that offers more speed than anyone else on the team.  His addition could move Granderson down to the middle of the order where his homeruns with drive in more runs, seeing as 6 of his 13 homers have been solo shots.  The club has discussed playing Reyes at second, likely moving Walker to third.  Reyes’ range has diminished, and is seen as a middle infielder more than a third baseman.  It’s now looking like Herrera will continue to light up triple A Las Vegas as the prodigal son is poised to return to Flushing.  Reyes and Herrera would play a similar role as the now everyday second baseman and play in the same spot in the lineup.  The Mets fans need a fresh face, and there’s none better than Reyes’ signature smile.  Any longtime Mets fan basks in the glory days of David Wright and Jose Reyes together on the left side of the infield.  They have memories at Shea of a young Jose leading off and stealing 60+ bases for three years in a row, and David Wright hitting the cover off the ball for such a long time.  His signing will breathe life into a deflated team that has lost four straight match-ups versus the Braves, including being a victim to a complete game one hitter by Julio Teheran on Father’s Day, that I witnessed.  Jose has regressed offensively in the past year alone, with a staggering 7.4% increase to infield pop ups, and a reduction in hard hit balls by 4.7%.  Regardless Jose offers a live bat off  that would offer more potential than Kelly Johnson and would at least keep the rioting fan base at bay, as the team looks for any and all ways to spark the slacking offense.  Listed below are my proposed line ups that advocate moving Granderson into a more run productive role.  

 

Hand Pos Lineup versus Right Handed Starters
1 S SS Asdrubal Cabrera
2 R/S 2B Dilson Herrera/Jose Reyes
3 R CF Yoenis Cespedes
4 S 3B Neil Walker
5 L LF Michael Conforto
6 R C Travis d’Arnaud
7 L RF Curtis Granderson
8 L 1B James Loney
9 SP Pitcher

Bench:

  1. Rivera C
  2. Nimmo L, CF
  3. Lagares CF
  4. Reyes S, SS/Herrera 2B
  5. Flores SS

 

Hand Pos Lineup versus Left Handed Starters
1 R/S 2B Dilson Herrera/Jose Reyes
2 R CF Juan Lagares
3 R LF Yoenis Cespedes
4 S 3B Neil Walker
5 R C Travis d’Arnaud
6 R 1B Wilmer Flores
7 S SS Asdrubal Cabrera
8 L RF Curtis Granderson
9 SP Pitcher

Bench:

  1. Rivera C
  2. Nimmo L, CF
  3. Conforto L, LF
  4. Reyes S, SS/Herrera 2B
  5. Loney L, 1B

 

Oakland’s Options

 

Oakland has never believed in the complete from scratch rebuild, something that the Houston Astros and the Chicago Cubs have successfully done in the past five years.  The latter showing more sustainable success for this season at least.  In the national league: Atlanta, Philadelphia, and Cincinnati are in the throws of their complete rebuilds that mandate selling off any big league talent for higher ceiling, controllable prospects.  GM Billy Beane likes the idea of constantly improving and remaining close to contention every season, but if that’s 75 wins every year, is that a good structure?  Critics of this method would say that two seasons of 100 loses would be worth it to create a sustainable, talented team that is full of high first round picks, ie. the Cubs.  This continuous process trims the fat of under producing veterans by trading them for potential talent and creating openings for said prospects to prove themselves.  

Oakland (25-29) has had a history of unconventional drafts and player valuation that has led to successful first round picks: Barry Zito 1999, Nick Swisher and Joe Blanton in 2002, and Houston Street 2004.  More recently they have had success with Sonny Gray 2011 and Addison Russell 2012.  Russell remained with the team for two years before being dealt with starter Dan Straily, and Outfielder Billy McKinley to the Chicago Cubs for two established starters Jason Hammel and Jeff Samardzija.  As one of the smallest market teams, Oakland has to develop their own talent in order to be successful because they cannot afford to pay market value for it.  Everyone in baseball is aware of the lack of starting pitching available in free agency, following this season and the A’s are ready to capitalize on it in the trade market.  

Going into the season it was looking as if Oakland was prepaid for another huge haul for one of their first rounders, but Gray has largely underperformed so far this season.  In 208 innings last season, Gray was 14-7 with a 2.73 ERA, a 3.8 WAR (wins above replacement) total for the team.  He had 219 innings pitched in 2014, so a hangover from a large workload does not explain his lack of command.  He was undoubtedly the ace of the staff for 2015, but his FIP of 3.45 suggests that the defense certainly helped suppress his 2015 ERA.  So far this season he is 3-5 with an ERA of 6.19, with his FIP at 5.15 now is telling that he’s been not getting the same defense.  This data is somewhat counter intuitive considering shortstop Marcus Semien had 35 errors in 2015, far and away the most errors from a premier defensive position.  He’s on pace to only record 12 errors total this entire season, by contrast his pace from 2015 would suggest he would have an equal amount in the 54 games he’s played this season. Regardless of the other eight men on the field, Gray is not performing at the same clip as last year.  As we continue to pull at the string connected to the sweater that is Gray’s performance we can unraveling more shortcomings.  Gray has had trouble finding the zone and is walking two more batter per 9 innings than he did last season; 4.50 BB/9 in 2016 versus 2.55 in 2015.  Gray utilizes his dramatic 12-6 curve 16.1% of the time and gets many batters to chase, but so far this season all of his pitches outside the zone have generated 4.6% less swings than they did in 2015.  Batters have adapted to be more patient and lay off the breaking balls and his plus changeup, and have only swung and missed on 8% of pitches, a career low for Gray.  Understandably hitters are able to watch enough footage, see what counts he likes to throw the curveball in, and be able to lay off when it’s going to clearly be in the dirt.  Although hitters BABIP has been .318 so far this season is .045 above his career total, suggesting that the balls finding the gaps will find them less often as the season continues.  

Gray is a very talented starting pitcher that has been off, as have many starters: Matt Harvey, Adam Wainwright, Zack Greinke etc.  If he can string together some dominant starts through the dog days of summer he can certainly retain his 2015 value.  He is due to come of the 15 day disabled list this weekend and see how his balky shoulder is feeling.  Some of his diminished production could be attributed to playing through the pain with his shoulder injury, but he needs to prove he is back in old form to get peak value.  The market is incredibly sparse when it comes to controllable young pitching; Gray becomes arbitration eligible following the 2017 season, while remaining under team control through 2020.  

It would take most teams an arm and a leg to pry Gray away from Oakland considering the haul Atlanta got for Shelby Miller in the offseason: Dansby Swanson (SS, 2015 first round pick), Aaron Blair (SP, 2013 first round pick), and OF Ender Inciarte.  It took Arizona trading their best position player prospect, best starting pitching prospect, and a bonafide starting outfielder to get Miller coming off of a 17 loss season with a 3.45 ERA.  Gray certainly has performed much better than that and should have significantly higher value, but he isn’t the only Athletic that is rumored to be on the move this summer.  

Right fielder Josh Reddick certainly seemed like a candidate to be moved before his injury, this due largely to the fact that he will be a free agent at the end of the season.  He is a hard nose player, and that may have have contributed to his broken thumb that landed him on the DL on May 20th; he remains out of the line-up.  He tried to stretch a double and caught his thumb on second base on a headfirst slide.  He’s slashed .322/.394/.466 so far this season with 5 homeruns in 41 games.  A gold glover in right field with an arm that competes with some of the best outfielder’s arms like Yasiel Puig and former Athletic Yoenis Cespedes.  Reddick isn’t quite at the level defensively that the $184 million Jason Heyward is at, but it’s not unreasonable to expect Reddick to get four or even five guaranteed years in free agency, regardless of whether or not he is moved.   Brewer’s Ryan Braun is not a perfect foil to Reddick because Braun has had more offensive success, the likes of which is tarnished by steroids, but he is also likely on the move from the Brewers.  He’s slashing an outrageous .348/.415/.573, not unlike his 2011 MVP campaign.  He’s been in and out of the lineup for the past ten days with neck stiffness, but as long as he can keep it together, there are teams in contention willing to take on the $80 million guaranteed through 2020.  A team will likely be overpaying for less productive years as the 32 year old ages, and it will take a huge offer from a team with talent in the minors to get him from Milwaukee.  Many evaluators says players lose nearly 0.5 WAR for every year after 32, and a full win above replacement after 36, but there are certainly exceptions to the rule.  Carlos Beltran is producing offensively this year for the Bronx Bombers and is 39 years old.  

There is a 37 year old pitcher that the A’s took a chance on after seeing a string of four great starts for the Red Sox at the end of 2015.  They signed Rich Hill to a one year, $6 million deal and it’s an understatement to say he’s overperformed expectations.  In 11 starts, Hill is 8-3 with a 2.25 ERA and a WHIP of 1.13.  He has 74 strikeouts in 64 innings.  This is coming from a man that had not started a game since 2009.  His production at market value is clearly well above the current price of his contract. He has nearly as many innings so far this season as he did from 2010-2014 when he bounced around four different teams.  His production is well above anyone’s expectations and a team in contention would love to have a southpaw to not only eat innings, but to be an effective starter.  The A’s have other arms available out of the pen that could be valuable assets to contending teams down the line this fall.  

The relief market has become one of the more expensive areas tradewise in recent years.  The Yankees have a trio of lights out relievers in Betances, Miller, and Chapman.  Notably the Astros traded for Phillies closer Ken Giles and it took five pitchers including former number one overall pick in 2013, Mark Appel.  He wasn’t even the centerpiece of the deal.  Brett Oberholtzer has been a swingman in the pen so far this year, but has started.  Vince Velasquez has a complete game shutout with 16 Ks earlier this year for Philadelphia.  The other two pitchers are working in the minor league affiliates.   In other words, shutdown relief pitching value has skyrocketed in recent years and it could mean any of Oakland’s relievers could be on the move.  That could be Ryan Madson who is 12 of 14 on save opportunities this year with a 2.31 ERA or Sean Doolittle with a 0.93 WHIP.  

If offers come pouring in for Hill, Reddick, Gray, or any of the relievers than the front office may want to tag Billy Butler in on the deal to a team that is willing to take on the roughly $15 million owed to him in the second half of the three year deal signed before 2015.  In this way, Oakland can remove payroll and get controllable, young talent in the process.  It would rewarding to see the A’s look like the 96 win 2013 team that had names like Josh Donaldson, Yoenis Cespedes, and an 18 win Bartolo Colon.  

The ‘rolling rebuild’ may not be the best method to produce a dynasty because the team misses out on getting those top five picks in the draft for two or three years when the team is not competitive.  Those players chosen in round one develop into major league players and make the years off losing records worth it for rebuilding teams.  The question that GMs and their front office have to think about is how the effects of lower attendance and revenue from complete rebuilds will affect the team’s ability to sign free agents in the future.  Oakland has the prerogative to move some of their more valuable assets this July if they intend to be competitive in the coming years.   

Odubel Herrera’s Crash Course in Plate Vision

The average 45-52 year old Caucasian male baseball fan might not be paying attention to a rebuilding Philadelphia Phillies team in stages of its own infancy, nevertheless the development of the Rule 5 draft pick Odubel Herrera.  But an average baseball fan wouldn’t be reading about his new approach at the plate and development of a centerfielder on a maturing team.  

This 24 year old Venezuelan centerfielder signed as an international free agent with the Texas Rangers in 2008 and was selected with the 8th overall pick by Philadelphia in the 2014 Rule 5 Draft.  Herrera was groomed as a second baseman throughout his time with Texas, and only made the switch to the outfield for the 2015 season with Freddy Galvis and Cesar Hernandez currently in the lineup at shortstop and second base.  Although so far this season Hernandez has made some mental miscues on the base paths including misunderstanding the infield fly rule.  Currently Herrera offers the team a solid center fielder with an upside.  The rest of the outfielders in their system are largely unproven.  He slashed .297/.344/.418 through 495 at-bats in 2015.

 At a glance one would think that Herrera is the below average offensive production with only 8 homeruns and 41 RBIs in 2015.  Yet his 3.8 WAR from 2015 represents a solid everyday major leaguer.  There is a metric called weighted runs created (wRC+) that measures the additional runs a player adds to a team, 100 is the average value of a player.  Herrera’s 2015 wRC+ was 110, slightly above average, but so far this season has a 143 wRC+.  This measure represents not only his value as a hitter, but also as baserunner, critical in the leadoff spot he occupies.   

A significant part of successfully getting on base requires the ability to draw walks.  Herrera had 28 in 2015, for a walk rate of 5.2%, with the league average around 8%.  His 24% strikeout rate is well above the league average 20% of plate appearances ending with a K.  These percentiles represent a young player new to the National League. Herrera is facing more skilled pitchers than he was used to in High A and AA during the 2014 season.   Even his 129 Ks were second lowest of the 6 qualified National League rookie-status position players.  He actually led all of those 6 qualified rookies in batting average with .297.  His average was ahead of the rising stars: Matt Duffy .295, NL Rookie of the Year Kris Bryant .275, Addison Russell .242, Michael Taylor .229, and Joc Pederson .210.  

Following the 2015 campaign, he worked with Steve Henderson, Philadelphia’s hitting coach, to change his approach and strikeout less than he did in 2015.  He was not concerned about improving his walk rate, because even his .344 OBP led the team among those who played anywhere near a full season.  He also pulled the ball quite a bit in his rookie season, which has changed with his walk rate so far in this young 2016 season.  As it stands, Herrera is 3 walks shy of the total he had in 2015, and he’s only played 31 games.  

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His swing is much more of an inside-out swing path and has improved his frequency that he hits balls to the opposite field, as to avoid being a victim of the shift.  A 2015 pull rate of 35.2% is down to 23.5%.  He is hitting 40% of his hits, straight back up the middle, and 36.5% to left field.  When he wants to hit the ball for power, he reverts to pulling the ball, and has certainly showed that he hasn’t lost any of his occasional power.  Additionally his ground ball rate has improved 7% and swung at fastballs 6.5% more often so far in 2016.  

Much of this information must be taken with a grain of salt, seeing as it is only May, but an indicator of sustainable success is batting average on balls in play.  This measures how many balls hit into fair territory fall for hits.  His 2015 BABIP was .387, and so far in 2016 that value is .390.  That negligible difference means he isn’t just having more balls fall or sneaking through shifts, but he is hitting to the same degree as he did last year.  A significantly higher BABIP this year could represent short term success, but similar values lend themselves to being repeatable.  

To represent the change in approach, one can look at the swing rate, the value represents the percentile of pitches that are swung at.  He has swung 5.2% less often so far this season and 11.6% less swings on balls, outside the zone.  His plate vision has improved in one winter more than any player in the league has in recent memory.  For the balls that he does swing at outside the zone, he’s making contact on those 11.7% more often than he did last year.  In essence, he has significantly improved his understand of the strike zone and has improved his ability to defend with 2 strikes to foul off pitches.  He’s seeing more pitches now and that’s reflected in his .330/.455/.418 slash line and .898 OPS.  He has already produced 1.1 WAR which is on pace to finish better than his 3.8 total in 2015.   He certainly represents a top of the lineup hitter for a budding and maturing Phillies club.  

      

Analyzing Miami’s First Round Options at Cornerback

Back in March, the Miami Dolphins traded back in the first round of the 2016 NFL draft with the Philadelphia Eagles for cornerback Byron Maxwell linebacker Kiko Alonso. In return, the Eagles received Miami’s 8th overall pick while sending them their 13th overall pick. While most consider this a rather odd move, being that Vernon Hargreaves would have most likely fallen to Miami at this spot, I don’t seem to think so. There no question that Miami has a lot of gaps in their roster to fill through the draft, however this move does not doom what Miami does in the first round by any means, and especially at corner.

Let’s begin by analyzing what most people think will happen: Vernon Hargreaves will be a top ten pick, and will eventually become at least solid NFL corner, possibly great. At Florida, Hargreaves had 81 tackles, 40 assist tackles, 10 interceptions, 27 passes defensed, 2 fumble recoveries and 2 forced fumbles. Not bad for playing in a conference that featured Amari Cooper, Sammy Watkins, Devante Parker, Jordan Matthews, Jarvis Landry, Odell Beckham Jr., Laquon Treadwell and Mike Evans during his career at Florida. Adding to his stats, Hargreaves was a first team All American in 2014, a Consensus All American in 2015, and was first team All-SEC in his 3 years at Florida.

By comparison, Darrelle Revis made 66 tackles, 14 assists, 8 interceptions, and 2 touchdowns during his career at LSU and became one of the NFLs best shutdown corners during his career. Known for his ball-hawking skills and his ability to high-point the football, Hargreaves posted more interceptions during his career than Patrick Peterson (7) and former Gator Joe Haden (8), both of whom went in the first round and have been at least extremely productive, if not All-Pro. There’s obviously no telling how Hargreaves will do until he hits the field in the fall, but all signs point to him being a great corner.

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That being said, Hargreaves is not the best secondary prospect in the draft this year. Florida State’s Jalen Ramsey is considered to be the better player, and rightfully so. Ramsey plays longer, standing at 6’1 to Hargreaves 5’11 and has a 1.5” vertical advantage over Hargreaves. He can also play safety as well as corner which is valuable in the NFL. At Florida State, Ramsey recorded 122 tackles, 5 sacks, 3 interceptions, 22 passes defensed, 4 forced fumbles, and 2 fumble recoveries. On film, Ramsey was all over the place in comparison to Hargreaves although most don’t consider Ramsey to be the best pure cover corner, that consideration given to Hargreaves.

Miami will likely certainly not land Ramsey, and landing Hargreaves while not out of the question, is still a possibility. If he falls to 13, Miami must capitalize and draft him. If not, they still need a corner. Luckily, the draft is loaded with talent in the first round at corner. Miami’s next best option at corner is Eli Apple out of Ohio State.   Although young at 20 years old, and only a 2 year starter at Ohio State, he showed a lot of potential and was very productive in such a short period.

Apple recorded 56 tackles, 4 interceptions, 17 passes defensed, 1 forced fumble, and 2 fumble recoveries. He has a tendency to play well on the biggest of stages, intercepting Heisman trophy winner Marcus Mariota on his last college pass in the 2015 CFP Final, and then winning 2016 defensive MVP at the Fiesta Bowl. Apple is taller corner, standing 6’1 tall and weighing in at 200 pounds. He plays fast, and backed it up by running a 4.4 at the combine and was surprisingly strong, posting 13 bench presses. Eli Apple would be a generous consolation prize for missing out on Vernon Hargreaves and could be ready to start as Miami’s second corner come September.

Should Miami miss out on Eli Apple and Vernon Hargreaves, then they should probably look to add depth at linebacker, defensive line, or offensive line. However, if they are feeling lucky they could take a look at another 2 year starter, Mackensie Alexander out of Clemson. At Clemson, Alexander recorded 33 tackles, 0 interceptions, 11 passes defensed, and 1 fumble recovery.

The stats don’t back up the talk of number 1 pick, but Alexander is a great talent and is the most aggressive besides Jalen Ramsey of the other prospects. He is probably more of a project pick if they Dolphins do decide to draft him, although most experts have Alexander going later in the second round, possibly even early in the second round. Miami have had their fair share of problems drafting and keeping cornerbacks in recent years (Will Davis, Jamar Taylor, Vontae Davis, Sean Smith), so it is imperative that if they do go corner with this pick, they get it right. In my opinion, Hargreaves or Apple are their best bets at this position but only time will tell.

Can Miami Win with Ryan Tannehill?

The grumblings down in South Florida have mostly surrounded the defense. The linebacker group drastically underperformed and secondary play was terrible. The defensive line was productive, but still did not meet expectations given the amount of talent and money invested into it. The upcoming draft is extremely important for the struggling Miami defense, as most analysts have Miami going either defensive line or secondary with the 13th overall pick, with the occasional case for Ezekiel Eliot or Derrick Henry since the departure of Lamar Miller and the failure to sign CJ Anderson.

After hiring offensive guru Adam Gase as the head coach, the Miami offense lead by quarterback Ryan Tannehill has stayed relatively out of the spotlight. That was until Greg Jennings appeared on ESPN, calling Ryan Tannehill “far from elite”, citing poor coaching as the main catalyst.  Jennings went on to say “We don’t know who Ryan Tannehill is, but we want him to be this great guy, this great quarterback, this franchise quarterback, but no one has given him the freedom, the luxury, to call plays, make checks, to do the things that a great quarterback will have the opportunity to do.” Let us look to what Ryan Tannehill has been, and then to what he can be next year.

Many argue that Ryan Tannehill has been an “average” quarterback through 4 years as an NFL starter. This stance is supported by his numbers, as Tannehill has yet to throw for more than 30 touchdown passes and for more than 4500 yards in any of his first four seasons. By comparison, his first round counterpart Andrew Luck threw for more than 4500 yards and 40 touchdowns during the 2014 campaign. NFL elite Tom Brady has thrown for over 4500 yards twice since 2012 and for over 30 touchdowns three times in the same duration.

Tannehill finished tied for third in the NFL for sacks in 2015. Defenses tallied 45 sacks against Tannehill, continuing his trend of being the most sacked quarterback in the NFL over the past four seasons. Overall, Tannehill finished 21st in passer rating turning in an 88.7, same as Minnesota quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and just slightly less of Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan. Certainly not bad, but definitely not great has been the general synopsis of Ryan Tannehill’s career. For the most important position on the field, ‘not bad’ is simply not close to good enough.

Before looking to the future, perhaps the right thing to do is to look around Tannehill to see if he has been given a fair chance throughout his career. After all, football is a 53 man sport guided by a seemingly infinite amount of coaches and front office staff. Starting with coaching, Tannehill has seen three different offensive coordinators, two head coaches, and three GMs. By comparison, Tom Brady has had the same head coach his entire career, and only switched coordinators when an ostensibly better opportunity came about for them. Changing systems and coaches is never good for a quarterback, let alone a young quarterback trying to settle into the NFL.

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For the 2016 season, the Dolphins have entrusted first year head coach Adam Gase and former Colts Offensive Coordinator Clyde Christensen to bring Tannehill from a good game manager to a great starting quarterback. The other question is personnel around Tannehill. The overall ranking for the Miami Dolphins offensive line in 2015 was 30th in the league according to Pro Football Focus, this includes a 27th ranking in pass blocking. Until Jarvis Landry, Miami has never had a true number 1 target throughout Ryan Tannehill’s career. Mike Wallace has proven to be a quarterback-specific receiver after falling flat in Minnesota and not much can be said for now departed Rishard Matthews and Brian Hartline. The development of Devante Parker will be intriguing going forward, and will hopefully add a much needed weapon. During the last three weeks of the 2015 season, Parker hauled in 13 catches for 286 yards and 1 touchdown. Most importantly, he had receptions of longer than 30 yards in each of those games.

This type of receiver is yet to be found in Tannehill’s career, and should help going forward. The defensive side of the ball has been no better for Miami during Tannehill’s career, and in 2015 the team finished 19th in points allowed and 21st in pass defense, allowing 4,225 yards through the air. In 2013, Miami’s pass defense finished 16th and 27th in 2012. Also, Miami finished 28th in 3rd down defense in 2015, and they have only finished inside the top 10 in 3rd down defense once during Tannehill’s career. Not having receivers to throw to and an unreliable defense would be enough to impair a young quarterback’s growth. However, the offensive line has probably been more problematic than any of the previous factors mentioned. Ryan Tannehill has been sacked 184 times in his 4 year career – the most of any quarterback in that amount of time.

Buffalo Bills v Miami Dolphins
MIAMI GARDENS, FL – NOVEMBER 13: Quarterback Ryan Tannehill #17 of the Miami Dolphins scrambles for yardage as he is pursued by defensive tackle Kyle Williams #95 of the Buffalo Bills in the second quarter in a game at Sun Life Stadium on November 13, 2014 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)

During 2015, Tannehill averaged about 2.57 seconds in time to throw, ranked 30th overall and his time to sack number was 2.48 seconds, ranked 31st overall. Not only does he not have time to get his throws off, he barely has time to take the snap and look around. Russell Wilson’s time to sack average on the other hand is 4.05. Many would argue that Wilson works hard for that time to throw, whereas Tannehill is a sitting duck in the pocket. Fair assessment, until you start looking at the more successful pocket passers in the NFL. Alex Smith has a 4.03 second average to sack, Joe Flacco a 3.68 second average, and Ryan Fitzpatrick a 3.61 second average. One second in the NFL is the difference between the good and great quarterbacks, and the below average ones. Bottom line here: Ryan Tannehill has not brought the Miami Dolphins the prominence we expected him to bring when he was drafted. Has it been his fault? Evidence concludes: absolutely not.

Looking forward, Miami and Ryan Tannehill have a lot of work to do. So far, Tannehill has put up good numbers, but until the numbers in the win column improve he will never be considered great or hardly even good. The main thing is that in order for Ryan Tannehill to improve, the team around him must improve. Even Peyton Manning and Tom Brady need a great defense, offensive line and great coaches in order to produce hall of fame careers and Super Bowl championships. Tannehill deserves the same resources before he is judged four years into a rather turbulent career.

Heat Keep Pace in Standings With Win Over Nets

The Heat came out with authority on Monday night and asserted dominance over the Brooklyn Nets in Miami with a 110-99 victory. With the win, the Heat improved their record to 43-30, just one game behind Atlanta for the 3-seed in the Eastern Conference.

Dwyane Wade led the charge with 30 points on a very efficient 14-19 shooting. Wade took advantage of the Nets’ weak defenders by getting to the free throw line consistently while also shooting lights-out from midrange.

The Whiteside Factor:

Hassan Whiteside came off the bench and provided the defensive anchor that kept the Nets under 100 points. Whiteside was also a force offensively, as he scored 27 points on 12-16 shooting and eight rebounds. Over his last 10 games, Whiteside has averaged almost 19 points, 12 rebounds, and three blocks per game. Without his improved and vital play off the bench, the Heat would not be in good position as the 4-seed in the Eastern Conference.

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Rook Coming Through:

On a night where starting point guard Goran Dragic was out with a cold, Rookie guard Josh Richardson filled in spectacularly. Richardson scored 16 points on 9 shots, and went 3 of 4 from three-point range. For Richardson, an increase in playing time in the absence of Beno Udrih and Tyler Johnson has opened the door for the Rookie. Over his last 10 games, Richardson has averaged over 15 points a game in just over 30 minutes played per game. Richardson is also shooting an incredible 50% from three-point range this season, highest among all qualifying rookies.

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Wade and Whiteside:

Overall, the Wade-Whiteside duo was too much to handle for the Nets. The tandem was a force both offensively and defensively, and connected for plenty of Whiteside slams.

If they can stay healthy and continue to lead the Heat through the final stretch run of the season, the Heat have real hopes of earning the 3-seed and making some real noise in the postseason.

Brooklyn:

On the Brooklyn side, Brook Lopez led them offensively with 26 points on a 12-20 shooting night. Thaddeus Young also added 20 points on 10-12 shooting, while leading the Nets in rebounds with nine. The Nets fell to 21-52 with the loss as they continue their abysmal season.

Notes:

Hassan Whiteside, Josh Richardson, Justise Winslow, and Tyler Johnson create an exciting new core for the Heat moving forward. If the Heat are able to resign Whiteside this offseason,this core will only help the Heat recruit more high-profile free agents in the future. For this offseason, the Heat are known to be targeting Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant in free agency. Only time will tell is Pat Riley and company will be able to lure another one of the game’s great players to Miami.