Rise of the Shermaniacs

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I loved watching the Animaniacs when I was a kid. Something about the wacky, zany adventures of three cat-type creatures running amok just spoke to me. I’m not exactly sure why, but it did. As it turned out, the show was really meant for a more mature audience, and I wasn’t fully appreciating it given my young age (I was aged 6-11 during the show’s original run, of course there were re-runs long after that).

I only really understood it on the superficial level. Oh Pinky, and the Brain, you’re such an odd couple. Haha. Episodes I saw when I got older had more nuance, more comedy to them. They were downright smart. Obviously the whole thing was before my time, and my still-infantile brain couldn’t fully comprehend something of that scope.

There’s something about the Richard Sherman interview/backlash from last Sunday that strikes me as similar to that. We’ve entered a brave new world of sports coverage where access and visibility are at their zenith. You can actually talk to most your favourite athletes on Twitter now – or at least try to. Imagine explaining that concept to someone 10-15 years ago. Gone are the days of sending in fan mail and hoping for an autographed 8×10 in return.

If 10-year-old Nick had a Twitter account poor Doug Gilmour would have been barraged with questions about what his favourite colour was, and whether he preferred Kraft Dinner or pizza. And if I’d have gotten a retweet from Killer!? Man.

The reality is this level of engagement and access is uncharted waters for us. We’ve never really experienced this kind of access, so we still need to get used to it. It wasn’t so long ago that the NFL was devoid of sideline reporters, or NHL games were broadcast without a guy between the benches. We’ve started taking it for granted, but that is some incredible in-game coverage.

And so it went with Richard Sherman’s now famous post-game interview. Mere minutes after making an exceptional play to send his team to the Super Bowl, he was at once shunned by his opponent Michael Crabtree, and then had a camera shoved in front of him. Incidentally, we all caught a nice little glimpse of Sherman still very much with his “game face” on.

And the reaction was ugly. Sherman was called a ‘thug’ and a ‘monkey’, among many other hateful things. Which was especially awful considering Sherman didn’t do anything besides brag a little and say Crabtree was mediocre. Really not all that bad considering the spectrum of horrible things athletes have said and done.

Of course the irony is that this is everything we’ve ever wanted. We can’t live in the athlete’s world – the one we’ve put on a pedestal – and so we want the access we could never imagine. It’s why we watch 24/7, and created the MLB Fan Cave. The sideline interview is just another example of wanting to get close. On Sunday, we found ourselves right in the middle of Richard Sherman’s world and we couldn’t understand it.

To steal a beautiful Simpsons’ reference, we’re a bit like the mule with the spinning wheel. Damned if we know how we got it, and damned if we know how to use it.

Years without the access have created an unrealistic standard of the athlete. Imagine if Joe Namath had Twitter in his playing days? Surely that would have turned up some pretty unsavoury commentary (which would of course be due his account being ‘hacked’).

These people are never the perfect beings we project them to be in our minds. They have their flaws, and they get angry just like everyone does once in a while. That we expected Richard Sherman to come out acting like a choirboy instantly after his greatest professional moment to date was unrealistic. And that’s on us – the fans.

As we mature and move forward with this Truman Show sports world we’ve created for ourselves, perhaps we’ll come to understand more about who we, and the beings inside it, are. We are people who get upset, we are people who have a great deal of emotion, and are prone to expression. And if we can’t handle the raw emotion of a pro athlete – and rest assured, there will be more like Sherman – maybe we don’t deserve all this access. So far, it looks like we’re damned if we know how to use it.

Ubaldo vs. Ervin

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A little report surfaced the other day saying the Jays were potential suitors for either Ervin Santana or Ubaldo Jimenez…

So how’s about a little look at both of them and what they have to offer.

I’m going to completely ignore the money aspect of this because, frankly, so should the Jays. They are all in at this point. Or at least that’s what it seems like. To me, there should be no hang-ups about adding both guys, but then, I don’t run Canada’s only Major League baseball team. Besides, money just convolutes things too much… this is pure baseball, we’re talking about here, man. Forget the money.

Anyways. Let’s see what we got here:

Ervin Santana is 31, and spent very little time in the minors before getting promoted by the Angels in 2005 at age 22, after that, he more or less stuck in the bigs, and has gone 105-90 over his nine year career, and pitched 1686.2 innings. He has a career ERA of 4.19.

Ubaldo Jimenez is a little younger. He’s turning 30 in late January of this year, and took more of a traditional path through the minors with the Rockies. Made more stops than Santana, spent more time at AAA, etc.  As a result he has little less big league mileage on the arm at 1275.2 IP. He’s gone 82-75 over that time with a 3.92 ERA – although that includes more time spent in relief.

Obviously there’s so much more to the puzzle though. For instance, Toronto is a hitter friendly ballpark, and we’ve seen our fair share of long balls there in the last couple years. (I’ll never forget Dickey’s reaction to a homer early last season… very “That went out of here!?!?”) And as anecdotal as that is, there’s truth to it, so maybe it makes sense to go with a guy who allows less long balls.

What does the tale of the tape say here?

Both of the pitchers had pretty fugly 2012 seasons, and managed to bounce back all right last season.

Santana: His career HR/FB rate is a no-so-great 11%. It’s also been generally trending upwards over his career, and included a horrific 18% rate in his terrible 2012 season. Interestingly though, his groundball rate has improved substantially in the last three years. For the first six years of his career it sat in the 35-38% range, and suddenly over the last three seasons it’s been between 43-46% – basically about the league average. So it’s a little strange to be giving up less flies, but having the ball go out just as much. But that’s where he’s at.

He’s also supposedly working on a new pitch. So that’s something.

Jimenez: Career HR/FB rate is better, at 8.7%. His too though has trended upwards a bit and the total average was brought down by his fantastic 2010 season (in which it was a sterling 5.1%). Jimenez’s groundball rate has started trending the wrong way a little bit too over the years. But it’s still been pretty respectable, and even at it’s lowest depths hasn’t really been worse than Santana’s overall. Also, his K-rate (save for 2012) has been on the upward climb too. Even with his terrible start to 2013, he hit a high water mark last year with 9.56 K/9.

The last thing to consider here (or at least that I will consider here) is Jimenez’s funky delivery. I don’t claim to have any particularly insightful knowledge of pitching mechanics… or any type of mechanics for that matter. Fortunately, there are people smarter than me who do. Follow that link and you’ll see something going awry with his delivery that causes a 5 mph drop in fastball velocity. Yikes.

For an interesting comparison of the two pitchers, take a look at these graphs from Brooks Baseball, representing their horizontal movement on their release point over their careers.

Santana:

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Jimenez:

Brooksbaseball-Chart

While Santana’s has changed over the years, his release point for all his pitches tends to be consistent. Jimenez, not so much. Particulalry that ugly 2012, and the early half of 2013, which was equally awful. (Jimenez had five starts in April 2013, with ERAs of 1.5, 6.97, 11.25, 10.06, and 7.12.)

So basically what we’ve got here is an interesting situation. Two pitchers, presenting two very different cases.

Santana looks like the safer bet. He is consistent, and durable and while he won’t put up game-changing numbers he will eat some innings and deliver enough quality starts to keep us all happy. His HR/FB rate might not play so well in the Dome, especially as balls have been flying out of there as of late. But for what it’s worth, he’s given up 6 in 52.0 innings at the Rogers Centre in his career, which is a small sample, but more or less in line with his career 1.22 HR/9.

Jimenez represents a very contrasting picture. He’s a bit more risky, but also more rewarding if he plays to his potential. If the Jays got Jimenez and he was able to replicate his second half of 2013, or his 2010 season, their rotation would become dramatically more competitive. Especially if slotting in a guy like Marcus Stroman works out. And even Jimenez’s down years have proven to be more valuable in terms of fWAR than Santana’s have. He also did this with a baseball.

So since I’m a gambling man, I’ll take Jimenez. I like the high risk/high reward model Anthopoulous tends to employ. Hell, maybe even R.A. Dickey can help coach Jimenez into improving his release point. In a perfect world, the team gets both… and Tanaka to boot. But we don’t always get what we want… so, Ubaldo, you get my vote.

And I know said it wasn’t about the money, but Jimenez likely comes much cheaper than Santana, so there’s that too. 

Sometimes there’s just not much there to hate

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So Dion Phaneuf signed a new contract, and there’s been a pretty exceptional amount of mouth frothing on account of it.

I get that people don’t really like Phaneuf all that much, but is seven years at $7 million per season really that bad when you think about it?

Of course, I’m predicating all of this on the idea that the salary cap is going to start going up, and up. And maybe up some more.

With Rogers dumping $5.2 billion into the NHL economy over the next 10 years that might become a pretty pedestrian salary by the end of it… hell, maybe even by year two.

TSN’s Bob McKenzie recently speculated that Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews could possibly be earning $11-12 million per season on their next contracts (which expire just as the money will start rolling in).

So with the realization that $7 million might be pretty mid-range for a contract in the next seven years, maybe we should temper our concern.

Pundits and the peanut gallery have brayed non-stop over the last month about just how awful 29-year-old defenseman is. And let’s be certain, there’s some stuff not love about Phaneuf’s play, or his deal. But hate? Hate is so strong, and in this case, so unnecessary.

Is he going to be a quality player at the end of the deal? Hard to say. He’ll only be 36 once it’s done, which is plenty young for lots of quality defenseman.

But Bruce Arthur of the National Post put it well when he said, “this is what the Leafs have, so this is what the Leafs have to hold on to.”

Maybe it was the act of signing the deal that played into what people didn’t like about it? It went on a little publicly, then was oh so perfectly timed to happen right before the Winter Classic… and then there was that silly collage photo of the signing on the Leafs Twitter account.

But the biggest concern for anyone who is evaluating a contract in a salary cap system should always be pretty simple: How much of my pool of (financial) resources is being taken up by this asset, and is that amount proportionate to the player’s value?

And in this case, it’s not an extravagant amount for what you get, or at least it’s not going to be.

I get that some of the advanced metrics, like Corsi and Fenwick paint an ugly picture of him, but in all fairness to hockey’s advanced stats (and I dig that hockey is getting into them), I think there’s still some issues with them – notably, measuring shot quality versus quantity.

At the risk of sounding like a dinosaur from the Don Cherry School of Hockey, Phaneuf really does eat big minutes against top lines. He may not be the best defenseman in the league, but he’s still doing an admirable job against other teams top lines.

Be angrier about the David Clarkson deal. Pretty sure most beer-leaguers could get paid an AAV (average annual value) of $5.25 to rake in suspensions and be invisible on the ice. At present, he is the one wasting cap space.

You may not like Phaneuf, and he may not be the best player on the ice any given night, but he is a good player, and a consistent one nonetheless. His deal seems like a lot right now, especially when you compare it to other top flight defensemen. But if that cap goes up, this deal is going to look just fine in the long run.

Besides, not that long ago this was a team that signed Jeff Finger to a 4-year deal at $3.5 per year! Surely they’re getting better at this whole “signing defensemen” thing! Hooray for progress. 

Unfinished thoughts: All for one, or one for… everyone?

Just a few small thoughts ahead of the Red Wings-Leafs Winter Classic this year.

I really like the New Year’s Day outdoor game a lot. But, clearly the NHL has never heard of the “too much of a good thing” concept.

If the league isn’t careful, 2014 could mark the start of a great idea being ruined.

On tap for this year: 1 Winter Classic, 4 Stadium Series games, and 1 Heritage Classic, for 6 total outdoor games.

The Classic is in Detroit, The Stadium Series will hit Chicago, New York and Los Angeles!?, then the Heritage game takes place in Vancouver in March.

Is this not all getting a little excessive? I could get onboard with two games. New Year’s in the U.S., and a Heritage game in Canada (maybe on CBC’s Hockey Day in Canada… or whatever will become of it on account of the new Rogers deal).

The big issues with it, in my mind anyway, are that you run the risk of having the appeal wear off the more it happens, and the other is the lack of equity across the league. With a random selection of teams being put into weird conditions, you’re automatically putting them at a disadvantage in terms of the environment.

In the run up to the New Year’s game, we’re already hearing lots about the amount it is snowing. It’s coming down hard, apparently:

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Photo via: @reporterchris

TSN’s Mike Johnson made a good point about how the snow could force players to shoot more (hey, maybe the Leafs won’t get outshot?), and obviously this would alter their game plan to keep things about as simple as possible.

Fraser McLaren has already talked about the wind at practice, and how it was like “skating with a parachute on” and left him gassed.

Jonathon Bernier has mentioned the sun, and how it the glare was throwing him off a bit.

Someone (I can’t remember who) mentioned Alfredsson’s back spasms, and how the colder than usual temperatures could possibly impact him.

These are all weird disadvantages you’re forcing a select group of teams to deal with – and in the case of the Rangers, you’re doing it twice. Yes, both teams are facing the same conditions on the day, but in the long term view of the season, even though it’s just one game, it seems pretty unfair.

And who even knows what’ll happen in L.A. with the game at Dodger Stadium. Temperatures in January average between 8-20 degrees (Celsius). Weird conditions for hockey.

So shouldn’t we consider limiting these factors for the sake of equality across the league?

Or, at the very least, subject every team to an outdoor game once a year… but then you’re really killing the unique, exciting nature of the event, and that’s obviously not the point. I mean, I love a little McDonald’s breakfast every once in a while, but you’re not going to find me eating it every day.

I get that the games are cash cow, and great exposure for the league, but lets treat it like an Egg McMuffin and not ruin a good thing by overindulging.

Feature image via: @NHL twitter account

*note: please excuse spelling and grammar errors till I can clean it up. This was hastily posted on account of game time.