Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Prince of Motown

The Detroit Tigers made a huge splash yesterday by giving $214 million to former Milwaukee Brewer 1B Prince Fielder. It kind of came as a shock, as the Washington Nationals were long thought the favorite to land the prized free agent. The Tigers needed to make a move after they lost Victor Martinez for the upcoming season with a knee injury, but not many envisioned Detroit doling out a 9 year offer to anybody, let alone a 275 pound first baseman. I'm a huge proponent of Prince Fielder, but this is just getting out of hand and I will explain to you how this move is a very risky proposition. 

First and foremost, I know how talented and durable Prince Fielder has been over the last five years. He's a career .282 hitter, which is great for a power hitting first baseman (at least nowadays). I'd be surprised if that average isn't higher than .300 again, as he will be hitting right behind one of the most gifted hitters in the MLB, Miguel Cabrera. The Tiger offense probably has the best 3 and 4 hitters in the league, combined with a lot of speed at the top of the order and capable hitters to surround the sluggers. The offense will be great, no doubt, but the defense is the biggest problem.

Miguel Cabrera has agreed to move to 3rd base and the Tigers expect him to play there this year, making for one of the worst defensive teams in the league. Cabrera last played 3rd in 2007 and defensive metrics had him as the 17th of 21 qualified 3rd baseman. Furthermore, Cabrera has gained about 40 pounds since he last played 3rd base, limiting his range by a lot. It's going to be hard watching him play there. Additionally, Prince Fielder is not exactly going to be fighting for the Gold Glove either. Prince Fielder has cost his team the most runs among 1B since 2006 (48 runs), which is ten more than any other 1B in the MLB. Of course this stat is not the final determination on how good/bad of a first baseman he is, but he's not good that's all that matters. Of course the Tigers will be able to DH one of these guys, but rumors have Delmon Young being the opening day Designated Hitter. 

An already mediocre defense will get a lot worse this year. Yes this deal will help them score more runs in the next few years, but the defense will start getting atrocious and hard to watch. The pitching rotation won't get a lot of help from their defense, especially in 2020, when Prince Fielder will be owed another $25 million at the age of 35. 

R.I.P. Joe Paterno

Although it is a few days late, the Point After would like to acknowledge the face of Penn State University. Love him or hate him, the man changed PSU and ultimately had one of the greatest impacts on college football. Rest In Peace Joe Pa.
December 21, 1926 – January 22, 2012
" Believe deep down in your heart that you're destined to do great things"

Down, But Not Out: Villanova Basketball

After three years of qualifying for the NCAA Men's Basketball tournament, Villanova has been told by critics that they will end this streak. Despite some negative feedback from fans, the Wildcats have not thrown in the towel just yet on the 2011-12 season. In fact, the team has vastly improved since its disheartening losses against St. Louis, Santa Clara and St. Joes.
Nova demonstrated in their recent victory against Seton Hall that they have a developing offense and a sturdy defense. Though inconsistent at times, the team demonstrated against the Pirates that when they control the offensive tempo of the game and play "simple" basketball, they are a complete team that will be successful in the years to come. Furthermore, the Cats passed, drove to the lane, and rebounded with an extreme amount of passion and energy. I believe that this resulted from the hostile environment and highly motivated crowd in the student section in which the team fed off the Nova Nation's excitement. This seems to stand true as Nova is now 8-2 at home.
On the other other hand, the "Mainline Monsters" have struggled on the road this year with a record of 1-5. Tomorrow night, on ESPN, they take on #25 Louisville who is currently 15-5. The keys to this game are straight forward: protect the ball, crash the boards, and distribute the scoring. If Nova can effectively carry out these tasks (primarily limiting the amount of turnovers) then they have a chance to steal a big upset on the road.
Despite the outcome of this match up , the #10 Marquette Golden Eagles will face an extremely wild and upset minded crowd at the Wells Fargo Center. This game has been talked about by students all week because after losing by 4 to Marquette over winter break, the Nova Nation and Jay Wright's team want another stab at bringing down the Eagles. You talk about a tough environment to play in? Look no further than in downtown Philly.
Both Rutgers and Pitt are currently 11-9, USF is 12-9 and Providence is 12-8. Villanova gets the opportunity to play each of these teams throughout the remainder of the season. Standing at 10-10, I think we have a great shot at getting revenge on USF and Rutgers (from last year's loss) and ultimately could pull out a win against a struggling Pitt Panther squad. This would place Nova in the middle of the pack of the Big East. With a possible win Saturday or at home against Uconn (UPSET ALERT!!), Villanova will prove to the critics and their "fair weather fans" that the Wildcats may be rebuilding, but will never be declawed of their passion for excellence.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Championship Picks

Well last week I was pretty awful, going 1 of 4. The Texans played the Ravens tough, but couldn't pull through. Alex Smith and Eli Manning put two elite MVP candidates away in stunning fashion in the NFC, making for a great showdown in San Francisco. The Patriots dismantled the Tebows, I mean Broncos, with a blowout victory. So four teams face off this week to earn a spot in the biggest stage in American sports: the Superbowl.

Ravens at Patriots: The Patriots look to continue their strong play in the past two months against a Ravens defense that still is elite. Joe Flacco must show up this week, because the Patriots secondary is the weakest part of the entire team. Do I trust Flacco? I don't right now, but I do like the way the offensive line controls the game. The Ravens need to keep Brady off the field by running the ball effectively. I like their chances of doing that, but in the end I don't think they have enough firepower to contend with the Patriots. Tom Brady is as battle tested as any quarterback can be and I can see him pulling out a victory in Foxboro in the final minutes. If the Ravens can force a few turnovers they can certainly win this game, but I'm going with the Pats.

Patriots 30, Ravens 20

Giants at 49ers: I keep going back and forth on this game, but the New York Giants are playing the best football in the league. We saw this four years ago, when the Giants upset everybody to the Superbowl. There's a good chance that we see it happen again, but let's give the San Francisco 49ers some credit. Alex Smith changed my perception of him as a quarterback and leader. This game will go down to the wire as these two defenses are playing very well. I never like picking the Giants and nothing has changed, so I won't pick them this week. I have nothing but respect for this team though. So much hate, criticism, Brandon Jacobs' stupid comments, and injuries, however, they will be suiting up in the NFC Championship game. I expect Eli to play well, as he always does in these types of games, but the 49ers defense and maybe rain will slow down that great passing attack.

49ers 31, Giants 28

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Divisional Playoff Picks

The Wild Card round of the Playoffs didn't start off very well, but ended in dramatic fashion as the Broncos finished off the reigning AFC Champion Steelers in overtime. This weekend has a lot of promise, as all 8 teams playing have won their respective divisions. There's a few rematches from the regular season, but you can throw that out of the picture because there is nothing like playoff football. So here are my picks for the Divisional Round of the NFL Playoffs.

Saints at 49ers: I love the way Drew Brees is playing right now, but this defense is no cake walk. The 49er run defense poses a huge threat to the Saints, who have ran the ball with great efficiency in the past month. It will be a tough battle, but in my mind it all comes down to quarterback play. I have 0 trust in Alex Smith to perform well this afternoon, so I have to go with my boy Drew Brees. Saints 28, 49ers 13

Broncos at Patriots: If you haven't read already, I have a large man crush on Tim Tebow. I think he will play a great game, but in all honesty, Tom Brady and company are going to go crazy against a Broncos defense that hasn't played well as of late. New England will need to control the pass rush of the Broncos, but having Tom Brady behind center should do the trick. This could be a blowout, but for football's sake, let's hope for a good game. Patriots 31, Broncos 20

Texans at Ravens: This will be my wild card pick, but I'm so unsure about this game. I keep going back and forth even though the Texans are without their top two quarterbacks. I love the Ravens defense in this one, but the Texans must stick with their strength. Expect to see a whole lot of Arian Foster, with a ton of screen passes going his way as well. I don't trust Flacco to send this team to the next round, so I've got the Texans. Texans 13, Ravens 10

Giants at Packers: The New York Football Giants are playing better than they have all season, reminiscent of their Superbowl run four years ago. It will be a lot tougher to go through Green Bay this year, as Lambeau Field will rocking and rolling with a 15-1 team on the field. Aaron Rodgers and Eli Manning both are battle tested, but I expect the Packers to handle the Giants in a shootout. Packers 41, Giants 35

Friday, January 13, 2012

Fisher to Rams

It is official: Jeff Fisher is now the coach of the St. Louis Rams. St. Louis desperately needed organizational change after a 2-14 regression of a season. One year after competing for a playoff spot with the Seattle Seahawks, the Rams' season was over by October. The gap between the division-leading 49ers and the bottom-feeder Rams could not have been any larger this year. Now, St. Louis intends to change that.

Jeff Fisher spent 17 seasons with the Tennessee Titans as their head coach. During his time there, he guided the franchise to a Super Bowl and numerous playoff appearances. The stability and veteran savvy that Fisher is known for is in great demand. The Rams have not had a winning season since 2003, and recently failed with a first time head coach in Steve Spagnulo.

The future in St. Louis, while recently bleak, is now bright with promise. The Rams already have Sam Bradford, a potential franchise quarterback, and the number 2 pick in this year's draft. While the rise of San Francisco is intimidating, the West seemingly changes hands every year and has been notoriously weak as of late. Rams fans, thank the football Gods that Fisher is now your coach as opposed to Miami's, for hope is in the air in St. Louis.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Syracuse Dominates Villanova

#1 ranked Syracuse is simply better than any other Big East team at this point. Villanova never even stood a chance against the top team in the country last night, losing 79-66. Dion Waiters, the Syracuse sixth man, would be the best player on the Wildcats. That's how good this team is. Yes, Villanova is in a transition year and doesn't have a scholarship senior, but the amount of talent on this Syracuse team is ridiculous. It will be interesting to see if or when Syracuse loses a game this season.

So what can we take out of the game yesterday for Villanova? Here are the four major aspects that popped out at me during the game.

1. Villanova really misses Corey Stokes: Dominic Cheek has been put into the role that Corey Stokes was in for the past few years, and he's done an awful job at filling his shoes. Cheek shot 4-13 from the field, with only 1 of 7 from downtown. Cheek needs to hit his jump shots, but there's something to say about shot selection. There's no doubt in my mind that Cheek can score at this level, but he is not making good basketball plays. There were a few instances where he shot a contested three pointer with over 15 seconds left on the shot clock. Those are inexcusable shots, as they rarely go in and puts pressure on the team to gather offensive rebounds. I'd like to see more off the ball screens given to Cheek, much the way Ray Allen is treated in the pros. Let Cheek run around the court and get open. If he has a half-step on a defender, Cheek can be deadly with his ability drive and shoot.

2. Stagnant offense: No matter who has been running the point, Villanova seems to just stand there offensively for twenty seconds. The lack of offensive plays hinders consistent scoring. In transition, Villanova is very efficient, but the half-court game is embarrassing. This has been going on ever since Scottie Reynolds left nova a couple years ago. Fisher, Wayns and now Johnson, need to do a better job of recognizing defenses and moving the ball around. This all stems from head coach Jay Wright though, as he needs to build a better offense.

3. Transition Defense: Syracuse scored a lot of points in transition last night, as Scoop Jardine and Dion Waiters combined for 4 of the Orange's 6 turnovers. Even off missed jumpshots by Villanova, Syracuse was already on the run and executed their transition offense perfectly. Villanova big men Yarou, Kennedy, Pinkston, and Bell at times were too worried about offensive rebounds and were beat down the court on plays where they had literally no chance of getting a board. Sometimes the best decision is to let the rebound go and get back on defense, because Villanova surprisingly played a decent half-court defense last night.

4. Mental Toughness: Villanova is young, so this will come with time; however, Maalik Wayns and Dominic Cheek were not leading their teams in any regards. The top three players on this team are still Juniors, but last night Jayvaughn Pinkston was the most impactful player. Wayns, Cheek, and Yarou have been through the grind of the Big East and have been on very good basketball teams. The three upperclassmen need to do a better job of being consistent and reliable. Yarou did not convert a post move into a basket last night, from what I can remember. Wayns played awful and Cheek couldn't hit anything. The veterans need to carry the weight as the freshman just aren't polished enough yet.

All I can say right now about this team: It's going to be a long season.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

4 Questions for 2012: The NBA

The 4 questions series finally turns to the National Basketball Association. After a contentious lockout that nearly ruined the 2011-2012 season, the NBA is back in business. Lets take a look at one of the most pressing questions facing the league.

The past few years have seen the rise of "super teams" in big markets. Will the NBA continue becoming a top-heavy, big market league in 2012?

The NBA is becoming top-heavy, with most of the power concentrated in the large markets. Examples include the Celtics in Boston, the "big 3" in Miami, Melo and Amare in New York, and the Lakers of the past few years in Los Angeles. It is all well and good that fans in these markets have something to cheer about again. But when this comes at the expense of the rest of the teams in the league, then there is a problem.

All over the league, good players are fleeing their teams, in pursuit of championships and the bright lights of the big cities. Recently, we have seen LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Carmelo Anthony, Derron Williams, and Chris Paul all leave their teams they came up with for bigger cities and superstar combinations. Part of the reason the recent lockout happened was because the owners feared the players had too much power. The star players and "superagents" seem to have indeed remade the league.

The league was faced with an interesting situation before the season began. Chris Paul wanted out of New Orleans, and the league had control of the bankrupt Hornets. When Dell Demps, the Hornets GM, tried to send CP3 to the Lakers in a trade, the league vetoed it, for "basketball reasons." The real reason the trade was dismantled, though, was because the league did not want to send yet another superstar to the big-market Lakers. They did not want to continue a trend that the owners had so vehemently fought against for months.

Paul did have good reason to leave the Hornets. The team does not draw many fans, and it is hard to stay competitive on a budget. CP3 had no real help, so he wanted out. With the Lakers trade dead, Demps had to pursue a new deal, with Paul a free agent at year's end. So, for a decent haul, the Clippers were able to acquire Chris Paul. This satisfied the owners. The Clippers play in a big market, but are not the traditional big market team. Through this action, the league put their foot down in the interest of competitive balance in an already top heavy league.

What does this all mean for 2012? It will surely be an interesting season, due to the compact schedule. Another battle looms on the horizon, and it involves the future of Dwight Howard. Will he stay in Orlando, get traded at the midpoint of the season, or leave as a free agent? As one of the game's most dominant players, whatever Howard does will be emblematic of the direction of the NBA. My guess is that he follows Shaq's footsteps and finds his way to Los Angeles, whether by trade or via free agency.

However the superstars align, basketball remains a team sport. Though the NBA is a superstar driven league, how good your team is often trumps how many superstars are on that team. This contrast was on display in the NBA finals last year, as a true team in the Mavericks took down a constellation of stars in the Miami Heat. In a grueling season, the smart money is on a team with character, like Dallas, Oklahoma City, San Antonio, or Chicago, versus a Miami.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

4 Questions for 2012: The NHL

For the third part of the four questions series, we will focus on the NHL. There are a lot of interesting things happening in the world of hockey right now, so lets take a look.

The NHL has a well documented, scary concussion problem. How does this affect hockey in 2012 and beyond?

Concussions are on the rise in the NHL. It is easily seen all over the sport, from fourth line fighters to guys like Chris Pronger and Sidney Crosby. Awareness of concussions has increased in the entire sports world, so incidents are being reported that would have never been reported in the old days. But that does not nearly explain the rise that we see in the sport of hockey. The upward trend of concussions can be mostly attributed to three factors:
1) The game has been opened up. After the 2005 lockout, the NHL loosened the rules on passing. 2 line passes are no longer illegal. So, instead of having to attack in a controlled rush, guys are able to fly up the wings as defensemen shoot the puck up the ice. Although I love the flow of the game, faster skating means harder hits.
2) Padding. Lets make this clear: I'm not saying guys should not be protected. Hockey is a brutal sport, and the players should be given every defense against injury. But it seems the current padding on regular NHL players is less like padding and more like body armor. When players feel like they are invincible, they play like they are. This translates into faster play and more bone-crushing hits.
3) Players are bigger. This one seems like a no-brainer. Hockey players today are bigger and more athletic than the guys that came before. Players are pushed, usually from a very young age, with a singular goal in mind: to play hockey, as it is with many professional sports.

Concussions in hockey are a big problem in and of itself. But this issue has many important implications. Many people are unaware that hockey's collective bargaining agreement runs out at the end of the season, and relations between the league and the NHLPA have been tense. Recently, the league devised a realignment plan that all of the owners agreed on, which is necessary after the Winnipeg Jets were created. This plan was just shot down by the NHLPA for no real reason, just to prove a point to the league. With the players association, led by Donald Fehr, (head of the MLBPA in 1995, yeah, that guy) spoiling for a fight, the concussion situation is one they can use to grab more power for the players. The lockout will be a rough one, probably cutting into the next season as the owners and players fight it out. Look for the concussion situation and player safety to factor in prominently as the lockout wears on. Rule changes might even be brought on, like reversing the passing rule. Whatever happens, it figures to be a wild year for the National Hockey League.

Monday, January 9, 2012

4 Questions for 2012: The MLB

In the second part of the "4 Questions" series, I will take a look at Major League Baseball. The hot stove was simmering in the offseason, and as we approach spring training, (really, it is closer than you think) lets take a look at where all of the moving and shaking has left us.

Free agency and trades dramatically altered the baseball landscape this offseason. The Los Angeles Angels, Miami Marlins, and Cincinnati Reds all made bold moves to improve their chances this season. Which of these teams made the biggest improvements, and which team is in the best position to compete for a playoff berth?

The Angels, Marlins, and Reds all made huge moves this offseason. The Angels were the big winners, landing all world first baseman Albert Pujols (10 years, $240 million), and top of the line starter C.J. Wilson (5 years, $77 million). This move immediately changed the Angels from 2011 afterthoughts to 2012 contenders. The Miami Marlins finally have a new stadium, and though they're under federal investigation, this did not stop them from spending like Barrack Obama. The Marlins acquired Jose Reyes (6 years, $106 million), Mark Buehrle (4 years, $58 million), closer Heath Bell (3 years, $27 million), and manager Ozzie Guillen. They also got Carlos Zambrano via trade. The Reds, although not active in free agency, made a big splash by trading inconsistent pitcher Edinson Volquez and three of the team's top porspects to the San Diego Padres for 24 year old ace Matt Latos.

Each of these teams added impact players. The most improved team, at least in the short term, has to be the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Pujols, although aging, is a once in a generation talent. He is someone you can build your lineup around. C.J. Wilson will pair with Dan Haren to become one of the most devastating one-two punches in the majors. Although these other teams made significant improvements, they do not compare to adding guys like Pujols and Wilson.

While all of these teams will have more wins in 2012, not all will reach October. The Marlins are better, but will not get to the playoffs. They inherit a tough division, with Philadelphia and Atlanta to knock out of the way. Although this team is more talented, it will be the definition of dysfunction. With loudmouth Ozzie Guillen, malcontent Hanley Ramirez, and the combustible Carlos Zambrano, the season could unravel at any moment. I don't know what is more fragile, Josh Johnson's right arm or the Miami clubhouse. Also, as good as Jose Reyes is, he seems to get injured every year. This team will fall to either injuries or a lack of chemistry before making the playoffs.

While the Marlins won't make much noise in the stacked East, I believe the Reds and Angels have what it takes to make the playoffs. The Angels now have a powerful enough lineup to go with their stellar pitching rotation. Look for them to be neck and neck with the Rangers, and for the Wild Card to come out of the AL West this year. In the NL, Cincinnati is in prime position to take over the NL Central. The Brewers are a mess with the Braun PED suspension, the Cardinals just lost their superstar and manager, and the Cubs, Astros, and Pirates are in rebuilding mode. That leaves the Reds, who added an emerging star in Latos to join Cueto and Mike Leake at the top of the rotation. Together with a lineup anchored by Joey Votto, the Reds should win in a weakened Central division.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

4 Questions for 2012: The NFL

2012 is already a week in, and if this last 365 days in sports is any indication, 2012 will be one crazy year. From Tebowmania to the improbable run of the St. Louis Cardinals, 2011 was truly a year to remember. Over the next four days, I am going to ask four questions, one in each major, American professional sport. I will then attempt to peer into the crystal ball and determine the answer to these queries. Fully aware that this will probably serve as comedic relief in a year or so, we will start first in the NFL.

There were six 8-8 teams that did not make the NFL playoffs this year. Which, if any, of these teams (Chargers, Raiders, Jets, Cowboys, Eagles, Bears) will bounce back to make the playoffs in 2012?

Some franchises, such as the woebegone Cleveland Browns, would leave their city to be 8-8. (Wait, hasn't that already happened?) But these six teams failed this year, each in their own spectacular way. In the NFC, the Eagles fell to the ridiculous expectation of being a "dream team." They also did smart things like install their offensive line coach as their new defensive coordinator, and just could not finish games. The Chicago Bears flamed out due to injuries and a lack of depth. Once Jay Cutler and Matt Forte got injured, a promising 7-3 start turned into an 8-8 debacle. After beating quarterbacks like Phillip Rivers, Michael Vick, Matt Ryan, and Matthew Stafford, the Bears lost to guys like Tyler Palko. The Cowboys, well, were the Cowboys of late. Their defense failed when it mattered most, and they lost games due to puzzling coaching decisions. I like Jason Garrett, but icing your own kicker should come up in a special section of "common man." With everything on the line against the Giants in the last game of the season, they got their butts kicked.

In the AFC, the Chargers literally found ways to lose games. The most talented team does not always win, as the Chargers have found time and again. Phillip Rivers was not himself this year, throwing over twenty interceptions. The Raiders showed potential and guts in the trade for Carson Palmer, but set a league record for penalties. This team is maddening, and I really like Hue Jackson, but he has to get these guys under control. Finally, the Jets just could not live up to their own hype. Sanchez was terrible this year, and the vaunted Rex Ryan defense got burned on several occasions.

These teams have demons that need to be exorcised. The team most likely to get back to the playoffs is the Philadelphia Eagles. The talent on this team is astounding, and if the DeSean Jackson contract situation clears up, watch out. This Philadelphia team really started rolling near the end of the season, and expect that to continue as the Eagles fly under the radar in 2012. The team least likely to make the playoffs in my opinion is the New York Jets. In a tough AFC with up and coming teams like the Bengals and Texans, along with entrenched powers like the Ravens, Patriots, and Steelers, the Jets need to win a lot of games and score a lot of points just to make the playoffs. Watching Mark Sanchez this season was like watching a bad horror movie: You wanted to stop watching and even wanted to laugh at times, but just couldn't avert your eyes from the spectacle. If Sanchez can stop making mistakes and the Jets go back to "ground and pound," this team has a chance. That is a big if.

As for the rest of the teams in the middle, there are some big questions marks. The Chargers and Raiders need to pay attention to the little things, and change the culture of their football teams. In a winnable west, the inches will make all the difference. The Cowboys need an attitude change as well. Tony Romo is always awesome in November. But what the Cowboys need is a big win in December against a playoff contender, which would do wonders to change the mindset on this team. The Chicago Bears, along with getting a big play wide receiver, need to stay healthy. With Urlacher, Briggs, and Peppers all in their 30s, the window of opportunity on this team is closing fast. When the Bears were healthy and at 7-3 in 2011, it seemed there was hardly a team that could beat them. But, in a cutthroat division, one mistake will spell disaster for these Bears.

500 means different things to different teams. In the cases of these clubs, anther mediocre season would be disastrous. Which one of these talented teams will step up?