Sunday, March 18, 2012

Fantasy sabermetrics like fVORP are the new key to fantasy baseball player evaluation

Odds are that sometime between now and MLB’s Opening Day, you and several friends will pit yourselves against one another in the battle of wits and speculation that is the fantasy baseball draft. As in every good battle, the person with the best intelligence, strategy and gadget-weapons has an advantage, and I am here with the information that, coupled with an Excel spreadsheet, will turn you into your draft’s Baseball Batman.

The key to evaluating the players in your draft is something I have taken to calling fVORP, which stands for “fantasy value over replacement player.” One might recognize VORP as a sabermetric stat, a complicated translation of a players worth compared to a fill-in player, and would be correct to assume that the two are related. The difference is that fVORP compares each player on the draft board to the average fantasy player at his position. fVORP requires simple math to calculate and is customizable to one’s own fantasy league. It may require a lazy Sunday afternoon to compile, but the results of the last few years have had me scheduling a day each season to run the equations and set my draft. I hope this system works just as well for you.

Points-based league

In a points-based league, finding a player’s fVORP comes down to finding the average number of total points scored by a player at a given position, then subtracting that number from the total number of points a player at the corresponding position is expected to earn in the upcoming season.
For example, if Matt Kemp is expected to earn 512 fantasy points in 2012, and the average starting centerfielder scores 292 points, then Kemp’s fVORP is +220.

Compare him to a first baseman like Adrian Gonzalez, who plays a position that traditionally scores more fantasy points. If Gonzalez is projected to score 525 points, and the average starting first baseman scores 345 points, then Gonzalez, despite being the more lucrative scorer, only has a fantasy fVORP of +180.

Name Proj. Pts. Avg. Pts. by Pos. fVORP
Kemp 512 292 +220
Gonzalez 525 345 +180

Since the average scoring first baseman in this scenario has a higher value than the average centerfielder, it is more advantageous to take Kemp first and expect a high-scoring first baseman to be available later. Centerfielders who produce at Kemp’s level are simply rarer, and while that may be something we inherently know, the fVORP gives that knowledge along with a distinct value.

Finding this info is as simple as copy and pasting the data from your fantasy baseball league to an Excel page. From there, the data is easy to manipulate, and players can be organized into positional categories. Once they are given their fVORP by position, the players can be compared head-to-head as the pair above.

Categories-based league
In category-based scoring leagues players can still be broken down into a fVORP, but it takes a few extra steps. Category-based scoring leagues reward players who perform well in each category in play, such as batting average, home runs, pitching strikeouts, etc. The key is giving each player a standard score in each category.

For this example, I have chosen a base 10 system, where the maximum a player can earn in a positive category is 10. This will give every player a score of 0-10 in every individual scoring category.

In Excel, organize your players from most to least in a given scoring category. For this example, the focus will be home runs. An equation can be applied to each player to give the best expected performer 10 points, and every other player a lower number based on the percentage by which they will be surpassed by the leader.

[Theoretical projections: Let’s say Jose Bautista is expected to lead the league in home runs in 2012 with 42, followed by Albert Pujols at 40, and another player like Ryan Zimmerman is expected to hit 28.]

In this case, Bautista’s 42 home runs, divided by 4.2, will equal 10 points in that category, making him the category’s leader with a perfect score. Pujols’ 40 home runs, divided by the same 4.2, gives him a score in the category of 9.52, still good but beneath the leader. Zimmerman, who sits far lower, earns 6.66 points for his 28 expected home runs. (28/4.2=6.66)

This equation can be replicated for each category. Take the number the leader is expected to earn, divide by the corresponding number that will create a quotient of 10 and divide each players expected total by that number to give them a score in that category.

The trouble is that not all categories are as easy as the aforementioned home runs or RBI, where there is an easy whole number to deal with.

In the case of something like batting average, each player is saddled with a decimal number. To side step this, simply slide the decimal over three places (.328 becomes 328) and treat the category the same as the one above.

If Ichiro is expected to lead the league with a .345 batting average, the decimal is moved over to make the number 345, then divide by 34.5 (345/34.5=10) to get the base number. Then divide every other batting average by 34.5 to find the corresponding base-10 score. A batting average of .285 using this metric becomes (285/34.5=8.26).

In some pitching categories like ERA and WHIP, a player is rewarded for a lower score. For this equation, simply take the best projected ERA and add it to the base number — 10 in our case — and subtract each ERA and WHIP from that sum.
If Justin Verlander is expected to have the league’s lowest ERA (for this example we will project him at 2.38), then add 2.38 to 10, creating the standard 12.38. Then subtract each player’s ERA from that number to reveal their category score. Verlander stays a 10, while CC Sabathia, who for this example will be projected to complete 2012 with a 3.47 ERA, would earn 8.91 points (12.38 minus 3.47).

The only downside to this equation is that, since most pitchers are within three runs per nine innings of eachother, it does not set a wide difference from the best in this category and the worst in the category. Even very poor pitchers still earn a score around five. But since ERAs are generally close anyway, perhaps it is logical that the difference is not too great in this category.

In the case of a negative category like strikeouts in hitting or losses in pitching, reverse the number to -10 points to the leader, so that the offensive player with the fewest strikeouts is penalized the least. Each player will earn a negative score, but the hitters with the best eye will not take nearly as much of a hit in this category.

Once each player has a score in every category, add each player’s score in each category together and treat the sum as the total projected fantasy points were treated in the points-based league scenario.

So if Curtis Granderson, in a league with five offensive categories, earns scores of 8.23, 7.66, 9.13, 8.12 and -2.89 (strikeout category), he would have a total score of 30.25, or an average of 6.05 per category.

Once the players are organized by position, find the average score for a starter in that position and subtract that average from each player’s score. If the average centerfielder scores 22.45 points, or 4.49 points per category, then Granderson with the points listed above, he has an +7. 8 fVORP, or +1.56 per category. (I mention the per category part because even in standard 5x5 leagues, some pitching categories, like saves, do not apply to all pitchers. It would be more accurate to only base starters and relievers on the categories that apply to them, which may give a more accurate total than the combined five categories.)

Once the players are organize them from most to least fVORP in either points-based or categories-based formats, you have the most accurate player value list among anyone in your fantasy draft.

This all sounds like a lot of work, and the task sounds overwhelming and you may need a little knowledge of Excel to speed things along, but once the data is brought over from your preferred fantasy site to Excel, the work becomes much easier. Organizing the top 1000 players in two different leagues took me a total of about three hours. If you have the time to commit to the formulas, they will give you a clearer view of the value of each draft pick.

Fantasy baseball sabermetrics are only going to grow, and it will be fun to have an edge over your friends while you still can.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

How the Saints' bounty program turned tackles into felonies

(Editor's note: The Saratogian did a series on concussions that can be found here, here and here.)

Many of us who follow sports cannot escape the crush of concussion-related stories that have cropped up recently highlighting their danger and long-term consequences. It is something all sports have become much more aware of and are becoming more proactive in preventing, especially in the NHL and NFL.

Protecting the skull of a player seems a relative no-brainer, and ignoring the well-being of their fellow players is the worst part of the New Orleans Saints bounty program. By paying players to knock out specific opponents by any means necessary, the individuals involved in the hits-for-hire program were directly undermining the safety measures put in place to keep their co-workers safe for their own personal gain, and their intent to injure their fellow players became an on-field felony.

The players performing the hits are those who know the grim consequences of their profession. Baseball and basketball have had their share of head injuries, but those tend to be more accidental in nature, like the Carlos Beltran-Mike Cameron collision in the outfield; a player hit in the head by a pitch; a basketball player being struck by a swinging elbow or hitting his head on the court after a fall.

In football, head injuries — or any injuries for that matter — are supposed to be collateral damage, a common misfortune of which players endure and attempt to push through for the good of the team and as a symbol of American toughness and perseverance. These men forge through the natural elements of weather and the obstacles of their attacking opponents to succeed with their brothers in arms. The game became a metaphor of those who performed under duress to give us the lives we now enjoy. Did your grandfather leave the mine, railroad or building site crying because it was tough, or did he push through regardless?

In that sense, we can excuse the violence as being part of the pageantry and performing with the risk of injury as something like bravery because that is part of the purity of the game. The pretense of “nobody being hurt on purpose” endured, even as some players openly enjoying their role as hard-hitters and became famous for it. We could justify them as the wild cards, Tasmanian Devil-types who, when evaded or beaten, gave us one more reason to celebrate the skill-player’s triumph.

With the exposure of the bounty program the veil is gone, and behind it is ruthlessness, selfishness and no humanity whatsoever. Payment for taking a player out of a game — and in the cases of Brett Favre and Kurt Warner, ending entire careers — is more akin to assault than a sack. In the world outside the gridiron, a premeditated attack like that is aggravated battery, a felony. (Granted, the game itself was built on an act that could be argued to be battery as a misdemeanor.) The intent takes these hits to another level, from something we can support to something we cannot tolerate. The line has been found and crossed.

Rumors that these types of programs may have expanded beyond Gregg Williams’ influence suggest a league filled with players that were more concerned with their personal brand or a little extra cash than their fellow players.

Ask yourself if you could break another man’s arm or drive their head into the ground outside the means of a normal tackle for money. That money, whether by the bounty program or through an improved contract later, is the personal gain of the tackler at the expense of another man’s well-being. It is an insane offer made possible by an insane program.

Hard-hitting players are well-known in the NFL. Their style of play is typified and celebrated during highlight reel shows and on Youtube. Some of my personal favorite defenders are the ones I know to keep an eye on should they break toward a receiver and crush him a nano-second after the ball touches his fingertips. Those big hits bring back audiences and fire up crowds, earn defenders contracts that get them paid. I am no exception when we hold these players to a double standard, and hope that the league is doing enough to protect the players who are being hit.
Later, when we see the big hits and the prayer circles, we believe that the intent was not there, and that these men are all in this together to put on a show and make a fine living for their families, but earnestly do not to see one of their co-workers permanently injured. The bounty program means they never cared and that a team sports still had elements of every-man-for-himself.

Were it not for the stories brought up regarding older players and head injuries, maybe it wouldn’t mean so much. The sport would just be a little more brutal, but broken bones can be mended. Head injuries are different.

Chris P. Pierce said in his article on the subject for, “We may well be reaching something of a tipping point in our relationship with our true national pastime. Football was always a deal we made with ourselves. We adopted it for its brutality, which was embedded in a context that happened to be perfectly suited to television and to gambling, but which we could convince ourselves was only incidental to our enjoyment because it was only incidental to the game itself. But the players got bigger, and even the unsolicited hits got louder, and the damage to the athletes soon became too obvious to ignore. Dave Duerson kills himself. Chris Henry dies at 26, and an autopsy shows that he has the brain of a 70-year-old Alzheimer's patient. Terry Bradshaw admits that the six concussions he suffered while playing for the Pittsburgh Steelers have cost him a good piece of his short-term memory. Science, that great murderer of comfortable illusions, continues to increasingly undermine the bargain we'd cut for ourselves with the game.”

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has yet to come down on Williams and the Saints for their actions, but a stand has to be made. Football is not meant to be a game of felons.

Labels: ,

Face Off Part III: To which NBA player will Jimmer Fredette be the most comparable?

(The following is the final installment in a three-part series of questions concerning the professional career of Jimmer Fredette. For the first installment, "By his third season, will Jimmer Fredette start 15 games?,” click here. For the second installment, “Which team is the best fit for Fredette?,” click here.)

To which NBA player will Jimmer Fredette be the most comparable?

Alex’s pick: Daniel Gibson

There are many paths I could see Jimmer Fredette’s NBA career going down. I could see the Glens Falls native as a dynamic sixth man who changes the course of a game when he comes in off the bench, a la a prime Leondro Barbosa (minus the Brazilian Blur part). I could also see him following the footsteps of former NCAA scoring champion Adam Morrison and never really find his niche in the NBA game and be out of the league in four years. I have a harder time imagining him as a full-time starting point guard, but given the right circumstances, it’s not out of the realm of possibilities. However, I believe the most realistic outcome is a Daniel Gibson-type player.

Gibson is 6-foot-2, 200 pounds. Fredette is 6-foot-2, 195 pounds.

Gibson plays both guard positions, but is better suited to play off the ball. Fredette plays both guard positions, but is better suited off the ball.

Gibson is averaging eight points, three rebounds and two assists, while hitting nearly 41 percent of his 3-point attempts this season. Fredette is averaging eight points, two assists and one rebound, while hitting 38 percent of his 3-points attempts this season.

So as you can see, there are similarities already. Now some of you may be thinking, “Wait a minute, Gibson is in his fifth year, while Fredette is just a rookie.” While that is correct, Gibson peaked in his second season when LeBron James was still on the Cavaliers. Like Fredette, Gibson isn’t adept at handling the ball and running an NBA offense, but James’ play-making ability allowed Gibson to play off the ball on offense, while guarding the ball on defense. In the 2007-08 season Gibson served as a spark off the Cleveland bench, putting up 10.4 points per game and draining an impressive 44 percent from beyond the arc.

While he wasn’t a Barbosa or Jason Terry type of threat off the bench, Gibson served an important role on the championship-contending Cavalier teams and his shooting prowess even helped swing the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals. With the Detroit Pistons solely focused on slowing down James, Gibson shined in Game 4, scoring 21 points on just six shot attempts. Then in the clinching Game 6, Gibson once again made the Pistons pay for collapsing on James. The former Texas Longhorn scored 31 points, including 19 in the fourth quarter, while netting 5-of-5 from 3-point land.

So as you can see, a lot of Gibson’s success depended on having a superstar teammate attracting the bulk of defensive attention. And the relationship was mutual as Gibson helped spread the floor for James’ penetration. This season, 33.6 percent of Gibson’s offense comes off of spot-up jumpers and Gibson hits 43.8 percent of those 3-points. The short of it is, he isn’t getting as many of his bread and butter plays now that James joined the Dark Side in Miami.

Like Gibson, Fredette thrives at stand-still catch-and-shoot jumpers, only he’s getting even fewer opportunities than Gibson is. This season, 24.2 percent of Fredette’s offense comes from spot-up jumpers and he’s hitting 53.1 percent of those shots from deep, which is among the NBA’s elite.

Furthermore, both struggle to score in any other way than catch-and-shoot jumpers. In isolation opportunities, Fredette makes just 20 percent of his shots, while Gibson is slightly better, but still terrible, at 25 percent. Coming off of screens, Fredette shoots a porous 26.7 percent, while Gibson — once again — is slightly better at 35 percent.

Additionally, Gibson is a vastly superior defender and rebounder, while they are comparably poor in the playing-making department.

So while Fredette could one day exceed Gibson as a player, he has still has a variety of areas where he needs to improve. Then given the right team around him, maybe Fredette will help determine a championship outcome.

Donato’s pick: Jason Terry

Jimmer Fredette’s rookie averages still have room to swell over the course of a long career, but by the time he is a seasoned veteran, I believe we will be comparing him to Jason Terry. Both are 6-foot-2 guards taken No. 10 overall after their senior seasons, are great shooters and both can be dangerous on the right team.

Fredette’s speed and ability to put quick points together make him an ideal bench spark-plug, a likeable fan-favorite who can pull a team back into games with game-changing shots. Loads of offensive-minded shooters have played this role, running the gamut from shoot-first groan-inducers like Eddie House to cult-favorites like Nate Robinson, but Fredette, like Terry, can be a second-unit leader on a contender.

The pair already have had similar statistical starts to their careers.

Per 48 minutes
Fredette 4.9 13 37.5 2.3 6.2 37.5 1.9 2.2 88.9 3.4 1 2 14
Terry (rookie) 4.7 11.4 41.5 0.9 3 29.3 2.2 2.7 80.7 6.6 1.7 3.2 12.5
Terry (career) 6.4 14.2 44.8 1.9 4.9 38 2.7 3.2 84.5 5 1.4 2.9 17.3

Terry began with numbers similar to those of Fredette and improved in almost every category. While Terry has proven to be a better defender than Fredette, there are some metrics that suggest Fredette can still improve in that area. According to, Fredette has only allowed opponents to score in isolation inside the arc seven times in 26 attempts (26.9 percent). In isolation situations, he is only giving up .59 points per possession, good for 23rd in the league. He also allows opponents to score inside the arc 31.8 percent of the time (14-of-44) in spot-up situations and 8 of 26 times from outside the arc (30.8 percent). In spot-up situations he gives up .77 points per possession, good for 46th in the league. Those numbers are not eye-popping, but they show hope for Fredette being able to develop defensively over time.
In those same situations this season, Terry gives up .88 PPP in isolation and .69 PPP in spot-up situations. (1.66 PPP combined for Fredette, 1.57 PPP combined for Terry) The sum of their parts being similar does not make them similar defenders, but at the end of the day, their opponents should put together a similar score. Overall, Fredette gives up .89 PPP to his opponent compared to Terry’s .75. Terry is better, but, like his offensive abilities, Fredette can get there.

Both see their most offensive plays as the ball-handler in pick and roll situations, spot-up shots and in transition.

Points Per Possesion
  Ball-handler on Pick and Roll Spot-up Transition
Fredette .74 1.2 (22nd in NBA) 1
Terry .79 1.18 (28th in NBA) .99

In those situations they are nearly identical in terms of efficiency, with the same strengths (Spot-up) and weaknesses (transition, where the high likliness to score should boost their PPP more).

Fredette can play the role of Terry as a solid third option and leader off the bench much the same way Terry has in Dallas since the 2004-05 season. Often the luck of a player finding the right coach and the right team to fit in on is more important than talent. Fredette could perform on a good team or he could wallow on a bad team. Today, he wallows with Sacramento as Terry did in Atlanta, a team that never had a winning record while he was on the roster. If he can find the right fit as Terry did in Dallas, we may be able to start rewriting Fredette’s legacy.

Face Off Part II: Which team the best fit for Jimmer Fredette?

(The following is the second in a series of questions concerning the professional career of Jimmer Fredette. For the first installment, "By his third season, will Jimmer Fredette start 15 games, click here.)

Which team is the best fit for Jimmer Fredette?

Alex Ventre: The Miami Heat

It was the Miami Heat’s second game of the season when the reigning Eastern Conference champions defeated the Boston Celtics in a 115-107 thriller on TNT. However, the hero of the game wasn’t LeBron James or Dwyane Wade. Rather, it was undrafted rookie Norris Cole. The 6-foot-2 rookie scorched the Celtics for 14 fourth-quarter points and made all the crucial buckets down the stretch for Miami.
Heading into the game, I don’t think Doc Rivers was diagramming defensive schemes to slow down Norris Cole. I don’t even think he knew who Norris Cole was.

Instead, I’m pretty sure Rivers was strategizing how to contain James, Wade and, to a lesser extent, Chris Bosh. If someone told Rivers before the game that Norris Cole was going to be taking all the big shots late in the fourth quarter, I think he would have hugged them.

All of the defensive pressure the Celtics were putting on Wade and James allowed for easy scoring opportunities for Cole. Here’s a look at Cole’s final three minutes of that game:

3:00 — Norris Cole makes 19-foot jumper (Dwyane Wade assists)

1:31 — Norris Cole makes 21-foot jumper (LeBron James assists)

0:59 — Norris Cole makes 20-foot jumper (LeBron James assists)

0:09 — Norris Cole makes 2-of-2 free throws

Besides for a pair of free throws, all of Cole’s offense down the wire was catch and shoot opportunities created by James and Wade.

So what does Norris Cole have to with a Jimmer Fredette column? Well right now, Cole is playing the role Fredette was born to play. On Tuesday, ESPN NBA analyst Chad Ford answered a question about Jeremy Lin’s sudden rise to stardom and he wrote, “What team a player lands on and who his coach is may be the biggest factor in their success.”

And right now, Fredette is in a terrible situation in Sacramento, playing behind a glut of shoot-first guards, while already on his second NBA coach. Cole, on the other hand, ended up in a near-perfect situation. If you reversed their fortunes, I’m sure Cole would be the one receiving DNP-CDs and Fredette would be looking great as a shooting specialist that spaces the floor for Wade, James and Bosh. It just shows how important the situation is for a player’s development.

Look at Kwame Brown. While he never would have lived up to being the first pick in the 2001 NBA Draft, who’s to say he wouldn’t have turned into a starting-caliber big man on a team other than the Michael Jordan-led Wizards. What about Darko Milicic, the No. 2 pick in the 2003 draft? He was touted as the next great big man, but he played on a championship contending team behind the likes of Ben and Rasheed Wallace and coach Larry Brown always had a short leash on Milicic and never allowed him to play through his mistakes.

Even two-time MVP Steve Nash was stuck on the bench as a third-string point guard behind Jason Kidd and Kevin Johnson his first two season in Phoenix. It wasn’t until he was traded to Dallas that Nash started to display his true potential.

So if Fredette could be magically be traded to any team in the league, I would pick Miami. As I previously wrote, Fredette knocks down 53.1 percent of spot-up 3-pointers, which would spread the floor for Wade and James to drive, and if the defense collapses, kick to shooters.

Furthermore, thus far this season, Fredette has struggled setting up his teammates, averaging just 4.6 assists per 48 minutes. In Miami, Fredette wouldn’t be asked to handle the ball much or create for others because they have two future Hall of Famers who are already pretty good at it.

Additionally, the Heat are one of the best defensive teams in the league. Veterans such as James, Wade, Shane Battier, Udonis Haslem and Joel Anthony would help mask Fredette’s defensive deficiencies and allow the Glens Falls native to guard the other team’s weakest link.

Lastly, I’ve never been in Sacramento’s locker room, but I can’t imagine there’s one role model or player who is teaching Fredette the tricks of the trade. In Miami, Erik Spoelstra is an established coach and a slew of veterans from James and Wade to Mike Miller and Shane Battier could help guide Fredette though the nuances of the game.
Although I don’t believe Fredette would ever start over incumbent point guard Mario Chalmers, at least he would the opportunity to properly develop on a championship contending team rather than bask in mediocrity in Sacramento.

Here’s to hoping.

Matthew Donato: The Minnesota Timberwolves 

I consulted former Saratogian clerk and basketball guru Michael Kelly for his thoughts on this question. He felt that Jimmer Fredette would both grown and fit the best in Minnesota, and I am inclined to agree.

The Timberwolves are young, talented and still need to grow a bit together, much like Fredette’s current team in Sacramento, but the difference is that Minnesota has structure and roles while the Kings’ roster looks like it is winging it.

Minnesota is a who’s who of recent draft lotteries and boasts enough young potential franchise cornerstones that they look like the Thunder from a few years back. Kevin Love is one of the best players in the NBA and Ricky Rubio has turned the team into a must-watch on the League Pass.

They are well-coached by Rick Adelman and have the young ingredients: Michael Beasley; Derrick Williams; Wesley Johnson; Nikola Pekovic; Wesley Johnson; Anthony Randolf; Wayne Ellington and Martell Webster (Pekovic is the oldest at 26) to just put the lid on this team and let it simmer until it is ready to dominate the league in a few years.

There isn’t much Minnesota needs going forward except an upgrade of their high-energy combo guard. Fredette makes sense here because his skills do not overlap those of Rubio and Love, and he can play the position where the Timberwolves are the weakest.

Today, Minnesota plays Luke Ridnour along with Rubio in the backcourt and brings in J.J. Barea off the bench when the team needs a spark. Fredette would be an upgrade over either player, neither of which is part of the young core the Timberwolves are building around, and would be a valuable third option.

I mentioned in our debate yesterday, Fredette has had trouble getting open on ball screens, but with Rubio’s eye for the perfect pass and opposing teams focused on Love, getting open would not approach the same degree of difficulty Fredette experiences now. He would see plenty of spot-up jump shots and have more space to drive and let his teammates do the rest.
Minnesota has the pieces to make such a move, including future late-round picks when the team finally blossoms. Wesley Johnson and a first rounder in 2014 would fill the need Sacramento has at small forward while giving the Kings a little something extra for trading away such a marketable player in Fredette. Meanwhile, the Timberwolves upgrade at guard without giving up a starter while also upping the ante as the most likable team in the NBA

Labels: , , , ,

Face off Part I: In his third season in the NBA, will Jimmer Fredette start 15 games?

(The following is the first in a series of questions concerning the professional career of Jimmer Fredette.)

In his third season in the NBA, will Jimmer Fredette start 15 games?

Alex Ventre: Fewer than 15 games started, barring injuries to teammates

In Glens Falls native Jimmer Fredette's third season in the NBA, he will play fewer than 15 games barring injuries.

Fredette’s rookie contract is guaranteed for the first two seasons, then Sacramento has the option to pick up the third year, which is worth just shy of $2.5 million. Although that may seem like a fortune to you and me, in NBA terms, that number is dirt cheap, so the Kings are likely to keep Fredette around.

Also, since the former James Naismith Men’s College Basketball Player of the Year winner is struggling so mightily in his rookie season, Fredette’s trade value is extremely low. So unless the Kings completely give up on Fredette and trade him as a salary dump, it appears he will still be playing in Sacramento — or wherever the Kings move to — in the 2013-14 season.

Also under contract for the Kings in 2013 are starting shooting guard Marcus Thornton, whom they just signed to a four-year, $33 million offer this summer. Furthermore, 2009 NBA Rookie of the Year Tyreke Evans — along with center DeMarcus Cousins — appears to be Sacramento’s building block and the Kings are expected to lock Evans up long term after his rookie contract.

Although the Thornton and Evans pairing in the backcourt is a bit dysfunctional, they are the starting guards this season for Sacramento and they will both likely be on the team for Fredette’s third season.

Additionally, fellow rookie guard Isaiah Thomas — who was the last pick in the 2011 NBA Draft – has moved ahead of Fredette in the rotation and has even started a few games for the Kings.

Even though it’s difficult to look two years into the future of an ever-changing NBA landscape, Sacramento will probably still have two, if not three, guards ahead of Fredette in its rotation.  

However, two years is a long time and circumstances can change dramatically. In Fredette’s first year at BYU, he averaged seven points on 40.7 percent shooting. Fast forward two years to Fredette’s junior season and he’s averaging more than 22 points on almost 46 percent shooting. All it took was some time for Fredette to get acclimated to the collegiate game and he excelled. So who’s to say Fredette won’t adjust to the NBA game, improve drastically and earn himself a full-time starting position?

While that is possible, it isn’t probable. In the age of one-and-done collegiate athletes, Fredette — who graduated from BYU — is old for a rookie and has less time to develop. Fredette turns 23 later this week, making him roughly the same age as established superstars like Derrick Rose and Kevin Durant, and older than Blake Griffin and Evans, who is already in his third season.

Unless Fredette finds a perfect situation — such as Derek Fisher starting alongside Kobe Bryant or Mario Chalmers playing point guard next to Dwyane Wade and LeBron James — he would have to improve tremendously to not be the weak link in a starting unit.

On the season, Fredette is shooting a measly 37.4 percent from the field, while sporting a below average 1.5 assist to turnover ratio. Those aren’t the offensive numbers you want to see from a player who is a defensive liability.

The only area Fredette has proven to be an NBA caliber player is on his ability to drain stand-still, catch and shoot jump shots. As I wrote to preview Fredette's return to New York to face the Knicks, he’s hitting 53.1 percent of spot-up jumpers from beyond the arc this season, which is a fantastic percentage that holds defenses accountable for leaving him too much room.

Every team needs shooters to spread the floor and because of this ability, I think Fredette will find his niche in the NBA and serve as a role player off the bench for many years. However, one-dimensional specialists hardly ever start on a regular basis. Look at Kyle Korver, J.J. Redick or Daniel Gibson. Each plays a significant role on his team, but because of their inability to contribute in other areas, each serves as a spark off the bench.

That’s not a bad thing. That’s just how I envision Fredette’s NBA career. And given the right circumstances, such as Eddie House on the 2008 Celtics or Steve Kerr on the mid-90s Bulls, that could be the difference between an NBA championship or early summer break.

Matthew Donato: More than 15 games started

Jimmer Fredette’s future is filled with uncertainty, but given the ever-changing climate of the NBA, his particular skill-set and penchant for playing winning basketball, I could see him starting 15 games in his third year. However, it would have to be outside Sacramento or without Sacramento’s current roster.

Because of Fredette’s difficult transition to the professional game, some believe Fredette does not have the skill-set to make it in the NBA, while others believe his struggles are the result of being an odd fit on an unconventionally built team. I am in the latter camp. In his senior season Fredette took a mediocre BYU team and led them to a 32-5 record that peaked at No. 3 in the AP ranking the week of Feb. 28, 2011. He could score at will and had unlimited range. He did not just succeed at the college level, he dominated it and won over the country’s fans while doing so.
In doing so Fredette has proven he can produce at every level and help a team succeed, but as soon as his stats dropped on a team full of dysfunction in the management level and on the court, the same people who watched him light up opponents in college see him as just another shooter. As LeBron James said in this article by The Associated Press’ Tim Reynolds, “He (Fredette) knows how to play the game and he knows how to score the ball. It doesn’t matter what level you’re on — if you’re averaging 29 points in college or high school or whatever the case may be, you know how to put the ball in the hoop. He’s explosive when he has his opportunity. His opportunity right now has been going up and down. Of course, we’ve all seen that. But when he’s had an opportunity, he’s known how to play.”

There were still some glaring holes in his game. He is often a step behind his mark on defense and has to cheat toward the ball when his man moves on screens in order to cover him. If that fails, and it often does, Fredette’s opponent has an open lane to drive or space for a jump shot. He has trouble moving off the ball and does not always create the space needed to get off an open shot. He has, as Alex stated above, experienced his most success during his first professional season when he is left alone and can spot up for a 3-pointer. While this shows great accuracy, he needs to show more well-rounded talent to be a starter, and Sacremento simply is not the place for him to do so.

The Kings are a fascinating team, stocked with players have raw basketball talent and a lack of refinement. Demarcus Cousins, the fifth overall pick in 2010, is a rebounding machine with size and ability, but feuded enough with coach Paul Westphal enough that Westphal was removed from the team. Former Rookie of the Year Tyreke Evans is a combo guard who always needs the ball in his hands. Shooting guard John Salmons is also a one-dimensional scorer. Rookie Isaiah Thomas is the most natural point guard on the team and Marcus Thornton holds perhaps the biggest range of skills among the guards. There are simply too many experienced or well-fit guards in front of him on this team.

But remember, Jeremy Lin had too many guards in front of him in Houston as well, leading the team to waive him. Sacramento will not take that route with Fredette, but trading a struggling recent-lottery-pick point guard while he still has potential is an option. The same move was done recently when Minnesota received veteran center Brad Miller and a late first-rounder Johnny Flynn during the 2011 draft.

Fredette requires a distinct supporting cast, a group that can play to his strengths while covering up his deficiencies. He resembles a centerpiece that must be built around, but is too unconventional for that role. A team would be taking an unprecedented risk to build around him, but with himself, another shooter, a swingman, a defensive specialist and a rebounder/shot-blocker in the lineup, the team would always be a threat to make a run and never be out of the game. That team is out there, and we will cover tomorrow which would be the best suit for him, but Fredette could be a starter for a contender just as soon as Sacramento allows the dysfunctional members of its family become estranged.

Labels: , ,

The end of A. J. Burnett's time in pinstripes good for both Yankees and Pirates

The A.J. Burnett's tenure has concluded in New York and it will not be looked back upon fondly.

The pitcher came to the Yankees as a much-heralded free agent in 2009 and initially paid dividends -- winning a duel with Pedro Martinez in Game 2 of that season’s World Series against the Philadelphia Phillies on the way to the Yankees’ 27th championship. But, in 2012, on his final day as a Yankee, with trade rumors swirling about his eventual trade to Pittsburgh, every Yankee fan I spoke with wanted him gone for whatever we could get.

Burnett was never able to string all his talent together in New York for a significant stretch, and that’s what bothered me the most about him. He always had the stuff, and his K/9 (7.9 in pinstripes, 8.2 career) proved it.

But Burnett had a dark side to his pitching as well. According to ESPN’s Yankees blog, as compared to all Yankees who had pitched a minimum of 500 innings, Burnett had the second-highest ERA (4.79), the second-highest home runs per nine innings (1.25), the second most wild pitches (58), the fifth worst OPS allowed (.783) and the eighth-worst WHIP -- walks plus hits per inning pitched -- (1.45). The blog added, “he is the only Yankee pitcher to qualify for the ERA title and post an ERA above 5.00 in two separate seasons, which he did in 2010 and 2011.”

This came from a guy who compiled a 3.84 ERA over a 1367.33-inning career with the Florida Marlins and Toronto Blue Jays and won 18 games for Toronto in 2008.The numbers suggest three possible scenarios: that Burnett could not handle the pressure of pitching in New York; that Burnett simply peaked from 2004 to 2009 and the Yankees misjudged his ability to maintain his level of performance; or that some time in 2010 Burnett just lost his head and could no longer control his arm.

I am inclined to believe that each of these factors played a role in Burnett’s forgettable tenure with the Yankees. Something definitely changed when Burnett came to the Bronx. After joining the Yankees, his WHIP in each season with the team was higher than in any other season in which he pitched at least 100 innings and he threw more wild pitches than in any season outside New York.

Some players are not designed to handle the pressures and the 24-hour media cycle of New York, while other players thrive in its spotlight. Burnett is the counter-argument to Nick Swisher, who had underperformed in Oakland and Chicago before blossoming in front of Yankee Stadium’s short porch.

Thefailures don't tell the Burnett story completely though, because he had a decent season in 2009. It was the last time he approached an ERA of 4.00 (4.04) and he had a great seven-inning performance, giving up just one earned run, in the 2009 World Series Game 2, which took place at the Stadium in front of 50,181 crazed New York fans. Granted, he followed it up with a Game 5 performance in which he gave up six runs and had to be removed with no outs in the third inning. He could perform in New York, just not consistently. With Burnett it was always feast or famine.

Because of the sharp downturn Burnett’s career took once he became a Yankee, it is hard to say if his career might be jump-started by a change of scenery. Burnett had a good stretch from 2004-09, years when he was 27 to 32 years old. That is a normal peak for a pitcher. But with the way modern pitchers sustain themselves, there is still a chance that he could be rejuvenated in Pittsburgh. I feel he could he still go either way, which makes the deal on Pittsburgh’s end appear to be a good, calculated risk.

Burnett is owed about $33 million dollars for the next two seasons, of which the Yankees have agreed to pay $20 million. So Pittsburgh is only on the hook for about $6.5 million for two years for a pitcher who routinely is among the game’s best strikeout artists, who will eat up innings and, if he can stay focused and can improve without the pressure and disapproval of New York on his shoulders, might still be a viable front-end starter. The Pirates are looking like a breakout team candidate with young players like Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez ready to become stars and a staff that added Erik Bedard in the offseason. The addition of non-New York Burnett could be valuable if the team wants to make a playoff push for the first time since 1992.  

What we know is that Burnett does not work in New York. It remains to be seen if he can get his head back together with a change of scenery and become the pitcher he was in 2008 again. Even at age 35, I believe the potential is there and that this deal will work out for both Pittsburgh and New York. The Yankees free up cash to sign Raul Ibanez and Eric Chavez and get back two low-level prospects in the deal.

Like most New Yorkers, I am happy to have seen the last Burnett wild pitch in a Yankee uniform, but I hope he can change his legacy and be known as the last piece that brought together a playoff team for Pittsburgh. Maybe he can be a hero in Pittsburgh like he was in New York for one World Series game.

Labels: , , ,

In the arguement between MSG and Time Warner Cable, the fans are the ones losing

(Update: The New York Times began reporting Friday afternoon that MSG and Time Warner Cable had reached an agreement to end the stand-off. Click here to read the full New York Times story.)

(Author's note: The dispute between Time Warner Cable and the MSG Network has been resolved, not three hours after this column went online. The details of the deal have yet to be released, but the arguements made below for a timely conclusion suggest the 48 days it took for the two sides to come to an agreement was comically long and without the best interests of the fans at heart. Both MSG and Time Warner Cable still come out of this deal looking like the bad guys.)

On Jan. 1, Time Warner Cable pulled the plug on the MSG channel, citing the network’s increased demand on subscription fees. The Daily News reported that MSG wanted a 6.5 percent fee increase while Time Warner claimed the network wanted 53 percent more; as the two sides pointed fingers and blamed each other, I sat back and didn’t care.

After all, it was Week 17 in the NFL, and the Giants needed a New Year’s win over the Cowboys just to make the playoffs, bowl season was underway and I was not yet ready to shift my focus away from the gridiron.

Even after the Super Bowl, when my focus landed on college hoops, the NBA and the NHL, there wasn’t much lost for me without the MSG network. The Knicks immediately drew ire and lethargy from the fans who could see them or read about Carmelo Anthony’s near-40 percent shooting from the field. I took the plunge and purchased the NBA league pass and knew I could wait until the playoffs to jump back into hockey.

I will preface the next statement with some transparency by noting that I am not a fan of either the Knicks or Rangers, so my sounds of desperation will not sound like the loud ramblings of a WFAN call-in, but now, a month and a half after the plug was pulled, can anyone remember a worse time for MSG to be blacked out?

Even without being a fan of either professional team broadcast on MSG, I can still appreciate games when they are played at their highest level and have quality story lines, and the Knicks and Rangers are stocking both in bulk.

It seems almost silly to reiterate the accomplishments of the Knicks’ Jeremy Lin here, as the fairy-tale point guard has racked up a career’s worth of accomplishments over the course of seven games (all wins), while defeating all-stars. With both of the team’s stars, Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire, not on the floor, Lin’s contributions saved the Knicks, and Knicks fans, from the disappointment of mediocre basketball and potentially missing the playoffs.

According to the New York Post, Lin did the unthinkable — he made the Raptors watchable. The game, which ended with Lin hitting the game-winning 3-pointer, drew 344,272 households, the highest-rated game on MSG since Anthony’s much-hyped debut game last year. If the game were available to the reported 2.8 million Time Warner subscribers who were blocked from watching, that number would have certainly been higher.

The Knicks did not miss a beat when Stoudemire returned, allowing Lin to act more like a distributor on his way to 13 assists in an easy win over Jimmer Fredette and the Kings. And with Anthony slated to return either tonight against New Orleans or Sunday against Dallas, the idea of the three playing together with Tyson Chandler (and J.R. Smith, the talented guard tweeted Friday morning that he plans to join the Knicks) basketball fans the world over are excited to see how this team can come together to finish the regular season.

Fans are making their own homemade Lin jerseys and paraphernalia to wear to games and are flocking in droves to any television airing the second-year player’s ascent. The potential for this team has reached its zenith, and fans want to be a part of this special year, yet the blackout has done nothing but blockade those fans and push them to bars with dish service.

Still, Lin’s success has gone so far as to raise the stock of MSG itself. The website and contributing writer Steven Kiel wrote on Valentine’s Day, “Today, because of Jeremy Lin, shares hit a new 52-week high of $32.30. With 62.08 shares outstanding, today's move up of $1.15 means the market thinks Jeremy Lin's weekend success is worth $71.4 million.”

The Rangers — the first-place team in the Eastern Conference — should also be a heavy draw for the network. The team is grinding out tough wins and sits one point behind the Detroit Red Wings for the most in the league. The team has marketable stars in Henrik Lundqvist, Ryan Callahan, Marion Gaborik, Dan Girardi and Brandon Dubinsky, and is legitimately fun to watch.

I found myself drawn in to their 4-2 loss to Chicago Thursday night, and could easily see myself recording some of their games to watch after the newspaper shift if the team were broadcast. I am simply drawn to good hockey and that’s what the Rangers are delivering. Apparently this is nothing new for this season’s team. reported on Dec. 29, only two days before the network blackout, that through the first 32 games this season, ratings for Rangers games were up 16 percent from the year before. Granted, this was a time when the NHL was unlikely to have piqued the interest of casual winter sports fans like myself. Those fans want their hockey now, and aside from the random NBC Sports and NHLNET games that air, there is no consistent source for Rangers hockey.

MSG seems to be doing just fine without its Time Warner consumers, but it should be noted, as the Daily News reports, even though viewership has been up 109 percent since Linsanity began, the network is still losing about $10 million in subscription fees per month since losing the bulk of its Time Warner subscribers. Without those customers, MSG Network cannot charge advertisers premium for air time. Therefore, they are allowing this squabble with Time Warner to cost them even more profits.

Time Warner is faring no better in this argument. The New York Post reported that customers are “flooding its switchboard with complaints.”

This season has the potential to be incredibly memorable for New York sports, yet MSG and Time Warner have taken a pair of local teams and put them as far away as a television market can be in the digital age. At least when they make the playoffs, each game will be nationally televised and we can leave the two companies to argue amongst themselves all summer.

Labels: , , ,

Floyd Mayweather's racial comments about Jeremy Lin do not hit the mark

“Jeremy Lin is a good player but all the hype is because he’s Asian. Black players do what he does every night and don’t get the same praise.” — Floyd Mayweather

This quote from the talented boxer found me by way of an online basketball forum I frequent, as reposted by another member. The comments that followed seemed split as to whether the boxer Mayweather was making a valid point or was woefully incorrect.

Basketball is not the primary sport of Mayweather, who has amassed a small fortune inside the ring, but I had hoped that exceptionally talented athletes could recognize others, regardless of sport or race. Sports enthusiasts as a worldwide collective, who constantly consume athletics at every level, can register when they see an anomaly.

Jeremy Lin is such an anomaly. He is leading the New York Knicks, a team with established household-name stars such as Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudamire to a level the team had yet to achieve before he took the court. He led the Knicks to a win over Ricky Rubio, Kevin Love and the Timberwolves. He outscored Kobe and beat the Lakers. Through his first six games (all wins) he has averaged 26.8 points per game (161 points total). Granted, that is a small sample size, but as I write this, only two players in the league have a higher average: the aforementioned Bryant and LeBron James, and Kevin Durant is tied with him in PPG. Each of them is African-American.
The player directly following Lin in scoring average, Love, is white. Love’s teammate Rubio, another extremely exciting young point guard, who has been a fan-favorite in this young season, is from Spain.

The thing that connects each of these stars is their talent. Each player listed above has made an impact on fans because of their level of play, not their race.

Lin is special for another reason, though. He has an incredible story that has nothing to do with his lineage. Any Harvard graduate with a degree in economics, who was cut twice in the same year after being undrafted, then emerged on one of the sport’s grandest and most hallowed stages to bring hope to a team that had underachieved with two expensive stars has an unbelievable storyline before even mentioning his background. (For those who don’t know, he is the first American-born NBA player of Taiwanese decent.)

His background is in the background. It is not the story. The story is his couch surfing, his underdog status and his ability to rise to the occasion. (Lin only moments ago hit the game-winning 3-pointer to lift the Knicks over the Raptors, 90-87.)

Hype surrounds talented players who excel in their sport. That will always happen. Tiger Woods would have generated the most coverage of any golfer in the last 15 years regardless of his race. Would he have hit the same level of stardom? It is difficult to say. Woods may have raised the sport’s presence among African-Americans and Asian-Americans in a way that the predominantly white sport had failed to do prior, but I will not speak on that one way or another without the numbers to back it up.

(Perhaps Mayweather intended to mean that a small percentage of the hype surrounding Lin is his heritage, and that if he were black, he’d be celebrated as an unlikely star that fans could get behind, but not the icon Lin has become. This is a better observation and one more likely to generate a better discussion, but those were not the words he used.)

What is indisputable though is that Woods is the Nicholas or Palmer of my generation, regardless of his current performance. That was based on a career worth of dominance over the field. Careers do not have a race assigned to them. They are strictly numbers, achievements and awards.

Lin has a much smaller career thus far, but what he has made of it is no less astounding. Mayweather is incorrect because black players do not do what Lin does every night, because no players do what Lin does every night.

Labels: , ,