Monthly Archives: November 2012

The Days I Saw Andrew Wiggins

In my time watching non-professional sports, I’ve seen two phenoms play: Bryce Harper and Andrew Wiggins. (Sorry Eduardo Najera.)

I got the chance to see the #1 basketball recruit in the Class of 2013 over Thanksgiving weekend at the Charlotte Hoops Challenge, which featured Wiggins’ school Huntington Prep (W.V.). The gym at Waddell High School was nearly packed, and there were appearances made by ESPN’s Joe Lunardi and Dave Telep as well as reps from several D-I schools.

Phenoms have a way of owning the room. As soon as Wiggins stepped on the court, there was a new atmosphere in the gym. Maybe that was because grown men were giddy with excitement to see a 17-year old play basketball, but nevertheless, there was a special feel.

Wiggins is listed at 6’7″, but the man (yes, he’s already a man) looks a full 6’8″. He just screams athleticism, although he could certainly stand to add to his 205 pound frame. Even on a prep team with commits to Florida State, Arkansas, Baylor, and Tennessee, he stood out.

But during warmups, you could see the rawness of his game. The sort of rawness one would expect from a high schooler. Wiggins missed his first three jump shots, and that off-shooting continued into the actual game.

Wiggins started off the game against Quality Education Academy with a bang. Literally. Just minutes into the game, he threw down a jaw-dropping, pants-popping, heart-stopping dunk in traffic without regard for human life. Unfortunately it was mostly downhill after the highlight reel slam.

Here’s my video from the game. Sorry, no dunks.

I may have just picked the wrong game to watch him, but Andrew Wiggins’ shot was not all that impressive. The small forward only connected on one of his five three point shots, finishing 4-12 from the field. Interestingly enough, his only shots were from beyond the arc or at the rim.

More concerning than his lack of range was his inability to finish near the rim. Wiggins did rebound very well, but after offensive rebounds he would throw up wild put-backs that would inevitably miss. He was not a strong ball handler, often having to dump the ball off to a teammate when pressured. Even on fast breaks, he never dunked. Instead he tried laying in the ball before getting fouled. The good news is he got to the charity stripe 13 times, hitting eight of those shots.

I’m not sure if I ever remember his sprinting down the court in either game I saw him, but that’s not to say he wasn’t trying. Wiggins just ran so smoothly and made it down the court before most of the other players. One wonders how dominant he could be if he he could put out max effort on every play.

Defensively, Wiggins was nothing special. Part of that is to do with the fact that Huntington Prep was running a 2-3 zone the entire time, but he wasn’t playing as aggressively as his teammate and fellow Canadian Montaque Gill-Caesar, although Wiggins did finish with three blocks. Again, Wiggins looked a bit apathetic without the ball, but he is so athletic that he makes it look like he’s not even trying.

Overall Wiggins put on a show, but he certainly didn’t look like the next LeBron James. The man is an athletic beast, and if he can connect the dots on some details offensively, he can be really special. There’s no question why he’s ranked so highly.

I came to the Charlotte Hoops Challenge hoping to be blown away by Andrew Wiggins. That sort of thinking can be dangerous, since you can sell yourself on a player if you look hard enough for silver linings and want the player to be good. But instead of getting impressed by Wiggins, I was really fascinated by Montaque Gill-Caesar.

A 6’5″ sophomore, Gill-Caesar is not nearly as high on the prospect radar (16th in the Class of 2015 by Scout.com) as Wiggins. The wing scorer led Huntington with 21 points in their 70-39 beatdown of Kennedy Charter. Gill-Caesar showed great athleticism, the sweetest shooting stroke on the floor, and deep three point range. Defensively, he flashed plus lateral quickness. Montaque was even impressive driving, where Wiggins was a tad disappointing. He already has offers from Baylor and Ohio State, and he’s also being pursued by Illinois, Indiana, and Kentucky.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Montaque Gill-Caesar will have a better pro career than Andrew Wiggins, but Gill-Caesar’s offensive game is more refined, and he’s two years younger. It’s not out of the question for Teki–as he teammates call him–to grow a couple more inches and be closer to Wiggins’ massive size.

In a way, Wiggins reminded me of Harrison Barnes–for better or for worse. Two of Barnes’ bigger knocks coming into this year were a lack of consistent motor along with not being able to create his own shot, since he was an average ball handler at best. All of that matches up with Wiggins, and they share one more thing in common.

Wiggins effectively plays on a high school All-Star team. He plays with big men ranked #39 and #62 for the Class of 2013 as well as Gill-Caesar and #28th overall Xavier Rathan-Mayes at shooting guard. Wiggins doesn’t have to be the man, like he would if he were playing on any other team in West Virginia. The coach can stick him on the perimeter, since Huntington Prep already has an interior presence from Dominic Woodson and Moses Kingsley. Plus he doesn’t need to be a distributor with plenty of other guards. Being on such a great team limits how much he can impact the game.

The same was true for Harrison Barnes at Carolina, where they didn’t need him to rebound with John Henson, Tyler Zeller, and James Michael McAdoo manning the middle. They didn’t even need him to be a ball handler with Kendall Marshall and an array of shooting guards. Barnes didn’t get to stand out as much as Doug McDermott did at Creighton, since he was the team’s only NBA prospect. Nevertheless, scouts still gave Barnes high marks, and he was drafted 7th overall last June.

Part of me wonders if Wiggins was rated so high before he reclassified into the Class of 2013 because the athleticism was there and the raw offensive game was more impressive from a junior with an extra year to iron things out. But all criticisms aside, Wiggins will be great. Maybe he’ll even be going up against LeBron James and Harrison Barnes in two years. It’ll be fascinating to see where his trajectory leads him.

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Categories: College Basketball | Leave a comment

A Brave New World of Analysis

Last Thursday, Miguel Cabrera ran away with the AL MVP Award, winning 22 of the 28 first-place votes. After all, he did win the Triple Crown. However, some computer-loving, mother’s basement-dwelling, female-avoiding stat geeks had the audacity to use both math and logic to suggest that Mike Trout was the better choice for MVP. What has this world come to?

Unfortunately, that previous paragraph is how the MVP race was characterized by many media outlets. There has been a massive backlash against sabermetrics, especially among supporters of Cabrera. These advanced statistics have been called “made up” and “useless” by some, whether because of ignorance, opposition to change, or because people just don’t want to believe what the stats say. And really, this has all been a major step back in baseball analysis.

To preface the rest of this article, both Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout had fantastic seasons. Truly great ones. And MVP races are always a bone of contention because there is a great divide in the baseball community between old guard, steadfast writers and progressive, analytical thinkers. Additionally, there is no set definition for Most Valuable Player.

While not all baseball fans know as much about sabermetrics as, say, ESPN’s snarky Keith Law, many fans have, at the very least, a shallow understanding of advanced baseball statistics. One of the more important stats that has gone mainstream is WAR, an all-encompassing stat that uses offense, defense, and baserunning to measure how many wins a player adds to his team above a replacement level player. Mike Trout had far and away the highest WAR this year at 10.0–the first time a player broke double digits since Barry Bonds had 10.6 in 2004. Miguel Cabrera, on the other hand, had just 7.1 WAR.

But this argument over which player is the MVP is more than just about who has the higher WAR. It’s more of a discussion about how to measure value in baseball.

The common mantra for Cabrera voters has been that since Miggy won the Triple Crown, he is the MVP. Nobody’s won the award since Mike Yastrzemski in 1967, and therefore, Cabrera deserves the award. But things aren’t so cut and dry. Plus the Triple Crown isn’t the greatest indicator of player value.

As I explained last year, when discussing the MVP awards, two of the three categories in the Triple Crown are outdated and not very useful. RBIs are completely completely context dependent–the stat has more to do with how good the team is compared to how good the player is. As for batting average, well, that’s only showing part of the picture. Walks are vitally important to baseball, since the batter reaches base without making an out. On-base percentage is a far better measure of what batting average is trying to explain: how often the player reaches base.

And finally, the Triple Crown does not show the full value of a player, let alone a hitter. It mainly shows how good of a power hitter is, completely ignoring speed, the ability to get on base, and defense. That’s more than half of the game. If we’re looking for the player with the most value, that player needs to be complete beyond just power hitting. Or so utterly dominant offensively that the player’s bat makes up for any other deficiencies.

But that wasn’t the case for Cabrera.

To be blunt, there is only one logical choice for AL MVP. Why? There is more to baseball than just power hitting

Even without using sabermetrics, the case for Mike Trout is simple. Miguel Cabrera had an edge in the power department, but Mike Trout reached base at a higher clip. Trout is a far better defender at a far tougher position, whereas Cabrera is a well below average defender. Trout led the league in steals while running efficiently and wreaking even more havoc on the basepaths, but Cabrera is a flat-footed runner to be kind. The slight edge Cabrera has in hitting is more than cancelled out by Trout’s massive advantages in defense and speed.

Trout played in a pitcher-friendly ballpark, while Cabrera played half his games in a hitter-friendly ballpark. Trout also played in a harder division–the AL West had a .542 winning percentage versus the AL Central, which had a combined .468 winning percentage.

Using basic baseball knowledge and logic, the choice between Trout and Cabrera is easy. Using advanced statistics, the task becomes even easier. Use any number of metrics (WAR, UZR, BsR, OBP…) there are quantifiable ways to show that a Trout was the superior overall player this year. With all the objective data on Trout’s side, supporters of Cabrera have had to come up with a series of fallacious reasons to back Cabrera.

1) Cabrera was better down the stretch.

As simple as this sounds, a win is still a win in October or April. While a win on the last day of the season may seem more important, it still counts as much as an Opening Day win. People make the argument that Cabrera out-hit Trout in September and October, hitting .333/.395/.675 instead of Trout’s measly .287/.383/.500, conveniently ignoring that Trout actually out-hit Cabrera over the last two weeks (.341/.473/.705 vs .292/.333/.521). Also never mind that Trout out hit Cabrera in May (.324/.385/.556 vs .331/.371/.468), June (.372/.419/.531 vs .311/.387/.604), and July (.392/.455/.804 vs .344/.409/.677)–all months in which teams play baseball. Cherry picking a small sample size doesn’t carry nearly the same weight as a full season of data.

2) Cabrera’s team made the playoffs, and Trout’s team didn’t.

This argument just makes no sense as soon as you take one look at the standings. The Angels won 89 games. The Tigers won 88 games. Trout just happened to be in a division with two 93-win teams, while the second best team the AL Central had 85 wins. Trout’s team had a better record against harder competition. Additionally, the Angels are 81-56 since they called up Trout, the best record over that time period. Then again, a player’s team doesn’t impact their value. A single for the Yankees and a single for the Astros still gets the batter to first base. Whether a team wins 89 games, makes the playoffs, or loses 107 games doesn’t impact the value created by a player.

3) These sabermetrics are made up by geeks who have never played baseball.

This seems to be the real argument. For those who are stuck on the Triple Crown equating to the highest value, this is the easiest way to knock Trout’s value. Years ago, we didn’t have these advanced stats, so people had to analyze baseball with the readily available, easy to track stats like home runs, errors, and earned run average. Now, teams and analysts have poured time and resources into finding better, more efficient ways of looking at the same aspects of the game (wOBA, UZR, and FIP). Yet because many of the statistics have complicated formulas, have confusing names, or are just unfamiliar, some people refuse to acknowledge the measures’ values.

The central problem is that using data to support an argument is somehow seen as a bad thing. The biggest example of this outside of sports is the fantastic case of Nate Silver. Silver started as a sabermetrician, when he created a player performance forecasting system called PECOTA. He used player stats, age, size, and various other attributes to predict next season’s statistics using comparisons of similar players. Silver sold PECOTA to Baseball Prospectus in 2003 and wrote for the company until 2008, when he became a political analyst.

Silver created a projection system for the 2008 election, using poll data, especially looking at demographics. Silver looked at past results and biases of polls, which helped him to predict 49 of the 50 states and every Senate seat correctly. Yet come 2012, Silver received flak from all sorts of political analysts (and people who disagreed with his system) because his system gave President Obama such a great probability of winning. Come election day, Silver’s system gave Obama a 90.9% chance of winning, whereas most other analysts thought it was a toss-up at best. As it turns out, Obama ran away with the election, and Silver’s system correctly predicted all 50 states.

Just like in a high school, there is a stigma against being too smart in the media. General Managers of baseball teams have adjusted by using new, innovative ways to evaluate and valuate players, or else their respective teams fall behind the curve and they get fired. Baseball writers, though, haven’t yet faced the chopping block if they don’t adjust to newer ways of analyzing players, so they’ve lashed out against these progressive stats and this progressive thinking.

Strange, how when new medicine is released to the public, people accept the innovation and move on with their lives. They don’t complain and ask for leeches and voodoo, even though that was used in the past. Yet when new statistics come out to better look at players, fans cry out it horror.

For now people seem to be stuck in the past of baseball analysis, evidenced by Cabrera’s runaway victory in the AL MVP race. But whether or not the hard-nosed old guard like Mitch Albom like it, it’s the smarter thinkers like Nate Silver who are the future of baseball analysis. Lest we use math, computers, or this new fad called “the Internet” to form an argument.

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That Selfish Jerk Cutler

Week 11 picks! Home teams in CAPS!

Ben & Jerry’s Half Baked Games:

Dolphins (+2.5) over BILLS
Miami and Buffalo on Thursday Night Football? You know, some teams just don’t need national television exposure.

TEXANS (-15.5) over Jaguars
I know I shouldn’t take double digit lines, especially ones over two touchdowns. But the Jaguars are just so bad.

FALCONS (-9.5) over Cardinals
Turns out the Falcons aren’t as good as their record was, but most experts were thinking that already. If they’re hoping to do anything at all in the playoffs, though, they’ll need to smack around a team led by John Skelton and LaRod Stephens-Howling

Colts (+9.5) over PATRIOTS
It was pretty easy to root against Peyton Manning’s Colts, but it’s hard not to like Andrew Luck’s Colts.

Dunkin’ Donuts Plain Cake Games:

I’m 3-6 picking Jets games this year, including making just one of my last five picks correctly, so take this pick with a grain of salt. When your picks are worse than the Jets quarterbacks, you know you’re in trouble.

RAMS (-3.5) over Jets
I have no words. The Ain’t Nobody Got Time For This Game of the Week.

Buccaneers (+1) over PANTHERS
The Panthers can’t run the ball, and they can’t stop a nosebleed defensively. Not a good combination.

COWBOYS (-7) over Browns
Would you rather be a fan of a frustratingly enigmatic team or a fan of a perpetually hopeless?

Chargers (+8) over BRONCOS
I’m selling high on the Broncos and buying low on the Chargers. The Chargers have the 2nd best rush defense in the league, and this is usually the time of year Philip Rivers picks up his game.

NINERS (-6.5) over Bears
This would have been a tenfold better game if Jay Cutler didn’t get concussed. That selfish jerk, making us watch Jason Campbell.

KFC Double Down Games:

REDSKINS (-3.5) over Eagles
As bad as Michael Vick has been this year, Nick Foles won’t be any better. In fact, Nick Foles is the 3rd best rookie quarterback in this game behind RG3 and Kirk Cousins.

Bengals (-3) over CHIEFS
Forget last week, the Chiefs are still one of the five worst teams in the league. The Bengals may not be a playoff team, but they’re certainly more than a field goal better than these Chiefs.

Ravens (-3) over STEELERS
No Roethlisberger, no chance. Sorry. I just wish we didn’t have two great matchups soiled by injured quarterbacks.

Saints (-6) over RAIDERS
Looks like the Saints are back. No choice but to jump on this small line.

Drink Cheerwine Lock o’ the Week:

Packers (-3) over LIONS
One year ago, people would have done anything for a Packers line this small. Like we’re talking about watching the entirety of Birdemic: Shock and Terror.

Overall record: 69-74-2

Last week: 5-9

Apple Total: 130

Apple Total Last Week: -20

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This Week’s Game of the Century

Short and sweet: last week was fantastic for my picks. Let’s keep it rolling.

Without further ado, here are my Week 10 picks; home teams in CAPS

Ben & Jerry’s Half Baked Games:

The Texans/Bears game will be this week’s Game of the Century.

Titans (+7) over DOLPHINS
Yup, we’re getting our Ain’t Nobody Got Time For That Game of the Week out of the way early.

Texans (+1.5) over BEARS
Both teams are very evenly matched: overrated quarterbacks, strong running back duos, one elite receiver (although my fantasy team questions if Andre Johnson is still elite), and an incredible defense. I’m taking the points!

PANTHERS (+3.5) over Broncos
I may be a homer on this pick, but my excuse is I’m taking the home dog.

Jets (+5.5) over SEAHAWKS
60% of the Seahawks wins have been by four or less points. As hard as it is the take the Jets, I’m not sure Seattle has enough offensive firepower to cover this line.

Dunkin’ Donuts Plain Cake Games:

Chargers (+3) over BUCCANEERS
I love Josh Freeman and Doug Martin, but I’m not ready to give a field goal to a still talented Chargers team.

PATRIOTS (-13.5) over Bills
It’s always tough to take a double digit spread, but the Patriots put up a 52-spot in Buffalo the last time they played.

Lions (-3) over VIKINGS
In case you didn’t know, Percy Harvin has become one of the biggest weapons in the league this year. He has 1347 all purpose yards, good for 13.5 yards every time he touches the ball. Also in case you didn’t know, Percy Harvin is out this week with a sprained left ankle.

Rams (+13) over NINERS
The Niners are one of my three favorite NFC teams, but it’s because of their defense, not their offense. The Rams have been quietly not terrible this year, so I expect them to keep this one within two touchdowns.

Raiders (+7.5) over RAVENS
Want to hear a secret? After Week 1, the Ravens have won their games by an average of 4.6 points. Their point differential is +23, meaning they outscore their opponents by an average of 2.9 points each week. Want to hear another secret? Joe Flacco isn’t the best quarterback in the NFL.

KFC Double Down Games:

Giants (-4.5) over BENGALS
Teams going into a bye are 3-17 this year, but the Giants are 34-15 on the road since 2007. I’m siding with the Giants on this one.

Falcons (-2) over SAINTS
I’m still not ready to back the Saints, especially when they’re playing an undefeated Falcons team. Admittedly, the Falcons are not 8-0 good, but it’s hard to see New Orleans in the playoffs with their porous defense.

Cowboys (-2) over EAGLES
What does Andy Reid have to do to get fired? I don’t think he could say anything to offend the fans of Philadelphia…

STEELERS (-12.5) over Chiefs
Whoever scheduled the Chiefs for Monday Night Football probably got fired.

Drink Cheerwine Lock o’ the Week:

Colts (-3) over JAGUARS
In terms of first-round pick quarterbacks, Blaine Gabbert and Andrew Luck could not be farther apart.

Overall record: 64-65-2

Last week: 12-2

Apple Total: 150

Apple Total Last Week: 170

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Vanderbilt Hustler

I’m almost half way done with my freshman year at Vanderbilt–as crazy as that is–and one of my favorite parts about my time in Nashville has been my work for the Vanderbilt Hustler, the school’s newspaper. I’ve been lucky enough to get to work with some great editors (Eric Single and Jackson Martin), and I’ve been able to be published just about every week of the year. I’ve gotten to talk with SEC players and coaches, which has been a great college experience so far.

I’m putting up an archive of all my articles, features, and interviews on The Knuckle Blog, which you can find on the menu at the top of the screen under Hustler. I should be updating that list as soon as new posts are put up on InsideVandy.com.

Keep checking in on the archives, including my two articles for Thursday’s issue of the Hustler:

3 matchups to watch: Ole Miss

Trio of freshmen expected to play early

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Ain’t Nobody Got Time For That

Sometimes I start my weekly football picks with something important and football related. Talking about betting trends. Why home field advantage may exist. Poking fun at replacement refs. But this week, I’ve decided on something even better.

Starting this week–the midpoint of the NFL season–I’m unveiling a new weekly feature: the Ain’t Nobody Got Time For That Game of the Week. If you haven’t seen the original video, Sweet Brown and her story of her escape from a burning apartment is truly gold. She’s already been featured on tosh.0 and has a wonderful remix. Also, using ‘ain’t nobody got time for that’ in daily conversation is always a good choice.

The Ain’t Nobody Got Time For That Game of the Week is really just an awful, boring game. It’s a game that–even with heavy fantasy football implications–is just not worth watching. Just the type of game your friends would force you watch if you lost an awful bet.

These games will count the same every week (whatever category of game they are under), but the Ain’t Nobody Got Time For That Game of the Week is really just an excuse to use that wonderful phrase. Without further ado, here are my Week 9 picks; home teams are in CAPS.

Ben & Jerry’s Half Baked Games:

CHARGERS (-7) over Chiefs
As bad as the Chargers looked last week, there’s no way I can put any trust in Matt Cassell, Romeo Crennel, and the Chiefs.

PACKERS (-10) over Cardinals
The Packers burned me last week when they couldn’t cover their double-digit spread against the Jaguars, but the Cardinals have been playing horrendously lately. They’re down to LaRod Stephens-Howling and William Powell at running back and John Skelton at quarterback. I respect Arizona’s defense, but this game could get out of hand.

Panthers (+3) over REDSKINS
Is Cam Newton the RG3 of 2011 or is RG3 the Cam Newton of 2012?

Eagles (+3) over SAINTS
I just can’t give up points and take the Saints. Their defense is too bad.

Dunkin’ Donuts Plain Cake Games:

Ain’t nobody got time for Blaine Gabbert, Cecil Shorts, and Rashad Jennings.

COLTS (+2) over Dolphins
I’m taking the home team, the points, and the better quarterback. Ryan Tannehill may not be the disaster I anticipated as a rookie, but he’s far from Andrew Luck’s league.

Lions (-4.5) over JAGUARS
Ain’t nobody got time for boring games like that.

Buccaneers (+1.5) over RAIDERS
Tampa Bay has the 6th best run defense in the league, and Josh Freeman and Doug Martin are starting to realize their potentials. Their biggest problem this season has been a porous pass defense, which was exacerbated by trading Aqib Talib to New England on Thursday. The good news is they’re going up against Carson Palmer, so that won’t be a problem this week.

Steelers (+3) over GIANTS
If the Steelers ever get healthy running backs, they could become Super Bowl dark horse favorites. A still elite defense, a reinvigorated Ben Roethlisberger, this team is flying way runderated.

Vikings (+4.5) over SEAHAWKS
I don’t think either team is especially great, so I’ll take the points. Adrian Peterson is the best player on the field, which alleviates my concern about Christian Ponder playing in Qwest Field. (Yes, I know the stadium was renamed CenturyLink Field, but it just looks wrong.)

KFC Double Down Games:

Broncos (-4) over BENGALS
I don’t like picking against road dogs, but the Broncos are pretty good, and the Bengals just aren’t.

Ravens (-3.5) over BROWNS
At what point do the Browns consider drafting a backup quarterback for Brandon Weeden? Dude’s already 29.

FALCONS (-3.5) over Cowboys
I know this line has something to do with the large amount of Cowboys fans betting the line in one direction, but the undefeated Falcons should be getting a lot more respect than they are against the 3-4 Cowboys.

TEXANS (-10) over Bills
Bad news for Mario Williams: he left the Texans just as they became one of the two or three strongest teams in the AFC. Good news for Mario Williams: a $100 million contract means he has a lot more money to spend.

Drink Cheerwine Lock o’ the Week:

Bears (-3.5) over TITANS
I just don’t get this line. The Bears looked sluggish against the Panthers last week, but nobody on the Titans is going to be able to stop Matt Forte or Brandon Marshall. Well, only Jay Cutler and the Bears offensive line can.

Overall record: 52-63-2

Last week: 7-7

Apple Total: -20

Apple Total Last Week: 80

Categories: NFL | Leave a comment

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