Thursday, February 28, 2013

A $200 Million Pitcher?

      Will the Tigers make Justin Verlander the first $200 million pitcher?  He made comments in a recent interview with Jeff Passen about making 200 million dollars in his next deal.  Verlander becomes a free agent after the 2014 season.  Should Detroit or any other team, pay that much for a player that only plays once every fifth day?   Some teams think so, in February 2013 Felix Hernandez signed a seven year contract extension with the Seattle Mariners worth $175 Million.  In December 2012 Zach Greinke reached a six year deal worth $147 Million with the Dodgers.  All three pitchers are similar both in age and stats so what would make Verlander worth $200 Million?  Verlander has been an All-Star more times than Greinke and Hernandez put together.  Justin was the Rookie of the year in 2006, AL MVP in 2011, the same year he won the Cy Young, threw his second no-hitter and won the pitching triple crown.  That is a pretty impressive resume and I'm sure he thinks if Hernandez can make $175 Million with his body of work then $200 Million shouldn't be an issue. 
      Hernandez is four years younger, has a lower career ERA, more strikeouts, a Cy Young Award and has thrown a perfect game but no league MVP, no triple crown and he has less wins and more losses then Verlander.  Greinke is one year younger then Verlander, he has less wins, more losses, a higher ERA and less strikeouts.  Greinke is a one time All-Star and won the Cy Young Award.  An examination of the reasons Hernandez and Greinke got such large contracts might be helpful to understand the reason Verlander would think Detroit would be interested in making him the highest paid pitcher in baseball.
      Seattle has made the post season four times in their history but haven’t been there in eleven years and haven’t been deep into the playoffs since losing to the Yankees in the American League Championship Series in 2001.  The Mariners moved to their present home, Safeco Field, in 1999.  The facility was paid for at tax payer expense and the Mariners have been trying to rebuild feelings after nearly moving the team.  In other words the Mariners are looking to win and win now, at any cost.  King Felix is the cornerstone of an otherwise weak pitching staff and the Mariners, who are trying to be relevant again, didn't have a choice in giving him a huge deal. 
      The Dodgers, on the other hand, are spending like money is going out of style in a quest to return their troubled franchise to prominence.  The Dodgers haven’t won a World Series since 1988 and have missing the playoffs the last three years.  The Dodgers have suffered several controversies including the divorce of owner Frank McCourt, the 2009 bankruptcy and the tragic 2011 beating of a Giants fan.  All of these have tarnished the reputation of the storied franchise.  The new owners, the Guggenheim Group, are trying to erase these images from the minds of baseball fans, with a win now attitude.  The signing Greinke was just the latest step in that process.  Greinke is just the latest addition to a pitching staff that boasts the likes of Josh Beckett, Chris Capuano, Aaron Harang and 2011 Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw.  The rest of the Dodgers roster is also full of big names like Matt Kemp, Hanley Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford. The Dodgers are obviously out to win it all and win as soon as possible.  So we can see that the signings of Greinke and Hernandez were motivated by concerns of the franchise, do the Tigers have the same or similar issues?    
      Is Detroit in the same shoes as the Mariners or the Dodgers?  I don’t think so, the Tigers have great fan relations and aren’t trying to earn back fans after a new stadium deal.  The Tigers have made the playoffs the last two years and been to the World Series twice since 2006.  Detroit is also not mired in any controversies and aren’t attempting to erase the memories of fans.  They have a strong rotation, after Verlander, the Tigers have Max Scherzer, Doug Fister, Anibal Sanchez and Rick Porcello.  The rest of the roster is well stocked with big names including reigning AL MVP Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, Torii Hunter and Victor Martinez.  
      If it isn't any of the reasons I have attributed  to the Mariners or the Dodgers then what would posses the Tigers to pay $200 Million for a pitcher?  The reason: Tiger fans deserve a World Championship they have waited patiently since 1984 and if any city needs a title it is Detroit and the key part of that title is good pitching and the key to good pitching for Detroit is Justin Verlander and Mike Ilitch, Dave Dombroskl and Jim Leyland know that Verlander is good for at least 17 wins a season and his pitching makes everybody else better and all those reasons are good enough to make Justin Verlander the highest paid pitcher in MLB history.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Continuing Woes for the Red Wings

       The struggles for the Red Wings continue, they have lost their last three games and are now in a three way tie for the eighth playoff spot in the West with Phoenix and Minnesota.  If the Wings can’t right the ship and start playing much better than this could be the first year they miss the playoff since 1989/90 season.   Injuries have played a role in this streak of poor play but the team cannot hang it’s hat on that excuse.  The Wings aren’t playing with the fire they’ve had in years past, the fore-checking is spotty and the special teams are atrocious.  Detroit is getting outshot in 33% (5 of 15) of the games so far this season.  In past years the Wings would go a full 82 games without being outshot in that many games.  What factors are causing this strange phenomenon?  Injuries do play a part in this stat but aren’t the only factor the retirement of Nicklas Lidstrom is looming larger than anyone thought.  He was the cornerstone of that defense and a mentor of the younger rear guards and now that he is gone the defense just doesn’t seem to have a leader.  Ian White is back from his injury and Kronwall, Ericsson and him need to step up and provide that leadership.  Another factor in the Wings being outshot is the lack of consistent fore-check by the forwards.  They are letting the other team start up ice without having to make passes to get around fore-checkers, giving their offense a head of steam and not allowing the defense to stack up on the blueline and stop them.  All the forwards, but especially the third and fourth liners need to pick up their fore-check and keep the opposition bottled up.  An aggressive fore-check will also lead to turnovers, scoring chances and penalties.  Of course, having the other team shorthanded isn’t as much of a benefit as it usually is because of the lack of scoring on the man advantage. 
      I wrote a blog a week ago about the lack of powerplay scoring and it hasn’t improved at all.  They are operating at 14.5% which is good for 23rd in the league.  The Wings still have not scored a powerplay goal on the road and it doesn’t look like that will happen anytime soon.  Tuesday 2/19 the Wings go to Nashville whose penalty kill is clipping along at an 89% pace and are only giving up 1.03 goals per game.  The Wings still haven’t solved the problem of Holmstrom’s retirement and it seems like they are trying too hard to get the perfect shot rather than following the old hockey adage that if you throw rubber at the net good things will happen.  With both Franzen and Bertuzzi on the IR Detroit just doesn’t have a traditional big body to put in front of the net.  As I said in the other entry I believe Abdelkader and/or Tootoo could do the job although not in the power forward sense but in the sense of just having a body screening the goalie.  Just as I said before someone on the back end needs to step up and become the powerplay quarterback the Wings have been without since the retirement of Lidstrom.
      Detroit also needs to have more scoring from the defense, the nine defensemen that have played this season have 6 goals and 18 assists and nine of those assists belong to Kronwall.  I’m not saying the Wings need to turn everybody loose and defense be damned, but the rest of the defense corps needs to start shooting more.  This will lead to more scoring chances both for them and the forwards.  Speaking of the forwards, Babcock needs them to start scoring too, after the first line of Datsyuk, Zetterberg and Brunner scoring has been sparse.  The top line has accounted for 19 goals and 28 assists in the 32 game so far and the other 15 forwards that have played this season have 14 goals and 24 assists or to put it another way the top line has scored 1.47 points per game and everybody else 1.19 per game.  To put it one more way, the top line is scoring 15.7 points per person and everybody else 2.5 points per person.  That needs to change if the Wings have any hopes this season.  Patrick Eaves, Jordin Tootoo and Justin Abdelkader have yet to score a goal this season and Darren Helm hasn’t scored because he has yet to play a game this season.  The Wings need all these guys as well as Johan Franzen and Todd Bertuzzi to start scoring.  I also think letting Jiri Hudler go to free agency was a mistake, something Ken Holland doesn’t do very often.  Last year Hudler scored 25 goals and already has 4 this season which would put him fourth on the Wings.  There just doesn’t seem to be the usual swagger in the Wings and they are letting teams dictate the pace of games and giving up leads entirely too often.  The Wings have surrendered five leads this season, and that doesn’t count a one goal early lead but just two or more goals.  If the Wings want to win then they have to protect those leads especially late in the game.  I guess everything has to come to an end eventually but I’m not ready to see the Wings miss the playoff for the first time since 1989/90.  I hope Ken Holland, Jimmy Devellano and Mike Babcock have something in store for the team and the fans or this could be a long shortened season.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Tigers Spring Training 2013

Is Bruce Rondon ready to be the closer for the Tigers in 2013?  Will Victor Martinez be able to contribute to the Tigers at the level he was before the injury?  Will Torii Hunter work out for Detroit?  These are the big question facing the Tigers as they meet in Lakeland for spring training.  If the answers to all these questions turn out to be yes, then it should be a very successful year for the Tigers.  After the disappointment of last year’s performance in the World Series, being swept by San Francisco, Detroit is looking to make that last step and win their first title since 1984.
      A good closer is one of the big steps in the quest for a title.  Last year Jose Valverde was the closer but lost his job in the post season after two bad outings, including a blown save, and was allowed to go to free agency.  As soon as this was announced all the talk centered around who would replace Papa Grande?  Early indications were that Tigers minor league pitcher of the year Bruce Rondon had the inside edge.  In fact Jim Leyland himself said it was Rondon’s Job to lose.  Let’s take a look at Mr. Rondon was born in Valencia Venezuela he will turn 23 on December 9th 2013 he stands 6’2” 190lbs he throws and hits right.  He fits the profile of the prototypical closer- High strikeout rates, occasionally unhittable stuff, but mixed in with bouts of wildness.  He has 100+MPH velocity and at least three pitches.  A fastball, a changeup and a slider and, he might be trying to add another one.  Dave Dombrowski said he is a “rare talent” and he also stated he would probably be the closer in 2013.  So the powers that be have blessed Rondo as the closer, it is still to be seen if he can do it.  He started out 2012 at Class A West Michigan and was promoted to AAA Toledo after appearing in the Midwest League All-Star Game, where he struck out two batters both on fastballs over 100 MPH.  Rondon only threw eight innings at Toledo before the end of the season, which is not much of a body of work to look at, but Dombrowski and Leyland must be very sure about him.  If the Tigers have any hope of repeating their trip to the World Series and winning then a solid closer is vital.  Time will tell if Bruce Rondon will be that closer or if the search will continue.
      Another important question for the Tigers going into spring training is the status of Victor Martinez.  How will the injury and the year off effect him?  Martinez had torn his ACL in off-season workouts before the start of spring training in 2012.  He had surgery to repair the tear and was out the entire 2012 season.  The Tigers missed his bat in 2012 and had to rely on Delmon Young to fill the gap.  With the return of Martinez, young became disposable and was allowed to go to free agency.  Young is good but his numbers just don’t compare to V-Mart.  In 2012 Young hit .267 with 18 homeruns, 74 RBI’s, 20 walks and 112 strikeouts.  In 2011 Martinez hit .330 with 12 homers, 103 RBI’s, 46 walks and 51 strikeouts.  Martinez is also a switch hitter rather than just a right handed hitter like Young.  The question becomes; will Martinez be able to make a comeback and play at the level he did on 2011?  If he can make a full recovery and comes even close to the numbers he put up in 2011, then the Tigers will have another significant bat in their lineup.  Right now it looks like it will be Austin Jackson leading off, Torii Hunter hitting second, Miguel Cabrera up third, Prince Fielder in the cleanup spot and Martinez hitting fifth.  I think this should put the fear of god in the hearts of opposing pitchers.  Martinez has had a whole season to recover and work that knee so he should be ready for the start of the 2013 season, although one never knows what might happen, especially with ACLs
      If Rondon lives up to Dombrowski and Leyland’s expectations and Martinez remains healthy and has a decent season and there are no surprises in other areas ie: injuries or poor play then the Tigers should be able to return to the playoffs and maybe even end the long championship drought Detroit has suffered.  Although over a 162 game season who can tell what will happen.  It will be pleasure and hopefully yours to watch and find out.         

Monday, February 11, 2013


All I have to say is Tigers pitchers and catchers reported to Lakeland today!  The rest of the players report next Monday.  GO TIGERS!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

What Is Wrong With The Red Wings This Year?

      What is wrong with the Red Wings’ special teams play?  I have never seen a powerplay as anemic as this one and the penalty kill is even worse.  The Wings are clipping along at a sterling rate of 14% on the powerplay, ranking them 26th in the league.  They are only killing 72.2% of their shorthanded situations also putting them 26th in the league.  These stats more than any other are responsible for the lack of success the Wings are experiencing.  What can be done to change this situation?  Heck, I don’t know I’m not a hockey coach I just like to blast them when they mess up but I have a few ideas.      
      The retirements of Captain and powerplay quarterback Nicklas Lidstrom and Tomas Holmstrom are apparently bigger deals then everybody thought.  Wings fans knew that there would be a drop off in powerplay efficiency with Nick and Homer gone but no one had an idea it would be this bad.  The loss of the heart of the team as well as one of the best quarterbacks in NHL history would be hard for any team to deal with, if you add the best, in front of the net player, in league history it makes it nearly impossible to maintain powerplay efficiency.  The Wings need to replace that body in front of the net and find a new quarterback as quickly as possible.  Who can play those parts?  I think the best choices to take over Holmstrom’s spot are Johan Franzen and Dan Cleary.  Franzen has been playing the role so far this season with Cleary filling in on the second unit.  I believe having The Mule in front of the net is a waste of talent, not to say that screening goalies and deflecting pucks doesn’t take talent , but Franzen is too good of a natural scorer to have him doing that.  I know he has a big frame and is tough but I just don’t think he is suited to the job.  I think Cleary is a better choice, he has a good nose for the net, the instinct to see those rebounds sitting on the doorstep and he is one tough customer who won’t shy away from the action in front of the crease.  I also have a few other ideas for that spot.  Todd Bertuzzi, Justin Abdelkader and Jordin Tootoo would all be great filling the Holmstrom role.  Bert was a scorer early in his career but now I think he could be perfect for this role.  He is the biggest and heaviest forward on the team and has shown over the last three seasons that he is willing to take whatever a defense can dish out in the quest to score a goal.  Because he is so big it will be hard for defenders to move him from in front of the net and that could lead to even more penalties.  I think Tootoo could be especially good at it, he knows how to take punishment, he is a little fireplug of a guy, in the model of the “Little Ball of Hate” Pat Verbeek, and he played the role occasionally for the Predators in the early part of his career.  Abdelkader is also a solidly built smaller guy and I think he has the guts to stand in front of the net and be pummeled by defensemen and peppered by pucks.  Another advantage to Abdelkader is his speed and his shot.  He is faster than Bertuzzi, Franzen, Cleary and Tootoo and can score in a breakaway situation which was always a minus with Homer. 
     The powerplay quarterback role is the key to the whole thing, they don’t refer to them as quarterbacks for nothing.  A good quarterback runs the powerplay and distributes the puck and can responsible for a lot of the powerplay scoring.  Lidstrom was one of the best in league history and will be hard to replace but that is just what the Wings need to do.  Kronwall is currently filling that role but I think he is ill-suited to do it.  He is a hard hitting stay at home defensemen that makes the other team think twice about crossing the blue line.  In putting him as the quarterback, Mike Babcock has taken all the fire out of Kroner’s game.  This season I haven’t seen one of the highlight reel hits he has become famous for and I think that’s because of the “A” he wears on his sweater and his new role as the powerplay quarterback.  He is trying to act like an alternate captain and stay out of the box and out of trouble but that is what made his game great.  So who do I think should be back there on the powerplay?  That is a really hard question and we might not have a choice.  All of the other defensemen on the roster have scored a combined 21 powerplay goals while Kronwall has scored 22.  If Kronwall is going to change his game and become the new but paler version of Lidstrom Then the Wings also need to find another rear guard to fill the role Kronwall used to play.  Jonathon Ericsson could fill the roll, last season he was only a few hits behind Kronwall and he is bigger and heavier then Kroner.  Rookie Brian Lashoff could also fill the role.  He is playing with the big club because of injuries and when players start getting healthy he could be looking for a new role to stay in Detroit.  Currently he is the leading hitter for defensemen and I think this could be his ticket to stay in the NHL.
      The penalty kill is another area of great concern, with teams scoring on 27.7% of their powerplays it puts a real damper on the Wings both offensively and defensively.  A bad penalty kill makes everybody play a little more careful and leads to more scoring chances for the opposition.  The Wings have given up at a PP goal per game in the last seven games.  The PK hasn’t been this bad since 2008/2009 season when it was 78.6% but since then it has been on the decline.  In 2009 it was 83.9% in 2010 it was 82.3% and last year it was 81.8%.  What could the cause of this decline be?  The retirements of Lidstrom, Chris Chelios, Darren McCarty, Kris Draper and Kirk Maltby all factor into that decline.  All those players are gone and they aren’t coming back so the Wings need to make it work with the players they have today.  So, what needs to be done to bring the penalty kill back up to snuff?  The Wings need to work harder for the pucks in the corners, do a better job of clearing out forwards from in front of the net and at the same time they need to come out and challenge the players at the points.  Their passing in the defensive zone has not been very good and is leading to a lot of turn overs when the puck should be cleared.  This means the PK units are staying out there longer and that causes mistakes and sloppy play.  The players are aware of their lack of success on the penalty kill and that means their pressing to clear the puck.  When players press they are more likely to fail and it becomes and vicious circle.  The Wings just need to relax and play their system.  It is a proven winner and if the players just follow the game plan then the PK will take of itself.  Whatever the players and coaches decided on something needs to change fast because without solid special teams play teams will just run roughshod over the Wings. They will hack and whack with impunity because they know the Detroit powerplay can’t score and if they don’t improve the penalty kill it will restrict the freedom the players have to take chances and shutdown the opposition.  If these areas do not improve then this could be the first time in 20 years the Wings don’t make the playoffs.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Should Tomas Holmstrom Make The Hall of Fame

      Should Tomas Holmstrom be elected to the Hall of Fame when he becomes eligible in 2016?  I believe he should, he was a key piece of four Detroit Red Wings Stanley Cup Championship teams.  There has never been another player in NHL history that was better at screening goalies and causing havoc in front of the net.  Goalies and defensemen hated to see him skating to the net to take up a position just outside the crease and attempt to re-direct a shot from the point into the net.  Holmstrom was hacked, whacked, crosschecked and tripped, he had goalies ram their sticks into his crotch and defensemen try to keep him on the ice after being knocked down.  The area in front of the crease became known as "his office."  He wasn’t the fastest skater and didn’t have the hardest shot but he had the best hand/eye coordination in league history.  There wasn’t a better player at knocking a puck out of the air or tipping it on the ice.  Few players absorbed as much punishment in the quest to score a goal as Homer did.  He earned the nickname of Demolition Man for both the havoc he caused and the punishment he took.  In his 15 seasons with the Red Wings, he amassed 243 goals and 287 assists for 530 points in 1026 games.    He scored 20 or more goals five times and had at least 50 points twice.  Holmstrom had 97 points in 180 playoff games and won Stanley Cups in 1997, 1998, 2002 & 2008.  He is sixth in games played, fourth in playoff games played and thirteenth in points all-time for the Red Wings.  Is this an impressive enough resume to warrant election into the Hall of Fame?  I believe that it is, especially when the stats of some of the other Honored Members are compared to his. 
       There are at least ten Members with stats comparable to Holmstrom, I don’t see how the hockey writers can put these guys in and not elect Holmstrom when he becomes eligible.  Bill Mosienko, Bill Cook, brothers Charlie, Roy and Lionel Conacher, Bryan Hextall, Busher Jackson, Toe Blake, Teeder Kennedy and Dick Duff, are all players in the Hall of Fame with stats close to Homer's.  Mosienko who played most of his career with Chicago and racked up 258 goals and 282 assists for 540 points.  Cook had 229 goals 138 assists for 367 points mostly for the New York Rangers.  Charlie Conacher scored 225 goals, 173 assists for 398 points for the Maple Leafs.  His brothers Roy and Lionel who played for Boston/Chicago & the New York Americans/Montreal Moroons respectively, garnered 226 goals, 200 assists for 426 points while Lionel had 80 goals 105 assists for 185 points.  Hextall had 187 goals, 175 assists and 362 points for the Rangers.  Jackson racked up 241 goals, 234 assists for 475 points playing for Toronto and Boston.  The great Toe Blake earned 235 goals, 292 assists for 527 points for the Canadiens, while Kennedy had 231 goals, 239 assists for 560 points playing for the Leafs and Duff had 283 goals, 289 assists for 572 points for Montreal and Toronto.  I'm sure nobody would say that any of these players don't deserve to be in the Hall, so what would be the knock on Holmstrom? 
      You can't say it is because of his longevity, because only five other Red Wings have played more games.  It can't be because of a lack of championships, because he has four Cups.  Holmstrom was not the prototypical sniper but that wasn't his game.  His job was to irritate and annoy goalies and defensemen, get tip-ins and deflections and clean up garbage around the net and I think he is the best there has ever been at that.  Patrick Roy and Ron Hextall hated Holmstrom and received more than one penalty for slashing or roughing and even if they weren't called, they were thinking more about him than the game.  It is impossible to quantify how many goals he had a hand in beyond those he was given credit for.  How many times were goals scored because the goalie was thinking about Holmstrom or because Homer was blocking his vision?  We can never know but four Stanley Cups says quite a few.  Tomas Holmstrom also changed the game, before he came into the league, a player screening goalies happened but wasn't a designed play.  Homer and Scotty Bowman, his coach when he came into the league, started putting him in front of the goalie, using his big body to shield the puck from view.  It started on the power play but it was so successful that Bowman started having him do it all the time.  Before long, every team had a guy who had the job to screen goalies.  If that isn't enough to get into the Hall of Fame, I don't know what is.