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.

Comppass ydspass TDINTrush ydsrush TD
201652.93,50919143595
2015 (MVP)59.83,837351063610
201458.53,12718125395
201361.73,37924135856
201257.73,86919127418
201160.04,051211770614

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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Is there a new G.O.A.T. in Starcraft 2?

Last week we had one of the most anticipated finals in Starcraft 2 history – and my goodness did it come through. Before we get into just how significant of a win this was for Lee “INnoVation” Shin Hyung, let’s recap this incredible series.

Game 1

Kim “sOs” Yoo Jin would start out the series with a quick scout on Innovation’s tank push. Pumping immortal Sentry while a Warp Prism backstabbed with Adepts, sOs gained a sizable economic lead.

Minutes later when sOs forced the base trade, Innovation’s 4-medivak drop would only be able to wipe the Protoss main, while forcefields and overcharges protected the natural until sOs’s fearsome ground army could return home.

 

Game 2

“IS THAT THE STRAT?” Shouted Artosis as four Oracles razed not only every add-on in Innovation’s main but denied stim and combat shields as well. No big deal, just sOs revolutionizing the way we see PvT forever.

After a void ray picked off Inno’s forward Tanks by the skin of its teeth, sOs decided to go for a kill move, shading into the main and igniting his four green lazers. Despite inflicting heavy worker losses, widow mine hits and marines would eventually clean it up. The situation still looked great for the 3-base Protoss, but the feisty Terran would finagle his way into another base trade – but this time with an impenetrable Liberator force at his front door – gg.

 

Game 3

In Game 3 we got to witness everyone’s favorite strat – the Cyclone rush. Oh boy, how I enjoy spectating Cyclone rushes. Over and over, sOs dove on the “pew-pew vacuum cleaners” and over and over they melted. Nexus falls – gg. I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed.

 

Game 4

sOs said “Two can play that game,” in Game 4 – he made Adepts and murdered Terran. Not much else to say.

 

Game 5

My god Game 5 was cool.

“Hey Innovation remember when I killed you with that Adept all-in 5 minutes ago – this is that I promise.”

“It sure looks like it, sOs, I’ll be ready this time .”

 

 

sOs appeared to be going for a gold base all-in on Odyssey – something he has done many times. Whether a double-gold Oracle/50 Chargelot bust or a quick Adept bust, sOs is quite well known for these type of builds. sOs knew this and knew that Innovation knew this, so while appearing to go for a complete Adept All-in, he was actually double-expanding and building a Pheonix fleet.

When Innovation would march across the map to murder the post-cheese Adept army, he would have his mind blown open by a well-rounded and well-funded Protoss Army.

 

 

“HE JUST WENT ‘WHAT’ WITH HIS MOUTH – HE DOESN’T EVEN SPEAK ENGLISH – SOS MAKIN’ THIS KID SPEAK IN TONGUES TASTELESS”

The rest of the game would be a strategic dance of army positioning. Innovation for most of the game had an untouchable Air-Force of ranged Liberators, while sOs’s stalker force was minuscule.

Still, however, sOs managed to circumnavigate the Freedom Zones to kill bases and Blink on lone Liberators. Eventually, sOs’s commanding economy, with the help of a VERY crucial hidden base, would be able to force a base trade and kill Innovation’s Orbitals while a horde of Blink DTs turned Inno’s bio to shredded cheese.

 

Game 6

“It’s almost better to not even scout him” -Artosis

With his eye on his first ever GSL title, sOs chose Nightmare’s signature Charge/DT Blink bust. Unscouted, Innovation dropped a clutch early scan that allowed his first volley to turn the tides, wiping out the expensive Dark Templar. A few more attempts would prove increasingly wasteful, until sOs was forced to tap out.

 

 

Game 7

Oh please, anything but death by tank push – noooo not a tank push. I’m completely impartial by the way – no dog in this race.

Innovation set up a Seige Tank/Bunker line outside of sOs’s third against Colossus/Stalker. If you’ve played five games of TvP in your life you know how that ends. Innovation crushes the third. sOs tried for a hail mary recall to a newly built hidden base, got quickly overwhelmed by Vikings, Bio and SCVs at Inno’s 3rd, GG. I’m definitely not crying at all did I mention how impartial I am?

This win marks the 3rd GSL Code S title for INnoVation – tying him with Jung “Mvp” Jong Hyun… which begs the question…

 

Greatest of all Time?

 

                                 Mvp                                          INnoVation

  • GSL Code S x3
  • Blizzcon 2011
  • GSL World Championship 2011
  • WCG 2011
  • WCS Europe 2013
  • 2013 MLG Winter
  • IEM Season VII Cologne
  • 2011 MLG Anaheim
  • 2011 WC Seoul
  • Total earnings: $408,891.73
  • GSL Code S x3
  • WCS Korea 2014
  • WCS 2013
  • GSL vs the World 2017
  • IEM Gyeonggi
  • 201 Star league S1
  • IEM Gamescom
  • Total earnings: $445,354.79

 

MVP was, until very recently, the undisputed greatest player of all time. Only one young Zerg ever came close, he who shall not be named- screw that noise his name was Life and he was unbelievable. He’d surely be in the running for GOAT had he not made a terrible, unforgivable mistake two years ago. But that’s Life – badum tsss.

What does it mean to be the greatest?  I’d say there’s a bit more to it than results. Sure – you can’t even be in the conversation without winning 3 GSL Code S titles – but the GOAT of any sport didn’t just enter, dominate, and leave the sport how they found it – to be the GOAT you have to change the game forever.  MVP did that.  His finals against Squirtle changed the way we look at Best of 7s.  Not only was Game 6’s Archon Toilet arguably the most bad-ass moment in any Starcraft 2 game ever – he managed to top that by following up a Battlecruiser/Mass Planetary build with a freaking proxy 2 Rax SCV pull. MVP taught us that a best of 7 isn’t 7 separate games but a single series and ongoing mental game – and that sometimes you have to risk it all to achieve greatness.

 

So here’s the question: did INnoVation… innovate? He didn’t re-evaluate the way his race was played from the ground up like a Stephano. He didn’t revolutionize micromanagement like MarineKingPrime or Byun. He didn’t push the limits of strategical complexity like sOs… he crushed all of that with rock hard consistency.  What INnoVation brings to the table is unparalleled precision and mechanics, and an ability to do what he does every single time against any player.  Innovation accomplished what MVP did and he did it in the modern day, in a game that’s is harder than it’s ever been and one where there are more ways to suddenly die than ever before.  INnoVation knows when to cheese like MVP did, but more often than not he has no secrets – no tricks up his sleeve – just overwhelming numbers, perfect crisis management, and the cold calculating intelligence of a T-800 Terminator.

 

“1010110001” -INnoVation

For these reasons, INnoVation, in my humble opinion, is now…

The Greatest Player of All Time.

Good luck DeepMind.


Photos courtesy of AfreecaTV and The Terminator
Featured Image courtesy of HBO’s Game of Thrones

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10-year peak WAR

What is 10-Year Peak WAR?

Just when you thought you had enough stats to last a lifetime someone had to come along and muck up the works with 10-year peak WAR.

As the most rabid of baseball stat junkies will tell you, wins above replacement (WAR) is a measure of performance that sets a player against the cumulative league averages to determine how much better or worse that player is compared to the “next best” option. Examining peak WAR as it is used currently, raises questions with about the validity of a player’s “peak” seasons as expressed through the 7-year peak WAR statistic.

My problem with 7-year peak WAR is that it does not give you a player’s peak production. It only tells you what his seven best statistical seasons were regarding wins above replacement. This is wrong for a couple of reasons. Allow me to explain my reasoning.

Peak is Prime

10-year peak WAR

Statistical anomaly, Brett Favre. (Photo courtesy of: The Guardian)

To me, peak is synonymous with a player’s physical prime. I would like to find common ground here because I hate to break it to the hardcore stat guys, peak does not mean seven best seasons. The definition of peak should be the same as talking about a player’s prime years, or when he is at his physical apex.

Settle down and let me finish before you go dusting off those torches. Don’t go thinking problems with peak WAR as it is currently considered is a challenge to WAR itself. Wins above replacement is very useful, especially when gauging a player’s Cooperstown credentials. My problem is with the way it is calculated with respects to a player’s peak.

I have spent countless hours poring over player data and calculating my own version of “peak WAR” and my application isn’t what might be usually expected. It’s hardly an attempt at reinventing the wheel though. Think of it as a minor tweak in how we view a player’s peak production. I must also add; the Cooperstown inductees have nothing to fear.

When looking at the peak of a pro-ballplayer, I don’t need to know what his seven best WAR seasons are, nor do I care. No, what I need to know is how well he performed through his physical peak. Here’s an example showing exactly what’s trying to be conveyed. Brett Favre in 2009 put up the greatest season of his entire career at 40-years old. Now tell me this, is this a guy in his peak? Or, is this an outlier of a season that happened outside of his physical peak? I’m going with the latter folks.

Let me get to the nuts and bolts. What I mean by physical peak is this: what is the player(s) production over his age 23-33 seasons when he is the strongest, fastest and fittest that he will ever be?

10-Year Peak WAR

10-year peak WAR

Not even Dave “Mr. May” Winfield had a higher 10-year peak than Koufax. (Photo courtesy of: Sports Illustrated)

Why pick 10 years as a sample? Firstly, this examination of peak WAR should only be used as a measure for Hall of Fame standards. The way I apply WAR should never be used on active players, unless you are comparing them with the career trajectory of a legend.

As I look at more and more data, those 10 years (23-33) look to be the general peak ages a player does his most damage. Granted there are players that don’t fit that criteria exactly, but these standards of peak envisioned here don’t care about that. If you enter the game at 24 years of age, like Kirby Puckett did for example, I take that as being a peak season. The reasoning is this, Hall of Fame players generally get to the bigs earlier and they stay longer.

Players should be rewarded for their production in their “non-peak” years as well. In my application of WAR, I generate two classes: 10-year peak WAR and Non-peak WAR. All 11 seasons that fall between a player’s age 23-33 seasons are his 10-year peak, and all other seasons up to age 22, and all seasons post-age 33 are calculated to be his non-peak WAR.

These calculations of 10-year peak WAR vs. Non-peak WAR speaks to one thing. Career Longevity. This is not to say that a player cannot be Hall of Fame worthy after playing a limited number of years, but generally, we all know that you need at least a decade of dominant play on your resume to get in to Cooperstown.

There are exceptions to every rule of course, but how many Sandy Koufax’s are there exactly? Koufax, by my system, had eight seasons of his 10-year prime only, and yet still managed a (50.2) WAR over that stretch.

It only becomes more impressive when you realize that in eight seasons from age 23-30, Koufax still put up better 10-year peak WAR than did Molitor, Stargell, Winfield and Puckett along with many more.

Non-peak WAR

10-year peak WAR

Paul Molitor has the highest non-peak WAR among HOF third basemen. (Photo courtesy of: Star Tribune)

This is where examining peak WAR takes a twist. A player should be rewarded for his length of career. If a player makes it to the bigs at 21 for instance, those first two seasons while he’s developing are tacked on to whatever production he shows from age 34 until retirement. This is what I call Non-peak WAR.

Consider my application of WAR as I have outlined it so far. What I am essentially doing, is saying how good were these guys, and for how long? I am favoring career length as much as I am favoring the player’s overall production and worth to his team. Trust me, the Hall of Famers still stand out. Start doing some calculations if you don’t believe me.

If you are a purest like me, Cooperstown isn’t for those that burn out after five seasons (unless you’re ridiculous like Koufax), Cooperstown is for those that do it better and do it longer. In case you are wondering what Sandy’s Non-peak WAR was, it was (3) and that’s not a typo either. The fact that Koufax made the Hall is a testament to how great he actually was.

Consider Paul Molitor. From 1980 through 1990, Molitor posted a (41.3) WAR. That’s damn good. But it’s also off the pace of Hall of Fame standards for third basemen using this version of 10-year peak WAR by nearly 10-points. It’s what Molitor did in those other 10 of his 21 big league seasons that truly sets him apart. His Non-peak WAR (34.2) is over two-times higher than Hall standard at his position (15.9). Molitor’s Non-peak WAR is so good, it puts him as the best of all time at third base in Non-peak WAR by nearly 9-points over Mike Schmidt’s (25.6) Non-peak WAR.

What it Means

10-year peak WAR

Larry Walker breaks toward first after making contact. (Photo courtesy of: Denver Post)

There really is no solid indicator for career longevity. Especially when you isolate a player’s seven best seasons irrespective of when they occurred in a player’s career chronologically. Those who play a shorter amount of time are going to have to be so good they won’t be denied. Like Koufax.

Falling short on one end of these WAR calculations isn’t scuttling a player’s shot at the Hall. But it is putting them to a higher standard to truly dominate for the brief moments they are playing.

What is harsh though, is Larry Walker only getting 21.9 percent of the vote in the most recent Hall of Fame voting. On his seventh ballot, mind you. Here’s a guy that finished with a 10-year peak WAR of (49.4) and a Non-peak WAR of (23.3). Not bad considering Hall average for RF is (52.6/20.6) by my system.

Walker is off the 10-year peak WAR of right fielders by 3-points, but he’s above Non-peak production by nearly 3-points. How is Walker not getting more than 1 in 5 Hall votes? And please, do not give me that, “He played in Colorado!” crap either. I’m not having it, where a player takes the field for their home games should not be looked upon as a sin. Furthermore, if that’s the standard we’re going by I feel bad for any great player that calls Coors Field home. Let’s not make Larry Walker another snub job that the Veterans Committee is going to have to fix.

Like the Alan Trammell debacle.

 

 

(feature photo courtesy of: Sports Illustrated)

 

 

 

 

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Jose Ramirez MVP

Where is the love for Jose Ramirez?

The MLB’s regular season is less than a month away from coming to a close. Since it is almost over, it is becoming more clear which players are in the running for the league’s most prestigious awards.

For example, take the American League MVP race. Jose Altuve seems to be in the lead and for good reason. The Astros’ second baseman is leading the league with a .351 batting average and 7.3 WAR. He has also hit 21 home runs and 72 RBIs.

Other players in MVP talk have been Aaron Judge, Jonathan Schoop and Mike Trout. Judge sure looked like he was going to win MVP along with rookie of the year at the all-star break. The Yankees’ outfielder was hitting .329 with 30 home runs and 66 RBIs. Since the break, he has hit just .183 with eight home runs and 19 RBIs. Judge’s hot start was still enough to keep him second in home runs though.

Trout missed over a month due to an injury or else he would be a more serious candidate. In 93 games, Trout has hit .324 with 27 home runs and 61 RBIs. With all that lost time, he most likely won’t be winning his third MVP award.

Schoop is new to the scene with a breakout year in Baltimore. The Orioles’ second baseman is hitting .306 with 31 home runs and ranks second in RBIs with 102.

Judge’s cold streak and Trout’s lost time will most likely keep them from winning. So why are they still in the MVP talk? MLB.com released an article a few days ago with who they felt was in the MVP race. The article mentioned Altuve, Judge and Trout, but more surprisingly Chris Sale and Corey Kluber. Sale and Kluber have been duking it out for the Cy Young, but have not really been mentioned in MVP talk. Pitchers also rarely win the MVP.

Someone is missing

There is one guy that nobody has been talking about that should be getting some consideration. That man is Cleveland infielder Jose Ramirez.

Jose Ramirez MVP

Ramirez was just named player of the week. (Jason Miller/Getty Images)

Ramirez has been hot at the plate recently. He was just named American League Player of the Week ending Sept. 3 after hitting .538 (14-26) with 11 extra-base hits and a 1.308 slugging percentage. It was the second time this season Ramirez has been player of the week.

He also made history with a 5-5 performance with two homers and three doubles. It made him the first switch-hitter to hit five extra-base hits in a game and the 13th player in history to do so.

I’m not saying Ramirez should win over Altuve. Altuve’s numbers are just too good. What I’m saying is Ramirez has had too good of a season to go unnoticed.

Ramirez’s stats

Ramirez is fifth in batting average at .309 and also has 25 home runs and 69 RBIs. Those numbers may not scream out like Altuve’s batting average or Judge’s home runs, but lets dig deeper into Ramirez’s season.

Ramirez leads the American League in extra-base hits with 78, 11 ahead of second-place Justin Upton and 14 ahead of Schoop. Ramirez also leads in total bases with 296, six ahead of second-place Altuve and seven ahead of Schoop. Ramirez is also leading in doubles with 47, which is 11 ahead of sixth-place Altuve.

Let’s talk about those doubles for a little bit. Ramirez could become only the seventh player in history to hit 60 doubles in a season. That is a feat that hasn’t been done since 1936 when Joe Medwick and and Charlie Gehringer both did it in the same season.

Ramirez is also second in triples with six. He’s also not an easy out as he has the seventh-fewest strikeouts with just 64. Judge is tied for the lead at 182 and Schoop struck out 123 times. Ramirez is also has a .564 slugging percentage, which ranks second behind Judge at .570.

In total hits, Ramirez is fifth with 162 behind fourth-place Schoop (163) and first-place Altuve (183). He is also fourth in runs scored with 93 behind third-place Altuve (95) and Judge, who is the leader (102). 

All the candidates are excellent defenders too, all with fielding percentages over .970.

Where is the love?

So why hasn’t Ramirez gotten more love? That is the real question.

Judge’s cold stretch and Trout’s injury will most likely keep them out, so why are they still being talked about?

Trout has won the award before and is an established star. Judge burst on the scene at the end of last year and captured the MLB’s audience with his hot start. He’s most likely going to be the next Yankee great.

Ramirez, as well as Schoop, are new to stardom. Schoop’s career highs before this year were a .279 batting average, 25 home runs and 82 RBIs. He’s exceeded all of those numbers in this season and also made his first all-star game.

Jose Ramirez MVP

Ramirez has been a big part of the Indians’ hot streak. (Photo by John Kuntz, cleveland.com)

Ramirez also made his first all-star appearance this season, and for good reason. At the break, he was hitting .332 with 17 home runs and 48 RBIs. Ramirez has continued to step up in Cleveland and contribute while some of the team’s biggest stars like Michael Brantley and Jason Kipnis have gone down with injuries.

Another reason Ramirez may not be getting the credit he deserves is because of the way he is marketed in Cleveland. Baseball fans know the Indians by guys like Corey Kluber, Andrew Miller and Francisco Lindor. Kluber has won a Cy Young and is always competing for one. Miller made a name for himself last year as one of the league’s best setup men and demonstrated it in the postseason. Lindor is a two-time all-star and great defensive asset to the team.

Miller has struggled with injuries lately and Lindor has had a down year by his standards. Somehow Ramirez’s production has gotten buried amongst the city’s other stars. Perhaps the Cavaliers’ stars like LeBron James and the attention of the Kyrie Irving trade have also kept Ramirez out of the headlines.

Make no mistake, Jose Ramirez is a baller. While his core numbers may not compete with Jose Altuve’s, he has still produced tremendously and should be in the MVP talk with Altuve and maybe Schoop. Judge and Trout should not be in the talk due the the circumstances previously discussed.

Start following Ramirez now, because you are going to see plenty of him in the postseason as Cleveland has been the hottest team in the American League and are well on their way to contend for another World Series appearance. 

Oh, and he is only 24 years old, so there is plenty more to come from Ramirez in the future.

 

Featured image by Jason Miller/Getty Images

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Nisqy is NV's MVP of NA LCS quarterfinals

Recognizing the MVPs of the NA LCS quarterfinals losers

The North American LCS Summer Split playoffs began last week with two quarterfinal match-ups. Cloud9 faced off against Dignitas. Counter Logic Gaming took on Envyus. Each of these teams had clear ups and downs during the split, so it was difficult to peg the favorites going in, except maybe CLG should beat NV.

However, things did not really go as planned. DIG took down C9 convincingly, finishing with a 3-1 series. Dignitas’ bottom lane, in particular, was able to shine. Although, every member of the team performed well. Cloud9 looked shaky in all but game three.

The CLG-NV match-up was even closer, with CLG barely edging out NV 3-2. Various members on both teams had highlight moments, as each adaptation came through. Rookies and veterans faced off in an exciting five game series, but CLG did close out game five, thanks mostly to Darshan’s success with Camille.

Cloud9 and NV left the arena disappointed. C9 has a long history of playoff success within the North American region, including the finals of the Spring Split this year. NV pulled themselves up from 10th place last split to a spot in playoffs. Even though they were so close to pushing through into semifinals, it fell just beyond their grasp.

There is a specific player from each team that deserves recognition for stepping up in quarterfinals. These are players who put their carry pants on, and did what was needed for their teams. Here are two players that proved to be most valuable to Cloud9 and Envy during the first round of playoffs. Each should feel proud of their contributions.

C9 Jensen

Jensen is C9's MVP of quarterfinals

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Jensen found himself in a central position with Cloud9 during quarterfinals. Many of C9’s compositions revolved around Jensen and Sneaky dishing damage, while Impact, Contractz and Smoothie acted as utility tanks. Jensen held up his end of the deal. The rest of the team did not.

On Cassiopeia, Jensen prioritized farming over early skirmishes. In game one, C9’s top lane, jungler and bottom lane had ceded kills before 17 minutes, while only securing one in exchange. In game two, the early game was a bit less lop-sided, but still in DIG’s favor. Jensen did get caught out at Baron around 29 minutes, which swung the game heavily to C9’s disadvantage. However, he followed it up with a crucial four-man Petrifying Gaze at 34:20 to completely deflate DIG’s pressure.

In game three, Jensen completely dominated. His mid lane Lucian was 5-0-2 around 25 minutes, and never really got shut down. Contractz looked much better on Elise, bringing more early game pressure. Of course, part of their advantage came from Shrimp’s curveball Nocturne pick, which did not have a large influence on the game. The Lucian was locked in again in game four, but did not have as strong an effect, due to the low effectiveness of Impact’s Galio and the losing bottom lane. Jensen was still able to finish with a 3-2-7 scoreline.

Considering how threatening Ssumday’s Maokai was throughout this series, it is impressive how many fights Jensen came out alive in. Despite losing the series 3-1, Jensen’s statistics were still powerful. He averaged 19 CS ahead of Keane at 15 minutes. He did 33 percent of Cloud9’s damage. 81.7 percent kill participation and a 5.5 KDA are strong on a winning line-up, let alone one that lost.

NV Nisqy

Nisqy is NV's MVP of NA LCS quarterfinals

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

One of the more one-sided series going into the quarterfinals, Counter Logic Gaming versus Envy was much closer than expected. CLG took game one, NV responded with two wins of their own, and then CLG closed out the final two games, finishing 3-2. In all but the final game, NV actually had the lead at 20 minutes. However, CLG’s mid-late game fighting proved more effective, particularly around Baron.

Despite the series loss, NV’s mid laner, Nisqy, truly proved himself. He showed a wide range of champions and playstyles, locking in Cassiopeia, Corki, Galio and Kog’Maw throughout the match-up. Nisqy finished the best-of-five with a 5.2 overall KDA, going deathless in NV’s victories.

Nisqy came out of the gate in game one with an aggressive play in CLG’s jungle to pick up two kills, evening out an invade gone wrong. CLG responded with a mid lane gank to shut him down. After Omargod stole the Baron from NV afterwards, there was very little they could do. Every member of CLG got ahead, and the long distance engage of Zac made NV’s carries easy targets.

In games two and three, Nisqy had a huge impact. His Galio ultimates at eight minutes and 25 minutes were crucial for turning around teamfights targeting Apollo. Nisqy expertly utilized Galio’s zoning and crowd control to split up CLG’s carries and tanks. His Corki roam around 16 minutes resulted in a triple kill, and every teamfight for game three he dished out massive damage.

NV’s game four loss could be mostly attributed to their lack of reliable engage. Seraph’s Cho’Gath, LiRa’s Rek’Sai and Hakuho’s Nautilus could never pull off the necessary initial engagement to set up Nisqy’s Hero’s Entrance. Without the proper team-wide execution, the Galio fell flat.

They switched up their composition in game five by drafting Kog’Maw in the mid lane. Nisqy’s damage output came up huge, particularly in the 32:30 teamfight. Unfortunately, Seraph’s Gnar could not overcome Darshan’s Camille counterpick, and NV’s dual-marksman composition had difficulty surviving CLG’s engages long enough to compete, damage-wise. Nonetheless, Nisqy’s heavy contributions throughout this entire series were apparent, which deserves recognition.

Featured Image: LoL Esports Flickr

Other Images: LoL Esports Flickr

Player Statistics: GamesofLegends.com

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Mike Trout MVP

Mike Trout could win MVP despite a DL stint

When Mike Trout slid into second base in late May and tore a ligament in his thumb, some thought that it prevented a potentially historic season from happening. However, Trout is proving that six weeks on the DL is not going to prevent him from getting the MVP.

Despite the fact that Trout has only played in 82 games, he still has 26 home runs and 60 RBIs. He also has a 5.6 WAR that ranks third in the American League behind Jose Altuve and Andrelton Simmons. Even the rookie sensation, Aaron Judge, falls behind Trout in WAR.

Quick recovery

Mike Trout MVP

Not even a torn ligament can get the best of Mike Trout. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

When it was all said and done, Trout only missed 39 games for the Angels. In that time, the Angles went a mediocre 19-20.

Since returning, the Angels are 19-15 and are second in the AL Wild Card race. All together, the Angels are 46-42 when Trout plays.

It is not a staggering difference, but it is enough to see that Trout gives the Angels the edge they need to sneak into the playoffs.

How Trout stacks up with other contenders

Mike Trout MVP

Altuve is easily having the best year of his impressive career. (Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports).

Trout is currently slugging at an all time high for his career. His .670 slugging percentage is the best in his career and is 78 points ahead of the next top percentage.

Trout just does not have enough plate appearances to actually qualify for that title at the moment though. His ability to hit for power is a good sign for the future though, because he does appear to be getting better.

There are several players that are in consideration for the MVP award this year. Aaron Judge was a name many people thought had a shot at winning the coveted award. His recent struggles may get in his way though. He has a lower WAR than Trout and over 100 more plate appearances. If Trout wasn’t hurt, he could have similar home run numbers that Judge has.

The biggest obstacle in front of Trout in the MVP race is Jose Altuve. Altuve is putting up astonishing numbers with a .358/.418/.565 slash line along with a 7.0 WAR. If I were a gambling man, I would say Altuve almost has the MVP on lock down.

However, Trout could still make a run at the Astros’ second baseman. He has the second best batting average behind Altuve, but does not qualify yet. Trout may be able to catch Altuve if he keeps playing at the rate he does and pushes his power numbers up even more. It also may help if Trout is able to help his team get into the playoffs for the first time in his career.

Is the MVP in reach?

The fact that this can be a topic of discussion is impressive in itself. However, once we bring reality into this, the answer is most likely no. If it was not for Jose Altuve’s stellar season then it would be much more plausible for Trout to snatch the MVP for the third time in his young but illustrious career.

There are some things that can still happen for the award to fall into Trout’s hands. It would be a series of events though. Altuve would have to miss time, and Trout would have to go on a tear in September. It isn’t out of the question, but Altuve has not once spent time on the DL since coming up to the big leagues.

It is important to keep in mind that his performance since coming back from his injury is something to behold. The future is very bright for this young stud and it is sad to see him slowing down.

One stat that is easy to look at and helps determine if a player has longevity is the strikeout per nine innings stat. Trout has been striking out less and has shown that he has one of the better eyes in the game.

Even though he may not get the MVP this season, he should be a favorite for the coming years.

 

Featured Image from Huffington Post

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SPY Trashy is an MVP of EU LCS quarterfinals

Recognizing the MVPs of the EU LCS quarterfinals losers

This year’s LCS playoffs have officially kicked off, with the quarterfinals in the books. This first stage of the tournament has turned out much different than anticipated in Europe. Misfits dominated Unicorns of Love Saturday morning, finishing the series 3-0. G2 closed out their series with Splyce 3-2, grinding it out every inch of the way.

Many of these games were in favor of the underdogs at some point. UOL did not take a single game off of Misfits. G2 was one bad call away from giving their semifinals spot to Splyce. Most expectations involved Unicorns of Love easily qualifying for semifinals, while G2 would put up a solid fight against Splyce.

Misfits and Splyce brought their A-games in a major way, which has made playoffs that much less predictable. Fnatic and H2K should be a bit more nervous about their semifinals opponents. Misfits and G2 have tested their mettle and made it through to the next stage. They deserve every bit of praise for their performances.

However, there is a player from each team that deserves recognition for stepping up in quarterfinals. These are players who kept their cool, and helped their teams out the most, despite everything going south in the end. Here are two players that proved to be most valuable to Unicorns of Love and Splyce during the first round of playoffs.

UOL Samux

UOL Samux is an MVP of EU LCS quarterfinals

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

While none of Unicorns of Love’s players looked spectacular, Samux was the only player that performed remotely close to expectations. Despite other members of the team practically feeding kills to Misfits, Samux did his best to damage from a distance.

In game one, Samux was extremely limited from the start. UOL drafted Trundle, which ended up going to Hylissang as support. Misfits answered with a Blitzcrank for IgNar. This pickup ended up being crucial, as several picks came from IgNar’s hooks and Hylissang’s inability to affect fights. Samux was drafted Xayah, and was constantly zoned by the threat of Blitzcrank and Maxlore’s Zac. 

In game two, UOL re-drafted Xayah for Samux against Hans sama’s Tristana. He even got an early kill in the bottom lane without jungler attention. However, Exileh sacrificed four deaths to PowerOfEvil’s Lucian within the first 17 minutes, which allowed Misfits to snowball very fast. IgNar and Maxlore heavily pressured Samux again this game, with the crowd control combination of Rakan and Poppy. Hylissang and Vizicsacsi drafted Braum and Shen, picks with more utility, but it was not enough to keep Samux safe.

Finally, in game three, UOL switched Samux onto Sivir with a Tahm Kench for Hylissang. The movement speed and utility of these champions’ kits should have helped Samux stay safe. However, similar issues plagued UOL. Xerxe was unable to pull off the engages necessary for a successful Zac. Exileh tunneled in on the back line, despite IgNar, Hans sama and PowerOfEvil’s peel potential. Vizicsacsi barely influenced the game, fighting off Alphari’s split-pushing with Jarvan IV.

In almost every situation, Samux is completely dependent on the engage, peel, and reliability of his teammates. Since his teammates, particularly Xerxe, Exileh and Hylissang, were unable to fulfill their roles, it made it virtually impossible for Samux to output damage on short range AD carries. That being said, he did his best to remain safe when fights turned south. Samux only sacrificed 13.3 percent, 15 percent, and 15.8 percent of UOL’s deaths in games one, two and three, respectively.

SPY Trashy

SPY Trashy is an MVP of EU LCS quarterfinals

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Splyce’s jungler looked much more effective during quarterfinals against G2 than virtually all of the regular season. His pressure around the map, especially in the early game, is a primary reason that Splyce was able to take G2 all the way to the bitter end of their best-of-five series. Trashy deserves recognition for stepping up in playoffs.

For example, 12 minutes into game one, Trashy had 100 percent kill participation, including two kills each for Wunder and Sencux. He is partially to blame for Trick’s Smite-steal at Baron around 27 minutes, but his play around objectives for the rest of the game was great. Trashy excelled at teamfights, though, where he helped fully lock down Zven and Perkz with Wunder’s Camille and Sencux’s Galio. He even finished the game with 95 percent kill participation and only 17.6 percent of Splyce’s deaths.

Trashy’s early game ganks backfired twice in a row in game two. Trick was able to effectively counter-gank for Expect to secure kills. Perkz was also able to snowball on Leblanc. Mikyx and Wunder accounted for 12 of Splyce’s 18 deaths, equal to 66.7 percent, while Trashy only contributed two of 18, or 11.1 percent. Game three was not as impactful in the early game, for better or for worse. Trashy’s Elise did not contribute much until post-20 minutes, and it took a few completed items before he could really teamfight at all. And even then, Elise has a hard time if she does not get ahead from the start, especially without a high-economy tank.

Once back on Sejuani in game four and Gragas in game five, Trashy brought the heat. He finished the last two games with 18 and 8 KDAs, respectively. These champions’ combination of crowd control and tankiness were perfect for assisting Splyce’s carries to survive G2’s engagements, while enabling them to melt down G2’s tankier members. Their game five loss amounted to two lost teamfights around Baron, which is not entirely Trashy’s fault. Most of it chalked up to G2’s players outplaying Splyce as a team, rather than any individual mess-ups. Trashy only sacrificed one death in the whole fifth game, which is only 6.3 percent.

Featured Image: LoL Esports Flickr

Other Images: LoL Esports Flickr

Player Statistics: GamesofLegends.com

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2017 NFC South division preview

2017 NFC South division preview

The NFL regular season is fast approaching. In the blink of an eye, Sep. 7 will arrive and the Chiefs and Patriots will be kicking off the 2017-2018 NFL season. In the meantime, Hagan’s Haus will be bringing you the divisional previews and predictions of how teams will finish in their respective divisions. Without further ado, here is the 2017 NFC South division preview.

4: New Orleans Saints

Last season: 7-9

Strength of schedule:15

Oh when the Saints go marching in, they bring with them no defense. The Saints are hoping the additions of A.J. Klein and Manti Te’o will improve a defense that gave up 28.4 points per game last season. They also drafted defensive backs Marshon Lattimore and Marcus Williams to improve one of the league’s worst secondaries.

2017 NFC South division preview

(Photo credit: Matthew Hinton)

Although New Orleans has made an effort to improve their defense, it won’t become great overnight. Despite ranking 11th in fewest plays per game, the Saints ranked 14th in rushing and 31st in passing. Until this unit shows on-field improvement, there is no way the Saints can win the division or earn a wild card berth.

Offensively, the Saints are absolutely loaded. They have future Hall of Famer Drew Brees under center. New Orleans has committed to Michael Thomas as the go-to guy on the outside in just his second season. Coby Fleener is more than a reliable tight end to compliment Thomas in the middle of the field and in the red zone.

The Saints are also blessed in the backfield with Mark Ingram, future Hall of Famer Adrian Peterson and rookie Alvin Kamara. This trio of running backs will give defensive coordinators nightmares.

New Orleans has a pretty easy schedule this season and the offensive side of the ball is going to be straight fireworks. As is the story every season with Saints, can the defense be good enough to help them win games? The answer is no. Every game will be a shootout and opposing defenses are going to make more game winning plays. The Saints will be competitive because of their offense, but the defense will be their downfall yet again.

Prediction: 8-8 (3-3), miss the playoffs

3: Atlanta Falcons

2017 NFC South division preview

(Photo Credit:http://www.sportingnews.com)

Last season: 11-5

Strength of schedule: 13

I am a firm believer in Super Bowl hangovers. Just look at how the Panthers’ season went last year after losing Super Bowl 50.

The Falcons’ players are saying all the right things about moving on and using the humiliating let down as motivation for this season but when push comes to shove that loss will be in the back of their mind. The first team to start coming back on them will bring out those painful memories.

Atlanta is also the defending NFC champions and they will get every team’s best shot. Their division is one of the toughest in the NFL and the Buccaneers and Panthers did a lot to improve.

Besides the hangover and their schedule, Atlanta has to prove they can play great defense for an entire season. The first half of last season was abysmal defensively. The Falcons finished the season ranked 27th in points, giving up 25.3 per game. Atlanta saw such a high volume of points scored in the fourth quarter. They ranked 31st in fourth quarter scoring giving up 9.9 points per fourth quarter. If that trend continues they will struggle to win games.

Offensively, the Falcons are loaded. Matt Ryan had a career year that led to him being named league MVP. It is unlikely that he has a second consecutive MVP caliber season as very few players have ever won back to back MVPs. Only four players have done so: Jim Brown, Joe Montana, Brett Favre and Peyton Manning.

Ryan will have a slight drop off in production but not enough to warrant concern. The offense will put up plenty of points and still be electrifying but as mentioned earlier, they will be given the best shot from every team and it will cause them to come up short a few more times than most can expect.

Atlanta’s defense must improve and play to the ability they did in the second half of the season in order to get back to the postseason. Due to a massive Super Bowl hangover, an improved division all-around and a defense that will likely be mediocre, the Falcons come up short and miss the playoffs.

Prediction: 9-7 (3-3), miss the playoffs

2: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Last season: 9-7

Strength of schedule: 14

Tampa Bay had a solid season last year but missed the playoffs. This season they should take the next step and make the playoffs behind a very solid offense that has improved. The upgrades on offense include the additions of DeSean Jackson and O.J. Howard. Both of which will turn this offense from good to great.

2017 NFC South division preview

(Photo Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)

The Buccaneers were led by their passing game, averaging 245.4 yards per game. Mike Evans is one of the top receivers in the league and the combination of DeSean Jackson and O.J. Howard will cause defensive coordinators to adjust their game plans leaving Mike Evans with more one on one looks.

The running game only averaged 101 yards per game but Doug Martin only played eight games last season. Martin will start out the season suspended but is eligible to play in week four.

Once Martin returns the running game will start to get rolling, making it even easier for Jameis Winston to air it out. Everything will finally come together for the Bucs offense this season. Don’t be surprised if the 2017 Buccaneers finish with a top 10 offense.

Tampa Bay must become a better defensive team to truly take the step and make the playoffs. The Bucs ranked 22nd in both rush and pass defense giving up a total of 367.9 yards per game. Gerald McCoy will have a Chris Baker next to him to improve the rush defense but it will take more than just one new defensive tackle.

The Bucs should have a better pass defense because the defensive line will get tons of pressure from the trio of Robert Ayers, William Gholston and Noah Spence. Spence had 5.5 sacks in his rookie campaign. With an entire year in the Bucs system, Spence could improve and show the ability he displayed at Ohio State.

In total, this defense gave up 25.3 points per game. If the Bucs can improve that but just four points the offense should easily score more than 21 points per game with all the talent they have.

Tampa Bay will have a balanced offense capable of big play ability. Their defense will also be improved and with an easy schedule, the Bucs should have a solid shot at a playoff berth.

Prediction: 10-6 (3-3), wildcard candidate

1: Carolina Panthers

2017 NFC South division preview

(Photo Credit: http://www.panthers.com)

Last season: 6-10

Strength of schedule: 16

Carolina had a Super Bowl hangover but this year they are locked and loaded. Cam Newton is determined to correct last seasons mistake and retake his MVP form. The front office also made quality moves to get this team back to the big game.

The Panthers added key playmakers in the draft to help Cam. Christian McCaffery has already put Panther defenders on skates based off of leaked practice videos. That includes Panthers defenders such as all-world linebacker Luke Kuechly. Curtis Samuel, out of Ohio State, was also a key piece the Panthers picked up in the draft but has yet to practice due to a nagging hamstring injury.

Even without Samuel, Cam has Jonathan Stewart, Greg Olsen and Kelvin Benjamin back. With all these weapons and an upgraded offensive line, the Panthers can become one of the premier offenses in the NFL.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Panthers are still as dangerous as ever. The front four have some studs at defensive tackle in Star Lotuelei and Kawann Short. Off the edge, the Panthers bring back Mario Addison and Charles Johnson. This front four is fierce and to beef it up, even more, Panthers legend Julius Peppers has returned to finish his career in Carolina.

The linebacking corp is arguably the best in all of football with Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis and Shaq Thompson. This front seven is going to cause major havoc to opposing offenses.

The Panthers secondary is where their defense struggled last season. To improve this unit, the Panthers signed Mike Adams, a safety, who had 12 interceptions in his three seasons with the Colts. Carolina also brought back Captain Munnerlyn, who is one of the best nickel corners in the league. These additions to the secondary, paired with an elite front seven means the Panthers will have a top 10 defense and the Lombardi Trophy is a realistic goal this season.

These additions to the secondary, paired with an elite front seven means the Panthers will have a top 10 defense and the Lombardi Trophy is a realistic goal this season.

Prediction: 12-4 (4-2), division champion

 

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Featured image courtesy of https://bloggingdirty.com/2015/10/18/atlanta-falcons-state-of-nfc-south-week-6/

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