Daniel Gluskoter – Martinez Tribune https://martineztribune.com The website of the Martinez Tribune. Wed, 15 Jan 2020 20:24:21 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.3.2 Raiders RB Josh Jacobs named Offensive Rookie of the Year https://martineztribune.com/2020/01/14/raiders/ https://martineztribune.com/2020/01/14/raiders/#respond Wed, 15 Jan 2020 04:00:49 +0000 https://martineztribune.com/?p=13860 Oakland Raiders RB Josh Jacobs was named the Pro Football Writers of America’s Offensive Rookie of the Year on Tuesday in voting conducted by the PFWA, becoming just the second Raider to win the award.   Jacobs started in all of his 13 appearances, rushing 242 times for 1,150 yards and seven scores, adding 20 receptions …

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Oakland Raiders RB Josh Jacobs was named the Pro Football Writers of America’s Offensive Rookie of the Year on Tuesday in voting conducted by the PFWA, becoming just the second Raider to win the award.

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER
Raiders running back Josh Jacobs was named the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year on Tuesday. The 24th overall selection in the 2019 NFL Draft, Jacobs led all rookies with 1,150 rushing yards.

 

Jacobs started in all of his 13 appearances, rushing 242 times for 1,150 yards and seven scores, adding 20 receptions for 166 yards. The 24th overall selection in the 2019 NFL Draft, Jacobs joined Hall of Fame running back Marcus Allen as the only players in franchise history to be named Offensive Rookie of the Year after becoming the first rookie in Silver and Black to surpass the 1,000-yard barrier on the ground. Jacobs broke Allen’s rookie club record (697 yards) in just his first eight games, while also surpassing Allen for most 100-yard rushing performances (five) by a rookie in Raiders history.

Jacobs’ 1,150 rushing yards and seven scores in 2019 were both tops among rookie rushers. His 101.2 scrimmage yards per game also led his rookie class, while his 1,150 yards on the ground ranked sixth overall in the NFL this year and also rank sixth in Raiders history among all single-season rushing performances. Among players 21-years-old or younger, Jacobs’ 1,150 rushing yards in his first 13 contests rank fourth all-time, trailing only Ezekiel Elliott, Edgerrin James and Barry Sanders.

With superb performances in the months of October and November, Jacobs became the first player in franchise history to earn Offensive Rookie of the Month honors and was the first player in the NFL to win the award multiple times since Odell Beckham Jr. in 2014. Per Pro Football Focus, Jacobs forced an incredible 70 missed tackles on runs this season, an NFL best among all rushers and the third-most since at least 2006, behind only Marshawn Lynch’s performances in 2013 and 2014.

Jacobs proved to be more than just an elusive rusher during his rookie campaign, gaining 686 rushing yards after contact, the most by anyone in his draft class and sixth-most by a first-year rusher through the first 13 games of a season during the Super Bowl Era. Jacobs’ finished with 290 more yards after contact than the next-closest rookie, good for fifth overall in just 13 contests after missing three due to injury.

A native of Tulsa, Okla., Jacobs appeared in 42 games over three years at Alabama. He totaled 251 carries for 1,491 yards with 16 touchdowns, adding 48 receptions for 571 yards and five touchdowns for the Crimson Tide, while helping the program capture a national title in 2017.

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Warriors mid-season report card: Focusing on the future https://martineztribune.com/2020/01/14/warriors-mid-season-report-card-focusing-on-the-future/ https://martineztribune.com/2020/01/14/warriors-mid-season-report-card-focusing-on-the-future/#respond Tue, 14 Jan 2020 08:48:29 +0000 https://martineztribune.com/?p=13822 BY MASON BISSADA The 2019-20 season has been one of pain for the Golden State Warriors organization. Its players are feeling this pain physically in the form of broken hands (Stephen Curry), torn ACL’s (Klay Thompson) and shoulder contusions (D’Angelo Russell), and its fans are feeling the pain mentally and emotionally in the form of …

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BY MASON BISSADA

The 2019-20 season has been one of pain for the Golden State Warriors organization. Its players are feeling this pain physically in the form of broken hands (Stephen Curry), torn ACL’s (Klay Thompson) and shoulder contusions (D’Angelo Russell), and its fans are feeling the pain mentally and emotionally in the form of 32 losses (against only nine wins) at the halfway point of the season. A down year, following three championships and five straight years of Finals appearances, was expected after the departure of Kevin Durant and the loss of Klay Thompson to injury. But no one could’ve predicted a down year of this magnitude. Chalk it up to bad luck, salary cap constraints or intentional losing, but this year has been a harsh reality check for all involved. With all that being said, here is our midseason review for the Warriors after game 41, taking injuries, contract constraints and other painful variables into account.

Team Overview

Statistically, the numbers are as bad as the Warriors record would reflect. While the 20th ranked defense in the NBA (points allowed per 100 possessions) is actually somewhat impressive given their personnel, the 30th ranked offense (points scored per 100) is downright deplorable, though not unexpected. On games where D’Angelo Russell is out and Ky Bowman is sent down to Santa Cruz with the Warriors G-League affiliate (an inconvenient stipulation of Bowman’s two-way contract) the Warriors are forced to trot out lineups with no point guard whatsoever. While Draymond Green might consider himself a floor general, having him or Alec Burks as a primary playmaker isn’t exactly a winning formula. Combine that with the Warriors lack of 3-point spacing (they rank 26th in 3-point percentage at 33.6%) and things start to get really ugly.

Defensively, Golden State does have quarters, if not entire games, where they slow down talented offenses. Throwing out no-point guard lineups means above-average size on the perimeter, and players like Glenn Robinson III and Eric Paschall have punched above their weight in terms of guarding scoring wing-types. Problems arise in terms of rebounding (25th in the league) and rim protection, but there are areas for Golden State to take pride in moving forward.

It’s worth reiterating that the Warriors have been one of the most injury-riddled teams in the league. Beyond its stars, its supporting cast has struggled with various ailments. There have been games where only eight Warriors suited up before tip-off. Perhaps this is good luck in terms of lottery odds and the pursuit of tanking. It is even possible that the Warriors organization has told its players and medical staff to be overly cautious with these injuries. There is no point in rushing someone back if the team has nothing to play for. That being said, the team is probably slightly better than their record would suggest.

Roster Report Card

Stephen Curry

Statistics: 20.3 PPG, 5 RPG, 6.5 APG, 40.9% FG, 24.3% 3PT, 4 games played.

Grade: Incomplete

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER

 

Stephen Curry breaking his left hand just four games into the season after an embarrassing 1-3 start to the season was essentially adding injury to insult. It was already becoming apparent that the Warriors were no longer a power in the Western Conference and would likely struggle to make the playoffs even with Curry healthy, but at least fans would have someone fun to watch and root for. Regardless of team record, it would’ve been exciting to see Curry attempt 12 three’s a game and attempt to outscore opponents all on his own. Though his hand injury will likely cement the Warriors lottery odds, it’s a shame fans will miss out on the majority of a season from the greatest Warrior of All-Time while in his prime.

Klay Thompson

Statistics: N/A

Grade: Incomplete

Thompson was often the unsung hero of the Warriors dynasty, particularly after Kevin Durant arrived in 2016. But now, with the Warriors in desperate need of any sort of floor spacing and perimeter defense, his absence is felt more than ever. Thompson’s off-ball movement would take a ton of pressure off of D’Angelo Russell and make use of Draymond Green’s court vision. He could also take away the other team’s biggest threat. Thompson has always been the perfect glue guy, and his presence with this rebuilding roster would elevate the play of many of the new young pieces. This is assuming that he is still essentially the same player he was before his ACL tear. It seems, based on all reports, that fans will have to wait until next season to find out if this is still the case.

Draymond Green

Statistics: 8.6 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 5.6 APG, 38.7% FG, 27.2% 3PT, 30 games played

Grade: C-

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As it has been for the entirety of his career, motivation is a key factor when it comes to Draymond Green. And in what situation would Green be any less motivated than the one through which he’s currently suffering ? All of his championship teammates (sans Kevon Looney) are gone or injured, and he is left as the de facto leader of a group of youngsters in a franchise that is not-so-subtly trying to tank. Now, does this excuse his subpar play ? Of course not. Green has been nowhere near his Defensive Player of the Year self on one end and his jumpshot has looked as broken as ever on the other. His passing has remained consistent and his turnover rate has declined slightly despite his increased usage rate, but it’s obvious that he isn’t maximizing his potential. It is worth noting, however, that players like Green are ceiling raisers, not floor raisers. Green is at his best with other long, switchy wings and a plethora of 3-point shooting around him. His help defense and playmaking are better suited for turning a playoff team into a contender, not turning a bad team into a mediocre one.

D’Angelo Russell

Statistics: 23.7 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 6 APG, 43.7% FG, 37.1% 3PT, 23 games played

Grade: B

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER

 

Russell has dealt with various injuries throughout the season (most recently a shoulder contusion that has kept him sidelined for the last six games), but when healthy, he’s done a decent job of providing much needed offense on a team devoid of any shotmaking. In terms of the aforementioned ‘floor-rasier vs. ceiling-raiser’ issue pertaining to Draymond Green, Russell is at the other end of the spectrum. On nights where he has it going, he can turn an otherwise G-League level offense into a passable one that can beat other subpar teams. Defensively, he has shown little improvement from his first four years in the league. He falls asleep when guarding off the ball and cannot fight over a screen when covering pick-and-rolls. Russell the asset is often more interesting than Russell the player, but we’ll get to that later. In terms on-court production Russell is a very good offensive creator who gives a lot of it back on the other end. It is still undecided whether he can contribute to true winning basketball. Northern California readers: think of Kevin Martin’s tenure as a Sacramento King as a good facsimile for Russell’s contributions.

Eric Paschall

Statistics: 13.6 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 1.8 APG, 48.7% FG, 27.6% 3PT, 36 games played

Grade: B+

For a time towards the beginning of the season, it looked like Paschall was forcing himself into the Rookie of the Year conversation. He was briefly the Number-1 option on a depleted Warriors  team and carrying the load with competence not often seen from second-round picks in their first year. Various injuries to his knee and hip have slowed him down to some extent (this is a trend throughout the roster) but when healthy, Paschall has shown skill beyond his years. Though his 3-point shot is still missing and his playmaking is a work in progress, his scoring from the triple-threat and post positions make him an intriguing offensive player. He has the ever-desirable ‘too big for 3’s and too quick for 4’s’ body type that will serve him well should the rest of his skillset develop.

Damion Lee

Statistics: 12.3 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 2.3 APG, 40.7% FG, 36% 3PT, 26 games played

Grade: B

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER

 

Since returning from injury, Lee has been one of the two or three best offensive players for the Warriors. He is surprisingly explosive driving to the hoop and has hit his three’s at an above-average clip, two categories in which the Warriors were lacking. Kerr has rewarded Lee with a starting position and General Manager Bob Myers has rewarded him with a multi-year contract extension (Lee was previously the Warriors’ other two-way contract).

Ky Bowman

Statistics: 7.5 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 2.9 RPG, 41.2% FG, 34.8% 3PT, 36 games played

Grade: B

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER

 

Bowman’s game screams “energy,” a trait that is often infectious with this team and is the best path to victory for any roster that lacks natural talent. He’s a speedy, athletic point guard that does a decent job of controlling the pace of the game on offense and pestering the opposing team’s point guard on the other end of the floor. While his jumpshot is a bit unreliable and he is hesitant to take three’s as a result, he is an overall positive offensive player. Unfortunately, he’s nearly reached the 45-day limit on his two-way contract. With D’Angelo Russell returning from injury, Bowman is likely to spend the rest of the season in Santa Cruz. Still, he projects as a viable backup point guard to Steph Curry next season.

Glenn Robinson III

Statistics: 12.2 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 1.6 APG, 45.7% FG, 38.6% 3PT, 40 games played

Grade: B+

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER

 

Robinson has been the Warriors’ best two-way player this season. Granted, the bar for that title is low, but that should not diminish his success after a lost season in Detroit last year. His perimeter defense at the 2 and 3 positions has been above average, and he’s the best volume 3-point shooter on the team. He’s also shown primary offensive creation (stepback jumpers, dribble-drive penetration) that he’s never displayed in his career before. Robinson appears to be another “ceiling-raiser” type player that will truly prove his worth when the roster is completely healthy. A Curry/Thompson/Robinson/Paschall/Green pseudo-death-lineup is extremely intriguing.

Willie Cauley-Stein

Statistics: 7.8 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 1.4 APG, 55.5% FG, N/A 3PT, 36 games played

Grade: C-

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER

 

Cauley-Stein was hoped to be the answer for the Warriors at center, or at least share that title with Kevon Looney, but he hasn’t quite lived up to expectations. His rim protection and defensive awareness leave something to be desired, and he is not nearly the switchable force many touted him to be going back to his college days. Offensively, he is posting just a 100.5 offensive rating. His superior athletic ability hasn’t seemed to help him as a roll man working off of D’Angelo Russell or Ky Bowman. Steve Kerr recently benched Cauley-Stein in favor of Omari Spellman, likely due to Cauley-Stein’s lack of floor spacing ability.

Omari Spellman

Statistics: 7.8 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 1 APG, 45.4% FG, 43% 3PT, 38 games played

Grade: C

Spellman has been a bit of an enigma this season. His goal to start the season was to get into playing shape and shed a few pounds (he admitted this himself) and he seems to have achieved that goal as of late. He looks more mobile, and has scored in double-digits in five consecutive games as of January 12th. It is still unclear what Spellman’s position is, as he does not offer any substantial rim protection necessary to play center. Still, he does inject a bit more shooting into lineups that desperately need it. On a team with two more-talented power forwards in Green and Paschall, perhaps Kerr has found a niche for Spellman at center for the time being.

Alec Burks

Statistics: 15.8 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 3.1 APG, 41.1% FG, 36.4% 3PT, 38 games played

Grade: B-

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER

 

The fact that Alec Burks is the second-leading scorer on this Warriors team behind Russell is quite indicative of the type of season they’re having. Still Burks has seized a scoring niche that was essentially up for grabs after Curry went down. Though it is often feast or famine with him (he shot 3-17 the other night against the Clippers), his creation is desperately needed on the second unit, where he is essentially the backup point guard (note the career-high in assists per game).

Jacob Evans III

Statistics: 4.7 PPG, 1.6 RPG, 1.1 APG, 31.1% FG, 37% 3PT, 20 games played

Grade: D+

Evans has been in and out of Golden State’s rotation, but hasn’t been a positive player when Kerr is forced to play him due to a lack of bodies. His effective field goal percentage of 35.9% is egregious, and his decision making with the ball is unremarkable. He does give effort on the defensive end, but not enough to make up for his lack of offensive ability.

Kevon Looney

Statistics: 2.6 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 0.4 APG, 34.4% FG, 50% 3PT, 10 games played

Grade: Incomplete

Though 10 games is probably a large enough sample size for a letter grade, Looney’s season has been too riddled with injuries to properly evaluate his play. He played hurt, and re-injured himself shortly after. He’s still currently out indefinitely with an abdominal injury that has sidelined him since mid-December. When healthy last season, Looney was a valuable center earning minutes in the NBA Finals. Time will tell if he can return to that form at some point this season.

Jordan Poole

Statistics: 6.9 PPG, 1.9 RPG, 1.8 APG, 26.3% FG, 24.8% 3PT, 34 games played

Grade: F+

Jordan Poole has been one of the worst players in the NBA from a statistical standpoint. He came out of college labeled a shooter, and has missed three out of every four he’s taken this season. He’s undersized for his position defensively, and doesn’t seem to have much awareness when he’s on the court. It might not be entirely his fault, as he’s often been tasked with more than he can handle due to the Warriors injury plague. He shows flashes of intelligent playmaking, but not nearly enough to make up for his poor offensive play. At the end of the day, his shot just isn’t falling, and the sample size is large enough to confirm this is not a fluke or cold streak.

Alen Smailagić

Statistics: 4.6 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 0.6 APG, 53.8% FG, 25% 3PT, 8 games played

Grade: C+

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER

 

Smailagic is still largely a huge question mark. He’s long, lanky and incredibly raw (he’s the only 2000’s baby on the team). His jumpshot is what will determine whether he’s an NBA player, but his body type has the potential to fit a Warriors style offense. He also recently had his ‘”welcome to the NBA” moment when Kawhi Leonard threw down a nasty dunk on his head, so perhaps that moment will catapult his career.

Trade Deadline

D’Angelo Russell’s short Warriors career has already been riddled with trade rumors. It makes sense. The Warriors are in no position to contend for a playoff spot and Russell is a young, talented player that still hasn’t reached his peak. However, he is also on the first year of a four-year max contract. While this may seem like security to some, it could also seem like handcuffs to others. It also appears that, internally, the Warriors are in no rush to deal the young star. The most recent evidence comes from The Athletic’s Sam Amick, who reported that Golden State is unlikely to move Russell by the trade deadline and a deal involving the Orlando Magic’s Aaron Gordon is a “hard no” on Golden State’s end. It seems that the Warriors want to see what they have with Russell next to their fully-loaded roster before making any rash decisions. There is also the possibility that Golden State could package Russell and their 2020 draft pick for a much bigger fish once the draft lottery order is determined.

In terms of smaller moves, Glenn Robinson III could help a contender with his highly-coveted three-and-D skillset, but it seems unlikely that any team would be willing to give up a first-round pick for him given the other players on the trade market that are ahead of him. Unless the Warriors are blown away by an offer, look for them to keep Robinson and test out his fit next to the Splash Brothers next season.

A Look to the Future

At 9-32, the Warriors currently have the second-worst record in the NBA behind the Atlanta Hawks. This means they currently have the highest chance (14%), along with the Hawks and New York Knicks, at the #1 pick in the 2020 Draft. Whether they admit it or not, everyone in the Warriors organization is aware of these standings and they are going to do everything within the legality of the league to insure that this remains the case. In fact, we may already be seeing a 76ers “process” scenario taking place. Recent videos posted by the Athletic’s Anthony Slater of a Warriors practice show Steph Curry using his left hand during shooting and dribbling drills without any sort of hindrance. This is not to say that Curry is completely healthy at this moment and is out for no reason. However this does come back to the idea of caution. If this were the playoffs, it wouldn’t be unheard of for Curry to return within the next two weeks. Other players with similar injuries have come back far sooner than Curry’s current timetable. But if Golden State is playing for ping pong balls rather than rings, why not let his hand heal to 110% before bringing him back to a depleted roster ? Curry will no doubt help the Warriors win games, and that just isn’t their priority right now. Look for him to return towards the end of February or early March.

Until then, this season will continue to be a “development” year. The young players will continue to play big minutes whether they’ve earned them or not, and Draymond Green will continue to give sad, single-sentence answers to reporters after heart-breaking losses. Perhaps the All-Star break will give the team some much-needed reflection time and they’ll return with a new mindset. Other than that, all eyes are focused on the May 19th draft lottery, when the results of whether there will be any upside to the suffering of Warriors fans will be revealed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Niners D dominates Vikes 27-10 to advance to conference final https://martineztribune.com/2020/01/11/niners-d-dominates-vikings-27-10-to-advance-to-conference-final/ https://martineztribune.com/2020/01/11/niners-d-dominates-vikings-27-10-to-advance-to-conference-final/#comments Sun, 12 Jan 2020 03:43:57 +0000 https://martineztribune.com/?p=13799 BY DANIEL GLUSKOTER Showing the benefit of an extra week of rest thanks to a bye week, the 49ers used a dominating defensive performance to destroy the Minnesota Vikings 27-10 at Levi’s Stadium Saturday afternoon to advance to the 16th NFC Championship game in franchise history. Buoyed by the return of injured starters Dee Ford …

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BY DANIEL GLUSKOTER

Showing the benefit of an extra week of rest thanks to a bye week, the 49ers used a dominating defensive performance to destroy the Minnesota Vikings 27-10 at Levi’s Stadium Saturday afternoon to advance to the 16th NFC Championship game in franchise history.

Buoyed by the return of injured starters Dee Ford and Kwon Alexander, San Francisco’s rejuvenated defense limited Minnesota to seven first downs and 147 yards of offense, the fewest in 49ers playoff history and the lowest total in the NFL playoffs in the last five years.

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER
San Francisco linebacker Nick Bosa grabs Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins for the first of his two sacks on the day during the 49ers 27-10 win over Minnesota.

The Niners got six sacks from five different players, two by Nick Bosa, and Richard Sherman intercepted Kirk Cousins early in the third quarter to set up a touchdown drive when the Vikings were still in the game in spite of a listless first half by their offense, to help lead San Francisco to their first playoff win since 2013. Minnesota had 11 possessions and went three-and-out seven times while going just 2-for-12 on third downs. Dalvin Cook, the tenth leading rusher in the NFL during the regular season, was held to just 18 yards.

The 49ers running attack controlled the game as Tevin Coleman rushed for 105 yards and a pair of touchdowns while Raheem Mostert added 58 on 12 carries as San Francisco ate up huge portions of the clock, controlling the ball for over 38 minutes while limiting the Vikings to just over 21 minutes of offensive play. Mostert also recovered a fumble on special teams late in the third quarter deep in Minnesota territory to set up a Niners field goal for the final score of the game.

After holding Minnesota to a three-and-out on the game’s opening drive, the Niners responded with an eight-play, 61 yard drive that culminated with a three yard touchdown pass from Jimmy Garoppolo to Kendrick Bourne. Appearing in his first game in the post-season, Garoppolo wasn’t a major factor in the win, completing a pedestrian 11-19 for 131 yards with an interception along with the touchdown.

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER
Kendrick Bourne rejoices after a 21 yard third quarter reception during the 49ers 27-10 playoff win over the Minnesota Vikings. Bourne added a touchdown reception on San Francisco’s opening drive.

Niners coach Kyle Shanahan, asked about the importance of the touchdown on the opening drive setting the tone and getting the crowd involved, stated “It’s huge. We didn’t play all last week. You’re at your home crowd and you want to come out and be like that. You could hear the fans just in pregame warmups. The stadium was electric. It was different than it’s been. When our defense holds them, I want to say it was three-and-out to start. We get in there, are able to go down and get seven. It’s a great feeling.”

Shanahan added, “The Bye Week helped the most. None of those guys (Alexander, Ford and safety Jaquiski Tartt) would have been available last week. So, it was perfect to give them the week that they had, so their first game back was now. I think they all got out of it, from what I know of, pretty clean and should be ready to go again next week.”

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER
Raheem Mostert sidesteps Minnesota’s Eric Wilson on the way to a 58 yard rushing day Saturday afternoon at Levi’s Stadium.

Five years after his Seahawks were denied the opportunity to repeat as Super Bowl champions on the game’s final, Sherman’s mission of returning to the ultimate game after tearing his Achilles was bolstered by his interception, but after the game he was more interested in giving credit to the 49ers offense. “It’s not like you can say, going into a game against our offense, you’ve got to stop this guy (All-Pro tight end George Kittle) and it’s over. I don’t know what George’s numbers were, but he had impact today. You’ve got to account for him.”

Sherman added, “You’ve got to account for Raheem (Mostert). You’ve got to account for Emmanuel (Sanders). Deebo (Samuels). Jimmy. T-Cole (Coleman). A lot of balance. And on defense, you have to worry about all three levels.” He added, “This team deserves it. Jimmy Garoppolo played a fantastic game on offense. Kyle Shanahan deserves it. He’s a heck of a coach. Robert Saleh deserves it. [Special teams coordinator Richard] Hightower deserves it. All our position coaches. Our D-Line. Team deserves it. We work week in and week out. We try to put our best on the line. We don’t always get the results we want, but this team is a team, it’s a family.”

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER
49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan and Raheem Mostert (31) congratulate each other in the closing seconds of the Niners 27-10 win over the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Divisional Playoffs at Levi’s Stadium as Richard Sherman (left) and defensive coordinator Robert Saleh (center) look on.

With the win, the 49ers will host the winner of Sunday’s Seahawks-Packers game for a chance to play in Super Bowl LIV in Miami.

GAME NOTES:

San Francisco has already faced both of their potential Championship game foes during the regular season. The Niners embarrassed Green Bay 37-8 in a Week 11 Sunday night game at Levi’s, and traded road wins with Seattle in a pair of games that both came down to the final play.

With the win: The Niners improved to 5-1 against the Vikings in postseason play, with each game coming in the Divisional Round. San Francisco also improved their overall record to 16-7 in the Divisional Round of the playoffs.

The 21 rushing yards allowed by the 49ers defense is the fewest allowed in a postseason game in franchise history.

The last time the 49ers held a postseason opponent without a first down on seven-or-more drives was Super Bowl XXIX in 1995 against the Chargers.

The six sacks tied for the second most in a postseason game in franchise history. In addition to Bosa’s two sacks, Arik Armstead, DeForest Buckner, Dee Ford and Solomon Thomas each took down Cousins for a loss.

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Clippers hand Warriors another heart-breaking loss, 109-100 https://martineztribune.com/2020/01/10/clippers-hand-warriors-another-heart-breaking-loss-109-100/ https://martineztribune.com/2020/01/10/clippers-hand-warriors-another-heart-breaking-loss-109-100/#respond Sat, 11 Jan 2020 07:58:23 +0000 https://martineztribune.com/?p=13790 BY MASON BISSADA In what is becoming more and more of a consistent trend, the Golden State Warriors suffered yet another heart-breaking loss to a contending team with whom they had no business going toe-to-toe with in the first place. Tonight, that contender was the Los Angeles Clippers, who rallied in the fourth quarter after …

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BY MASON BISSADA

In what is becoming more and more of a consistent trend, the Golden State Warriors suffered yet another heart-breaking loss to a contending team with whom they had no business going toe-to-toe with in the first place. Tonight, that contender was the Los Angeles Clippers, who rallied in the fourth quarter after being down as many as 10, outscoring the Warriors 36-17 in the final quarter of play and stealing a 109-100 victory Friday night at Staples Center from a Warriors team that can’t seem to catch a break.

In the final minutes, Golden State was simply out-executed by a team that was more talented, more experienced and more explosive on both ends of the floor. With just over a minute to go, Kawhi Leonard, who carried his team offensively with 36 points on 14-25 shooting to go along with eight rebounds and five assists, hammered home a monster dunk on what seemed like all five Warriors to put Los Angeles up six. On the following possession, Patrick Beverely swatted Glenn Robinson III’s shot attempt. Alec Burks was able to recover the ball, only to have his shot blocked just the same by Leonard, essentially sealing the game. Golden State’s uncanny shot-making luck ran out when it mattered most, and the better team won yet again.

“They overwhelmed us [in the fourth quarter],” Head Coach Steve Kerr said postgame. “They played a great quarter and got downhill. Kawhi and Lou Williams both got going. We just couldn’t put the ball in the basket. They’re a hell of a team and we just couldn’t keep up with them.”

Had Golden State been able to sustain the level of play they displayed through the first three quarters, tonight might have been their most impressive win of the season. Through three quarters, the Warriors led 83-73, finding success by forcing Clipper turnovers (they had 19 on the night) and scoring in transition.

Key to those first three successful quarters was Omari Spellman, who rewarded Steve Kerr for inserting him into the starting lineup by dropping 17 points and hitting four of his eight 3-pointers. 11 of those 17 came in the first half, as Spellman struggled with foul trouble in the second. While he doesn’t have the sheer athletic ability that Willie Cauley-Stein brings, Spellman gave the Warriors a spacing element that Cauley-Stein doesn’t offer while still being a rebounding presence defensively. Steve Kerr seems to be enjoying the freedom of losing, as he continues to tinker with his rebuilding group in search of a halfway decent lineup.

“I thought “Oh man, let’s go!’” Spellman said when asked what his reaction was to learning he’d be starting. “This is the opportunity I’ve been waiting for. My confidence has been coming back. I just wanted to hoop.”

With D’Angelo Russell out for a sixth straight game with a shoulder contusion, the offensive burden was once again up for grabs in the Warriors’ starting lineup. Tonight, Glenn Robinson III once again carried the majority of the load, scoring 17 points on 7-12 shooting. Robinson’s offensive creation this season continues to ascend. In the third quarter, Robinson dropped in a bucket off of a tough stepback jumper that one wouldn’t assume he has in his bag of tricks. Though he is often overtaxed as a number-one option, Robinson continues to shine on a depleted roster.

It is tough to say whether Alec Burks shot the Warriors out of this game or kept them afloat when they should’ve sank. On the one hand, he shot a miserable 3-17 from the field including 1-7 from three for just 16 points. On the other hand, he did get to the free-throw line nine times, making all of his attempts and forcing Clippers shooting guard Landry Shammet into foul trouble. He was also a team-high plus-7 on the night. It’s probably more of the first hand, but on a team that seriously lacks any sort of offensive creation, particularly off the bench, you live with these sort of nights from players like Burks, who can occasionally spark a scoring burst.

For the Clippers, it was essentially the Kawhi Leonard Show. He attempted 25 shots while the rest of the starting lineup attempted a combined 23. However, with running-mate Paul George out, Lou Williams stepped up yet again and dropped a cool 21 points and eight assists to sustain the Clippers’ offense while Leonard sat. The Warriors did a decent job of slowing the rest of the Clippers’ roster (particularly Montrezl Harrell, who scored just 11 points), but in the end, the Leonard/Williams duo proved enough on its own to get the job done.

Golden State continues to give away winnable games in “yes, yes, yes, no !” fashion. While this is obviously beneficial in the long run in terms of lottery odds and their 2020 first-round pick, these sort of heart-breaking defeats must have some sort of mental effect on this team’s young core. Losing isn’t fun, and building losing habits is not ideal for a team that hopes to return to contention next season.

Golden State will hope to recover from tonight’s loss when they square off against the Grizzlies on Sunday in Memphis at 3 p.m.

GAME NOTES:

Glenn Robinson III simply cannot guard Kawhi Leonard. While this sounds obvious and very few players in the league can, it is worth noting that Robinson has been touted as the Warriors’ perimeter stopper. Perhaps he is being taxed too much on the offensive end.

Ky Bowman had a quiet night tonight, which is a shame considering his G-League call-ups continue to dwindle.

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Elway’s selection as quarterback on NFL100 team indefensible https://martineztribune.com/2020/01/06/elways-selection-as-quarterback-on-nfl100-team-indefensible/ https://martineztribune.com/2020/01/06/elways-selection-as-quarterback-on-nfl100-team-indefensible/#respond Tue, 07 Jan 2020 02:15:18 +0000 https://martineztribune.com/?p=13747 BY J.A. SCHWARTZ In December, the NFL celebrated the 100th anniversary of professional football by announcing the NFL100 team, representing the best 100 players to ever play in the league. The panel that chose those players was made up of 26 people, including coaches, team executives, retired players and members of the media. Twenty-two quarterbacks …

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BY J.A. SCHWARTZ

In December, the NFL celebrated the 100th anniversary of professional football by announcing the NFL100 team, representing the best 100 players to ever play in the league. The panel that chose those players was made up of 26 people, including coaches, team executives, retired players and members of the media.

Twenty-two quarterbacks were considered finalists, but only ten made the final team. Of that group of ten, one signal caller stood out as being the least deserving member of this auspicious collection: John Elway.

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER
Denver’s John Elway ended his 16 year NFL career on top, winning back-to-back Super Bowl‘s. His rightful place in the Hall of Fame is undisputed, but his recent selection to the NFL’s All-Century team is being highly questioned.

 

To his credit, Elway survived 16 NFL seasons, all with the Denver Broncos. His 51,475 passing yards is ninth All-Time among quarterbacks, and his 300 passing touchdowns are good for twelfth All-Time. He guided his teams to five Super Bowls, second only to the seemingly immortal Tom Brady, who has reached nine. Elway also recorded a whopping 31 fourth quarter comebacks, good for sixth All-Time, which do not include the four playoff games during which he rescued the Broncos from a deficit to win when they trailed in the final quarter. One of the signature Elway moments includes “The Drive,” when he took Denver 98 yards to score the game-tying touchdown against Cleveland in the 1987 AFC Championship game. He led Denver to ten playoff seasons, and was 14-7 as a starter in the postseason. His 148 regular season wins is good for fifth All-Time. His career was certainly a strong one in many regards, but his inclusion on a list of the best to ever play the position is an egregious error.

Elway played college football at Stanford (1979-1982), where his team was 20-23 with him under center. Despite winning Pac-10 Player of the Year honors in 1980 and 1982, and finishing second in the Heisman balloting in 1982, he never led the Cardinal to a single bowl game.

He was the consensus top talent in the 1983 NFL draft, and was the clear favorite to be drafted #1 overall by the Baltimore Colts, who had gone 0-8-1 in the strike shortened 1982 season to earn the top slot. Elway, however, was not interested in playing for such a moribund team, and had his agent direct the Colts not to draft him. He apparently preferred to play on the West Coast, something his agent communicated to the Colts brass. His father, Jack, also warned his son against playing for Baltimore coach Frank Kush, who had a reputation as a strong disciplinarian.

Despite his wishes, the Colts drafted Elway with the top selection in the draft. Since Elway was also a gifted baseball player, having been drafted by the Yankees 52nd overall in 1981, he used his potential as a ballplayer to convince the Colts he’d never play for them. “As I stand here right now, I’m playing baseball,” Elway would say at a press conference after Baltimore had chosen him in the NFL draft. Eventually, his power play paid off, and his rights were traded to Denver.

It says something about the character of a player to feel that his wishes, based on his talent and preferences, were higher priorities than the established method of talent distribution that the NFL had utilized through the draft for many years prior to 1983. It is one of the most basic principles of fairness and competition to award the least successful franchises with access to the very best players to enter the league, ensuring that those teams improve as a result.

The NFL draft had existed in some form since 1936, helping to move the league towards parity as a result of the worst-to-best ordering that has been the foundational principle for nearly 50 years when Elway decided his unique abilities were above such mundane considerations. He would play football only where he wanted to play (and never for the Colts), and used baseball to force the Colts to trade his rights. John Elway had manipulated the process by which talent is fairly distributed throughout the league, and placed himself outside the parameters of competitive balance as a result.

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER
Saints quarterback Drew Brees is the NFL’s All-Time leader in touchdown passes, passing yardage and completion percentage, but he still wasn’t named to the league’s recently announced NFL100 team.

 

There are many ways to assess the relative merits of a quarterback. Elway’s average NFL season saw him complete 57% of his passes, amassing 3,500+ yards along with 21 TD’s and 16 interceptions. His passer rating was 79.9. That passer rating is good for 78th All-Time among quarterbacks who have attempted 1,500 or more throws in their career. For comparison, other nominated top 100 QB’s dwarf that figure: Aaron Rodgers (102.4, 1st overall), Drew Brees (98.4, 3rd) and Steve Young (96.8, 7th). Troy Aikman, Bart Starr, Dan Fouts and Fran Tarkenton also eclipse Elway’s career mark, yet none of those players made the final cut as one of the Top 10 quarterbacks ever.

The rules of football have evolved over the years to make it easier for both quarterbacks and receivers to gain yardage through the air, and the top of the ranking lists are littered with men who started their careers after Elway retired in 1998. In fact, of the top 20 quarterbacks by the passer rating metric, all but two (Joe Montana and Steve Young) started their careers in 1998 or later, after Elway retired.

So how did Elway stack up against quarterbacks who were active during his career by that measure? The quick answer: Not very well at all.

Among quarterbacks whose careers overlapped Elway’s by at least five seasons, (and who attempted at least 1,500 career passes), he ranks 23rd in passer rating. Players who eclipsed his 79.9 rating include Young (96.8), Montana (92.3), and Dan Marino (86.4). Aikman and Fouts also had more favorable scores.

Elway had 226 career interceptions, and lost 102 fumbles, meaning that he turned the ball over 328 times in his career. He ranks 5th All-Time in fumbles, and 17th all time in interceptions.

Another metric favored by the analytic community is adjusted net yards per attempt, (ANYA), which takes into account passing yards, yards lost by sacks, and weights touchdown passes and interceptions differently than passer rating does. Surely, if Elway’s genius would be apparent in any set of numbers, maybe this would be the one. It is not.

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER
Steve Young’s overall numbers are noticeably superior to John Elway’s. He’s the fourth leading career rusher among quarterbacks and holds the Super Bowl record for most touchdown passes in a game, but he was passed over when the NFL recently named the top QB’s on it’s All-Century team.

 

By ANYA, Elway’s 5.60 adjusted yards per attempt is 58th All-Time. Brees (7.08) and Young (6.85) dwarf Elway’s average, and Fouts (5.90) and Aikman (5.66) also have better numbers than Denver’s hero.

The panel selecting the very best players ever to play the most important position in the game must have weighted Elway’s playoff performances more heavily than his mediocre regular season statistics. After all, leading his team to five Super Bowls has to count for something, and his performance in those playoff games must be outstanding. This is not the reality.

Of the top 50 quarterbacks to attempt at least 150 passes in the playoffs, Elway ranks 35th with a 79.7 rating, a notch below his already ordinary regular season numbers. Brees (100.0), Aikman (88.3) and Young (85.8) are all well ahead of Elway by this measure.

In his 22 playoff games, Elway completed 355 passes of his 651 throws, a 54.5% rate, a number that places him outside of the Top 50 playoff QB’s by that metric. Brees (66.3%), Aikman (63.7) and Young (62.1%) best Elway in this comparison as well, and by a significant margin. He had 27 TDs and 21 INTs in his playoff career.

So, Elway must have shone brightest on the biggest stage, the Super Bowl. He had five such attempts at the Lombardi Trophy, and his reputation must have been burnished while the whole world watched him dazzle his opponents. The evidence seems to indicate otherwise. Elway’s eight Super Bowl interceptions are the most All-Time. He completed 76 of 152 attempts, a 50% clip.

His passer rating was 59.3, below even his mediocre standard in the regular season, throwing only three Super Bowl touchdowns against the record eight interceptions in the big game. His teams managed to go 2-3 in those championship contests. Brees, Aikman and Young have all won at least one Super Bowl, and Aikman and Young have three championships each (though Young was a 49er backup to Joe Montana on the 1988 and 1989 teams that won it all).

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER
Troy Aikman was undefeated in three trips to the Super Bowl, posting a 11-4 record in the post-season. It wasn’t enough to get him selected to the NFL100 team.

 

It is difficult, if not downright impossible, to justify John Elway’s selection as a top 10 quarterback of All-Time, especially considering the clearly superior careers turned in by Troy Aikman, Steve Young and the still active Drew Brees.

Brees holds All-Time NFL records with 547 touchdowns, a 67.6% completion percentage, and 77,416 passing yards. His QB rating is 98.4, and his AYNA is 7.08. In the playoffs, Brees is 8-7, throwing for 33 TD’s with 11 interceptions, a completion percentage of 66.3%, a QBR of exactly 100 and an AYNA of 7.41. In his lone Super Bowl appearance, a 31-17 victory over the Colts, he went 32-39 for 288 yards with 2 TD’s and no interceptions for a rating of 114.5 and was named MVP. Brees also eclipses Elway with 35 regular season fourth quarter comebacks, and adds another two in the postseason.

Steve Young’s regular season figures include 232 touchdowns against 102 INTs. He had a 64.3% completion percentage, good for 33,124 yards. His QB rating was 96.8, and his ANYA is 6.85. In the postseason, Young was 8-6, throwing 20 TD’s against 13 INT’s, a completion percentage of 62.0%, a QBR of 85.8 and an ANYA of 6.06. He also rushed for 4,239 yards, the fourth highest career total of rushing yards by a quarterback, outgaining Elway by 832 yards in 65 less games. In winning his only Super Bowl appearance as a starter, a 49-26 destruction of the San Diego Chargers, he was 24-36 for 325 yards with a Super Bowl record six touchdown passes and no interceptions, a rating of 134.8. Young does not have Elway’s volume stats, but is far superior to him by every other statistical measure.

The committee apparently spent a significant amount of time debating the merits of the players that were honored with inclusion on the Top 100 All-Tme team, so they must have been assessing passers on a different basis than those utilized in this article.

John Elway is not one of the Top 10 quarterbacks of All-Time, and he might not be worthy of even being considered in the top 25 passers in the history of the NFL. Brees and Young both have far stronger cases to be honored than Elway does, and even Aikman and Fouts could be judged to have had at least similar achievements during their careers.

Perhaps this seemingly indefensible gaffe will be corrected in the future. It would be tragic to mislead serious football fans about the quality of Elway’s career in relation to his peers and the shortest list of the greatest quarterbacks in history. Elway has no business being in that conversation.

When one factors in his selfish, entitled attitude around the 1983 NFL draft, when he deemed himself too talented to be wasted on the likes of the Baltimore franchise, Elway would seem a very poor choice to represent the leadership and character that are at least as important as pure talent when it comes to define the paradigm of a successful quarterback in the NFL.

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Can we finally lay to rest biases about African-American QB’s ? https://martineztribune.com/2019/12/11/can-we-finally-move-on-from-biases-about-african-american-qbs/ https://martineztribune.com/2019/12/11/can-we-finally-move-on-from-biases-about-african-american-qbs/#respond Wed, 11 Dec 2019 08:01:52 +0000 https://martineztribune.com/?p=13671 BY J.A. SCHWARTZ Throughout the history of the NFL, minority quarterbacks coming out of college have been saddled with the notion that they don’t have the necessary skills to succeed in the NFL. As recently as last year, these quotes were offered about Lamar Jackson, the current front-runner for the league’s MVP Award by NFL …

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BY J.A. SCHWARTZ

Throughout the history of the NFL, minority quarterbacks coming out of college have been saddled with the notion that they don’t have the necessary skills to succeed in the NFL. As recently as last year, these quotes were offered about Lamar Jackson, the current front-runner for the league’s MVP Award by NFL draft analysts and former executives:

Hall of Fame GM Bill Polian, when asked about the top quarterbacks in the draft class, stated “I don’t think that Lamar’s in that discussion. In fact, there’s a question that he may be a receiver. No, I’m not kidding you. And that has to do with girth and skill set as well.”

Draft analyist Anthony Becht opined “If Lamar Jackson opens his options to multiple positions, he will play sooner in the NFL. If he commits to QB, it’s going to be awhile.”

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER
Russell Wilson wasn’t selected until the 76th pick of the NFL draft in 2012, but he led the Seahawks to their first Super Bowl title in just his second season and has started 125 straight games for Seattle without missing a start. He’s thrown 222 touchdown passes with only 68 interceptions while compiling a 101.2 QBR, the second highest rating in NFL history.

 

Similar statements have been made regarding many minority standout college QB’s before they made their pro debuts. It may finally be time to retire that line of thinking.

Last week, San Francisco 49ers announcer Tim Ryan characterized Jackson’s skill on play fakes as being enhanced by his “dark skin with a dark football.” Four days later, the team suspended Ryan for what many viewed as a racist comment. In a statement, the team said that “We hold Tim to a high standard as a representative of our organization, and he must be more thoughtful with his words.” Ryan issued an apology, but was not part of the Niners broadcast team for their game against the Saints this past Sunday.

While it would be an exercise in reductionism to try to quickly describe how the NFL has evolved in its view of race in general, and minority quarterbacks in particular, the fact that statements such as those have been made in the past calendar year is more than a little concerning. It’s not difficult to imagine that for every quote that is made public, there are dozens of others that never surface.

Unfortunately, racism exists in every corner of our world, and is manifest in ways that are both overtly violent and subtly destructive. Only by identifying racist behaviors, comments and attitudes can progress towards understanding the nature of the issue be made, and it is incumbent upon those with a public platform to call attention to those examples.

However, inflammatory and hate filled rhetoric only serves to galvanize the closed-mindedness that helps perpetuate these problems. It is necessary to validate the outrage felt by those harmed by these tendencies, and to attempt to provide a forum for intelligent discourse to be shared in the aftermath of incidents such as the Tim Ryan situation. Whether he intended to appear insensitive to the nature of his words or not, he must know that those words have power, and that as a public figure, and one who represents the ethos of an entire franchise, he must be ever mindful of the words he chooses. His lack of awareness was rightfully met by a swift decision from the team to suspend him.

©PATRICK MAHOMES
The 10th pick of the draft in 2017 out of Texas Tech, Patrick Mahomes exploded onto the NFL scene last year after playing only one game in his rookie season behind Alex Smith. He led Kansas City to the AFC West title with a 12-4 record while shattering the Chiefs single-season records with 50 touchdowns and 5,097 passing yards.

 

The history of the NFL is littered with examples of minority college quarterbacks who were not given a fair shot at competing for professional jobs because of firmly held, arguably racist biases against their mental capacity to master the rigors of the position.

Warren Moon was a star QB for the University of Washington in 1977. He led the Huskies to a Pac-8 title that year, and his college career culminated with a Rose Bowl victory over Michigan. Moon was named the MVP of that game. Despite his excellent senior year, Moon went undrafted in the twelve-round1978 NFL draft. He was able to find employment in the Canadian Football League with the Edmonton Eskimos, who recognized his talent as a signal caller. Moon helped lead Edmonton to five consecutive Grey Cup championships from 1978-1982, and was named the MVP in the 1980 and 1982 title games.

After a final CFL season in 1983 where Moon threw for a league record 5,648 yards and was named MVP of the league, the NFL finally came calling. He retired after the 2000 season and is now a member of both the CFL and NFL Hall’s of Fame.

It was 1978 when Doug Williams became the first African-American QB drafted in the NFL’s first round. Five full years would pass before another would be drafted by an NFL franchise. Williams would go on to become the first African-American to lead a team to the Super Bowl with Washington in 1987, and the first minority QB to win one as the Redskins destroyed John Elway and Denver 42-10 as Williams was named MVP of Super Bowl XVVII.

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER
Cam Newton led the Auburn Tigers to the 2010 national championship before being selected as the top pick in the draft by the Carolina Panthers. In 2015 he led the Panthers to the Super Bowl and was named the NFL’s MVP. In just eight seasons he’s recorded the third most rushing yards by a quarterback in NFL history.

 

There have been more recent examples of minority college quarterbacks who were drafted in the first round and had successful NFL careers: Randall Cunningham, Steve McNair, Donavan McNabb, Duante Culpepper, Michael Vick and Cam Newton quickly come to mind. It would be difficult to argue that those players were not mentally equipped to master the skills required to succeed at the game’s highest level, and one would hope that their successes helped pave the way for the current crop of quarterbacks who are enjoying historic levels of performance.

14 weeks into the season, the top five rated quarterbacks by ESPN’s QBR rating, the most comprehensive measure of performance at that position, were all African-American’s. Lamar Jackson, Patrick Mahomes, Dak Prescott, Russell Wilson and DeShaun Watson lead the NFL in that category, and, not coincidentally, each signal caller has his team in position for a playoff berth with only three games remaining.

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER
Dak Prescott’s leadership skills have never been questioned since he replaced Tony Romo as the Cowboys signal caller at the start of the 2016 season. The fourth round pick out of Mississippi State hasn’t missed a game while throwing for 91 touchdown passes with only 36 interceptions.

 

Nothing speaks louder than success on the field. The current generation of minority NFL quarterbacks are helping their franchises win football games. Any argument that questions their inherent mental ability to interpret the nuances of the position, call audibles, read defenses and make good decisions should be quelled by the simple reality that they are doing so at the highest level right now before our eyes. If those biases and outdated stereotypes still survive, buried deep within the ranks of NFL decision makers and analysts, one can only hope that they can be open-minded enough to admit that they were wrong.

The best players should play, regardless of their race, creed or political inclinations. When that statement can be made without counter examples immediately coming to mind, progress can be acknowledged, and rightfully celebrated.

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Browns brawl and Astros scandal test limits of sports fandom https://martineztribune.com/2019/12/05/browns-brawl-and-astros-scandal-test-limits-of-sports-fandom/ https://martineztribune.com/2019/12/05/browns-brawl-and-astros-scandal-test-limits-of-sports-fandom/#respond Fri, 06 Dec 2019 03:00:40 +0000 https://martineztribune.com/?p=13638 BY J.A. SCHWARTZ Fandom. What does it mean to be a fan ? Why do we care so much about the exploits of men and women we don’t know as they play games that have no redeeming social value for our amusement ? We invest our own hard earned money in tickets, caps, jerseys and …

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BY J.A. SCHWARTZ

Fandom.

What does it mean to be a fan ?

Why do we care so much about the exploits of men and women we don’t know as they play games that have no redeeming social value for our amusement ? We invest our own hard earned money in tickets, caps, jerseys and all manner of paraphernalia to show our loyalty and support to our chosen squads. We buy costly television viewing packages to watch our favorite teams. We invest countless hours reading about and listening to news about our heroes in the days between contests on the field.

Most importantly, we exult in rapturous joy when our team is victorious, and feel diminished and depressed following a loss. What is it about sports that leads ordinary people to allow their lives to be so impacted by the outcomes of such mundane pursuits as a ball going through a hoop, or striking a round ball with a round bat ? Why are we so willing to behave in ways that are clearly irrational when our teams are engaged in their competitive conquests ?

And what happens when those teams or the players who work for them do something that makes us feel ashamed to be associated with supporting them ?

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER
Cleveland Browns defensive end Myles Garrett was suspended by the NFL for the remainder of the season following an ugly incident in a game against the Steelers on November 14 where he ripped the helmet off of Pittsburgh quarterback Mason Ruldoph’s head and swung it at him.

 

The Cleveland Browns played their arch-rival, the Pittsburgh Steelers, on November 14thin Cleveland.  After completely dominating the Steelers, the Browns were 15 seconds away from a hard fought 21-7 victory that would keep their very slim post-season hopes alive. The stadium was raucous, as jubilant Browns fans were vocal in their support of the home-town team, who were going to beat the hated Steelers for just the first time in five years. On the next play, DE Myles Garrett, who was the #1 overall pick of the Browns in 2017 and is arguably their best player, wrapped up Pittsburgh QB Mason Rudolph after a short pass. In the melee that ensued, Garrett would forcibly rip Rudolph’s helmet off, and would then swing that very helmet in a violent arc that impacted Rudolph’s skull.

Both sidelines flooded the field, as players ran to break up the brawl that raged around the fallen body of Garrett, who was kicked and punched by furious Steeler lineman Maurkice Pouncey. In those few seconds of inexcusable and uncontrolled anger, Garrett had recast the victorious evening in a completely different light. Browns fans were left to ponder what those few seconds would come to mean in the hours and days to come, and an ominously somber pall hung over the fans as they exited the stadium into the Cleveland darkness.

In 2017, the Houston Astros won the World Series over the Los Angeles Dodgers, claiming the first and only championship in the history of the franchise. A brazen rebuilding plan saw the Astros ascend from being the worst team in baseball in the early part of the decade to being the best team in baseball just five years later. Their management team, led by GM Jeff Luhnow, were widely hailed as visionaries, merging analytical data and savvy drafting and trading to build the juggernaut that would win that 2017 title. Their fans were justifiably ecstatic, seeing their favorite team finally dance in a locker room champagne shower following the Game 7 victory, a prelude to the parade that would roll through the streets of downtown Houston in the days that would follow.

What if the Astros won that championship because they were cheating ? Would their fans feel differently about that title ?

A thoroughly sourced article in The Athletic earlier last week described a system whereby the 2017 Astros were relaying information to their hitters about pitch types using electronic video game feeds from a monitor in a tunnel behind their dugout. The center field camera, which focuses on the catcher as he is giving the pitcher the signs for the upcoming pitch, was being broadcast, in real time, on that video monitor behind the Astros home dugout. A player would then loudly bang on a plastic trash-can to signal to the current Astro hitter that an off speed pitch was coming. If no thrumming from the garbage can was heard, the hitter at the plate would know a fastball was on its way.

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER
A’s ace Mike Fiers alleged that the Astros had a system in place to steals signs when he was a member of the team during their 2017 championship season.

 

It is expressly prohibited for teams to use any type of electronic devices to “steal signs”, and it is also a major league rule that all live video feeds from the game are supposed to be on an eight second delay to avoid just this kind of malfeasance. Former Astros pitcher Mike Fiers, who played for the A’s in 2019, confirmed that the system was being employed while he pitched for Houston in 2017. Video reviews with audio feeds from the 2017 season clearly indicate the presence of the plastic trash can drumming during Astro plate appearances, accurately forecasting an off speed pitch to come.

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Our society is becoming increasingly anti-social. As technology becomes more and more a part of our daily lives, our day-to-day routines have become focused upon ever shrinking screens. Just 30 years ago, laptop computers allowed us to be mobile in our homes with plugged in access to the internet and exciting new websites that put information at our fingertips at the click of a button. Soon after, the advent of mobile phone technology made staying in contact with friends and loved ones via text or messaging possible, and face-to-face interactions became less frequent. Now, social media platforms give us the freedom to keep up with our friends, hobbies and interests from the four-by-six inch screens in our hands, without ever leaving our couches/beds/desks/cubicles.

Amidst all these technological wonders, we find ourselves isolated by the very methodology that helps us communicate in real time with people all over the world via our cell phones. Into this void, filling the loneliness endemic to our last two generations, steps the sports experience. These are events held in huge gathering spaces, where we stand shoulder to shoulder with masses of disparate people joined by our shared mania for the team performing before our very eyes.

We may high five strangers after positive outcomes on the field. We have been known to wrap fellow partisans in warm embraces as the game proceeds, grateful for our camaraderie. We sing familiar songs, unique to our side, at ear splitting volumes without regard for shame or self-awareness. We chant, we scream, we whistle, we goad and we fervently invoke whatever deity we believe in to intervene on behalf of our cause. Sports allows us to put aside differences in race, age, creed, socioeconomic status, political leanings and heritage in the collaborative support of a group of people competing in admittedly pointless contests. And we love it.

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER
Larry Ogunjobi of the Browns was also suspended for his role in the brawl with the Pittsburgh Steelers on November 11th.

 

Professional sports is a multi-billion dollar industry in the North America, and most major metropolitan areas feature at least one, and sometimes five or six venues that are specifically purposed to house these teams as they renew their yearly quest for championship glory.  According to a Sports Illustrated article published this month, PricewaterhouseCoopers estimates that the revenue generated by sports teams in North America amounted to $71.1 billion in 2018, and is expected to rise to $83.1 billion by 2023. Sports fans in this country care deeply about their teams and the games they play, and media rights fueled by their interest undergirds the mountain of revenue raked in by franchise owners. The sheer volume of money generated by sports is but one measure of our unbridled avarice for these contests. But dollar bills don’t imbue these battles with meaning, relevance and social significance. We do. The fans. With our passion.

It has been said that investing our emotional and physical capital in the interest of a sporting team or player allows us to feel as if we are part of something bigger than ourselves. Alone, we couldn’t possibly rally the collective hopes and dreams of a community, a city, a state or a nation, but in the name of a team playing a game, we join our voices with those of others who are similarly aligned, and feel the intoxicating power of our individual mania multiplied exponentially.

It is difficult, if not impossible, to find a comparable outlet for our emotional expression that is scalable in quite the same way that sports fandom seems to be. Perhaps belief in a higher power, joined in worship in temples or cathedrals, raising our voices in unison as we invoke prayers of supplication with our fellow parishioners. This may well approximate the experience of the modern sports devotee. It is not at all hyperbole to draw parallels to those seemingly dissimilar investments of our mortal energies.

Studies have shown that being an avid sports fan can lead to a healthier lifestyle.   Daniel Wann, a psychology professor at Murray State University, wrote a book called Sports Fans: The Psychology and Social Impact of Spectators. According to Wann’s research, being an avid fan of a sports team leads to elevated levels of well being and general social happiness, with less of an inclination towards loneliness, depression or alienation. A 2013 study in Psychological Science linked eating habits to winning or losing football teams. The study found that people in the cities where the football team won the day before choose to eat more healthy foods (in terms of consumption of saturated fats compared to their normal diets), while residents in cities where that team lost the day before ate more saturated fats than normal. Our reactionary behaviors are impacted in very tangible ways based on outcomes we have no control over.

When our teams win, we feel a sense of accomplishment though we had nothing to do with the result. We might have a little more energy on the way to work or at the gym following a hard fought victory for our side. Our mood is brightened, and we may even act more charitably and kindly towards our friends and families in the wake of good news from our teams. On the flip side, reckless driving, heart attacks and domestic violence can be influenced by the results of sporting contests according to a 2014 Seattle Times article by Larry Stone. In many ways, we are living vicariously through the exploits of our chosen heroes on the field. A study by Paul Bernhardt at Georgia State University in 1998 found that male spectators experience testosterone spikes congruent with the players themselves, estimating that a 20% increase happens in fans of winning teams, with a proportional decrease among male fans on the wrong end of the scoreboard.

The success of the team becomes our individual triumph, and in an era where clear victories in our daily lives can be difficult to come by, there is value in that association. We can be energized by the efforts of our chosen team, who may perform remarkable acts of physical prowess in the face of daunting odds and foes arrayed against them, and take that inspiration with us into our next personal struggle. The identity and personality of a sports franchise we care about becomes a part of us, and that fervent loyalty can be passed along family lines through multiple generations like a chromosomal trait. There are countless stories (none of them apocryphal) of family will readings in Wisconsin where the last assets bequeathed are Green Bay Packer season tickets and stock certificates. Those are the most cherished family heirlooms transferred in such processes, and their disposition is not an affair taken lightly.

It has been postulated in these paragraphs that our sporting allegiances are a significant part of our lives, directly impacting our self-esteem, sense of belonging, health and mood. Fandom allows us to vicariously experience the thrills of competition from the safety of our living rooms, and provides us with opportunities to revel in the shared communal experience of supporting a team with people who may be very different from us in terms of race, religious and political orientation, heritage and financial status. We willfully merge our individual sense of ourselves with the mass identity of the community of rooters in support of the team we rally behind. We are joyous together in victory, and we console each other, and mourn as a group, when the team falls in defeat.

With so much of our souls embedded with our chosen teams, how do we handle the disappointment that accompanies news reports such as those of the past few weeks ?

It seems impossible to dissociate the actions of one player (like Garrett) from the performance of the team as a whole. How do Browns fans come to parse what happened in their home stadium in the dying seconds of a crucial victory ? Do they feel remorse ? Are they ashamed ? Do they internalize the scorn heaped upon one of their best players, and suffer the crushing weight of polarized media opinions characterizing the franchise in a (deservedly) unflattering light ? Would they still wear their Browns caps and jerseys with the same sense of pride and perseverance that embodies their long-suffering allegiance to that team ?

What will it feel like to anticipate the epilogue to every broadcast commentator’s description of the next great play by Myles Garrett in his simple, orange, logo-less helmet ? “Myles Garrett made another incredible play there, Troy, and his menacing presence alone probably shifted the momentum of the game in the Browns favor. He’s undoubtedly among the best defensive players in the NFL, without question. If only the stigma of that terrible play back in 2019 against Pittsburgh could be forgotten, he’d rank among the most valuable young stars in the game.” Nothing can forestall the wincing and grimacing that will follow among Cleveland faithful.

How much of themselves have they invested in their mania, and at what price to their psyche in the wake of these kinds of actions by the very players to whom they pledge their unwavering fealty ?

I posit these questions not because I know the answers. There are no rules that govern or guide the behavior of sports fans. But I can say with confidence that these issues careen through the minds and hearts of fans that are melded in spirit with their teams making unpleasant headlines for inglorious reasons.

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Casual fans and bandwagon jumpers can transform into rabid, lifelong acolytes in the course of a single successful playoff run to a championship. It is during these gripping, high stakes contests that hometown heroes are born and elevated to demigod status forever, lodged firmly in the hearts and throats of the dazzled observers who thrill to their accomplishments. Never again will those so identified as “clutch under pressure” be required to purchase a meal or an adult beverage at any establishment in their city, where local tavern patrons (and owners) are all too willing to pick up the check for their evening fare.

Sons and daughters sit on the edges of their couches with mothers and fathers, entire families knit together in the shared experience of witnessing playoff success, where memories that will strengthen their relationships are forged and burnished to be relived and retold for decades (and generations) to come. Truly, some of the most cherished remembrances of childhood and of parental relationships are those built around significant sporting achievements witnessed together. Those memories become part of the fabric of families, neighborhoods, schools, towns and cities, where championship banners represent an association with greatness forever. For that one season, their team was the greatest in the world, and nothing can take away those accomplishments or the pride it engenders among the partisans who enjoyed it.

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER
Jose Altuve won the batting title by hitting .346 in 2017 on the way to winning the AL MVP Award as the Astros won their first World Series championship. Some are now questioning whether those accomplishments have been tainted in light of the recent cheating accusations leveled against Houston.

 

But what if news comes out well after the fact that calls into question the integrity of the team who emerged with that banner, and the manner in which they competed for the right to be crowned champions ? What if they were found to have cheated ?

What becomes of the fond memories of that ride to glory ? Does such a revelation change the inherent nature of the friendships that may have started during that time ? Are the bonds that were built within families around the events lessened in some way ? Do the flags, t-shirts, caps and commemorative mugs get utilized less often ?

These questions strike at the heart of what it means to feel connected by sports, to be inspired by the efforts of men and women toiling collectively towards a common goal, and to willingly commit vital parts of our identities to such teams. The cohesiveness that results can allow us to experience levels of joy and achievement that we probably couldn’t have found on our own. It is part of the bargain that in the transmutation of self into the idea, values and performance of a group, that we expose ourselves to the hollow realities of grief, loss and pain when those fallible human organizations fail us in some way.

The history of sports is littered with stories of greed, corruption, point shaving, match fixing, and the destructive influences of gambling and drugs. Athletes who are held to a standard of fair play and performance within an agreed upon system of rules and regulations routinely find ways to subvert those checks and balances to gain a competitive edge. In short, they cheat, doing so to excel, to improve, and to be better able to defeat their opponents, all in the name of winning and the spoils of victory that inevitably follow. Driven by money, fame and glory, some of our greatest heroes have succumbed to the crushing drive to win at all costs, and both player and fan suffer collectively when the truth of their indiscretions inevitably becomes public.

Lance Armstrong. Alex Rodriguez. Marion Jones. Ben Johnson. Their glorious feats were all cheapened by the use of illegal performance enhancing drugs, and their reputations have been permanently besmirched.

The 1919 Chicago White Sox. Pete Rose. The 1950-51 CCNY basketball team.  All were convicted of gambling related malfeasance.

Skater Tonya Harding was alleged to have had her rival Nancy Kerrigan assaulted so she could make the US Olympic Figure Skating Team. Rosie Ruiz skipped having to run part of the Boston Marathon in order to win that race in 1980.  Their names are now synonymous with disgrace and dishonesty during competition.

The Olympic motto is “Faster, Higher, Stronger.” The phrase was first proposed by Pierre de Coubertin upon the formation of the International Olympic Committee in 1894, who said “these three words represent a programme of moral beauty. The aesthetics of sport are intangible.” We look to sports to see the possibility of greatness and inspiration, and we believe that the opportunity to witness the limits of human performance is more than worth our time and adoration.

The 1980 US Olympic Hockey Team’s “Miracle on Ice” victory over the USSR. The 2004 Boston Red Sox. The perfect season of the 1972 Miami Dolphins. Michael Phelps eight gold medals in 2008. Roger Bannister’s sub four-minute mile in 1954. Secretariat winning the 1973 Triple Crown. Jesse Owens in the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. Wilt Chamberlain’s 100 points for the Philadelphia Warriors in 1962. Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series. David Tyree’s “helmet catch” in the 2008 Super Bowl for the New York Giants. Willie Mays catch in the 1954 World Series. Kevin Durant in the 2017 NBA Playoffs.

Wayne Gretzky. Michael Jordan. Joe Montana. Lionel Messi.

Gordie Howe. Bill Russell. Jim Brown. Pele.

Mike Eruzione. Kerri Strug. Muhammad Ali.

As you’ve read the last few sentences and names, your mind has been flooded with imagery, the cognitive highlight reel within you unspooling behind your eyes. It is not unlikely that your pulse quickened a bit with one of those mentions that were particularly resonant for you. You can remember where you were when you watched that game, and who was with you. You are temporarily lost in a reverie built around these reminiscences, and you may be smiling and/or shaking your head as you recall these heroic feats and transcendent players. It is a wonderful place within you, sacred and vivid, built upon hours and hours of devotion, and there is always room for more.

We are fans because we want to believe in the greatness that human beings are capable of, individually or collectively. There will always be pain, disappointment and even heartbreak associated with our relationship with sports. It is up to each of us to decide what aspects of sports we choose to infuse the neurons and synapses with that form our memories, and how those associations trigger emotions that are unique to our experience of those events.

We want to believe in the best attributes of competition, and in the beauty that is possible within the confines of those games. In the final reckoning, it is the acknowledgement that the potential for cheating, immorality and dishonesty exists in the very flawed human beings that play the games we watch that makes it all the more thrilling when they are victorious without indulging those baser parts of themselves or the industries that drive their sport. We are lifted by the strength of their wills, and for the time we spend with them, we are shown that greatness is possible. For them and us.

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A stab in the dark at Baseball’s top free agent destinations https://martineztribune.com/2019/11/17/13605/ Mon, 18 Nov 2019 03:00:55 +0000 https://martineztribune.com/?p=13605 BY J.A. SCHWARTZ There are literally hundreds of major league baseball players who qualify as free agents this offseason. With the obvious caveat that no insider information informs these musings, here are my best guesses as to where the top 15 most impactful players will land, and for how much. Gerritt Cole, RHP: Anaheim Angels, …

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BY J.A. SCHWARTZ

There are literally hundreds of major league baseball players who qualify as free agents this offseason. With the obvious caveat that no insider information informs these musings, here are my best guesses as to where the top 15 most impactful players will land, and for how much.

  1. Gerritt Cole, RHP: Anaheim Angels, 7 years, $260 million.

The Angels have wasted the early part of three time MVP Mike Trout’s career, failing to complement his talent with enough performers to push the team into the postseason. Arte Moreno will change that, giving the 29-year-old starter the biggest free agent deal ever for a pitcher, filling his team’s biggest need while simultaneously weakening the Astros hold on the AL West.

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER
Gerritt Cole’s 20-5 record with a 2.50 ERA and 326 strikeouts in 2019, along with a solid post-season, position him to land this winter’s largest free agency contract.

 

  1. Anthony Rendon, 3B:Texas Rangers, 7 years, $220 million.

The Nationals would love to keep both Rendon and Strasburg, but that is probably not economically realistic. Texas native Rendon, 30, gets to head home to a team that is trying to rebuild towards being steadily competitive in the tough AL West.

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER
An MVP finalist, Anthony Rendon picked the perfect time for his best season in 2019. His .319 average along with 34 homers and 126 RBI’s were all career highs as he helped the Nationals to their first ever World Series championship.

 

  1. Stephen Strasburg, RHP: Washington Nationals, 6 years, $170 million.

The defending champions bring back Strasburg, the World Series MVP, giving him a contract that should keep the 31-year-old hurler in Washington through the end of his career.

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER
Stephen Strasburg has a lot to smile about entering free agency coming off a dominating post-season that culminated in being named World Series MVP.

 

  1. Yasmani Grandal, C: Tampa Bay Rays, 3 years, $58 million.

The Rays are loaded with position players in the infield and have more on the way, but they don’t have a solution to their catching situation, where incumbent C Mike Zunino is likely to leave as a free agent. The Rays step up to acquire the 31-year-old Grandal, one of the top catchers in the league, and augment a great young pitching staff with one of the majors top pitch framers.

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER
Yasmani Grandal earned his second All-Star selection during his only season with Milwaukee in 2019. His 28 home runs and 77 RBI’s were both career highs.

 

  1. Josh Donaldson, 3B: Atlanta Braves, 3 years, $65 million.

Donaldson had a great season for the Braves on his one year deal in 2019, and the two sides seem likely to extend the relationship on a contract that will keep the 34- year-old former AL MVP in Atlanta as a middle of the order bat on a team that figures to be in the playoff mix again in 2020.

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER
Josh Donaldson gambled on himself by accepting a one-year deal with Atlanta after spending close to four seasons with the Blue Jays. He now seems likely to cash in after a solid 2019 that saw blast 37 home runs while playing 155 games.

 

  1. Marcell Ozuna, OF: Arizona Diamondbacks, 3 years, $55 million.

Ozuna, 29, is young enough to fit the profile the Diamondbacks figure to be interested in, and their OF could badly use the offensive boost. He was a relative disappointment for the Cardinals, but he could see his output skyrocket in the friendlier Arizona ballpark.

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER
Marcell Ozuna’s numbers have dropped the past two seasons since leaving the Marlins after the 2017 season, but he still hit 29 homers to go along with 89 RBI’s for St. Louis last season.

 

  1. Madison Bumgarner, LHP: Atlanta Braves, 4 years, $72 million.

The 30-year-old Bumgarner isn’t the ace caliber-starting pitcher he had been for the Giants for most of his career, but he’s still capable of providing valuable innings for a Braves team gearing up for an extended window of competitiveness. Bumgarner’s experience and example is exactly the kind of mentorship the young Braves rotation needs to take the next step towards an NL pennant.

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER
After a decade in San Francisco that saw three World Series championships. Madison Bumgarner appears likely to change jerseys for the first time in his career.

 

  1. Zack Wheeler, RHP: Minnesota Twins, 5 years, $105 million.

The Twins have wisely positioned their payroll obligations to allow themselves to target some of the higher end players on the free agent market, and the 30-year-old Wheeler fits the bill. He’s got premium stuff, and could be exactly the kind of pitcher that pitching coach Wes Johnson can finally get to take the next step towards being a #1 starter.

  1. Didi Gregorius, SS: Milwaukee Brewers, 3 years, $50 million.

The Brewers were beaten in the NL Wild Card game despite leading in the eighth inning with closer Josh Hader on the mound. Adding Gregorius, 30, to a potent lineup will try to help insure that the Brewers don’t suffer a similar fate in 2020.

  1. Nick Castellanos, OF: Toronto Blue Jays, 4 years, $66 million.

Castellanos has been an abysmal defensive outfielder over the past two seasons, and any team signing the 28-year-old slugger will take that into account. The Jays have a slot open for a 1B/DH type, and could see Castellanos’ resurgence with the Cubs over the last 8 weeks of 2019 (.321/.356/.646) as the ceiling for the slugger, making him a powerful addition to a young lineup featuring high upside bats like 3B Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and SS Bo Bichette.

  1. Dallas Keuchel, LHP: New York Yankees, 4 years, $60 million.

Keuchel, 32, has pitched well against New York in the playoffs, with a 2.04 ERA against the Yankees in three postseason starts. The Yankees will ensure he’s not going to torment them in October any further. The Bombers will add the sinkerball specialist to their rotation and hope that his league leading groundball rates will fare well in homer friendly Yankee Stadium.

  1. Hyun-Jin Ryu, LHP: Los Angeles Dodgers, 3 years, $45 million.

The Dodgers know the 33-year-old best, and they bring back the NL ERA leader from 2019 to help them finally win the World Series title that has eluded them since 1988.

  1. Mike Moustakas, 3B: Minnesota Twins, 3 years, $40 million.

The Twins import Moustakas, 31, to take over 3B, allowing Miguel Sano to move to 1B full time in 2020. The move improves the Twins defensively and lengthens an already powerful lineup, which set the all time record for HR in a season in 2019 with 307.

  1. Kyle Gibson, RHP: Toronto Blue Jays, 2 years, $22 million.

Gibson, 32, has been a durable, if unspectacular starter for the Twins during his major league career. The Jays have a glaring need to augment their starting rotation, and Gibson provides reliable performance while their young pitching prospects matriculate towards the big leagues.

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER
After seven years in Minnesota, Kyle Gibson hits free agency following a 13- 7 season with 160 strikeouts.

 

  1. Yasiel Puig, OF: Chicago White Sox, 3 years, $40 million.

Puig is still only 29, and the White Sox outfield has been an area in need of improvement. With Cuban born prospect Luis Robert on the way to Chicago to take over in CF, the team imports Puig to add to 1B Jose Abreu and 3B Yoan Moncada, each of whom has Cuban heritage, creating a Little Havana on the South Side.

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER
The uŸber-talented Yasiel Puig is one of the most elite outfielders available thru free agency this off-season.

 

There are dozens more free agents that figure to find new homes for the 2020 season, and there will almost certainly be trades transacted between now and spring training that will help reshape rosters around the league. Check back in a few months to see how many of these prognostications were accurate.

 

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Astros rebuilding model just a game away from second title https://martineztribune.com/2019/10/29/astros-rebuilding-model-just-a-game-away-from-second-title/ Tue, 29 Oct 2019 07:01:21 +0000 https://martineztribune.com/?p=13571 BY J.A. SCHWARTZ From 2011 through 2013, the Houston Astros were the worst team in baseball. They lost 106, 107 and 111 games in that three year stretch, going a combined 162-324. Those results were not entirely unexpected, as the franchise embarked upon a “rebuilding” process that would begin in earnest entering the 2011 season, …

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BY J.A. SCHWARTZ

From 2011 through 2013, the Houston Astros were the worst team in baseball. They lost 106, 107 and 111 games in that three year stretch, going a combined 162-324. Those results were not entirely unexpected, as the franchise embarked upon a “rebuilding” process that would begin in earnest entering the 2011 season, and would continue under the guidance of new GM Jeff Luhnow, who took over in December of that year.

No reasonable investigation of the Astros ascension can be undertaken without first addressing the issue that hangs over the club in the aftermath of a very unseemly front office display of both insensitivity and tone deaf public relations.  In May of 2018, Toronto closer Roberto Osuna was arrested in Canada and charged with assault on the mother of his three-year-old son. He was swiftly placed on “administrative leave” from baseball by commissioner Rob Manfred, and was ultimately suspended 75 games without pay having violated the league’s policy against domestic violence. He would never pitch for the Blue Jays again, and was traded to Houston in late July of that year.

The Astros faced a firestorm of displeasure from their fans in the wake of the acquisition, but his new teammates, manager and the front office all stood in support of Osuna while trying to sound sensitive to the issue of domestic violence in general. “The due diligence by our front office was unprecedented”, Luhnow noted in his statement addressing the trade. “We are confident that Osuna is remorseful, has willfully complied with all consequences related to his past behavior, has proactively engaged in counseling, and will fully comply with our zero tolerance policy related to abuse of any kind.”

When the Astros clinched the ALCS, Brandon Taubman, assistant GM and a rising star young front office executive, was quoted as saying “Thank God we got Osuna ! I am so f**king glad we got Osuna,” several times. His outburst was directed towards a group of female reporters in the clubhouse, one of who wore a purple domestic violence awareness bracelet. When Sports Illustrated writer Stephanie Apstein reported this encounter, suggesting that Taubman was directing his comments towards the female reporters in the clubhouse, the Astros released a statement in response. “The story by Sports Illustrated is misleading and completely irresponsible. We are extremely disappointed in Sports Illustrated’s attempt to fabricate a story where one does not exist.”

 

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER
Houston’s Roberto Osuna delivers a pitch during an August game in Oakland. The Astros closer led the American League with 38 saves, but continues to be a lightning rod following his 2018 arrest for domestic violence.

 

After multiple eyewitness accounts were published in support of Apstein’s characterization of the exchange, the Astros back-tracked and fired Taubman before Game 3 of the World Series, issuing an aplogy in the process. In the few days that passed between the episode and the decision to fire Taubman, the organization showed incredibly poor judgment, and was pilloried in the court of public opinion.

It’s difficult to identify what draws a fan to a specific team, and why that partisan would stay loyal to his or her chosen target of adulation for decades, even lifetimes. The Astros aren’t the only club to employ a player such as Osuna. The Yankees traded to acquire LHP Aroldis Chapman from the Reds in the winter of 2015 in the wake of Chapman’s own brush with domestic violence. Chapman was the first player suspended under MLB’s Joint Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Child Abuse policy in early 2016. The Yankees continued to employ him after the suspension, and even after trading him to the Cubs later that summer of 2016 (he would help Chicago win the 2016 World Series), New York would re-sign Chapman as a free agent prior to the 2017 season.

The Cubs invited criticism for having traded for Chapman, a known violator of the new policy, and their franchise was again embroiled in controversy when their own starting shortstop Addison Russell (acquired via trade with the A’s) was suspended in late 2018 for running afoul of the new policy. Despite renewed backlash from their fans, the Cubs welcomed Russell back to the team this past season after his 40 game suspension had been served. These are only the most recent examples of players (or coaches/executives) who, by their own actions and decisions, bring shame and negative attention to the franchises who employ them. They will not be the last.

Despite brave and carefully crafted public pronouncements from the team in the wake of such controversies, the unmitigated facts remain: If a player has the talent to improve a team’s on the field fortunes, all manner of evils will be tolerated or rationalized in the quest for victories. It seems that it is the exception, not the rule, that franchises take a stand in their refusal to seek to acquire as distressed assets (as the Yankees did when they traded for Chapman, who the Reds desperately wanted to be rid of) or harbor such personalities such as Russell or Osuna. It is thus left to the fan to decide how much of their heart and soul they are willing to invest in such teams, and at what point their moral or ethical positions regarding players of questionable character begin to outweigh their sometimes lifelong allegiances.

In the light of such weighty considerations, it is still possible to appreciate the brilliance of a player, executive, or even an entire franchise for their accomplishments on the field of play, and to celebrate achievement in those areas while continuing to hold those same entities accountable for their decisions. Excelling in the one area does not abrogate responsibility for the other, just as the failings of one particular part of a franchise (who employ literally hundreds of people) do not erase the excellence achieved in competition. It is with that paradigm in mind that we investigate the indisputable superiority of the Houston Astros franchise, during a period in their history where the off-the-field behavior of their employees has rightfully earned them public and professional scorn.

Reality is fraught with good and evil at every level of existence. Is it roseate to expect that sports teams, the objects of our lifelong adoration, exist in a utopian state of morality, helping to justify our investment in them? It is undeniable that events such as the Taubman imbroglio strike deeply at the hearts of Astros rooters, and there are certainly many who have already decided to remove their support from the team over such issues. The relationship between fan and team has never been more fraught with complications, and like all connections of longstanding duration, it is left to the individual to decide when the merit of blind allegiance is nullified by the actions, or ethical positions, of the team in question. It would seem that the plight of the modern sports fan shares much in common with the tribulations of our entire country, enmeshed in ugly political upheaval and national dissonance.

We need sports to be a relief from the harsh realities of society, a safe haven for our affections, and a place where we can bond with like-minded people to celebrate and admire the physical and mental prowess of the professional athlete, who performs for our enjoyment in very public forums. It is when those pleasures are poisoned by the behavior of the people who play that we all suffer a sense of loss.

From 2017 through 2019, the Houston Astros have been the best team in baseball, going 311-175; a record nine games better than the next best team (Dodgers). They won the 2017 World Series, and reached the Fall Classic again this season.  How did such a wretched team go from the very bottom of the standings to arguably the best team in the game-and World Series Champions-in the span of four years ?

Step 1: Lose a lot of games.

In late July, 2010, the Astros traded franchise icons Lance Berkman and pitcher Roy Oswalt, moves that signaled the end of one era and the start of another. The following summer, they dealt outfielders Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn, receiving young minor league talent in return in each transaction. Later in 2011, two Astros farmhands made their major league debuts: Jose Altuve and J.D. Martinez, the leading edge of a wave of talent that would gradually populate a roster now bereft of both ability and high salaries.

The Astros featured the game’s lowest payroll in both 2012 and 2013, bottoming out at $35.5 million in 2013, a season that saw them finish 51-111. While those three seasons were difficult (and embarrassing) for Houston fans to endure, the money saved during those campaigns would be reinvested in their player development department, and the draft picks earned by the ignominy of their last place finishes would help fuel the rebuilding effort. By losing so egregiously (and by paying rock bottom salaries and avoiding pricey free agent splurges), the Astros had paved the way for a steady rise from the ashes.

Step 2: Find brilliant front office personnel, and let them have control.

When the St. Louis Cardinals won the 2011 World Series in a thrilling seven game series over the Texas Rangers, Jeff Luhnow was the Cardinals Vice President of Scouting and Player Development, a role he held with the club since 2006. The drafts over which Luhnow presided from 2005-2007 produced 24 major leaguers, the most of any team during that span, several of whom would contribute to the Cards title in 2011. In December of 2011, the Astros would hire Luhnow to become their General Manager, replacing Ed Wade.

Luhnow immediately set about transforming the Astros franchise, making analytics and data utilization the driving force behind their organizational philosophies. The Astros have been among the most aggressive teams in baseball in terms of utilizing infield shifts for their defensive alignments, bolstering the efforts of their elite pitching staff. The franchise has also been remarkably adept at both developing pitching through their minor league system as well as helping to enhance and improve the performance of imported pitching using their internal pitch mix theories and analytically driven coaching staff. From the top down, Luhnow has populated the front office and minor league development staff with young, data driven professionals, who have collectively overseen the transformation of the franchise from laughing stock to juggernaut.

Step 3: Draft wisely.

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER
The Astros core of Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman and Carlos Correa (pictured L-r) are all home grown talent from Houston’s organization. None have played a Major League game for another team.

 

Wade made the most of his last draft as the Astros GM, choosing George Springer with the 11th pick in the June 2011 draft. Luhnow would have the luxury of drafting either first or second overall in the next four drafts,  adding Carlos Correa, Lance McCullers and Alex Bregman to the minor league organization. Other drafted players would be would become trade chips used to acquire impact players from other teams.

Step 4: Invest in the International Free Agent Market

Two key players on the 2019 Houston roster were acquired via the international free agent market. Infielder Yuli Gurriel was one of the best hitters in Cuba, and when he finally chose to defect at age 32, the Astros scooped him up, signing him to a five year, $47.5 million contract. Back in 2007, a few weeks after having been sent home from a tryout in his native Venezuela, Altuve re-appeared in an Astros camp. The team agreed to sign the diminutive player for a meager $15,000, and he hit his way through the minors, though he never appeared on any top prospect lists, primarily due to his 5’6” frame.  Since his debut in 2011, Altuve hasn’t stopped hitting, winning the 2017 AL MVP. The Astros have utilized some of their international free agent signings in impact trades, bringing in C Brian McCann in 2016 in return for two such players. McCann would be the primary catcher on their World Series winning team the following year.

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER
Cuban born Yuli Gurriel is coming off a season where he established career highs with 31 home runs and 104 RBI’s in just his fourth year in the Majors.

 

Step 5: Trade aggressively.

The Astros used their wealth of young talent, built through the draft and from trading off expensive veterans during their 2011-2013 nadir, to acquire impact players to compliment their young core.

In 2015, they dealt former top overall pick Mark Appel and four other minor leaguers to acquire reliver Ken Giles from the Phillies.  Three years later, they would package Giles and two more minor leaguers to acquire the aforementioned  Osuna to be their current closer.

In 2016, they moved pitcher Josh Fields to the Dodgers in exchange for recent international signee Yordan Alvarez. The tall Cuban is the presumptive 2019 AL Rookie of the Year.

At the 2017 trade deadline, they sent 2015 first round pick Daz Cameron and two other minor leaguers to the Tigers to snag future Hall of Famer Justin Verlander.In early 2018, they used four minor leaguers to import likely 2019 AL Cy Young winner Gerrit Cole from the Pirates. At the trade deadline this season, Houston utilized three recent first round picks to persuade Arizona to part with former Cy Young winner Zack Greinke.

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER
The Astros trade deadline acquisition of Zack Greinke added a third elite starter to their rotation and has them a win away from their second World Series title in three years.

 

Not all the Astros wheeling and dealing ended up working out as well. Houston had reliever Josh Hader, acquired in a trade from Baltimore in 2013, but they moved him to Milwaukee in a 2015 deal to add righty Mike Fiers to their rotation.

Houston had drafted (2009) and developed J.D. Martinez, but the team didn’t buy into the young slugger’s new swing mechanics in 2014 despite his excellent spring training performance. The team released Martinez in late March of that year, and two days later, the Tigers signed him as a free agent. Martinez has gone on to become one of the top five hitters in all of baseball over the past six seasons.

Ramon Laureano was an Astros draftee (2014) and minor league star, but the team moved him to the A’s after their 2017 World Series victory in return for RHP Brandon Bailey. Laureano has emerged as a young star in centerfield for Oakland over the past two seasons.

Step 6: Add veteran free agents on short-term deals to the core young talent.

The Astros have largely avoided forays into the highest levels of the free agent market, though they have added key players on shorter-term deals.

Before the 2017 season, they added Josh Reddick (4 years/$52 million), Carlos Beltran (1 year/$16 million), and Charlie Morton (2 years/$14 million), each of whom played key roles in their title run.

Before the 2018 season, they added two relievers, Joe Smith and Hector Rondon as free agent upgrades to their championship roster. And prior to this season they signed outfielder Michael Brantley (2 years/$32 million), starter Wade Miley (1 year/$4.5 million) and catcher Robinson Chirinos (1 year/$5.75 million) to bolster their pennant hopes.

The core of the team, Altuve, Bregman, Correa, Gurriel, Springer, Reddick, Brantley, Alvarez, Verlander, Greinke and releiver Ryan Pressly are all under team control through at least 2020. Despite having such a loaded roster, the Astros have carried payrolls outside the Top 5 in baseball during their run of making the playoffs four of the past five seasons.  Their yearly rank among franchises in terms of spending has risen from 25th in 2015 (at $81 million), their first playoff appearance under Luhnow, to 20th in 2016, 17th in 2017, 9th in 2018 and 7th overall, at $168 million this year.

 

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER
Astros lead-off man George Springer set career highs with a .292 average along with 39 home runs and 96 RBI’s during the 2019 season. He was also the World Series MVP in 2017.

 

As their young and inexpensive group of players become more costly, the Astros, who have been hesitant to exceed the luxury tax threshold, could become vulnerable in the AL West. They are very likely to lose ace Gerrit Cole this offseason as he becomes a free agent, leaving them with only Verlander (37 next year) and Greinke (36 next year) as rotation certainties.

They do have some young pitchers who could step in, but their pitching might leave them vulnerable to a team like Oakland, who has built an excellent lineup and a formidable rotation. Assuming lefties Jesus Luzardo and A.J. Puk, top 25 prospects who made strong impressions as rookies in 2019, ascend to the rotation, the A’s could have a collection of starters that might be the best in the division. If Luzardo and Puk slot in behind Sean Manaea and Frankie Montas, the A’s would have four starters 27 years old or younger who collectively will earn less than $6 million.

That reality could make it easier for Oakland to augment their bullpen and lineup with wise investments on the free agent market. The team has $100 million in salaries on the books for 2020, which should leave room for the team to make upgrades if GM Billy Beane sees a fit via trade or free agency. If there is a way to finally dethrone the Houston dynasty, it stands to reason that a strong rotation, deep bullpen and elite defense will be the best weapons against the high-powered Astros lineup.  The AL West in 2020 should be significantly more competitive than it was this season, especially as the A’s see their young core of stars continue to develop.

No matter how the World Series turns out, Houston, led by Luhnow and his team of forward thinking, analytically driven minions, deserve immense credit for having guided the franchise from the very depths of the league to their current position, a win away from their second championship in three seasons. They’re the only franchise to make the LCS each of the past three years, and they figure to be favorites to be back in the postseason in 2020 as well.

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Clippers give Warriors Reality Check on Opening Night at Chase https://martineztribune.com/2019/10/24/clippers-give-warriors-reality-check-on-opening-night-at-chase/ Fri, 25 Oct 2019 06:39:43 +0000 https://martineztribune.com/?p=13555 BY MASON BISSADA  The Golden State Warriors were eviscerated by the Los Angeles Clippers on Thursday night, losing to their in-state rival by a whopping 141-122 on opening night at the new Chase Center in San Francisco. To say that the Warriors got off to a slow start would be an understatement, seeing as how …

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BY MASON BISSADA

 The Golden State Warriors were eviscerated by the Los Angeles Clippers on Thursday night, losing to their in-state rival by a whopping 141-122 on opening night at the new Chase Center in San Francisco.

To say that the Warriors got off to a slow start would be an understatement, seeing as how the Clippers went on a 14-0 run to start the game. D’Angelo Russell took it upon himself to stop the bleeding, scoring the Warriors’ first 10 points, including a pair of pull-up 3’s in transition. Russell looked passable offensively in his Warriors’ debut, going for 20 points on 4-8 3-point shooting. Thanks to Russell’s hot start and some competent bench play from Jacob Evans (4-9 from 3 for the game) and rookie Eric Paschall, Golden State was able to cut the lead to a reasonable 11 points at halftime. Then all hell broke loose.

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER
Eric Paschall looks to get off a shot over the Clippers Lou Williams in his NBA debut for the Warriors Thursday night. Paschall scored 14 points, but Los Angeles routed the Warriors 141-122.

 

During the Kerr era, the Warriors have become notorious for going on huge 3rd quarter runs to either come back from a deficit or extend an already sizable lead. Thursday, however, the opposite happened, as the Clippers outscored the Warriors 46-33, effectively ending the game. The Warriors’ defense was abominable, as they were unable to slow down Kawhi Leonard (21 points) or the super-sub combo of Lou Williams (22) and Montrezl Harrell (18). The Clippers shot an eye-popping 62.5% from the field and 56.3% from three for the game.

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER
Lou Williams of the Clippers goes up for a shot around Jacob Evans III during the Clips 141-122 win over the Warriors Thursday night. Williams led Los Angeles with 22 points off the bench to help spoil the opening night at Chase Center for the Warriors.

 

“Our defense was atrocious,” Draymond Green said postgame. You got to give [the Clippers] some credit but when you give them the type of rhythm they were allowed to get in, they’re going to make shots and a lot of them were open.They have a good team but our defense was pathetic.”

Steph Curry struggled mightily, turning the ball over eight times. It was also a rare off-night in terms of shooting for the usual 3-point sniper, going just 2-11 from beyond the arc. The Clippers clearly designed their defense around stopping Curry, constantly sending two players to the ball when he had possession and trapping him in pick-and-roll situations. Defensive pest Patrick Beverley hounded Curry, constantly toeing the line between fantastic defense and physical assault. Beverley even bated Curry into an offensive foul via a shove out of frustration.

“The easy answer is that it is one out of 82, but there is some glaring and there are things that we need to correct if we want to win basketball games consistently,” Curry said postgame.

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER
Kawhi Leonard drives the lane against Glenn Robinson III during the Clippers 141-122 win over Golden State Thursday night in the opening game at Chase Center. The reigning NBA Finals MVP scored 21 points and dished off nine assists.

 

The Warriors’ defensive scheme appeared to include placing Draymond Green on Clippers forward Patrick Patterson, who has not shot the ball well in recent seasons past. Green played off of Patterson in an attempt to play free safety as a help defender, daring Patterson to shoot. Patterson did indeed, knocking down 6-10 3-point attempts and ending the night with 20 points, a higher total than he had in any game last season. This is something the Warriors will just have to live with, as the logic behind the scheme was sound.

 The Warriors bad injury luck also continued, as starting center Kevon Looney sat the second half after re-aggravating a hamstring injury. If this causes Looney to miss games, the Warriors will have to look to newly-acquired Marquese Chriss to start at center with Willie Cauley-Stein already out. Green also sat out for a short period in the first quarter with some sort of nerve issue in his shoulder, but was able to return in the second quarter. Green’s health is definitely something to keep an eye on as the season progresses, as the Warriors would likely fall off a defensive cliff without him.

Perhaps it is a good thing that the Warriors took such an emphatic loss this early in the season. It was a reality check they needed, conveying to them that they are no longer a juggernaut that can walk into any game and win with one hand tied behind their backs. This Clipper team might be the toughest opponent they’ll face this season, so at least they know it’s all uphill from here.

 “This is not a one-off,” Head Coach Steve Kerr said postgame “This is the reality. There are going to be nights like this during the year. You have to play through it and you have to keep fighting and keep getting better. That’s the plan.”

 The Warriors next travel to Oklahoma City to play the Thunder on Sunday at 12:30 p.m.

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