Kyle Hendricks: Revenge of the Nerds

Kyle Hendricks: Revenge of the Nerds

This whole season I have been in awe of what Kyle Hendricks has done, and he has definitely become my favorite player to watch.  We are conditioned as Americans to root for the less athletic player, the underdog, the Rocky Balboa.  In a league full of fireballers, it has stunned me how effective Hendricks has been.  He's a nerd, a Peyton Manning type.  A student of the game.  I read the book Moneyball several times, and the way Michael Lewis describes Scott Hatteberg is quite similar to how reporters describe Hendricks.  Always watching film, always trying to get an edge on his opponent.  This work ethic is what made him the Cubs Minor League Pitcher of the Year last season.  Plus, there's more advanced scouting and video in the Majors for Hendricks to drool over, giving him even more of an edge. 

An article written by a Sabermetric group a couple years ago asked the question: "Can you really pitch to soft contact?"  It's a hard question to answer, and since around 1970 most pitchers ERA has been higher than their FIP's.  Not Hendricks though, he's posted a 1.66 ERA while his FIP sits at 3.54.  Now this isn't good news if you are expecting Kyle Hendricks to be an ace.  News Flash: He's not an ace.  Duh.  But it is fantastic news for the back end of our rotation.  FIP is pretty much what a pitchers ERA would be if not for luck.  And a good indicator of luck is BABIP.  Hendricks's BABIP is .232, way below league average.  Is it luck, or is it skill?  I'm here to argue that it's a little of both.

I believe that Hendricks BABIP will almost always be below league average because he gets soft contact a lot more than other pitchers.  Now, will it always be .60-.70 below league average? No way.  But the way he pitches to opponents weaknesses and says "go ahead and beat me with your worst" reminds a lot of people of Maddux.  

I know, I know.  Enough with the Maddux comparisons.  But I just have one more for you.

The reason people compare Greg Maddux to Kyle Hendricks really isn't because of their "stuff" but rather their cerebral approach to pitching.  Maddux career BABIP is .281, which is around .19 below league average.  His career FIP was 3.26 and his career ERA was 3.16.  Like I've said before, since 1970 most starting pitchers ERA's are higher than their FIP's. 

But starting pitchers in the 2000's who have ERA's that are lower than their FIP's have two stats in common:  High Left On Base% and low BABIP. 

Maddux Career LOB%: 72.3%

Maddux Career BABIP:  .281

If a pitchers ERA is lower than his FIP it is considered he had some good luck here and there, but I think there is a reason certain pitchers have better BABIP.  It's because they pitch to opponents weaknesses, they don't allow solid contact, or at least try and shy away from it.  They don't need to ring up the K's, but just get 21 outs and hand the ball to their bullpen.

Kyle Hendricks has been quite "lucky" you could say.  But I think it's a lot more than luck.  Another great cerebral pitcher, Maddux, posted the same sort of numbers which helped create a lower ERA than FIP.  Hendricks has posted those same sort of indicating numbers.

Hendricks LOB: 87.1%

Hendricks BABIP:  .232

A couple other stats that I found had a lot of correlation but weren't as much of a reliable tell:

Maddux GB%: 51%

Hendricks GB%: 50%

Maddux FB%: 27.5%

Hendricks FB%: 30.3%

I really like these stats because its known around the league that when the ball is hit on the ground players OBP is .232 and their wOBA is .213.  Keeping the ball on the ground is a very good thing for a pitcher.

Kyle Hendricks has nerded his fastball/change and below average curveball in and out of lineups.  He has had Lady Luck on his side, but let's be honest, if FIP is a good indication of a pitchers true ERA, who's going to complain about the back end of our rotation with a 3.54 ERA.  And as history and the numbers have shown us, if Hendricks stays in the classroom, his ERA should always be a little bit lower than his FIP.  Nerd out Hendricks, nerd out.

Starlin Castro and a Little Wisdom

Ever since the intriguing July 4th trade in which the Cubs predictably traded short term proven value for long term potential value, there has been speculation about who/what/how/when the Cubs would get their paws (pun intended) on good pitching. 

Although it wasn't 100%, the majority of Cubs fans, bloggers, and ESPN analysts have hinted or flat out stated that the Cubs should use Starlin Castro for trade value, specifically with teams like the Mets.

Why?

The theory is: Trade Starlin Castro for a Mets big arm like Noah Syndergaard and maybe another arm, then call up Addison Russell...and boom championship. (Well maybe I exaggerated the last part) but it sounds great...in theory.

These people are forgetting a great piece of wisdom: One in the hand is worth two in the bush.

These people are stuck in 2013, a season where EVERYONE Sveumed...I mean struggled.  Starlin has broken through that barrier and made the necassary adjustments.  He looks more confident at the plate, comfortable in the field, and it looks like he is just having more fun.  But enough of me softly rambling on about things that can't be measured.  Let's look at his numbers this year:

Starlin Castro has posted a 109 wRC+ with a .333 wOBA.  He's had a tad bit of luck (or he's hitting the ball a lot harder) with a .329 BABIP.  He's even shown a lot more power, pinning up a solid .142 ISO.  His whole season has been capped off by this month of August where Starlin has dominated every team he faces.

In August Starlin has a wRC+ of 156, a .400 wOBA, a .413 OBP, and a 14 game hitting streak that ended yesterday but was followed today by a go ahead HR in the 9th.  I can metaphorically see him rounding second base in his homerun of a career (where the homerun is his peak).  And yes his awkward ice skating sort of run. 

Also, Starlin's plate discipline and selective aggressiveness has greatly improved, I can't explain it as well as MRubio52 did at the Cubs Den: http://www.chicagonow.com/cubs-den/2014/08/castro-rizzo-adjustment/ but trust me, it's gotten better.

Still though, it's Noah Syndergaard and Addison Russell.

Don't you think there's a reason that Theo Epstein hasn't drafted a pitcher with the Cubs first pick?  It's because young arms are unpredictable in performance and exclusively durability.  I was going to give you a list of young top prospects who needed Tommy Johns this year, but the Google search shocked me with the variety of names, you as the reader should experience it yourself.  Just google: Top Prospect Tommy Johns Surgery.  It's scary.  Syndergaard already been on the DL this year with an elbow strain.

I don't want to rip the kid though, he's been fantastic.  Posting a 3.88 FIP, while getting 8.25 K/9.

How about Addison Russell?  He's been dominating Daytona.

Cubs (AA) 2010

121 PA

164 wRC+

.432 wOBA

.367/.413/.560

Look at those numbers...this guy doesn't belong in this league...Oh wait, he's not.  Those numbers are Starlin Castro's before his call up to the bigs.

Here are Addison Russell's:

Cubs (AA) 2014

148 PA

144 wRC+

.392 wOBA

.299/.351/.518

 

The point is this: Addison Russell isn't going to step onto the major league field and be Starlin Castro, or even better than Starlin Castro.  Addison Russell hasn't even put up better numbers than Starlin did at AA. 

My case is already closed but I want to add one little thing for your brain to chew on.  Why did the Cubs sign Manny Ramirez to a minor league deal? 

Starlin Castro has been an all star, and has also been benched for lack of concentration.  He was the next big thing, to the next big "What Happened?".  If there isn't any value in having a guy who can talk to the mob of minor league talent coming up to a brand new world then why do we give players a C on their chest? 

Starlin Castro has so much value moving foreward as the Cubs SS or 3B or wherever he ends up.

Oh and he's signed to a team friendly contract through 2019.

One in the hand is worth two in the bush.

 

Cubs vs. Mets Series Preview

Chicago Cubs vs. New York Mets Series Preview

Game 1: Travis Wood LHP (7-9 4.86 ERA) vs. Zack Wheeler RHP (7-8 3.53 ERA)

Zack Wheeler has been very impressive lately going 2-0 with a 2.79 ERA over his last three starts.  This is a bad matchup for Chicago, because like Fiers, Wheeler is a high strikeout guy and nobody on the Chicago roster has faced him.

Travis Wood has not lived up to expectations this year, especially on the road (4-6 6.11 ERA).  Players with over 10 AB's against Wood are hitting a combined .214.  While Lucas Duda and Juan Lagares have both homered off of Travis Wood.

Prediction: 6-3 Mets

Game 2: Dan Straily RHP (1-2 4.93 ERA) vs. Jon Niese LHP (6-8 3.46 ERA)

Jon Niese is coming off his best start vs. the Phillies going 7 innings and only allowing 2 ER.  Niese has also pitched very well at home posting a 2.89 ERA. 

Dan Straily is making his first start for the Chicago Cubs and has never faced a Mets batter.  Since joining Iowa Straily is 3-3 with a 3.0 ERA.  Straily was aquired in the Samardzija, Hammel deal. 

Castro has had great success against Niese going 5-16 with 1 HR and 5 RBI.  I would also like to see Junior Lake get the start in left field because Coghlan and Ruggiano are a combined 4-24 vs Niese and Lake is much better against lefties. 

Prediction: 4-3 Cubs

Game 3: Jake Arrieta RHP (6-4 2.77 ERA) vs. Rafael Montero RHP (0-3 6.17 ERA)

This game will be a good test for Arrieta going on the road for the first time since his 9 ER game in Colorado.  Arrieta will miss Wrigley very much though, leaving it with a 1.94 ERA. 

Rafael Montero has had a rough go of it so far this year.  I don't expect very much to change seeing he is prone to give up the longball (8 homers in 5 starts). 

I believe this is a good matchup for the Cubs.  Arrieta, a high strikeout pitcher, is facing a Mets lineup that ranks 6th in the league in strikeouts.  The one big hurdle for Arrieta will be trying to get Curtis Granderson out.  Granderson is batting .409 with 3 HR in 22 AB's against Arrieta.

Prediction: 5-2 Cubs

Game 4: Kyle Hendricks RHP (4-1 1.73 ERA) vs. Bartolo Colon RHP (11-10 3.85 ERA)

I'm not going to over think this one, Hendricks already does enough of that.  Hendricks has smarted his 89 MPH fastball and 76 MPH changeup through lineup after lineup and I don't expect much of that to change, especially seeing nobody on the Mets has faced Kyle.

Bartolo Colon is coming off one of his better starts allowing just two runs on 89 pitches (7 IP) against the Nationals.  He also has a 1.09 WHIP at home. 

None of these batters are very familiar with the opposing pitchers so it's hard to take a good guess at this one but I really don't want to bet against Maddux...I mean Henricks.

Prediction: 4-2 Cubs 

Will Tiger Reach 19 Majors?

There are many cliché's in sports that hold true.  And there are many that don't.  But my favorite sports cliché that I do believe in is the "be the first one there and the last one to leave."  It holds true in all sports, and it's what makes the good be great and the great become legends.  And that's why Tiger Woods won't break Jack Nicklaus's record of 18 majors. 

Before I get into the mental reasons that Tiger won't win, let's look at what Tiger has left to accomplish for the record.  Phil Mickelson is one of the most successful golfers during the Tiger era, one of Tigers biggest rivals.  And he's won 5 majors.  That means Tiger Woods has to have the career of Phil Mickelson starting at age 38.  That's a tall order to take, and I just don't think it's going to happen. 

I saw the "first one in, last one out" cliché happen just two years ago in the NBA.  Kobe Bryant lost a basketball game to the Miami Heat, and he was so disgusted with the way he played that he made the rest of his team wait as he put up jumpers for hours after the game.  Tiger doesn't have that.  Tiger is no longer passionate about his job as a golfer, and there's nothing wrong with that, but that's why he won't break Jack's record. 

Michael Jordan would have made it in the MLB if it weren't for the MLB lockout.  Why?  I can tell you it wasn't because he was the best athlete on the field.  It was because MJ would take two hours of batting practice before each game, play the game, and then he would take two more hours of batting practice. He was the first one there, and the last one to leave.

Tiger used to have this drive.  I remember as a kid, I would see him on T.V. putting when it was almost pitch black.  I remember stories where he would shoot a nice 68 and he was so frustrated with his play he would hit golf balls until the camera's couldn't see him anymore.  Now Tiger shoot's a 68 and he is content.  He'll tell the media about how he missed a few putts here and there.  The Tiger I grew up watching would have been on the putting green fixing that problem by rolling one ball after another. 

People talk about the "Sunday Magic" that Tiger just doesn't seem to have anymore.  Guess what?  Tiger Magic isn't real.  Oh you mean the best putter of all time made putt after putt in the clutch?  That's like athlete's thanking God for where they are in life.  Maybe athletes are given to tools to become great, but they were the ones working their asses off day in and day out to become as great.  Do you want to know where the "Tiger Magic" came from?

The "Tiger Magic" came from Tiger Woods working himself harder than anyone else.  "Tiger Magic" came from the swing work he put in during the offseason, the waking up in the early morning and getting his run in, and playing 36 holes a day.  Don't tell me that Tiger had this magic that no other golfer had.  No, Tiger had the work ethic that no other golfer had.  Tiger Woods won the U.S Open on a ruptured ACL and a broken leg.  That's not magic.  That's Tiger Woods working harder than everyone else in the world. 

But since the scandal, something has changed in Tiger Woods.  He is no longer obsessed with being the greatest.  I honestly can't remember the last time that Tiger went to a putting green after a tough round.  In an interview with ESPN, he was asked what were to happen if he didn't break Jack's record, and Tiger replied "Well, it's been a fun ride."  That's not the Tiger Woods that once said "I don't want to be the best black golfer.  I want to be the best golfer.  Period."  Or "The Grand Slam is easily within reach, it can be done, I've proved it can be done."

When asked what he did in the offseason, Tiger said "didn't do much" because he needed a break.  This is coming off of a season where he didn't win a major.  AGAIN.  That's not the "first in, last out" cliché mentality that won him 14 majors.  It just isn't.  Right now Tiger is just another golfer, and if he gets hot at the right time, sure he can win majors, but not 5 in 10 years.  Tiger is just not the dedicated player that he used to be.  Right now he looks like Rocky Balboa in the beginning of Rocky III.  He's content, with no drive to become better, but more of a "happy go lucky" guy.  Maybe it's because he's trying to change his image, maybe he's realized there's more to life than hitting a white golf ball into a hole 18 times in the least amount of club swings.  Who knows.

The only reason there is no "Tiger Magic" anymore is because Tiger just doesn't have the drive to create it.

But you'll still find me pulling for Tiger harder than anyone else, living and dying by each stroke.  But man would it be nice for Clubber Lang to come around and knock Tiger down far enough to the point where he is back to the "first one on the putting green, last one off the driving range" mentality.  But until then we are just watching another talented golfer with the same chance as everyone else.  And that isn't going to get you a "Big Lefty" career starting at age 38.

"First one on the course, last one off the course."

Ted Thompson Needs to Dip Into Free Agency

This needs to be the year that Ted Thompson dips into the free agent market.  He doesn't need to go nuts, and he doesn't need to fill every position that way, but right now the Packers are primed on the offensive side of the ball, all they need is a little help on the defensive end and they could be one of the favorites coming out of the NFC next year. And with an estimated 26 million dollars in cap space, they could make it happen.   

As I said earlier, the Packers are absolutely scary on offense.  The few years before 2013 the Packers were one dimensional, but barring an absolutely disastrous sophomore slump, Eddie Lacy has become the man that they can hand the ball off to when they need a few yards, or need to establish a running game.  They have one of the better wide receiver cores in the league with Cobb coming back off injury and an emerging Boykin.  And they have arguably the best quarterback in the league, I don't even have to name him.  As much as Packer fans want to criticize the offensive line, they shouldn't.  The Packers offensive line was devastated with injury, and players like Barclay and Sherrod were moving to all different positions.  The only open hole is TE, and the Packers are probably not looking to re-sign Finley.  While the offensive side of the ball has very few holes, the defensive side of the ball looks like Swiss cheese. 

Packers defensive free agents include: B.J Raji, Robert Francois, Ryan Pickett, M.D Jennings, Johnny Jolly, Jamari Lattimore, Mike Neal, Sam Shields, and C.J Wilson.

My main priority to sign from that list would be Sam Shields.  Although he finds himself in bad positions sometimes, his speed, and surprisingly good hands make him a corner the Packers should keep around.  And while I understand the Packers are going to sign most of those players back because of the Ted Thompson way, I really hope they say goodbye to B.J Raji and M.D Jennings.  B.J Raji's numbers are laughable.  He didn't record a single sack this year and only recorded 12, ranking him 53rd in the league at his position.  Haha, like I said it's laughable. 

I also would get rid of M.D Jennings, he was one of the worst safety's in the league, in fact, according to bleacher report, he was the 67th best.  Defense is where the Packers need to look first, and I think that safety is the first problem to address. 

This year free agency is absolutely filled with talent at the safety position, but most likely the Packers will miss out because Ted Thompson would rather draft and develop a player like Calvin Pryor than go and get an established player like Donte Whitner. 

Ted Thompson should really look at the crop of talent before his eyes this offseason.  While Jarius Byrd, and T.J Ward are very unrealistic because of the contracts they'll be looking for, I really like the idea of the Packers spending a little extra money on Donte Whitner.  This would be more than a pickup, this would be a signing that would take away a safety from their NFC West Rival.  This would be a deal I would love to see get done.

Now this year the DE/DT position isn't loaded with talent in free agency, and I would rather have Ted Thompson use their first round pick on Nix III out of Notre Dame or RaShede Haegman out of Minnesota. 

Ted Thompson isn't going to be able to fill both of their biggest holes in the defensive through the draft, as much as he wants too.  We can't even be sure that Calvin Pryor from Louisville is going to fall far enough in the draft for the Packers to snag him.  So instead of trying to develop a safety from the second round, Ted Thompson should go out and grab Donte Whitner from free agency and try to replace holes on the D-Line and TE through the draft. 

While drafting and developing has been the slogan for the Packers, you just can't win Superbowls that way.  And don't try to tell me that the Packers did it in 2009.  They didn't.  They acquired three great defensive players through free agency: Charles Woodson, Tramon Williams and Ryan Pickett. 

Like I said, if they make a little bit of a splash in free agency, the Packers could be the best team in the NFC when it's all said and done.  But will Ted Thompson shy away from his "Draft and Develop" system for just one offseason?  I sure hope so.  

The Point After Touchdown

Roger Goodell and the NFL are thinking about changing what happens in the game of football after a touchdown is scored.  They say that the PAT is too automatic, and they would like to add excitement to the game.  I agree that the PAT could be changed, but Goodell wants to completely take it out of the game.  His idea right now is that if you score a touchdown it counts as seven points, and you can go for an eight point, but if you don't get it, then you go back down to six points.  It's a confusing way of saying you get a free extra point if you want it, or you can go for two.  That isn't going to bring excitement into the game, it would be us just getting rid of the PAT.  Should we take break away dunks out of the NBA and just give them two points, and we will give them a chance for a three pointer if they want it?  But if they miss it, then they only get one point? 

Jeremy Macchitelli hit it on the head when he said "They are trying to turn it into a game of backyard football." 

Yes, the PAT right now is automatic.  There were only five missed all year.  But taking it completely out of the game is just ridiculous.  Goodell tried to get the kickoff taken out of the game, but he had a legitimate reason: Player Safety.  He has no reason to change the PAT for injury, because it doesn't happen.  The only reason he has to change it is to create more excitement.  Fine.  But taking it out of the game is not more exciting, in fact it's far less exciting.  It wouldn't add strategy to the game, and it would take out the "anything can happen" feel. But, I think there could be a change made. 

There are two options I think are very possible.

The first one being you could go for two from say, the 8 yard line, and go for one from the 2 yard line. This isn't my favorite way, but if Goodell is looking for more excitement, this might be an option.  You could also just have them always go for two from the 2 or the 5 yard line.  I'm not a huge fan of this one, it gives coaches no option, and creates less of a chess match on the field. 

I like the idea of keeping the PAT.  And if you look at the stats, there is an option that creates a lot of excitement and a lot of strategy.  It makes the coach make a legitimate decision after every touchdown.  So let's look at some numbers:

This season teams are 33/69 when going for two, giving them a 47% success rate.  This gives a negative expected outcome to teams if they decide to go for two every time.  And it hasn't differed much this last decade.  From 2000-2009 teams are 47.9% when going for two. 

Kickers are hitting field goals from 50+ yards this year at a rate of 55.9%, which would give a positive expectation if the coach were to kick it every time. 

Kickers also hit field goals at 72% between 40-49 yards this season (88/121).  This would give coaches a positive expectation if they were to kick it every time. 

So what if the extra point got moved back to the 30 yard line meaning the extra point was 47 yards long.  Let's say that kickers hit that at about 70%.  And we will keep the 47% mark of teams going for two.  So if the coaches were to go for two every time, their expectation of points per 10 attempts would be 9.4.  And the expectation of kicking a field goal for every 10 attempts would be 7 points, unless you have a great kicker who kicks them at 80+ percent (Adam Vinatarie 15/17).  Which would give yous an 8+ expected points per ten attempts. 

This gives the point after so many more dimensions.  It makes the kicker position much more valuable.  It makes weather conditions much more critical.  The extra point wouldn't be automatic, and there would be many factors in the coach's head after a touchdown. What if the kicker is having a rough game?  What if you haven't gone for two and been successful all game?  What if the score is 33-34 with no time left on the clock and the coach has to go for two (47 %) or kick a 47 yard field goal (70+%).  Talk about drama, talk about excitement.  Isn't that what Goodell wanted? 

Taking the PAT completely out of the game is just dumb.  Golfers started hitting the ball farther, did they take drivers out of the game?  No, they narrowed the fairways and made the courses longer.  All because kickers have gotten better over the years doesn't mean they should take away what is automatic, they should adjust with the times and challenge the kicker.  Just wait, I bet in the next 20 years or so, we'll be talking about if the chain gang should be standing 15 yards apart on first down, instead of ten.  Players are always going to get better, so why not use that to the benefit of the game, and to the public.  Not take them away and minimize it.  Create more drama, we love drama.  And a 47 yard field goal to tie, or going for two from the two yard line for the win is drama with a side of anxiety.  

Smack Talk in Sports

Why do we love rivalries in sports?

I can promise you it's not because we see two people who try to outclass each other.  If you want that, go to doctor's convention in San Diego.  We love rivalries in sports because of the bad blood that two teams have with each other.  Don't try to tell me that you would have rather watched Heat vs. Pacers in the late 80's and early 90's over the "Bad Boy" Pistons vs. Jordan and the Bulls.  You can't tell me that the Pacers calling out the Heat at the beginning of the year isn't something we loved.  This is why I don't understand why everyone is making a big deal over what Richard Sherman did after he made the game winning tip pass.  We don't like smack talk.  We want class out of our players.  Why?

Do we want the Yankees and the Red Sox to be besties when they play in October?  What if Reggie and Spike Lee hung out together on weekends?  Would Mike Tyson's boxing career be as great if he didn't call out boxers he wanted to fight?  Most players do it just to give themselves some extra motivation, try and give themselves an extra edge.  

Richard Sherman was drafted in the 5th round, and has played with a chip on his shoulder his first few years.  Right now many consider him to be the best cornerback in the league.  He's been known as a common trash talker.  Everyone hates him for it.  Why?  Did we hate Michael Jordan for talking trash? We loved it.  How about Reggie Miller? Nope, and he did the same exact choke sign as Sherman after scoring 25 points in the fourth quarter of a playoff game against the rival Knicks. 

We are watching the "Bad Boy" Piston's of the NFL.  They aren't afraid to talk about how good their defense is, but also not afraid to back it up.  They are a team that's going to punch you in the mouth, and then tell you about it.  Since Sherman entered the league three years ago, he is first in picks (20), first in passes defended (61), and first opponents QBR when throwing at Sherman (39.4).We don't like Richard Sherman because he is a competitor, because he plays hard, he talks smack, he's great, and he isn't afraid to let you know about it.  What other response did we really expect after an intense football game full of smack talk and physical play?  That's like taking a lion straight out of the wild, putting meat in front of him, and telling him not to eat. 

Richard Sherman can say whatever he wants, he can make whatever gesture he wants, because he's earned it.  He thinks he's the best, and he wants you to know it.  There's nothing wrong with it, it's what makes the league exciting.  It creates rivalries.  I'll take Jordan's Bulls vs. the "Bad Boy" Piston over any other basketball rivalry in that era.  And right now I'd take Crabtree vs. Sherman over any other receiver vs. cornerback matchup in the league, and it's not because Sherman is eating his humble pie before the game.  

The Next Boston Dynasty

Haven't had a winning percentage under .600, haven't missed the playoffs, and have won four Championships since 1998.  That is the definition of a dynasty.  Picture this: a team loses their best player to injury, owner blows up the team, hires a smart coach, gives him hardly any talent, they tank, they get their draft pick and win four NBA Championships.  The San Antonio Spurs have been the class of the NBA for the last 15 years.  Gregg Popovich is considered by many the best coach in the league.  Tim Duncan is debated as the best power forward of all time.  The Spurs tanked in 1996-1997, but they did it the right way.  The Boston Celtics are following that same blueprint right now, and we might be watching the creation of another Boston dynasty. 

Danny Ainge has been very controversial since he took over the Basketball Operations for the Celtics.  He went against the wishes of the fans when he traded Antoine Walker, and Paul Pierce was demanding a trade at the end of the 2007 season.  But as much as people want to criticize Ainge, he did bring a championship to Boston.  And right now, he is setting up for the future.  When Rondo went down, Ainge decided that this was the year to blow up the Celtics and tank for a draft pick.  Doc Rivers didn't want to be a part of a rebuild, so Danny traded him for draft picks, and grabbed the best young basketball mind on the market.

Right now Brad Stevens is making a team that is 26th in scoring, look respectable.  They had a chance of making the playoffs, until Ainge traded Jordan Crawford for Heat big man Joel Anthony and draft picks, and to ensure that they would be a part of the lottery.  Brad Stevens is a 13 second car racing 10 second cars, and is not finishing all that bad.  Their leading scorer is Jeff Greene, at 15 PPG.  There is just nothing to work with, even with Rondo back in the lineup.  But it just shows what Brad Stevens has to offer as a coach.  The team is 9th in points allowed, and beat the Miami Heat this year on a last second three, where Stevens outsmarted and outcoached 2 time champion Eric Spoelstra.  Brad Stevens was one substitution ahead of Spoelstra the whole game, including on the last play where Spo made a quick substitution to try and matchup with the team Stevens put on the court.  Even with a great coach, the future of the Celtics is going to come down to this year's draft.

Although I alluded to the Spurs at the beginning of this article, I don't think that there is a Tim Duncan type player in this draft.  But with all the draft picks the Celtics have racked up, and by trading away their leading assist man in Crawford, Ainge has made sure there is no way Stevens can take this team to the playoffs and keep them out of the lottery.  With Ainge, the Celtics haven't had an awful draft history, they have found some good talent late in the first round including Tony Allen, Delonte West, Al Jefferson, Jeff Green, and Jared Sullinger.  The Celtics already have a great point guard, and that's a staple of a championship team.  If they somehow found themselves a lottery pick, and could get their hands on Parker, this team would instantly become playoff worthy.

While it may look very bleak this year for the Boston Celtics, I think that this is good for them in the long run.  This opinion is bold, but I really believe that if the Celtics get the draft pick they are looking for, we are watching the next San Antonio Spurs, and there will be another dynasty in Boston. 

Is This The Year For the Big Ten?

The Big Ten hasn't had an NCAA championship winner since 2000 when Michigan State took home the title against Florida, and while there are four teams in the top 15 of AP's top 25 rankings right now (Wisconsin, Michigan State, Ohio State, and Iowa), I don't think this is the year the streak will be broken. 

The Big Ten has had five teams in the National Championship game since 2000, and they are a disheartening 0-5.  In 2002 it was Indiana, 2005 Illinois, 2007 Ohio State, 2009 Michigan State, and most recently Michigan in 2013.  Last year the Big Ten entered the tournament with seven teams, and had four teams left by the sweet 16.  Yet somehow they couldn't find their way to a championship.  Maybe the Big Ten isn't all it's made out to be?

As you can see, like any other conference, anybody can win on any given night.  On Tuesday Indiana beat #3 Wisconsin, and on Thursday the Gophers took down #11 Ohio State.  Is it because the Big Ten is really good, or maybe the top teams in the conference just aren't all that dominant?  No doubt you could make the argument that the Big Ten is the best conference in basketball this year, but I'm going to play the other side: The Big 12 is the best conference in basketball.

The Big Ten doesn't have the most teams in the Top 25, the Big 12 has five teams, while the Big Ten only has four.  I think that the Badgers, Gophers, Buckeyes, Hawkeyes, Spartans, Illini, Wolverines, and the Hoosiers are all teams from the Big Ten that can make the tournament. Record against top 25: 9-13.  Big 12 teams I think that can make the tournament include Kansas, Oklahoma State, Iowa State, Oklahoma, Baylor, and maybe Kansas State.  Their record vs. Top 25: 12-9. 

The Big Ten just isn't as dominant as we think.

The Big Ten hasn't had back to back teams make the championship since the Fab Five did it in 1992-1993, and since 2000 the ACC has done it twice, including a three year stint where Duke, Maryland and Syracuse made the finals.  The Southern Conference has done it once, and the Big East has done it once. 

The Big Ten team with the most championships since 1990 is Michigan State, with one. Florida has two, Uconn has three, Duke has four, UNC has three, and Kentucky has three. 

It's not like the Big Ten gets awful recruiting either.  In 2012 they had four teams in the top 25 of the NCAA recruiting class.  Yet they fell short again.

Like I said earlier, I just don't think that this is the year for the Big Ten.  But here's why I give them chance:

There isn't a top dog in the NCAA right now, Arizona and Syracuse are not head and shoulders better than everyone else.  Like last year almost every game in the top 25 is a coin flip.  If all eight teams that I think make the tournament do, I give three teams a legitimate chance: The Badgers, Buckeyes, and the Spartans.  I just don't think any of the other teams can make a legitimate run at the title.  And I'm pushing it with Wisconsin who has a reputation for leaving the tournament early.  When you are 9-13 vs. the Top 25 like the Big Ten, I'm just not overly impressed.  But with every conference, there are teams who have a genuine chance.  The Big Ten has Wisconsin, Michigan State and Ohio State.  So while I don't think it is going to happen this year, go Bucky.  

Should the Heat be Worried?

            The Miami Heat have lost three straight games, all on the road to the Knicks (102-92), the Nets (104-95), and the Wizards (114-97).  During this three game losing streak they have given up an average of 106.6 PPG, which is much higher than their season average of 98.6.  They also haven't broken 100 points on the offense side of the basketball.  The combined record of the Knicks, Nets, and Wizards is 48-64.  Lebron James pretty much told the world he was going to go off, and he didn't even have the most buckets on his own team. So what is going on with the Heat?  Are they finally getting worn out?  Should they be worried? No, not a chance.

This happens to most teams in the NBA, and even the Heat aren't immune to it.  This early-to-mid January stretch has not been kind to the heat since the big 3 came together.  The first year of the big 3 they lost four straight from January 12-18th.  In the 2011-2012 season they lost three straight to Golden State, the Clippers, and Denver on a stretch from January 10-13th.  And although they didn't lose three straight last year, from January 8th-14th they lost 3 of 4 with one win plopped in there at Sacramento.  It's always around this time of year that the Heat go on a long road trip, and during the middle of the season, and when you only care about the postseason it's tough.

The Heat only lost one of the games I mentioned at home, and that was an overtime game against the Atlanta Hawks in their first season as the big 3.  Miami has always seemed to become content around this time of year.  The only thing that does scare me about the Heat losing streak is that their defense has been less than stellar.  But the way that Greg Oden emerged onto the scene last night makes me optimistic that it doesn't matter where they finish in the standings, they can be anybody anywhere.  There should be no worry.

When the Heat start losing three or four in a row in mid-march, then I'll be a little bit worried.  But a long road trip in the middle of the season, they aren't very motivated, and every team wants gives them their very best shot.  I'm not even a little bit worried.