July 1st: All Star Game Starting Predictions

After weeks of voting, the MLB All Star rosters will be announced tomorrow. While voting may generally result in a popularity contest rather than an actual assessment of talent, here is how I would construct the lineup for each position in baseball

American League:

Catcher: Salvador Perez: There is no catcher in baseball as exciting and fun to watch as Perez. Nobody stands out statistically either, so I have to go with the guy who is going to make for the best TV.

First Base: Eric Hosmer: Hosmer has led the fan vote, but been left off most insider predictions. He ranks in the top five or six of almost all offensive categories at his position, and has gold glove defense.

AP ASTROS YANKEES BASEBALL S BBA USA NYSecond Base: Jose Altuve: The face of the rebuilding Astros, Jose Altuve has finally gotten to enjoy the success of the power-house Astros. The spark-plug gets another All-Star selection (his fifth in six years)

Third Base: Miguel Sano: The Twins have been sticking around in the AL Central, and Miguel Sano’s maturation as a hitter is a big reason why. Sano will be fun to watch in the Home Run Derby, and deserves the start at third base for the AL.

Shortstop: Carlos Correa: Correa has made good on his talent potential since he first emerged in the league, and is now at the center of the best offense in the league. He gets the nod over his peers Lindor and Bogaerts.

Outfield: Mike Trout, Aaron Judge, George Springer: The reigning MVP, the likely soon-to-be MVP, and one of the most exciting, fun-to-watch young players in the game make up the AL starting outfield. Even with Trout’s injury, he was having debatably his best season. Judge has proven that he has lasting power in the league. And Springer is a five-tool player capable of changing any game on a dime. This is one of the most athletic groups of players the league has to offer, and will probably each be All-Stars many, many more times in the future.

DH: Corey Dickerson: Nelson Cruz is a more popular name in baseball, but I won’t vote for anyone who has a steroid conviction on their record. Besides, Dickerson has been out of his mind of late, and his bat is a huge reason why the Rays are contenders in the AL East.

ASG ballot

National League:

Catcher: Buster Posey: While the position isn’t very deep, Posey would run away with it even if it was. He is single-handedly carrying his team’s offense, and he is maintaining offensive and defensive statistics that make him baseball’s best catcher.

First Base: Paul Goldschmidt: Disclaimer: I’ve been voting for Anthony Rizzo, because I have a massive man-crush on the man, but Paul Goldschmidt has added yet another under-the-radar MVP caliber season. Goldy is putting the Diamondbacks in post-season position, and has a strong claim on the NL MVP award.

Second Base: Daniel Murphy: After the 2015 playoffs, Daniel Murphy has become a brand-new player. His bat has been the hottest of anyone over an 18 month stretch, and his place as the table-clearer for the Nationals compensates for his mediocre defense.

Third Base: Kris Bryant: Many will argue this is another homer pick, but Bryant has been a rare bright spot in a struggling Cubs lineup. His generally solid stats have been hurt by a few slow patches, but overall, Bryant is the star of the show and should get the chance to shine.

Shortstop: Zack Cozart: All donkeys aside, Cozart has taken his contract year and turned it into a gold mine. His offense has finally risen to match his defense, and he is a big reason that the Reds have been relevant beyond Opening Day this year.

Outfield: Bryce Harper, Charlie Blackmon, Marcell Ozuna: Charlie Blackmon is the best player on the up-and-coming Rockies. Marcell Ozuna is both a hometown player for the All Star hosts, as well as a monster power for the Home Run Derby (possibly). And Bryce Harper is an absolute monster, the most entertaining player in baseball.

MLB: Atlanta Braves at Washington NationalsDH: Ryan Zimmerman: After a hot start to his career, Zimmerman had faded into the background of the Bryce Harper-owned Nationals. This year, though, Zimmerman has put together not only his best season, but an all-around great season, and deserves the credit in a crowded first base conversation.

 

We will see on Sunday how close these predictions are to reality, but in any case, the All Star Game is the game’s best chance to show off the excitement and talent that true fans get to enjoy every day.

 

 

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May 18th: A Tale of Two Playoffs

The NBA and NHL playoffs have kept pace with one another, both beginning in early April and continuing through the first few weeks of June. On the one hand, basketball has pitted two powerhouse teams on either side of the bracket, with a virtual destiny to meet for the third time in a row in the Finals. Meanwhile, the NHL has four teams remaining, two of which are competing for their first championships in team history, while a third looks to seal the deal on a dynasty. Two sports in very different places have, by fate of scheduling, put themselves in position for comparison, and the results are striking.

The NBA has always gotten the attention of the American public. ESPN covers basketball to an almost obnoxious degree, with every single game, character, and personality analyzed. Because of NBC’s stranglehold on the rights to the NHL, hockey is, at most, a few moments on any given night of Sportscenter, dramatically preventing the public from getting the chance to see the excitement that goes into a playoff hockey game. The Stanley Cup Playoffs are some of the most intense, dramatic, and exciting contests in professional sports, but most Americans would never know that.

Curry

While there have been a dramatic number of overtime games this year in the NHL, the NBA is dragging out a snooze fest. With some of the largest margin of victory in the history of the league, the Cavaliers and Warriors have made the playoffs “must-miss TV,” with a very low chance of getting to see anything surprising or exciting. There have been a few games of intrigue (Game 7 between the Celtics and Wizards being one of them), and the Finals are supposed to be an epic clash of the Titans, but, in general, NBA fans have had little drama to get them excited or to incentivize tuning in for a game.

One of the reasons that the NHL has been so successful at creating intrigue for the extended playoff season is that their playoff structure stacks exciting matchups early. Intra-division playoff series start each post-season, meaning that teams are facing bitter rivals right off the bat. As the playoffs grow deeper, the gravity of the situation spurs on the intensity, having gotten the boost from prior round’s enthusiasm. The hardwood could learn a thing or two about this by restructuring the divisions in the NBA (which are seemingly worthless now), to allow a playoff structure that would create more engaging and entertaining matchups than watching a top seed abuse a squad with a losing record.

The bottom line is that this spring, two sports have both had the chance to exhibit their greatest chases to the ultimate crown. One of those races has proven to be as exciting and engaging as ever, with matchups that keep the attention of just about all fans of the sport, while the other has put forward a generally unsuccessful attempt to stir up drama where it doesn’t exist. While there is still a ways to go, both sports are forcing fans to choose which they would prefer to watch, and the result may be that the more casuals fans are choosing to watch neither at all. If those fans can’t get the updates and highlights they want on a major network, and are getting highlights that aren’t worth watching, it takes the fun and excitement out of the playoff chase, the time when both sports should be able to shine the brightest.

December 26th: NFL – Not For Long

The NFL is heading into it’s final week, and we already know that the two teams that playing in last year’s Super Bowl will not be returning. With the Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers both eliminated from the playoffs, a new champion will be crowned, and the NFL has plenty of exciting options. Will it be the up-and-coming Dallas Cowboys, led by a pair of rookies blowing records out of the water? Will it be the Oakland Raiders, whom success has avoided in the past decade and a half? Will it be the Pittsburgh Steelers or Green Bay Packers, teams with championship pedigree looking to add to their already proud trophy case?

Regardless of the answer, the NFL has plenty of intrigue. And it doesn’t matter, because nobody is watching.

TV ratings for the NFL are at a low, unseen in recent years. Fewer and fewer fans are watching, buying merchandise, and identifying the NFL as the destination for their attention and their dollars. Many critics have tried to identify the reason for the slow demise of the NFL. Some blame deflate-gate, and the punishment of Tom Brady. Some blame Colin Kaepernick, claiming the NFL has endangered ideas of patriotism. Others complain of the punishments for celebrations, that the fun of the game is being stripped before our eyes.

In any case, the NFL must do something to keep up with their fans. They have to be willing to listen, to pay attention to where the sports world is going, and how they can keep up. If they continue to believe that they know what is best for the sport, belligerently ignoring what the fans and players are asking for, you are going to see a massive dismissal of the sport as a whole.

Baseball just saw two fan bases stimulate the entire sport with their contest in the World Series. Hockey has been using social media to brilliantly connect with fans and garner attention in America and beyond. Basketball is constantly investigating ways to maintain their hold on the audience, including discussions of advertising on jerseys. In all cases, the sports world is looking around and trying to figure out where they belong in the future, and the NFL has demonstrated a critical inability to have those conversations.

Football is a tough sell as it is. The health risks for young people have always been staggering, and something that should make parents very uncomfortable. If the NFL doesn’t find ways to not only improve the health but also ensure that fans are still paying attention, this could be the beginning of the end for football as we know it in America.