Monthly Archives: January 2011

2011 Top 50 MLB Prospects

With pitchers and catchers ready to report in less than three weeks, it’s time to look at the future for many teams, especially those who don’t have much to look forward to this year. I’m looking at you, Royals.

Young talent is exciting in all sports, especially in baseball. Twenty-nine of my top fifty this season were number one picks, but drafting high isn’t the only way to collect elite talent. Look no further than Domonic Brown. Brown, the overall prospect in 2011, was the 607th pick in the 2006 draft and only received a $350K signing bonus. Many more gems can be found across the international market and in the later rounds of the draft.

For those teams with little to look forward to this year, help is on the way — at least for most of them. The Royals have six high-quality prospects, four of which are on in the top twenty-seven. The Rays have another four in the Top 40. Even the Nationals have some talent!

This season will be very exciting for big market teams like Boston, Philadelphia, and New York, but every team has some reason for hope. Unless of course you’re a Pirates fan, but then you have Steelers. Maybe not so much either if you’re an Indians fans, but at least they have the Cava– I mean at least there’s nice weath– I mean at least you’re not living in Arkansas.

Without further ado, here are my Top 50 MLB prospects. My rankings are based on film I’ve seen, production, and scouting reports from trusted sources. Each player has a short scouting report straight out of my 2011 MLB Preview, which is due to be released in late March. If you missed last year’s issue, here is a medium resolution version of it. If you want the high-resolution version, comment on the bottom, and I’ll send it to you. Enjoy.

1. Bryce Harper

OF Nationals mlb_a_harper_65
Height: 6’2” Weight: 245 Age: 18 B/T: R/R
Unheard of power with plus plus athleticism, discipline, arm strength, and overall bat. Future superstar.

2. Mike Trout

OF Angels mlb_u_trout_65
Height: 6’1” Weight: 217 Age: 19 B/T: R/R
Star-in-the-making. Athletic, very fast, strong, great defender with solid arm strength. Great on-base skills.

3. Mike Moustakas

3B Royals mlb_moustakas_mike_65
Height: 5’11” Weight: 230 Age: 22 B/T: R/R
Elite power hitter and great arm. Smooth swing, slow, but incredibly strong. Solid fielder, should stick at third.

4. Aroldis Chapman

LHP Reds mlb_g_chapman_65
Height: 6’4” Weight: 185 Age: 22 B/T: L/L
Absolutely incredible stuff, fantastic fastball, slider. Stamina is in question, could be ace or shutdown closer.

5. Jeremy Hellickson

RHP Rays 95654343NL391_Tampa_Bay_Ray
Height: 6’1” Weight: 185 Age: 23 B/T: R/R
Effortless release with shocking velocity. Three plus off-speed pitches and great intangibles.

Notes: At the top, Harper has the biggest upside, but Trout will hit the show much sooner. Moustakas is the one most likely to be a bust, but he also has incredible upside. It’ll be interesting to see how Chapman and Hellickson will be used this upcoming season; Cincy will want to determine whether they want to stretch out Chapman into a starter or make him a closer, while Tampa will want to limit Hellickson’s innings to prevent future injury. All of the top five players will be a star in this league.

6. Jesus Montero

C Yankees 95659428NL263_New_York_Yank
Height: 6’4” Weight: 225 Age: 21 B/T: R/R
One of the best power hitting prospects. Can hit well for average, too. Defense is defective, will settle at DH.

7. Domonic Brown

OF Phillies mlb_g_dbrown_65
Height: 6’5” Weight: 200 Age: 23 B/T: L/L
Plus in all five categories with much more power to fill out. Athletic, great defender, plus speed.

8. Dustin Ackley

2B Mariners mlb_g_ackley_65
Height: 6’1” Weight: 185 Age: 22 B/T: L/R
Polished hitter with great discipline, speed, and a fantastic bat. Excellent pure hitter, versatile in the field.

9. Kyle Drabek

RHP Blue Jays Blue Jays Orioles Baseball
Height: 6’1” Weight: 190 Age: 23 B/T: R/R
Ace-type stuff, hard fastball and a knockout curve. Great command poise, and toughness.

10. Eric Hosmer

1B Royals mlb_u_hosmer_65
Height: 6’4” Weight: 215 Age: 21 B/T: L/L
Quick wrists, great feel for the strike zone. Plus power, fantastic total bat. Good defender.

Notes: Montero and Ackley could both win starting jobs in Spring Training depending on how well they can play against major league competition. Montero’s value will largely be based on where he plays; he can hit his way into any lineup, but his value will be doubled if he can catch every day. Brown won’t have the power of Jayson Werth, but he will be a mainstay in Philly’s lineup for a long time.

11. Desmond Jennings

OF Rays 95654343NL299_Tampa_Bay_Ray
Height: 6’2” Weight: 200 Age: 24 B/T: R/R
Very athletic and can absolutely fly. Great fielder, highly disciplined, hits well for average, okay power.

12. Julio Teheran

RHP Braves mlb_i_teheran_65
Height: 6’2” Weight: 150 Age: 20 B/T: R/R
Electric stuff, specifically blazing fastball. Easy motion with high velocity, ace ceiling.

13. Manny Machado

SS Orioles mlb_i_machado_65
Height: 6’3” Weight: 185 Age: 18 B/T: R/R
True 5-tool potential, a future superstar. Very athletic with real no holes to speak of.

14. Casey Kelly

RHP Padres mlb_g_kelly_65
Height: 6’3” Weight: 195 Age: 21 B/T: R/R
Great command, velocity with plus curve and nice changeup. Athletic with great poise and delivery.

15. Jameson Taillon

RHP Pirates mlb_a_taillon_65
Height: 6’6” Weight: 225 Age: 19 B/T: R/R
Quick delivery, great poise and control. Explosive fastball, hard curve, very young with room to grow.

16. Martin Perez

LHP Rangers mlb_e_perez_65
Height: 6’0” Weight: 178 Age: 19 B/T: L/L
Big deceptive lefty with great changeup, curve. Very crafty, high ceiling. Struggled at upper levels.

17. Jacob Turner

RHP Tigers mlb_a_turner_65
Height: 6’5” Weight: 210 Age: 19 B/T: R/R
Big frame with above average fastball, plus curve and changeup. Slightly injury-prone.

18. Michael Pineda

RHP Mariners mlb_e_pineda_65
Height: 6’5” Weight: 245 Age: 22 B/T: R/R
Plus fastball and slider, Number 2 starter potential. Swing-and-miss off-speed pitches.

19. Aaron Hicks

OF Twins MLB: MAR 21 Minnesota Twins - Top Minor League Prospects
Height: 6’2” Weight: 185 Age: 21 B/T: S/R
5-tool potential with great plate discipline, more power to come. Very athletic with scary fast speed.

20. Mike Montgomery

LHP Royals mlb_a_montgomery_65
Height: 6’5” Weight: 180 Age: 21 B/T: L/L
Tall, lean frame with great potential as a starter. Plus fastball and changeup. Dominates his competition.

Notes: A lot of these players are high upside/high risk players (Taillon, Turner, and Hicks), but I feel that each and every one of them can make several All-Star games. Not all will make it big, but they all have fantastic tools and great potential. It’s getting about time for Desmond Jennings to step up after spending five years in the minors, and he should be presented a great opportunity with Carl Crawford’s departure. Martin Perez and Aaron Hicks are due for bounceback seasons after average years.

21. Zach Britton

LHP Orioles mlb_u_britton_65
Height: 6’3” Weight: 195 Age: 23 B/T: L/L
Plus fastball and slider along with great command. Elite potential as a starter, especially valuable as a lefty.

22. Brett Lawrie

2B Blue Jays mlb_i_lawrie_65
Height: 6’0” Weight: 213 Age: 20 B/T: R/R
High-quality bat with great power. Goes all-out, great athleticism, bat speed. May end up playing third or at a corner outfield position.

23. Shelby Miller

RHP Cardinals mlb_g_miller_65
Height: 6’1” Weight: 190 Age: 20 B/T: R/R
Aggressive strikeout pitcher with a great fastball. Frontline starter in the making, hasn’t scratched his ceiling yet.

24. Tyler Matzek

LHP Rockies mlb_a_matzek_65
Height: 6’1” Weight: 230 Age: 20 B/T: L/L
Full arsenal of solid pitches, struggled with command. High ceiling, still young with room to improve.

25. Brandon Belt

1B Giants mlb_i_belt_65
Height: 6’1” Weight: 210 Age: 22 B/T: L/L
Great, smooth swing generating nice contact and elite power potential. Nice glove, but not much speed.

26. Matt Moore

LHP Rays mlb_e_moore_65
Height: 6’2” Weight: 205 Age: 23 B/T: L/L
Outstanding strikeout pitcher with plus fastball and curveball. Control can be his only issue.

27. Wil Myers

C Royals mlb_e_myers_65
Height: 6’3” Weight: 190 Age: 20 B/T: R/R
Great overall bat, plus plate discipline. Unclear where he’ll play in the majors, he may have to be moved to right field.

28. Kyle Gibson

RHP Twins mlb_a_gibson_65
Height: 6’6” Weight: 210 Age: 23 B/T: R/R
Bulldog type innings-eater with a plus slider and changeup. Top-of-the-rotation potential.

29. Grant Green

SS Athletics mlb_i_green_65
Height: 6’3” Weight: 180 Age: 23 B/T: R/R
Toolsy with nice power, above average speed and arm strength. Needs to improve plate discipline.

30. Lonnie Chisenhall

3B Indians 95688693JNF_D071648071.JPG
Height: 6’1” Weight: 200 Age: 22 B/T: L/R
Hits very well for average and has solid speed. Lanky frame, solid fielder with a plus arm. Big upside.

Notes: Lawrie and Green are personal favorites of mine. If Lawrie can stick at second, he’ll eventually be a Dan Uggla-type hitter, and any team could use that production out of a usually poor-hitting position. Green is another powerful middle infielder, something Oakland hasn’t had since Miguel Tejada left after the 2003 season. Gibson is also a nice sleeper to jump into the Top 20 next year; he fits in perfectly with the Twins’ pitching mantra.

31. Jarrod Parker

RHP Diamondbacks mlb_g_parker_65
Height: 6’1” Weight: 180 Age: 22 B/T: R/R
Outstanding stuff, particularly his slider and fastball. Coming off major shoulder surgery, should reach the majors soon.

32. Brett Jackson

OF Cubs 797051
Height: 6’2” Weight: 210 Age: 22 B/T: R/R
Plus across the board, but no one tool is exceptional. Nice power ceiling and speed, above-average fielder.

33. Chris Sale

LHP White Sox mlb_i_sale_65
Height: 6’5” Weight: 170 Age: 21 B/T: L/L
Dominating with funky motion and plus fastball, changeup, slider. Can start, close. Could be an injury concern if he throws too many innings

34. Jonathan Singleton

1B Phillies mlb_e_singleton_65
Height: 6’2” Weight: 215 Age: 19 B/T: L/L
Strong frame with great swing, plus power, and plate discipline. Eventually may be moved to the outfield.

35. Miguel Sano

SS Twins 61325789
Height: 6’3” Weight: 195 Age: 17 B/T: R/R
Raw, but has all the skills in the world. Great power potential, huge frame. Eventually will probably move to third base.

36. Jose Iglesias

SS Red Sox D071760024.JPG
Height: 5’11” Weight: 175 Age: 21 B/T: R/R
Ace defender with plus range and arm strength. Quick hands, compact swing, little more than gap power.

37. Dee Gordon

SS Dodgers mlb_e_gordon_65
Height: 5’11” Weight: 150 Age: 22 B/T: L/R
Fantastic speed and athleticism, but not much else. Power and glove haven’t come along quite as well.

38. Derek Norris

C Nationals mlb_g_norris_65
Height: 6’0” Weight: 210 Age: 21 B/T: R/R
Low batting average, but has great power and walks a lot. Poor defender, fairly slow, but has a great arm.

39. Jenrry Mejia

RHP Mets Mejia
Height: 6’0” Weight: 160 Age: 21 B/T: R/R
Great fastball that touches the high 90s with nice movement. Health and future role are unclear.

40. Chris Archer

RHP Rays mlb_a_archer_65
Height: 6’3” Weight: 180 Age: 22 B/T: R/R
Has a plus fastball and a great strikeout rate, but he often loses control. High upside starter.

Notes: Jarrod Parker is very intriguing because he would have been Top 25 last year had he not a year after his shoulder surgery. If he bounces back right on track, he could be D-Backs ace in not too long. The trio of shortstops at 35-36-37 are all very different, but very talented. Sano is by far the best hitter with a great overall bat and the most room to grow. Iglesias is by far the best fielder, by most accounts the best fielding prospect of the last decade. Dee Gordon, son of former closer Tom, is by far the fastest and most athletic but needs a big year after a solid-at-best 2010 campaign.

41. Anthony Ranaudo

RHP Red Sox mlb_i_ranaudo_65
Height: 6’7” Weight: 225 Age: 21 B/T: R/R
Huge-framed power pitcher with a great curveball. Dominating stuff, needs a little refinement.

42. Christian Friedrich

LHP Rockies mlb_a_friedrich_65
Height: 6’4” Weight: 215 Age: 23 B/T: L/L
Tall, aggressive starter with a nice four-pitch mix including a plus curve. Has had elbow issues.

43. Freddie Freeman

1B Braves mlb_g_freeman_65
Height: 6’4” Weight: 215 Age: 23 B/T: L/L
Big frame and solid all around. Put up great numbers at a young age, even at higher levels. Big bat, makes hard contact.

44. Yonder Alonso

1B Reds mlb_alonso_yonder_65
Height: 6’2” Weight: 210 Age: 23 B/T: L/R
Strong frame and very disciplined with a great bat. Still has some power to develop. Plays some outfield.

45. Tanner Scheppers

RHP Rangers Scheppers
Height: 6’4” Weight: 200 Age: 24 B/T: R/R
Has an electric fastball and plus curveball. Could be ace or shutdown closer if he can avoid the injury bug.

46. Nick Castellanos

3B Tigers castellanos_nick_display_image
Height: 6’4” Weight: 195 Age: 18 B/T: R/R
Great raw power with potential to be a great hitter. Solid fielder with great arm. High upside, but far from hitting the show.

47. Jared Mitchell

OF White Sox mlb_mitchell_jared_65
Height: 6’0” Weight: 205 Age: 22 B/T: L/L
Extremely athletic with solid power potential and great speed. Smooth in the field. Injuries are a concern.

48. Chris Carter

1B Athletics 61766608
Height: 6’5” Weight: 230 Age: 24 B/T: R/R
Large frame with elite power and on-base skills. Poor fielder, slow, and undisciplined. Likely will be relegated to DH.

49. Arodys Vizcaino

RHP Braves mlb_i_vizcaino_65
Height: 6’0” Weight: 189 Age: 20 B/T: R/R
Has a plus curveball and can crank up the heat, still with great control. Health is a concern, but otherwise has high upside.

50. Jordan Lyles

RHP Astros mlb_i_lyles_65
Height: 6’4” Weight: 215 Age: 20 B/T: R/R
Durable innings eater who consistently pounds the zone. Nice slider, changeup, and control.

Notes: Vizcaino is another favorite of mine because of his arsenal, high velocity, young age, and fantastic name (of course). If he stays healthy, he could be a lesser version of his teammate, Julio Teheran. Castellanos and Ranaudo, both supplemental first-rounders in 2010, are way more talented than their draft slots would dictate. Castellanos was one of the top prep bats, but his giant bonus demands pushed him down to the 44th pick. Ranaudo would have been a top-5 pick if he wasn’t injured for his last college season, but dominated the Cape Cod League during the summer before he signed for top-5 money.

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Black and … Yellow?

For seventy-five years, Pittsburgh has been the city of Black and Gold. And that’s not just for the Steelers. The Pirates, Penguins, and even the University Pittsburgh Panthers also rock the black and gold. It represents the culture of the hard-working city of Pittsburgh, the steel industry center of the USA. But all of this changed when a young man from Pittsburgh came out with a new song.

Wiz Khalifa’s single “Black and Yellow” was released in September of 2010 and quickly shot up into the Top 10 of the Billboard Top 100, peaking at #5. His song is a tribute to the city he was raised in and quickly became popular in the Steel City. Eventually, the song was played after Steelers victories; Khalifa even expressed interest in making the song the Steelers’ anthem.

So now, the culture seems to be a bit changed. Hip-hop culture is taking over sports, and this is just another example. More and more, people are cheering for “Black and Yellow” instead of Black and Gold. All this does is affirm the impact of the growing rap community on sports.

So it’s your move, Pittsburgh. Who are you? Black and Gold … or Black and Yellow.

Here are my Championship Game picks, home teams in CAPS.

BEARS (+3.5) over Packers

When a home playoff team is an underdog, that’s usually all you need to know. Vegas doesn’t respect a team so much that they give the visiting team the edge. That is certainly the case here, as the Packers are getting more than a field goal edge over their division rivals, who actually topped them for the NFC North Title.

But this case is different to me. This one is just a little bit different. I think the day belongs to Chicago.

The main knock on the Bears coming into the playoffs is that Jay Cutler couldn’t make the big play. Not only could not make the big play, but he would make the big mistake. But after Cutler’s first game — albeit against 8-9 Seattle — he proved to be quite the opposite.

Cutler accounted for four of the five touchdowns, threw for 274 yards, rushed for 43 more, and was completely, entirely, 100% mistake free. He was a true leader of men, posting 35 points, and Chicago led by double digits for over 46 minutes of the game. This was a new Jay Cutler.

To win a Super Bowl, you need a quarterback who can make the big play. He needs to be able to make THE play on THE drive to win THE game. That’s something Big Ben has done. That’s something Tom Terrific has done. But oddly enough, it’s something Peyton Manning can’t quite figure out. Jay Cutler can make the play. Sure, he’ll probably make a bone-headed mistake early on in the game, but when it matters most, he can make it count.

Then there’s Aaron Rodgers. Thanks to the prominence of fantasy football, he’s been thrust too the top of the league. Boy, can he put up numbers! He’s been averaging 263 yards passing per game with 6 games of at least 300 yards. He’s even rushed for 356 yards! But a lot of that is garbage time yardage racked up at home against bad teams. How does Brett Favre’s successor do in bigger situations?

On the road this season, his passing yardage falls down to 245 per game. Not that big of a slip, huh? But his record goes down to a lowly 5-4 mark. In his two games against Chicago, he only put up 27 points on two touch downs to two interceptions. Not only that, but Chicago didn’t even put out full effort in their Week 17 matchup. He’s just not the same quarterback in the bigger games.

We know what kind of offenses will show up, but what about the defenses? Green Bay is usually near the top of the league at stopping the run, but this year they’re just awful. At 28th in the league, Green Bay is giving up 4.7 yards per carry. That’s a full yard per pop more than Chicago’s 5th ranked run D. As for pass defense, they’re just about equal. Green Bay gives up on average 6.5 yards pass with Chicago just trailing at 6.6 per try. Both have nice secondaries, the Packers having better corners, but oberall, they’re about even.

Remember, special teams is still one third of the football game.

Remember, special teams is still one third of the football game.

Whichever team can put more pressure on the opposing quarterback will have a huge edge in this game. As good as Clay Matthews, A.J. Hawk, and they’re long flowing hair have been, I’ll take Julius Peppers, Brian Urlacher, and Lance Briggs. For my money, Julius Peppers is the best pass rusher in the league. He’s built like a beast and is freakishly athletic. Also, he played basketball at Carolina (in case you haven’t heard).

The Bears are at home. They are motivated. They’re talented. They’ll shove Matt Forte and Chester Taylor down the Packers’ throat and power their way to the Super Bowl. Oh, yeah, and they got that Devin Hester guy.

STEELERS (-4) over Jets

Can’t Wait!

Can’t Wait!

Can’t Wait!

Geez, can the Jets get any more annoying? Actually, the Jets are finally shutting their mouths.

After beating Peyton Manning and Tom Brady in consecutive playoff games (the first time any team has done it), Rex Ryan finally decided to tone his antics down. He took shots at Peyton. He took shots at Brady. But he had nothing to say about Big Ben and the Steelers.

So what does this mean? Do they truly fear the Steelers? Do they see something we don’t? I think they’re afraid of Big Ben.

Why else would a team who has blown smoke all year suddenly stop their talking. I don’t think you should repeatedly call out the other team, but when you’ve gone this far down this road, there’s no point in turning back. You’ve just gotta role with your crazy game.

Mike Tomlin, one of the league's best coaches, doesn't get near the praise he deserves.

Mike Tomlin, one of the league's best coaches, doesn't get near the praise he deserves.

The Steelers clearly out-match the Jets. They out-match them in almost every way. Quarterback? Check Plus. Running back? Check. Receivers? Check. Defense? Check. Coaches? Check. But that doesn’t mean this game will be a blow out.

New York has a knack for winning games. Rex Ryan found a way to win four of his first five playoff games, all but one of which were on the road. I’m still not exactly sure how he does it, but he wins games. Their defense steps up, and Mark Sanchez makes enough big plays not to single-handedly kill his team.

If we’re talking about defenses, no one is better than Pittsburgh. Number one run defense by far. Number one pass defense per play. You can try to beat this team’s defense, but you won’t be able to. They have the best front seven in the game and the biggest defensive difference maker in Troy Polamalu. How important is he? With him, the Steelers are 24-5. Without him? 6-7.

To beat the Steelers, the Jets are going to have to out-score the Steelers. With Sanchez going into Heinz Field, the chances of that are about equal to that of Jared Sullinger’s number. Pittsburgh’s offense is more potent and their defense is more dangerous. I don’t see this as a blowout, but I certainly don’t see this game being a big speed bump for Black and Yellow.

This is your Bojangles’ Lock o’ the Week. Can’t Wait!

Last Week: 2 -2

Season: 130-134

Bojangles’ Lock o’ the Week: 13-6

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A Worthy King

It’s about time for old-school statistics to make way for the new generation of baseball measurements.

As most of you already know, Felix Hernandez won his first Cy Young Award, despite owning a 13-12 record. But does that even matter?

In the history of the Cy Young Award, no starting pitcher has ever won with less than 15 wins, and that bar was set a mere two years ago by Tim Lincecum. At the same time, no pitcher who led the league in innings, strikeouts, and quality starts ever lost the award, either. In addition to that, King Felix also was second in the league in strikeouts (one behind Jered Weaver) and WHIP. Hernandez was the most dominant pitcher in the American League — by far — all he lacked was run support.

The case many people made for CC Sabathia to win the Cy Young was his dependability. Sabathia was the proud owner of a 21-7 record, the first pitcher to win over 20 games since Cliff Lee and Brandon Webb did so in 2008. But in reality, the only edge he has over Hernandez is wins. In every single other significant category, King Felix holds a significant advantage.

Let’s take a look at Player A and Player…

Player

ERA

WHIP

Inn

K

BB

FIP

Opp AVG

LOB%

QS

CG

Player A

3.18

1.19

237.2

197

74

3.54

.238

75.6

26

2

Player B

2.27

1.06

249.2

232

70

3.04

.216

77.4

30

6

From this chart, it’s pretty clear which pitcher you want. Player B is far superior in every single category. The only difference is wins and losses. But what goes into getting a win?

A win is one of the most flawed stats in baseball, right up there with the RBI. If Felix Hernandez pitches a complete game and gives up one run and loses 0-1, is that a worse game than CC going 5 innings, giving up 6 runs, and winning the game 9-6? Furthermore, if you leave the game in the top of the eighth inning with the score 2-2 and your team scores in the bottom of the inning, does that make your start any better?

The problem for Felix this year was his teammates. His team couldn’t hit, and his bullpen couldn’t hold a lead. Not only was his offense abysmal, it is the worst in 37 years! Ever since the AL instituted the DH, no team has been worse offensively than the 2010 Seattle Mariners.

Not only were the Mariners incredibly insufficient, they gave the least run support in the league to King Felix. The man received a mere 3.75 runs of support per nine inning. Compare that to CC’s 7.31 runs per nine inning and Phil Hughes’s league tops 9.60 runs per nine innings, and its no wonder there is such a discrepancy in wins.

There is no competetor more fierce than one Felix Hernandez.

There is no competitor more fierce than Felix Hernandez.

If won-loss records really meant something, Phil Hughes would be twice the pitcher Felix Hernandez is. Hughes finished the year at an 18-8 clip, far superior to Hernandez’s 13-12 record. All that their records mean is that Hughes capitalized better on his nearly triply better run support.

More so than wins and losses, a better way to measure quality outings is, well, quality starts. If you can consistently go six innings and give up three or less runs, your team will win a majority of your games. Felix, however, averaged over seven innings and King Felix led the league with a whopping 30 quality starts in just 34 starts. Hughes, on the other hand, only had 15 quality starts.

Sadly, however, quality starts do not always translate to wins. Hernandez led the league with eight tough losses, quality starts that result in losses. If you still don’t have an idea of how historically bad this Mariners team is, ESPN’s Jayson Stark had a whole section in his annual Strange but true team feats of the year column devoted to their dysfunctional offense. If we take a look back and CC and Phil Hughes, they only combined for 5 tough losses all season, largely thanks to their generous run support.

Ultimately, teammates’ help does not determine the best pitcher. What determines the best pitcher is how they play in the biggest games. Against the AL East, the best-hitting division in baseball, King Felix always was throwing his A-game. Hernandez had seven starts against the AL East and held the opposition to a measly 0.63 ERA over 57.1 innings. He also had a 0.72 WHIP while striking out 58 batters. The bigger the game for Hernandez, the better the performance. Top that, CC and Phil. Compared to Felix, their lines of 3.41 ERA/1.20 WHIP/6.9 K/9 and 4.52/1.27/6.4 and they might as well be Carlos Silva and Tom Gorzelanny in big games.

This year, Felix Hernandez was the man. He had little to play for in Seattle, yet he was tops in the league in almost every relevant category. He dominated the big boys in the AL East. If he had a good offense behind him, or even a competent one, we’d be talking about one of the best seasons ever by a starting pitcher.

It’s time to move on from win-loss records. You guys no better than that. Sure, it’s nice to say you won 20 games in a year, but it’s not as impressive if your team doesn’t have faith in you going into a big game. King Felix was the man this year. King Felix reigns supreme.

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Sweeter the Second (or Third) Time

How lucky is the NFL with this group of games? Steelers and Ravens? Patriots and Jets? Packers and Falcons? Bears and Seahawks….well maybe not so much there. All of the teams have played each other before (the AFC teams have played twice), so each of these games will be that much better.

The Steelers and Ravens split 17-14 and 13-0, the Pats and Jets split 28-14 and 45-3, the Falcons won 20-17, and the Seahawks won 23-20. It’s pretty safe to say that each of the teams are different since they last played, so we’ll see how many they really have improved. Home teams in CAPS.

STEELERS (-3) over Ravens

What a matchup. This will be their eighth bone-crushing, bell-ringing, throat-ripping Goliath showdown in just three years. During that time, the Steelers have won five of the seven games, but the collective score is just 126-110. In the last two years, the teams are in a dead heat, both are 2-2, scoring 67 points apiece.

These teams hate each other, and it’s no surprise why. They’re division rivals less that 250 miles apart. They play the same smash-mouth, beat-’em-down style of play. And they both love to talk smack.

How much shampoo do you think Troy uses every day?

How much shampoo do you think Troy uses every day?

Reed. Polamalu. Lewis. Harrison. Rice. Mendenall. These teams are so very similar at almost every position. They’ll pound the ball down your throat and stop you from gaining any major yardage on the ground. Neither has great corner backs, but don’t you dare throw it towards their safeties. These teams are so similar, in fact, that the only major difference between the two is the quarterbacks.

If I had to pick one QB to lead me to win one game, Big Ben is either number two or three for me. After Brady and maybe Brees, there’s no one I’d rather have. Twice he’s led Super Bowl teams and he won’t cower in big situations. He’s tough. His a player. And he wins games.

Joe Flacco isn’t so bad himself. In his playoff career, he is 4-2. Certainly no Brady, but he’s no Manning either (zing!). He wins games, but they’ll be ugly. His completion percentage is just over 53.2% and he’s thrown 3 TDs to 6 picks. Is that what you really want in a big game quarterback? Sure, as long as he wins games.

In the end, I give no edge to either defense. With the emergence of Mike Wallace as a more-than-viable deep threat, both sets of skill position players are about equal. But there is one major difference: Big Ben will be in Black and Gold.

The quarterback is the most important position in the NFL, and the Steelers have an edge in this game. With home field advantage on their side, I’m willing to swallow three points in this closely contested match.

FALCONS (-1.5) over Packers

This line is a shocker to me. Matt Ryan is 20-2 in his career at home. He’s coming off a bye, and the last two years coming off a bye he’s won his games by a combined score of 72-31. The Falcons are the class of the NFC! Yet even with home field advantage, they’re not even given two points.

Sure, the Packers are the hottest team in the NFC, but how great are they? Rookie sixth-round pick James Starks torched an average Eagles’ run D for 123 yards on 23 carries. Aaron Rodgers won his first playoff game on a 180 yard, three touch down, no interception game. But they won largely thanks to David Akers uncharacteristically missing two short field goals.

Aren't we forgetting how great Matt Ryan is at home and how great the Falcons have been this year?

Aren't we forgetting how great Matt Ryan is at home and how great the Falcons have been this year?

The Falcons are a well prepared team. They have a fantastic coach in Mike Smith, and teams with great coaches generally don’t blow games with an extra week to prepare and rest. Matt Ryan is a gamer, he comes prepared and comes to play. In a way, he’s like a miniature version of Tom Brady. He wins games, he doesn’t lose at home, and he has (Matty) Ice cold blood running through his veins in the fourth quarter.

We know both teams can rack up the points, so the team who’s defense shows up bigger will likely come out on top. Mike Vick torched the Packers’ secondary for nearly 300 yards, and we all know Ryan is a better passer. But at the same time, to call the Falcons pass defense average would be a stretch. Each quarterbacks needs to limit turnovers as much as possible while still carry the team on their backs.

When the public starts trending in one direction in betting a game, you know it is time to pounce. In that situation, it’s time to go the other direction and win some money. Everyone loves Green Bay and seems to be forgetting how great Atlanta has been all year. The Georgia Dome will be rocking tonight. And Matty Ice will get that 21st home win.

BEARS (-10) over Seahawks

Oh, God. The Seahawks are awful. They really are. Any team can win two straight at home, but that doesn’t make them even average. However, the Bears aren’t too great either. Their warm-and-cold offense is led by a egocentric, un-personable gunslinger who’s pass is just as likely to end up in the other team’s hands as in yours (not really). So who do you trust more: the consistently average (Matt Hasselbeck) or the inconsistently great (Jay Cutler).

When Matt Hasselbeck is playing his best game, he's still Matt Hasselbeck.

When Matt Hasselbeck is playing his best game, he's still Matt Hasselbeck.

How amazing was last week’s win for Seattle? Yes, they were at home with a no-one-believes-in-us mentality, but they were taking on Drew Brees and the defending Super Bowl Champions! Thanks to Marshawn Lynch’s historically fantastic run and Hasselbeck’s four touchdown performance, the Seahawks came out on top.

But let’s take a look closer into what really happened in that game. Drew Brees absolutely tore up Seattle for 404 yards, and he did all of that without any semblance of a running game. Pierre Thomas and Chris Ivory were placed on the IR days before gameday, and Julius Jones and Reggie Bush are not what you are looking for in every down backs. Yet nine players caught passes and the Saints put up 36 points.

Don’t lose sight of the fact that Seattle is a bad, bad, bad team. Even after this past win, they’re still under .500. They’ve lost nine games by an average of 21 points! Three touch downs! Marshawn Lynch barely found playing time on the Bills, and none of their other offensive weapons are much more inspiring. This team isn’t flushed with talent. In fact, they’re actually un-flushed with talent. They aren’t even a top-16 team!

The Seahawks are bad, but the Bears still aren’t great. The defense has stepped up this season, and Devin Hester is always dangerous taking back punts. Matt Forte is better than any running back Seattle saw last week, so it will be up to Mike Martz to see how many carries he will actually get. Chicago can’t turn the ball over like they have all year, so the more they can pound the ball in to Seattle’s deficient defense.

No, Chicago isn’t really ten points better than Seattle, but they’re at home, and they need all the momentum they can get. I’m not going to get suckered into Seattle because they are truly a bad team. Jay Cutler will do what needs to be done and prove that he really is a winner. If he blows this game, he’s in danger of becoming engulfed in the Loser Gene.

PATRIOTS (-9) over Jets

J-E-T-S Fourty-five to three! Yes, Rex Ryan and Antonio Cromartie, you chose the wrong team to mess with. As if New England didn’t need any other reasons to tear apart the Jets, New York cannot stop running its mouth.

Do you know what time it is? I do believe it’s story time.

Let’s go back to December 6th, 2007. The Pittsburgh Steelers were preparing to take on the then-12-0 New England Patriots when safety Anthony Smith decided to open his mouth. Mr. Smith made the grave mistake of saying, “People keep asking me if we’re ready for the Patriots. They should be asking if they’re ready for us. We’re going to win. Yeah, I can guarantee a win.” Well guess what happened 15 minutes into the game? Brady threw a 63 yard bomb to Randy Moss and went out of his way to point out and yell at Anthony Smith.

Well, good luck Antonio Cromartie! The Jets won’t be able to stick Darrelle Revis on any one receiver the whole game because the Patriots don’t have a number one receiver! Wes Welker is just as likely to catch a pass as Deion Branch as is Danny Woodhead, as is Aaron Hernandez, The Gronk, or Brandon Tate! No matter how you cover this team, Brady will slice and dice your defense with a surgeon’s accuracy.

The Patriots don’t just win games, they take over games. They’ve won their last six games by nearly 27 points and their last eight games by nearly 22. Belichick and Brady won’t stop going full out just because you are down by four or five scores, especially when they don’t like you. And I don’t believe the Pats like the Jets.

Yeah, The Hoodie doesn't mess around.

Yeah, The Hoodie doesn't mess around.

The best coaches in the league will kill you if you give them an extra week. In his last 20 games with more than one week to prepare, he is 19-1. The only loss? That was a game his team lost because of the luckiest catch in NFL history and his lock-down corner dropped a sure-fire pick on the other team’s final drive. His teams win by an average score of 27-16. His teams come prepared. The best prepared team usually wins.

The Patriots don’t lose at home and Tom Brady doesn’t lose in the playoffs. This game won’t be that close. And if you really think revenge will lead the Jets to victory, don’t you think the Cavaliers wanted revenge on the Heat? I thought so. Yup, this is your Bojangles’ Lock o’ the Week.

Last Week: 1-3

Season: 128-132

Bojangles’ Lock o’ the Week: 13-5

Categories: NFL | 2 Comments

The Winning Gene

What is “it”? And what qualifies someone to have “it”? How do you know if you have “it”?

In the NFL, winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing. If you can’t win the big game, you are not a valuable player. If you are great enough, you can will your team to victory no matter how little help you have around you.

Look at players like Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, and Drew Brees. They flat out win games.

Then you have players like Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco, and Josh Freeman. They won’t necessarily light up the stat sheet, but they can and will take you on THE drive to win THE game.

Just under that is a level of quarterbacks like Matt Schaub and Aaron Rodgers. They put up numbers like nobody’s business, but they can’t pull out the win when the game is on the line.

Then there are QBs like Mark Sanchez, Alex Smith, and Tarvaris Jackson. They won’t light it up during the first three quarters, and they certainly won’t pick up their game in the fourth. They might just do enough for you not to lose.

In this NFL, you have to have a great quarterback to win. Take a look at the best QBs in the league and all of the playoff teams. The only elite QB to not make the playoffs this year was Philip Rivers, whose team finished first in total offense and defense. All the best teams — the Patriots, Falcons, Saints, Steelers, and Colts — have top-of-the-line quarterbacks.

You need a great quarterback to win in this league, but you need a great quarterback with “it”. You can’t win the Super Bowl anymore with Trent Dilfer or Brad Johnson. Your quarterback has to have a cutthroat mentality. If the coach is debating whether to punt or kick a field goal, he needs to tell the coach, “I’m getting this first down.” He needs to command respect in the locker room and leave no room for doubt in his teammates minds that they might just lose a game.

In the end, the quarterback is the most important player on the team. He is the leader. He calls the shot. He touches the ball on every play. If your leader cannot will you to victory, you will not win the big game. Your quarterback needs The Winning Gene.

After a shaky-at-best regular season of picking games, I am more than ready for playoff football. Picking against the spread is always tough, but I’d like to finish the year with my head above water. Then again, I would have won the NFC West. As always, home teams are in BOLD and I will have one Bojangles’ Lock o’ the Week. Best of luck to all teams, except the Jets.

Saints (-10) over SEAHAWKS

I was looking across ESPN.com and found a group of polls predicting who would win each of the playoff games. Of course, I filled out my picks and found some rather shocking results. Of the nearly 70,000 people who voted, a whopping 9.9% thought the Seahawks would beat the Saints!! That’s 7,000 people who are out of their minds! Seven thousand?!

And that wasn’t all. It’s understandable to think the Seahawks could stay within two or three touchdowns at home, but to win four straight games to make the Super Bowl is beyond conceivable. And yet 1,329 people pick Seattle to make the Super Bowl! Another 1,119 picked them to WIN the Super Bowl! Seattle hasn’t won four games consecutively, successively, in a row since 2007, and none of the teams had winning records! In ’99 they won five in a row, but that included wins against 8-8 Eagles and Broncos along with the 2-14 Bengals. In fact, the Seahawks have never won four straight games against winning teams in franchise history! 34 years and it’s never happened! Somebody find me one of these people because I could you some extra cheese!

Darren Sharper is one of the most hardest hitting safeties in the leauge.

Darren Sharper is one of the most hardest hitting safeties in the league.

But enough of the Seahawks ineptitude; this Saints team is still fantastic. There’s one thing we can’t take away from New Orleans and that it the fact that they are the defending champs. Sure, they didn’t win the NFC South, but no team has ever won back-to-back NFC South titles. They’ve got the same team as last year minus Pierre Thomas. Drew Brees is still playoff clutch. The Saints still have eight legitimate receiving threats. And Darren Sharper is still one of the most hardest hitting safeties in the league.

If there’s one thing that won’t happen, it’ll be Sean Payton and Drew Brees blowing this layup of all layups. This is a quarterback and head coaching league, and the Saints have the second-best combination in the league (to the Patriots, of course). Matt Hasselbeck may win you an NFC West division, but he will not lead you to a win against the high-powered Saints.

This line cannot get high enough; it is without a doubt the Bojangles’ Lock o’ the Week.

COLTS (-2) over Jets

I don’t know if it is Tom Brady’s success this year or all of the injuries to Indianapolis, but we are suddenly underestimating Peyton’s power. After a rocky start, some people were crazy enough to call this the beginning of the end for Peyton. I’ve never been the biggest fan of Manning’s work in the big game, but if you really think he is done, you’ve got another thing coming for you.

Historically, Rex Ryan defenses have not been great against Peyton. While leading the Jets, his D held Peyton to an average of 285 yards passing and 23 points, including a 30-17 playoff loss. With the Ravens, Baltimore could only hold him to 254 passing yards and over 25 points per game. Rex teams are a measly 1-7 versus Peyton and haven’t won since 2001!

Do you know who Peyton Manning is? Do you know who Mark Sanchez is?

Do you know who Peyton Manning is? Do you know who Mark Sanchez is?

Peyton Manning has one of the quickest triggers in the league, so sending various blitz packages doesn’t phase him like it does to quarterbacks like, say, Mark Sanchez. Even with a beat up offensive line and limited weapons, Peyton runs one of the most precise and dangerous offensives in the game. If the Jets are going to top the Colts, they are going to have to out-score them.

As I’ve said before, I don’t trust the Jets and the Sanchize. Against winning teams, Sanchez only completed 56.9 percent of passes and his team to score 16 points per game, ultimately leading to a less-than-inspiring 2-4 record. Keep in mind that Charlie Whitehurst owns a career completion percentage of 57.6 and the great J.T. O’Sullivan’s is 56.4. Sanchez doesn’t have the clutch gene, and he just isn’t a good NFL quarterback.

One thing I’ll give Indy credit for is their run defense stepping up. In the last three weeks of play, they held CJ2K to 39 yards on 20 carries, Run DMC to 45 yards on 11 carries, and Mo-Jo to 46 yards on 15 carries. If we’ll be seeing the Jets minus their run game having to depend on Sanchez, we all know how this will end.

Ravens (-3) over CHIEFS

Who are the Chiefs? Are they a semi-competent blessed to be in a terrible division? Are they the team that leads the NFL in rushing by almost ten yards per game? Are they the team that lost to Oakland at home by 21?

Why has Jamaal Charles only been given 230 carries when he's averaging 6.4 yards per carry?!

Why has Jamaal Charles only been given 230 carries when he's averaging 6.4 yards per carry?!

The Chiefs are a strange team. They have a 24-year old budding superstar running back in Jamaal Charles, who led the NFL in yards per carry by far at 6.4 yards per pop, yet HC Todd Haley only game him the rock 230 times. Their QB Matt Cassel won’t make the big mistake, but he also won’t take you on the biggest drive of the game. They’re 8-0 at home, and last time I check they’re playing at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday. There’s plenty to like about this team, but there’s just as much to make you scratch your head.

Baltimore is the same team as it has been over the last decade. Hard hitting and ready to fight to the bitter end. Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs won’t hesitate to knock you out and Ed Reed, a man who only played ten games yet still led the league with eight picks, is the best ball-hawk in the league. Oh, yeah, except this year they have a really good offense.

The Ravens have always had a great run game. You can go back to the days of Jamal Lewis to see that. But now that they’ve brought in Anquan Boldin and T.J. Houshmandzadeh, they have a very good air game. The Ravens still can shut you down on defense, but if they need, they can out-score you too. Joe Flacco won’t light up a stat sheet, but he wins the big games. If you need him to take you on THE drive to win THE game, he can put you on his back.

This game will largely come down to who can run the ball better. KC is tops in the league with 164.2 yards per game, but Baltimore is 5th in run defense with only 93.9 ypg. Baltimore is 14th in rushing offense and with 114.4 ypg while Kansas City is also 14th with 110.2 ypg. In the end, I have more trust in Ray Rice, Willis McGahee, and the Ravens’ D.

Arrowhead Stadium will prove to be a huge factor in this game, but I don’t have trust in the Chiefs’ defense. This one will go to Baltimore by a touchdown or more; they are one of the most dangerous teams in the playoffs.

EAGLES (-2.5) over Packers

What happened to all the Michael Vick support? I thought he was supposed to be the run-away MVP! I thought he was the Eagles’ lord, savior, and holy spirit! And now after one non-spectacular game against the Vikings he’s Kevin Kolb? Didn’t think so.

Let’s talk Aaron Rodgers for a minute. For my money, he’s the anti-Joe Flacco. Boy, can he light up the stat sheet! But when you need him to make THE play to win THE game, he disappears. If you need someone to win you a fantasy football league, #12 is your guy. But if you need someone to win you a playoff game, give me anyone else.

If you need someone to light up a game, why not just go with Michael Vick? He’s more accurate than he’s ever been in Atlanta and his arm is just as strong. If you bring pressure on him, you’d better be able to contain him, or you’ll be looking at a very long run. He’s quick. He’s fast. His receivers are even faster.

There are no words to describe the chutzpah of The Jerk

There are no words to describe the chutzpah of The Jerk

The Eagles have one of the quickest striking offenses in the league, and one of the smartest offensive minds in the game in Andy Reid (but not one of the smartest clock management or red flag-throwing coaches out there). The Eagles aren’t great at home (4-4), but the Packers are even worse on the road (3-5). Don’t get me wrong here, both teams are great, but the Eagles are just a little bit better.

It’s tempting to take the Packers, I’m not going to lie. But they’re just too one-dimensional for my taste. With no running game, they have to depend on an inconsistent big-game quarterback. Philly will bring pressure to Rodgers and try to take him out of his element. Rodgers will have to make rushed throws, and make bad decisions.

In the end, you can’t forget who Philly is. They’re incredibly talented, young, and explosive. Andy Reid has been there and done that. Michael Vick has won in the playoffs before. The Jerk is, well, The Jerk! This team is too talented and too well prepared under Coach Reid to lose this game.

Last Week: 7-9

Season 127-129

Bojangles’ Lock o’ the Week: 13-4

Categories: NFL | Leave a comment

The Week 17 Conumdrum

The last week of the NFL season is always the most awkward one. Rest your players? Play ’em? Give your starters 2 series then play your backups? There’s no clear answer, since you never want to go in to the playoffs on a cold streak, but you certainly don’t want key players to get hurt.

This season is a little different than years past. Nine of the twelve playoff spots have already been secured, but only the Patriots have clinched a first round bye. Seven teams are vying for the last three spots and another seven teams can still land a first-round bye, so you can bet that half the league will go all out on Sunday.

With Carolina already locking up the first pick in the draft, fewer teams will be gunning for a top pick. Anyways, it’s really hard for players to not go full-out and try to lose games.

Here are the Week 17 NFL Picks as I sit at .500 in the last week of the season …. home teams in CAPS.

Panthers (+14.5) over FALCONS
Jimmy Clausen is playing for his NFL career in this game; if he doesn’t put together a great game, Carolina will likely draft Andrew Luck and Clausen will become the next Brady Quinn. But if Jimmy Clausen is playing for his career, the Panthers are probably going to lose. But I’m not willing to give up over two touchdowns.

Steelers (-6.5) over BROWNS
Pittsburgh is looking to win a division and grab a bye, and not even the Avalanche can get in the way of this train. Who is the Avalanche, you ask? Peyton Hillis. He’s white, he runs downhill, and he knocks people over. But Big Ben owns the Browns. He’s 11-1 in his career against the Browns. This is your Bojangles’ Lock o’ the Week.

LIONS (-3.5) over Vikings
If Tarvaris Jackson is a poor man’s Brett Favre, Joe Webb is a homeless man’s Tarvaris Jackson. Believe it or not, the Lions are 12-3 against the spread this year. But you’re never going to make the playoffs with a 5-10 record, so maybe next year Detroit!

CHIEFS (-3.5) over Raiders
The Chiefs are 7-0 at home this year, and even though they will be hosting a playoff game, they likely will not be favored. What’s the best way to get over that? Come into the playoffs hot.

No Welker, no Deion, no Hernandez, no problem!

No Welker, no Deion, no Hernandez, no problem!

PATRIOTS (-3.5) over Dolphins
When have the Patriots ever taken it easy on other teams? When does Tom Brady ever lose at home? Don’t think The Hoodie will let this win escape his team.

RAVENS (-9.5) over Bengals
Baltimore can lock up the number two seed with a win and a Steelers loss. Don’t doubt these guys for a second, especially when the Bungles are without T.Ocho.

Buccaneers (+7.5) over SAINTS
It doesn’t make much sense to pick against the defending champs here, but I have a hunch. Josh Freeman wins games and the last placed NFC South team goes to the playoffs next year.

JETS (-2.5) over Bills
The Jets are in a bad place. They’ve lost three of four games. They tripping and stumbling their way into the playoffs. Well, its a good thing they’re playing Buffalo, now isn’t it!

Bears (+10.5) over PACKERS
These teams are bitter rivals, so you can bet your biscuits they’ll both be buckling on their chinstraps and hitting extra hard. This one will go to the Pack, but it will be a tight one.

COLTS (-9.5) over Titans
Isn’t it curious to see what Peyton Manning and Tom Brady can do with below-average weapons? Manning, with the likes of Jacob Tamme, Javaris James, Blair White, an a concussed Austin Collie, is struggling to get a playoff berth. Brady, with the likes of Danny Woodhead, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, 2 rookie tight ends, and Brandon Tate, already clinched home field.

Giants (-3.5) over REDSKINS
I’ve never been a Giants fan this year, but what Mike Shanahan is doing can make me a fan of the Bills. Sorry, maybe that second shot at the Bills was unnecessary.

Jaguars (+0.5) over TEXANS
I know this game has a ton of playoff implications, but boy are these teams boring!

Eagles (-7.5) over COWBOYS
Talk about a short week! The Eagles only have four days off before they have to strap on the shoulder pads again, only without Michael Vick. But the Cowboys are starting Stephen McGee. STEPHEN MCGEE!

Cardinals (+6.5) over NINERS
The Niners are just a mess. Could they really not wait another week to let Mike Singletary go at the end of the year? I guess the Cardinals are the lesser of two evils, especially if I’m getting nearly a touchdown.

Chargers (-3.5) over BRONCOS
San Diego is weird, but they do have a real quarterback. That’s a little mean actually. They do have competent quarterback. Well, that’s not much nicer.

Rams (-2.5) over SEAHAWKS
I want to take the Seahawks, the points, and the loud stadium, but I just will not depend of Charlie Whitehurst to win me the big game. Congrats to Sam Bradford on a great year; the Rams deserve this one.

Last Week: 6-10

Season: 120-120

Bojangles Lock o’ the Week: 12-4

Categories: NFL | 1 Comment

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