Archive

Archive for December, 2015

Chip Kelly gets fired. Now what?

December 29, 2015 Leave a comment

4944334987_f623e4456dThe news that the Philadelphia Eagles had fired Chip Kelly on Tuesday surprised a lot of people. I was caught off guard by it. I was sure that the Eagles would stand by an egotistical head coach who took a team from 10-6 to 6-9 less than a year after seizing control of all player personnel decisions in which he showcased his hubris, spearheaded a bunch of roster moves that backfired, might have been drowned out by his team in the process and had definitely lost the faith of his high-priced running back.

Oh. The firing was actually justified, not a shock at all. The only surprising aspects of it were the timing and the lack of a warning. Sports news rarely just happens these days. With so many beat reporters and insiders, there’s always a signal for whenever something big is coming down the pipeline. An anonymous source. An exclusive report. Something that braces us for when the shit gets real. 

This firing just happened. There had been talk that Kelly had lost his locker room, but an outright dismissal during the season wasn’t seen as a possibility. Yet, the sword of Damocles fell on the high-profile head coach of a buzzworthy team in the nation’s most popular sport. And we were aware to only its aftermath. In today’s era of media, that is a surprise.

 What’s next for Chip? Another shot in the NFL, he hopes. He told FOX Sports’ Jay Glazer that he wants to stay in the pros, not go back to college and “insists” that he no longer wants to be his own general manager. 

I would like to see Kelly return to the college game, a place where he can fully control the situation and where the 18-to-20-year-olds will accept or put up with his arrogance more readily than men in their 30s. There are only two FBS college head coaching jobs open at the moment. but you know that 10-15 other programs would find some way to oust their current coach if Kelly ever made his services available.

But, OK, let’s keep Kelly in the NFL. There are already teams that would reportedly be interested in him as its head coach, the Tennessee Titans — with former Kelly recruit Marcus Mariota — chief among them. It’s not like Kelly doesn’t deserve another shot. To say his time in the NFL has been a failure would be failure on your part to observe history. The Eagles went 4-12 in 2012. Then Kelly flew in from Oregon and immediately spun the Eagles from 29th to fourth in scoring offense. His offenses ranked among the league’s top five in points and yards in his first two seasons. The Eagles’ defenses were pretty pliable in part because it spent so much time on the field thanks to the ultra-quick possessions on offense, but 2013 and 2014 saw Philadelphia finish at 10-6. Similar success this year would have given the Eagles a division title weeks ago. 

But 2015 held a different outcome largely because Kelly held another task. On Jan. 2, he was basically given carte blanche as the new head of football operations. How’d that go?

Kelly traded LeSean McCoy for linebacker Kiko Alonso, who was coming off of ACL reconstruction and is currently ranked as the sixth-worst qualifying LB by Pro Football Focus.

Kelly didn’t re-sign Jeremy Maclin and then tried to fill that void with the likes of Nelson Agholor, who had a very disappointing rookie season, and Josh Huff, who looks like nothing more than a special teams/gadget player. 

Kelly dealt Nick Foles away for Sam Bradford. Foles is absolutely dreadful, but Bradford wasn’t a whole lot better in his free agent year, and Kelly also decided to give the Rams two draft picks in that trade: a fourth-rounder in 2015 and a second-rounder in 2016. Philadelphia received a 2015 fifth-rounder in return.

Kelly gave $21 million guaranteed to DeMarco Murray, who ran for fewer yards on more carries this season than LeGarette Blount.

Kelly gave $25 million guaranteed to cornerback Byron Maxwell, who got picked on relentless by opposing quarterbacks early in the year. Injuries along with consistently poor play ruined his season.

Kelly let go of guard Evan Mathis, a former All-Pro who has graded out inside the top 15 at his position.

All in the span of less than a calendar year. Simply, Chip Kelly destroyed Chip Kelly’s team.

Gleaning from what he told Glazer, it’s nice that Kelly is apparently willing now to relinquish player personnel control to other people who actually know what they are doing. But do you really believe him? It was his refusal to delegate such duties that reportedly got him thrown out on to Broad Street in the flash on Tuesday.

Chip Kelly is a good football coach. He’s not a “mad genius”; he has shown himself to be a serviceable head man in the NFL who can get positive results. He can certainly dial up a dangerous offense.

He has also shown himself to be a horrendous GM. To steal a couple of lines from Bill Parcells, Chip Kelly can cook a tasty dinner. But he needs to let someone else shop for the groceries.

Regardless of how desperate some moribund franchise is for a head coach — one who would undoubtedly excite the fan base and drive up ticket sales — any owner would be a total fool to give Kelly full control over the on-field product if he really wants it again. No one man should have all that power. Not in the National Football League. With said power and his desire to maintain it, Kelly guaranteed his sudden exit out of the Eagles’ nest.

Advertisements

Fantasy Football: Week 15 starts, covering the Panthers’ new-look backfield

December 17, 2015 Leave a comment

It is semifinal week in most fantasy football leagues, and I’m here to provide a dash of help (I hope) for your season-long matchups.

Here is a short list of players who should probably be in your lineups this weekend. Well, it’s really more like three guys you shouldn’t fear starting and a tight end who is worth a prayer. But that’s how TE has gone for yet another season.

One guy who won’t be in your lineups in Week 15 is Jonathan Stewart. His foot injury is just another hit to a position that has absorbed plenty this year. So, what are we to do with the Panthers’ ground game now, especially in a good matchup versus the Giants? I give my two cents (and about 700 words) here. In short: ick.

And again, if you have any start-sit questions for this weekend, hit me up: @Spokes_Murphy

You may now return to your regularly scheduled Star Wars freakout.

Giants tempt fate again, finally get desired result in win over Dolphins

December 15, 2015 Leave a comment

giants_143

You play to win the game. Hello?

The New York Giants have called some controversial plays in late, critical junctures to accomplish that task all season long, and they did it again versus the Miami Dolphins on Monday night. However, there was a key difference between all of their previous attempts and what happened last night:

The play actually succeeded.

And if you were in favor of the call, odds are you’re being a hypocrite.

Situation: The Giants, faced with a third-and-3, are at the Dolphins’ 48-yard line. Exactly two minutes remain, and the Dolphins have no timeouts left. The Giants haven’t been able to run the ball for basically the entire season, but Rashad Jennings’ legs have shown some life on this evening. Moreover, running the ball here and coming up short would leave about 1:17 left before a fourth-down punt that could very well back Miami up inside its own 20-yard line. That means Ryan Tannehill, a gimpy Jarvis Landry and a Dolphins offense which had gained a total of 75 yards in its previous four drives would have to travel 80-plus in around 70 seconds to have any shot at a tie.

So, the answer is obvious to me: The Giants have to run the ball here. They may even get the required three yards to put the game on ice, but if not, they put Miami in an incredibly tough spot where any hope for a win would likely have to come, in part, through multiple defensive breakdowns. And again, that defense has been playing pretty well in this second half.

I, a life-long Giants fan, am yelling at the TV and at my father beside me to run ball. I just start shouting indiscriminately in every direction.

“Run the ball! You’ve got to run the ball.”

Eli Manning drops back to pass.

If you’ve been following this Giants team all year long, you know why such a sight probably caused thousands of G-Men feel like their heart was in their stomach.

Week 1 at Dallas: While running away from pressure, Manning chucks an incomplete pass on third and 1 and with 1:43 on the clock. This saves 40 seconds for the Cowboys, who did not have any timeouts. Dallas uses that time to cut through New York’s ultra-prevent defense and provides the game-winning TD and extra point with just 13 seconds left.

Week 2 versus Atlanta: On third down, Manning gets sacked and loses a fumble at the Falcons’ 8-yard line with the Giants ahead by 10. This occurred in the third quarter, so Manning’s hesitance deserves much more blame than the play call itself, especially when a field goal would have put New York ahead by two touchdowns. Atlanta puts up a 14-0 fourth quarter and goes on to win.

Week 10 versus New England: The Giants are set up with a first-and-goal at the 5. The undefeated Patriots have one timeout and 2:06 remaining. Instead of running on three straight plays, thereby forcing the Patriots to use their final TO, lose the two-minute warning and ticking off another 40-plus seconds after that, Manning uncorks two incomplete passes and then slides for a sack on third down. One of those passes was a TD to Odell Beckham Jr. that was overturned upon review. Milliseconds more of possession change the entire game, but the rules — and the outcome of the review — are what they are. After a field goal, the Patriots are left with 1:47 to go get their game-winning field goal. Yes, Landon Collins can’t catch, but if the Giants had called three runs in that goal line set, Tom Brady and Co. would have had slightly more than a minute to get that field goal. Stephen Gostkowski’s kick went through the uprights with a single second remaining.

Week 13 versus Jets: Perhaps the Giants’ most boneheaded decision in a season full of them, they forego a short field goal attempt that would have given them a 13-point lead in the fourth quarter for a fourth-down pass from Manning to Rueben Randle. The throw gets picked off, which is inconsequential. But the Jets then get the 10 points they need in the final five minutes to force overtime and claim victory in the extra session.

After that Jets loss, Tom Coughlin defended the decision to go for it on fourth down by saying, “If we scored there and fourth-and-2, then we push the score up to where maybe they can’t beat us with whatever.”

That is true. If that play is successful, the Giants get at least another first down or perhaps a touchdown to put the game out of reach. But this meaningless 20-20 hindsight can be applied to all of the situations described above.

IF Manning completes his third-down pass or simply falls down in bounds, the Cowboys don’t have enough time to mount that comeback.

IF Manning doesn’t fumble, the Giants might tack on the points they need to keep the Falcons at bay.

IF the touchdown pass to Beckham stands or if Manning’s throw to Dwayne Harris on the succeeding play is complete, the Giants defeat the Patriots.

If all of those situations work out for the best, the Giants are 10-3, and everyone is kissing Tom Coughlin’s feet, talking about how much guts and resolve he and his team have.

But the fact is the Giants are a bad team trying to work through a ton injuries and even more flaws. When weighing the risk versus the reward, Coughlin must be aware (he must be, right?) that his quarterback is operating behind a patchwork offensive line, with a mess of mediocrity at running back and one reliable receiver.

Back to Monday night, Eli Manning drops back to pass. The play call is relatively safe as Manning looks to that one reliable receiver on a simple 5-yard hitch route. And although Manning throws a Roy Halladay-quality sinker, Beckham is able to get his hands under the ball.

Game over. Big win. Stupid call. 

If Beckham can’t handle that poor throw, we might be sitting here on Monday roasting Coughlin and his lieutenants for displaying an inexplicable brand of NFL insanity: doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different result.

You can imagine the media inquisition now:
“Why would they do that again?”
“How can they not learn from their past mistakes?”
“Just how dumb is this team?”
“Why don’t they know how to manage the clock?”
“Should the Giants fire Tom Coughlin now or 20 minutes from now?”

But Beckham made the catch, so it’s all good. 

Again, if you have complained about the Giants’ late-game playcalling prior to Monday night and then agreed with their decision to leave the game in Eli Manning’s hands once again, understand that you are being a hypocrite exercising institutional outrage. The result was what the team desired, but know that the Giants were literally inches away from making the same, bold, ignorant mistake they’ve made before, which has led directly to at least three of their losses.

Monday night’s outcome has probably emboldened the Giants and their coaching staff, giving them the confidence that, sure, this group can go for the throat when it needs to. A look at the roster says that’s probably false hope and that it will fail more often than it succeeds under those circumstances. Just because it worked once doesn’t erase all of the failures that occurred in weeks past and doesn’t make it a harbinger.

But last night also means we probably haven’t had our last discussion about the Giants’ late-game decision-making.

Fantasy Football: Week 14 starts, Week 15-16 pickups

December 11, 2015 Leave a comment

For the past decade and then some, almost all of my published professional work has had something to do with fantasy sports. I wrote for ScoutFantasy.com (nee FFToolbox.com) consistently from 2009 up until July of this year. I also contributed to USA Today Sports Weekly for a short while. Writing about sports with a fantasy perspective doesn’t compel me nearly as much as writing about sports with a — for lack of a better term — reality perspective, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.

So last night, I did a couple of things. I supplied two fantasy football articles to AdvancedSportsLogic.com. Both works are very simple, short pieces addressing one player at each of the four critical skill positions in fantasy football (quarterback, running back, wide receiver and tight end). 

One article lists four players whom you should feel comfortable starting in Week 14.

The other suggests a few players you might be interested in picking up to use in Weeks 15 and 16, the most important weeks of the FF season. 

Check them out and yell at me if you totally disagree with my choices (Note: I’m not too fond of my own selection of Alex Smith in the latter article, so if you’re looking to pick a bone with me, that one doesn’t count).

Lastly, one distinct pleasure I do get out of researching and writing about fantasy sports is answering questions from all the beautiful people on Twitter. So, if you have a start ’em-sit ’em dilemma for your fantasy league playoffs, please give a follow and drop a line: @Spokes_Murphy. I try to get to every query asked before the Sunday morning kickoffs.

Yankees find their solution at second base in Starlin Castro

December 9, 2015 Leave a comment

516770

Yankees fans won’t have Stephen Drew to kick around any more.

The Cubs’ acquisition of Ben Zobrist on Tuesday night necessitated a trade as Chicago had to address its excess at second base with Zobrist and Starlin Castro. The Yankees, with more of an abscess at second base, made for the perfect partner. Thus, an interesting swap of young, affordable, team-controlled and possible undervalued players was born.

To get Castro, the Yankees had to part with jack-of-all-trades pitcher Adam Warren. He was the Band-Aid for their staff in 2015. When they needed him to start during the first half of the year, he posted a 3.59 ERA through 14 turns. As the rotation got healthier in the second half (and as Luis Severino cemented his starting role), Warren was moved back to the bullpen, a place where he had thrived in 2014. His K per 9 rate shot back over 9.0 and, for the year, he limited hitters to a .208/.271/.333 slash line.* He’s got a four-pitch mix and is under team control through 2018. Warren, 28, was a unheralded luxury, and the Yankees will miss him once some part of their fragile starting rotation inevitably breaks again.

*And along with the trade of Justin Wilson on Wednesday, New York now has to answer the question of who is going to fill those sixth and seventh innings out of the pen.

But everyone knew the Yankees had to fix their handicap at second base someway, somehow. That group finished 2015 with a -1.1 WAR and the sixth-lowest wOBA (.286) among all teams at 2B.

That latter stat would have been worse if not for the 24 homers supplied by the combination of Drew, Rob Refsnyder, Dustin Ackley and Jose Pirela. Seventeen of those HRs came off of Drew’s bat, but those hits provided little pause to the vitriol and blame J.D.’s younger brother took from the Bronx faithful last year. Of course, the rest of Drew’s numbers weren’t going to win him many fans no matter where he played. His .274 on-base percentage was fifth-worst among hitters who saw at least 400 plate appearances. When you combine his 2014 and 2015 campaigns, his OPS+ of 66 put him ahead of only such luminaries as Alexi Amarista, Eric Sogard and Omar Infante (min. 600 PAs).

Drew, who turns 33 in March, is a free agent, so his days with the team were done well before Tuesday’s trade was completed. But now it is official: Starlin Castro is the Yankees’ new everyday second baseman.

Now, do you wanna see something scary if you’re a supporter of the Pinstripes?

2015 slash lines through Aug. 11:
Castro: .235/.271/.303
Drew: .192/.259/.384

That’s not what the Yankees are paying for. They traded a valuable, versatile pitcher (and Brendan Ryan) and decided to take on Castro’s four-year, $38 million contract for what he did after AFTER Aug. 11, the first day of Castro’s transition from shortstop to full-time second baseman.

Castro slashed .353/.374/.594 through his final 44 games of the regular season. He was one of 13 players to record an OPS better than 1.000 in September and October (min. 80 ABs). Who were the 12 other players?

David Ortiz, Edwin Encarnacion, Kendrys Morales, Paul Goldschmidt, Bryce Harper, Jose Bautista, Chris Davis, Mike Trout, Yoenis Cespedes, Matt Carpenter, Shin-Soo Choo and Nolan Arenado. OK.

Castro’s power during this time was most likely a fluke; he hit five home runs during that span but has yet to clear 15 homers in any of his six MLB seasons. And no one’s expecting him to be that much of a stud at the plate with the Yankees. However, there are reasons to expect him to be significantly better than that guy who was hitting in the mid-.230s during the season’s dog days.

Although Castro is only 25 years old, he’s a three-time All-Star with a 200-hit season on his resume. He already has nearly 1,000 career base hits. His total output has been up and down for the past few years, but if his BAbip normalizes (.298 last year; .321 career average) in connection with some of his batted-ball rates (career-high 54.1 percent ground ball and career-low 17 percent line drive rates last year), Castro should be a league-average player if not a bit better in terms of OPS+. That doesn’t sound very enticing, but it’s a hell of a lot better than someone putting up a 66 OPS+. Furthermore, Castro’s defense improved once he was moved to the right side of the diamond last year.

This deal isn’t a franchise-changer, and Castro’s persistent lack of plate discipline makes it hard to watch him at times. Yet, he also possesses many of the attributes that Brian Cashman and the Yankees are looking for in players while they do their Christmas shopping:

Young? Check. Under team control? Check. Provides defensive flexibility? Check. Provides some athleticism? Check. Relatively inexpensive? The Yankees will pay Castro $19 million less than the Cubs will pay 34-year-old Ben Zobrist over the same four-year period. So … check.

And probably most crucial for Yankees fans: Not Stephen Drew? Check.

Big Bang, Baby: Thoughts About The Arizona Diamondbacks Signing Zack Greinke

December 7, 2015 3 comments

A friend texted me on Friday night. core

“My condolences on your boy.”

I thought he was talking about Scott Weiland, the former frontman of Stone Temple Pilots, one of my favorite bands from my childhood; I remember buying their debut album when I was 8 years old. Weiland’s voice and tone were unmistakable and fantastic. It is kind of surprising that he even made it to 48 years of age, but I was still left feeling stunned when I heard the news of his death on Thursday. STP had a bunch of hits, yet combing back through their song catalog that night, even I had forgotten just how many great songs that band churned out. STP, from 1992-96, were something really special.

Alas, my friend’s message was actually in regards to someone whom I readily do call “my boy”: Zack Greinke. As I’ve said many times on this blog, he is my favorite player, seven years running now. Having him pitching just 40 minutes up the road in Dodger Stadium for the past three seasons has been Wonderful. It is a little saddening that’s no longer the case, but at least I and the rest of Los Angles will get to see Greinke on TV much more often

More importantly, signing Zack, if nothing else, should help the Diamondbacks Creep up in the NL West and make that division more competitive. According to Katie Sharp, Greinke compiled a 5.9 FanGraphs WAR last season. That number matches the total WAR of the D-Backs’ entire starting rotation in 2015. 

That’s not to say Arizona is bereft of pitching. Robbie Ray looks like a worthwhile starter. Archie Bradley still has loads of upside, and Patrick Corbin showed flashes this past summer of the guy who was an All-Star in 2013 before Tommy John surgery shelved him for all of 2014. There are pieces to work with there, but Greinke fills the Big Empty space that Arizona had for a proven ace to head the group. With the offense being provided by, notably, Paul Goldschmidt and A.J. Pollock, this team has a solid Core with which to compete in a division that saw only the now-weakened Dodgers finish with more than 85 wins.

Chase Field doesn’t offer the friendly, vast confines of Dodger Stadium, but over the past three years while with L.A., Greinke allowed a total of three earned runs through 41.1 innings while in Arizona.  His strikeout-to-walk ratio was 41:7.

For the 2015 season, Greinke led all pitchers in b-WAR (9.8). His final marks in ERA, ERA+ and WHIP all ranked among the top six by a starting pitcher in the expansion era. Since 1961, the only starters to record a better ERA+ than Greinke’s most recent 225: Pedro Martinez, Greg Maddux (twice), Bob Gibson in 1968 and Doc Gooden in 1985.

Is that worth $206 million over six years (which is really 11 years when you include the period during which the contract’s deferred money will be doled out)? That’s quite a Pretty Penny, and handing any starting pitcher such a lucrative, long-term pact Still Remains risky given the inherent volatility of the position. But it’s not like there are a lot of red flags in Greinke’s profile.

Excluding the one season during which he had an on-field run-in with a maniacal Carlos Quentin, Greinke has made at least 28 starts in each season since the start of 2008. Through the past three years, he’s registered a 4.3:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. That he doesn’t rely on pure velocity makes it more likely that he’ll age better during the latter stages of this contract — and also makes me question why the Dodgers, who were reportedly OK with living with Greinke through his age-36 season, turned away from him when he wanted to be paid one extra year. There is no doubt in my mind that Greinke would have re-signed if the Dodgers’ brass had agreed to a six-year deal, because this really was all about the cash for Zack, and the Dodgers have MLB’s deepest pockets. 

Even if this Plush arrangement does take a turn for the worse by 2020, I like this move by Arizona. For at least a few seasons, the Diamondbacks will be able to send one of the sport’s best pitchers Between The Lines every fifth day and give him the support of a young, dangerous offense that scored the second-most runs in the NL last year. If Corbin can rediscover his 2013 form and if one or two young arms meet their expectations, the Diamondbacks are going to be a fun watch and a tough beat. However, with him no longer in Los Angeles, I’m left to express my adoration for Greinke in an Interstate Love Song.

You did a lot of great things while you were here, sir. You will definitely be missed. Greinke too.