April 26, 2017


Tomorrow begins the annual NFL draft. It is now largely a media event. The NFL wants to create a circus atmosphere to enhance fan interest for fall ticket and merchandise sales. It is essentially a meat market auction for college talent. But it is wrapped in inconsistent statements, philosophies and dumb moves.

Leading up to the first selection, the hype is on the "skilled" positions such as quarterback, running back or "edge rusher."  But most of this smoke is misguided tripe. The NFL has made the running back position a mere commodity. Running backs get burned out quicker than most positions so teams now have RB squads to carry the ball during the season. Most GMs figure they can find a quality back in the 4th round of any draft.

The "edge" rusher is the bling for defensive stat coaches who look to the "sack" as the key to a strong defense. The sack is an overrated marker. A good offensive tackle can neutralize an edge rusher, who is usually a thinner, quicker version of the defensive end. A great sack machine can have 15 in a season, but in reality that is probably less than two percent of the player's defensive snaps. Most edge rushers only look to sacks, so the other 98 percent of the time they are a non-factor.

The most focus in pre-draft mocks is the quarterback position. It is still the glamour spot on any team. Every owner wants a "franchise" quarterback to be the "face of the team."  It is said that without a franchise QB, a team cannot win a Super Bowl (but tell that to Doug Williams.) Columnists admit that teams "overvalue" the quarterback position in the first round of the draft because quality, pro-ready quarterbacks are harder to find. The reason is simple: colleges are not running pro-style offenses. If a college education is supposed to prepare young men and women for their careers, college athletes does not prepare QBs for the pros because college coaches are all about winning to retain their huge salary and benefit packages. That is why some teams will reach to the lower college ranks to pick a Carson Wentz, who played a pro-style offense in college.

Another reason why QBs get picked in the first round is that the CBA allows teams to keep a QB an extra (5th year) under the rookie contract. Teams rarely put a rookie QB in charge of the offense so they use the first professional year for training and development. But there is another school of thought: baptism under fire. Some old coaches believe that it is better to put a rookie into battle right away so he can learn at "game speed."  The biggest difference between college and pros is that in the NFL the opponent is bigger, faster and more skilled than college competition.  The more reps a player gets against that talent level, the quicker a team will know whether their player is going to make it.

The scouting consensus is that none of the top 4 QB prospects is "worthy" of a first round selection. But everyone concedes that at least 3 QBs will be drafted in the top 15. If teams stuck with their internal valuations, all the quarterbacks would fall to the second round - - - and if a team needed to draft one, that would be the place to do it. Part of the reason for over-drafting a QB is to appease fans of bad teams. Drafting a new QB means that there will be competition at the most important position on the field. Competition should bring out the best in a player.  But some front offices have taken competition out of the equation. The Bears never brought in a new, young QB to compete with Jay Cutler. The team did not want a "quarterback controversy." Cutler was their QB, period. As a result, the Bears did not draft a successor to Cutler. The position languished under Cutler, but it was reasoned that Cutler still had "potential" to get better. He never did. Now, the Bears have the third draft pick - - - and the team is still uncomfortable in selecting a QB.

Many teams tell us the overriding strategy on their draft boards is to select "the best player available." This strategy can lead to mismanaging resources and overdrafting a position of strength. Teams are supposed to use the draft to make their teams better. To improve the overall talent pool. If a team is in desperate need for a cornerback, select a cornerback - - - not a running back who has better "numbers."  Old school scouts and GMs scoff at the Combine as being an irrelevant side show. Who cares if a offensive line man can dead lift a Mack truck twenty times if he is a traffic cone when it comes to pass protection. How high a man can jump, his 40 yard dash time, his "wing span" and cone drill time is meaningless because an NFL game is not made of those drills. The only thing a good general manager should ask is "can this kid play football?" Does a prospect have the football IQ to adapt to the professional level? Does he understand the fundamental concepts of the playbook? Does he understand his role and assignments on the field? You can tell the quality of the NFL product has diminished because there are so many "combine heros" on the field who do not know what they are doing - - - especially glaring in the secondary when a free safety is running around like he is trying to herd cats.

Draft boards are closely guarded secrets. Sports media tries to find ways to get scoops on how their local team plans to draft. But most of the dialog is misinformation. If a team thinks Player X is the best player on their board, they will not hype him so some other team will take him before their pick. Likewise, some teams will say a player with off-the-field issues will not impact his status on their board, when in fact some coaches and GMs will eliminate that player totally from any consideration. The Commissioner's complete discretion in player discipline has made some teams extremely uncomfortable in drafting drug users or domestic abusers because of potential long suspensions for a second offense.

There is also misinformation from the clubs who continually state that the "prime" rounds are in the middle. But this philosophy makes little sense. If you value third round talent more than first round talent, then you should always trade your highest picks for multiple middle round selections. It is a method of covering for first round mistakes or blunder picks, such as picking an injured first rounder who never makes it on to the field.

In 2011, SB Nation did a review of the 2000-2007 drafts for all pro selections. The results contradict the middle round philosophy.

Round 1:  In each of these years, 31 players were taken in round 1.  Out of those players, 13, 16, 10, 13, 15, 10, 13, and 10 in years 2000-2007, respectively, have made the Pro Bowl.  In only one year did at least half the players drafted in round 1 eventually become Pro Bowlers.  The average for the 8 yrs is 12.5.

Round 2:  Again, 31 players were drafted in round 2 in each of these years.  Those becoming Pro Bowlers number 5, 11, 4, 6, 2, 5, 6, and 5, for an average of 5.5 per year.  This is less than 1 in 5 players drafted in this round.  Again, 2001 appears to behave been a banner year.

Round 3:  The numbers in round 3 are: 1, 3, 2, 2, 6, 2, 0, and 0, for an average of 2.0, or less than 1 in every 15 players chosen (note that compensatory picks make the number of players chosen in rounds 3-7 higher than 31).

The average for Round 4 was 2.375, for round 5 it was 1.625, for round 6 it was 1.5, and for round 7 it was 0.75.

The author's conclusion was the odds of finding that Pro Bowler are not that good, even in the first round (40%) And the odds of finding quality talent after the first round drops significantly as the second round is only 20%, the third round 6.7%.   It shows  how important it is to address your biggest need(s) in the first round or two. The odds are that your team will not pick a pro bowler in any round of the draft. 

If you look at it objectively, even the best GM over a seven year draft cycle will only pick 6 pro bowl quality players or around 12% of total picks. An average GM over the same time period may only select 3 pro bowl quality players.

So, an NFL team needs to draft their primary, urgent needs each and every draft cycle; not the best player available but the best player at the position of need available. If you bet on the best player but he will not play because of a current starter is a veteran, then what is the point of stockpiling talent? And that does not help the problem positions on the team.

Drafts get screwed up because the nature of the clock and GMs, coaches and owners who disagree in the war room when they are on the clock. For years, commentators would wait for a team like the Raiders to pick someone out of the blue which would have a cascade effect across the rest of the NFL teams. That is part of the drama of the draft that NFL executives like to see. 

But year after year, teams drafting lower in the order like the New England Patriots, seem to find more talent than the lowly Cleveland Browns. But the Pats do not necessarily draft or sign the fastest, strongest or more impressive Combine stars. They draft football players.

April 18, 2017


The Cubs continued to bask in the glow of the championship.

But that light is turning dark.

The Cubs have lost 4 home games in a row for the first time in three years.

The championship hangover continues.

And then there is the weirdness about their diamond rings.

When shown after the ceremony, it was learned that on the inside there was an image of a goat.

Why is there a goat on a Cubs ring?

When Ricketts purchased the club, they were adamant that they did not believe in any curses. When Epstein arrived in town to run the team, he said he did not believe in curses - - - and he came from Boston, the home of the Bambino Curse. He said building a quality organization leads to championships. And he backed up his words with an aggressive and painful rebuilding program.

So by putting a goat on the championship ring, the Ricketts have directly acknowledged the mythical curse. There was no logical reason to do so. And some fans, seeing the Cubs are in a slow, bad baseball start, will believe that putting the goat on the championship ring has revived the curse.

But as gracious and generous the Ricketts family was at the ring ceremony, the Sun Times reported that there is an another strange twist in the Cubs championship. The paper reported:

The Cubs organization is handing out World Series Championship rings to players and other employees, describing the bling as a “priceless memento of the greatest championship quest in all of sports.”

In fact, each ring does have a price — $1, to be precise — even though appraisers say they could fetch anywhere from $50,000 to $250,000 on the open market.

That’s because the rings come with strings attached. The Cubs are discouraging ring recipients from selling the hardware. But if they get the urge, the Cubs reserve the right to buy each ring back for $1, according to a memo the organization is asking each ring recipient — including players — to sign.

“We regret the formal nature of this memo, and we do not intend for this information to overshadow our joy in being able to provide this ring to you,” the memo states. “However, we think it is important to communicate this information to you.”

Those planning to sell “or otherwise transfer your ring,” must give the Cubs written notice of “the proposed transaction and a complete accounting of the terms. If the Cubs elect not to purchase the ring, then you may transfer it according to the terms you provided to the Cubs; however, each subsequent owner shall also be bound by these terms in the event of a subsequent proposed sale or other transfer.”

The memo makes an exception for rings that are given as gifts — say to a child, spouse or grandchild. Cubs spokesman Julian Green stated that it was not unusual for this stipulation.

However,  Sun Times contacted the White Sox about their 2005 championship rings, The Sox said the rings given to players and staff had no conditions attached to them. The Sox said that the rings were gifts to the players who could do whatever they wanted with them.

And sports writers have never heard of this stipulation in past champions.

It seems like a petty power grab by the Ricketts to assert control over their players and their assets. The players "earned" those rings by performing at the highest level. The players success has directly increased the Ricketts' value of the club by approximately two billion dollars. So why are the owners trying to seize back the $70,000 ring if a player needs to convert it to cash?

It is the same reason why Crain's reported earlier in the year that the Ricketts push to control the surrounding Wrigley Field blocks is pushing old neighborhood merchants farther and farther away from the facility. By pushing away the competition, the Cubs are casting a monopoly upon fans coming to games with pre-game merchandise sales at their huge new store and beer or food stands outside the park. It comes down to the Ricketts continuing philosophy (that blew a part the rooftop settlement)  that only the family has the right to make any money off the Cubs. And this includes the players and their championship rings.

 We all know stories of players after their careers are over who become down on their luck. Many players do not save their wealth, or find themselves making poor investment decisions because their focus was on their career and not business. Many athletes get into bitter, expensive divorces where cash is the only way out. So the Ricketts have effectively "cursed" their future former championship players with a "generous gift" that is only worth $1 outside the family. Experts believe that a championship ring of Bryant, Rizzo or Lester could command $250,000 or more on the open, auction market. But instead, the Ricketts want fans to pay them  $10,000 for a cheaper replica of the ring.

The whole ring dynamic tarnishes the Cubs championship.

April 17, 2017


Last season, it took the Cubs 31 games to lose their 6th game of the season.

In 2017, it took 12 games.

A 19 game swing even early in the season is a huge red flag.

There is probably a huge championship hangover, with all the celebrations and
spring press expectations for a repeat.

The players off-seasons were probably quite different than seasons past in having to deal with the celebrity interaction with fans about the championship.

The Cubs were only swept once last season. The Pirates took that honor over the weekend when the Cubs re-tooled bullpen blew up.

Most people believe the Cubs will be fine. The Reds are not sustainable in first place in the NL Central. The Cardinals are in panic mode after dropping to dead last without a pulse. The early season is not a prediction of October. But, every game counts the same in the end. The Cubs are only on pace to win 81 games, which would be a huge nuclear meltdown if it would occur.

There was no drama, no real competition in spring training. It was a quiet, professional work out. The pundits believed that it would take 5 appearances before the pitchers would get into their groove.

The concern about new closer Davis was wrong. He is off to a good start; 1-0, 6 G, 2 SV, 0.00 ERA, 0.75 WHIP.

It is the middle of the bullpen that has been surprisingly bad.

Grimm: 6 G, 9.53 ERA, 1.59 WHIP
Strop: 6 G, 0-1, 9.00 ERA , 2.00 WHIP
Uehara: 7 G, 3.18 ERA, 1.41 WHIP
Montgomery, 0-2, 4 G, 3.00 ERA, 1.67 WHIP

The WHIP numbers indicate control issues which have led to half of the team's current losses.

It looks like the back end of the pen is set with Davis at closer, and Edwards and Rondon as 8th inning set up men. But since Maddon does not want to overtax his starters early in the season, long relievers like Montgomery and Grimm have to step it up. The bridge to the back end of the pen is broken.

What will cure a weak middle bullpen? An explosive offense. 
The Cubs team batting average of .240 ranks 7th of 15 in the NL.
The Cubs 47 runs scored is 11th in the NL.
The Cubs 9 HR is last in the NL.
The Cubs OBP of .366 is 3rd in the NL.

The Cubs can get on base, but cannot get timely hitting to score adequate runs.  

The tipping point will be May 1. That is when you will really know if your team is a contender or a pretender.  

April 11, 2017


Waiting two hours watching ESPN filler was like 108 years of torture.

Instead of a 6:15 p.m. championship ceremony, it was put off by the Cubs until 8:15 p.m. The team could have done all the opening junk before the rains hit around 7 p.m. but the PR people did not want to repeat the White Sox home opener stinker where the players were introduced and the game was not played.

The banner raising ceremony lasted too long. The temperature dropped 30 degrees from the time the pregame show started until the first pitch was thrown. But for the Cub players, the 45 minutes used to wander around the field and into the center field stands to timidly raise the WS banner was circus animal parade overkill. It looked like they were on an elementary school field trip to a textile mill. And only a few of them got to pull on the cord to actually raise the banner.

Then the cameras followed them through the underbelly of the bleachers, and past the new metal dungeons called the bullpens, and back into the light of the field. This time, Anthony Rizzo emerged holding the championship trophy. From the march to home plate, the players followed his lead, then dispersed when he handed the trophy to Tom Ricketts. Many people may have lost the symbolism of that moment: the players who won the championship were giving it to ownership who will keep it for themselves.

In the constant re-construction of Wrigley Field, the team installed four new flagpoles in center field. In the past, banners flew on the foul pole standards or on top of the upper deck roof. But now there are new flag poles for the banners. The one oddity is that the fourth pole now has the 2016 NL pennant on it (which someone diminishes the other NL championships).  I thought that they would raise the banner on the old center field scoreboard flag pole since this scoreboard is now merely an unused shadow of its former glory. Who needs pennants to tell the standings? Use it to fill the banners on those flag poles. But the team wanted BIG banners and more space to fly in last night's stiff winds.

ESPN announcers stressed for hours that this was the celebration of a championship season for players and fans. True. But it also marks the end of last season's wonderful run, and the beginning of the 2017 title defense. And it also marks the end of innocent traditions of baseball history as the Cathedral of Baseball is now another modern park with all the trappings of commercialism.

The start of another rash of merchandising sales, such as the special gold lettering Cubs home jerseys, were already on sale before the game. The championship banners will be for sale, too. And as Crain's pointed out before the game, the new "Park" construction outside Wrigley is forcing old merchants blocks away from Wrigley Field as the Cubs continue to monopolize the block around the field with its own proprietary and expensive merch centers.

April 5, 2017


For those who doubt that defense wins games, last nights Cubs-Cardinals game should make them believers.

Albert Almora leaped over the center field wall to rob Matt Adams of a home run and Javier Baez made a difficult sliding stop on Kolten Wong's  game-ending grounder, giving the Cubs to a 2-1 victory against the St. Louis Cardinals on Tuesday night.

Jake Arrieta was very good in his opener. He pitched 6 strong innings, striking out 6 and yielding only one unearned run (on a Baez error).

Heyward is a gold glove caliber right fielder. Last season he had 18 defensive runs saved when he played the outfield. That is an outstanding defensive metric.

But the kids are on pace to surpass his defensive milestones.

In just 41 games played in 2016, Almora had 3 defensive runs saved. For a full season, that would equate to around 11 defensive runs saved.

But the wizard of the glove has to be Baez. In part time work last season, Baez had an amazing 11 defensive runs saved when he played second base (in only 59 games)! He had 18 defensive runs saved in total.

So in 2016, just three Cubs amassed 39 runs saved by playing solid defense.The Cubs lead the National League with the fewest runs scored at 556. Based on this metric, he three Cubs bring a 7 percent decrease in an opponent scoring a run. In a close, one-run ball game, defense is the key to victory.

Like last night's contest. If Almora and Baez to not make those clutch plays, the Cardinals win 3-2.

From a purists' standpoint, it is really nice to see the leather being thrown around the field.