NBA MVP candidates

Top 5 MVP candidates at the All-Star break

The NBA MVP field is crowded. With so many great players in the league, anyone’s argument on who should win is probably valid. This is why there has only been one unanimous MVP in the history of the NBA.

With more than half of the NBA season gone and the trade deadline passed, teams are taking the shape they’ll have going into the playoffs. Players are making the push to play their best basketball to secure seeding.

There are far more than five players that are deserving of being in the MVP conversation. Russell Westbrook is having a great season, DeMar DeRozan has made huge strides and Karl-Anthony Towns is becoming the player everyone thought he would be. But for the sake of brevity and exclusivity, here are the top five MVP-caliber players.

5. Giannis Antetokounmpo

The Greek Freak is setting the league on fire. His athleticism is, as his nickname suggests, nothing short of freakish. We’ve seen him get from the top of the key all the way to the rim in just three steps. And he dunks whenever possible.

In many ways, he’s the antithesis of what the NBA has become in the 2010s. He’s much more concerned with cutting or driving to the hoop than with shooting from deep. He does not take or hit many 3-pointers. In fact, he’s shooting just 28.6 percent from behind the arc this season.

NBA MVP candidates

Giannis Antetokounmpo jumps over Tim Hardaway Jr. for a dunk. (Photo by NBA via Twitter)

But that seems insignificant when compared to his other numbers. He’s scoring 27.6 points per game this season, which is up from 22.9 last season. He is collecting almost two more rebounds per game than last year at 10.4.

Since he gets to the rim so often, Antetokounmpo is shooting an insane 53.7 percent from the field. Those kinds of percentages are usually reserved for true centers that live underneath the basket.

He is no slouch on defense either. His blocks and steals both hover around 1.5 per game. Those numbers aren’t likely to trend downward in the back end of the season.

The Bucks are playoff-bound thanks in part to the kind of season Antetokounmpo is having. He’s solidly in contention for MVP honors, but in a shooting league, assists are becoming more valuable than ever. His assists per game will have to come up as he continues to score if he wants to upset the favorites.

4. LeBron James

It wouldn’t be an MVP conversation without mentioning The King.

LeBron is seemingly ageless. In his 15th year in the league, he’s still putting up numbers any player would love to have. His points per game is at 26.5, and his assists and rebounds are both above eight.

With all the success the new-look Cavaliers have had since the trade deadline, it isn’t crazy to think all three averages could get even higher. It’s a very small sample size, but the pieces Cleveland has in place now already seem to fit better than the previous ones. He has more shooters and better defenders to rob other teams of possessions. That virtually guarantees James will have the ball in his hands more.

The main thing James has going against him is the fact that NBA fans are used to this. He is perennially in the top five MVP candidates. Common sense says that continued greatness shouldn’t count against him. But James already has four MVP awards. It makes sense that voters would want to spread the wealth.

3. Kevin Durant

Kevin Durant’s points, rebounds and assists per game are all lower than LeBron’s, but he doesn’t play as many minutes as him. The only category that is up from his career average is assists at 5.5.

Durant definitely benefits from the fact that he’s on the best team in the league. All of the fantastic players around him actually make him look better, contrary to what one might think. His rejuvenated commitment to defense might also be a reason he sits so high on the list.

NBA MVP candidates

Kevin Durant won his MVP award in 2014 while he was with the Thunder. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

He is averaging almost one more block per game than his career average. The intangibles are also better than they have ever been. Watching him play speaks to that. Although the defensive numbers aren’t quite standouts, he plays hard on that end of the floor and challenges everything that his man puts up.

The assists and the unselfish play are the big stories here though. Golden State easily sits at the highest assists per game average, and Kevin Durant has bought in. He still gets his 25.5 points per game while feeding a team full of shooters.

Keep in mind that NBA broadcasters and sports writers vote for the MVP award. These are people that make their living watching NBA basketball. Their analyses will go deeper than numbers will indicate.

2. Stephen Curry

Another Warrior, and another perennial contender, Stephen Curry is having a great season despite some injury woes. He’s missed 15 games this season due to a nagging ankle injury.

That being said, he’s still putting up 26.8 points per game. That is three points better than his 2015 NBA MVP season, and only 3.3 points worse than his unanimous 2016 MVP campaign. Along with that, he’s collecting 5.2 rebounds at the point guard position. Golden State is relatively small to begin with, but that’s still pretty impressive.

Continuing with the Warrior trend of great shooters dishing out plenty of assists, Curry has been good for 6.5 per game. Again, that’s not massively difficult on a team full of shooters. But one of the greatest shooters passing up his shot to find a better one is MVP-caliber play.

He also benefits from being on a super team, but like James, Curry will be in the conversation every year. With his 3-point shooting abilities and his surprising ability to get to the hoop, he is an all-time great player. He also suffers a little from already having two MVPs under his belt, although that is still not as much as James. If he can stay healthy and grow his numbers, he has a real shot at a third.

1. James Harden

Harden had an MVP type of season last year. But he was unlucky enough to have it the same year Russell Westbrook averaged a triple-double.

NBA MVP candidates

Harden does his signature “chef” celebration mid-game. (Photo by Karen Warren/Houston Chronicle)

This year is a different story. Harden is averaging 31.4 points, 2.3 points more than last year. His assists are down slightly from 11.2 to 9.0, but that was to be expected after adding one of the best passers in the league to the roster in Chris Paul. He also gets five rebounds at a guard spot, which isn’t shabby by any means. He’s also doing this while having missed seven games.

Dishing out almost double digit assists while still getting over 30 points per game is phenomenal. Harden has 11 games scoring over 35 points, including four games scoring over 50. If the Rockets can stay healthy and keep Harden, Paul and Capela on the court, his assists numbers will continue to rise.

Harden simply seems like the most deserving candidate. He has been the player that has put the Rockets on his back since he arrived in Houston. Even though he has Paul at the point guard position, he is still the focal point of the offense. Not to mention he has the ability to do Paul’s job when he’s on the floor without him.

Houston is thriving within their offensive system, but only because Harden continues to do his job with consistency. Being the top option on the team speaks to the most literal definition of the MVP award. Harden is the most valuable player on his team.

As long as he continues to play great basketball, this award is his to lose.

 

Featured image by Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

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Kucherov

Nikita Kucherov: The sudden superstar

Nikita Kucherov has emerged as one of the NHL’s best. Having the league-lead in points (66) is not something to take lightly. Kucherov has gone from an above-average rookie to a superstar in less than five seasons.

Humble beginnings

Kucherov made his NHL debut with the Tampa Bay Lightning on November 25, 2013. On his first career shot, Kucherov scored his first NHL goal. This was a significant accomplishment, and one that came against the great Henrik Lundqvist. Kucherov couldn’t have dreamed up a better start to his rookie campaign.

As the season went on, the rookie produced eight goals and three assists through his first 27 games. In his final 25 games, the youngster found the back of the net only once while adding six assists. While a respectable outing, this compares nothing to the player he is today.

Is that really Nikita Kucherov?

Kucherov

(Al Bello/Getty Images)

In 2013-2014, Kucherov entered the league with a slightly different image. Yes he was younger, but as a rookie he actually started with the “Bolts” as number 56. No other player wore number 86 on the Lightning, so why 56?

Possible explanations:

  • He couldn’t speak English well and 86 turned into 56
  • As the youngest on the team, Kucherov didn’t get a choice
  • Stamkos was hurt, had a good idea, he got 86 turned to 56

What do you think?  [CLICK HERE] 

I think all of us are grateful that number 56 has turned into the 86 we love to watch. After changing his number to 86, Kucherov has only been better each year. His points-per-game (P/GP) average has sored higher and higher each year.

Kucherov Goals Assists Points Per Game
2013-2014 9 9 .346
2014-2015 29 36 .793
2015-2016 30 36 .857
2016-2017 40 45 1.149
2017-2018 27 39 1.245

The smoothest of them all…

Kucherov has become one of, if not the most valuable assets the Lightning have. The fans love to watch this guy, the players are made better for his presence on the ice, and the opponents fear him. Thus Kucherov has established himself as an elite player, a superstar so coveted in the NHL.

Kucherov is always a “plus”

Everywhere Nikita has gone, he is a “plus” to have on the team. Throughout his whole career he has been a player you want on the ice. In every season of Kucherov’s career he has finished with a plus rating. While he has become a superstar, he has maintained his level of play in his defensive end. Continuing this stunning stat, Kucherov finished out last season at +13. He is currently at +12 a little over halfway through this season. With as many goals as his line scores and the dominance they have shown, look for him to finish in the high 20s.

Proven in the playoffs

Not only is Kucherov elite in the regular season, he has proven to be lethal in the playoffs. In his 45 games of playoff hockey, he has “lit the lamp” 22 times and produced 20 assists.

Only 24, this guy has everything every team dreams of.

There is no limit to how far Nikita can go. It is almost certain that he will lead his team to the Stanley Cup, if not this year than in years to come. Add guys like Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman to his team and there you find the NHL’s best team.

Featured image courtesy of Mike Carlson/Getty Images.

 

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NFL MVP leak?

 

 

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD!

Thanks to a photo taken by Brad E. Schlossman we may have gotten an early view at this year’s NFL MVP. It looks like the award is going to *drumroll* Tom Brady!

In a rare but opportune moment captured by a camera, it looks like we have a very clear document of what looks to be Tom Brady’s MVP acceptance speech. If you look closely you can very clearly make out exactly what the document reads, which is more than enough to spoil the winner early! But is it really a spoil?

Brady threw for 32 TD’s to 8 INT’s with a 102.8 passer rating on his way to a #1 seed in the AFC along with yet another trip to the Super Bowl so it may not come as a surprise to many that Brady could win the MVP award for a 3rd time.

What is a surprise however, is perhaps the carelessness with which these sensitive documents are being paraded around with. It could be a speech that Brady wrote in case he does win, but I am not sure the GOAT would waste his time like that, on this of all weeks “just in case” he won. Only time will tell whether this document is legit or not, but for now, maybe this is that extra hint you needed to bet against your friends, that don’t think Brady will win the award this year. Whoever and wherever they may be.

 

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Mike Trout Hall of Fame

Would Mike Trout make the Hall of Fame if he retired today?

What if?

Luckily for baseball fans around the world, the 26-year-old from Millville, New Jersey is not planning on hanging up the cleats anytime soon. However, the two-time AL MVP and six-time All-Star has been so elite that if he were to go buy a farm and ride out into the sunset, he would have a legit Hall of Fame case. Let’s take a quick stroll through the illustrious start to Mike Trout’s career.

With the 25th pick in the 2009 MLB Draft, the Angels, who received this compensation pick from the New York Yankees for their signing of Mark Teixeira, selected “The Millville Meteor.”

Here is a look at Trout’s scouting report on MLB.com.

Hitting ability: Trout is a good looking offensive player who just started switch-hitting, but not in games. He is doing it with wood in BP for scouts. He does need some work with his overall approach.

Power: He should have future average power and has shown some more pop this season.

Running speed: Has plus speed and glides on the bases once he gets going, though he’s also got first-step explosion.

Base running: Runs well and should steal some bases.

Arm strength: As a pitcher, he’s touched 90 mph from the mound, so there’s arm strength there, though it’s been hard to get a read on it from the outfield.

Fielding: Is a good center fielder defensively.

Range: His speed allows him to cover plenty of ground.

Physical description: Trout doesn’t look like your typical center fielder and has more of a college running back or safety type build.

Medical update: Healthy.

Strengths: Speed, athleticism, some ability and upside with the bat.

Weaknesses: Still a bit crude at the plate; some teams may not look at him and see him as an everyday Major League center fielder.

Summary: Trout is a toolsy high school center fielder who was gaining momentum as the weather in the Northeast warmed up. He looks more like a football safety — his position in high school — than a center fielder, but has the tools to play there with plus speed. He just started switch-hitting to enhance his offensive value, and with some changes to his approach at the plate should hit for some power down the line. There is some rawness with the bat, but he has the kind of upside many teams look for in a high school position player, and was moving into first-round conversations as a result.

The Beginning

Mike Trout Hall of Fame

2012 AL Rookie of the Year winner (Photo from Pinterest.com)

Let’s look back at Trout’s first year as a full-time starter. After struggling a tad in 40 MLB games during his 2011 campaign, Trout was forced to start 2012 with the Salt Lake Bees of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League. The Angels pulled up Trout to take over for Bobby Abreu, who was hitting .208 at the time, and the rest is history.

Trout went on to have the highest rookie season WAR (10.8) in the history of baseball. He was the first position player since Barry Bonds in 2004 who had a WAR above 10.0.

Trout hit .326 with 30 home runs, stole 49 bases and led the league with 129 runs. This was all done in just 139 games. He joined Albert Pujols, Hal Trosky and Ted Williams as the only rookies to hit 30 or more home runs with a batting average better than .325. He was the youngest player to win the AL Rookie of the Year Award. Had Miguel Cabrera not have won the triple crown, Trout would have locked up MVP.

PLAYERS WITH A WAR OF 10.75 OR BETTER IN A SEASON

BABE RUTH

BARRY BONDS

WILLIE MAYS

ROGERS HORNSBY

MICKEY MANTLE

CAL RIPKEN

JOE MORGAN

CARL YASTRZEMSKI

STAN MUSIAL

TED WILLIAMS

MIKE TROUT

LOU GEHRIG

TY COBB

HONUS WAGNER

2013 was more of the same for Trout. After a slow start, hitting just .261 with two home runs in April, Trout finished at .323 with 27 home runs and 33 steals. Again, his 9.3 WAR was highest in baseball. Despite his outstanding season, Miguel Cabrera was named AL MVP for the second year in a row, while Trout was runner-up.

Two MVPs in three seasons

In 2014, Trout finally got over the hump and secured his first AL MVP trophy. He hit .287 with 36 home runs and led the league in runs and RBIs. In the following season, Trout hit .299 with 41 home runs and led the league in slugging percentage, OPS and OPS+. Trout has led in OPS+ for the last three seasons.

2016 was MVP season No. 2. Just another .315, 29 home runs, 123 runs and 116 walks. Oh, and last season, despite getting hurt and playing in just 114 games, Trout joined Barry Bonds (1993) as the only players to have a season with at least 33 home runs, 20 steals, slugging percentage of .629 and an OPS+ of 187.

Mike Trout Hall of Fame

MVP SZN (Photo from SB Nation)

Trout has five seasons of at least 7.9 WAR. That is tied with Wade Boggs, Joe Morgan, Mickey Mantle, Jimmie Foxx and Mike Schmidt.  His six seasons of oWAR greater than 7 has him tied with Honus Wagner and ahead of Frank Thomas, Wade Boggs and Mel Ott to name a few. Trout is currently tied for eighth all-time in seasons with 10 WAR or better.

He is one of nine players to have multiple seasons of 10.45 WAR or higher. That list includes Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Barry Bonds, Mickey Mantle, Ty Cobb, Carl Yastrzemski and Rogers Hornsby. Trout is one of 25 players to win multiple MVPs.

“The Millville Meteor” already has five seasons of 27 doubles, 100 runs, .285 batting average and an OPS above 167. That is the same amount of seasons as Hank Aaron and Tris Speaker and more than Hank Greenberg, Mel Ott, Honus Wagner, Carl Yastrzemski and Frank Robinson. Along the way, he has also picked up two All-Star MVP Awards.

His 55.2 career WAR would rank 82nd out of 173 Hall of Fame position players. If he retired today, Trout would be one of eight players with at least a .305 batting average, .976 OPS, .566 SLG and .410 OBP. That list includes Babe Ruth, Manny Ramirez, Jimmie Foxx, Ted Williams, Lou Gehrig, Hank Greenberg and Rogers Hornsby.

Here are four tables to exemplify how extraordinary this guy has been.

TROUT DATA

NUMBER OF SEASONS WITH BA>= .305, HR>= 25, SB>= 22, OPS+>= 168

PLAYER NUMBER OF SEASONS
MIKE TROUT 4
BARRY BONDS 4
WILLIE MAYS 2
ALEX RODRIGUEZ AND NINE OTHERS 1

 

NUMBER OF SEASONS WITH HR>=25, BA>=.285, OPS>=.935 and OPS+>=168

PLAYER NUMBER OF SEASONS
BABE RUTH 14
BARRY BONDS 13
TED WILLIAMS 11
LOU GEHRIG 10
ALBERT PUJOLS 7
MICKEY MANTLE 7
JIMMIE FOXX 7
MIKE TROUT 6
FRANK THOMAS 6
HANK AARON 6
WILLIE MAYS 6
MEL OTT 6
STAN MUSIAL 5
ROGERS HORNSBY 5

 

NUMBER OF SEASONS WITH HR>=25, SB>= 20, BA>= 300, BB>= 90

PLAYER NUMBER OF SEASONS
BARRY BONDS 5
MIKE TROUT 3
ALEX RODRIGUEZ 2
BOBBY ABREU 2
JEFF BAGWELL 2
CHIPPER JONES AND EIGHT OTHERS 1

 

PLAYERS WITH AT LEAST A .305 BA, 200 HOME RUNS, 165 STEALS AND .370 OBP
HANK AARON
VLADIMIR GUERRERO
LARRY WALKER
DEREK JETER
GOOSE GOSLIN
MIKE TROUT

Would you vote him in?

 

Featured image by SI.com

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A look back at Chipper Jones’ incredible numbers

When you think about the steroid era, you think about guys with over 60 home runs in a season like Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire. You also think of guys like Roger Clemens, who managed to win seven Cy Young Awards, including one at age 41. Yet, a kid born on April 24, 1972, in DeLand, Florida, played during this same time period and absolutely tore it up.

In his first year on the ballot, Larry Wayne “Chipper” Jones Jr. is a lock for the Hall of Fame. Although he did not put up numbers as outlandish as his counterparts who used PEDs, Jones’ stats were absolutely remarkable for someone who was completely clean in a time where baseball was filled with corruption. Jones will be the second player in the history of the amateur draft to be selected No. 1 overall and reach the Hall of Fame.

Early Days

Larry Jr. was given the nickname “Chipper” at a young age by his family. They saw the boy as a “chip off the old block” and the name stuck. His dad, Larry Sr., who idolized Mickey Mantle, taught Chipper to switch hit just like the Yankee legend. In high school, he was a star pitcher, shortstop and outfielder.

As an 18-year-old kid, the Atlanta Braves selected Jones with the first overall pick in the 1990 MLB June Amateur Draft. He was drafted as a shortstop, but as he worked his way up the ladder in the Braves farm system, it was clear that third base was a better fit.

Here is an excerpt from SI’s article, “Chipper Jones is a lock for First-Ballot Hall of Fame election.

Ahead of the 1990 draft, he met with agent Scott Boras, whom he found “brash, abrasive, smug and cocky,” according to his description of their brief meeting in his 2017 memoir, Ballplayer. Instead, he hired childhood friend B.B. Abbott. A day before the draft, Jones ditched his prom weekend to meet with the Braves, who owned the No. 1 overall pick; Cox, then the team’s general manager, had scouted him. Over dinner at an Olive Garden in Daytona Beach, Jones agreed to a bonus of $275,000 with incentives that pushed the total package of $400,000.

Chipper Jones Hall of Fame

Young Chipper. (Photo from Online Athens)

In late 1993, Jones debuted as the youngest player in the league. The following season, after starting left fielder Ron Gant broke his leg in a dirt bike accident, it appeared Jones would have a legitimate shot to start. That was until Jones suffered an ACL tear in the spring of 1994. Jones missed the entire strike-shortened season in 1994.

 

As a rookie in 1995, he became just the fifth qualified rookie to get at least 23 home runs, 85 RBIs, 135 hits and 73 walks. That list includes Ted Williams, Al Rosen, Alvin Davis and Tim Salmon. Recently, both Aaron Judge and Kris Bryant eclipsed these numbers during their rookie seasons.

1995 was also the year that the Atlanta Braves won their third championship, and first since moving to Atlanta. In the NLCS, Jones hit .438. During the entirety of the 1995 postseason, the 23-year-old Jones hit .364 with 10 runs, three home runs and eight RBIs.

In 19 years, all with the Atlanta Braves, Chipper Jones had a career average of .303, along with 2,726 hits, including 468 home runs.

 

Players to hit at least: 460 HR, 2,700 H, .300 BA, .400 OBP
BABE RUTH
MEL OTT
LOU GEHRIG
STAN MUSIAL
CHIPPER JONES

 

Numbers

Jones had five seasons in which he finished in the top 10 for batting average, and seven seasons in the top 10 for on-base percentage. He joined Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Mel Ott, Lou Gehrig and Stan Musial as the only retired players to have a career batting average above .300, hit at least 465 home runs and a minimum of 2,700 hits and 1,600 runs.

Chipper Jones Hall of Fame

Eight-time All-Star, two-time Silver Slugger (Photo from CBS News)

Jones had five seasons in which he had 180 hits, 30 home runs, 110 runs and a slugging percentage above .530. Players who also had five seasons with these numbers include Stan Musial and Ted Williams. The only players with more than five of these monster seasons are Jimmie Foxx, Lou Gehrig, Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez, Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron and Willie Mays.

From 1995-2008, Jones had 14 straight seasons of at least 20 doubles and 21 home runs. Fourteen straight. His 162-game average, over a span of 19 seasons, was .303, 30 home runs, 177 hits and 105 runs.

In 1999, Jones won the NL MVP award. He hit .319 with 45 home runs and 181 hits. Jones also had a .441 on-base percentage, .633 slugging percentage, and an OPS+ of 169. The AL MVP, Ivan Rodriguez, had an on-base percentage of .356, slugging percentage of .558, and an OPS+ of 125. All stats lower than Jones, who was arguably the best player in the league in 1999.

PLAYERS WITH SEASONS OF AT LEAST 21 HOME RUNS, 20 DOUBLES, .390 OBP, .295 BA # OF SEASONS
TED WILLIAMS 15
BABE RUTH 13
LOU GEHRIG 12
CHIPPER JONES 11
MANNY RAMIREZ 11
ALBERT PUJOLS 10
BARRY BONDS 10
JIMMIE FOXX 10
MEL OTT 10
JIMMIE FOXX 10
STAN MUSIAL 9

During his career (1993-2012), Jones had the fourth most WAR behind Alex Rodriguez, Barry Bonds and Albert Pujols. He is currently 23rd in offensive WAR, which has him ahead of George Brett, Robin Yount, Pete Rose, Wade Boggs, Rod Carew and Carl Yastrzemski.

According to the baseball gurus, an All-Star type season means at least 5 WAR. Chipper Jones had eight seasons with 5.5 WAR. His 468 home runs are the most in the NL by a switch-hitter. Jones is arguably the second best switch-hitter of all-time, behind his dad’s idol, Mickey Mantle.

The Hot Corner

Jones spent the majority of his career at the hot corner, but also played left field in 2002 and 2003. He had seven seasons in which he finished in the top three for third basemen in WAR, including first in 1998, 1999 and 2008. From 1996-2001, Chipper Jones was the best third baseman in baseball. During this time, he led all qualified third basemen in WAR with 35.6. The second place finisher, Jeff Cirillo, had only 28.4.

A serious argument could be made for Jones as the best third baseman of all time. He is third all time in home runs for third basemen who played at least 1,500 games at the hot corner. When compared to Mike Schmidt, Jones has a higher batting average, more hits, more runs, higher OBP, higher SLG and a higher OPS. Chipper also has more home runs and higher OBP, SLG, and OPS than the great George Brett.

Jones is also one of the best postseason players of all time. He has played the ninth most games and ranks fifth in runs scored, fifth in hits, seventh in total bases, eighth in RBIs, seventh in singles and tied for first in walks.

Later Days

Chipper Jones Hall of Fame

A true legend. (Photo from The Sports Fan Journal)

Once he got a little older, Jones did not slow down. After turning 34, he had three seasons in which he hit .320 with 20 home runs and 20 doubles. The only other players with more seasons, at 34 years or older, are Ted Williams, Barry Bonds and Edgar Martinez.

 

At age 36, Jones won the batting title with a batting average of .364. He joined Tris Speaker, Ted Williams, Zach Wheat, Babe Ruth, Tony Gwynn, Barry Bonds and Eddie Collins as the only players 36 years or older to finish a season hitting at least .360. Jones finished his career with six seasons in the top ten for MVP voting and finished in the top 25 for nine straight seasons (1995-2003).

 

PLAYERS AFTER TURNING 35 WHO HIT .300, 110 HR, 160 2B
BARRY BONDS
STAN MUSIAL
EDGAR MARTINEZ
CHIPPER JONES

 

The 1999 NL MVP, 2008 NL Batting Title Champion, eight-time All-Star, two-time Silver Slugger and 1995 World Series Champion is an obvious first-ballot Hall of Famer, whose numbers show that he is among the best players in the history of the sport.

 

Featured image from USA Today

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Joey Votto

Joey Votto is baseball’s least-recognized star

With baseball’s sudden burst in power, some of the game’s best performers have seemed to slip through the cracks.

Yes, Giancarlo Stanton’s season was impressive. His 59 home runs are the most in baseball since Barry Bonds’ record-breaking 73 back in 2001. The MLB also broke the record for most total home runs in a season this year previously set in 2000.

41 players hit at least 30 home runs this season, which was the most since the 2000 season when 47 reached the mark. The Astros and Dodgers set the record for most total home runs in a World Series as well.

The MLB seems to have gained its power back after only 11 players reached 30 home runs back in 2014. It has captured fans’ attention and made baseball that much more entertaining.

The players this year have done something that hasn’t been done since the start of the century. It makes it easy to forget about players like Joey Votto, who quietly remains consistent.

The numbers

Joey Votto might be the most underrated superstar of the day. When you look at Votto’s numbers, it is hard to believe he has only won one MVP, one Gold Glove and been named an All-Star just five times. He still has not won a Silver Slugger either.

Votto is a career .313 hitter with 257 home runs and 830 RBIs. He also has an incredible .428 on-base percentage.

At .428, Votto ranks 10th all time in that category. The only player ahead of him that is not already in the Hall of Fame is Barry Bonds. Also, the next highest active player on the list is Miguel Cabrera at 68th with a .395 percentage. Votto is getting on base just as often as many all-time greats and more often than any of his peers. 

Perhaps the most impressive performance by Votto this season was when he reached base safely at least twice in 20 straight games, coming up just one game short of the record set by Ted Williams in 1948. Only two other players have done so in 20 straight games. That would be Barry Bonds in 2004 and Pete Rose in 1979.

Unappreciated and underrated

Votto is proving himself to be a future Hall of Famer. However, it is doubtful that many fans outside Cincinnati are aware of this.

Votto turned 34 this year and may have played his best season yet, or at least he believes so.

Joey Votto

Votto with his 2010 MVP award, one of the few honors he has received. (Photo by HCP Photo/Stephen Forsha)

“I wanted this to be my work of art,” Votto told the Cincinnati Enquirer. “I felt like shrinking strikeouts, keeping the walks, competing on a daily basis, playing every day, improving my defense. I felt this was definitely the best year of my career.”

One common knock on Votto is his “lack of aggression at the plate” because he gets so many walks. But isn’t the point of baseball to score runs? And you score runs by getting men on base. This is about as silly as people bashing James Harden because of how many points he gets from shooting free throws. In basketball, you need to score points to win, and that is what Harden does.

Votto got those runs, finishing 10th in the MLB with 106. Also, here are some numbers to show Votto is a disciplined batter, rather than unaggressive.

Votto may be the disciplined hitter in the game. He swung at the fewest pitches outside the zone at 15.8 percent. Talk about patience. He waits for his pitch and then capitalizes off it. This also works the pitch count and makes pitchers work to get him out. In contrast, Votto swung at 71.4 percent of pitches in the zone, which was the 32nd highest.

Those numbers average out to a 41.9 swing percentage, which was one of the lowest in the league. Don’t question his aggressiveness based on this stat though. Aaron Judge’s swing percentage was even lower at 41.1 percent. Nobody questions Judge’s aggressiveness as he led the American League in home runs and the MLB in strikeouts.

What else is crazy is that Votto received the 14th most pitches in the strike zone, but still led the league in walks. Votto isn’t going to just swing at anythiing. He is going to wait on a pitch he can drive, and if not he will take that free pass to first base.

Accolades

How has a future Hall of Famer like Votto won so few awards? He has just one MVP that he won in 2010 over Albert Pujols and Carlos Gonzalez. He finished third in 2015 behind Bryce Harper and Paul Goldschmidt and second this season.

He has been voted an All-Star just five times.

Votto also has zero silver sluggers. Albert Pujols won during Votto’s first three full seasons in the league, but Pujols was the best player in the league at the time, making it understandable. But it is the players who have finished on top of Votto that are more questionable. Prince Fielder, Adam LaRoche, Paul Goldschmidt, Adrian Gonzalez and Anthony Rizzo have all won the award over Votto.

Who is supposed to win the Silver Slugger? The Louisville Slugger website explains who is supposed to win the award.

“Coaches and managers of Major League teams vote for the players they feel are the best offensive producers at each position in the field in both the American and National Leagues. They base their selections on a combination of offensive statistics including batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage, as well as the coaches’ and managers’ general impressions of a player’s overall offensive value.”

This season, Votto led National League first basemen in batting average and on-base percentage and was third in slugging percentage, tied for second in home runs and fourth in RBIs. Paul Goldschmidt finished behind Votto in all of those stats except RBIs. Anthony Rizzo won last year, but only topped Votto in home runs and RBIs.

Of course Votto missed a lot of time during the 2014 season due to injury, so it makes sense he did not win that season. But on what planet is Adam LaRoche a better hitter than Votto? And how does Votto finish ahead of Goldschmidt in MVP voting, but behind in Silver Slugger?

As for the MVP award this season, Stanton did have a monster season as he led the league in home runs (59) and RBIs (132) while also batting .281. Votto finished just two points behind Stanton, making it the closest vote since 1979 and the fourth-closest of all time. Both received 10 first-place votes, but Stanton finished with one more second and third-place vote.

Both had tremendous seasons. Stanton showed what he is fully capable of when healthy and Votto continued to show his consistency and ability to get on base.

Maybe some day Votto will get the league’s respect the past Reds’ greats like Barry Larkin and Johnny Bench. Maybe Votto will earn another award or two. Even if he does not, Votto probably won’t be too upset when he is sitting in Cooperstown someday.

 

Featured image by JAMIE SABAU/GETTY IMAGES

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Machado

Where things stand with Giancarlo Stanton

There has been no doubt that the MLB offseason has been engulfed by the rumors surrounding the 2017 NL MVP, Giancarlo Stanton. At this point, mostly all there has been is speculation. There are a lot of factors that go into a trade of this magnitude, so there are a lot of things that have to go right in order for it to go through. Here is an up to date summary of all that has been going on surrounding Stanton.

No-trade clause

Stanton

Magic Johnson and the Dodgers probably don’t have the ability to take on Stanton’s contract (Getty Images)

One of the biggest factors in Stanton’s contract at the moment is not only the large amount of money he is owed, but the fact he can reject any trade the Marlins may put in front of him.

Stanton is a SoCal native, and he reaffirmed that when he put the Los Angeles Dodgers as his preferred spot to be traded to, per MLB.com columnist, Jon Morosi. The Dodgers are the only team to be reported on that list. It has also been reported by Chad Jennings of the Boston Herald, that Stanton would reject a trade to either Boston or St. Louis. However, that report has been refuted by others.

The Jon Morosi report suggests that Stanton is keeping an open mind to where he could be traded. He will evaluate his options once there is some more light shed on them though.

This is not the first time a no-trade clause has been a factor lately. Justin Verlander told the Tigers as well that he would prefer to play for the Dodgers. However, once late August came around, Verlander realized that he would not be going to Los Angeles. He then accepted a trade to the Houston Astros, and the rest is history.

Best fits for the Marlins

Stanton

Reyes is a very attractive pitching prospect for the Marlins (ESPN)

The Boston Red Sox, San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals are the teams that appear to be pursing the Miami slugger the most. While all of them could use him in their lineup, there are some that can offer more to the Marlins than others.

The only two teams who have actually submitted an offer to the Marlins are the Giants and the Cardinals. It has been reported that Joe Panik and Tyler Beede have been mentioned in that offer. The Cardinals have a lot of pitching to give, and one name mentioned in the offer was Sandy Alcantara while other details remain unclear.

What the Marlins are looking for out of this trade are to relieve some of the financial burden of Stanton’s contract, and to acquire some young pitching. The team that has the most to offer in that department are the St. Louis Cardinals, who may have the best pitching prospect in baseball in Alex Reyes. They are also well below the luxury tax cutoff, giving them a lot of financial flexibility.

The number one priority for the Marlins right now though is speaking to the Dodgers and seeing if they can come to an agreement. Stanton will not consider any other teams without knowing that Los Angeles is out of the running. The Dodgers are already likely going to go over the luxury tax, so it would not be in their best interest to add the largest sports contract in the world to their payroll. It would not make sense for the Marlins to take on a large part of Stanton’s contract for the Dodgers either, as then there would be little point to be trading him at all.

The Marlins need tor rule them out quick though, as some reports have indicated that other teams want a resolution from Stanton by December 10th, the first day of the Winter Meetings. This is so they can move onto other options as the free agent market remains untapped.

What all this means for Stanton

Stanton has made it clear that he does not want to go through a rebuilding phase. Derek Jeter has suggested that rebuilding may be the route the Marlins take though. Stanton has been in the league for seven years now and has yet to play on a winning team. In order to avoid this, he is going to have to redefine where he would like to be traded to.

The Cardinals make sense from a baseball perspective for Stanton. They are in big need for a game changing bat in the middle of the lineup, and are looking to consolidate talent. The Cardinals have also only had one losing season since 2000, so he would be playing for a winner. St. Louis isn’t far off from competing with the Chicago Cubs, and this offseason will really define their future. Stanton would play a big part in helping them compete, and surely could make them into World Series contenders.

The case seems to be that Stanton wants to play in a more high-profile place rather than St. Louis, and who can blame him? He is a young baseball star with loads of money and wants to spend nights out on the town. Not to mention he is also from Los Angeles and has family and friends there. Stanton will have to make the decision as to what is more important to him though.

The Giants don’t seem to fit the criteria of being soon to be winners either. The fact they don’t have much to offer the Marlins on the prospect side doesn’t help either. Boston would make sense for Stanton as they seem to be perennial contenders. That is why Boston and St. Louis seem like the most likely destinations with all things considered. Which means Stanton has to reevaluate his options in order to play for a winner.

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Arizona Fall League season awards

Arizona Fall League season awards

The Peoria Javelinas claimed the Arizona Fall League title on Nov. 18. Powered by league MVP and Braves top prospect, Ronald Acuna, Peoria dispatched the Mesa Solar Sox 8-2 in the season finale. For the Javelinas, this marks their sixth AFL title since the league was founded in 1992. But while the AFL recognizes a league MVP, there are no Cy Young award equivalents for the league’s best pitcher. If there were such an award, it would have most likely been a clean sweep for the Braves in the Arizona Fall League season awards in 2017.

League MVP, CF Ronald Acuna

AFL Season slash line: .325/.414/.639/1.053

Arizona Fall League season awards

Seattle prospect Eric Filia won the AFL batting title, but lost out to Ronald Acuna in the MVP race. (Photo: Baseball America)

Much has been written about the season that Ronald Acuna posted in 2017. At 19 years of age, soon to be 20 in December, Acuna has risen through the Braves system this year like a man on fire. Starting the season in Advanced-A with the Florida Fire Frogs, Acuna would reach the Braves’ Triple-A affiliate, the Gwinnett Braves, by season’s end. What’s more, his numbers got better at each level he played at this year.

The young Venezuelan native played at three levels this year, four if you include his inclusion in the AFL. And, quite frankly, it is reasonable to consider the AFL “another level” on the prospect ladder, to be fair. It is, after all, the proving ground for elite talent in MLB’s prospect pipeline. And Acuna wasn’t just good he was dominant in Arizona this fall, leading Peoria to the AFL championship.

Though Acuna didn’t lead the league in batting, on-base percentage, slugging, or even OPS for that matter, he was the league’s best player when you look at the sum of the whole. This young center fielder finished second in OPS, 12th in batting, second in slugging and sixth in on-base percentage, respectively.

This future star was a league leader though, make no mistake about it. Acuna led the AFL in home runs with seven, and total bases with 53. On top of that, he drove in 16 runs, good enough for fifth in the AFL in 2017.

There is no way this kid doesn’t break camp with the big club next spring. Acuna has absolutely nothing left to prove in the minors. He’s ready for his call to the big leagues right now.

AFL Cy Young, LHP Max Fried

AFL Season pitching line: (3-1) 1.73 ERA, 26 IP, 32 K’s, 0.88 WHIP

The AFL’s “Cy Young” award, if one were given out, would’ve been a trickier call than league MVP. Four pitchers could’ve easily walked away with this award. In no certain order, the New York Yankees’ Cody Carroll, Pittsburgh’s Mitch Keller, Philadelphia’s J.D. Hammer and Atlanta’s Max Fried all pitched well enough to be considered the best pitcher in Arizona this fall.

Arizona Fall League season awards

Max Fried was the best pitcher in the AFL in 2017. (Photo courtesy of: Reinhold Matay/USA TODAY Sports)

At the end of the day, however, only one can player can take top honors. And this year, Atlanta’s Max Fried would have to be the guy to get the nod. Over his six starts for eventual AFL champions, Peoria, Fried was as dominant as they come. The Braves’ young southpaw was second among all starting pitchers in WHIP (0.88), only bested Yankee’s prospect Justus Sheffield (0.84).

Fried was also the AFL’s strikeout champion for 2017 as well. He finished with 32 strikeouts in his 26 innings of work, good enough for an outstanding ratio of 11 K’s per nine innings. Making Fried’s case even better, he also showed good control walking only 2.77 batters per nine innings. Even though Fried wasn’t as efficient as Mitch Keller in this category (1.9 BB/per 9), he outpaced Keller’s (4.9 K/per 9).

In the cases of Hammer and Carroll, however, both pitchers were closers. This isn’t to slight these two future big leaguers, but generally it’s a rarity that a reliever will win an award for league’s best pitcher. It’s happened only nine times at baseball’s top level, with the last occurrence being Eric Gagne’s 2003 Cy Young season. While Hammer and Carroll both had outstanding seasons in Arizona, the volume of work by Fried must be the deciding factor here.

Based on his body of work, Fried is the AFL’s best pitcher of 2017.

Atlanta’s prospects ready to contribute

Both Fried and Acuna progressed along the prospect ladder in leaps this year. The Braves have moved these young men up the ladder quickly, and they have responded by showing a maturity beyond their years. There is little doubt that both players will more than likely be on the opening day roster come 2018.

It is worth noting that Fried has already made the jump to MLB in 2017. His performance in the AFL this year should solidify his place in next year’s Braves rotation. Especially when you look at his performance in his limited exposure at the major league level. While it is a very small sample, it is apparent that the lights aren’t too bright for this future staff ace.

Moving onto Acuna, now, here’s a player that has absolutely no need to take another swing in the minor leagues. The Braves’ top prospect, and fifth ranked prospect in all of MLB, has shown he’s ready for the call. When the Braves break camp next spring, Acuna should be the man roaming center field in Atlanta every day.

This young man, at 20 years old, will most likely become the youngest player in the majors in 2018 and it’s exciting to speculate how he will handle the jump to MLB. If 2017 is anything to go by, we might be talking about the NL Rookie of the Year here. He will almost certainly be a training camp favorite for the award, no doubt about it.

 

(feature photo courtesy of: sportsnewsinstant.com)

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American League MVP

American League MVP: Altuve or Judge?

The Astros and Yankees are in the middle of a riveting ALCS. However, this article will not be focusing on the teams involved, but rather the stars that have gotten them to this point.

Jose Altuve and Aaron Judge are both largely responsible for the success of each team. The question though is which star had a bigger impact?

Jose Altuve

American League MVP

Altuve is thirsty for his first career MVP. (Photo from Yahoo Sports)

.346/.410/.547 24 HR 81 RBI 8.3 WAR

For a 5-foot-6 second baseman, Jose Altuve has got some pop. He proved that in Game 1 of the ALDS when he hit three home runs off the Boston Red Sox.

His power is not what separates him from the rest of the game though. What separates Altuve is his ability to excel in the basic fundamentals of the game.

Whether it be on offense or defense, Altuve is who the Astros relied on. Not only that, but he doesn’t spend time off the field. He only missed nine games all season long while some of the other stars on Houston spent some time on the DL. He kept Houston in the thick of things when they were struggling with injuries.

Altuve was also strong on the base paths, stealing 32 bases on 38 attempts. This makes him awfully close to being a 30-30 man while coming up just six homers shy of the feat.

What has not even been mentioned yet is that Altuve led the majors in batting average at .346. He was consistent all year long and did not have any major dips in performance. His best month was in July where he had a stellar .485 batting average. His worst month was in September where he hit .298, the only month where he hit below .300.

This is where Altuve bests Aaron Judge. There were no major slumps in Altuve’s season, unlike Judge, and he was extremely reliable for his team.

Aaron Judge

American League MVP

Aaron Judge quickly made himself one of the most recognizable players in baseball. (Photo from Sporting News)

.284/.422/.627 52 HR 114 RBI 8.1 WAR

Aaron Judge is the story of the season. Coming off a 2016 season where he hit .179 in the 27 games he appeared in, Judge shocked the majors by being one of the most intimidating figures at the plate.

The 25-year-old rookie led the American League with his 52 home runs, which also broke the all-time rookie record for home runs in a season. Not only that, but now that we are in the Statcast era, we love looking at the advanced metrics. Judge led the league with an average exit velocity of 95.6 mph. This shows his ability to make solid contact with the ball along with the pure power he has.

Judge has the ability to change the game with any at-bat. His power was one of the biggest attractions at All-Star weekend, and it left everybody speechless.

Judge did have some negative moments during his season. The month of August was abysmal for Judge. He set the record for most consecutive games with a strikeout and only hit .185 during the month with three home runs. He was able to bounce back though by hitting .311 and and impressive 15 home runs in the month of September.

Don’t let Judge’s high strikeout rate fool you either. He still led the league with 127 walks in 2017. Judge does not have a bad eye, which is always good to see among rookies.

Judge being a rookie should not come into play when talking about the MVP. Yes, Judge is all but a lock for Rookie of the Year in the American League. However, that will not improve his chances in this discussion.

Verdict

Both of these guys had stellar seasons, and there is no taking away from that. The month of September made the race much closer after it looked like Altuve had really separated himself from Judge. However, those 15 home runs really brought Judge back into the conversation.

While Judge is the guy with game-changing ability, Altuve has the reliability that makes any manager or fan base comfortable. Altuve is the guy a team can rely on to make the right decision and minimize mistakes.

Altuve has also led the league in stolen bases twice as well as batting three times. Now that he leads the league in WAR as well, it is time for him to have his MVP.

While it makes sense that “Judge” would win the verdict, Altuve has the edge here.

AL MVP: Jose Altuve

 

Featured image from The Big Lead

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Cam Newton struggles

What happened to Cam Newton?

Cam Newton has not been the same player he was back in 2015 when he was the NFL MVP. The Panthers’ quarterback had a disappointing season last year following the MVP and Super Bowl appearance and looks even worse this season. What is going on with Cam?

Newton is coming back from shoulder surgery and didn’t have much time to get back in shape before the season, so that may have something to do with his slow start this year. Could it be that he does not have enough support around him? Maybe his MVP season was just a fluke?

Newton is now 28 years old and in his seventh season, so it is not like he is an inexperienced quarterback that still needs to develop. This is Newton’s prime. Is this as good as he will be?

Let’s take a look inside Newton’s numbers and the weapons he has had around him.

Newton’s numbers

Below is a chart with Newton’s stats from his first six seasons in the NFL. I left off his numbers this year since there have only been three games played.

[su_table]

Comp pass yds pass TD INT rush yds rush TD
2016 52.9 3,509 19 14 359 5
2015 (MVP) 59.8 3,837 35 10 636 10
2014 58.5 3,127 18 12 539 5
2013 61.7 3,379 24 13 585 6
2012 57.7 3,869 19 12 741 8
2011 60.0 4,051 21 17 706 14

[/su_table]

As you study Newton’s numbers, you will notice a few things. The first thing that jumps out to me is his completion percentage. His most accurate season was just 61.7 percent. Nineteen starting quarterbacks topped that number last season, and 10 of them finished above 65 percent. Newton’s 52.9 completion percentage last year ranked 30th. Completing just over 50 percent of your passes is not good.

Cam Newton struggles

We saw a lot of dabs during Newton’s MVP season. (Photo by USATSI)

Another thing you will notice is that he has only topped 4,000 passing yards once. Newton accomplished that when he threw 4,051 in his rookie season. Newton has ranged from 3,100-3,800 ever since.

Last year, 13 quarterbacks topped 4,000 yards. In the season before that there were 12. The NFL is a passing league now and the quarterback play is showing it.

One thing I have always liked about Newton is that he doesn’t throw interceptions. He threw a career-high 17 in his rookie season, but has not thrown more than 14 since.

Let’s take a look at that MVP season. It is definitely Newton’s best season of his career. For starters, he had a career-high in touchdown passes and a career-low in interceptions. He had the Panthers sitting at 15-1 and took them to the Super Bowl where they lost to the Denver Broncos.

So far this season, Newton has completed 61 percent of his passes for 566 yards and has also thrown two touchdowns and four interceptions. Newton also has 46 yards on the ground and another score.

The bottom line is Newton’s numbers have never been fantastic. Could Newton possibly have been carried by his team all this time?

The supporting cast

Newton has definitely had talent all around him throughout his career. Let’s start by looking at his running game.

The Panthers’ rushing attack has always been one of the best in the league during Newton’s career. Since 2011 when he entered the NFL, Carolina has ranked third, ninth, 11th, seventh, second and 10th in total rushing yards.

Newton of course has been one of the main contributors to the team’s rushing yards. He has also had reliable running backs like DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart to help take pressure off the passing game.

Cam Newton struggles

Newton has always been surrounded by talented teammates like Luke Kuechly. (Photo by David Allio/Icon Sportswire)

Now let’s take a look at Newton’s receivers. He has had guys like Steve Smith, Greg Olson, Brandon LaFell, Ted Ginn, Jericho Cotchery and Kelvin Benjamin. It is definitely not the most talented bunch. Yes Smith, Olson and Benjamin are big playmakers, but he hasn’t had the opportunity for all of them to be together at once in their primes.

During Newton’s MVP season, his top targets were Olson, Ginn, Cotchery and Devin Funchess. Olson was the only one of those guys to have more than 50 catches (77 to be exact). However, the Panthers ranked 27th in pass attempts that season, so that would explain why the receivers had such few catches.

Carolina’s offensive line has been pretty consistent through Newton’s time with the team. They have always ranked around the middle in terms of sacks and quarterback hits. Last season was probably the worst Newton’s line has been as they ranked 19th in sacks allowed and 18th in quarterback hits. That may have played a factor into why last season was also Newton’s worst season. The best it has been was during his MVP season when they ranked 11th in sacks allowed and third in quarterback hits.

Lastly, let’s look at Newton’s defenses. Carolina has almost always had a solid defense to back up Newton and get him and the offense back on the field quickly. In four of Newton’s first six seasons, they have ranked in the top 10 in total yards allowed. The two times they didn’t were Newton’s rookie season when they ranked 28th and lost 10 games and the other time was when they ranked 21st last season and lost 10 again. The team has definitely been at its best when the defense is top notch.

This tends to get overlooked, but a system and coaches can also make the difference with a quarterback’s development. Quarterbacks have a more difficult time when they have had multiple coaches and playbooks to work with.

In Carolina, Newton has had Ron Rivera as his head coach his whole career. He has had Mike Shula as his quarterback coach for his first two years and his offensive coordinator for the rest. Ken Dorsey took over as his quarterback coach once Shula got promoted and Rob Chudzinski was his offensive coordinator in his first two seasons. Not much has changed for Newton in terms of coaching.

What is Cam’s problem?

Cam might not have a problem per se. He has been mostly the same throughout his career. The biggest things that have hurt him are the fact he was the first overall pick and the fact he won MVP.

Cam Newton struggles

Newton’s numbers have been about the same his whole career. (Photo by Jeremy Brevard-US Presswire)

Expectations for Newton to perform have been sky high. If you take away his MVP season, Newton is mostly an average quarterback. He can get the job done as long as he has a great supporting cast around him. He can’t really put the team on his back like other star quarterbacks in the league. He needs that running game, offensive line and defense to carry him.

Matthew Stafford, Andrew Luck, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Kirk Cousins are all quarterbacks that have lead a team to the postseason without a top 10 defense or running game. Now of course Stafford, Cousins and Luck haven’t played in a Super Bowl and Rodgers has only won one. To win the big one you need that supporting cast. Newton just can’t get it done by himself.

That is okay too. There are many great quarterbacks in this league. Newton certainly isn’t one of the worst starting quarterbacks in the NFL. He’s not my first choice, or even my tenth choice, but he’s definitely a starting quarterback. Newton is not the only good quarterback that needs his team to carry him.

As mentioned earlier, Newton is also recovering from injuries. Newton only threw two passes all preseason and focussed on resting his shoulder. He also twisted his ankle in their game against the Bills. Newton’s health is worth keeping an eye on.

 

Featured image by Jeff Siner/The Charlotte Observer

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