Odell Beckham, Jr. Deserves the Huge Raise He’s Been Asking For

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In case you haven’t heard, Odell Beckham, Jr. is requesting a massive raise in his next contract.

The fourth-year wide receiver will be making just over $3 million this season and $8.46 million in 2018. Based on his production over his first three NFL seasons, he would be more than deserving of becoming one of the highest-paid wide receivers in the NFL. That’s not all he wants in his next deal, though.

In fact, not only does the Giants standout want to be the highest-paid wide receiver in the league but he also wants to be the highest-paid player in the NFL. For next season, the highest-paid player in football will be Raiders quarterback Derek Carr, who will be making exactly $25 million. A more realistic bar for Beckham to clear would be that of Antonio Brown, who is currently the NFL’s highest-paid wide receiver and will earn nearly $20 million in 2017. And while such an investment may be a taxing endeavor for the Giants, Beckham could be that rare player who is actually worth the astronomical sum of money he’s about to receive.

Here’s something to consider: this is the complete list of players who have had at least 1300 receiving yards and 10 receiving touchdowns in each of the last three seasons:

  1. Odell Beckham, Jr.

That’s right: Beckham is the only player in the entire league to amass that many receiving yards and touchdowns in every year since he came into the league. Keep in mind that he missed the first four games of the Giants’ 2014 season before averaging a truly bonkers 108.8 receiving yards per game for the rest of that year to finish with 1305 yards. Beckham also pulled off that 1300-yard feat in the next two seasons. Only one other player (Antonio Brown) has done this twice, and only eight other players were able to do it just once.

Of course, Beckham hasn’t necessarily been the most prolific receiver in the NFL since his arrival. Let’s look at the full list of players with more receiving yards than OBJ since 2014:

  1. Julio Jones (4873 yards)
  2. Antonio Brown (4816 yards)
  3. Odell Beckham, Jr. (4122 yards)

Additionally, Brown tied with Beckham for the most touchdowns (35) of any pass catcher in the league during this period. Beckham may not have been the most statistically eye-popping wide receiver over his first three seasons (even if he was the most visually impressive) but, in some ways, he’s been the most consistently productive.

Most will agree that the three best wide receivers in the NFL over the past three years have been, in some order, Beckham, the Steelers’ Brown, and the Falcons’ Jones. The quarterback play complementing each receiver, though, should be taken into consideration when looking at the performance of each player. Let’s take a look at that, shall we? These are the average statistics over the past three seasons of each player’s primary quarterback. See if you can detect which one of these is not like the others:

Matt Ryan (Falcons)

COMP% TD INT YARDS QBR
67.3 29 12 4743 73.6

Ben Roethlisberger (Steelers)

COMP% TD INT YARDS QBR
66.5 27 13 4236 71.2

Eli Manning (Giants)

COMP% TD INT YARDS QBR
62.9 30 15 4291 59.6

Two notes here:

  1. QBR is shorthand for Total Quarterback Rating and was created by ESPN in 2011 to measure a quarterback’s performance. 50 is considered average.
  2. Roethlisberger has missed six games over the past two seasons.

Matt Ryan is the defending NFL MVP and Ben Roethlisberger has won two-thirds of his starts in his NFL career. In case you haven’t figured it out, Beckham has been saddled with Eli Manning, the worst quarterback out of the three, for the vast majority of his young NFL career. Last season, in the category of QBR, Manning ranked 27th among qualified quarterbacks; this put him behind accomplished players such as Trevor Siemian, Brock Osweiler, and Carson Wentz. Among all qualified signal-callers, Manning’s 2016 QBR was higher than those of just three quarterbacks: Blake Bortles, Ryan Fitzpatrick, and Case Keenum. You probably didn’t think about it this way, but Manning was one of the worst quarterbacks in the NFL last year.

And yet, these are the numbers Beckham produced with Manning at the controls:

TARGETS CATCHES YARDS TD YARDS/CATCH
169 101 1367 10 13.5

That’s absurd. Just imagine if Beckham had an even more talented passer to complement his ridiculous receiving abilities. Even with Manning at the helm, Beckham had the third-most catches in football last season despite having the lowest catch percentage of any of the top five players in receptions. Not to disrespect Manning, but on many occasions, Beckham has been insanely good in spite of his quarterback.

And as for that massive contract he has been angling for? If I were in the Giants’ position, I’d just give it to him. While giving one player north of $25 million per year will handicap the front office’s ability to fill the rest of the roster under a $167 million salary cap, the ability to lock up a potentially generational talent should not be met with apathy. In fact, I’d go as far to give Beckham a metaphorical blank check and let him and his representatives decide how much he wants to make. He’s really been that good and, in some respects, he has been the best wide receiver in football over the past three years.

Fortunately, the Giants seem to understand Beckham’s worth. Yesterday, Giants co-owner John Mara said that the team will extend Beckham’s contract and made it seem like a matter of when, instead of if, a deal will get done. The Giants are one of the best-run organizations in professional football and it doesn’t look like they’re going to let their best player slip away because of a contract dispute.

Odell Beckham, Jr. wants to be paid like the best player in the NFL. While he may not necessarily be that, he deserves to get all the money he possibly can.

His performance has clearly demonstrated that he’s earned the right to an enormous payday.

The Cowboys Picked the Wrong Time to Draw a Line in the Sand

Michael Owen Baker/Associated Press

Nowadays, we hear about fake news rather often. In today’s world, nary a day goes by without someone using the phrase, whether it’s used to describe the American or foreign media. Over the last couple of days, though, fake news has dipped its toes into the waters of sports, and the results have been ugly.

Wide receiver Lucky Whitehead, now formerly of the Dallas Cowboys, was arrested on a shoplifting charge in Woodbridge, Virginia on June 22. He then supposedly compounded matters by not appearing at his arraignment hearing on July 6, which resulted in another charge. This led to the Cowboys releasing Whitehead on Monday and adopting a hard-line stance against the pass-catcher. From the beginning of the story, though, Whitehead and his agent denied any wrongdoing on the player’s part and accused the Prince William County Police of mistaking Whitehead’s identity for another offender. You could say that Whitehead was using the Wawa robbery equivalent of the Shaggy Defense here, but it was noteworthy that Whitehead was so quick to deny any wrongdoing on the basis of mistaken identity.

As it turns out, Whitehead was right to defend himself.

Yesterday, the Prince William County Police confirmed that they were pursuing the wrong guy in the June 22 Wawa theft. The police department apologized to Whitehead and his family; of course, they didn’t offer him his job back, but that’s another story. The Cowboys cited a pattern of behavior when deciding to release Whitehead, and from that point of view, they could be justified. Last year, Whitehead was kept away from the team’s Week 14 game against the Giants for skipping the walkthrough the day before the game. He has also never scored a touchdown in the NFL and his somewhat lackluster performances could, in a vacuum, justify his release.

For most organizations, this would be a one-off mistake that we could move on from in a swift manner. After all, though, these are the Dallas Cowboys.

And the Dallas Cowboys are having a rough offseason. Star running back Ezekiel Elliott may miss the first two games of the season on an accusation of domestic violence. To be fair to Elliott, he was not charged with a crime for the incident (which occurred in 2015) and the NFL has taken its dear sweet time investigating the matter. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, the same man who released Whitehead for a crime he didn’t commit, has defended Elliott by saying there was “nothing” having to do with domestic violence in his situation. This may be true, but there was also no evidence of Whitehead’s crime other than what the Prince William County Police Department told us. Just saying.

Elliott’s possible suspension isn’t the only disciplinary cloud currently hanging over the Cowboys organization. Defensive end Randy Gregory was suspended for the 2017 season on January 5 for repeated violation of the NFL’s substance abuse policy. Gregory failed another drug test in February for his absurd-if-it-wasn’t-true seventh flunked test in, at the time, the span of just under 22 months. That, my friends, is a troubling pattern of behavior.

So what did Jones say at the time of Gregory’s sixth failed drug test? Let’s see for ourselves:

He’s genuine in his rehab process. I do have reason to be encouraged about his future. I hope and expect Randy Gregory to be back on the field.

What? Before you say that Gregory’s performance warrants this impassioned defense, remember that he has all of one sack in fourteen NFL games. Even when he has played, he hasn’t been productive. Most of the time, however, he’s been nothing but dead space on the team’s roster.

The most concerning thing about this fiasco, though, is what happens when you put it side-by-side with the team’s handling of former defensive end Greg Hardy. Hardy was convicted of two counts of domestic violence in 2014; he later had the charges dropped after his accuser failed to appear in court. Hardy was accused of, among other things, throwing his victim, Nicole Holder, on a couch laden with guns. The Cowboys reacted by signing Hardy, who had previously played for the Carolina Panthers, to a one-year contract, even as he was suspended for four games by the NFL (the league initially suspended him for ten games but an arbiter later reduced the ban to four games). Hardy was later interviewed by ESPN’s Adam Schefter and wasn’t exactly remorseful for his transgressions. Hardy had pulled the rare triple play of committing a crime, not apologizing for it, and being employed by the Cowboys. Impressive.

By now, you’ve seen that the Cowboys aren’t exactly the no-tolerance organization they want us to think they are. They’ve consistently put up with repeated offenses from their players in exchange for their prolific performances; in some instances, like that of Randy Gregory, they haven’t even gotten serious production for their troubles. (Side note: this is the same organization whose players may or may not have taken horse meds in the 1990s. The Cowboys won three Super Bowls in the decade. Since 1996, though, they haven’t been back to the big game.)

Yesterday, Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett gave a press conference in which he tried to defend the organization’s decision to release Lucky Whitehead. In it, he said the decision was “in the best interests of the Dallas Cowboys” on ten different occasions. Garrett essentially morphed into Marshawn Lynch when trying to defend his team’s rash and possibly inappropriate decision.

Lucky Whitehead may have been released later in training camp due to his struggles in his first two NFL seasons. That would have been completely understandable; every team will be parting with much of its current 90-man roster by the time the regular season starts. Instead, the Cowboys released him in the name of a crime he never committed. In some ways, it’s what the team deserves for taking a tough stance on a fringe player it may have later cut anyway.

The Cowboys decided to draw a line in the sand with Lucky Whitehead’s “misconduct”. All the while, the team has turned a blind eye to other, more serious, legitimate offenses. The organization tried to appear tough in dealing with a player who didn’t actually do anything wrong and treated him far more harshly than other players who have committed actual crimes.

Treating those players the same way they treated Lucky Whitehead would truly be in the best interests of the Dallas Cowboys going forward.

The 100-Game MLB Awards

Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

The Major League Baseball season is 162 games long and lasts for six months; what happens in the last three months is far more important than what happens in the first three. However, the first 100 games of the season can give us a snapshot of what’s to come and which players are the best in both leagues. In this article, we’ll take a look at the award winners for both leagues over the course of the season’s first 100 games of the season. It’s been a fun year, one that has already broken records and captivated fans.

In this post, we’ll look at numbers both traditional and advanced to pick out the very best in both leagues. I’ll explain some of the more advanced statistics when we get to them; basically, I’m trying to weed out fairly useless stats such as RBI and pitcher wins in order to get to the bottom of who the best players in baseball really are.

So here we go. These are, through about 100 games of the season, the award winners in both the American and the National League. We’ll start in the AL.

American League

Most Valuable Player: Aaron Judge, RF/New York Yankees

Stats (AL Rank)

AVG OBP SLG OPS HR RE24 wRC+ WAR
.310 (10) .434 (1) .649 (1) .1083 (1) 32 (1) 41.54 (1) 182 (1) 5.4 (1)

All rise!

The production of Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge speaks for itself. He is first in baseball in wRC+ (weighted runs created plus) to this point of the season, first in OPS, first in slugging percentage, first in home runs, first in RE24 (run expectancy for the 24 base-out states), and first in walk percentage. Judge has been the most productive player in the American League this season, which means that you’d probably be surprised to hear that I kind of struggled with this one.

Consider this: in the category of Win Probability Added, a statistic that is exactly what it sounds like, Judge is sixth in the American League. He also strikes out in 30.1% of his plate appearances, the sixth-highest rate among qualified hitters in the AL. Ultimately, I looked past those numbers because Judge has been so dominant in just about every other mainstream and sabermetric offensive category. However, this isn’t the runaway that everyone thinks it is, with players like Jose Altuve, Chris Sale (more on him shortly), and George Springer nipping at his heels.

Honorable Mentions: George Springer (Astros), Jose Altuve (Astros), Chris Sale (Red Sox), Khris Davis (Athletics)

Cy Young Award: Chris Sale, Boston Red Sox

Stats (AL Rank)

IP ERA WHIP K/9 FIP SIERA RE24 RA9-WAR
141.1 (1) 2.48 (1) 0.89 (1) 12.74 (1) 1.97 (1) 2.52 (1) 30.30 (1) 5.6 (1)

I’m going to get in trouble for using some of these stats if I don’t explain them, so here goes.

SIERA (Skill-Interactive ERA) is an attempt to answer just what makes a certain pitcher successful. It rates ground balls as more valuable than fly balls and getting strikeouts as the most valuable skill of all. FIP (fielding-independent pitching) takes the defense behind the pitcher out of the equation and rates his performance independent of that. RA9-WAR is the pitching equivalent of Wins Above Replacement except that it uses runs allowed per nine innings as its barometer of success. RE24 is the same for pitchers as it is for hitters, and a higher number means that a certain pitcher is negatively affecting the other team’s run expectancy over the course of a game.

Got all those stats down? Good, because Red Sox pitcher Chris Sale is the American League’s best starter in every one of those categories. He’s also first in ERA and strikeout rate; in fact, in his last start, Sale became the fastest pitcher to reach 200 strikeouts in a season in MLB history. Sale is on pace for over 300 strikeouts on the season and has been the American League’s most dominant pitcher so far this season. This is a no-brainer if I’ve ever seen one.

Honorable Mentions: Corey Kluber (Indians), Marcus Stroman (Blue Jays), Luis Severino (Yankees)

Rookie of the Year: Aaron Judge, RF/New York Yankees

See American League MVP above.

Honorable Mentions: Trey Mancini (Orioles), Jordan Montgomery (Yankees), Ben Gamel (Mariners), Jacob Faria (Rays)

Manager of the Year: A.J. Hinch, Houston Astros

The Houston Astros are having the best season in the American League and are on pace for 107 wins. Hinch, the one-time Stanford psych major, has undoubtedly been part of the Astros’ success so far this season. He has managed through injuries to ace Dallas Keuchel and shortstop Carlos Correa and, all the while, has led Houston to a whopping 17-game lead in the AL West. You could go with someone like the Twins’ Paul Molitor in this spot, but I’m going to take the manager of the best team in the American League, and that man happens A.J. Hinch.

Honorable Mentions: Paul Molitor (Twins), Joe Girardi (Yankees), Kevin Cash (Rays)


National League

Most Valuable Player: Bryce Harper, RF/Washington Nationals

Stats (NL Rank)

AVG OBP SLG OPS HR RE24 wRC+ WAR
.336 (3) .441  (2) .634 (1) .1075 (1) 25 (T-4) 46.67 (1) 172 (2) 4.8 (2)

Bryce Harper is second on his own team in Wins Above Replacement to Washington’s third baseman, Anthony Rendon. That said, he’s still the MVP of the National League to this point in the year.

Harper ranks first in the National League in RE24, Win Probability Added, and slugging percentage. He’s also second in wRC+ and on-base percentage. Harper is in the top five of just about every significant offensive category. His all-around greatness shouldn’t be taken lightly, and it’s become clear that he’s the best player in the National League right now. Through 100 games, he’s been the most valuable player in the National League, even if he (technically) isn’t the Most Valuable Player on his own team.

Honorable Mentions: Anthony Rendon (Nationals), Joey Votto (Reds), Justin Turner (Dodgers)

Cy Young Award: Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers

Stats (NL Rank)

IP ERA WHIP K/9 FIP SIERA RE24 RA9-WAR
141.1 (1) 2.04 (1) 0.88 (2) 10.70 (3) 2.94 (2) 2.91 (2) 31.10 (1) 5.9 (1)

To be honest, my initial inclination was to give this award to Max Scherzer. However, in the interest of statistical research and analytical thinking, I decided to go with Kershaw by a very slim margin. Here’s why.

Kershaw pulls in ahead of Scherzer in RA9-WAR, RE24, and ERA. RA9-WAR is the important one here, as it is an exact quantification of a pitcher’s value to his team to this point in the season. ERA is also extremely important, as Kershaw is allowing fewer runs than Scherzer per nine innings. It is easy to give this one to Scherzer and you could justify doing that here. Instead, I’m going to take Kershaw, even though he’s about to go to the disabled list with a recurrence of back stiffness.

Honorable Mentions: Max Scherzer (Nationals), Gio Gonzalez (Nationals), Kenley Jansen (Dodgers)

Rookie of the Year: Cody Bellinger, OF/1B/Los Angeles Dodgers

Stats (NL Rank Among Rookies)

AVG OBP SLG OPS HR RE24 wRC+ WAR
.269 (13) .352 (6) .617 (1) .969 (1) 27 (1) 26.34 (1) 146 (2) 2.6 (1)

If this seems like it’s too easy for you, guess what: it is.

Bellinger is first among NL rookies in OPS, home runs, RE24, WAR, and slugging percentage. He actually gets something of a surprise run in some of these categories from his own teammate, catcher Austin Barnes. Don’t kid yourself, though: to this point, Bellinger has been the National League’s best rookie and his heroics have helped the Dodgers to one of the best 99-game starts in MLB history. Even in the most stacked lineup in Major League Baseball, the rookie first baseman has stood out.

Honorable Mentions: Austin Barnes (Dodgers), Kyle Freeland (Rockies), Josh Bell (Pirates)

Manager of the Year: Dave Roberts, Los Angeles Dodgers

Is this a boring choice? Probably. Is it the right choice? Yes.

Roberts has anchored the Dodgers as they’ve won nearly 69% of their games to this point in the season. The team is currently on pace for a staggering 111 wins, and Roberts has played no small part in their early-season success. Roberts won the award last year, and while voters may be fatigued of voting for the same person they did a season ago, Roberts is clearly the best choice for Manager of the Year.

Honorable Mentions: Bud Black (Rockies), Torey Lovullo (Diamondbacks), Craig Counsell (Brewers)

The Potential Effects of a Kyrie Irving Trade

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Yesterday, NBA Twitter collapsed on itself with the report from ESPN’s Brian Windhorst that Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving is asking for a trade out of Cleveland. Irving has been the second-most important player on a Cavaliers squad that has reached the NBA Finals in three consecutive seasons, and the news of his trade request comes as a complete shock to both the Cavs and the rest of the league. Irving’s reasoning for doing this is to get out of the shadow of LeBron James, who is somehow still the best player on the planet at age 32. The Cavaliers are reportedly none too pleased with the demands becoming public because the news lessens Irving’s trade value. Needless to say, there’s a lot going on here.

Irving has stated that he prefers four potential destinations: San Antonio, Minnesota, Miami, or the Knicks. Let’s just say that he would make any of those four teams better, with the degree of improvement being dependent on how much each team is willing to fork over in a deal. We’ll leave this space to what a possible trade would do to the Cleveland Cavaliers as they are currently constituted.

The present-day Cavalier offense is built around isolation sets for LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. While the Cavs averaged 110.3 points per game last season, James and Irving, on average, scored 51.6 of those points; combined, the two accounted for nearly 47% of their team’s points in every game they played. Kyrie averaged career highs in points and shots taken per game a season ago, and a 32-year-old James appears to have been ready to cede more of the offense to the team’s star point guard. In fact, Irving’s regular season usage rate was higher than LeBron’s a season ago.

Of course, Irving is not a true point guard in every sense. He has never averaged more than 6.1 assists in a season and has drawn comparisons to Allen Iverson both for his slick ball-handling and his isolation tendencies. This doesn’t mean that he’s a selfish player; he wasn’t even the primary ball-handler in Cleveland’s offense when he and James were on the floor together. But it would be a stretch to see him putting up numbers akin to the league’s best assist men (John Wall, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, etc.) anytime soon.

That being said, the impact of his impending departure from Cleveland cannot be overstated. Many of the problems Cleveland had last season, particularly against the Warriors, came because of the overuse of James and Irving. If you think LeBron James is currently overworked (which he is), you won’t want to see the Cavaliers without a legitimate second option to give him relief. There are numbers to back this up.

For example, in last year’s NBA Finals, James and Irving both pulled usage rates of over 30 percent. Translated: when both players were on the floor, they accounted for over 60% of the Cavaliers’ offense. Cleveland wasn’t playing two-on-five, but at times, it felt like they were. Irving’s usage rate increased when James went to the bench while James’ increased without Irving. The two players averaged a ridiculous 41.4 (!) minutes per game in this past Finals but without the defensive attention devoted to Irving, the Cavaliers offense simply does not operate as efficiently.

Together, James and Irving chipped in 77 points in Game 3 of the 2017 Finals. The Cavaliers won that game by…. that’s right, they lost. One of the best performances by two teammates in an NBA Finals game still wasn’t enough to topple the mighty Golden State Warriors. Even with Irving, the Cavaliers, as currently constituted, are not nearly good enough to win a championship. Without him, they’re still a dangerous team in the Eastern Conference (having the best player on Earth will do that to you), but they are not the unassailable force out East that they are right now.

Let’s say, hypothetically, that Irving is traded to the Knicks for Carmelo Anthony. Let’s also assume that the Knicks’ star power forward, Kristaps Porzingis, is not involved in any potential deal. Irving’s PER (player efficiency rating) last season was 23.0 while Anthony’s was 17.9 (league average in 15). Anthony’s VORP (value over replacement player) was 0.7 while Irving’s was 2.9. Irving ranked in the top 15 of all players last season in Offensive Box Plus/Minus, while Anthony barely scratched the top 50. Most interestingly, Anthony’s Box Plus/Minus last year was -2.2, a rating similar to players such as Derrick Rose, Arron Afflalo, Jamal Crawford…. and Kyrie Irving. The Cavs would essentially be trading away one of the best offensive players in the game for an aging player whose career trajectory is quickly hurtling toward a serious decline at age 33.  The Cavs would also not improve at all on defense, which was easily their weakest point last year. This trade would make perfect sense for the Knicks, which obviously means that there’s no way it’ll ever come to fruition.

The Cavaliers, though, are likely left with no better options. The team and new GM Koby Altman are faced with no good alternatives after Irving’s trade demands became public knowledge yesterday. Altman is taking over for the jettisoned David Griffin, who was fired on June 30, much to the dismay of the Cavs’ best player. The Cavaliers are also the biggest soap opera in the NBA today; their superstars are disgruntled, their owner is meddling in the team’s success, and their roster could be gutted by this time next year. In the short term, though, a potential Irving trade may put the Celtics ahead of the Cavs in the Eastern Conference next season. With all indications pointing to James potentially leaving Cleveland after next season, his second stint with the Cavs may end like the first one did: with a playoff loss to the Celtics. I’m not ready to say that for sure just yet, but Irving’s loss would be catastrophic to Cleveland’s championship hopes.

Kyrie Irving shocked the basketball world yesterday by asking for a trade out of Cleveland. Because Irving made the request, the trade is likely to happen sooner rather than later, and it will be interesting to see where he goes and what the Cavaliers can get in return for his services.

His demands truly put the Cavaliers in a peculiar place, but Cleveland has itself to blame for his wanting out.

The Diamondbacks Just Robbed the Tigers in Plain Sight

Rick Osentoski/USA Today

Last night, the Yankees and White Sox pulled off the biggest blockbuster trade of this calendar year. Chicago will be sending third baseman Todd Frazier and relievers David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle to the Bronx in exchange for prospects Blake Rutherford, Tito Polo, and Ian Clarkin, as well as embattled relief pitcher Tyler Clippard. The trade is easily the headline-making deal of the day, and one that promises to affect both organizations going forward.

I’d like to talk today, though, about another trade that went down yesterday that will actually have a far bigger impact on the rest of baseball.

Yesterday, the Detroit Tigers pulled the plug on their hopelessly mediocre season by trading outfielder J.D. Martinez to the Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for minor-league infielders Dawel Lugo, Sergio Alcantara, and Jose King. Martinez is a free agent after the season and has indicated that he may possibly go back to Detroit in the offseason. If he does, it’s obvious that the Tigers will have taken advantage of the last 69 regular season games of Martinez’s current contract by getting at least something for him. For now, however, let’s look at what Martinez will give the Diamondbacks for the rest of this season.

Despite the fact that Martinez may only stay in Arizona for the rest of this season, a large sample size exists to demonstrate that he is entirely worth the team’s investment. In the statistic of Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+), which is an attempt to take the outcomes of a player’s at-bats into account while also accounting for the differences in each major league ballpark, Martinez is near the top of the league. Just how good is he? Since 2014, this is the list of the top eight hitters in wRC+ (100 is league average):

  1. Mike Trout (173)
  2. Joey Votto (159)
  3. Bryce Harper (151)
  4. Paul Goldschmidt (151)
  5. Miguel Cabrera (148)
  6. Freddie Freeman (147)
  7. Nelson Cruz (146)
  8. J.D. Martinez (146)

Okay. This is not to say that Martinez has been one of the eight best hitters in baseball over a nearly four-year span. We should definitely look at something more mainstream and commonly-used in the baseball community. Let’s look at something like Offense Plus Slugging (OPS). These are some of the top hitters in baseball in that category, over the same time span:

  1. Mike Trout (.992)
  2. Joey Votto (.974)
  3. Paul Goldschmidt (.960)
  4. Bryce Harper (.946)
  5. David Ortiz (.937)
  6. Miguel Cabrera (.917)
  7. Freddie Freeman (.915)
  8. Giancarlo Stanton (.915)
  9. J.D. Martinez (.912)

To be fair, OPS has its warts: it devalues on-base percentage and hitters who hit a lot of home runs and extra base hits are at a clear advantage. However, it’s clear that Martinez has consistently been one of the best hitters in baseball over a long period of time. This is not a three-month stretch we’re talking about; rather, we’re discussing a three-year stretch. If the MLB season ended today, just two of the teams that made the 2014 postseason (the Dodgers and Nationals) would make this year’s playoffs. Some hitters are great over the stretch of 300 or even 600 plate appearances. Martinez has been consistently great over his last 1886 plate appearances. The sample size should be enough to convince you that even two and a half months of him in the lineup is worth it for the Diamondbacks.

Martinez can play either corner outfield spot, and one would figure that he’ll be playing left field for Arizona for the rest of the season. That position has been something of a trouble spot for Arizona this season and Martinez can immediately fortify that position for a team looking to make a run in October. Where he fits in the lineup is up to the team and manager Torey Lovullo, but a hitter of his caliber should be able to fit just about anywhere with one of baseball’s better offenses.

Of course, there is something to be said to Martinez’s adjustment to playing in Arizona. After all, he was already discussing returning to Detroit just moments after he was traded to the Diamondbacks. That doesn’t mean he won’t produce in Arizona, but his acclimation to his new surroundings is something to keep an eye on.

Something he won’t have to worry about is the new ballpark he’ll be playing in. Martinez used to play in Comerica Park, a fairly neutral park for hitters and pitchers. He’ll be moving to Chase Field, the extremely hitter-friendly domain that is second only to Yankee Stadium in home runs hit per game this season. For context, the Diamondbacks rank fourteenth in baseball in home runs this season. It’s not about them; it’s about the home field they play in.

As for the return the Tigers got for Martinez? Many baseball scouts and reporters were less than impressed. The Diamondbacks did not surrender any of their top prospects from a farm system that has consistently been ranked near the bottom of baseball; it has never been last in the league, of course, because the Los Angeles Angels exist. Still, the return for one of the best hitters in the league seems very light. It’s possible that all of the players in the deal could be successful, but for right now, it looks like the Diamondbacks got an extraordinary talent without having to part with extraordinary value in return. Not bad for an organization that just a year and a half ago traded top prospect Dansby Swanson and now-star outfielder Ender Inciarte to the Atlanta Braves for 24 (mostly terrible) starts from Shelby Miller. I digress.

Let me say this, just so we’re absolutely clear: the acquisition of J.D. Martinez is absolutely not enough for the Diamondbacks to close their 10.5-game deficit on the Los Angeles Dodgers for the NL West crown. The Dodgers are literally the best team I’ve ever seen and Arizona better bring much more than J.D. Martinez to the table if they want to win the division.

Today, most baseball observers are buzzing about the Yankees’ acquisition of Todd Frazier and David Robertson. It’s obvious, though, that the Diamondbacks have pulled off the heist of the MLB trading season.

The Dodgers And Astros Are Having Historic Seasons

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The Los Angeles Dodgers and Houston Astros are currently the two best teams in their respective leagues.

Both teams are on fire right now. The Dodgers have won nine in a row and 29 of their last 33 games. The Astros have won 16 of their last 22 games, demonstrating that their blazing 42-16 start was no fluke. At their current pace, Houston would win 109 games while the Dodgers would win a staggering 111. If both teams were to finish the season like they’ve started it, they would rank among the winningest regular season teams in baseball history. Of course, only one team can win the World Series, and this isn’t to say that Houston or Los Angeles necessarily will.

To this point, though, both teams have been far and away ahead of the rest of baseball’s pack.

Think about this, for example: do you know who the third-best team in baseball is? By record, it’s the NL East-leading Washington Nationals, who are on pace for a not-so-insignificant 98 wins. Because of the Dodgers’ dominance over the rest of the National League, though, much of the narrative around Washington’s season has revolved around their league-worst bullpen, a  hodgepodge of arms that possesses the worst bullpen ERA in the game. But the Nationals beat the Dodgers in two out of three games in June and play Houston near the end of August. In most years, the Nationals would be the best team in baseball. Instead, most are busy identifying all of the different ways Washington will succumb to the rest of baseball in October.

Let’s look in the American League, shall we? The Boston Red Sox are the AL’s second-best team at 52-41. They are currently on pace for 91 wins, which is a full 18 victories behind Houston’s current pace. Boston does have the one thing the Astros don’t, which just so happens to be the best pitcher in baseball, Chris Sale. Of course, Sale can only pitch a maximum of three games in a seven-game series and has never previously pitched in the postseason. Other teams that could challenge Houston include the reigning AL champion Cleveland Indians, the New York Yankees, and Tampa Bay Rays. Cleveland is the most likely playoff threat because of their playoff experience, but they are currently just 1.5 games ahead of the Minnesota Twins in the mediocre AL Central.

Many would think that the performance of both teams in the first half of the season is nothing more than an unsustainable and anomalous blip. Let’s examine that assumption a little more closely.

Pythagorean W-L is a statistic that attempts to quantify what a team’s record should be based on its run differential. Basically, it is an attempt to remove luck from a team’s performance. Currently, the Astros’ Pythagorean record is 61-31, just one win off their actual record. At this rate, the team will score a wholly absurd 958 runs this season and concede just 664. (Note: no team scored more than 878 runs last season.) If those figures hold true, Houston will win 109 games, exactly what their current pace is in real life. Amazing. Now, let’s go back to the Dodgers.

As we sit right now, the Dodgers’ Pythagorean W-L is 64-29, the same as their actual record. At their current pace, L.A. is going to score 834 runs and allow all of 535. (No team allowed fewer than 556 runs in 2016.) If those numbers are sustained, the Dodgers would have, and you may want to be sitting down for this, a 115-47 record for the season. That would put them one win ahead of the 1998 New York Yankees and one game behind the 2001 Seattle Mariners for the best 162-game record ever.

Baseball fans shouldn’t overthink what’s going on here: we’re watching two of the best teams in the history of the game. Nate Silver’s website FiveThirtyEight uses what it calls “ELO Rating”, a numerical figure given to a team throughout the season, to calculate the best teams of all time. In this all-encompassing measure of greatness, both the Dodgers and the Astros ranked in the top 20 teams ever at the All-Star break, with both teams coming within four points of the 1927 Yankees and light years ahead of last year’s World Series champions, the Chicago Cubs. There are reasonable questions as to whether or not this can be sustained, but over 90 games is a very healthy sample size for the prospects of both teams’ continued success.

About that: it’s entirely possible that both teams start to fall off their scorching pace in the second half of the season. The Astros, however, will soon be getting reinforcements: ace Dallas Keuchel is making the first start of his rehab assignment in Corpus Christi, Texas tonight. The 2015 Cy Young winner hasn’t pitched since June 2 because of a pinched nerve in his neck. For as ridiculously good as the Astros have been this year, they might get even better. Let that thought sit with you for just a moment.

As for the Dodgers, there are likely no more reinforcements coming. First baseman Adrian Gonzalez may return before the end of the season after herniating multiple disks in his back. He was replaced by none other than Cody Bellinger, who is expected to run away with the National League Rookie of the Year Award barring unforeseen circumstances. If Gonzalez were to return, he could provide a spark off the bench; he won’t get his first base job back, as Bellinger is playing too well to go back to the bench. Also, Clayton Kershaw is, by his standards, having a down year. That’s another thing you should probably take into consideration.

In Major League Baseball this season, we are seeing something that rarely occurs: two teams that are re-writing the record books in the exact same season. While it remains to be seen whether or not the Los Angeles Dodgers and Houston Astros can cash in their regular season success with a championship, one thing is clear:

They have rampaged through baseball in 2017, leaving 28 Major League franchises in their wake. They’re also leaving much of baseball’s history in the rear view mirror, re-writing records on their way to historic campaigns.

LeBron vs. Jordan, From a Different Perspective

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Sports is dead.

Well, at least until tomorrow. This week marks the only time in the calendar year in which no professional sports games will be played. It’s a slow news week and at this point, it seems like we’re almost inventing news to get us through it. Think about that story: a player took his franchise’s ineptitude into account, as well as the sport’s inherent health risks, when deciding whether or not to keep playing football. No, never! Anyhow, it’s not the best week for new developments in the sports world.

This is good. Really, it is. We need breaks every now and then to take us out of a 500-mile-per-hour sports news cycle rife with blowhard dads, out-of-control beefs, and lots and lots of basketball. (The last game of the NBA Finals was on June 12. It feels like the sport never left us.) This also gives yours truly an opportunity to examine something I’ve somehow become opinionated about over the past year or so:

The debate over who is truly the best basketball player of all time, a debate that can be narrowed down to just two players: LeBron James and Michael Jordan.

You’ve probably heard the crazier, louder, and most controversial opinions on this subject. From our flawed memories to the supposed clutch gene, we’ve heard just about every possible opinion on this subject. It’s not that these opinions are bad or even wrong, but they do become tiring after a while. Once the discussion reaches a certain point, it feels like the same facts (or opinions) are being regurgitated and we try to come up with new, more interesting, and more controversial ways to address this matter.

This used to be something I spent zero time and energy on. After all, it’s the most hotly-contested debate in sports between fans, pundits, and even players. The contrarian in me said that I should ignore this and pay attention to other issues in sports that I viewed as being more important at the time. It really does put the psycho in psychoanalysis and I used to loathe it with a burning passion:

Anyone who makes a sincere argument about James’ legacy compared to Jordan’s clearly doesn’t understand just how much basketball has changed over the past 20 years. These people also don’t understand that the two men are completely different players who do completely different things on the court.  LeBron has always been aware of this, thankfully.

Sure, the game of basketball has changed over the past 20 years. And I’d like to think that I’ve become less of a sarcastic, angry curmudgeon over the past thirteen months (wishful thinking). So I decided to further investigate some things myself, and even I must admit that I was surprised by just some of what I found. For all of my life, I had always assumed that Jordan was better, but I gave myself a serious self-examination to discover why I held that opinion and whether or not I was right.

I decided that I was going to examine this analytically and accept that I may not expect the outcome I would eventually come to. I was jumping in on the hottest debate in sports.


For starters, most everyone agrees that James is a better passer than Jordan. This is certifiably true; not only does James (7.0) average more career assists per game than MJ (5.2), LeBron’s 35.0% assist percentage easily outshines Jordan’s (24.9%). Okay, we’ll give this facet of the game of basketball to LeBron. As long as Jordan isn’t hurting his teammates on the offensive end, it shouldn’t be that big of a deal, right?

As many will tell you, the absolute worst thing you can possibly do with the basketball is turn it over. In the case of an unskilled player like me, the worst thing you can do is shoot it, but that’s an entirely different conversation. Anyway, James has, as you would expect, more turnovers per game than Jordan. Again, this is over the course of both players’ full careers, so everything they have done is being factored in.

Take a closer look at that number, though, and you’ll see that it isn’t as black-and-white as it may seem. Sure, James averages more than three turnovers per game, but as we pointed out earlier, he also gets about seven assists. In terms of career totals, James’ assist-to-turnover ratio is about 2.06. Jordan, who obviously passed the ball less in his day, has an assist-to-turnover ratio of roughly 1.93. At this stage, I should point out that I won’t be counting Jordan’s comeback season in 1995, one in which he played just 17 regular season games. While much is often made of James’ turnovers, particularly in the playoffs, the problem is actually overblown in the regular season. If you take James over Jordan, you’re getting an extra 106 assists in exchange for just over 36 more turnovers. Wouldn’t you take that literally every single time? I know I would.

If you place a lot of import in playoff statistics, like I also do, you’ll notice that these numbers are slightly different. James’ assist-to-turnover ratio dips to 1.93 while Jordan’s hovers around 1.87. While both players are down, James is still slightly better. If you hitch your wagons to playoff LeBron and ditch playoff Jordan, you’re signing up for 45 more assists and 22 more turnovers. Again, you’d take that trade-off.

Another common knock against James’ overall game is his shooting ability. For some reason, many have made LeBron’s “inability to shoot” their justification for knocking him as a player. So of course Jordan’s shooting numbers have to be better, right?

Actually, that’s not necessarily the case. What if I told you that James has better career percentages on both two-pointers and three-pointers? That would probably shock you, right? Well, it’s true. While Jordan has a better field goal percentage in the playoffs, James actually has a better true shooting percentage; true shooting percentage, or TS%, is a measure of every “shot” a player takes over the course of a game or a season (twos, threes, and free throws). The numbers state that James is kind of, sort of a better shooter than Michael Jordan. Funny how that happens.

Now, many Jordan zealots will point to his scoring numbers (three more points per game in the regular season and five more in the playoffs) as a way to essentially stiff-arm these critiques. But in the playoffs, Jordan is able to pull off these numbers by taking over four more shots per game (in the regular season, it’s just over three extra shots per contest). Those numbers, then, are not as impressive when you consider how much harder he has to work for them. That isn’t meant to be a knock on Jordan’s offensive prowess but it does put both players’ scoring ability into context.

There’s one more thing to think about here: Jordan appeared in six NBA Finals and LeBron has appeared in eight. While most will take this time to point out that Jordan has six rings as opposed to James’ three, the fact that James has been to eight Finals total and seven in a row speaks to how consistently good he has been. Of course, if Jordan didn’t take the better part of two years off to play baseball, he may have matched or even surpassed this feat. And while Jordan has a 6-0 record in the Finals, he also lost to other Eastern Conference teams in the playoffs in the earlier stages of his career. That should also factor into his playoff greatness, whether you like it or not. This is the question: would you rather lose early in the playoffs or get to basketball’s biggest stage and then succumb to a simply better team? That’s pretty much what you’re saying if you bring up Jordan’s Finals record as the be-all, end-all answer in the debate between these two titans of basketball.

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you probably know that I am something of an advanced stats nerd. Advanced analytics, particularly in basketball, place everyone on a level playing field and make all things virtually equal. This next section may bore you, but it is arguably most significant when comparing both players.


One of the main statistics used to evaluate players in basketball is Player Efficiency Rating, or PER for short. In that category, Jordan is slightly ahead of James (27.9 to 27.6). The distance between these two players, the top two in the history of the NBA in PER, and the third-place player (Shaquille O’Neal) is sizable. Jordan and LeBron are the two best players in this all-encompassing category, but we’ll cede the high ground to MJ on this one.

The more revealing stat in this debate is Value Over Replacement Player, otherwise known as VORP. VORP essentially tries to quantify just how much better (or worse) a player is than just about any other replacement player in the league in terms of points per 100 team possessions added (or subtracted). It is basically basketball’s answer to Wins Above Replacement. You get it, I VORP. I’m sorry. I had to throw that in.

Back to the matter at hand now. Just like with PER, both players are in the top two all time (it should be noted that these rankings also encompass the ABA). This time, though, James finds himself on top (115.9 to Jordan’s 104.4). While career PER is an average of a player’s efficiency rating over the course of his career, VORP is a statistic that accumulates as a player racks up more career minutes. So surely, upon seeing this, you would think James has played significantly more career games and minutes than Jordan, right?

Well, it’s not exactly that way. James has played 41,272 career regular season minutes. Jordan has played 41,011. The difference in service time between the two all-time greats? 261 minutes, a difference that Jordan would have compensated for in roughly seven games.

Another similar measure of a player’s success is a stat called Box Plus/Minus (BPM). Box Plus/Minus is almost identical to VORP, except that it attempts to quantify the contributions of a player per 100 possessions while he is on the floor. BPM, just like PER, is an averaged statistic and is not dependent on minutes played. James and Jordan possess all three of the greatest BPM seasons of all time, but James has a slightly better BPM than Michael (9.1 to 8.1). There are also separate calculations for offensive and defensive BPM. LeBron has the advantage in both figures.

Advanced statistics have spoken. They say that LeBron James is the greatest basketball player of all-time.


This is a debate that you could spin yourself in knots with. There are legitimate arguments to be made for both players and it’s hard to find blame with any opinion… as long as it makes logical sense, of course. To tell you the truth, I’m still not entirely comfortable having this conversation, as Jordan’s second retirement came just under four weeks before my birth. I’m also not comfortable with some seemingly downplaying Michael Jordan’s impact on the game of basketball, as he came into the league when NBA Finals games were broadcast on tape delay and left the sport of basketball as the second-most popular sport in the United States.

That being said, this discussion is simply about which man is the better basketball player and, by extension, the best basketball player ever. My careful study of the numbers shows that LeBron James has a slight but clear advantage.

We Need To Talk About the Milwaukee Brewers

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Coming into this season, the Chicago Cubs were heavily favored to win the NL Central while the Milwaukee Brewers were expected to finish third in the division (at best). I’ll give you three guesses who’s in first place at the All-Star Break.

The Milwaukee Brewers are currently 50-41 and 5.5 games ahead of both the Cubs and Cardinals for first place in the National League Central. The division is absolutely one of the weaker ones in baseball (the Cincinnati Reds, at 39-49, are within shouting distance of first at 9.5 games back) but the Brewers’ success has put just about all of baseball on notice. While many expected the team to continue its ongoing rebuilding efforts, the organization, led by General Manager and Harvard political science major David Stearns, is competing for a playoff berth. While Milwaukee’s first-half triumphs may not have been in the organization’s plans, the Brewers are in full command of first place with just 71 games left in the season. Their dominion over their division is getting more and more serious with each passing day. Even though many have tried to punt on having this conversation, we must force ourselves to face this inexorable fact:

The Milwaukee Brewers are for real.

How they have gotten to this point is most certainly a matter of intrigue. In terms of Wins Above Replacement, the team’s leading hitter is third baseman Travis Shaw. Shaw and two other prospects were sent to Milwaukee from the Red Sox in exchange for reliever Tyler Thornburg after last season. This year, Shaw is batting .299 with a .570 slugging percentage; the latter figure ranks fourteenth in all of baseball, ahead of noted big boppers such as Logan Morrison, Mike Moustakas, and Miguel Sanó. Thornburg, on the other hand, will not pitch for the Red Sox after undergoing season-ending surgery for Thoracic Outlet Syndrome last month. Whoops.

The next most fascinating Brewer story is that of first baseman Eric Thames. In stints with the Mariners and Blue Jays in 2011 and 2012, Thames hit a competent but unspectacular .250 with 21 home runs. After being demoted late in the 2012 season and bouncing around the minors with three different clubs in 2013, Thames was signed by the NC Dinos of South Korea’s KBO League. Thames suddenly turned into South Korea’s answer to Miguel Cabrera, hitting 124 home runs in just three seasons. Additionally, he hit .349 and was the KBO’s Most Valuable Player in 2015.

And, as you probably figured, he’s now producing serious results for the Milwaukee Brewers. Thames leads the team in home runs (23) and runs scored (58). While his batting average has fallen to .248 after a scorching start to the season, he still has a .374 on-base percentage and has walked in 15.5% of his plate appearances.

There have been other contributors to the Brewers’ success, too. Players such as Domingo Santana, Manny Piña, Orlando Arcia, Jesus Aguilar, and even Eric Sogard have all contributed at least one win this season. If the last name I mentioned sounds familiar, it is; Sogard, while playing for the Oakland A’s in 2014, very nearly became the “Face of MLB” after an inside joke that went way, way too far. Sogard eventually lost the contest to Mets third baseman David Wright; just three years later, Wright’s career is likely over after a prolonged and continuing bout with spinal stenosis in his back. The contest was proof positive that you should never, ever decide things on Twitter. After all, the site’s most popular tweet comes from a man named Carter Wilkinson. The subject matter? Wilkinson was asking Wendy’s for a year’s supply of chicken nuggets. So there you go.

Anyway, where the Brewers’ story becomes truly impressive is with their pitching staff. Both Chase Anderson and Jimmy Nelson have turned in outstanding first halves, with Anderson pitching to a sub-3.00 ERA. While he has not pitched since leaving his June 28 start against the Reds with an oblique injury, Anderson is expected to return after the All-Star break. Nelson, though, has been the true ace of the starting rotation, having tossed 109 innings in 18 starts and pitching to a 3.30 ERA. Nelson is becoming the Brewers’ ace, as he’s been the team’s best (and most consistent) starter to this point in the season. In fact, Nelson’s WAR ranks in the top ten among all starting pitchers in baseball. Nelson is easily having the best year of his career, and it’s fair to wonder if he’ll be able to keep it up. But his sudden dominance is part of the Brewers’ early-season success.

The other prominent hurler for the Brew Crew is closer Corey Knebel. Knebel is also having the best season of his career and has become one of the best closers in baseball in 2017. Knebel has been so good, in fact, that his K/9 (strikeouts per nine innings) rate is third among all relief pitchers, behind only the Red Sox’ Craig Kimbrel and the Yankees’ Dellin Betances. It’s entirely possible that Knebel falls off in the second half of the season, but he too has been vital to Milwaukee’s ascendancy to the top of the NL Central.

Of course, this story would be incomplete without addressing the Chicago Cubs and, more broadly, the collective mediocrity of the rest of the NL Central. While Chicago likely still has the most talent of any team in the division (FanGraphs still projects them to win the NL Central), the Brewers have separated from the pack as a result of their World Series hangover. And even as the Cubs’ season has slowly morphed into the title defense from hell, no one in the division, aside from Milwaukee, has taken advantage of their struggles.

The Milwaukee Brewers are no joke. They’ve been in first place outright since June 7 and while many have panicked about the state of the Cubs, the Brewers have started to pull away in a somewhat stunning development. They’ve gotten excellent pitching and timely hitting from unlikely sources and their run differential says that they should have performed exactly as well as they did in the first half of the season.

And whether they have gotten their most important pieces from the minor leagues, the Red Sox, or South Korea, the Milwaukee Brewers will try to finish what they started and lock up the National League Central in the second half of the season.

Everything and Nothing Is Changing in the NBA

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Gordon Hayward is shipping up to Boston.

The former Utah Jazz forward will sign with the Celtics on a 4-year, $128 million deal, with the fourth year being a player option. Hayward is the asset Celtics GM Danny Ainge had wanted all along, and he didn’t have to give up any of his precious assets to get the best free agent on the market. This, ultimately, was Boston’s endgame; save the team’s stockpile of draft picks and most of its key pieces to acquire Hayward, who just last year was a 10-win player for the Jazz and a top-15 player in the league, having earned career highs in points and rebounds.

One would figure that Hayward’s decision would significantly change the balance of power in the Eastern Conference. If this is your opinion, you may want to seriously rethink it.

In order to make room for Hayward on their roster, the Celtics are expected to trade any one of Jae Crowder, Avery Bradley, or Marcus Smart; rumors are that the front office is looking to jettison one of the three players to Utah in a sign-and-trade to acquire Hayward. The most likely scenario is that Crowder is traded, as he would likely be cast as an undersized power forward in Boston’s new offense. However, his loss would be a bitter pill to swallow; Crowder ranked second on the team in win shares (6.7) last season and third in value over replacement player. While he probably wouldn’t be as productive if he stayed in Boston, don’t think that the Celtics are losing nothing if they trade him. Advanced statistics are not as friendly to Bradley or Smart, but the former was Boston’s second-leading scorer a season ago and the latter was the team’s sixth man. If it were up to me, I’d trade Marcus Smart; he only shot 36% from the field last season and just over 28% from deep. Smart, though, is one of the best defensive players on the team (tied for first in defensive win shares) and his departure would likely force Terry Rozier to step in as the Celtics’ backup point guard. While acquiring Hayward is definitely worth it for the Celtics, the team will likely be faced with non-trivial losses after his signing becomes official.

While the Celtics were the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference a season ago, their Pythagorean win-loss record says that Boston should have been 48-34 based on last season’s point differential of +216, or +2.6 points per game. Let’s say that the Celtics send Crowder to Utah in the sign-and-trade. In terms of win shares, the Celtics are getting a +3.7 net change, but if you take that number and add it to their expected win-loss record and not their real one (53-29), the team would finish at 52-30. Granted, this does not take the overall fit of either player into account, but it does provide a starting point to figuring out just how much better Boston is with Hayward’s addition. Personally, I’d say that the Celtics are about three wins better than they were last season if they don’t trade Crowder. If they do, they’re probably right back where they were a season ago, even though their roster is more talented and, simply put, better. The team is due for a market correction after essentially stealing an extra five wins last season, but Hayward will help them once he gets acclimated to his new surroundings.

Remember when I told you that Hayward was worth just over ten wins for the Jazz last season? Well, that isn’t the important thing when considering his move. The main question to ask yourself is this: is Gordon Hayward worth an extra three wins in late May?

That’s the amount of wins the Celtics would have needed to get past the Great Wall of LeBron in last year’s playoffs. Even with one of the luckiest and most surprising wins in NBA playoff history, Boston was absolutely no match for the James-led Cavaliers in last year’s Eastern Conference Finals. Does the acquisition of a player like Hayward push the Celtics over the edge and past the Cavaliers? My guess, at least for next year, is that it doesn’t. It does make things more interesting, but it’s unlikely that Hayward instantly makes the Celtics the best team in the Eastern Conference; after all, the Celtics were immolated to the tune of a -100 point differential in last year’s Conference Finals, one that lasted just five games.

Now, Hayward’s signing is not solely a play towards 2018. The Celtics, assuming Ainge can re-sign star point guard Isaiah Thomas next year, are squarely in position to ascend to the Eastern Conference throne should James begin to decline (he turns 33 in late December) or leave the Cavaliers after next season. From that point of view, the acquisition is very smart; Boston gets a star player while giving up relatively few assets to do so. However, those picking the Celtics to win the East next year are probably at least a year ahead of themselves.

Of course, Hayward’s move isn’t the only significant development in this year’s free agency window. Let’s take a look at what’s been going on in the Western Conference, shall we?

In my view, the most significant move out west was the Minnesota Timberwolves’ draft day acquisition of Jimmy Butler from the Chicago Bulls. Chicago, for reasons passing understanding, only took Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn, and the seventh overall pick (Lauri Markkanen) from Chicago for a player who ranked in the top fifteen in both offensive and defensive win shares last season. Then, Minnesota signed Indiana Pacers (more on them later) point guard Jeff Teague and dealt Ricky Rubio to Utah. While the two are similar players, Teague is a slightly better shooter and, by extension, a slightly better floor-spacer for an offense that will likely run more isolation sets for Butler. Also, the addition of Butler should help budding stars Andrew Wiggins and Karl Anthony-Towns, both of whom are just 21 years old. Butler’s arrival should be beneficial to Wiggins, in particular, as he struggled mightily on defense last season. For added measure, the team later signed power forward Taj Gibson to play alongside Towns in the paint.

Here’s the catch, though: the most transformative acquisition of the past two weeks came to a team that finished 31-51 last season. While their Pythagorean win percentage says they should have won seven more games than they did, the Timberwolves have a ways to go before becoming a serious championship contender. While the Celtics can at least see the light at the end of the tunnel with the Cavs’ dominance, there still exists a gulf between Minnesota and the Golden State Warriors. And Golden State doesn’t have aging superstars who are likely to leave the team anytime soon. So while Butler makes the Timberwolves a lot better than they were, he shouldn’t be enough to make the difference between them and the Warriors.

Another huge trade in the West was the Oklahoma City Thunder’s acquisition of Pacers forward Paul George. George announced shortly before the deal that he had absolutely no intention of re-signing with Indiana when he becomes a free agent in 2018. This left team president Kevin Pritchard between a rock and a hard place; trade George and receive less than he should in return or keep George for one more year and let him walk, likely to the Los Angeles Lakers, next summer. Pritchard decided to cut his losses and deal George to Oklahoma City in exchange for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis. George is a legitimate star in today’s NBA, and his numbers would suggest that the Pacers should get far more than they did in the trade. However, his preemptive decision left Pritchard with no good alternatives, so trading him for far less than market value was probably his only move to get himself out of check with his superstar. While many observers have chided the Pacers for getting fleeced in the deal, they had very few good options in this situation. They should be let off the hook just for getting anything at all for George’s services.

George, by all standards, is a very good player. He had a career year last year and has averaged over 20 points per game in each of the last three full seasons he has played. Where he has struggled recently is with his defense, as he accrued a negative defensive box plus/minus rating last season. This year, though, he’ll be playing with Russell Westbrook, the league’s reigning MVP. Chances are that he won’t be carrying all of the offensive load like he did with Indiana last season, thus giving him more energy to spend on defense. The two should have a symbiotic relationship next season, and while Westbrook probably won’t be averaging a triple-double next season, the addition of a player like George will take some of the burden from both players.

That being said, the Thunder won just 47 games a season ago. They were the No. 6 seed in the Western Conference playoffs and were bounced in an exciting but anticlimactic five games by the Houston Rockets in the first round last season. While the Thunder will try to keep George after next season, the Lakers are still the favorites to reel him in next summer. And even with him, the Thunder are likely not good enough to make a serious run at a championship this season. While George is an objectively excellent player, he shouldn’t move the needle enough to push the Thunder past the Warriors.

The one team that can claim to have a fighting chance at winning the West next season is the Houston Rockets. The team acquired star point guard Chris Paul from the Los Angeles Clippers in a monster trade that included the Rockets sending seven players back to L.A. The numbers, though, suggest that the hefty price Houston paid (Lou Williams, Patrick Beverley, Sam Dekker, others) is more than worth it; Paul contributed just under 11 wins to the Clippers last year in all of 61 games. Even at 32, Paul is still one of the best point guards in the league, and his addition could very well make the Rockets the second best team in the Western Conference. While some have made the argument that Paul and superstar James Harden will struggle to coexist because, as they say, there is only one basketball, the Rockets now have two of the best guards in the game. Somehow, I’m inclined to think they’ll make it work.

But, again, can they beat the Warriors? Paul has never been to the Conference Finals and the Rockets couldn’t even get past the Kawhi Leonard-less Spurs in Game 6 of the conference semis last year. In a vacuum, this move would likely make the Rockets the title favorite next season. Instead, Houston will have to contend with the monolith that is the most talented basketball team ever assembled.

And also, the Warriors will be even more absurd than they were just last year. In free agency, the team has added shooters Omri Casspi and Nick Young (yes, that Nick Young) to their already-loaded bench. Meanwhile, they have also managed to keep all of their core pieces intact while making their roster even better than it already was. If a team is going to catch the Warriors for the NBA title next season, I haven’t found it yet. While CP3 makes the Rockets significantly better, Houston would need several things to go right for them to get past Golden State.

Many important moves have been made in NBA free agency and trades in the last few days. Several teams have gotten better this month, such as the Thunder, Celtics, Timberwolves, and Rockets. We haven’t even gotten to mention the Denver Nuggets, who will be a ton of fun next year after signing power forward Paul Millsap to a 3-year, $90 million deal. Also, the Sacramento Kings are pushing toward playoff contention (don’t laugh) with the signings of George Hill and Zach Randolph, as well as the drafting of Kentucky’s DeAaron Fox with the fifth overall pick in the draft.

Many NBA teams have gotten better over the past couple of weeks. Unfortunately for them, the moves made this June and July likely won’t make much of a difference come next May and June.

Paul Goldschmidt Is Having the Best Season You’ve Never Heard Of

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We are at about the halfway point of the Major League Baseball season and it’s been a year of fascinating storylines. Some of those include the dominance of rookies Aaron Judge and Cody Bellinger, the emergence of the Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers as the two best teams in baseball, and the underwhelming performance of the defending champion Chicago Cubs. It has been, to this point, an exciting exhibition of both team and individual performances, one that is sure to pave the way for a fascinating second half of the season.

One of the best performaces of this young season, though, has gone completely under the radar.

It’s not exactly a secret that I really like Paul Goldschmidt; in fact, I’ve actually commissioned myself as the president of the Society of Paul Goldschmidt Admirers. He is easily the most underrated superstar in today’s game and the consistency of his performance on a daily basis almost always goes unnoticed. Part of the problem is that he plays on the Arizona Diamondbacks in one of baseball’s more anonymous markets; most of Arizona’s home games don’t begin until 9:30 on the east coast, meaning that many baseball fans aren’t able to stay up late to see just how good Goldschmidt really is. The other issue is that because Goldschmidt is such a well-rounded player there isn’t really one thing to zero in on in terms of his abilities on an everyday basis. It’s hard to think of him as just a power hitter, speedster, or elite defender.

If you want a measure of just how talented Goldschmidt really is, consider this: he ranks first among major league first basemen in both runs scored and stolen bases while also coming in third in home runs. At a position where most players simply don’t run well, Goldschmidt is on pace for around 25 steals this year. For a more all-encompassing look at Goldschmidt’s base running abilities, we turn to BsR, the base running component of wins above replacement. In that category, he is also tops among all first basemen, but that’s not all: among all position players, Goldschmidt is tied for third in all of baseball. The two players he’s tied with, the Royals’ Jarrod Dyson and the Marlins’ Dee Gordon, are two of the fastest players in the game today. However, both players only get on base roughly 33% of the time. Goldschmidt, on the other hand, reaches base in nearly 44% of his plate appearances. So not only is he reaching base at an extremely high rate (second among all position players) but he is also a true asset to his team when he gets there.

Next, we move to the all-important power category. While most players who run well are not able to hit for power, Goldschmidt is the rare exception. He ranks seventh in the league in slugging percentage, a measure of a player’s total bases divided by the number of at-bats he has. A deeper dive into this, though, shows that his performance in this category is even more impressive than advertised. Out of the top 35 players in the league in slugging, Goldschmidt is the only player with double-digit stolen bases. Eight of those 35 players have zero steals on the season, and 22 of the 35 have negative BsR ratings. Goldschmidt really is the exception instead of the rule, and his all-around prowess of the offensive game is truly something to behold.

If his performance this season were a surprise, chances are it would be covered more vigorously on a national level. This year’s showing, however, is a continuation of a trend that started back in 2012. With the exception of his 2014 season, one that ended when he broke his hand on August 1 of that year, Goldschmidt has had at least 20 home runs and 15 stolen bases every single year. Barring unforeseen circumstances, he’s going to do that again this year. His exploits have guided the Diamondbacks and their horrendous uniforms to a 52-31 start; Arizona has the third-best record in baseball and is just 2.5 games behind the Dodgers for first place in the NL West.

Even with all that, Goldschmidt still isn’t earning the recognition he deserves. His jersey is not in the top 20 of all jerseys sold on MLBShop.com since last year’s World Series. He has ceded much of the attention at his own position to players such as Anthony Rizzo and Ryan Zimmerman. Even with the success of the Diamondbacks, Goldschmidt still hasn’t earned the respect or praise he has truly earned. Many around the team and the league speak of Goldschmidt as a quiet individual who doesn’t necessarily seek out the media spotlight. However, he deserves to be shouted out here, even if he isn’t going to be the one doing the talking.

There is also this last note to consider: among all players in Major League Baseball, Goldschmidt ranks fourth in wins above replacement. Only Aaron Judge, Chris Sale, and Max Scherzer are ahead of him in that category. While I don’t consider myself a blind slave to WAR, the figure provides a starting point for evaluating players based on their production to this particular point in the season. And through three months of baseball, WAR says that Goldschmidt is the fourth-best player in the league. It also says that he’s the second-best position player in baseball, and the guy he’s behind in that category has his own cheering section in Yankee Stadium. Paul Goldschmidt, for nearly as productive a season, has some hardcore fans and, well, this blog post. The difference between the two may not be that disparate, but it’s pretty close.

It’s very unlikely that many people will come to appreciate the greatness of Paul Goldschmidt anytime soon. The fact of the matter is, though, that he has been one of baseball’s brightest stars over the past couple of seasons. This year, the Diamondbacks find themselves in contention for a playoff spot and (potentially) a run into October. if Arizona can maintain its first-half success, much of America may finally realize just how good the Diamondbacks’ first baseman really is when the playoffs roll around.

But until then, he’ll continue to put together an MVP-caliber season, regardless of whether or not anyone outside Arizona notices or cares.