The MLB Awards, At (Near) the End of the Season, Part II

This is the second part of the MLB end of the season awards.  The first part of these awards was published Friday, and you can find them here.  The same rules apply; I don’t care what you call them, but they are my choices for the remaining major awards.

This post will cover the rookies and managers that have separated themselves from the rest of baseball’s pack.  Of course, my choices aren’t necessarily going to be winners for each league; rather, they are the people who I think are worthy of the honor of receiving these awards.  Again, the season has been competitive and interesting.  The award races are the same way.

Let’s get things going with the Rookies of the Year for each league.

AL Rookie of the Year: Carlos Correa, Houston Astros

This is a very close race, with Correa, the Twins’ Miguel Sano and the Indians’ Francisco Lindor all being worthy of consideration for the award.  However, I’m giving a very slight edge to the Astros’ shortstop for a couple of reasons.

One of them?  He actually hasn’t really done anything badly.  He’s hit for average (.282), power (21 home runs) and even has 12 steals to boot this year.  His promotion on June 8 has helped the Astros get past some of their first-year-of-contention struggles with their current core, so he’s been rather critical for the 2017 World Series champs.

Recently, YahooSports’ Mike Oz wrote a piece about the importance of Correa and Jose Altuve to the Astros’ chances in this postseason and beyond.  That said piece contained some crazy stats about just how good Correa has been this season.  Here are some of them:

Correa was the No. 1 overall selection in the 2012 MLB draft, coming out of the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy and High School. The Astros gave him a $4.8 million signing bonus when he put his name on a contract. Ever since, he’s been one of the most hyped prospects in the game and that’s continued into this season. He might win the AL Rookie of the Year Award after hitting .279/.345/.507 with 19 homers and 56 RBIs. Some were calling him the best shortstop in the American League only a month into his career. His 3.1 Wins Above Replacement, according to Fangraphs, is second among Astros position players. Altuve, naturally, is No. 1.

Before he even played in the big leagues, Correa was compared to Derek Jeter. Talk about high expectations. It wasn’t just for his skillset, but the aura of leadership he emits. Correa has a presence about him. He’s 6-feet-4, lean but solid, with a big smile and good knack for saying the right thing. He’s polished, poised and ready to be a star, on the field and off it.

Well, that’s true.  It can be argued that Correa has been one of the Astros’ MVPs this season (beside Dallas Keuchel and Altuve) and the team’s hopes for a deep playoff run likely rest, at least partially, on his shoulders.

But let’s appreciate what he is in the 2015 season: the American League Rookie of the Year.

Top 5

  1. Carlos Correa
  2. Miguel Sano (Twins)
  3. Francisco Lindor (Indians)
  4. Billy Burns (Athletics)
  5. Roberto Osuna (Blue Jays)

NL Rookie of the Year: Kris Bryant, Chicago Cubs

Well, we go from a really close race to a… not really close race.

I wrote in August about how at that time, I thought that the NL Rookie of the Year should have been the Giants’ Matt Duffy.  This is how I ended that article, which was published on August 4:

Right.  Matt Duffy is the most valuable rookie in the NL.

By writing this, I’m not trying to say that Duffy should definitely win Rookie of the Year; there is a lot of baseball yet to be played.  His sudden power surge may end and his numbers might just fall back down to earth.  However, if he keeps up his current pace, I definitely think he should win the award.  If he does, it will be the ultimate surprise in a season full of them.

And it will be a surprise because no one talks about him.

 

Yes, it would have been a surprise to see Duffy win the most prestigious rookie award in the game.  What’s less surprising is the end result; it isn’t happening.

Duffy actually has kept up his pace since then, but Bryant has exceeded his, and by a lot.  While he’s struck out a lot (182 times!), he’s also hit third in a playoff lineup (as a rookie) and is about to drive in 100 runs, which is difficult for a 10-year veteran, let alone for a newcomer.

When you combine the performance of Bryant with the faltering of Joc Pederson and the general lack of qualification of the other rookies, this becomes very easy.  It’s Kris Bryant, in a landslide only previously seen by 1984 Ronald Reagan.

Top 5

  1. Kris Bryant
  2. Matt Duffy (Giants)
  3. Jung Ho Kang (Pirates)
  4. Noah Syndergaard (Mets)
  5. Justin Bour (Marlins)

AL Manager of the Year: Paul Molitor, Minnesota Twins

Paul Molitor took over as manager of the Twins this offseason, and it would’ve been easy to understand him if he didn’t expect much.  With a roster that was probably a year or two away from contention, the Twins were headed for another last place finish.

Molitor came into this season with no managerial experience, and while his career and his baseball knowledge were respected, his managerial instincts were undoubtedly going to come into question. And while he probably hasn’t been perfect, he has exceeded anyone’s expectations, and so has his team.

Going into Monday’s action, the Twins found themselves a half game out of the American League’s second Wild Card and a full year ahead of schedule.  While the Twins only have a +5 run differential this year, they are alive and well for a playoff spot in the very poor American League.

However, while this is important, it isn’t a be-all-end-all.  For example, the Rangers are 84-71 with a +9 run differential.  Their record in one-run games is 26-20, while the Twins’ is 21-20.  So while the Rangers will probably win their division, they have more or less done so on luck, while the Twins have made it to 80-75 with almost the same differential.

While the Rangers’ Jeff Banister can make a solid case for being Manager of the Year, I’m giving to Molitor.  And that is the case whether the Twins are in the playoffs or not.

Top 3

  1. Paul Molitor
  2. Jeff Banister (Rangers)
  3. A.J. Hinch (Astros)

NL Manager of the Year: Joe Maddon, Chicago Cubs

In a very tight race between Maddon and the Mets’ Terry Collins, I’m giving the slightest of edges to Maddon.

His quirky style has worked wonders for the Cubs this season, and while they’ll be (wrongly) subjected to a one-game playoff against the Cardinals or Pirates, they’ve won 90 games and will yield the Rookie of the Year and maybe even the Cy Young winner.

The Cubs won 73 games last year under Rick Renteria, good for last in their division.  This year, the team won’t be losing 73 games.  Led by Jake Arrieta, Kris Bryant and MVP-candidate (at least he should be) Anthony Rizzo, the Cubs are going to have the biggest turnaround in the National League this year, and that’s all because of Joe Maddon.

He’s had snakes and magicians in the clubhouse.  He’s managed bullpen games in elimination games.  He’s even offered drinks to reporters.  And now he’ll have a third Manager of the Year trophy.

Top 3

  1. Joe Maddon (Cubs)
  2. Terry Collins (Mets)
  3. Mike Matheny (Cardinals)

Let me know your opinion in the comments section!

The MLB Awards, At (Near) the End of the Season, Part I

Call them the Sully Awards.  Call them the SullyOnSports awards. Actually, call them whatever you want because I really don’t care.

These are my thoughts on the MLB awards for the 2015 season.  These players (and managers; they’re people too) have separated themselves from the rest this year, having seasons for the ages and leading their teams to the playoffs.  Of course, what I would do with my ballot is not necessarily in alignment with popular thought, and my choices don’t really reflect what will actually happen with the awards.  But it’s been a really fun, competitive season in baseball, and a lot of the award races are the same way.

I’ll do the MVP and Cy Young awards in this post.  The Rookie of the Year and Manager of the Year winners for both leagues will be a separate post.  So let’s get down to business.

AL MVP: Josh Donaldson, Toronto Blue Jays

This one is much closer than you think.  Donaldson leads the American League in runs scored, RBI, and most significantly, WAR. His heroics led the Blue Jays through a mediocre 50-51 showing in the season’s first 101 games.  The team’s season changed, however, on July 28, when the Jays landed star shortstop Troy Tulowitzki.  Two days later, they acquired pitcher David Price and were well on their way.

However, there is another MVP candidate that should be discussed, and it’s Mike Trout.  Trout, the AL MVP from last season, may be having his best season yet, setting career highs in home runs and slugging percentage.  He is second to Donaldson in WAR, but the difference is minuscule (8.2 to 8.1).

And as Rob Arthur of FiveThirtyEight writes, that stat may not even tell us all we need to know:

However, like all statistical estimates, WAR calculations come with uncertainty. Here’s where things get pretty statsy, so bear with me: You’re about to get a crash course in confidence intervals. The true value of a player varies from what you find on the leaderboard — but we’re not sure by how much. That’s because of sample size. Although a whole season of baseball seems like a lot, it still doesn’t provide enough data to allow us to be completely sure of each player’s value. So Harper’s 8 WAR could be 6 or it could be 10, but the number on the leaderboard represents our best guess.

When the uncertainty about a player is small, we can be more sure that the player who looks like the best really is the best. If the uncertainty increases, though, we become less able to distinguish his performance from those of his competitors. Trying to determine the magnitude of this uncertainty is tricky, but it’s an important part of good statistical practice.

All right, I think we get it.  It’s very close, but I’ll take Donaldson, because being the best player on what will probably be the best team going into October does bear some weight in this discussion.  While I don’t think of that as the be-all-end-all, with such a small difference between these two players, we’ll use it as the tiebreaker.  And Donaldson will win the award, for one simple, stupid reason: voter fatigue.

Top 5

  1. Josh Donaldson
  2. Mike Trout (Angels)
  3. Chris Davis (Orioles)
  4. Edwin Encarnacion (Blue Jays)
  5. Nelson Cruz (Mariners)

NL MVP: Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals

I wrote back in July that I thought Paul Goldschmidt should be the National League’s MVP.  This is what I wrote back then (edited, because I repeated the same line twice in the span of a few lines):

Anyway, this discussion, as you can already tell, is extremely complicated.  Harper’s team has done better this season, record-wise (three games up on the Mets in the woeful NL East) , but it’s hard to argue that the Diamondbacks would be where they are right now (42-42) without Goldschmidt.  While Harper’s slugging percentage, OPS, and on-base percentage are better than Goldschmidt’s, I’m giving Goldschmidt the advantage.  The advantage for all of the above listed reasons, as well as a very simple one: the acronym MVP stands for “Most Valuable Player”.  If the award was for “Most Outstanding Player”, Harper would be the clear-cut winner.  But Goldschmidt has been more valuable for his team this season, and the stats demonstrate that.

Goldschmidt has the edge here.

Well, what can I say?  I didn’t necessarily say that Goldschmidt was going to hold on to the award, I just said that he was in the lead on July 10.  And since then, the debate has gone from “complicated” to “duh”.

Harper leads Goldschmidt in every major category except for stolen bases and RBI.  However, Harper has less ABs than Goldy, and would likely pass him in RBI (he has no chance of catching him in steals; he’s down 21-6) had he gotten 43 more plate appearances, which is the difference between the two.

This, unlike the AL award, is as clear-cut as it gets.  Harper’s team losing is simply not his fault, and if it weren’t for him, there is no telling where the Nationals would be.  For that, he’s the obvious MVP.

Top 5

  1. Bryce Harper
  2. Paul Goldschmidt (Diamondbacks)
  3. Andrew McCutchen (Pirates)
  4. Joey Votto (Reds)
  5. Yoenis Cespedes (Mets)

AL Cy Young: David Price, Toronto Blue Jays

The Canadian flavor continues here as David Price is my choice for the Cy Young.  Price was always in the running for this award, but he has really separated himself recently, as Jayson Stark points out:

That’s the kicker here: recency bias.  And I’m completely guilty of it, but Price has been the best pitcher in the AL of late, and probably the best pitcher for the season, as well.

Also, Price has gotten better as the season has gone along, unlike some of his competitors for the award.  Anthony Witrado of Bleacher Report wrote about this yesterday:

The main one is Houston Astros ace Dallas Keuchel, who has earned that ace title over his last two seasons and pitched to a 2.51 ERA, 2.90FIP and 1.023 WHIP this year. He is also 18-8 with a chance to win 20 games, and even though wins as a stat have been mostly discredited in this era, we still celebrate that milestone as a high level of excellence.

It is also possible that Keuchel’s stumble last week will cost him the Cy Young Award. In a start against the Texas Rangers in the Astros’ most critical series of the season, he lasted just 4.2 innings and was torched for nine runs, six of them in the first inning to sink his team before the Rangers even made three outs.

Price has also guided his team to the verge of a division crown, and at worst, an assured playoff berth.  That should be more than enough to win him the award, even if he’s only played with the Blue Jays for two months.

Top 5

  1. David Price
  2. Dallas Keuchel (Astros)
  3. Sonny Gray (Athletics)
  4. Chris Sale (White Sox)
  5. Chris Archer (Rays)

NL Cy Young: Jake Arrieta, Chicago Cubs

Recency bias strikes again here, and again, I think it’s right to go with the guy who has pitched the best down the stretch of this season: Jake Arrieta.

Arrieta has been the best pitcher in baseball for the last month, and the combination of him and Jon Lester in the playoffs is making the Cubbies look more and more dangerous by the day.  While Lester is still an outstanding pitcher, he’s had somewhat of a rough season this year (whatever this is not withstanding.)

And the race between Arrieta and the two Dodgers in this race (Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw) has become really close recently, a fact that Sports Illustrated’s Cliff Corcoran attests to:

Arrieta is pitching so well that Greinke isn’t even guaranteed to finish the year with the league’s best ERA, a distinction which provides the bulk of the argument for his winning this award. If Greinke allows three earned runs in seven innings in each of his final two starts, he’ll finish with a 1.79 ERA, a mark Arrieta would match by allowing just one earned run in 15 innings in his last two starts. That might sound like a lot to ask from Arrieta if not for the fact that he allowed just one earned run in 17 innings over his last two starts and two earned runs in 54 innings over his last seven (0.33 ERA).

I still expect Greinke to finish with the league’s best ERA, but Arrieta could make things close enough that the ERA crown won’t be enough to bring Greinke the award. Meanwhile, Kershaw has three chances to make his own case, which will be based on his likely innings lead and his significant advantages in strikeout rate and strikeout-to-walk ratio. Speaking of which: With 272 strikeouts on the season and three starts remaining, Kershaw has an outside chance to become the first pitcher to whiff 300 men in a season since Randy Johnson in 2002. As it stands, he need just six strikeouts to reach the highest total since Johnson’s 290 in 2004.

This race is very, very close, and it may even hinge on the very end of the season for each team.  However, Arrieta has a slight edge because of how dominant he has been over the most important stretch of the season.

Top 5

  1. Jake Arrieta
  2. Clayton Kershaw (Dodgers)
  3. Zack Greinke (Dodgers)
  4. Gerrit Cole (Pirates)
  5. Madison Bumgarner (Giants)

What did I get right and what did I get wrong?  Please let me know in the comments section.  Also, the second half of this post (Rookie of the Year, Manager of the Year) will be out soon, most likely on Monday. Thanks for reading!

Who Should Be College Football’s Number One? You Tell Me

If you weren’t around to digest all of the action in college football this weekend, well, sorry.  Week 3 of the season brought the first (and probably not the last) Saturday of wild and wacky happenings, as Ole Miss beat Alabama, Ohio State looked ready to lose to Northern Illinois, and SEC West ex-hopefuls Auburn and Arkansas withered against LSU and Texas Tech, respectively.  And while there weren’t exactly that many upsets, per se, this Saturday just felt… different.

This is why it was different: virtually every team in the top 10 got tested in some fashion.  #1 ranked Ohio State was pushed to the brink by the pesky Huskies of Northern Illinois.  For basically the entire game, the Bucks looked terrible, and even made a QB change from Cardale Jones to JT Barrett in the second quarter; Jones threw two picks in the early going.  It’s worth noting that they did win 20-13, but so many questions remain for the defending champs.

As for Alabama, they encountered an even worse fate.  They would be dispatched by Ole Miss in a tight, high-scoring, and rather long 43-37 affair.  While Ole Miss did have some luck in pulling off the upset (see play below), the Tide were dominated and were down 43-24 in the late going.

TCU also had to deal with a test, this one against in-state rival SMU.  At home, the Horned Frogs let the Mustangs pull within five with just over eight minutes to play in the fourth quarter.  While Gary Patterson’s team was able to pull away late, SMU did have the ball with a chance to take the lead and six minutes to play; however, they would turn it over on downs, and TCU survived.

As for the other major upset, #6 ranked USC was toppled by perennial foe Stanford at home; the Cardinal, after being left for dead after a stunning opening week loss to Northwestern, have crept back into the AP Top 25 at #21.  They won the game against USC by controlling the ball in the second half and limiting the potent Trojan offense to just 20:31 of possession for the game.

The other top 10 teams (Michigan State, Georgia, Notre Dame, Florida State, UCLA) all won, and #5 Baylor was off.  And even that being said, last Saturday certainly did not disappoint.

But it also left us with a serious conundrum: who should be #1?

If you like sticking with the status quo, then you’re probably going with Ohio State.  And if you’re going with Ohio State, then… I’m sorry. I would strongly disagree with you.

They just don’t look good.  They sleepwalked through their second straight home win Saturday (they turned in a similarly sleepy performance against Hawaii in a 31-0 win the week before) and it looks like they will be facing the same curse that has befallen every team (other than Alabama) this side of 1995 Nebraska; the curse of trying to become a repeat champion.

And, as Stewart Mandel of Fox Sports writes, it isn’t happening this year, either:

Alas, it appears we will go yet another season without seeing college football’s elusive unicorn – The Unbeatable Preseason No. 1 Team. Following in the footsteps of 2005USC, 2009 Florida, 2013 Alabama and 2014 Florida State, 2015 Ohio State appears to be yet another ostensibly loaded defending national champ that, it turns out, has issues just like everyone else.

Mind you, the Buckeyes’ are particularly puzzling. How does an offense with Cardale Jones, J.T. Barrett, Ezekiel Elliott,Braxton Miller, Michael Thomas and four veteran O-lineman score just 13 points against Northern Illinois? Like those aforementioned teams, Ohio State will likely remain a contender into December but hardly the overwhelming favorite it appeared a couple of weeks ago.

This should serve to us as a lesson of how difficult it is to repeat in sports.  And Ohio State won’t be doing it this year, so why make them #1 now?

As for Michigan State, they have a case, but not a strong one.  While they moved up to #2 in this week’s poll (leap frogging TCU for no particular reason), they haven’t looked overly impressive, either, save for a strong game against Oregon in East Lansing on September 12. Western Michigan and Air Force both played them well, and this may be something to remember as Sparty gets into its conference slate. But if they and the Buckeyes can both win out against fairly easy schedules, it could set up a Game of the Century in Columbus on November 21.  Stay tuned.

The aforementioned Horned Frogs have also looked somewhat uninspired, and, other than a cupcake game against Stephen F. Austin, have been pushed by Minnesota and SMU.  It should be duly noted that Minnesota, whom TCU beat on the road on the season’s opening night, has beaten Colorado State and Kent State in its last two games by a combined total of six points.  That being said, I would actually put them at #1, if only for this week.  They have most of the players back from last year’s squad and have come to play in both of their games.  Their defense is nowhere good enough to win or even compete for a national title right now, but they have a track record and a history of success with the players currently on the team. While their defense has been disappointing, their offense looks as if it is firing on all cylinders, and most importantly, they have passed the eye test so far in this young season.

And as for the other team I would put in my top 4 for this week? Baylor.  Yes, they haven’t looked great either, but, again, track record must be absolutely critical when ranking teams.  And after all, I picked Baylor to win the national title, so that has to bear some consideration, right?  Only kidding.

Yes, Ole Miss did look dominant against Alabama, but to be very honest with you, I thought Alabama was overrated in the first place. They should have never been as high as #2 and, by extension, Ole Miss shouldn’t be as high as tied for third in the latest AP poll.

My point is that it is far, far too soon to be passing out judgment on the college football season, because there is probably more carnage on the way.  We still have to remember that it’s early in the season, and even though Ohio State looks like a cross between 2014 Florida State and 2011 Auburn, it’s still a little to early to be overreacting to teams looking unimpressive.  But if we get another week like this one, well, I’ll have to write another one of these articles.

I don’t know for sure who number one should be.  But I did take a guess, at least.  I’m more than happy to put my name and face to putting TCU at #1 and picking Baylor as my national champion.

But I can’t pretend to have any idea what’s coming next week, or in that case, the rest of the season.

*P.S.: This is what my top 10 would look like if I had an AP ballot. I don’t, obviously, but this is what I would have done. Here it is:

  1. TCU
  2. Ohio State
  3. Michigan State
  4. Baylor
  5. Notre Dame
  6. Georgia
  7. Ole Miss
  8. UCLA
  9. LSU
  10. Florida State

Let me know what’s right and wrong in the comments section!

Chris Coghlan’s Slide on Jung Ho Kang Was Legal, but Should It Be?

Yesterday afternoon, the Cubs and Pirates concluded their critical four-game series in Pittsburgh.  The Cubs would ultimately win the game 9-6 and the series 3-1, but the real story came in the first inning, before the Cubs even recorded an out.

The North Siders loaded up the bases against Pirates’ starter Charlie Morton.  They sent MVP candidate Anthony Rizzo to the plate and he hit a double play ball to second baseman Neil Walker.  Walker threw to shortstop Jung Ho Kang and Kang, like many middle infielders before him, was slid into by the Cubs’ Chris Coghlan.  Only, unlike said middle infielders, Kang wasn’t able to get up and shake off the dirt after the play.

Here is the video, in case you missed it: (WARNING: Video may be disturbing to some.)

Kang suffered a broken leg on the play and is out for the rest of this season and very well could miss the beginning of next season.  His loss affects the Pirates’ playoff chances directly, as he could play every position effectively and hit for average and decent power.  But this discussion can be put to the back burner for a while; let’s talk about the play.

And here’s the caveat that should come with it while it looks ridiculously dirty, it’s actually a perfectly “clean” play, according to the rule book.  Here is the definitive proof (or lack thereof), in MLB rule 7.09:

(f) If, in the judgment of the umpire, a batter-runner willfully and deliberately interferes with a batted ball or a fielder in the act of fielding a batted ball, with the obvious intent to break up a double play, the ball is dead; the umpire shall call the batter-runner out for interference and shall also call out the runner who had advanced closest to the home plate regardless where the double play might have been possible. In no event shall bases be run because of such interference.

But there is nothing there that addresses a runner sliding into a shortstop or second baseman to try to break up a double play.  This practice has been in place for decades, but it is pretty rare to see someone actually get hurt on the play.  Of course, just because players don’t usually sustain injury on a play like this one doesn’t mean that said play is not dangerous.

That applies here; the tactic that Coghlan used to get Kang off-balance is so commonly used that most fans don’t even react when it happens. This is something that ESPN’s Jesse Rogers addressed yesterday:

Neither the Pittsburgh Pirates nor Jung Ho Kang, through his agent, have indicated a belief Chicago Cubs outfielder Chris Coghlan’s slide into second base, which ended Kang’s season on Thursday afternoon, was dirty.

Anyone who believes it was dirty must also believe every takeout slide has the potential to be dirty. If the infielder isn’t going to jump or move out of the way, then a collision is inevitable.

That’s not to blame the victim here. The blame is on the situation. It came on a double play that developed later than normal on a ball hit by Anthony Rizzo in the first inning of the Cubs’ 9-6 win. Kang bravely stood his ground as second baseman Neil Walker flipped him the ball while Coghlan came at him with a hard-but-legal slide. It’s a slide you see several times in every game — a little off the base but within striking distance of it.

I can understand and even agree with this point of view; while the end result was horrible, slides like the one Coghlan performed are 1) legal and 2) effective.  While Coghlan’s slide didn’t break up the double play, there have been too many slides that have to count.  That being said, the rule may be in line for slight modification; the game can be made safer without completely removing the play from the sport.

Here is another example to demonstrate why I don’t think much of this “controversy”: many slides, as Rogers mentioned, wander slightly outside of the base.  Take, for instance, an aggressive slide into home, one where the runner himself does not actually slide over the base, but one part of his body does: his left hand.  The catcher isn’t in the way on the play, so no one really thinks anything of it.  But seriously, how could a person look at this slide and think it isn’t designed to avoid the tag?

This is completely beside the point, but Holliday was so out on that play that it wasn’t even funny.  Anyway, let’s get back to yesterday’s business.

The best comparison for the second base takeout slide is likely the since-outlawed practice of running over a catcher at home plate.  In 2014, Major League Baseball took preventative steps to curtail dangerous, concussion-inducing activity at home plate by implementing rules that prevented catchers from blocking the plate and runners from running outside the baseline.

However (and this is important), the changes weren’t as earth-shattering as they were made out to be.  This is what Fangraphs’ Craig Edwards wrote on the two subjects today:

It is important to note that MLB did not actually outlaw collisions at home plate. They addressed the principal causes of collisions, instructed teams on the same, and while the rule did cause some confusion in its first year, the rule appears to be by and large successful.

Unfortunately for our concern regarding the takeout slide, the same factors at home plate do not exist at a force at second base. Where the catcher can get in front of the plate once he has the ball, at second base, almost all takeout slides occur after the fielder has the ball. This makes the second option, arguably the more important and successful of the rules, untenable for takeout slides.

Of course, the rules were clarified last September in fear of the possibility of a Rule 7.13 World Series, one that gets decided by a home plate collision.  However, Edwards’ point is absolutely crucial; baseball didn’t actually ban home plate collisions, they just made the rules such that these plays were strongly discouraged and much more rare.

And that is what baseball should do in this case, as well. Commissioner Manfred can make a rule that states that a runner cannot go outside of the baseline to make contact with a fielder trying to complete a double play.  The play wouldn’t be removed from the game; rather, it would be made more difficult to pull off and less likely to occur.  If a fielder is on the base, then, and only then, can a runner take him out.  That seems fair enough to me.

To be perfectly clear, the slide and result were not Chris Coghlan’s fault.  He made the right play in that situation and, especially in a game of that magnitude with the Cubs hurtling toward October baseball, gave a complete effort on that play when he could have easily stopped running.

But he didn’t, and now Jung Ho Kang’s season is over.

An outcome that should be avoided at all costs in the future.

You Left a Team No Option: The Seahawks Need Kam Chancellor in the Worst Way

You may have heard that Seahawks’ safety Kam Chancellor is holding out for a new contract.  Chancellor, one of the starting safeties on Seattle’s super bowl teams of the last two seasons, is making $5.65 million against the cap in 2015 and also has two more years left on his contract.  The hard-hitting stalwart of the Legion of Boom thinks he can get more than that, but his organization isn’t budging.

And while the Seahawks have been unwilling to pay Chancellor, they may soon be left with no other choice.

The Hawks, who led the NFL is total defense last season (with Chancellor) gave up 352 total yards to their opponent, the St. Louis Rams, on just 52 plays.  The L.O.B. gave up 276 of those yards to Rams’ quarterback Nick Foles; 37 of them came on a game tying touchdown pass from Foles to Lance Kendricks with 53 seconds to play.

To be completely fair, the Seahawks at least partially lost to St. Louis because of, well… themselves.  They tried to sneak an onside kick past Jeff Fisher’s squad at the commencement of overtime.  It was really meant to carry much further down the field, but kicker Steven Hauschska accidentally kicked it about the same distance as a typical onside kick would go; the Rams recovered and subsequently kicked a field goal.

After that, the Seahawks drove into Ram territory but were held to a fourth and one.  Needing a first down with one yard to get, Pete Carroll rightly decided to hand the ball to Marshawn Lynch, in a turn of events from the end of Super Bowl XLIX.  The result was… yeah, he didn’t make it.

And it’s true: the Seahawks didn’t lose on Sunday just because of Chancellor’s absence.  Bleacher Report’s Mike Tanier wrote to this point today:

Russell Wilson endured six sacks. Lynch rushed for 73 yards but needed to break about 63 tackles to do it. When you watch Lynch get stuffed in overtime, watch right tackle Garry Gilliam get shoved into the backfield by Michael Brockers.

Gilliam is one of the Seahawks’ pet projects. Instead of drafting a tackle in a fairly deep draft for offensive linemen, they tinkered with Gilliam, an undrafted 2014 rookie who started his college career at tight end. They talked themselves into naming Gilliam the starter when Justin Britt moved inside to guard. The Seahawks hadn’t bothered drafting a guard until the fourth round, either.

Even with the offensive line blocking like ushers at a free concert and the secondary operating at 75 percent capacity, the Seahawks still had a chance to avoid an upset at the hands of the Rams thanks to Nick Foles getting surprised by a shotgun snap, Isaiah Pead somehow getting meaningful carries that led to meaningful fumbles and Cary Williams making a spectacular defensive play and then pulling a Cary Williams by taking the rest of the afternoon off.

The Rams won the overtime toss and chose to receive, making the Seahawks’ path to victory clear: Pin the Rams at or inside their own 20, unleash the Legion of Boom, get good field position and either parlay that into a win.

Instead, the Seahawks onside-kicked, giving the Rams great field position for their cannon-legged field-goal kicker and a chance to win the game with their defense, the one the Seahawks couldn’t block at all.

Self-outsmartment.

All of this is true; it isn’t just because of Kam.  (Interesting side note: Gilliam’s claim to fame is catching a touchdown pass on the fake field goal in last year’s NFC Championship game.)  But the Seahawks absolutely need him, and this is why: their defense is a shell of itself without him.

Rookie Dion Bailey filled in at Chancellor’s position on Sunday, and he failed miserably, particularly on the most important play of the game:

On the play, Bailey fell down, leaving Kendricks open and giving the Los Angeles Rams new life.  While it is impossible to say for sure, it isn’t likely that something like this would happen to Chancellor, even considering the knee problems he suffered at the end of last season.

And there’s something else that Chancellor brings: physicality. Intimidation.  Demorilization.  A physical offense and a hard-hitting defense have been the hallmarks of this golden age in the Pacific Northwest, and Chancellor brings to the offense what Lynch brings to the offense: attitude, determination, and the will to destroy the opponent and rally the troops.  The Seahawks have missed both with him gone.

Consider this hit he made on Julian Edelman in the Super Bowl:

While Edelman holds on for the catch, his bell is rung and suspicions are aroused that he played the rest of the game with a concussion. The play turned the fortunes of the Patriots, but really only because Edelman survived the hit from the much bigger and scarier Chancellor.

The players are naturally taking notice of Chancellor’s absence, and while they aren’t saying boo in the press about it, one has shown his support.  That one is none other than the Kam Chancellor of the Seahawks’ offense: Marshawn Lynch.  He wore Chancellor’s jersey at practice for one day last week, but changed back into his usual jersey the next day; after all, he is really just there so he won’t get fined.

So the players (at least Lynch, anyway) are starting to understand; the Seahawks really need Kam Chancellor.  While it’s extremely difficult to blame him for, you know, trying to get more money (who has ever done that before?), it’s also understandable to feel empathy for the plight of the Seahawks here; one of their employees is basically refusing to come to work because of his salary (or lack thereof).

But no matter whose fault it is, the 12th man will assuredly be sleepless is Seattle, and here’s why:

Kam Chancellor has left the Seahawks no other option.  They have to bring him back.

The Steelers Did Not Lose to the Patriots Because of Headsets

The Patriots and Steelers played Thursday night in the NFL’s first game back from its disastrous offseason.  The game was quite a spectacle; even before it started, the Patriots got their rings, quarterback Tom Brady took a victory lap to the tune of Nas’ “Hate Me Now” and rapper T-Pain performed his hit “All I Do is Win”; there was even a performance from the Springfield Symphony Orchestra. If all that wasn’t surreal enough, the actual game itself began, and the Steelers almost immediately had some problems with their headsets.

This is what happened, as told by Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com:

It wouldn’t be a New England Patriots game without some drama involving off-the-field strategy.

Pittsburgh Steelers coaches were upset that their coach-to-coach headsets picked up the Patriots’ radio broadcast for the majority of the first half of Thursday night’s game, which New England went on to win 28-21.

When pressed after the game, an unhappy Mike Tomlin said headset issues have occurred repeatedly in New England.

“That’s always the case. Yes. I said what I said,” Tomlin said.

Blake Jones, NFL director of football operations, went down to the field to help with the headsets. The league described the reception problem as “intermittent.”

When asked if he got a satisfactory resolution, Tomlin said: “Eventually.” Tomlin is a member of the league’s competition committee.

Because it was not a complete system failure, New England’s coaches were not required to shut down their headsets during the repairs. However, the Patriots said they experienced issues as well.

“We had a lot of problems,” Bill Belichick said. “We had to switch headphones a couple of times. The communication system wasn’t very good. We deal with that, it seems, weekly.

Unfortunately, this just so happened to occur during a New England Patriots game.  And as is often the case with the Patriots, some, and in particular Steeler fans, are jumping to the conclusion that the headsets are the reason why they won, and that simply isn’t the case.

It wasn’t the headsets, it just wasn’t.  While they probably didn’t help their cause, the Steelers had plenty of opportunities to get on the scoreboard while the technical difficulties were occuring.  For example, Pittsburgh’s first drive took all of five plays to get 56 yards down field to the Pats’ 24; 33 of these yards came by way of fill-in running back DeAngelo Williams’ ground exploits.  Then, offensive coordinator Todd Haley dialed up this play, which was, um, something:

The drive stalled after that play and a 10-yard holding penalty subsequently after.  Kicker Josh Scobee came onto the field and proceeded to shank a 44-yard field goal attempt well wide to the right.

After a second-quarter New England touchdown, Big Ben and the Steeler offense got back to work, and Roethlisberger connected with Darrius Heyward-Bey on a 43-yard bomb to the Patriot 35.  After a Williams 6-yard run, the drive came to a halt, bringing Scobee back into the game for a 46-yard try.  Scobee would miss to the right again, and the Patriots would be well on their way after a score on their next drive.

New England would go up 21-3 at the beginning of the second half, and while the Steelers would mount a mini-comeback in the fourth quarter, it wouldn’t be nearly enough.  The Patriots would win 28-21, and that score was in part because of an Antonio Brown touchdown catch with two seconds to play.

So why did the Steelers lose this game, anyway?  If you listen to them, they might talk at length about the headset issues and how they were negatively affected by them.  And they may also complain about something else, as reported by USA Today’s Tom Pelissero:

Trouble with headsets wasn’t all that had the Pittsburgh Steelers upset during Thursday night’s loss to the New England Patriots.

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger vigorously protested after left tackle Kelvin Beachum was called for a false start on third-and-goal from the Patriots’ 1-yard line – an infraction triggered by the New England line sliding during Roethlisberger’s snap count.

“I thought that there was a rule against that,” Roethlisberger told reporters. “Maybe there’s not. Maybe it’s just an unwritten rule. … We saw it on film, that the Patriots do that. They shift and slide and do stuff on the goal line, knowing that it’s an itchy trigger finger-type down there.”

Left guard Ramon Foster, who also moved on the play, confirmed the Steelers had seen it on film and players were told it’s legal, provided the Patriots don’t cross the line of scrimmage.

“They time it up in the cadence,” Foster told USA TODAY Sports, smiling and shaking his head. “Yeah, that’s one of the things they do. Welcome to Foxborough.”

There is a rule against “attempting to disconcert Team A at snap by words or signals,” but a routine line slide wouldn’t seem to expressly violate that. An NFL spokesman did not immediately respond to a request seeking clarification early Friday morning.

Okay, let’s be perfectly clear here.  The Patriots’ pre-play activity in the trenches is 100% legal.  Sliding defenders from side to side to affect the cadence of the offense is a legal maneuver because the Patriots did not jump offsides.  It’s even a move that I used to attempt to pull in Madden; it never worked for me, but it worked beautifully for Belichick’s team on Thursday.

There are myriad reasons why the Steelers lost to the Patriots Thursday.  It certainly could not have helped them that they were without three of their best players (Le’Veon Bell, Martavis Bryant, Maurkice Pouncey) due to injury and, in the cases of Bell and Bryant, suspension.  In part because of this, as well as the motivation the Patriots got from the DeflateGate ruling, Brady’s Bunch was simply the better team Thursday.

A malfunctioning headset or two can’t change that fact.

Deflategate Needs to Go Away, For Everyone Involved

This isn’t ISIS; no one’s dying. – Tom Brady

A ruling in Deflategate is supposedly coming in the next day or two, which means that the story may finally, mercifully go away.  There has never been, in the history of American civilization, more of a fuss made by the removal of a half-pound of air from a football.  But, alas, the story has dragged on.  And on.  And on.

Tom Brady, the accused culprit in this never-ending saga, was initially suspended four games for his presumed role in the deflation of the footballs.  However, in a report published by attorney Ted Wells on May 6, it is stated that it is “more probable than not” that Brady and the Patriots knew that the balls were inadequately inflated.  And you know what “more probable than not” means; it isn’t a 100% certainty that Brady and the Patriots staff were doing this on purpose.  For example, it was more probable than not that the 2007 Mets were going to win the NL East; of course, they choked away a seven-game lead with 17 games left to play and missed the playoffs.  And it was more probable than not that the U.S. hockey team would lose to the U.S.S.R. in the 1980 Olympics.  That didn’t happen, either.

To demonstrate the ridiculousness of the report and the entire story itself, the entire thing hinges on a series of text message exchanges between Jim McNally, the attendant of the officials’ locker room and Patriots locker room assistant John Jastremski.  They went like this, in no particular order, per NESN:

McNally: Tom sucks…im going make that next ball a (expletive) balloon

Jastremski: Talked to him last night. He actually brought you up and said you must have a lot of stress trying to get them done…

Jastremski: I told him it was. He was right though…

Jastremski: I checked some of the balls this morn… The refs (expletive) us…a few of then were at almost 16

Jastremski: They didnt recheck then after they put air in them

McNally: (Expletive) tom …16 is nothing…wait till next sunday

Jastremski: Omg! Spaz

Jastremski: Can‟t wait to give you your needle this week 🙂

McNally: (Expletive) tom….make sure the pump is attached to the needle…..(expletive) watermelons coming

Jastremski: So angry

McNally: The only thing deflating (Sunday)..is his passing rating

Jastremski: I have a big needle for u this week

McNally: Better be surrounded by cash and newkicks….or its a rugby sunday

McNally: (Expletive) tom

Jastremski: Maybe u will have some nice size 11s in ur locker

McNally: Tom must really be working your balls hard this week

McNally: You working

Jastremski: Yup

McNally: Nice dude….jimmy needs some kicks….lets make a deal…..come on help the deflator

McNally: Chill buddy im just (expletive) with you ….im not going to espn……..yet

To be fair to Wells and the NFL, the texts do portray the equipment managers, and especially Brady, as being pretty aware of what was happening.  But we can’t be sure that these two weren’t joking, and we can’t be sure that they are credible sources, either.

But the story has become such a joke.  The NFL and Brady are fighting over a small piece of air.  Brady was suspended four games by NFL dictator commissioner Roger Goodell, and Brady filed an appeal of the suspension almost immediately.  The drama that ensued was insane; Pats’ owner Robert Kraft said he wouldn’t fight the penalties levied against his organization after saying he would demand an apology from the league if his team was found innocent.  More on him later.

We later find out that Brady destroyed his phone to potentially hide the deflating evidence.  The NFL’s autocrat “independent arbiter”, Roger Goodell, upheld Brady’s suspension on July 28, at which point you would figure the story would be over.  And if you figured this, you would be so wrong.

The day after, Kraft would pull back his support in the league and Brady would file another appeal.  This one wouldn’t be heard by Goodell but rather by Richard Berman, an independent judge, in New York.  Berman is expected to rule this week, and there is virtually no likelihood of a settlement between the two parties.

The story has become tiring; heck, it was tiring 24 hours after it broke.  It’s a silly controversy.  Worst of all?  The Patriots won the Deflategate game 45-7 over the Colts; meaning, they probably would’ve won the game without the air being taken out of the balls. In this case, though, their reputation precedes them, and the finger will be pointed, just like it was during Spygate, at Brady and the former HC of the NYJ.

And the NFL is not blameless here, either.  How could they want this story to go on forever, especially at a time when the public opinion of Goodell is as negative as ever?  With Brady being one of the best players in the game, why would the league want to provoke what seems like a witch hunt against him?  And why would the NFL be wasting so much effort and energy with Deflategate when it has far, far bigger problems?

These bigger problems were addressed by Nate Scott of USA Today’s For The Win this morning:

This is arrogance of the highest order. The NFL has major issues (and you better believe the release of Concussion on Christmas Day is going to be a major issue for the league) and the league’s commissioner is in a protracted legal battle over whether or not he can suspend one of his star players for four games instead of one or two.

Yes, Commissioner Goodell is wasting league time and resources to try and keep one of his most marketable stars off the field. This doesn’t even make good business sense. All those sports marketing reporters can’t wipe Goodell’s chin and explain to us how what he’s doing is actually good for the bottom line. It isn’t.

This is about showing off the power of The Shield, and not allowing one player to show up the Commissioner, who fought long and hard in those CBA negotiations to have the total power to do whatever he wants. Goodell earned that right, and he’s not going to give it up just because no one in the actual sport cares. This is his show.

Concussion.  About that.

Concussion‘s trailer hit exclusively on MMQB.com yesterday, and it looks like it could be a PR disaster for the NFL.  It stars Will Smith as Bennet Omalu, a doctor who became famous for discovering the brain disease CTE.  CTE has served in part to claim the lives of former players Junior Seau, Dave Duerson, and others.

The movie will likely showcase the league’s years of denial in terms of concussions, and it may be all we are talking about this winter; the movie will be released on Christmas Day.  But this isn’t what Goodell is worried about right now; he’s worried about a little chunk of air.

This story has gone far past its saturation point.  The public and the players have had more than enough (a Bleacher Report poll said 70 percent of players don’t consider the Pats cheaters, and most players simply don’t care about Deflategate at all), so why can’t the parties involved make up and compromise?

In terms of winners and losers in this scandal, well, there are only losers; it’s a no-win situation for everyone involved.

Which is why Goodell, Brady, Kraft, and everyone else involved need it to go away.