Fnatic stong logo

What’s Wrong With Fnatic Dota 2?

Fnatic is one of the most recognizable names in all of esports. Their Dota 2 side however is currently on a downward spiral that seems to have no end. Having tried and failed to replicate the success at TI6, what’s next for Fnatic?

Fnatic at TI6

Fnatic at TI6

Fnatic team at TI6
Courtesy of Fnatic.com

Lets rewind the clock back to August 2016, the month of The International. Things are looking good for the team, a solid roster and good performances see them going to TI confident they can surprise a few people. Fnatic surprised even themselves when they managed to finish in a very respectable fourth position.

After a disappointing group stage, Fnatic found themselves in the losers bracket from the get go. After winning a best of one against Escape Gaming, they faced off with former winners Alliance, who the defeated them with relative ease 2-0. They then faced up against Team Liquid and MVP Phoenix, defeating both teams 2-0. Fnatic were finally defeated by Digital Chaos who would eventually finish as the runner up.

The team performed above most people’s expectations and took home a whopping $1,453,932. After such a strong performance in the tournament, the future looked bright for the team. However, as is often the case in competitive Dota, roster changes can and will always happen.

August 19th 2016 will be a sad day in the history of Fnatic, as it is announced that Dj has official left the team to go back to the Philippines. Now, whilst one change is manageable, things went from bad to worse when it was announced on August 24th that both MidOne and 343 were leaving the team. From finishing fourth at TI to having a roster with two official players in less than two weeks. Things looked bleak.

All clouds have a silver lining

In the weeks following the departure of more than half the team, fans were worried as the future looked bleak. However, on September 6th, Fnatic announced their new roster for the Boston Major.

Fnatic at the Major

Courtesy of twitter.com

It was announced that Raven, eyyou, and DeMoN would be leaving TNC Pro Team and joining Fnatic. This was a big statement from Fnatic, and the future started to look bright.

The team seemed to be gelling well and the results were started to come, and with Boston on the horizon things were looking up for the team.

True Sight revealed the cracks

Fnatic on True Sight

courtesy of gosugamers.net

Valve True Sight documentary series gave fans an insight into the struggle teams face on a daily basis. Unfortunately, the series showed the struggles that the Fnatic team were having. New additions Raven and eyyou were struggling with standing up to the legend that is Mushi.

The documentary showed that the team was struggling and qualification to the Major looked increasingly unlikely. Fnatic eventually crashed out in the qualifiers and never made it to Boston, spelling the end for the team. On November 28th, Fnatic announced they had parted ways with Raven, eyyou, and DeMoN, leaving Mushi and Ohaiyo looking for three again.

We have a tournament in three days, better announce a team

Fast forward to January 2017, it has been two months since Fnatic has been on a world stage, and ESL One Genting is around the corner. Fnatic had been invited to the event, and with only a few days until the tournament, no roster had been announced.

Fans clamored to find out information regarding the new roster in the lead up to the tournament. Finally, on January 4th, a mere three days before the tournament starts, Fnatic announce their roster.

Fnatic logo

courtesy of twitter.com

Dota2: Roster Update

READ » https://t.co/OjZ1NEju0F pic.twitter.com/KBteT4PWlu

— FNATIC (@FNATIC) January 4, 2017

 

 

 

Full Roster

Yee Fung “Mushi” Chai – Mid/Carry

Muhammad Rizky “Inyourdream” Anugrah – Mid/Carry

Chong Xin “Ohaiyo” Khoo – Offlaner

Yong-min “Febby” Kim – Roaming Support

Ng “YamateH” Wei Poong – Hard Support (Stand in)

[Taken from Fnatic.com]

Announcing a roster three days before a major tournament has panic written all over it. Needless to say things did not end well for Fnatic as they crashed out on day one, and the experiment was a failure. They say when it rains it pours, and this seems to be the case for Fnatic at present. Just five days after announcing the new roster, they had to make more changes.

It was announced that Inyourdream would have to leave the team for family issues. Combine this with YamateH only being a stand-in and Fnatic were left with half a squad once again.

So what’s the plan now?

Fnatic entered the StarLadder qualifiers with practically a pick-up team, and as expected failed to qualify. Having been invited to the SEA regional qualifiers for the upcoming DAC qualifiers, it was announced that they would not be participating and taking the time to identify the correct roster. This was definitely the correct decision as they are yet to find a solid roster and are currently plummeting into uncharted territory.

Things are not all bad though. Throughout all of the issues, they have managed to hang-on to both Mushi and Ohaiyo, and with the recent addition of Febby they have a core roster that has potential. The focus needs to be on taking a break from the international scene to rebuild themselves in the regional scene first. With the amount of talent currently in SEA, it will be difficult for Fnatic to rise back to the top of the pile.

Can Fnatic be reborn?

Fnatic still posses the ability to be a formidable team on the world stage, and it is important that the current players do not lose sight of this. The main problem they will face is that a lot of the teams in SEA have solidified rosters and are unlikely to release players for Fnatic to pick up. Roster changes currently look unlikely as the Kiev Major is scheduled to take place in April.

Courtesy of imgur.com

Fnatic will most likely have to pick up two relatively unknown players in the hope of rounding out their squad ahead of the qualifiers for Kiev. All things considered, it may be better for Fnatic to wait until the inevitable roster shuffle that will follow Kiev as they may have the option to get more recognized players.

Whilst they may be down, Fnatic are by no means out. The next couple of months will be a real testing time for both the players and the organisation. But should they make it through the trials and tribulations, they will grow as a team.

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Over/Under (Part 1): LCS Players Above Expectations

With two weeks of gameplay under our belts, it is becoming more and more clear which players are carrying their teams, and which players have become burdensome. Most pre-season predictions regarding individual players have come to be true. However, there are several examples of players who have gone a tier above expectations, and others who have gone a tier below.

This week I want to recognize an LCS player from each position that has exceeded expectations. These are individuals who have contributed to their team in a note-worthy way. Some players we thought might have a tough time against strong lane opponents. Others we thought might not be ready for the LCS. Still others we expected to simply be unknown factors coming into the Split. Regardless, these five players have been crucial to the success of their respective teams.  

Samson “Lourlo” Jackson

Team Liquid, Top Laner

KDA:    7.7   (1st Overall)

D%:    6.9% (1st Overall)

While Team Liquid has not looked great as a team, Lourlo has been performing above expectations. He averages almost even with his lane opponents. He averages one death per game (only 10 total deaths so far). This allows Lourlo to constantly engage, playing champions such as Nautilus and Poppy. Lourlo is reliable to survive ganks and remain even with tough lane opponents.

Team Liquid Top laner, Lourlo

courtesy of Riot eSports

FlyQuest Jungler, Moon

courtesy of Riot eSports

 

 

Galen “Moon” Holgate

FlyQuest, Jungle

KDA:  5.0   (7th Overall)

FB:   60%   (3rd Overall)

Moon’s statistics paint him to be an aggressive early-game Jungler far above expectations. He offers a high KDA, high damage throughout the game, and high rates of securing First Blood. Moon is generally behind in CS at 10 minutes; but by then he has most likely allowed his team to create pressure around the map. Moon has even pulled out surprise picks like Evelynn and Kindred.

Hai “Hai” Du Lam

FlyQuest, Mid Laner

DPM:  670    (1st Overall)

EGPM: 284.5 (3rd Overall)

Hai has a middling KDA and averages even in CS at 10 minutes. What he is known for is play-making and decisive shot-calling. Hai has the highest damage to champions of all players, far above expectations. He also has the third highest earned gold per minute. Hai is always making the most of every second of the game. This translates to FlyQuest’s 70% first Dragon rate and 75% first Baron rate.

FlyQuest's Mid laner, Hai

courtesy of Riot eSports

Unicorns of Love AD Carry, Samux

courtesy of Riot eSports

Samuel “Samux” Fernández Fort

Unicorns of Love, AD Carry

KDA:      6.4 (4th Overall)

CSD10: +6.7 (6th Overall)

There have been several games where Samux holds lane 1v2 while his Support roams to create pressure around the map. The fact that Samux can come out ahead in CS is even more impressive. With an average of 21.9% of his team’s gold (lowest ADC), he serves as a low-economy player that enables his Top, Mid, and Jungler to get fed. Samux’s instant meshing with Unicorns of Love has been above expectations.

Lee “IgNar” Dong-geun

Misfits, Support

KDA: 7.9    (2nd Overall)

KP:   78%   (4th Overall)

Playing champions such as Thresh and Taric, IgNar is not afraid to play the map. While he already demonstrated his reliability in the Challenger Series, his transition to the EU LCS has been above expectations. IgNar sets up kills for all of his teammates while maintaining very low death rates. He also averages 1.52 wards per minute (2nd highest among all players), which is quintessential for successful roaming and intelligent ganking.

Misfits' Support, IgNar, and Jungler, KaKAO

courtesy of Riot eSports

Each of these players will need to continue exhibiting excellent play to maintain, or improve, their teams’ standings. We are only two weeks in, and as teams begin adapting to one another’s play-style, we could see changes. Whether it is a change in competition, a change within the meta, or a change in League of Legends itself, these players will need to continue to adapt if they want to succeed.

Keep an eye out next week for my list of under-performers. Just as some players have exceeded expectations, others have fallen short. I will acknowledge five more players on that list that will need to improve in order for their team to move up in the standings.

Correction(s): This article previously provided an image of Misfits’ Jungler, Lee “KaKAO” Byung-kwon, instead of IgNar. Also, Moon was incorrectly labeled as the Jungler for Team Liquid instead of FlyQuest.

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Connor McDavid, Alex Ovechkin, Gary Bettman, NHL, Olypmics, 2018 Pyeonchang Olympics, NHLPA, IIHF, IOC, Donald Fehr, Russia

Are you Pro-lympic?

How many superstars does it take to get to the Olympics? Heck if I know. But there’s one more name to throw into the growing mix of opinions that is the 2018 Winter Olympics.

Connor McDavid, Alex Ovechkin, Gary Bettman, NHL, Olypmics, 2018 Pyeonchang Olympics, NHLPA, IIHF, IOC, Donald Fehr, Russia

Photo credit: Mark J. Terrill, Associate Press.

Connor McDavid came out as Pro-lympic over the All-Star weekend.

McDavid made explicit his views on NHL participation saying, “100 percent they should go. I couldn’t really picture an Olympics without it, to be honest,” McDavid said.

To be able to compete in the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in South Korea would be a dream come true for the young phenom according to Postmedia.

McDavid is just one of many calling for Olympic participation on behalf of the players. Alex Ovechkin has never been shy on the matter, stating repeatedly his intention to play for Russia regardless of the NHL’s stance. Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis has stood by his franchise forward, fully supporting Ovechkin’s decision.

But not all owners support sending its biggest players and money makers, halfway across the globe to compete in an event from which they do not profit.

We didn’t need McDavid to remind us about the Olympic confusion, though. Commissioner Gary Bettman very clearly, and carefully, explained exactly where they are on the issue.

Nowhere.

Connor McDavid, Alex Ovechkin, Gary Bettman, NHL, Olypmics, 2018 Pyeonchang Olympics, NHLPA, IIHF, IOC, Donald Fehr, Russia

Photo credit: Mark J. Terrill, Associated Press.

Bettman made sure to interrupt the painfully slow All-Star extravaganza to tell the fans that himself and the owners have spent almost no time discussing the issue at all. In fact, there is a good chance that Bettman spent more time talking about the Olympics this weekend than the entirety of the NHL brass has in total.

Just to recap: Last year the International Olympic Comittee announced they would no longer foot the bill for travel and insurance costs; roughly $10-20 million dollars.

So, Bettman and the NHL approached the NHL Players Association with a deal.

In return for the NHL fronting the travel and insurance bills, suffering the revenue losses, and risking their most valuable assets to injury, the NHLPA was asked to extend the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, thereby waiving their opt-out clause in 2019; extending the current CBA well into the future and ensuring players the opportunity to play international hockey for another two Olympics.

This proposal was categorically shot down by the NHLPA.

The International Ice Hockey Federation, meanwhile, pledged to raise the money for the NHL. However, Bettman politely declined citing that the NHL could not accept money that would otherwise be spent on grass roots funding and growing the game.

NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr provided brief shimmer of hope saying in a statement,

I’m more optimistic now than I have ever been, at least as far as we’re concerned, that we’ll be able to reach an appropriate agreement with the IIHF to allow for the players to go.

Connor McDavid, Alex Ovechkin, Gary Bettman, NHL, Olypmics, 2018 Pyeonchang Olympics, NHLPA, IIHF, IOC, Donald Fehr, Russia

Photo credit: Tom Szczerbowski, USA Today Sports.

And that was that. Until Bettman made sure to tell the masses just how little the NHL has been working to make things happen.

In essence, the issue is really quite simple.

If NHL players go, the Olympics will be better, but the League will lose some money.

If the NHL players don’t go, the Olympics will be much worse and the NHL will carry on as normal.

Repeatedly, Gary Bettman and the owners have stated that because the games are so far away they have nothing to gain and everything to lose. Given the League’s mandate to grow the game, these statements seem to directly contravene Gary Bettman and the NHL’s obligation to youth around the world.

And this is the part where we all realize that the NHL isn’t soft and cuddly. It’s not your childhood best friend or the buddy you hang out with every Saturday night. It may be the game you grew up playing, but it isn’t your game.

The NHL is business, it’s a corporation. A corporation who seemingly has little to no interest in whatever market might exist in the 2018 Pyeonchang Winter Olympics.

Connor McDavid, Alex Ovechkin, Gary Bettman, NHL, Olypmics, 2018 Pyeonchang Olympics, NHLPA, IIHF, IOC, Donald Fehr, Russia

Photo credit: Getty Images

The NHL may believe they can only lose by going to Pyeongchang, but they also have something to lose by not participating as well.

The fans have called for their favorite players, in many cases their countrymen, to compete; repeatedly. Players have pledged allegiance to the Olympics, and superstars at that. The IIHF has even offered to empty their coffers for the cause. But Bettman and the owners have not budged an inch.

If the NHL declines to participate it will result in a serious blow to their integrity.

Bettman has made few friends of fans during his tenure as NHL commissioner, though. Through three lockouts and countless berating and belittling boo’s, the thick skinned commissioner takes his orders from a higher power; the board of governors.

As a result, Bettman is unlikely to put much stock in the thoughts and feelings of the NHL’s true money makers; its fans.

As it stands, there’s not much too much to be optimistic about with regards to seeing our favorite players compete for their countries next winter.

For what it’s worth, though, the NHL has not set a timeline for their decision. So anything is possible.

 

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Position Rankings for 2017 MLB Season: Right Field

In this ninth installment of our Position Rankings for the 2017 MLB season, we will cover right field. Right field is akin to left in the fact that defense and speed is becoming much more prominent. Let’s take a look at our list starting at number five.

2017 MLB Season

CarGo will look for plenty of balls to carry out of the park in 2017 (Chris Humphreys, USA TODAY Sports).

5. Carlos Gonzalez- Colorado Rockies

Ever since Carlos Gonzalez became a full-time starter for the Colorado Rockies in 2010, he has been a force to be reckoned with.

He hit .298/.350/.505 on his way to his third NL All-Star game appearance in 2016. Gonzalez also provided run support, mashing 25 homers and driving in 100 RBIs. Those are the type of numbers you expect from a middle-of-the-order bat, and CarGo delivers.

He also plays well in the field, as evident last season. Gonzalez had four defensive runs saved in right field this past season, proving him to be a great fielder. He has actually been a much better right fielder than a left fielder, with 18 defensive runs saved in right and -4 in left over his nine year career.

His ability to drive the ball out of the park and hit for average make Gonzalez one of the premier hitters in the game, but it’s a combination of his glove and bat that land him the number five spot on our rankings.

4. Giancarlo Stanton- Miami Marlins

With a career 142 OPS+, you would think Giancarlo Stanton would be hands down number one on this list. However, there’s more to the story. Stanton has been a beast at the plate, when he plays. He has only played two full seasons over his seven-year career.

In a limited number of games, Stanton has still earned his spot on these rankings. In 2016, Stanton hit .240/.326/.489 to go along with 27 homers and 74 RBIs. While his offense is like a dream come true, don’t sleep on his defense.

Stanton has been a solid fielder in right, posting four defensive runs saved in 2016 and 39 over his career. It is even more impressive when considering Stanton’s size at 6-foot-6 and 245 pounds. He is able to use his massive frame to drive balls out of the park at a prodigious rate.

At age 27, Stanton is entering his prime and already has 208 career home runs. If he can stay healthy, Stanton has a legitimate chance to join the 500 or even 600 home run club.

3. George Springer- Houston Astros

2017 MLB Season

George Springer provides a little bit of everything for the Houston Astros (Otto Greule Jr, Getty Images North America).

The Astros have returned to relevancy, evident by their surprising playoff run in 2015. One player responsible for that is George Springer.

Springer was drafted by the Astros in the middle of their rebuild, and has been a building block since his inception into the franchise. In 2016, Springer played 162 games while batting .261/.359/.457 as well as slugging 29 homers and driving in 82 RBIs. Springer has been solid offensively since being called up in 2014 with a 126 OPS+.

Springer has also been solid in the outfield, specifically in right field. He had five defensive runs saved in 2016 in right field, showcasing his defensive abilities.

While Springer played his first full season in the majors in 2016, he was still able to show the Astros why he has been called a five-tool player. He will have every chance to showcase his five tools in 2017.

2. Bryce Harper- Washington Nationals

With five years in the majors at age 24, Bryce Harper has been one of the youngest players in the game since his debut in 2012 at 19 years old. He had been one of the most hyped prospects in recent history, and lived up to expectations. He brought home the NL MVP Award in 2015.

He followed up in 2016 with a solid season. He batted .243/.373/.441 while hitting 24 homers and driving in 86 RBIs. He also set a career high in stolen bases with 21. His overall offensive game helps make up for his sometimes subpar defense.

Harper had -3 defensive runs saved in 2016, nothing to write home about but acceptable with his offensive output. Harper has had 7 defensive runs saved in right field throughout his career, so 2016 could be an anomaly. With a staggering 198 OPS+ in 2015, Harper brought home the NL MVP award and set himself up for massive expectations for 2016. While he didn’t quite live up to them, he was solid nonetheless. Not even close to his prime, Harper will look to continue to improve in 2017.

1. Mookie Betts- Boston Red Sox

2017 MLB Season

Mookie Betts will lead the Red Sox in 2017 after David Ortiz’s retirement (Jim Davis , Globe Staff).

While Mookie Betts wasn’t able to stick in the majors in his first call up with the Red Sox, he was able to turn it around in his second call up.

His 2016 season was easily the best of his young career as he hit .318/.363/.534 while blasting 31 homers. He also became a premier run producer, driving in 113 RBIs to go along with 26 stolen bases. That elite level of offensive production gave him a 131 OPS+, easily the best of his career.

Betts was able to blow away expectations both in the batter’s box as well as the outfield. In 157 games in right field, Betts had 32 defensive runs saved. That is a staggering amount for any player in Major League Baseball, let alone one who was only 23 years old in 2016.

If Betts can produce even half of those defensive numbers and continue his offensive pace in 2017, he will loft himself into the elite tier of players in today’s game.

Right field seems to be in good, young hands. With Carlos Gonzalez being the elder statesman of the list at 31 years old, this position is primed to dominate the bigs for years to come.

 

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

Stars That Should Be in The NBA All-Star Celebrity Game

It was recently announced that Brazilian basketball legend Oscar Schmidt will be participating in the NBA All-Star Celebrity Game. Here are some other icons that would make the game even more of a spectacle come All-Star Weekend.

NBA All-Star Celebrity GameJack Nicholson (Coach): Oscar Schmidt is an international basketball legend, but actor Jack Nicholson is a legend in his own right. And no, not just on the big-screen. Nicholson is one of the biggest celebrity basketball fans out there.

He has been a staple of Lakers games for years now. Sure, the man might be chasing 80 years now. But having him in the All-Star game would add an extra level of intrigue to the game. New York Knicks superman Spike Lee was the coach of the celebrity game in 2015, so Nicholson’s time has come.

Will Smith: Whether or not Smith can play ball is uncertain. But he is a huge Philadelphia 76ers fan, and he certainly balled out in Fresh Prince of Bel Air back in the day. Getting Will Smith in the Celeb game would be and instant classic.

NBA All-Star Celebrity Game

Tiger Woods: Tiger recently made his (not-so) triumphant return to golf, and maybe it’s time for him to step onto the hardwood. Woods is one of the most gifted athletes of this generation, and has been a huge Orlando Magic fan.

Putting in one of the biggest athletes of the 21st century would be big enough, but the controversy that Tiger could bring with it would add another layer of intrigue. Get El Tigre into the Celeb game.

Mark Cuban: Sure, Cuban owns the Mavericks, but the guy is a marketing powerhouse. He steals the stage everywhere he goes, and no doubt the Celeb game would prove no differently. Cuban would undoubtedly be a hit on the course, and in the interview room.

Jared from Subway: Ok this might be a stretch. If only because Jared is currently in prison, getting him to New Orleans might cause some logistical problems this year. Nevertheless, getting the former commercial star to the celebrity game would be a great show. Jared is a big Indiana Pacers fan, and is still just 39 years old. Surely, it would make for great television.

Barack Obama: We come to the final, and most important name on this list. There is currently a huge push to get former President Barack Obama to New Orleans to play in the game. Sure, it might be a bit of a long shot. But can you imagine?

Obama is currently on vacation and enjoying his time now that he is out of office, but right now the Celebrity game needs him. Drop those swim trunks and lace up those sneakers Barry. The time has come for you to shine.

Here are some highlights of Barry ballin’ out on the hardwood. Expect lots of weak defense on the president if he plays. And for the sake of the potential greatest moment in Celebrity game history, please play Barry. Please play.

 

 

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2017 MLB Rankings: Sizing up the Season Part Six

The sixth and final installment of the Game Haus’s 2017 MLB Rankings: Sizing up the Season. The season is almost upon us with just 14 days until pitchers and catchers report.

While teams continue to make minor moves before the start of camp, it appears rosters are mostly settled. Soon the conversation will switch from MLB hot stove to who will make the cut this spring. As Arizona and Florida prepare for early spring action it falls on The Game Haus to finish ranking those elite few who will undoubtedly be contending come October.

Without further ado, it’s time to round third and head for home.

5. Los Angeles Dodgers

2017 MLB Rankings: Sizing up the Season Part Six

2016 record: 91-71

The Dodgers are getting the band back together and they certainly paid to do it. Both Kenley Jansen and Justin Turner collected sizeable payouts at five years $85 million and four years $65 million respectively.

Los Angeles also managed to procure Logan Forsythe from Tampa to fill a minor gap at second. Offloading a prospect like Jose De Leon indicates a win-now mentality and there’s no reason LA shouldn’t have one.

Los Angeles brought the juggernaut Cubs to six games in the NLCS. With a healthy Clayton Kershaw and a budding star in Julio Urias, they should be right back in the mix. The Dodgers may face some resistance from the Giants and potentially the dark horse Rockies, but they’re still a clear favorite in the division.

4. Washington Nationals

2017 MLB Rankings: Sizing up the Season Part Six

2016 record: 95-67

The Nationals experienced a disappointing ending to 2016 but should see a strong return in the coming season. A fully healthy Bryce Harper is going to help here along with the pickup of Adam Eaton to shore up the outfield. The loss of Wilson Ramos may leave some questions at catcher but there is more than enough pop elsewhere in this lineup.

Young short stop Trea Turner exploded onto the scene in 2016 and appears more than capable of holding his own. Lineup aside, the combination of Max Scherzer and Steven Strasburg may represent the best one-two punch in the MLB, while the rest of the rotation remains solid.

Other than the Mets, the Nationals should have little to contend with in the East. Expect to see a Washington playoff appearance for the second year in a row.

3. Boston Red Sox

2017 MLB Rankings: Sizing up the Season Part Six

2016 record: 93-69

Chris Sale will head up a rotation that already has David Price and reigning AL Cy Young winner Rick Porcello. Pair that rotation with the lineup that scored the most runs in baseball last year, and it’s clear Boston will be formidable yet again.

There is no replacing Big Papi or his power production, but there is more than enough young talent to suffice. With arguably the number one prospect in Andrew Benintendi and MVP candidate Mookie Betts, a new generation of stars emerge.

The AL East may be the most hotly contested division this year, but the Red Sox remain a cut above.

2. Cleveland Indians

2017 MLB Rankings: Sizing up the Season Part Six

2016 record: 94-67

The Indians have been searching for a true middle of the lineup power bat for years. There can be no doubt they found it in Edwin Encarnacion. That move, a healthy Michael Brantley, and a pitching staff at full strength may help overcome a tough 2016 finish.

The Indians remain a team of scrappy role players but Terry Francona’s ability to manage this squad makes them dangerous. A top-tier rotation backed by the bullpen strength of Cody Allen and Andrew Miller means the Indians will need few runs to rack up wins.

A weakened AL Central clearly places them at the top of the division, but a strong October run is what’s needed to win it all.

1. Chicago Cubs

2017 MLB Rankings: Sizing up the Season Part Six

2016 record: 103-58-1

It’s hard to debate that the world champs and their young core will again be at the top of the mix. Some may have argued the loss of Aroldis Chapman would impact their less than dominant bullpen. However, this was quickly addressed with the addition of Wade Davis for an under-performing Jorge Soler.

Dexter Fowler chose to move on to a divisional rival, but will be replaced with more youth in Albert Almora Jr. Other than another year’s experience and one world championship under their belt, not much has changed in Chicago.

There’s a chance the consistent Cardinals or talented Pirates challenge the top, but it’s unlikely the Cubs miss a beat.

Link to Previous Rankings

 

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Franchise Analysis – Oakland Raiders

Depending on the media outlets you follow, the Oakland Raiders’ success in 2016 may or may not have surprised you. Every year, a few teams are able to take the next step and get into the postseason. Today, let’s look into one team who was able to push into the playoffs in 2016, with some Oakland Raiders analysis.

But why was 2016 the year for the Raiders? Well, it was the accumulation of prudent free agent signings, smart and fortuitous drafting and patience. So, what do the Raiders need to do in 2017 to catapult themselves to the top of the AFC West?

2016 Evaluation – Offense

The Oakland Raiders quickly burst onto the scene as one of the most exciting NFL offenses. Led by Derek Carr, they finished as the seventh-ranked offense in terms of points and sixth in terms of yards. Other than improved play by Carr, what other factors allowed this offense to blossom in 2016?

A common theme in most of my analysis is the focus on every team’s offensive line. This was the second-most impacted factor in this season’s offensive success. They were one of the best line units in all of football.

Oakland Raiders analysis

Derek Carr had a breakout year in 2016 by entering the NFL MVP conversation and will look to improve on his success in 2017 (Courtesy of; sportsnaut.com).

Why? Because this franchise spends the second most cap space on their offensive line in the NFL. This unit accounts for over 23% of their cap space at $37.5 million. Acquiring Kelechi Osemele and Rodney Hudson in free agency and drafting Gabe Jackson were critical to this team’s breakout performance in 2016.

For some perspective, this unit allowed the least amount of sacks in the NFL with 18. That is absolutely incredible. Some defensive players will amass more sacks by themselves than the Raiders allowed as a unit. So, if the offensive line doesn’t need improvement, what does Oakland need to do to take the next step in 2017?

While this offense was entertaining to watch and scored a lot of points, they didn’t do it by attacking down the field. Carr often targeted Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree with short and intermediate throws of 15-25 yards.

For example, Carr completed 50 passes of 20 yards or more in 2016, but only eight passes of 40 or more yards, according to NFL.com. Surprisingly, Carr had a lower yards per attempt mark than Alex Smith and Andy Dalton with just 7.03. While they had great offensive success, the Raiders offense can ascend to another level in 2017.

2016 Evaluation – Defense

It was evident to even the most fair weather of Raiders’ fans, if those even exist, that this defense struggled to play consistently at an just an average level. As a whole, this defense finished 20th in points and 26th in yards. Based on this team’s personality, it will be hard for this defense to ascend into the top-10 category.

Because their offense can score so effectively, they will have to get better against teams in “comeback mode”. Meaning, by mid-third quarter, the opposition will have to throw their way back into the game.

Oakland Raiders analysis

Ever since the Raiders drafted Khalil Mack with the number two overall pick, he’s proved his worth, but he can’t play all 11 defensive positions (Courtesy of; Endzonescore.com).

Given this situation, the Raiders can better in of two ways. They can pair Khalil Mack with another pass rusher to pressure the quarterback. Or, they could invest in their secondary, giving the players they already have more time to accumulate sacks.

The Raiders would be best served to target defensive linemen, given that they finished dead last in the NFL with only 25 sacks.

Ideally, they should look to upgrade Denico Autry for their base defense. Autry wasn’t able to excel in stopping the run or applying pressure.

It was unfortunate what happened to Mario Edwards Jr. and how he was unable to build upon the productivity of his rookie season. If he returns healthy, maybe Edwards Jr. could a suitable replacement for Autry.

If you disagree and think the Raiders should look to strengthen their secondary, I have no issue with that either.

They could look to upgrade D.J. Hayden as the slot corner. Hayden’s injury history and inability to improve over his first four seasons needs to be addressed.

With all the talent at corner in free agency and the draft, the Oakland Raiders have plenty of options available to them.

Divisional Analysis

The Oakland Raiders were in control of this division for the majority of 2016. Barring an injury to their best player, I believe they would have won the AFC West. The Raiders need to add players this offseason that will help them challenge the Kansas City Chiefs for AFC West supremacy.

I think we can sum up where the Raiders need to allocate the majority of their resources with one word- defense. As stated earlier, they could address their aerial deficiencies by improving their secondary, or pass rush.

If they used free agency to address their needs, the top players. Calais Campbell, Kawann Short, Trumaine Johnson and A.J. Bouye headline this years class. Of course, that’s assuming they aren’t resigned to their current teams.

If they wanted to address these needs with young talent by way of the NFL Draft, there are also a bevy of options. At the defensive line position, it is possible that Chris Wormley from Michigan will be available. Or, in true Raiders fashion, they could draft a physical freak like Tanoh Kpassagnon from Villanova in the third round or later.

If they wanted to address their secondary, they could potentially select Jalen Tabor from Florida or Sidney Jones from Washington. It’s also possible that these players will warrant trading up for, as there are teams ahead of the Raiders with similar needs. Overall, a solid defensively focused draft and prudent free agent signings could make this Oakland Raiders defense look drastically different in 2017.

PostSeason Prospects

This section is largely irrelevant for teams that have made the playoffs. But, it still serves as a good measuring stick for critical areas that need improvement. Below are, in my opinion, the most relevant offensive and defensive statistics that can determine post season success and where the Oakland Raiders stack up.

Oakland Raiders analysis

As you can see, the Raiders offense wasn’t perfect. For all the success Derek Carr had, I was genuinely surprised to see where he and the offense ranked in yards per attempt. Now, he did injure his finger and that limited the amount of downfield throws he could make.

Maybe next year, with a clean bill of health, this number will increase. This could be the result of an underrated rushing attack and the possession receivers Carr is targeting. Also, the Raiders need to become more efficient on third down against secondaries like Denver and Kansas City.

Oakland Raiders analysis

Even with a healthy Derek Carr and a divisional title, I don’t think the Oakland Raiders would have gotten past the Steelers. Why? Because of this defense. Sure, they probably would have capitalized on some errant throws by Ben Roethlisberger, but that isn’t enough.

Methodical, consistent defense is the goal once you reach the post season. Sadly, nothing about these defensive metrics say consistency. They must find a way to put more pressure on opposing quarterbacks; and find a way to limit teams to field goals, not touchdowns. While the situation may look bleak, this defense can look completely different in 2017 after signing and drafting defensive players.

2017 Prediction

You may have noticed there’s one looming issue I haven’t addressed yet. The potential move to Las Vegas. Honestly, I have no idea how or if the move would effect this team. Given their veteran coach, general manager and rising quarterback, the impact will be minimized if they are approved to move.

If the organization makes prudent free agent and draft decisions that are focused on the defensive side of the ball, the Raiders will take the next step. I like the Raiders to finish 12-4 again, but this time, as champions of the AFC West.

 

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Premier League Matchweek 23 Preview and Predictions

A rare midweek slate for the Prem offers some enticing match-ups this week. Headlined by Liverpool hosting Chelsea at Anfield, Arsenal and Manchester City also have tough games.

Something to watch for will be if some managers opt to rest a few starters in preparation for another slate of games this weekend. However teams like Chelsea, with matches against Liverpool and Arsenal are likely to play their full lineup in both matches.

Liverpool vs Chelsea:

Jurgen Klopp’s men have endured a horrible recent run of form. Three consecutive home defeats in the last nine days has seen the Reds exit both domestic cups as well as falling back in the Prem table.

However, Liverpool have a reputation for performing very well against good sides while underperforming against lesser teams. The team has suffered from the absence of dynamic wimger Sadio Mane who was representing Senegal at the Africa Cup of Nations. It doesn’t look like he will be able to start as he missed training due to travel problems.

The good news for Klopp and Co. is that they will have Roberto Firmino, who managed to get a drunken driving court date pushed back 24 hours. At home, Liverpool will not make it easy on the league leaders.

Chelsea sit eight points clear of second at the moment and have recovered nicely since losing at Tottenham a few weeks back. The Blues have arguably their most important two game stretch of the season this week (@ Liverpool, vs Arsenal). If they can manage four points from these games, Conte would be satisfied and it would make it unlikely for Chelsea to fall back.

Leading goalscorer Diego Costa and the talented Eden Hazard will look to have a field day against an underwhelming Liverpool defense. But can Chelsea’s own defense hold against Liverpool’s dynamic and versatile attack?

Liverpool 2 Chelsea 2

 

West Ham United vs Manchester City:

Brazilian starlet Gabriel Jesus is expected to feature against West Ham.

The post-Dimitri Payet era begins at West Ham with a brutal matchup against a desperate Manchester City. Despite Payet causing distractions for much of the past month, West Ham have actually been in a good run of form. Slaven Bilic has guided the Hammers to 10th after flirting with relegation early in the season.

Even sans Payet, West Ham is not short on talent. Michail Antonio can defend while being a threat going forward from the midfield and Andy Carroll is a threat in the air and has been in a good run of form.

For the visitors, three points are paramount if City want to get back on track as they battle for a top four spot. Guardiola and Co. thrashed West Ham 5-0 here a few weeks ago in a cup tie and will look to build on that performance. West Ham’s struggles defending on the wing means that young wingers such as Raheem Sterling, Leroy Sane and the new kid in town Gabriel Jesus could be in for big games.

West Ham 1 Manchester City 2

 

Arsenal vs Watford

Arsene Wenger is suspended for the Gunners’ match against Watford following his altercation with an assistant official vs Burnley

The second place Gunners will be doing a bit of scoreboard watching on Tuesday as a home victory and a Chelsea loss at Anfield would move Arsenal to within five points of the leaders. Such a result would reignite the title race for the Gunners. Arsene Wenger will have to watch the match from the stands as he is suspended from the touchline for his antics during last week’s match against Burnley.

The Gunners will be expected to win as they have arguably the league’s best player the season in Alexis Sanchez (20 goals and 7 assists in all competitions). Combine that with Mesut Ozil, who just oozes class and it isn’t hard to see why the Gunners are expected to win this match.

Watford have been miserable recently, but possess the players and they ability to play ninety tough minutes against anyone. Troy Deeney is Mr. Watford and the captain enters the match coming off a good performance against Watford. If Deeney finds the net and Etienne Capoue can navigate the midfield easily, Arsenal will have a game on their hands.

Arsenal 2 Watford 1

 

Other Matchups:

Manchester United 3 Hull City 0: Hull’s miserable defense will be exploited by Zlatan, Pogba and Co.

Sunderland 0 Tottenham 2: Sunderland have not improved in January window while Tottenham remain in good form. Dele Alli to score.

Bournemouth 3 Crystal Palace 2: Youth trumps experience as Eddie Howe’s Cherries edge out Sam Allardyce’s Palace in an exciting one.

Burnley 1 Leicester City 1: Burnley are really good at home but Leicester have to turn it around at some point.

Middlesborough 0 West Brom 1: Low scoring affair predicted here as ‘Borough park the bus. Im thinking ninth-place West Brom eek it out.

Swansea 1 Southampton 1: The Saints are the better side but home field and improvements under a new manager earn Swansea a point.

Stoke City 1 Everton 1: Another big game as two of the best sides outside of the top six duke it out. Everton to steal a draw late.

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Let’s Talk About Duke Basketball

Duke Basketball has had its fair share of trials and tribulations this season. Their team is not operating as it has in the past. A lot of people have lost respect for certain players and Mike Krzyzewski’s coaching style. The media have grabbed onto everything that has to do with Duke Blue Devil basketball.

How have the media and other outside forces limited Coach K’s ability to coach? Also, what will the tournament look like for Duke?

Krzyzweski said it himself:

“Teamwork is the beauty of our sport, where you have five acting as one. You become selfless.”

Clearly he has not seen five acting as one. If you haven’t heard, Krzyzewski recently forbid his players from wearing Duke basketball gear and from going into their locker room. It’s not the first time he has done this.

Duke basketball has been a dynasty of sorts for a long time now. The rivalry between the Blue Devils and North Carolina Tar Heels has historical significance. Their program recruits top-performing players every single year. The Blue Devils are a well-respected team, but this season has done a lot to tamper with their reputation.

A large part of their tattered reputation is none other than Mr. Grayson Allen. Allen is one of the most scrappy shooting guards out there. He also is one of the dirtiest. His multiple tripping incidents and suspension hurt the team in more ways than most people could’ve predicted.

It hurt the team’s ability to work as a well-oiled machine. Duke is just trying to scrape by in the Atlantic Coast Conference instead of leading it like in years past.

is the media to blame?

With all of the discussion about Krzyzewski and Allen, how can one not turn to the media? Duke is just one example of how the media is ruining college basketball. I am not one to condemn the sports networks because I love listening to Dick Vitale hand out his “diaper dandies” and Jay Bilas give insight. However, these players are under an immense amount of pressure to perform. The constant spotlight is limiting the coach’s ability to coach.

Coach Krzyzewski is quoted saying:

“That’s what I do now: I lead and I teach. If we win basketball games from doing that, then that’s great, but I lead and teach.”

I recall something that my mom always told me growing up: “There is always more to the story and you have to put yourself in the other person’s shoes.”

It is very obvious advice, but there is a lot of truth to it. As college basketball fans, we really don’t know the whole story. Analysts like Seth Greenberg find Coach Krzyzewski’s ban on players “comical.” Many other analysts don’t agree with it or see the benefit.

Let me ask you to put yourself in Coach Krzyzewski’s shoes. Your team has players acting up and is losing to teams that they shouldn’t be losing to. He is doing is best to lead and teach. In his eyes, it is more than the losses.

Coach Krzyzewski only has a small frame of time to influence his players and he is trying to correct their actions as human beings and not just basketball players. The media tend to make these issues public and much larger than they need to be. Instead of these guys being basketball players, they become celebrities.

it is also about the young men

I am well aware that college basketball is a business. The ACC alone took in $403.1 million of overall revenue last year. In 2011, the NCAA also signed a four-year television and internet contract with CBS Sports and Turner Broadcasting for March Madness for $10.8 billion.

Money is the name of the game to the outsider. As a college basketball player and fan, the importance and love of the sport will always prevail. Duke men’s basketball is a team of young guys that suit up to play in large arenas. Coach Krzyzewski is also trying to mold them into men.

For some of the guys, there is very little time. They will leave to go to professional teams and make a career from their talents. I believe that Coach Krzyzewski is still focused on what he proclaimed. He is focused on developing these guys into men that will be able to handle the NBA and life as an adult.

The truth is that a handful of these players will not be wearing the Duke jersey in a couple months. They will be moving on to the NBA. These players have a limited amount of time in the college basketball sphere. Especially those players that are apart of historically respected dynasties like Duke. In this short amount of time, it is the coach’s job to influence them on an off the court.

Looking forward for duke basketball

Despite all of the controversy, the tournament is taking place in March regardless. Luke Kennard has been the glue for the team this year. Typically the freshmen are the star of the show and lack the leadership that a major ball club requires. Kennard is defiling this stereotype and ultimately leading the Blue Devils as the youngest member of the team.

This season has been a rocky road, but the team itself has many great components. Kennard put on a performance in the second half against Virginia over the weekend. He created 75 percent of the Blue Devils’ offense and put up 30 of his 34 points in the second half. He also shot 10 for 10 from the field. Not to mention the three-pointer he made with 6.6 seconds left to win the game.

Kennard isn’t the only positive force for the Blue Devils. Grayson Allen might have moralistic issues, but he still leads the team in assists with 3.9 per game. Amile Jefferson is shooting 61 percent from the field and pulls down 9.3 rebounds on average. Jayson Tatum is contributing 16.1 points per game as well.

Duke might not have a true point guard, but they have the talent to go far. It’s just a question if Coach Krzyzewski can get them to work together and not take the name on the front of their jersey for granted.

Duke is ranked ninth in the ACC and 21st in the country. They also haven’t lost by great margins, besides the Florida State game. Duke was in that game until halfway through the second half when Xavier Rathan-Mayes went off for 18 out of his 21 points in the second half. The Blue Devils lost to NC State by two points, Kansas by two points, and Louisville by nine. Last night they beat Notre Dame to improve their overall resume and they can still make a great tournament run.

Nonetheless, Coach Krzyzewski needs to be left to his team. It isn’t a matter of his correctness in disciplining the team and his players. It is a matter of if his coaching techniques and teaching is actually working. These guys need to be influenced and motivated outside of the media in order to play the game effectively.

 

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Fantasy Baseball Scoring: What is the Perfect Scoring Format

A common debate arises when arguing which fantasy baseball scoring format is best. One of the premier websites for fantasy baseball is ESPN.com. They offer a multitude of scoring options, including three standard scoring formats: rotisserie, season points, and head to head.

Rotisserie

In rotisserie scoring, “teams are ranked from first to last in each statistical category. Points are awarded to the order in each category, then totaled to determine an overall score and league rank” (ESPN.com). This scoring is best suited for leagues who look to avoid the flukes of head-to-head matchups. In head-to-head, you can score the second most points in a week, and lose to the team who scored the most. Rotisserie scoring creates a free for all, where all teams battle for the most total statistics in each category.

Season Points

“Standings are based on the accumulation of points covering all statistical categories and combined into one total points column” (ESPN.com). Season points leagues give point values to individual statistics. A home run may be worth four fantasy points, where a double may be worth two. The team with the most overall points at the end of the season wins.

Head-to-Head: Each Category (H2H)

Head-to-head: scoring each category individually allows the league manager “to select “X” number of statistical categories. For each scoring period, team totals are accumulated, and a win, loss, or tie is credited in each category based on the matchup results” (ESPN.com). The results of an ESPN standard H2H category matchup can look like 5-4-1, indicating that you won five categories, lost four, and tied one. This scoring system creates one on one matchups, where teams fight to cover more categories than their opponent. I believe this is the best scoring format, although the number of categories must be altered in order to be perfect.

What is the perfect scoring system?

Major league teams are split into divisions and play head-to-head matchups, so why should fantasy be any other way? I believe H2H is the best scoring format as it adds realism to fantasy leagues. Rivalries are created as teams match up against each other two to three times a season. The creation of divisions affect trades, rivalries, and the playoffs. Also, this scoring format requires more strategy than points than rotisserie leagues. It forces owners to consider a multitude of categories when drafting their team, opposed to blindly drafting the best player available.

The standard H2H scoring comprises ten categories, five hitting and five pitching. Hitting categories include runs, homeruns, runs batted in, stolen bases, and batting average. Pitching categories include strikeouts, wins, earned run average, and walk/hits per inning pitched. After researching the results of the 2016 season, I found a severe flaw in the standard five by five (5X5) format.

At first glance, you can see that Jonathan Villar and Jean Segura finished above Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado on the player rater. Although Villar and Segura impressed in 2016, Goldschmidt and Arenado finished as the eleventh and fifth respectively in the MVP voting. That was the first red flag. As I continue to scroll, the next name that jumps out is Eduardo Nunez, who finished ahead of Robinson Cano, Ryan Braun, Wil Myers, and Freddie Freeman. Nunez was an all-star for the first time in 2016, but did not have close to a better season than any of the previous names. This was strike two. Finally, I made my way to the forty-fifth overall player and sixth best shortstop, Manny Machado. Seeing a top five most valuable player candidate get disrespected like that was the last straw.

The following are the stat lines for the aforementioned batters in order from highest to lowest on the 5X5 player rater.

You be the judge on whether or not this order is correct.

Villar looks to retain steal title in 2017. (Courtesy of ESPN.com)

 

4. Jonathan Villar MIL .285 92 19 63 62

5. Jean Segura ARI .319 102 20 64 33

6. Paul Goldschmidt ARI .297 106 24 95 32

8. Nolan Arenado COL .294 116 41 133 2

17. Eduardo Nunez MIN/SFG .288 73 16 67 40

18. Robinson Cano SEA .298 107 39 103 0

19. Ryan Braun MIL .305 80 30 90 16

21. Wil Myers SD .259 99 28 94 28

Segura looks to make smooth transition to Seattle in 2017. (Courtesy of ESPN.com)

22. Freddie Freeman ATL .302 102 34 91 6

27. Manny Machado BAL .294 105 37 96 0

Clearly the 5X5 format is flawed, so what is the solution?

The solution is to dilute the steals category. In order to do this, the league manager will have to add more categories focused around batting statistics. Steals are the most overrated stat in fantasy baseball. In the 5X5 format, steals harshly inflate a player’s value. The ideal number of categories is eighteen, which is a nine by nine (9X9) format.

The added hitting categories include extra base hits, total bases, walks, and on base plus slugging percentage. The added hitting categories enhance value to players who get on base and hit with power. It weakens the worth of players who primarily get their value from steals.

Since hitting categories were added, pitching must be added as well. The new pitching categories include quality starts, batting average against, and strike outs per nine. The additional categories add value to pitchers who eat innings, strike out batters, and keep guys off base.

How the 9X9 format affects the Player Rater

Villar and Segura finished as top 5 overall hitters in 5X5, but in 9X9 they finished at eleven and sixteen respectively.

Goldschmidt looks to continue his search for an MVP in 2017. (Courtesy of ESPN.com)

Eduardo Nunez moves from seventeen in the 5X5 format, to fifty-five.

The 9X9 player rater for hitters looks as follows.

6. Paul Goldschmidt ARI .297 106 24 95 32

8. Nolan Arenado COL .294 116 41 133 2

9. Freddie Freeman ATL .302 102 34 91 6

11. Jonathan Villar MIL .285 92 19 63 62

16. Jean Segura ARI .319 102 20 64 33

20. Robinson Cano SEA .298 107 39 103 0

21. Manny Machado BAL .294 105 37 96 0

Is Arenado the games best hitter? (Courtesy of ESPN.com)

24. Ryan Braun MIL .305 80 30 90 16

27. Wil Myers SD .259 99 28 94 28

55. Eduardo Nunez SFG .288 73 16 67 40

I believe the format of H2H category leagues must be 9×9 in order to have a player rater that accurately represents the best players in the game. The more categories you add, the more diluted the steals category will become. This enhances the value of MVP caliber players whose value is lessened due to lack of steals.

 

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