The Last Early Exit

Let me preface what I am about to write with this: I am no fan of Lebron. I respect him, and what he has accomplished, but I, admittedly, root against him. I tend toward the underdog, and Lebron has been the absolute opposite of that for most of his career.

That being said, he is the most phenomenal athlete I have witnessed since I began to comprehend sports. I mean, I watched MJ when I was a kid, but I can’t say I fully appreciated it like I can appreciate what Lebron does playoff game after playoff game.

When Lebron last missed the Finals, I was still in college and living in Kentucky. There have been a lot of posts centered around what life was like in 2010, so I won’t pile on here. I am more interested in what happened in the last elimination game that Lebron lost before the Finals.

Ok, the was rough…let’s look at May 13, 2010. The scene: TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. The situation: Lebron and the Cavaliers trailed the Boston Celtics three games to two. Or, more specifically, the original super team, the Boston Big Three, were poised to head to the Eastern Conference Finals with Lebron’s back against the wall. Boston won 94 – 85.

No surprise, Lebron turned in a triple-double in an elimination game. At the time, it was the sixth playoff trip-dub of his career. He scored 27 points, nabbed 19 rebounds, and dished out 10 assists. Earning his 2nd MVP and leading Cleveland to home court advantage did not get him into the Finals…or even the Conference Finals. Remember the narrative that Lebron can’t win the big one? Yeah…that aged well.

Lebron was quoted after that game as saying, “A friend of mine told me, ‘I guess you’ve got to go through a lot of nightmares before you realize your dream.’ That’s what’s going on for me individually right now.”

Earlier this season, when Lebron passed MJ for career points scored, he made an Instagram post to child-Lebron congratulating him on what he would accomplish in his career. Maybe he should have just DMed 2010-Lebron to cheer himself up? At any rate, thats water under the bridge.

Back to May 13, 2010. Raise your hand if you remember the starting five of the Cavs back then? Yeah…me neither. Mo Williams (would have guessed), Lebron, Antwan Jamison (forgot about him), Anthony Parker (him too), and Shaq (might have, wouldn’t have, totally couldn’t have guessed him). Mo Williams was the second-leading scorer with 22 points, Shaq had 11, and no one else scored in double figures. In fact, Jamario Moon (who could forget him…), was the only Cleveland player who finished in the positive in the plus/minus stat column (+5).

An iconic piece of memorabilia from that series was a poster Celtics fans held up from the seats of Lebron. It was in the style of Barack Obama’s “Change” poster…except it was Lebron and it said “Nope.” Two straight years he led the Cavs to the number-one overall seed in the playoffs and two straight years they exited early.

As anyone will remember, though, Lebron took his talents to South Beach the following season and shook off the stigma of never making it to the big stage…because he’s been there ever since.

Tuesday Thoughts

Happy Tuesday! Got a handful of random thoughts on my mind that would take a lot of effort to make into full posts, but look great in a list!

1. Matt Harvey makes his Great American Ballpark debut. I do not have tickets (going to see Deadpool 2, again) but I will be watching. My expectations have been low since he became a Red and, so far, I’ve not been disappointed. As far as this night, in a vacuum, I want to see him get a quality start. Give the loyal Reds fans a six-inning outing with three runs allowed, maybe pepper in some strikeouts, and walk nobody. I don’t ask for much, I feel.

2. The Reds begin a home series against the Pirates. Pittsburgh has surprised the experts around the league and held their own at the top of the Central Division for the first few months in the 2018 season, but the winds are changing. The Buccos’ sails don’t have that breeze pushing them forward, right now. The Jolly Roger sits stagnant in the water as they’ve dropped three-straight games, losing a four-game series to the lowly Padres while allowing them to score 21 runs during that set. Now they sit fourth in the division. This is music to the Reds ears as they dropped three of four in Pittsburgh back in the beginning of April, leading to the worst start in franchise history. Time for Cincy to shake off the bad juju and get back on some sort of track.

3. Lebron scores his tail off, getting 44 points, and the Cavs won by only nine points. I have been verbally saying this, but now I’ll put it on the internet, I think the Celtics win in seven.

4. Every sports fan’s favorite words, “Game Seven,” seem to happen a lot in hockey. The Caps and Lightning are going to do it on Wednesday and I love the storylines for this game. Tampa is 5-2 all-time in Game Sevens while DC is 4-11. The game is on the Lightning’s home ice and I’m thinking it’s going to be classic. Plus, Doc Emrick is on the call. That dude could announce paint peeling and I’d be enthralled. Best play-by-play guy in any sport.

5. I’ll get you out of here on this – Jim Harbaugh. The man has to be in the crosshairs of Michigan’s boosters. The Wolverines have tread water throughout his short tenure in Ann Arbor, but now the Maze and Blue have something that should push them over the top: a quarterback. Dude from Ole Miss, Shea Patterson, got his waiver to transfer out of the Rebels disfunction and onto a team he can play for right away, and Jimmy H got him. Patterson was a 5-Star recruit out of high school and threw for over 3,000 yards last season in ten games. This is going to have Michigan fans buzzing, but anyone with an objective point of view toward the Wolverines will be keeping their eye on Harbaugh. He hasn’t had a notable signal caller yet. Now that he does, will Michigan be in playoff contention, as they pine for every year, or will it be another year with a busted bowl game appearance? Jim, you have the floor.

Now go get you some tacos and make Tuesday great again for the first time.

Skyrim: Single A Baseball Edition

Got to the seat just before first pitch. Sitting third-baseline.

Second pitch and the no-hitter is broken up by a single to left field.

Packy is a lefty who uses location and movement to get the hitter out. High pitch count pitcher.

Well….this changed. So I had planned to make this a live blog…sorry. Went to get a hot dog and some beer…and then it rained…and kept raining. So, after 4 1/2 innings, and a 2-2 tie, rain falling and no end in sight, I downed my beer and my friends and I skedaddled.

This was, sort of, the minor league version of the Battle of Ohio with the Dragons representing the Reds and the Lake County Captains representing the Cleveland Indians.

A few observations…like I mentioned earlier, Packy Naughton, the starter for the Dragons in this game, is a finesse-type pitcher. In this particular game, his consistency was off. He fanned a few batters and walked a few batters. Looked like he served up a few ducks with his fastball, one of them being hit onto Patterson Avenue. He’s a deceptive lefty, which, if the Reds farm system can develop him, could be interesting in a few years. Plus, that is an awesome name.

John Sansone hit a rocket out over the left field wall to account for the Dragons pair of runs. The ball careened off an umbrella and that umbrella didn’t miss a beat.

Most minor league clubs understand the fan experience is paramount at a game that, with a ll things considered, doesn’t quite have the talent level on the field to enthrall the audience. The Dragons do this better than most. Every inning break has something to engage the fans. During the break between the 3rd and 4th inning they held “the Human Dot” race. It’s a three legged race, with three sets of races, with the added caveat of the pairs donning a circular costume. It actually turned out to be interesting, with the yellow “dot” beating the blue dot by a nose…or a dot…whatevs.

With the craft brew scene being so huge in Ohio, I was a little surprised to see the craft brew bar, down the first-base line, only had two, southwestern Ohio-brewed beers. I ended up getting a pint of Deschutes called Twilight Summer Ale. It was smooth and refreshing. There’s a new-looking brewery right outside the gates of Fifth-Third Field called Lock 27. Plan on trying it sometime, but I was surprised that I did not see a tap of Lock 27 in the stadium. Anyways, I digress.

The only real prospect that played in this game for Dayton was the second baseman by the name of Jeter. No, not that Jeter, Jeter Downs. Youngster from Colombia led off and didn’t collect a hit. Seemed to have a nice glove on a couple of occasions, though. He’s a deep prospect who was just picked last year.

Planning on a few more Dragons game this year, so I may actually get the live blog gig rolling. Until then, I’ll write other things.

Friday Flick File

Each Friday I will take a minute to reflect on the movies I watched in the past week. These will be just snipers of thought about each one, rather than a exposé.

Right now I’ll give a few nuggets on Deadpool 2, Avengers: Infinity War, and an older movie, but one I caught on Hulu, Fantastic Four.

I’ll start with Deadpool 2 as I managed to catch that just last night. Went to the new Cinépolis at Austin Landing, in Miamisburg, to watch it. Side note – when you’re in the Cinépolis, it feels like a hotel, but anyway…

Deadpool 2 was so funny that i gave myself a headache from laughing too much. Seriously, just like 22 Jump Street did with that pair of movies, the sequel to everybody’s favorite anti-hero was even funnier than the first. His irreverent, sarcastic, and dark sense of humor once again hit the nail straight on the head. Adding a serious character in Cable into the mix made for a great back-and-forth that added value to the movie. Here’s hoping Disney can finish its deal to purchase 21st Century Fox so that Marvel can be while (and we can see Deadpool interact with the Avengers).

Speaking of the Avengers, Infinity War is a top five Marvel movie, for me. I’ve seen it twice, now, and Marvel just continues to be better than everyone at movies with a myriad of main characters. Not once did it feel like one character was being left out, or half-assed, and this is the Be first time they’ve got this right. If you’re a Guardians of the Galaxy fan? There’s plenty for you to love. If you’re more of a friendly neighborhood Spider-man fan, you won’t go home disappointed. Black Panther fanatic? Wakanda is pivotal to the movie. They all come together in a pleasing and entertaining way.

Oh, and who else but Marvel can take a movie that has been hyped up for 10 years and make fans even more anticipatory for the sequel?

Lastly, I want to address the newest try at making the Fantastic Four work on the silver screen.

It’s already widely known that this was a huge flop, so I’m not exactly making a breakthrough take here. Still, the movie sucked. I really hope that Disney gets 21st Century Fox and can employ Marvel to Fox the wrongs done to one of the best comic book franchises there is. The Fantastic Four, and their arch-nemesis Doctor Doom, are very important characters in the Marvel universe, but have been MIA due to Fox owning the rights. Fox has done nothing of value with those rights, and really laid an egg on their last attempt.

I mean, really, Doctor Doom (aka Victor Von Doom) is a whiny brat who turns into a crash test dummy. That alone is worth shutting the movie off for, but I didn’t…for some stupid reason. They then botched Johnny Storm by making him a laid-back, drag racer who only cares about his car. Johnny, aka the Human Torch, is supposed to be a cocky jerk who acts like he’s better than everyone, because he’s rich and can turn into a flying fire guy. I like Michael B Jordan, but the writing hamstrung him from making the character good.

The movie was just overall terrible, boring, and I can’t even remember the big battle scene because it was just awful, and I watched the movie on Wednesday! Marvel, please fix this.

The Four Outfielders and the Case for Three: Jesse Winker

I was going to write this yesterday but, instead, wound up watching Infinity War for a second time. Ok, it wasn’t like it was someone else’s idea to take me…just can’t get enough Thanos…but I digress. This post will talk about, probably, the most clear-cut keeper when it comes to the fantastic four in the Reds outfield.

Jesse Winker is the young guy. Just came up last year…I saw his first major league hit (not to brag)…and, already, finds himself a mainstay at he top of he lineup card. I wrote a little something about Mr. Winker in an earlier piece, and, so far (tiny sample size) he has proven it a good take. Fangraphs helped me, tremendously, with this piece, and the one about Billy Hamilton (but I forgot to mention it in that post).

Jesse gets on base. In his 39 games in 2018 he has compiled a .363 on-base percentage. His discipline at the plate is so good he walks as much as he strikes out (13.7% of the time). In fact, Winker is second on the team in walks (20) only to Joey Votto (29).

So why doesn’t he play more?

Immediately, and really it’s the first thing you notice on a stat sheet, he’s batting a ho-hum .258, roughly one hit every four at-bats. When he does get hits, he rarely runs more than 90 feet, having only nine extra-base hits, all of which are doubles.

Some of that can be attributed to his strangely high rate of infield fly balls at 11%. Now that’s more of a descriptive stat, and not so much predictive, but his past seasons in the minors show he typically gets the ball out of the infield.

Another strange, obvious stat is that his HR/FB rate is 0%. Now I’m no prophet, but I’d bet that goes up before the All-Star Break.

Stats that do have positive signs attached to them are the fact he is only swinging at 21% of the pitches he sees outside the strike zone. When there’s a pitch in he zone, he’s making contact on 95% of those, and hitting 88% of all the pitches he sees. Again, these aren’t crazy predictive stats, but if those continue, his batting average and slugging percentage will improve.

The biggest knock on Jesse, though, is his defense. According to Fangraphs, Winker has a -5.1 WAR, or in other words, a league average defender would be better than him. With Billy Hamilton roaming around centerfield, this is kind of negated, but it is something to keep an eye on. Winker doesn’t have that good of range in the outfield and doesn’t have the arm to make up for his lack of agility.

Two down, two to go. Next time, we’ll look at Adam Duvall’s performance, this far.

The Four Outfielders and the Case for Three: Billy Hamilton

This idea began as “The Infuriating Billy Hamilton” but has evolved into a deep look into how the Reds four-man outfield rotation is going, and who should be the one to leave. 

In this first installment, I take a look at the enigmatic centerfielder for the Reds. For all his flaws, and for the numerous Reds fans out there who are in favor of trading Billy yesterday, Billy actually shows signs that things will turn around. To explain my meaning, I am going to go hardcore into some sabremetric statistics…but don’t worry, I will make them easy to understand.

The first thing you notice when you look at Billy’s performance, thus far, is the fact his average is quite low. At .216, despite the fact it has gone up lately, it still is well below even Billy’s expected threshold. Although only a few seasons are under his belt, Billy’s career batting average is .30 points higher than where he sits almost two months into 2018.

The second stat that you see is his on-base percentage. Now this is more like what you want to see. Hamilton is notorious for his low percentage of reaching base, safely, but thus far in 2018 he is getting on base at a .315 clip. That’s a little over 15% better than his career normal. This is thanks, in part, to his 43.3% swing percentage, which is the lowest it has ever been, contributing to his best career walk rate at 12%. Considering he has only walked 7% of the time, during his career, that stat is trending well.

Jim Riggleman has continued what Bryan Price began by batting Billy ninth, so he is not getting the volume of plate appearances he has, in years past. However, Billy has changed his approach to hitting which could explain the slow start.

So what is it? Why does it seem like Billy isn’t hitting? For that, we look at a few things. Firstly, the contact percentage is down, as a whole. In fact, he is making contact on strikes 10% less than his career average. He’s only made contact on 77% of strikes thrown against him. Then you follow that stat up with the fact Billy has a soft contact percentage of 32.1%. So he isn’t hitting the ball as much, and when he does it isn’t good contact. That has led to his lowest batting average on balls put in play in three years (.305).

The numbers tend to suggest Billy is trying to hit for power. Now, it doesn’t take a baseball scientist to know that Billy trying to hit for power is like a bird trying to swim. The man needs only find his way to first, then the magic happens. Billy’s isolated power, a statistic designed to describe the amount of time a player gets a hit that is better than a single, currently is almost 20 points higher than his career average. I’m all for Billy trying for extra bases, but it has led to a strikeout percentage of 28.7%, the highest it has ever been in his career.

Now the thing that Billy currently has going for him, and the thing that is keeping him part of the four-man rotation, is his defense. He has currently generated 2.5 wins above replacement wit his glove, meaning he is statistically better than your average glove in centerfield.

Should he refocus his efforts into making solid contact with the bat, and not trying to kill it (I feel like a little league coach typing that) then Billy’s offense will pick up the slack and make him an indispensable every day outfielder.

Tomorrow I’ll take a look at Jesse Winker and what he has done thus far.