Tag Archives: New York

Trade Grade: Walker for Niese

Earlier today, news broke that the Mets were trading Jonathon Niese to the Pirates for Neil Walker.

Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pirates were rumored to be going after pitching, and they got a decent starter on a great contract. To get this valuable asset, they gave up a good offensive second baseman.

By moving Walker, Pittsburgh frees up a starting spot. Last season, for six positions (CF, LF, RF, 3B, 2B, SS) they had seven players who needed to start. Now that Walker is gone, Josh Harrison, a flexible defender and a decent hitter, can move to second, and the players who deserve to start will start.

Niese is a great acquisition for Pittsburgh. The Pirate rotation is shaky behind aces Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano, and Niese is as dependable as they come. The lefty has an ERA of 3.65 over the last four seasons combined, which is a #3 starter nearly any team would be happy to have.

Additionally, Niese is even more valuable because of his contract. Niese is owed nine million dollars this season, with two club options for the two seasons after for ten and eleven million dollars, respectively, along with a five-hundred thousand dollar buyout if the option is declined. While thirty million dollars seems like a sizable amount of money to spend on a solid pitcher, in today’s league, where half-decent pitchers are seeking eighty-million dollars over five years in free agency, that’s a very good contract.

The Pirates didn’t get a coup with this deal. They didn’t rip the Mets off. Instead, they got exactly what they needed without giving up anything they couldn’t live without.

Grade: A

New York Mets

The Mets needed a second baseman after Ben Zobrist signed with Chicago and other than perhaps Daniel Murphy, Walker was the best available.

Niese was expendable due to the Mets’ wealth of pitching. New York currently has four of its five rotation slots occupied, between Jacob DeGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Matt Harvey, and Steven Matz. With Zack Wheeler returning from Tommy John surgery in the middle of the season, there wasn’t going to be anywhere for Niese to pitch as a starter.

The Mets needed a second baseman to replace the departed Murphy, and Walker certainly fits the bill. Walker gains value due to his flexibility as a switch-hitter and, similarly to the player he was traded for, is remarkably consistent. Every season, Walker hits about .270 with a home run total in the mid-teens and an above-average OPS+. Anthony DiComo also noted Walker’s consistent production:

Walker is only under contract for this season, which means that the Mets can feel free to move on from him after the season and hand the reins to Dilson Herrera or Wilmer Flores. Until then, though, it’ll be nice to have yet another solid player to add to a roster full of them.

It’s tough to give up Niese because of his great contract and the fact that he was effective as both a starter and reliever, but Walker is a good player. I bet the Mets could have found a better offer, especially if they waited until the end of free agency for the teams who missed out on their starting pitching targets, but, again, Walker will help the team this season without bogging them down for years to come.

Grade: B+

Week 13 Picks Against the Spread

This week is the three-quarter mark of the season. At this point, most teams know where they stand, as a contender, pretender, or about to surrender.

However, there remain a few teams on the playoff bubble whose fate has yet to be determined and there are games taking place today that will go a long way towards deciding who’ll be spending January at home. Let’s focus on three of those games between semi-contenders and look at how each game’s result reverberates across the league.

Note: all home teams are in CAPS and all lines are from ESPN and are accurate at the time of writing.

Jets -2.5 over GIANTS

There are a ton of similarities between these two teams. Each has a star wide receiver, each is maddeningly inconsistent, and each is tied for a playoff spot.

The Giants sit at 5-6, tied with Washington for the lead in the NFC East. However, they don’t own the tiebreaker currently and it’s highly unlikely they’ll get it. The first tiebreaker between the two teams is division record. Each has two wins, but New York has three losses to Washington’s one. To take the tiebreaker, the Giants will have to win in Week 17 against the Eagles, but they’ll need the Cowboys and Eagles to sweep Washington in three games. Even if Washington goes 1-2, resulting in a tie in division record, the next tiebreaker, conference record, also belongs to them, as they’re 5-3 to the Giants’ 4-5.

To win the NFC East and to get into the playoffs, the Giants will have to have a better record than Washington, another scenario that seems unlikely. Comparing the two schedules, the Giants will face an undefeated team (Carolina), an 8-3 team (Minnesota), and the Eagles and Dolphins, as well as the Jets today. Washington on the other hand, will play Dallas twice, Philadelphia, Chicago, and Buffalo. The best case scenario has the Giants going 3-2, but it’s much more likely they’ll go 2-3, or even 1-4. Washington, however, will be hard-pressed not to win more than three games against the creampuff schedule they’ll face. Things are looking bleak for the Big Blue.

The Jets have an easier path to the playoffs. They currently sit in the seventh seed in the AFC, tied with four other teams at 6-5, with two more close behind at 5-6. For those seven teams, there  are three spots available, two for the Wild Cards and one for the winner of the AFC South. I’m going to proceed with the assumption that the Chiefs hold on to the fifth seed thanks to their season-saving hot streak and a fairly easy schedule. That leaves one spot for three teams: New York, Pittsburgh, and the second-place team in the South.

We’ll delve deeper into the latter two teams later on in the article, so let’s focus on the Jets now. The Jets have an astoundingly easy schedule. Out of their sixteen games, only four will have come against teams with winning records. The only team they’ll have faced that can be considered a genuine contender is the Patriots. For that reason, I’m skeptical of their chances of advancing should they make the playoffs, but with an easy schedule over the remainder of the season, I consider them the favorite to nab the sixth seed, especially if Houston (which has the head-to-head tiebreaker over them) beats out Indianapolis (which doesn’t) for the AFC South crown.

Arizona -4.5 over ST. LOUIS

MINNESOTA +2 over Seattle

Houston +3.5 over BUFFALO

MIAMI -3.5 over Baltimore

Atlanta +1 over TAMPA BAY

Both of these teams are erratic, wildly fluctuating from week to week between dominant and feeble. This game will likely not end up mattering because Seattle has a firm hold on the sixth seed due to its easy schedule. However, for these two teams, it’s essentially an elimination game. If Atlanta loses, it’ll be tied with Tampa Bay, without the tiebreaker, and with a tough schedule over the remaining four games. If the Buccaneers lose, they’ll be two games behind the Falcons with four games to play, a nearly insurmountable deficit.

If the Seahawks lose to the Vikings, then things will start to get interesting. Seattle will be 6-6 to Atlanta’s 7-5 or Tampa Bay’s 6-6 with the tiebreaker. Seattle will still be favored to get the sixth seed, thanks to Atlanta’s two likely losses against Carolina and Tampa Bay’s slightly tougher schedule, but it’ll be much more of a toss-up, and it could come down to the wire.

Cincinnati -9 over CLEVELAND

TENNESSEE +2 over Jacksonville

CHICAGO -6.5 over San Francisco

Denver -4 over SAN DIEGO

Kansas City +3 over OAKLAND

Carolina -6.5 over NEW ORLEANS

New England -7.5 over Philadelphia

Indianapolis +7.5 over PITTSBURGH

This is a must-win for the Steelers. Should they lose this game, they’ll fall to 6-6, and the remainder of their schedule includes Cincinnati and Denver, which realistically caps their record at 8-8, a record that is unlikely to result in a playoff berth.

The Colts, on the other hand, are well-placed to succeed even if they lose this matchup, as their remaining four games aren’t overly challenging, they’ll get to play Houston at home in a game that’ll likely decide the AFC South, and Andrew Luck will be coming back from a kidney injury within three weeks.

Whichever team is able to win this game will have the inside track to a playoff berth and whichever team loses will be hard-pressed to regain ground on the rest of the playoff-hopefuls, making this a pivotal moment in each team’s season, and since it comes on Sunday Night Football, I’m looking forward to watching it all unfold.

For the record, I fully expect the Steelers to win this game, but I’m picking the Colts +7.5 and hoping for a garbage-time touchdown.

WASHINGTON -3.5 over Dallas

As it stands now, i think that Washington will win the NFC East and that Seattle will take the sixth seed. I think Indianapolis will win the AFC South and that the Jets will win the sixth seed by a single game over Pittsburgh and Houston.

Of course, the beauty of football is that, unlike other sports such as basketball, anything can happen. After all, there are no sure things in the NFL. Well, except for the Browns turning a victory into an agonizing defeat.

Notes From Knicks-Sixers

Last night, I watched the sloppy Sixers-Knicks game in its entirety. Here are a few observations from the game.

First off, the viewing experience of watching the Knicks on MSG is made five times as enjoyable thanks to Walt Frazier’s entertaining phrasing. According to this article from ESPN, Frazier acquired his massive vocabulary by reading the New York Times’ Sunday Arts & Leisure section and writing down whatever words that caught his eye. After he wrote down the words, Frazier then studied how each was used in a sentence using a method he calls “linking and thinking.”

Anyways, last night, Frazier produced a few classics in “shaking and baking,” “wheeling and dealing,” and “moving and grooving” before moving on to more eclectic ones, such as “swooping and hooping,” “hanging and banging,” and “slamming and jamming.”

Carmelo Anthony looked awful last night. Even in a game against the sorry Sixers, he’s just been off. Anthony missed layups and chucked up badly off-target three-pointers. He finished with twelve points off of sixteen inefficient shots in a subpar game. I don’t know if this is a trend (I sure hope not), but it’s something to keep an eye on as the season progresses.

In last year’s draft, Nik Stauskas, a shooting guard, was taken by the Kings 8th overall. He started exactly one game for them, the season finale against the Lakers. Over the summer, Sacramento traded him to Philadelphia in a salary dump so they could open up extra cap space to sign the eight superstars who were all lining up to come play for the Kings.

Putting aside the hilariously lopsided deal, that put Stauskas in Philadelphia, on a team that didn’t care about winning whatsoever. The trade allowed him to play more minutes which would give him a larger opportunity to work through whatever issues he’d dealt with in his rookie season. Accordingly, his playing time has increased by nine minutes per game.

He didn’t have a big game or anything last night, with four shot attempts over twenty-four minutes, but one thing I noticed was his lightning-quick release on his three-point jumper. It was almost Curry-esque.

Last of all, let’s talk about Young Kristaps, who put up seventeen points, ten rebounds, and four blocks over thirty minutes in a customarily spectacular game.

Despite his height, Young Kristaps has a lovely jumper he used twice from three-point range, nailing both shots. Nothing about his shot seems forced; it’s natural and he’s able to smoothly catch the ball and rise up for a graceful shot.

Young Kristaps had a couple of impressive passes last night. Early in the game, he reached around his defender to deliver a nice pass to Robin Lopez for a layup. Later on, Jose Calderon and Young Kristaps ran a pick-and-roll. Calderon passed it to Young Kristaps as he came around the screen, and Young Kristaps started to drive towards the basket, but instead hit Calderon with a behind-the-back pass. He had another fine pass to Calderon where he spotted that the point guard had a step on his defender and lofted the ball over to him for an easy layup.

I can’t believe we’ve gotten this far into the article without mentioning a single one of Young Kristaps’ thunderous dunks. He had one where he drove lefty into the lane on Nerlens Noel and rose up for a tomahawk slam and another where Derrick Williams lobbed the ball up to him from behind the three-point line for a monstrous alley-oop.

Young Kristaps blocked four shots last night, but we’ll focus in on one. In the middle of the opening quarter, Isaiah Canaan drove to the basket with Young Kristaps moving along with him. Now, one of the concerns about Young Kristaps before the draft was that he was too thin to survive in the NBA. Although that’ll go away as he gets older, it was a problem in this case as, on his way to the rim, the 6’0″ Canaan rammed into the chest of the 7’3″ Young Kristaps, pushing him back. Despite this, Young Kristaps’ arms are some long enough that he was able to envelope Canaan, blocking the shot with ease.

Along with collecting four blocks, Young Kristaps picked up only one foul. This is a marked departure from Summer League, where across four games and 82 minutes, he picked up seventeen fouls, including a game with seven fouls in only 22 minutes. Working on his trouble with fouling was a high priority for Young Kristaps entering the season.

The problem was that Young Kristaps was often committing fouls due to his aggressiveness on defense. To measure the worth of his aggressiveness on defense, I used Young Kristaps’ SB/F (steals+blocks/fouls), a new statistic I made up to measure whether or not a player’s tenacity on defense is a positive, was a .647 during Summer League. So far this season, he’s improved it to a .881.

Using statistics from basketball-reference.com, there have been 276 games played so far this season, with roughly 2208 steals, 1435 blocks, and 5741 personal fouls across all 276 games. That works out to a league-average SB/F of .634, so, to my surprise, apparently Young Kristaps was roughly average during Summer League and has been exceptional so far this year.

Now that Young Kristaps can play aggressive defense while still staying on the floor, that combination, along with all of his other talents, makes it look like he’ll be a star.

Thanks to Young Kristaps, for the first time in a decade, Knicks fans, there’s a reason for hope.

I noticed I wrote “Young Kristaps” a lot this article, so here’s a quick explanation for why I call him that, rather than Porzingis. In the 2015 NBA Draft Diary, I wrote:

Screen Shot 2015-12-03 at 7.20.14 PM

That’s it. Maybe as a compromise with myself I’ll alternate Young Kristaps with YK. I guess we’ll figure it out.

Super-duper quick pick for Thursday Night Football: Detroit +2 over Green Bay. Neither team makes me feel any good about betting on them, but Detroit’s been playing better lately so that’s as good a reason as any.

Catching Up on the NBA

My picks are already looking awful. Anthony Davis and Bradley Beal have been hurt. The Pelicans have been plagued by injuries. Washington has been average at best. Without Corey Brewer’s miracle three-point attempt to send last night’s game to overtime, the Rockets would be an atrocious 4-8. Nothing at all has been working out as planned so far.

Well, almost nothing. The Warriors have been customarily dominant. If you follow basketball at all, I’m sure you’ve seen amazing stats lauding the team for their historic achievements, but here’s one you probably haven’t heard: the Warriors are currently on pace to go 82-0, shattering the 72-10 mark set by the 1995-96 Bulls.

All jokes aside, Steph Curry has been insane. I’ve watched a few of Golden State’s games so far, and every time he takes a shot, it seems to be almost a technicality when it goes in. A couple of weeks ago, the Warriors were down to the Clippers late in the game, and Curry just took over and Los Angeles couldn’t do anything to stop him.

Curry’s the clear frontrunner for MVP at this point and he’s way ahead of the pack. Who can challenge him? LeBron is resting for the playoffs, Davis has been hurt, John Wall hasn’t been great, Kevin Durant has been hurt, and James Harden has been an inconsistent player on an inconsistent team. Blake Griffin and Russell Westbrook are my 2-3 behind Curry, but who’s next? Honestly, it might be Andre Drummond. That’s just weird.

In other news: Young Kristaps is everyone’s new favorite player. Young Kristaps has been surprisingly great so far for the Knicks. For all the talk about how he’s a project and how he’s a year or two away, he’s been really really good. Earlier this week, he put up a 29-11 double-double on an efficient 17 shots. He’s been able to shoot threes effectively (including an almost game-winner against Charlotte that was just after time expired) while being a force down low. He’s thrown down a few monstrous put-back dunks (including this beauty against the Raptors) and has been able to serve both as a stretch-four when on the court with Robin Lopez and as a more conventional big man when playing alone.

I think it’s hilarious what’s been happening in Brooklyn so far this season. They’re absolutely, unequivocally atrocious and seem OK with it. That’s a perfectly reasonable thing to do. After all, tanking has worked in the past and the Sixers have been happy to lose again and again over the past few years in the hopes of landing a franchise player. However, the so-called “brain-trust” in Brooklyn seems to have forgotten one important detail: They don’t own their own pick. So while Brooklyn’s incessant losing will likely result in the acquisition of a franchise player, that franchise player will be heading to Boston as part of the Pierce-Garnett-Terry trade from a couple of years ago. While we’re here, I can’t get over how lopsided that trade was. Exploring the ramifications of that horrendous trade might be worth an article in the near future.

Anyways, as we can see, the NBA isn’t lacking in storylines. We haven’t talked at all about the competitive Rookie of the Year race or the exciting young teams coalescing in Orlando and Minnesota or Kobe Bryant’s quest to miss the most shots in the history of the NBA. We’ll discuss all of this, and more, in the future, but for now, let’s just enjoy the impending bloodbath between the Warriors and Clippers on national TV tonight.

It’s Official: The Mets are Back

I can’t stay quiet about this.

On Sunday Night Baseball, on national TV, I just watched the Mets finish off a sweep of the Nationals team that was picked by everyone in the world to run away with the NL East this season.

Everyone in the world was wrong.

Washington may end up winning the division, but, as of now, the Mets are tied with them atop it, and they’re not going away without a fight.

I was eight years old the last time the Mets were relevant, way back in 2008. Since then, all I’ve gotten to see has been season after season of win totals in the 70s and empty seats in Citi Field.

But that’s over now.

Sure, more fans are coming to the games, but you can figure that out from ticket sales. More important is that, for the first time in years, us fans are emotionally invested in this team.

For instance, last Wednesday night, as has been discussed countless times since then, Wilmer Flores cried on the field after hearing that he had been traded from the team he’s been part of for a third of his life.

Of course, he heard incorrectly and remained with the team, but nonetheless, Mets fans have been making it up to him. Chants and cheers have greeted him each time he’s stepped up to the plate, and on Friday night, he reciprocated.

On a 1-1 count, in the bottom of the twelfth inning, Flores slammed a walk-off home run, and the stadium erupted.

The next day, Flores went 0-4, so Lucas Duda was the hero, driving in all three Met runs with a double and a couple of solo homers.

And then Sunday night. Two outs and a man on first. Curtis Granderson hits a homer. The next pitch, Daniel Murphy does the same. And after a hit from the newly acquired Yoenis Cespedes, Duda hits yet another home run. That makes it nine home runs in his last eight games, an feat unprecedented in Mets history.

Now we have to talk about Cespedes. He’s a rental and a very good player, not a great one, but honestly, who cares? Sandy Alderson finally made the big splash that us Mets faithful have been dreaming about, proving that our pleas are not in vain, and that he’s been listening all along.

Even better, what did the Mets give up? A couple of minor league pitchers, who, even if they’re good, won’t make it onto the team because of the wealth of starting pitching the Mets currently enjoy.

Here’s a fun fact that illustrates the amazing combination of youth and talent the Mets’ starters possess. The three Mets starters over the weekend pitched 21 2/3 innings, gave up 5 earned runs, and struck out 25. Their combined age? 75.

No wonder no one wants to face the Mets in the playoffs.

In addition to Cespedes, Alderson made a couple of under-the-radar moves that improved the team, acquiring Juan Uribe and Kelly Johnson from the Braves and Tyler Clippard from the Athletics. In both trades, Alderson gave up little of value, but added a couple of useful hitters and an elite reliever. In fact, because Jeurys Familia had pitched the last three games, Clippard earned the save in Sunday’s game.

The hitting is passable, especially now that Cespedes has been added, but at this point, they only need to score three runs to win.

With an improved lineup and dominant pitching the Mets are on the road to October baseball. And after sweeping the Nationals I think it’s now official: the Mets are back.

Derek Fisher and the Knicks

I thought it’d be worthwhile to talk for a bit about Derek Fisher’s hiring by Phil Jackson to become the next coach of the Knicks.

There seems to be a bit of a trend in hiring coaches, in that ex-players are going to be good coaches.

Don’t believe me? Derek Fisher played for the Thunder this past season before retiring to coach the Knicks. Same for Jason Kidd last year. He played for the Knicks in 2012-2013 before retiring to become the head coach of the Nets this past year. Steve Kerr, the new Golden State coach, isn’t moving into coaching directly after retiring (he retired in 2003 and has since worked as the GM of the Suns and as a TV analyst) but he is an ex-player. He played for 15 years and won five rings as a part of the second Bulls three-peat and the first two Duncan-era Spurs titles. Clearly, there’s now something inherently good about ex-player coaches.

The question is, of course, what the advantage is. As Jackson very well knows, coaching isn’t all about strategy; in fact, strategy might not be the most important part.

During Jackson’s long years as a coach, first with the MJ Bulls, then with the Shaqobe Lakers, then with the Kobe Lakers, he acted more as a peacemaker and a psychologist than as a master tactician. He understands the need for someone who understands the locker room dynamic and can act accordingly to make sure everyone is happy and performs to the best of their abilities. Who better to know what happens in a locker room than a former player?

Also, ex-players know tactics just as well as, if not better than, non-ex-players. While the latter may know more about advanced stats than the former, the former knows what makes basketball sense, not to mention what the players are actually capable of doing.

With all of these advantages to having a ex-player as a coach, why are there no player-coaches in the NBA anymore? While the NBA prohibits someone from being paid as a player and paid as a coach, an assistant coach could be given the title of assistant coach while the player actually coached. Why would this not work? The player is in the locker room and knows what’s happening, They know what the team needs, be it rest, motivation, or just to be left alone. Especially as players are already the emotional leaders, (like Kevin Garnett on the Celtics) why not make them the leaders in name as well?

On most teams, especially on those without an elite coach, the best player, the superstar of the team, rules alongside the coach. If the relationship between that player and the coach sours, that team can kiss good-bye to any success and wave hello to a dysfunctional year. Erasing that risk from the equation can certainly be beneficial.

In fact, there’s something already like that in basketball today. Doc Rivers is the coach and GM of the Clippers. Doc the GM made a couple of bad moves over the summer, for instance signing JJ Redick, which didn’t work out. Doc the coach wouldn’t have been very happy about those moves but, of course, he couldn’t exactly feud with himself. A potential power struggle was averted because one person already had all the power. While in governments that may not work too well, on an NBA team, it seems to work pretty well.

Derek Fisher and Phil Jackson should work pretty well together, mostly because they already have. Fisher and Jackson won five rings together in Los Angeles, in 2000, 2001, 2002, 2009, and 2010, in two separate stints for each of them. Although they (obviously) aren’t the same person, they still have much of the same experiences and philosophies, making it more likely that Fisher will, rather than be his own coach, act as an extension of Jackson, making sure that there’s no tension

With Jackson and his philosophies coaching the Knicks through Fisher, the Knicks seem to be in good shape. The biggest problem is that tension might arise because their coach is better than their starting point guard. Other than that, I like their hiring a lot.

 

In NBA Finals news, Duncan continued his throwback with another monster double-double of 18-15, and LeBron had an F-You game and scored 35 along with 10 rebounds. So much for cramps.

The question, of course, is what the idiots who blindly hate LeBron are saying. Here’s my best guess:

“Why didn’t LeBron score 50 points and grab 20 rebounds along with garnering 10 assists. What a slacker! And all his team did was win the game. He should have won these Finals, along with the next four this game. LeBron really sucks.”

On that comedic note, here’s to another great game tonight!