The NFL’s Concussion Protocol Is a Joke, Episode 57,219

Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

Pop quiz time!

If you see a football player take a big hit to the head and neck area, how do you react? Does your opinion of the situation change when you see the said player try to jog to the sidelines and instead stumble to the ground? What about when replays show the player wincing and shaking his head in what would appear to be an attempt to shake off the hit? What do you do?

All of those things happened to Panthers quarterback Cam Newton on Sunday. What the Panthers did (or more importantly, didn’t do) is the problem with this entire situation.

Newton took a shot to the helmet in yesterday’s game against the Saints, one New Orleans would later win by a score of 31-26. After the game, when questioned by reporters about his current condition, Newton (who, it should be added, wore sunglasses to his postgame presser) said that the injury was to his eye and not his head. This is actually a very plausible argument; Newton says that when he was smashed to the ground by Saints defensive end David Onyemata, his helmet dropped down into his eyelid and caused the injury. That explanation could very well be truthful.

It also completely misses the point.

Earlier this season, the NFL revamped its concussion protocol after Texans quarterback Tom Savage took a massive hit to the turf in a Week 14 game against the 49ers. Savage was seen lying on the ground with his hands shaking shortly thereafter, but after a brief sideline “evaluation”, he was allowed to return to the game. After his first series back in the game, however, Savage went to the locker room and did not return to the contest.

After this happened, the language of the NFL’s concussion protocol was changed and the league announced in late December that it would require a locker room evaluation for “all players demonstrating gross or sustained vertical instability (e.g., stumbling or falling to the ground when trying to stand).” That is what happened to Newton when he tried to half-trot to the sideline and instead ended up on the ground.

How the league handles this situation will be very telling. In November, the NFL fined the Seahawks $100,000 for failing to properly deal with a potential concussion to quarterback Russell Wilson. That happened because as the team was unfurling the league-mandated blue medical tent around him, he literally grabbed his helmet and came back into the game. So you can’t dispute that he was in the tent for two seconds, but you also can’t dispute that he could not have possibly gotten a real concussion test when he went there. In response, the league fined Seattle $100,000. The problem with that equation is that the Seahawks are owned by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, a man whose net worth exceeds $20 billion. A $100,000 fine affects Allen and his franchise the same way buying a Whopper at Burger King affects the average person’s finances, which is to say that it has very little influence.

Think about it this way: without Cam Newton, the Panthers would have been forced to ride out the rest of the game with Derek Anderson at quarterback. Anderson is not a bad option to have, but he is by no means on the level of Newton. Therefore, if the punishment you are facing is a $100,000 fine and you have a chance to win a playoff game, you probably want your franchise quarterback behind center at all costs. And chances are you won’t be too worried about his mental status as long as he is good enough to play and can tell you how many of these three fingers you’re holding up. Because if the Panthers win that game and go on a run to the Super Bowl, the $100,000 fine would have been, unfortunately, more than worth it in the big picture.

The NFL just saw its overhauled concussion protocol fail miserably on one of the biggest stages of the sport. Maybe the league should think about imposing serious penalties towards teams that violate it instead of arbitrary slaps on the wrist for this serious and, for the player, potentially life-altering offense.

But then again, that would require the league taking care of its players. Let’s not act like it does.



UCF Has Lost Its Mind

Brendan Sullivan/Omaha World-Herald

The University of Central Florida may ave been the best story in college football this season.

UCF, as they are more commonly known, went 13-0 and became the first Group of 5 team in the Playoff era to finish a season undefeated. The Knights’ dream season culminated in a Peach Bowl victory over Auburn, one that showcased the high-flying offense of Scott Frost, who left the UCF job at the end of the season to become the head coach at Nebraska, his alma mater.

UCF is truly a great success story; two seasons ago, the team went 0-12. Two years later, they finished undefeated with one of the most talented rosters in college football. One of their star players, linebacker Shaquem Griffin, was born with amniotic band syndrome and lost his left hand at birth. He hasn’t let that stop him, though, and he finished the Peach Bowl with 12 tackles and 1.5 sacks. He was, by all accounts, UCF’s best player this season and his perseverance is nothing short of inspirational.

Between their previous futility, their best player’s overcoming of personal challenges to achieve success, and the likability of Frost, who coached the team’s bowl game despite accepting Nebraska’s job offer a month ago, UCF had the makings of being one of the great underdog stories in recent memory.

And then the school took things approximately 500 steps too far.

It all started just hours after their bowl game ended, with Frost saying that a “conscious effort” kept UCF out of the College Football Playoff. Frost posited this theory after watching Georgia and Alabama, two teams Auburn beat on their schedule, advance to next Monday’s national championship game. By the transitive property, UCF could be considered better than all of those teams; the transitive property, of course, does not take into effect important things like home field advantage, the injuries both teams dealt with when they played Auburn, and coaching in high-leverage situations. Also, remember that Georgia later played Auburn (in the same stadium in which the Peach Bowl was played) in the SEC Championship Game and defeated them 28-7. How quickly they forget.

But if people at the university stopped at being angry about the Knights’ apparent snub, we would have had no problem and the rage would have been easily understood. Instead, we have a far different situation on our hands.

After the Peach Bowl, UCF Athletic Director Danny White (no, not the former Cowboys quarterback) was seen on the field proclaiming his team as the national champion. At this point it’s important to remember a key fact in the debate of whether or not UCF won the national championship:

They didn’t.

It’s also important to point out that this claiming of a nonexistent championship is hardly unprecedented. Ohio State gave its players rings after the Buckeyes finished the 2012 season 12-0 but were barred from postseason play because of the infamous events of tattoo-gate. And the 2003 USC Trojans crowned themselves champions after what their then-Athletic Director referred to as “significant research”. In that case, though, USC actually was the #1 team in the Associated Press poll at the end of the season and did earn at least a split of the national championship with LSU.

UCF, on the other hand, did not top the Associated Press poll, or any other poll, for that matter. They finished twelfth in the final College Football Playoff rankings, tenth in the final AP Poll, and tenth in the last Coaches’ Poll. And before you tell me that the BCS would have resolved all of this, UCF would have finished ninth if that poll was still in use. These rankings are especially crucial because many have clamored for an eight-team playoff in recent years, as that would allows smaller, lesser-known schools like UCF to make the Playoff. So it’s good to know that the Knights would not have gotten in even if the size of the Playoff was doubled.

There is also another, not-so-insignificant problem with expanding the Playoff to eight teams, and don’t take it from me. Take it from former Clemson linebacker Ben Boulware. Boulware was asked about hypothetically having to play in another game after his team played in fifteen games last season before defeating Alabama in a thrilling and emotionally-draining national title game:

If we had to do another game after this? God, no. I’d literally die.

Somehow, I doubt that would be a good look for the NCAA, but then again, the NCAA probably wouldn’t know what a good look was if it slapped them in the face. And remember, we’re talking about UCF, the school that had a kicker ruled ineligible to play for committing the heinous, shocking, and appalling crime of monetizing his YouTube channel.

But anyway, if you thought that the coronation of UCF’s alternative national title and the absurd celebration of Frost’s team was complete, then get ready to have your mind frosted:

UCF athletic director Danny White said Wednesday that the program has decided to claim a national championship and will place a championship banner inside Spectrum Stadium to recognize its undefeated 2017 season.

[…]

Nonetheless, the school said that it will hold a celebratory parade for the team at Disney World on Sunday. UCF and Orlando announced Thursday they would hold a national championship celebration Monday evening, the day of the CFP national championship game.

At this point, I can’t even be mad at UCF. If I ever get to the point in my life where I have a parade at Disney World in my honor for no particular reason, I’ll know that my life probably won’t get better from there.

But this is madness. College football is the only sport in which you can say that you won a national championship (without actually winning a national championship, no less) and have your fans believe you. And they’re serious about this too, as their social media feeds indicate. Because nothing says “we don’t take ourselves too seriously” quite like finishing twelfth in the final Playoff rankings, missing the four-team Playoff, winning your bowl game against what may have been a slightly uninspired opponent and then declaring yourself a “national champion”.

There is one more point to be made here. While some have argued for an eight-team Playoff as of late, others are arguing for this and an automatic bid for the top Group of 5 team. That is all well and good until you consider that this was the first year in the Playoff era that a Group of 5 team has gone undefeated and could actually be considered as an honest-to-goodness candidate to make the Playoff. Many have pointed to the NCAA Basketball Tournament as having the best format for allowing smaller schools to shine. But in case you were wondering, the only “Cinderella” teams that have won a college basketball championship since the tournament has expanded to 64 teams were the 1985 Villanova Wildcats (in the first year of the new format) and the 2014 Connecticut Huskies. If you’re keeping track at home, that’s two-for-33, or roughly six percent of the time.

To make matters worse, UCF’s best win before their bowl game this season came against Memphis in a game that went to double-overtime. The Knights also suffered other close calls at the hands of Navy, SMU, and South Florida, and their out-of-conference schedule consisted of FIU, Georgia Tech, Maryland, and Maine. (The Georgia Tech and Maine games were canceled, the former directly and the latter indirectly, due to the effects of Hurricane Irma.) I am all for the little guy who can take down Goliath, but we shouldn’t make sure the little guy gets in the Playoff every year if he isn’t good enough. I’m not saying UCF wasn’t, but they have been the best non-Power 5 team in the Playoff era and even including them in the Final Four (or Eight) would require a serious explanation, one that may be difficult or impossible to justify.

If there is anything you can take out of this article, it is these two things:

  1. We shouldn’t bring small-school teams to college football’s big dance if they aren’t worthy of it.
  2. We shouldn’t give schools national championships based on the transitive property.

And if UCF’s recent lunacy has exposed those two truths, then maybe it was worthwhile.



The Bengals Have Signed Up for Two More Years of Being Just Okay

Nick Wass/Associated Press

The Cincinnati Bengals just completed their second-straight nine-loss season, are losing their defensive coordinator, and haven’t won a playoff game since eleven days before the beginning of Operation Desert Storm; worse off, they won that game against a team that doesn’t exist anymore. So naturally, they extended their head coach’s contract.

Yesterday, it was announced that the Bengals had extended head coach Marvin Lewis for another two years. Lewis has coached the Bengals for the past fifteen seasons and is one of the most respected coaches in the NFL. Lewis ended the Bengals’ playoff drought in 2005 and is easily the winningest head coach in Cincinnati’s history with 125 victories. He has won four AFC North titles in his time with the Bengals and may be the best coach the franchise has ever had.

But with all of that being said, Lewis has never won a playoff game in seven attempts and, despite being the most successful coach the Bengals have ever had, is just thirteen games over .500 in his head coaching career. Lewis is, unfortunately, the dictionary definition of mediocrity. But let’s look at just how mediocre Lewis has been and what the Bengals have just gotten (or kept) themselves into.

Lewis is tied for 23rd in NFL history for the number of games he has coached (240). Of the 23 men either tied or ahead of him on that list, only three (Weeb Eubank, John Fox and someone you can find behind coach seven and ahead of coach nine) have a lower career winning percentage than Lewis. And no, that wasn’t a joke: Jeff Fisher has coached the eighth-most games of any coach in NFL history, which is a metaphor in and of itself. But of those four coaches, Fox, Eubank, and Fisher all went to the Super Bowl at least once, and Eubank won a championship with the 1968 Jets. Those three also combined for 17 playoff wins while Lewis is still sitting on zero. Even worse, four of Lewis’ seven playoff losses have come at home, which is a problem when you recall that home teams have won nearly 65 percent of NFL playoff games since 2000. But somehow, Lewis has found new and unique ways to lose each time his team has made the postseason.

If you want to know just how bad Lewis-coached teams have been in January, here is the full list of coaches who have gone winless in the playoffs in a minimum of seven games:

  1. Marvin Lewis

If it seems like we’re trying too hard to dunk on Lewis’ entire career and accomplishments, that could be deemed a fair assessment. Lewis does deserve immense credit for bringing the Bengals back from complete oblivion after the team lost over 70 percent of its games in the ten years prior to his arrival. He restored instant credibility to a team that desperately needed it, and that should not go unnoticed when fully evaluating the job he has done.

That being said, the Bengals are not a playoff-caliber team at the present moment. Their quarterback, Andy Dalton, finished between Jay Cutler and Eli Manning this season in Total Quarterback Rating (which is to say, near the bottom of the list). Dalton is not a very good quarterback, and he will count for nearly $17 million against the team’s cap each year for the next three seasons. The Bengals need to make a decision on whether or not Dalton, 30, will be the team’s franchise quarterback in the not-too-distant future. The problem, though, is that with the exception of his injury-shortened 2015 season, Dalton has never been much more than an average quarterback, and the Bengals, as currently constituted, cannot be considered serious championship contenders with Dalton playing at a league-average level.

That is another reason why I would have suggested moving on from Lewis. Lewis is a fundamentally defensive-minded coach (he led the Ravens’ defense to a championship in 2000) but he has only had one top-ten offense in the last ten years as the Bengals’ head man. There is no shortage of great offensive assistants in the NFL today (Josh McDaniels, Pat Shurmur, Matt LaFleur, and others), and the Bengals would have every chance to get their hands on one before the end of the coaching carousel. For example, why not try to pursue LaFleur, who was Matt Ryan’s quarterback coach in 2016 and who currently serves as the offensive coordinator for the league’s highest-scoring offense? If he could improve Matt Ryan and at least partially fix Jared Goff in the span of two seasons, why couldn’t he do the same for Dalton?

And speaking of carousels, Dalton had two offensive coordinators this season. Ken Zampese was fired after the first two games because his offense scored a combined nine points against the Texans and Ravens. The offense improved under new offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, but even then it only averaged 20 points per game. Even if the offense’s average output under Lazor was applied to every game, the Bengals still would have ranked just 20th in points scored and 31st in total yards.

But, as you probably assumed, Lazor signed a contract extension alongside Lewis yesterday.

Even worse, the Bengals’ defense, which is its perceived strength, is losing its defensive coordinator, Paul Guenther. While the defense finished 18th last season, Guenther has worked for the Bengals in some capacity for the past thirteen seasons, and while the defense has suffered since he took it over for current Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer, the only assistant the Bengals have lost to this point may be the one they need the most.

Keep one more thing in mind: while you may look at the Bengals’ 7-9 record this season as a sign that they really aren’t that bad, remember that they get two games per year against the Cleveland Browns. That automatically inflates their record and makes an otherwise bad season look slightly better.

The Cincinnati Bengals decided to keep Marvin Lewis as their head coach because they felt that they had no better alternatives. As it turns out, they probably aren’t looking hard enough for that someone who can lead the team into the future. Frankly, the decision Cincinnati made yesterday was perfectly fine, as long as they plan on maxing out at eight wins for the next two seasons.




Are the Browns the Worst NFL Team Ever?

Jason Miller/Getty Images

You may be aware of this, but the Cleveland Browns are very bad at football.

On Sunday, Cleveland’s 16th loss of the season, one that came at the hands of the Pittsburgh Steelers, clinched the team’s place in NFL infamy as just the third team in the Super Bowl era to go winless in a full season and just the second to do so over the course of 16 games. Ironically, Sunday’s tilt was one of the Browns’ better performances this season, and Cleveland had a legitimate chance to win given that none of the Steelers’ three best players (Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown) were playing.

The Browns had the ball with under two minutes to go at the Steelers’ 27-yard line on a fourth-and-two. Quarterback DeShone Kizer rolled out of the pocket and found a wide-open Corey Coleman near the sideline. Coleman, in the most appropriate ending imaginable, literally dropped the ball and let the Browns’ best chance at a 2017 win slip right through his hands. This ending to the Browns’ inglorious season is even more perfect when you consider the series of events that led to Coleman being in a position to throw away the Browns’ last chance at a victory:

  • April 21, 2016: the Browns trade the second-overall pick and a conditional fifth-round pick to the Eagles in exchange for a first-round, third-round, and fourth-round pick in that year’s draft. Philadelphia uses the second pick to select Carson Wentz, who was well on his way to being this year’s NFL MVP had he not been injured in Week 14 against the Rams.
  • Draft night, 2016: the Browns trade their first-round pick (8th overall) and a sixth-round pick to Tennessee for the Titans’ first-round pick (15th overall), a third-round selection, and Tennessee’s 2017 second-round pick. With the 8th pick, the Titans select Michigan State offensive lineman Jack Conklin, and Conklin is selected as a first-team All-Pro offensive lineman at the end of the 2016 season. With the 15th pick, Cleveland takes Corey Coleman, who has played 20 games in the last two seasons and currently has 718 career receiving yards.
  • However, because the Browns drafted Coleman, they had one too many wide receivers in training camp. To combat this problem, they decided to waive Taylor Gabriel. The Falcons picked him up shortly thereafter, and you may remember Gabriel for completely dusting Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler before all hell broke loose in Super Bowl LI.

All of this, of course, happened before Executive VP of Football Operations Sashi Brown was mercifully axed on December 7 after nearly two years on the job. We could devote another four or five full posts to his front office’s incompetence, but just know that they were driven by analytics (or something) and had no idea what they were doing or why they were doing it, which partially explains why they traded out of first-round picks that other teams used to draft Carson Wentz, Jack Conklin, and DeShaun Watson in the span of two years. Even worse, Brown was hired to run the front office by Paul DePodesta, the team’s “chief strategy officer”. So yes, the Browns owe their current incompetence to the guy Jonah Hill’s character in Moneyball was based on. I don’t know if that’s bad, but I don’t think it’s good.

With all of this being said, however, the Browns are not, in terms of talent or statistics, the worst team in NFL history. That title still belongs to the 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The 1976 Buccaneers were a brand-spanking-new expansion franchise coached by former USC legend John McKay. And by all accounts, McKay was less than thrilled in his new situation; this is a real quote he gave to Sports Illustrated about the difference between coaching in college and the NFL:

I don’t know what this pro football mystique is. I’ve gone to the pro camps. They throw the ball, they catch the ball. Many of them are ex-USC players. I’m not amazed at what they do. I’ve watched the pros play. They run traps, they pitch the ball, they sweep. What else is there?

What ensued in the 1976 season would not surprise you; the Buccaneers lost every game en route to an 0-14 record, becoming the first team in the Super Bowl era to pull off that feat. The team still holds the record for the worst point differential in NFL history (-287) and was shut out in six of its 14 games. Additionally, the Bucs lost each game by an average of nearly 21 points; this was before the era of high-flying offenses and consistently good quarterback play. Speaking of quarterbacks, Tampa Bay was spearheaded that season by former Heisman Trophy winner and future NFL and college head coach Steve Spurrier.

But the Buccaneers were an expansion team that was expected to be terrible. Tampa Bay followed the franchise arc you would expect from an expansion team; they didn’t get their first win until the penultimate week of the 1977 season, but by 1979, they were in the playoffs. McKay and his zany persona left Tampa Bay after 1984, but he made two more playoff appearances before leaving the job. The Buccaneers knew what was ahead of them and, in some ways, made the best of their situation. The same cannot be said about the Browns.

The Browns were terrible for the sake of being terrible. Their front office had no plan for success and they also had the talent-evaluating abilities of most of their fans. They had multiple chances to fix their quarterback situation over the past two seasons; instead of doing so, the best answers they came up with were DeShone Kizer, Kevin Hogan, Cody Kessler, Brock Osweiler, and Robert Griffin III. If those are your “answers”, don’t even show me the question.

You could make a case for the 2008 Detroit Lions as the worst team in the history of the NFL, and that would make sense. They had a worse point differential than this year’s Browns and had one more double-digit loss than Cleveland did this season. However, Detroit started three different quarterbacks that season, and not by choice, as starting signal-caller Jon Kitna was placed on IR just five games into the season. The next week, backup QB Dan Orlovsky started for the Lions and gave us one of the dumbest and funniest plays in the history of sports when he ran out of the back of the end zone in a game against the Vikings. In case you were wondering, the final score in that game was 12-10 in favor of Minnesota, which means that Orlovsky forgetting any and all concept of location was the difference in that game.

When the Lions figured out that Orlovsky was not up to the task of being an NFL starting quarterback, the team signed former Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper. Culpepper, despite having Calvin Johnson in Detroit, was not the same player he was in Minnesota, and he injured his shoulder in Week 14, forcing the guy who forgot where he was to start the last three games of the year. Shockingly, the Lions won none of the games started by Culpepper or Orlovsky. The year before, Kitna started every game and the team went 7-9. No one could have foreseen Detroit being that bad, and part of their futility was due to circumstances beyond their control. While none of this excuses the fact that they went an entire season without winning a game, it does at least somewhat explain why it happened.

The Browns’ explanation for their lack of success is simple: their roster was mostly devoid of talent and lacked leadership at quarterback. After Sunday’s loss, coach Hue Jackson boldly declared that no one else could have done the job he did, which is further proof that some jokes write themselves. Before the season, Jackson also said he would jump in Lake Erie if the Browns went 1-15 for the second season in a row. The good news is he won’t have to that; the bad news is that only the Cleveland Browns could make 1-15 look like a high water mark.

Cleveland needs a quarterback. The leader in passing yards for this incarnation of the Browns is Tim Couch, and he wasn’t good at all! In case you weren’t sure of how the Browns have tried to fix the quarterback position through the draft, here is a list of all the QBs that Cleveland has taken since 1999:

  1. Tim Couch (1999)
  2. Spergon Wynn (2000)
  3. Luke McCown (2004)
  4. Charlie Frye (2005)
  5. Brady Quinn (2007)
  6. Colt McCoy (2010)
  7. Brandon Weeden (2012)
  8. Johnny Manziel (2014)
  9. Cody Kessler (2016)
  10. DeShone Kizer (2017)

This list says nothing of the fact that the Browns have trotted out 28 different starting quarterbacks since 1999. They need to fix the position, but it’s hard to do that when you have the reputation of a team that screws up every quarterback you’ve ever had. If you want an example of irony, in the new Browns’ only playoff game, their starting quarterback, Kelly Holcomb, threw for 428 yards. Go figure.

This is why I would argue for this year’s Browns as the worst team in NFL history. The Lions made the playoffs three years after going winless because they drafted Matt Stafford in the subsequent draft (Stafford is still their starting quarterback). The Lions found their way out of the mess they were in by drafting Stafford and building around him. From 2011 to 2016, Detroit went to the playoffs three times while the Browns went 24-72. The Lions have now gotten to the point where they can fire their head coach for going 9-7 and not look like complete idiots.

The 2017 Cleveland Browns may not technically be the worst team in the history of the NFL; that is a title the 1976 Buccaneers may own forever. But due to circumstances they can only attribute to themselves, they may very well be the most pathetic. The reason is that being successful in the NFL, just like in baseball, is a process, one that no other team in the history of the sport has ever executed this poorly.




The One NFL Team You Don’t Want to See in January

Philip J. Pavely/USA Today

I’m going to start this article by posing a very simple question: who has the best point differential in the AFC?

Surely it has to be either the Patriots or the Steelers, the two owners of the conference’s best record at 12-3. Maybe it’s the Baltimore Ravens, who currently sit at 9-6 but have three shutouts to their name. Or it could be the Kansas City Chiefs, who struggled in the middle of the season but have responded with three straight victories, each by ten or more points.

If you guessed any one of those teams, you are a very reasonable person. You’re also wrong.

The best point differential in the AFC belongs to the Jacksonville Jaguars, who are currently 10-5 and locked into the third seed in the playoffs.

You may not take point differential all that seriously, as teams often score or give up points in garbage time that are completely meaningless to the outcome of the game. That being said, the Jaguars are second in the league in this category, and the winner of the Super Bowl in three of the last four seasons has also finished in the top two in the NFL in scoring margin. Following this logic, though, would mean that Jacksonville would go to the Super Bowl and play the Los Angeles Rams, in a scenario that may precede the apocalypse. But the Jaguars currently find themselves at the top of the conference in scoring margin right now and, perhaps more significantly, they own one of the league’s best defenses, which is particularly important when facing off against offenses like the Patriots and Steelers.

There are, as with any team without serious playoff experience, questions about how legitimate of a contender the Jaguars are. With Jacksonville, their concerns are exacerbated because their quarterback just so happens to be Blake Bortles, who, before this season, averaged 17 interceptions per year for each of his first three NFL seasons. Even when he does play well, he is perceived as not being good enough to lead his team to a championship or, worse, “trash”. While he does make some shockingly bad decisions and throws mind-numbing interceptions from time to time, he is having the best season of his career, as he has put up career highs in completion percentage, QBR, and passer rating, while also posting a career low for interceptions.

This is not to say that Bortles is necessarily a good NFL quarterback; after all, he is coming off a performance in which he threw three interceptions against the league’s 26th-best defense. However, NFL history has shown us that you can win a Super Bowl with less than stellar quarterback play, or quarterback play that starts the season slowly and comes alive at the right time. Here are just a few recent examples of teams winning the Super Bowl in spite of the man they had under center:

  • The 1970 Colts (Johnny Unitas/Earl Morrall)
  • The 1990 Giants (Jeff Hostetler)
  • The 2000 Ravens (Trent Dilfer)
  • The 2002 Buccaneers (Brad Johnson)
  • The 2015 Broncos (Peyton Manning, in his final season)

This shows that while having a great quarterback certainly helps your cause in trying to win a championship, it is hardly necessary for you to do so. What you do need, though, is a great defense. Luckily, the Jaguars have it.

Jacksonville currently owns the league’s third-best defense as measured by total yards allowed. The only teams who have fared better are the 12-3 Vikings and the Denver Broncos, who have started three different players at quarterback this season. The Jaguars also own the league’s best pass defense, and that is important considering the talent of quarterbacks the team could potentially face in the playoffs (Marcus Mariota, Joe Flacco, Ben Roethlisberger, Tom Brady, etc.). The weakness in Jacksonville’s defense is its ability to stop the run, as it ranks just 21st in the league in that category. But that run defense is not quite as much of a hindrance to their success because the team has defensive end Calais Campbell, who is second in the NFL in sacks with 14.5. Some have argued for Campbell as the league’s MVP, and that is a fairly ridiculous stretch, but the Jaguars’ front four is good enough to get to the quarterback on a regular basis.

Jacksonville’s secondary is also paramount to their success, as it has pulled down 21 interceptions to this point in the year, which is good for second in football. A.J. Bouye (who was signed in free agency from the Texans after last season), Barry Church, Tashaun Gipson, and Jalen Ramsey each have at least four picks, and Bouye is second in the league with six. If you’re throwing against this secondary, you should really have a sense of what you’re getting yourself into.

Even though I’ve told you all this about how great the Jaguars are, you are still wary of their ability to beat the Patriots and/or the Steelers, the two best teams in the AFC. The good news is that they already have played one of those teams, and the results were promising.

In week five, Jacksonville traveled to Pittsburgh to face off against the Steelers. In that game, they forced Ben Roethlisberger into throwing five interceptions, two of which were returned for touchdowns. The game was what you would expect and hope for on paper from the Jags: Bortles threw for under 100 yards, running back Leonard Fournette rushed for nearly 200, and the Jaguars forced five turnovers and only had one giveaway. While Bortles would need to play better than that if the Jaguars want to beat Pittsburgh a second time, the early-October contest shows that the Jaguars can win a difficult game on the road if necessary.

Just a side note on that game: many recall that afterwards, the media was taken on a roller coaster ride because Roethlisberger openly speculated that he was in decline and said, “Maybe I just don’t have it anymore.” This off-hand comment, likely intended as a joke, sparked fear and panic in Pittsburgh, as Roethlisberger, to that point in the year, had thrown more interceptions than touchdowns. Since then, however, the Steelers’ signal-caller has thrown 22 TDs and just seven picks while also completing nearly 66% of his passes. Everyone in Pittsburgh and around America has stopped wondering whether or not he still has it. He clearly does, and the chances of him throwing five interceptions against the same team twice in one season would appear to be low.

The road to the Super Bowl out of the AFC currently appears to revolve around the Patriots and the Steelers. But the Jacksonville Jaguars are perhaps better prepared to navigate that road than anyone, and they have put every team in the AFC, and the NFL, on notice.

The Steelers found out the hard way that the Jaguars are capable of beating anyone in the league on any given day. We’ll see if any other teams have to learn that lesson the hard way before the NFL playoffs are complete.




Oh, My: Saluting a Broadcasting Legend

Hayne Palmour IV/San Diego Union-Tribune

A sports broadcasting legend has left us.

Yesterday, former NBC, CBS, ESPN, and San Diego Padres announcer Dick Enberg passed away at the age of 82. Multiple reports have stated that his family believes Enberg died of a heart attack in his California home late Thursday night. He retired as the television voice of the Padres at the end of last season, something you probably missed because Dodgers legend Vin Scully was leaving the business at the exact same time.

However, it is tremendously important that we recall what an important voice Enberg was throughout his career. He called some of the biggest events in sports over the course of his broadcasting career, which spanned nearly 60 years. Here is a list of just some of the games and tournaments he was on the microphone for in his illustrious career:

  • 10 Final Fours (with UCLA; this includes the 1968 “Game of the Century” between Houston and UCLA)
    • 6 Final Fours (with NBC)
  • 8 Super Bowls (with NBC)
  • 9 Rose Bowls (NBC)
  • 28 Wimbledons (ESPN and NBC)
  • 13 U.S. Opens (CBS)
  • The 1982 World Series (NBC)

This list likely omits several other significant assignments Enberg covered as a broadcaster. Just for some context on that list: the first Final Four Enberg called for UCLA was in 1967, and that year’s Most Outstanding Player was Lew Alcindor, who later became known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. His final NCAA Tournament game behind the microphone was in 2010 for CBS, and it featured young Kentucky stars John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins. That means Enberg stuck around long enough for college basketball to progress from playing without a shot clock to becoming a one-year pit stop for many of the country’s best 18 and 19-year-olds.

Additionally, his first Super Bowl, the fifteenth in NFL history, featured quarterbacks Jim Plunkett and Ron Jaworski. Super Bowl XXXII, the last Super Bowl Enberg worked, featured quarterbacks Brett Favre and John Elway.

There are not may broadcasters who can say they have witnessed the history Enberg did. And while he worked in a golden era of sports broadcasting (one that gave us legends such as Vin Scully, Al Michaels, Howard Cosell, Keith Jackson, and countless others), it is important to remember how good Enberg really was and just how many important events he lent his voice to over the past 50 years.

I would write more here, but it would come at the risk of repeating things that have already been written and said. So I’ll just close with Dick Enberg’s catchphrase, a two-word ditty that aptly describes his career and accomplishments:

Oh, my!

Rest in peace, Dick Enberg.




Just How Far Can the Houston Rockets Go?

Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press

The Houston Rockets have been the NBA’s hottest team through the first two months of the season and currently hold a Western Conference-leading 25-5 record. Until last night’s loss to the Lakers, one in which MVP candidate James Harden casually dropped 51 points, the team had won 14 games in a row and had also gone 15-0 with point guard Chris Paul in the starting lineup. Paul, though, left last night’s game with an adductor strain and is currently considered day-to-day.

Now that we enjoyed that little bit of fun, it’s time to return to reality and consider whether or not the Rockets can seriously stack up with the Warriors if the two meet in the playoffs.

Much of Houston’s success to this point in the season has been due to the acquisition of Paul from the Clippers this past summer. While Harden has been one of the league’s best players this season, the Rockets are a different monster with CP3 on the floor. To show you just how good Paul has been in just 16 games this season, I give you this table from the good people at Basketball-Reference that provides point differentials and field goal percentages of the Rockets’ lineup combinations to this point in the season. I have modified the table to remove the most common five-man lineups that feature Harden. The point differential, per 100 possessions, of some of these combinations may shock you:

Regular Season: 5-Man Combinations Table
Net Net Net Net
Lineup MP FG% 3P% eFG% PTS
R. Anderson | T. Ariza | E. Gordon | C. Paul | P. Tucker 17:18 -.059 -.071 -.012 +12.1
R. Anderson | T. Ariza | C. Capela | E. Gordon | C. Paul 16:43 +.208 +.292 +.279 +29.9
R. Anderson | T. Ariza | E. Gordon | N. Hilario | C. Paul 13:44 +.167 +.389 +.326 +49.8
R. Anderson | E. Gordon | N. Hilario | C. Paul | P. Tucker 13:26 -.035 +.063 +.019 +16.1
E. Gordon | N. Hilario | L. Mbah a Moute | C. Paul | P. Tucker 12:51 +.257 +.083 +.300 +59.4
Player Average 471:37 +.044 +.071 +.094 +18.1
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/21/2017.

Holy hell, Batman.

In reality, though, this shouldn’t be that much of a surprise. Paul has been a plus/minus god for the better part of ten years and is, for my money, one of the three best point guards in the game today. That makes his injury last night, the second significant one he has suffered this season, all the more concerning. While he isn’t expected to miss much time at the moment, the Rockets cannot possibly win a championship without him. After all, we’ve seen what can happen to the Rockets in the playoffs without him and it wasn’t pretty.

All that being said, this is not at all an affront to James Harden’s abilities. It is, however, a testament to the state of the NBA today that having just one of the best players in the league is not nearly enough to get a team into serious championship contention. The other problem for the Rockets last season was that Harden, without the presence of a true point guard, played the position admirably and nearly won Most Valuable Player honors. The issue was that, by the time the Rockets faced off against the Spurs in the Western Conference semifinals, Harden was asked to create his own offense and initiate most of Houston’s, as well. He barely shot over 41% in the series and the Rockets were dispatched despite the Spurs’ loss of star forward Kawhi Leonard at the end of Game 5. The Rockets don’t have that problem anymore, and while Harden can put the team on his back for periods when Paul is injured or on the bench, the team hopes that they won’t completely need him to come playoff time.

Since we seem to keep coming back to it, let’s address this next issue head-on. Can the Rockets dethrone the defending champions and beat the Warriors in a playoff series?

For starters, let’s take a slightly closer look at the performance of both teams to this point in the season. The Dubs are currently just a half-game back of Houston for the top spot in the West, and while much of the attention has gone to the Rockets’ start, the Warriors have ripped off 25 wins in their first 31 games with little to no fanfare. And you could argue that Golden State has not yet hit its stride, as superstar point guard Steph Curry will be out until the end of this calendar year with an ankle injury.

Simple Rating System, a statistic that rates teams based on point differential and strength of schedule, has the Warriors and Rockets rated just about identically, with Golden State holding the advantage by one one-hundredth of a point. If you want to be skeptical of this metric, you have my full permission; it currently has the Raptors rated as the top team in the East and made the exact same mistake a season ago. But while it may not be perfect, it does take into account most aspects of a team’s performance and gives a number correspondent to the strength of that performance. And according to SRS, the Rockets’ success has been impressive, but it still isn’t enough to put them past the Warriors as the Western Conference’s best team.

There is also no guarantee that the Rockets will keep up this pace, one that has them winning 83% of their games, for the rest of the season. While the Rockets’ offense shouldn’t be a problem as long as Paul and Harden are healthy (they currently lead the league in offensive rating), their defense could become a concern. A team coached by Mike D’Antoni for a full season has never finished in the top ten of the league in defensive rating; the lockout-shortened 2011-12 New York Knicks, a team D’Antoni resigned from with 24 games to play in the regular season, finished fifth in that category that year. The Rockets currently sit in 7th in the league in defensive rating, and while this may very well be the best team he has ever had in his coaching career, there is also reason to believe that their defensive performance could suffer as the season goes along.

I truly want to believe that the Houston Rockets could dethrone them as the best team in the NBA. I really believe that they are the second-best team in the league right now, and I don’t see that changing, barring injuries or unforeseen circumstances, before the season ends.

But I’ll believe in the Rockets as a championship contender when I see the Warriors lose a playoff series. I wouldn’t bet on it.




If I Ruled the NFL….

Don Wright/Associated Press

Two weeks ago, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell officially signed a five-year, $200 million (!) extension which will make him the league’s commissioner until, at the earliest, 2023. Despite Goodell’s profitable extension, the league has plenty of issues on its hands, between declining ratingshorrific injuries, and controversial refereeing decisions.

But let’s go to an imaginary world where Roger Goodell doesn’t exist and everything else is the same, except yours truly is the league’s new commissioner. My confidence in myself is very low on this one, but here are a few things I’d do to fix some of the NFL’s biggest problems.

Ban Thursday Night Football

Believe it or not, there are actually fewer injuries on Thursday night than there are on Sunday or Monday, but the moral of this story is that there are too many injuries in general. However, if injuries are not a good enough excuse for getting rid of Thursday Night Football, then its quality of play certainly is.

Of the 26 teams that have played on TNF this season (this excludes Thanksgiving and the first game of the season), exactly nine of them would make the playoffs if the season ended today. Last year, the league went an astounding 9-for-28 in scheduling playoff teams for Thursday night. If you’re keeping track at home, just one-third of all teams that have played on Thursday Night Football in the past two seasons have made the playoffs. If you want a little more context on that, here you go: while the league picked just 33% of its best teams to play on Thursday nights, Houston Astros star Jose Altuve got a base hit in 34.1% of his at-bats in the last two seasons. Getting hits on the best pitchers in the world shouldn’t be easier than picking good teams to play in prime-time. But keep this in mind: the league often uses Thursday Night Football as a way to get every team on prime-time television at least once; Goodell even copped to that in 2012, when the TNF schedule expanded to what it is now.

All this, of course, is to say nothing of the fact that teams cannot possibly create an adequate game plan in three days and the league’s over-saturation on television, which Thursday Night Football has heavily contributed to, is a big reason why its ratings have begun to hit the skids over the past couple of seasons.

So while there may not be more injuries on Thursday Night Football, the weekly fixture’s terrible quality of play and lackluster matchups would, in an ideal world, be enough to scrap the idea completely.

Decide What a Catch Is or Is Not

What is your definition of a catch? Unfortunately, it depends on who you ask.

For example: is this a catch? What about this? Or this? Don’t feel any pressure to answer these questions correctly, because no matter how you answer them, you will have the same understanding of an NFL referee as to what a catch actually is.

Just to show how confusing the catch rule is to some people, I put out a Twitter poll earlier today asking my followers if they thought Steelers tight end Jesse James made a legal, NFL catch at the end of yesterday’s bonkers, off-the-wall Patriots-Steelers game (a contest that drew a 17.0 rating, the highest of the NFL season to date). I was expecting at least something approaching a clear consensus, and while we’re still waiting on Alaska and Hawaii, that’s not exactly what I got:

If you show 30 people something and you ask them if what they just saw was a catch or not, it shouldn’t finish in an 18-12 vote. While I didn’t think James completed the process of the catch, the league should be as clear and concise as possible in the future with this rule. The other thing the league should do is throw out whatever precedent it has set in recent years, because this one is as bad as it gets.

Seriously Examine Other Alternatives to Painkillers

We’ve all heard stories about NFL players becoming addicted to painkillers, and according to court documents revealed in March, the league violated federal law in distributing these medications to its players. The solution to this problem is simple: stop distributing these addictive drugs and find a viable solution for them.

This includes doing serious research into alternative, non-opiate remedies that can help players heal quickly. One of them, kava, was recently the subject of an article on ESPN.com, while another, medical marijuana, has been recommended by multiple retired players as a better alternative to pain pills. The NFL should probably listen to these people because they very well may be on to something.

Get Rid of Grass Fields

If you play in one of these 19 NFL stadiums, your risk of injury on any particular day may depend on the weather and be significantly higher than it would be otherwise (NOTE: the team that plays its home games in each stadium is in parentheses):

  1. Arrowhead Stadium (Chiefs)
  2. Bank of America Stadium (Panthers)
  3. EverBank Field (Jaguars)
  4. FedEx Field (Redskins)
  5. FirstEnergy Stadium (Browns)
  6. Hard Rock Stadium (Dolphins)
  7. Heinz Field (Steelers)
  8. Lambeau Field (Packers)
  9. Levi’s Stadium (49ers)
  10. Lincoln Financial Field (Eagles)
  11. Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum (Rams)
  12. M&T Bank Stadium (Ravens)
  13. Nissan Stadium (Titans)
  14. Oakland-Alameda County Stadium (Raiders)
  15. Raymond James Stadium (Buccaneers)
  16. Soldier Field (Bears)
  17. Sports Authority Field at Mile High (Broncos)
  18. StubHub Center (Chargers)
  19. University of Phoenix Stadium (Cardinals)

And about that thing I mentioned regarding the temperature of the field:

A 2016 study published in the Orthopedic Journal of Sports Medicine found that the incidence rate of concussions and ankle injuries on grass surfaces was nearly two times as likely in games with an outdoor temperature of 50°F or cooler than if the game was played on a natural grass surface at 70°F or warmer. Translated: if you’re playing in one of those 19 stadiums and the temperature is below 50°, you’re in serious trouble.

That same study found that at any given time, an NFL player is 1.36 times more likely to suffer a shoulder injury on natural grass than he would have been on artificial turf. Of course, many athletes object to playing on a synthetic turf because of fears about the long-term health of their knees (take, for example, FIFA’s much-maligned decision to play the 2015 Women’s World Cup on artificial turf). That being said, football does not require as much running as soccer and another one of the main concerns with the latter (turf burns) does not often apply to football.

Starting in December, your choice as an NFL player is simple: play on a surface where you may have slightly more risk of a knee injury or play on a grass surface, upon which you definitely have more risk for a shoulder, ankle, or head injury. I would go with the former.

Guarantee Players’ Contracts and Don’t Pay the Commissioner $40 Million 

This one is self-explanatory.

Matthew Stafford is the NFL’s highest-paid player, and he makes $27 million per year. However, even though he signed a contract for five years and $135 million, only 68% of the contract ($92 million) is guaranteed. Therefore, Stafford will be making, with the league’s richest contract, around $18.4 million of guaranteed money per year. Is your humble new commissioner more than twice as valuable as the league’s best quarterback? Somehow, I doubt that. It’s time for the NFL to adopt guaranteed, no-cut contracts. It’s not like the league is about to reach $14 billion in yearly revenue, or anything.


Of course, I could likely never be an NFL commissioner and I obviously respect the work that all sports commissioners do on a regular basis. But the NFL has serious problems that need serious solutions. And if Roger Goodell is looking for a successor after this deal is up, I have ready-made fixes for issues he likely won’t tackle anytime soon.




The Phenomenal, Forsaken Heisman Defense of Lamar Jackson

Alton Strupp/The Courier-Journal

What if I told you the sequel could be even better than the original?

There is a college football player who has been his team’s starting quarterback for the past three seasons. His past two years, though, have been some of the best in the sport.

Here are his numbers from 2016 and 2017, respectively. Before I show you this table, I am obligated to tell you that the player started all 13 games for his team last season and has only gotten to play in 11 games this year.

YEAR COMP% PASS YARDS TD INT RUSH YARDS RUSH TD
2016 56.2 3,543 30 9 1,571 21
2017 59.8 3,273 23 6 1,287 17

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that those numbers are ridiculous. It also doesn’t take a genius to figure out that, in many respects, this individual is having a better season this year as opposed to his 2016 campaign.

And, unless you don’t believe in reading headlines because they contain spoilers, you’ve already figured out that the player I’m talking about is 2016 Heisman Trophy winner and Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson. And again, he very well may be having a better season this year than last year. Oh, snap!

Jackson won the Heisman Trophy a season ago due to a profound lack of other award-worthy options. The alternatives to Jackson last season were Clemson quarterback DeShaun Watson (15 interceptions), Michigan defensive back Jabrill Peppers (no legitimately great stats), Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield, who put up exorbitant numbers in a conference that, as a general rule, does not play defense, and Oklahoma wide receiver Dede Westbrook, who had a great season that largely piggybacked on his quarterback’s success. Jackson faded down the stretch a season ago, as he barely averaged over 200 yards passing in the final five games of the year (Louisville lost its final three contests last season). Despite Jackson’s rough November and December, he was still able to bring home the hardware, and his Heisman victory was particularly impressive when you consider that he led the race from week three on.

This year, Jackson is having a better statistical year but has not received the same amount of attention or respect. Why is this? The answer is twofold.

First, Jackson was already fighting an uphill battle as a defending Heisman winner. Out of the 82 Heisman Trophy winners since 1935 (and yes, that includes Reggie Bush), only 26 were underclassmen when they won the award. Furthermore, just 13 of these players returned to college to defend their title, with some of the most recent examples being Johnny Manziel, Jameis Winston, and Tim Tebow. Only one returnee, Ohio State running back Archie Griffin, won the award in back-to-back seasons (1974-1975). Jackson would have done well to simply make it back to New York as a finalist for this year’s Heisman. but the numbers he’s put up this year should put him back in the conversation for the award in most circumstances. This, though, is not a regular situation.

The other, major negative for Jackson’s 2017 Heisman candidacy is the lack of success his team has had in spite of his absolute brilliance. While you may think that a great player would be able to overcome his team’s ineptitude and win a major award like this, that is not necessarily the case. Louisville currently finds itself at 7-4 with their annual rivalry game against Kentucky to close out the season tomorrow. The last Heisman winner to take home the hardware on a four-loss team was Oklahoma fullback Steve Owens in 1969. In those 48 years, college football has evolved so much that many offenses have simply gotten rid of the fullback. And let’s say that, hypothetically, Kentucky defeats the Cardinals tomorrow, as they did last year (you probably forgot about that because you were too busy watching this at the exact same time). If you want to find a Heisman winner on a five-loss team, you would have to go all the way back to 1956, where you will find Notre Dame and Packers legend Paul Hornung, who starred on the 2-8 Fighting Irish that season. The Heisman Trophy is, rightly or wrongly, one of the most team-centric awards in sports. While that may not be fair, this precedent is not on the side of a Jackson repeat.

This, of course, is not to say that the Louisville junior should take home the hardware. Baker Mayfield has thrown for 543 more yards this year on 49 fewer pass attempts and should be the clear favorite for the award, in spite of his profanity and, well, Michael Jackson-esque gesture toward the Kansas sideline last week. But if Heisman voters view Mayfield’s actions as a disqualification for giving him the award, Jackson should be next in line to win. That’s how good he has been this season.

This is also not the first time a Heisman Trophy winner has come back to have a better year the season after. Johnny Manziel put up better numbers in 2013 than he did in 2012 only to finish fifth in the Heisman voting that season. Manziel had the best overall numbers of the four quarterbacks (Jameis Winston, A.J. McCarron, Jordan Lynch) but his Texas A&M Aggies finished just 8-4 that season. If there is a precedent for the season Jackson is having after being college football’s best player a season ago, it belongs to Johnny Football, and it’s a bad sign for the Louisville star’s candidacy.

Lamar Jackson, barring unforeseen circumstances, will be heading to New York for the Heisman Trophy presentation. He won’t get the award, but you should appreciate him just for completing the long road back from last year’s victory.

Many others have failed in their defense of the Heisman Trophy. Lamar Jackson has been a smashing success.


The 2017 MLB Awards

Bob Levey/Getty Images

The baseball season is over, but the intrigue is not.

Every year, the Baseball Writers Association of America votes on Major League Baseball’s Most Valuable Player, Cy Young, Rookie of the Year, and Manager of the Year awards. Every voter has a different methods for choosing his or her winners; some voters are more sabermetrically inclined, others are very old-school, and others vote in a more random fashion; if you don’t believe me, the same people vote on Hall of Fame enshrinement and three of them don’t think Ken Griffey, Jr. deserves to be in Cooperstown. Yeah, I don’t know, either.

Anyway, about those methods: I’m trying a new one this year. I’ve gone back and forth over the past few years on the value of sabermetrics, but I’ve recently decided that they are essential to understanding why certain players and teams are successful and why others aren’t. That relates to this discussion because I’ll mainly be using a sabermetric, analytically-inclined system to determine who I would give baseball’s major awards to this year (except for Manager of the Year) instead of picking the winners randomly, which is what I had always done in the past.

I actually rolled out some of the winners near the end of September to great Twitter fanfare; things went so well that the proceedings ended with me commencing quite possibly the largest Easter Egg hunt in my young Twitter existence. Anyway, I’ve even tinkered with my system since then, and I have finally come to what I feel like is a fair and understandable structure for handicapping the awards. And these adjustments have changed some of the victors since that time, even though many players’ statistics did not.

Here’s how this will work: there will be nine metrics used to measure player performance. If the player ranks first in his league in batting average, for example, he gets one point. The player’s rank in each of the categories is added up and divided by the number of statistics used (nine). The player who comes out with the lowest number after that process wins the award. These are the statistics I used for position players and pitchers:

Position Players

Pitchers

For pitchers in the MVP discussion, I only used WAR and WPA for their final results and divided that number by two. And if a position player did not play enough innings at one position (e.g. the Indians’ Jose Ramirez), then DRS was removed from his final total and that individual’s DRS would not be considered. The same was true for the Mariners’ Nelson Cruz, the only full-time designated hitter considered for the American League MVP. Finally, if a closer was included in Cy Young consideration, his rank in all categories except for RA9-WAR and WPA would be among closers. In the two aforementioned figures, he would be ranked along with all other qualified pitchers in his league. The point in doing this was to tilt the playing field ever so slightly toward starting pitchers, as they throw at least 100 innings more than their ninth-inning counterparts, while still leaving the opportunity for a dominant closer to take home the hardware. Basically, this provision would leave the door open for a Zach Britton-esque season to still receive the recognition it deserves.

If this explanation is insufficient, the charts I used to calculate the MVP and Cy Young for both leagues can be found here and here (WARNING: Both links contain spoilers). While I’ve tried to explain this as best I can, I am, like many of you, a visual learner, and seeing the calculations that went into this process may help you better understand what I’m doing and why I’m doing it.

One last thing: I’m going to list several honorable mentions with the award winners. They are listed in the order they finished in my calculations.

So, hopefully, that explanation suffices. Here now are my 2017 MLB Award Winners. If you’re on the internet, please don’t judge me.


National League MVP

Winner: Joey Votto, 1B/Cincinnati Reds

Stats

AVG OBP SLG OPS RE24 wRC+ DRS (1B) WAR WPA
.320  .454  .578  1.032  69.12  165  11  6.6  4.96 

Put simply, Joey Votto is the best hitter in baseball.

He has been for some time, actually, but this year he solidified that label even further.  In 2017, Votto’s statistics were at or near career highs in home runs, runs scored, on-base percentage (.454 is the highest mark in the league in two years), batting average, wins above replacement, slugging percentage, and OPS. There is no other hitter in the game that compares to Votto. The Reds star first baseman finished first in the league in on-base percentage, OPS, RE24, wRC+, and Defensive Runs Saved. And in every other category, Votto finished no lower than sixth, which is where he finished in slugging percentage, behind  Giancarlo Stanton, Charlie Blackmon, Cody Bellinger, Freddie Freeman, and Nolan Arenado.

But there is no hitter as consistently good and diversely talented as Votto. And before you come in with the argument that the MVP has to come from a winning team, remember that the Cincinnati Reds won 68 games with Votto in the lineup every day. No, seriously. Every. Day. Don’t blame the best player on the team for his organization’s incompetence.

And we should really appreciate Votto’s greatness while we still can. The superstar turned 34 last month and history has shown us that most hitters rapidly decline around their 35th birthday. If this was Joey Votto’s last season among baseball’s elite, he’ll go down as one of the greatest hitters of all-time. If you don’t believe me, the proof is in the pudding.

This may seem like a far-fetched analogy, but think of Joey Votto like Slash. You already know that he’s great at his craft, but then you hear that song, and that solo, and come to think of it, you realize that he’s one of the all-time greats. Joey Votto transcends any particular award or single season, and he’s undoubtedly the best player in the National League right now.

Honorable Mentions: Charlie Blackmon, Giancarlo Stanton, Max Scherzer, Nolan Arenado, Justin Turner, Paul Goldschmidt, Anthony Rendon, Kris Bryant

American League MVP

Winner: Mike Trout, CF/Los Angeles Angels

Stats

AVG OBP SLG OPS RE24 wRC+ DRS (CF) WAR WPA
.306  .442  .629  1.071  55.95  181  -6  6.9  5.58 

Let me ask you a question: if you knew someone was clearly the best player in the game for several years running and he just had possibly the best year of his career, why would you deny him his just due?

Mike Trout just posted career highs in OPS, OBP, slugging percentage, and OPS, to say nothing of the fact that he set a career low for strikeout percentage over a full season. And did I mention that he played just 114 games this year after suffering a UCL tear in his thumb at the end of May and cleared the threshold for stat qualification by just four plate appearances?

This was no bother for the best player in the league. While many were distracted by the exploits of Aaron Judge and Jose Altuve this year (don’t get me wrong, they were fantastic), Trout led the American League in RE24 and he led the entire league in Win Probability Added. The best part about this is both of those measures are cumulative statistics that are very dependent on how many plate appearances a hitter gets in a season. Trout, with over 150 fewer plate appearances less than Judge and Altuve, matched or, in many ways, exceeded their value.

A counterargument for Trout’s MVP case would be that the Angels went 19-20 during his midseason absence and, despite his post-All-Star break return, finished the season at 80-82. That may seem fair, but other players actually stepped up when Trout was sidelined, and those pieces did not perform quite as well after the All-Star break. Also, Trout’s only support in the Angels’ lineup, aside from August acquisition Justin Upton, was Andrelton Simmons and the living, breathing, worst player in baseball. Denying Trout the award this year would be like refusing to give the country’s best nurse Doctor of the Year because she didn’t get the chance to save someone’s life.

You have no idea where the Halos would be without him. Just thinking about it frightens me.

Honorable Mentions: Corey Kluber, Jose Altuve, Chris Sale, Aaron Judge, Nelson Cruz, Justin Upton, Jose Ramirez, George Springer

National League Cy Young

Winner: Max Scherzer, SP/Washington Nationals

Stats

ERA WHIP K/9 FIP SIERA RE24 K/BB RA9-WAR WPA
2.51  0.91  12.02  2.90  2.98  41.82  4.87  7.1  4.14 

Unlike the American League (more on them shortly), the National League’s Cy Young race was fairly clear-cut for most of the season.

The award came down to the Nationals’ Max Scherzer and the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw, with Los Angeles closer Kenley Jansen trying to kick down the door to no avail in the latter stages of the year. Scherzer has the modest advantage here, though, after finishing no lower than third in any of the nine statistics used to measure a pitcher’s effectiveness in this exercise. That consistency catapulted him over Kershaw for the award, as the Dodgers’ lefty was a full point behind Scherzer on average.

In my Utopian baseball universe, this would be Scherzer’s third career Cy Young Award, which would make him just the tenth pitcher to achieve that milestone. The other nine pitchers to accomplish this feat either are, should be, or will be in the Hall of Fame. It’s hard to deny Scherzer the hardware this time around considering that he just had the best year of a remarkable and legendary career.

We are blessed with great pitching in baseball nowadays. We should make sure Max Scherzer doesn’t slip through the cracks, and that starts with giving him the 2017 National League Cy Young Award.

Honorable Mentions: Clayton Kershaw, Kenley Jansen, Stephen Strasburg, Zack Grienke

American League Cy Young

Winner: Corey Kluber, SP/Cleveland Indians

Stats

ERA WHIP K/9 FIP SIERA RE24 K/BB RA9-WAR WPA
2.25  0.87  11.71  2.50  2.68  48.32  7.36  8.5  4.26 

Corey Kluber trailed Red Sox pitcher Chris Sale in this race for most of the season. He began to pull ahead of the Sox ace, however, with a second half in which he gave up three or more earned runs in just three of his fifteen starts.

Kluber and Sale ranked first or second in the American League in every statistical measure used here except WPA, where Sale finished fourth. Kluber gained the slight edge, though, by finishing first in ERA, WHIP, and strikeout-to-walk ratio, as well as RA9-WAR, where he held a 1.2-win advantage over Sale. It is crazy to consider that the first pitcher to finish a season with 300 strikeouts since 2002 would finish a clear second in the Cy Young race, but here we are.

And after one of the best seasons by two different pitchers in the same league, Corey Kluber comes out on top, playoff performance notwithstanding. His staggering second half is enough to get him my vote for AL Cy Young.

Honorable Mentions: Chris Sale, Craig Kimbrel, Carlos Carrasco, Luis Severino, Justin Verlander

National League Rookie of the Year

Winner: Cody Bellinger, OF/Los Angeles Dodgers

Cody Bellinger

Stats

AVG OBP SLG OPS RE24 wRC+ DRS (1B) WAR WPA
.267 .352 .581 .933 35.97 138 2 4.0 4.30

I’m not here to reinvent the wheel.

Bellinger broke the National League rookie record for home runs in a season (39) and was clearly the best rookie on the National League side. There was no one else even approaching Bellinger’s value this season, and he clearly had the National League’s best freshman effort, even if some of his broken records are less auspicious than others.

Honorable Mentions: Paul DeJong, Austin Barnes, Rhys Hoskins

American League Rookie of the Year

Winner: Aaron Judge, RF/New York Yankees

Stats

AVG OBP SLG OPS RE24 wRC+ DRS (RF) WAR WPA
.284  .422  .627  1.049  54.83  172  8.2  2.38 

Again, I’m not here to insult your intelligence.

Aaron Judge is a contender for the American League MVP, let alone Rookie of the Year. He broke the league’s rookie home run and walk records, and despite his league-leading 208 strikeouts, there isn’t another rookie in the American League who approaches Judge’s value. This is proven, too: Judge led the league in Wins Above Replacement (8.2) this season.

All rise.

Honorable Mentions: Matt Chapman, Andrew Benintendi, Mitch Haniger

National League Manager of the Year

Winner: Torey Lovullo, Arizona Diamondbacks

In his first season as manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks, Torey Lovullo quite literally engineered a 180° turnaround in the desert.

Last season, the D-Backs were 69-93 and finished just one game ahead of the San Diego Padres, the worst team in the National League. Arizona’s fan base had one of the best players in the game and absolutely nothing else to cheer for. Worst of all, the team traded future All-Star Ender Inciarte and top prospect Dansby Swanson the season before for Shelby Miller; you don’t need me to tell you how that went.

Fast forward a year later, though, and the Diamondbacks were one of the best teams in the league. Despite an abrupt playoff exit at the hands of the Dodgers, Arizona won 93 games and Lovullo’s arrival is no small reason why. While most of the Diamondbacks’ resurgence centered around improved performances from pitchers Zack Greinke and Robbie Ray, in addition to the presence of A.J. Pollock in center field and the midseason acquisition of Tigers outfielder J.D. Martinez, Lovullo deserves credit for his leadership in guiding the Diamondbacks to their first playoff appearance since 2011.

Honorable Mentions: Craig Counsell, Dave Roberts, Bud Black

American League Manager of the Year

Winner: Paul Molitor, Minnesota Twins

Last year, the Minnesota Twins were baseball’s worst team at 59-103 and did not appear to have any hope of being a contender this season. Enter Paul Molitor.

Molitor has managed the Twins since 2015 and has had the team in contention in two of his three seasons at the helm; this year, though, marked his first playoff appearance. How the Twins got there, however, is what makes the job Molitor did all the more impressive.

At the trade deadline, the Twins found themselves at 50-53 and five games back of the second wild card spot. Thinking that the team’s chances of reaching the playoffs were fading with two months to play, GM Thad Levine shipped closer Brandon Kintzler to the Nationals and sent Jaime Garcia, after one start and three days with the Twins organization, to the Yankees. Many, including myself, counted Minnesota out of the race.

Instead, the team finished the year 35-24 and reached the playoffs for the first time since 2010. To add to that, they gave the Yankees, a team that was later one win away from the World Series, an honest-to-goodness fight in the AL Wild Card game. The emergence of young stars such as Miguel Sano, Eddie Rosario, and Byron Buxton is a great sign for Minnesota, and hopefully they can keep Molitor on the top step of the dugout for the foreseeable future. It’s worked out well so far.

Honorable Mentions: Joe Girardi, A.J. Hinch, Kevin Cash


How did I do? Let me know in the comments section or debate me on Twitter, but please be ready to back up your arguments.