Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant wins Academy Award

On Sunday, at the 90th annual Academy Awards, Kobe Bryant stood on the stage of the Dolby Theater, accepting film’s highest honor.

He and his director and animator, Glen Keane, won the Oscar® for Best Animated Short Film. The short, named “Dear Basketball,” is an animated re-telling of Bryant’s poem of the same name. The poem, originally published in The Players’ Tribune, was written in honor of his final season in the NBA.

In “Dear Basketball,” Kobe relives falling in love with the game. He talks about how he gave basketball everything inside of him, and what it gave him in return. Bryant laments that his heart and mind are still willing, yet his body is unable.

“I’m ready to let you go.
I want you to know now
So we both can savor every moment we have left together.
The good and the bad.
We have given each other
All that we have. ” (Kobe Bryant, Dear Basketball)

Up against the likes of Pixar, and a short based on a book by legendary children’s author Roald Dahl, Bryant’s five minute short emerged victorious. In an interview after the Oscar® win, Bryant said winning this award felt better than winning a championship.

Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant and Glen Keane deliver their acceptance speech. (Photo by Rob Latour/REX/Shutterstock).

In his speech, Kobe referenced the controversy regarding Fox News journalist Laura Ingraham taking offense to LeBron James’ willingness to discuss politics. He says, “…as basketball players, we are just supposed to shut up and dribble,” using Ingraham’s own words. “But I’m glad we do a little bit more than that.”

He does, indeed, do more than dribble, but he was pretty good at that, too.

Kobe Bryant’s 20-year NBA career solidly puts him in contention as one of the greatest to ever play the sport.

He has five NBA Finals victories in seven appearances, winning Finals MVP in 2009 and 2010. He won the NBA’s MVP award in 2008. Bryant was an 18-time All-Star, and took home the All-Star Game MVP four times, along with one Slam Dunk Contest championship.

Kobe led the NBA in scoring twice, in 2006 and 2007. He scored 60 points in his final game, an NBA record. He also owns the distinction of being the only player in league history to have two numbers retired by the same team.

Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant celebrates winning an NBA championship. (Photo by Garrett Ellwood/Getty Images)

Other NBA players took to Twitter to congratulate Bryant on his win. Magic Johnson, LeBron James and Shaquille O’Neal showed their support. O’Neal even added, “I’m jealous lol.”

Kobe is the first athlete to win a championship in his sport and land an Oscar®. However, Steve Tisch, Chairman and Vice President of the New York Giants, does own an Academy Award for Best Picture for “Forrest Gump,” and a Super Bowl ring.

It’s clear that Kobe Bryant is not satisfied with simply being one of the best basketball players to ever live. He is also reportedly writing novels, and wants to continue telling stories in many different mediums now that his sports career is over.

You can read “Dear Basketball” on The Players’ Tribune’s website here. You can also watch the Academy Award winning short film here, courtesy of go90, who distributed the film.

Featured image by Getty Images

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MLB top 5 catchers

Top 5 catchers heading into 2018

As spring training kicks into full swing, it is as good of a time as ever to consider some of the best catchers in the majors.

The catcher has perhaps an underrated role in today’s baseball world, but nothing they do should be undervalued. Catchers are responsible for working with every pitcher on their staff, calling pitches, keeping base runners in check and hitting on top of all of that.

With that in mind, here are the best catchers in baseball as of right now.

5. Yadier Molina

In terms of running a pitching staff, Molina may be the best of the bunch. The eight-time Gold Glove winner is turning 36 this season, and is in the twilight of his career. In 2017, Molina hit the second most home runs of his career despite missing some time. Molina has not earned a Gold Glove since 2015 either, which was the end of his eight consecutive seasons streak.

Molina still may mean more to his team than many other top players in the league. He may not be the best offensively or defensively, but his work with pitchers is second to none.

The Cardinals have a losing record without Molina behind the plate. He won’t win an MVP, but he is very important to the Cardinals’ success.

4. J.T. Realmuto

MLB top 5 catchers

Realmuto may be the most athletic catcher in baseball. (Photo by Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports)

Realmuto has broken out as one of the best catchers in baseball the last couple of years. He finished last season with a 3.6 WAR and has had an average floating around .300 the last two years.

Realmuto finds himself in a precarious situation after this past offseason. Derek Jeter and the new Marlins ownership just sold most of their best players in order to shed salary and build for the future.

Of course, anybody who was ready to win now is not happy about the recent changes. The Marlins had one of the best outfields in baseball and shipped them off all over the country.

Realmuto is one of the last remaining pieces from the old Marlins team. He now finds himself in a sort of limbo, as he still has three years left in Miami.

Despite the shuffling in Miami, Realmuto should be in store for another great year offensively. Part of the success comes from his speed, as he can run with some of the quickest outfielders as well. He is an all around player who can bring many different things to the table.

3. Willson Contreras

MLB top 5 catchers

Contreras looks to get a full season of solid work under his belt. (Photo from The Chicago Tribune)

Contreras turned into perhaps the best hitter on a stacked Chicago team last summer. He was sidetracked by a hamstring injury while running down the first base line, but the 25-year-old still had a solid year after racking up 21 home runs and a .276 batting average. He should be a vital part of the Cubs offense once again in 2018.

Contreras is also known for his cannon of an arm. What may be the strongest arm behind the plate adds another dimension to his game that can shut down base runners. One of his weaknesses though is he is not considered a good framer. However, his ability to throw the ball makes up for it, and his lightning bat certainly puts him above most other catchers.

2. Gary Sanchez

Sanchez is the best hitting catcher in the game without question. He cranked out 33 home runs and had an average approaching .300 last year. With Giancarlo Stanton coming into the picture in New York, Sanchez ought to have a solid cushion in the lineup and may have an even better year offensively.

Sanchez has a solid throwing arm and is considered an above average pitch framer. His downfall is his pitch blocking, and in that category he is one of the worst in all of baseball. If it wasn’t for that downfall, Sanchez may be No. 1 on this list as his offense puts him in a whole other league when talking about catchers.

1. Buster Posey

Coming in at the No. 1 spot is Buster Posey, which should be a surprise to no one. Posey has had continued success throughout his career. With Sanchez coming into the picture, he might not be the best hitting catcher in baseball anymore, but he should still be considered one of the best of all time.

The All-Star catcher has hit over .300 in five separate seasons, winning the batting title once and bringing in the MVP in 2012. The only other catcher to win MVP in the National League is Johnny Bench, so that should say a lot about the league Posey is in.

He has a straight shot into Cooperstown and has not shown any decline in production. Expect Posey to have continued success for the coming years.

 

Featured image from SI.com

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NBA’s biggest second half storylines

The All-Star break has finally come and gone. The second half of the NBA season starts Thursday evening.

This is the part of the regular season NBA fans look forward to. Some teams will be jockeying for seeding, and others will make the push to squeak in to the playoffs. These are the games that feel like they mean something, apart from potential playoff matchups.

So let’s dive right in to the NBA’s biggest second half storylines.

Games remaining

Okay, it’s misleading to call it the second “half.” This NBA season was heavily front-loaded in a way it hasn’t been in years. This could be the reason Jimmy Butler decided not to play a minute in the All-Star Game. That, plus the fact that he’s leading the league in minutes per game.

NBA Second Half

Jimmy Butler got the rest he asked for, but is catching flack for taking up an All-Star roster spot. (Photo by Jesse Johnson/USA TODAY Sports)

Every NBA team’s remaining schedule averages out to feature 25.3 remaining games. So 56.7, or 69 percent, of this season’s games were played before the All-Star break. All research indicates players actually enjoy playing the majority of their games before the break. This gives them the opportunity to rest up for the playoff push.

This rest is absolutely more important to some teams than to others. Take into account injuries, fatigue and minutes played, that short break could make the difference between an eight seed and watching the playoffs from the couch.

Longest and shortest remaining schedules

The Philadelphia 76ers, currently the the seven seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs have the most games left to play at 27. The Minnesota Timberwolves only have 21 games. It’s interesting that these two teams would be the extremes, considering their structures.

The 76ers are not only young, but they are notoriously injury-prone. This is the first season that Embiid has been able to stay on the court, Ben Simmons has finally been able to play after missing all of last season, and it is still very much up in the air whether or not Markelle Fultz can make his debut this year. But if they stay healthy, that youth and lack of fatigue could propel them upward in the standings.

The Timberwolves play hard, and they play often. As previously stated, Butler leads the league, playing 37.3 minutes per game. Karl-Anthony Towns plays 35.1 minutes, Andrew Wiggins plays 36.1 minutes, and the 32-year-old Taj Gibson plays 33.6 minutes. This is due not only to lack of bench depth, but also Tom Thibodeau’s starter-reliant coaching style.

Depending on one’s point of view, this either gives NBA fans more or less to look forward to.

Dallas Mavericks troubles

Over the All-Star weekend Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said on Dr. J’s podcast, “losing is our best option.” At 18-40, it certainly seems as if they are embracing the “tanking” philosophy. For those who are unaware, “tanking” is the not-so-subtle art of losing to secure a better pick in the draft.

Adam Silver, NBA commissioner and outspoken enemy of tanking, doled out a huge penalty for the statement on Wednesday. Cuban was fined $600,000 for “conduct detrimental to the league,” supposedly for the comment and as a retroactive punishment for lack of effort on the season.

NBA Second Half

Mark Cuban was fined $600,000 on Wednesday. (Photo by Getty Images)

Unfortunately, that’s not the only thing for which the Mavericks and Cuban are under fire. News also broke Thursday night about a sexual harassment and misconduct scandal within the organization. There have been multiple reports of inappropriate behavior, along with Cuban admitting that he kept on a Mavericks reporter after “two separate incidents of domestic violence.”

The fallout from the misconduct allegations has yet to be seen, but it’s something to keep an eye on regarding the future of the franchise. It will also be interesting to see how many games Dallas wins after being exposed for exhibiting low effort.

Cavs-Warriors Part IV?

Cavaliers

The Cavaliers were re-energized by a huge roster shake-up at the NBA trade deadline. Going into the second half, they are on a four game win streak. One win came with the pre-deadline roster, one came with a short-handed roster before the newly-acquired players were eligible to play, and two came with the new look roster.

The team is slightly younger, more defensively-minded and much quicker than its previous iteration. Two games is hardly a sample size at all, however. Common sense says they should continue to trend upwards, but they only have 24 games to build playoff-level chemistry.

Their main competition on the road to the NBA Finals are the Toronto Raptors and the Boston Celtics. These teams have the number one and number two records in the East, respectively. Cleveland made short work of both of these teams in last year’s playoffs. Toronto, however has grown as a team, and Kyrie Irving went from playing against Boston, to playing for them.

NBA Second Half

Golden State’s Draymond Green coaches the Warriors during their game against the Suns. (Photo by AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Warriors

Golden State has been having some struggles of late. They are currently the number two seed in the West. They are second to the Houston Rockets, their main competition. The Warriors are 7-5 in their last 12 games; hardly what fans have come to expect from a team with this much talent.

As a method of engaging his team, Steve Kerr even let his players coach during a win against the cellar-dwelling Phoenix Suns. This decision garnered much criticism from NBA players and pundits alike. They lost their next game against the Portland Trailblazers, despite Kevin Durant’s 50 points.

It’s a safe bet to pencil these two teams in for an historic fourth straight finals matchup. However, they both have more to prove before switching that pencil in for a pen.

Major awards

The second half of the season is where the NBA awards races really start to take shape. These awards are hotly contested this season, and it might just come down to the wire before voters decide for whom they will cast their ballot.

MVP

James Harden is currently the front-runner for the NBA MVP award. Fitting, since he was second in voting last year, but had the misfortune of being up against Russell Westbrook’s historic season.

LeBron James, Steph Curry, and Kevin Durant are also in contention. The voting will come down to their teams’ records and, of course, each player’s individual contribution. To see a more in-depth breakdown of the race, see the dedicated article here.

Rookie of the Year

This award is essentially a two man race.

Donovan Mitchell is averaging 19.6 points per game for the surging Utah Jazz. They have won 11 in a row in a push for the Western Conference’s eighth seed. He’s playing heavy minutes and contributing 3.5 rebounds and assists per game. But, what’s got the attention of the NBA is his athleticism. Winning the dunk contest as a replacement will also probably sway voters. If he continues scoring in the second half and dish out more assists, this award might be his.

His main competition is the 76ers’ Ben Simmons. Simmons is good for 16.4 points, 7.3 assists, and 7.8 rebounds per night. The points are obviously lower than Mitchell’s but the assist and rebound numbers are impressive for a rookie. Those numbers can and should come with the territory of being a 6-foot-10 point guard, however.

The problem is, in a league so in love with the three-pointer, he never shoots the long-range shot. He has taken just 10 threes, and has made none of them. Another potential reason Mitchell could sneak ahead in the polls is that his assist numbers are so low because he has one of the league’s best passers, Ricky Rubio, playing point guard on his team.

Defensive Player of the Year

Kevin Durant is squarely in contention for Defensive Player of the Year honors. His stats aren’t massively impressive, but the effort that does not show up on the stat sheet are the real reason he is in the conversation. Durant averages 0.8 steals per game, and 1.9 blocks per game with the Warriors. Being on a premiere defensive team also helps his cause.

NBA Second Half

Paul George, contender for Defensive Player of the Year, guards Victor Oladipo. (Photo by Getty Images)

Paul George of the Oklahoma City Thunder is the biggest roadblock between Durant and Defensive Player honors. George leads the league in steals, which is arguably the most important defensive stat. Robbing teams of possessions is a major key to winning games, and George does it more than any other player. His blocks sit at just 0.5 per game, but consider that he does most of his defending around the three-point line. That doesn’t lend itself to racking up blocks.

Coach of the Year

The obvious candidates for this award are Toronto’s Dwane Casey and Houston’s Mike D’Antoni.

They both are the owners of the best records in their conference. This is significant because neither of their teams were expected to be the number one seed going into the second half of the season. The Boston Celtics and Golden State Warriors were supposed to have those honors. But neither coach need to own the one seed going into the playoffs to win the award.

D’Antoni’s Rockets have a prolific offense, and he has also managed to seamlessly integrate Chris Paul into the offense. The defense on his team is an afterthought, but it always has been on D’Antoni-coached teams. Casey’s Raptors own a top-10 defense and a top-10 offense. The roster has stayed intact through a tumultuous trade deadline, and the chemistry on the team shows from top to bottom.

Erik Spoelstra is also making his case for Coach of the Year. Miami currently sits at the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. With a less-than-stellar roster, if he can continue to manufacture wins through pure coaching, expect to hear his name when this award is mentioned.

Featured image by Winslow Townson/Associated Press

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NBA All-Star

NBA All-Star Game predictions

You either love the NBA All-Star game, or you’re completely uninterested in it. There’s no real in between, and it’s not hard to understand why. Watching super-rich athletes engage in playground basketball with their friends is either exciting or nauseating.

NBA All-Star

Giannis Antetokounmpo dunks during the 2017 NBA All-Star Game. (Photo by Bob Donnan/USA Today Sports)

In the past, it’s basically been a continuation of the dunk contest. Once the player is past half court, the lane clears, and the man with the ball gets to show off. Last year’s All-Star game ended in a 192-182 victory for the West. To put that into perspective, the average score of a game last season was 105.6 points. That’s how little NBA All-Stars are interested in guarding their man.

Now, be well aware that these are the best scorers in the league, in most cases. And defense is not only less exciting than offense, but it takes more effort. The All-Star break is a rare occasion that these star players can get meaningful rest, it is what’s paramount to a successful back end to a season, and playoff runs. So working hard on the defensive end of the floor doesn’t quite make sense for them.

The problem is that the game doesn’t mean anything. There’s no competition because bragging rights are essentially irrelevant to these players. They have already proven they’re the best in the game by being chosen, so why try?

The new draft format and $100,000 cash prize are attempts at trying to remedy this issue. It’s unclear whether or not these changes will make any difference in competitiveness. But before evaluating and predicting, let’s look at the updated rosters.

Rosters

Team LeBron: LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, LaMarcus Aldridge, Bradley Beal, Goran Dragic, Andre Drummond, Paul George, Victor Oladipo, Kemba Walker, Russell Westbrook

NBA All-Star

Westbrook and Durant will be on the same All-Star team for the second year in a row. (Photo by Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group)

Team Curry: Stephen Curry, Giannis Antetokounmpo, DeMar Derozan, Joel Embiid, James Harden, Jimmy Butler, Draymond Green, Al Horford, Damian Lillard, Kyle Lowry, Klay Thompson, Karl-Anthony Towns

Worth mentioning here is the fact that LeBron’s squad has lost four All-Star selections to injury. In the first year of the draft format, that’s not good. It’s especially bad considering all of the injuries came from the same team.

Also worth noting is that Westbrook and Aldridge missed four games between them in the last week. They will be ready for the All-Star Game, but that’s two more question marks for Team LeBron.

The replacements for injured players were not conference-specific. While in the past, someone from the same conference would have had to be chosen, this time it’s simply overall vote-getters. This probably led to the continued snub of Lou Williams, and Dragic sneaking his way in.

Team Curry

With all of his original players still in the lineup, Curry’s team has to be the favorite.

With Antetokounmpo, Derozan, Horford, Embiid and Towns, the team has tremendous length. And those of them who can’t slash to the bucket can certainly handle themselves around and beneath it.

Add in Curry and Harden, and that should be all the shooting they need. But, still, they have Butler, Lillard, Lowry and Thompson to pick up the slack. All of them can also get to the hoop, as well. But with the length on display, expect to see a lot of three-pointers from this team.

Team Curry is also being coached by Mike D’Antoni of the Houston Rockets. The Rockets have the best record in the NBA, and the most potent offense in the league. Not that a team of this many great players will need much coaching, but expect D’Antoni to draw up offensive set pieces consistently and try to win this game with 150-plus points.

Team LeBron

Again, this team has been decimated by injuries. Four have been replaced, and two more are reportedly not at 100 percent.

Those replacements have been: Paul George for DeMarcus Cousins, Goran Dragic for Kevin Love, Kemba Walker for Kristaps Porzingis and Andre Drummond for John Wall.

NBA All-Star

Kristaps Porzingis won’t participate after tearing his ACL on Feb. 6. (Photo by Adam Hunger/USA Today Sports)

These injuries have made the team markedly smaller. Porzingis’ and Love’s replacements cost the team almost two feet of length. Having Drummond in for Wall stops the bleeding a little, but Drummond is not effective more than five feet from the basket. Kevin and Kristaps are both big men who can shoot from anywhere, and rest assured they would be if they were playing.

Some NBA fans might like the current lineup better for one reason or another. The point of All-Star selections is that they are subjective. And in just one game, the pieces don’t necessarily have to fit perfectly to win. But, losing four bonafide All-Stars for players that were “the best of the rest” shouldn’t inspire confidence.

LeBron’s team is being coached by Dwane Casey of the Toronto Raptors, who have the best record in the East. A no-nonsense defensive coach is a definite shake up for the All-Star Game. If Casey holds the other squad to less than 140 points, he will have lived up to that reputation.

We all know that LeBron is tired of losing, but we’ll see if he can will his team to that $100,000 prize.

Effort

Speaking of $100,000, does it really matter to some of the richest athletes in the sport? These players not only have massive contracts, but they’re all so good that they have deals and endorsements and appearances to help bolster their bank accounts.

What many fans might not know, is each member of the losing team will get $25,000. So that narrows the net winnings to $75,000. Sure, it would be life-changing money for most people in the world, but is that $75,000 worth the effort to these players?

Players don’t want to sound ungrateful, or out of touch with the rest of the world. So odds are, all 24 of them would answer with some form of, “yes, of course it matters.” And I’m sure it would be nice to have $75,000 more than you had yesterday. Especially if you receive it for playing a game you play every single night. But the fans will never really know how interested the players are. It’s an exercise in futility to read into it too much. The players will give however much they want to on the court, end of story.

LeBron will be out there trying his best to win. Curry will, too. They did put these teams together, after all. They want to be seen as a better “fantasy” manager than the other. But with the injuries, LeBron’s team has an excuse if they lose, and Curry’s team has a small incentive to take things easy on defense.

NBA All-Star

Curry and James picked the All-Star teams, and will go head-to-head again in 2018. (Photo by Joe Murphy/Getty Images)

With the new format, this should be a more competitive game. It will still be high scoring, and there will still be more joking around than defensive pressure. But the winning team won’t be eight points shy of 200 this year.

Prediction

Team Curry wins, 163-148

This was an easy call to make. The shooting and athleticism on Curry’s team is overwhelming. LeBron’s team will show more effort, and with Coach Casey on the sidelines, will be more engaged on the defensive end. But in the end, the shooting is what will matter.

People will clear the lane for Antetokounmpo, Harden and Curry will take 15 three-pointers each, and Embiid will trash talk his way either into or out of America’s heart.

Featured image by Scott Strazzante/The Chronicle

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Reignover joined CLG for 2018

Reignover’s journey from 2015 Worlds to the bottom of the NA LCS

When Fnatic announced Kim “Reignover” Yeu-jin as their starting jungler for the 2015 Spring Split, the LCS community aired its skepticism and criticism:

“Korean imports again. Can only end well. -_-”

“haha, reignover really?”

“This roster is pretty underwhelming, considering the talent that was available…FNC looking like a bottom-half team atm.”

Several online news outlets voiced similar sentiments:

“While that should have been significant incentive for Fnatic to pull together the best talent they can, the results are somewhat mystifying. To wit: While picking up premier new midlane talent in Febiven is an undeniably good choice, every other decision on the roster seems questionable.”

Reignover joined Fnatic in 2015

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

“Their Worlds placings; their endless top placings in LCS splits; the players who won those games and splits were no more. What was Fnatic’s response? They imported a Samsung Galaxy sub and his duo-que buddy, an ADC from the challenger scene, and the star mid-laner of H2K; Huni and Reignover, Steelback, and Febiven. A lot of people thought of these acquisitions as sub-optimal and disappointing.”

“It’d be a tough season, fans began to reason, but Fnatic had a tremendous eye for talent and would surely find the best possible players to replace their former stars. This general assumption resulted in a great and terrible gnashing of teeth when Fnatic’s signings to complete their new roster for Season 5 included two Korean players—Kim ‘ReignOver’ Yeu-jin, formerly of Incredible Miracle, and Heo ‘Huni’ Seung-hoon, a complete newcomer to competitive League of Legends.”

At the time, importing players from other regions was still uncommon in Europe, and Huni and Reignover were relatively unknown quantities in Korea. It was understandable that audiences would question Fnatic’s pick-ups, following the departure of several star players. Little did they know, these two players would be pivotal to Fnatic’s deep run at the World Championship that year.

Reignover’s Beginning: Spring and Summer Titles

Reignover had a spectacular year with Fnatic in 2015. Huni and he had instant synergy as a top-jungle duo, which allowed them to finish the spring regular season in second place with a 13-5 record. Reignover even earned weekly MVP of the EU LCS in week two for his Rengar and Olaf play.

Reignover and Fnatic won Spring and Summer Split 2015

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Fnatic went on to win a heated playoff bracket that spring. They beat H2K in the semifinals 3-2, despite losing two early games using a double-smite, Lee Sin top composition. With Unicorns of Love upsetting SK Gaming, Fnatic came into the finals as favorites. The series saw several different champions played, but Fnatic was able to pull out another 3-2 to take the Spring Split title. Reignover won MVP of the finals, Huni won the Outstanding Rookie award, and every Fnatic member represented the EU LCS first team All-Pro.

After bringing Europe home a fourth place finish at the 2015 Mid-Season Invitational (and taking SKT to fives games in the semifinals), Fnatic returned to the Summer Split with one new member–Rekkles. He turned out to be the key that unlocked Fnatic’s full potential. This roster finished the regular season undefeated, 18-0, solidifying Huni, Reignover, and the rest as some of the best Europe had ever seen. Reignover’s efficient jungle pathing with mostly Rek’Sai and Gragas provided Huni and Febiven with the upper hand in most match-ups.

The entire Fnatic line-up won first-team All-Pro honors again, and the summer playoffs went mostly as expected. Fnatic took down Unicorns of Love 3-0 in the semifinals. They met a formidable Origen squad in the finals, which went to five games. This match-up represented the narrative culmination of “old Fnatic” versus “new Fnatic”, with xPeke and Soaz facing off against Rekkles and Yellowstar. Huni and Reignover played large parts in allowing Fnatic to win the series 3-2, reinforcing the organization’s off-season roster decisions, and sending them to Worlds as Europe’s top seed.

Reignover’s Peak: Top Four at Worlds

Heading into the 2015 World Championship, western media outlets put Fnatic and Reignover under the microscope with statements like “To make it through their Group and beyond, Reignover needs to be successful in his ganks, specifically top side, to put Huni ahead,” “Reignover relies on high gold values to be effective in team fights, as he likes to play high damage picks like Elise, but with other high gold jungle monsters in this group, that’s less of an easy advantage,” “It’s easy to tag ReignOver as the weakest player on Fnatic based on his performances during the latter stages of the EU LCS,” and “Many have looked at Reignover’s champion pool as a target for Fnatic.”

Reignover and Fnatic went to Worlds in 2015

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Invictus Gaming, Cloud9 and AHQ Esports Club joined Fnatic in Group B, pitting Reignover against Mountain, Hai and KaKAO. In the round robin, Fnatic lost to AHQ and Cloud9 once each, then won their other four games. The 4-2 record put Fnatic at the top of their group, pushing them into the bracket stage.

For quarterfinals, Fnatic faced EDward Gaming. The Chinese organization finished first in the LPL regular season that summer, but flopped in the playoffs to finally place fourth. They won the Regional Qualifiers, which allowed EDG to qualify into Worlds. During the group stage, EDG lost both games to SKT, but went 2-0 against H2K and Bangkok Titans. Clearlove was a primary factor in EDG’s success, which meant all eyes would be on Reignover.

Clearlove and Reignover went back and forth with Rek’Sai and Gragas picks, but Reignover proved to be the better jungle on the day. He finished with more gold and assists in every game of Fnatic’s 3-0 victory. The series win qualified Fnatic for the World semifinals, an achievement no western team had reached since season three (which was also Fnatic).

Unfortunately, KOO Tigers, a top Korean team, crushed Fnatic 3-0. They joined their European rivals, Origen, finishing third-fourth in the tournament. These placements reinstated the EU LCS as a top region behind the LCK, and Fnatic as an international threat.

Reignover’s Move: Immortals’ Domestic Dominance

Reignover and Huni joined Immortals in 2016

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Reignover’s off-season, following such an impressive year with Fnatic, brought opportunities unlike any other. Eventually, Immortals announced their entrance into the NA LCS, and their successful signing of Fnatic’s top-jungle duo–Huni and Reignover. The two were such a hit together that they became a package deal.

Expectations for Immortals’ top-side was through the roof. “Immortals will be relying on the touted top-jungle synergy of former Fnatic duo of breakout rookie top laner Heo ‘Huni’ Seunghoon and junger Kim ‘Reignover’ Yeujin to take them to the top of the standings,” “[Immortals’] starting five is headlined by Fnatic’s South Korean duo from last year, the explosive Heo ‘Huni’ Seung-hoon in the top lane and his partner Kim ‘Reignover’ Yeu-jin at the jungler position,” and “Yes, it was a fantastic move, especially if the Koreans can bring along some of Fnatic’s winning culture and approach, but Immortals really scored points for how they built their team around Huni and Reignover,” were all remarks by the media. It was clear that Reignover and Huni had risen from Korean nobodies to titans in the span of a year.

Spring Split proved these presuppositions to be warranted. Immortals tore through North America’s teams to finish with a 17-1 record, only dropping one series to Counter Logic Gaming in week seven. CLG was the next closest contender, with a 13-5 record, four wins behind. Huni and Reignover won first team All-Pro honors for the third split in a row, and Reignover was deemed North America’s MVP.

However, TSM was able to find Immortals’ achilles heel and vanquish them in the playoffs. Some questionable top lane picks for Huni, and lackluster decision-making from Immortals, resulted in an 0-3 loss, which they took out on Team Liquid for third place. This moment marked the first major domestic shutdown of Reignover and Huni since their start as professional players. 

Reignover and Immortals barely missed playoffs in Spring and Summer Split 2016

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

The Immortals roster stayed together for Summer Split, which left many wondering if they could repeat their dominating spring performance. TSM proved to be the only contender, finishing the split with a 4-1 game record against Immortals, and the only team above them in the standings. Immortals 16-2 regular season record was still impressive, but not nearly as dominant as their prior first place finish. Reignover was the only Immortals member to be first team All-Pro, with TSM taking the other spots.

Playoffs seemed all but certain to end with TSM facing Immortals in the finals, but history decided to repeat itself. Immortals faced Cloud9 in the semifinals, and fell 3-2. For the second time in two splits, Immortals missed the NA LCS finals, due to uncharacteristic play in the semifinals. And again, they won the third place match. They took down CLG 3-2, which provided enough championship points for Immortals to get a direct seed to the regional finals for a spot at Worlds. Everyone’s anxieties came true, as Cloud9 defeated Immortals again, this time 3-1. All three losses were fairly one-sided, with most of Immortals’ players suffering negative KDAs and significant gold deficits.

It is hard to believe how disappointed each of Immortals’ members were once they realized they would not make it to the 2016 World Championship. Huni, Reignover and Pobelter had all competed in 2015, and regular-season-Immortals felt like they were set to go. This probably felt like a low point for Reignover, coming off of two years of solid performance. Playing with Immortals in North America had to feel like playing with Fnatic in Europe, except Immortals fell just short of glory–no trophies, no MSI, no Worlds. Reignover could not know that the following year would only get worse.

Reignover’s Fall: Team Liquid’s Mismanagement

Reignover joined Team Liquid in 2017

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Immortals rebuilt their roster around Pobelter in the off-season leading into 2017. Reignover and Huni were given opportunities to weigh other offers, and they ended up splitting for the first time in two years. Huni made the move to Korean powerhouse SKT, while Reignover signed with Team Liquid in North America. He joined Lourlo, Goldenglue, Link, Piglet and Matt.

The media was even higher on Reignover in this move than they had ever been before. Esports news outlets touted “Reignover is a master of being in the right place at the right time,” “Reignover was the best jungler in NA last year, and he’s a welcome, experienced addition to this team,” “If Team Liquid does as well as I’m projecting, it will be mostly due to their superstars, Kim ‘Reignover’ Yeu-jin and Piglet, both of whom are arguably the strongest players at their positions in North America,” and “Stars like Chae ‘Piglet’ Gwang-jin and Kim ‘Reignover’ Yeu-jin can be terrifying.”

This roster turned out to be a mess. They finished the Spring Split in ninth place with a 5-13 series record and a 36 percent game win rate. After announcing changes in the middle of the split, Liquid decided to move Piglet to the mid lane and bring in Youngbin as AD carry. After a couple of weeks with no improvement, Doublelift joined the team as a temporary sub out of his break, and Adrian later joined and started a few games. All of this turmoil and chaos completely overshadowed any positive gameplay out of Reignover.

Luckily, Team Liquid avoided relegation. The Promotion tournament was an extreme low point for the organization, and Reignover himself. No one had questioned his talent and consistency in over two years. Going into Summer Split, everyone was wondering what Liquid would do to rectify the situation. It turns out, they did not change anything. They picked up Inori and Slooshi as substitutes, but kept Lourlo, Reignover, Goldenglue, Piglet and Matt as starters.

Reignover and Team Liquid played both promotion tournaments in 2017

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Similar results ensued. TL finished Summer Split in ninth place again, with a 4-14 series record and a 30 percent game win rate. Just like spring, as the split went on, Liquid started Inori, Slooshi, and KonKwon. They brought back Dardoch, despite past troubles with the controversial jungler. They imported Mickey, a Korean mid laner from ROX Tigers. Liquid even swapped out David Lim for Cain as head coach. They went on to compete in the Promotion Tournament, and defended their spot, yet again.

This was truly the lowest point for Reignover. He was completely dropped from conversations of “the best jungler in the league,” in favor of LiRa, Xmithie and Contractz. Fnatic, Immortals, Huni, Rekkles and Pobelter had some of their best splits yet, and were heading to Worlds. Reignover was fighting in promotion tournaments, getting benched for Inori and Dardoch, and falling from grace.

Reignover’s Present: CLG’s Struggles

Enter CLG, an organization also in need of redemption. Darshan, Huhi and Stixxay carried over into 2018, while Reignover and Biofrost joined in the off-season. Although several sources predicted CLG to be a top three team in their preseason power rankings, few commented on Reignover in the same tone of awe as they had in the past.

Several weeks into the split, CLG sits tied for seventh with a 3-5 record. Many of their losses have chalked up to Stixxay’s shortcomings, but coordination and decisiveness in the late game are contributing, as well. Reignover needs this split to be a success. For his stock to rise, CLG needs to make playoffs and prove they can compete at the top level.

Huni and Reignover are playing in the NA LCS in 2018

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Reignover was patient with Team Liquid last year, but now it’s time for dividends. Huni is even back in North America, playing for a different team, and solidifying himself at the top of the standings. A bottom-three finish would be detrimental to Reignover and CLG. In fact, CLG looked best in their 2016 Spring Split victory and MSI performance. They have fallen slightly out of favor since then, narrowly missing a chance at Worlds last year. This organization and this player need each other for success. A high finish this split, and this year, could be an ultimate catharsis for such decorated League of Legends entities. Reignover’s journey has been treacherous thus far, but it is not over yet. 

credits

Featured Image: LoL Esports Flickr

Other Images: LoL Esports Flickr

Quotes: Reddit, Esports Heaven, Concussion Gaming, Thorin’s Thoughts, Dot Esports, EU LCS Broadcast, LoL Esports, TheScore Esports, TheScore Esports, Esports HeavenYahoo Esports, TheScore Esports, TheScore Esports

Historical Data: Leaguepedia

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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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“From Our Haus to Yours”

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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“From our Haus to Yours”

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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“From Our Haus to Yours”

Importance of the NRG Invitational

With the NRG Invitational beginning tomorrow, it’s time we take a look at why it’s a welcome addition to the Smite Pro League.

Breaking up the grind

Playing an esport professionally isn’t just playing games. For those who have followed the scene, you should be well aware of the amount of time SPL players spend Scrimmaging and watching VODs daily. This grind can start to take its toll on players and wear them down as the season progresses.

Now obviously players are grinding for a reason. These people dedicate so much time because they want to be the best at their craft, and ultimately walk away as a winner. That being said, sometimes losing isn’t so bad, as Kurt “Weak3n” Schray has said. Bummed out because Team Allegiance didn’t make the Summer Finals at DreamHack, Weak3n has been enjoying his time away from scrims and using it to reset for the upcoming split.

The SPL is tough because players don’t get a regular off season like football or baseball, it just isn’t plausible for the scene. Players only have a few weeks in between splits before it’s time to grind again, especially the teams who win. That’s what makes the NRG Invitational so important. It’s extra time off for some of the players, and for others, it’s a way to enjoy the game without the grind. It’s very comparable to an All Star game like in professional sports.

Photo by Hi-Rez Studios

Showing off the stars

As aforementioned, the NRG Invitational is just like an All Star game. The captains were picked based on the top four placed teams at the Smite World Championship, and most of the best players in the league are competing. It’s a great way to expose the stars of the league because of how jovial the LAN will be. Of course, the players still want to win, but not without having a little fun.

What is awesome about the format is that it isn’t just 5v5 conquest. The teams will be competing in four different game modes on Saturday for seeding come Sunday. First will be “Mage Madness”, which is a 5v5 standard Clash where the teams are restricted to Mages only. Next is “Three Amigos”, a 3v3 standard joust where the teams must select a Hunter, Assassin and Warrior. Third up is “Multiplicity”, a standard Assault where each team plays 5x a single God. Finally, “Pick Your Poison” is a 5v5 conquest where each team drafts their opponents’ Gods.

This format allows the fans to see the true skill of the players they’re watching. It’s fairly comparable to the Skills Competition in the National Hockey League, where the All Stars compete showing off their abilities in mini games such as Hardest Shot. This allows fans to root for seeing something amazing from any player instead of rooting simply for the team they support most. It brings a different type of fan interaction that is very much welcome in the scene.

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NRG Invitational

Photo by nrg.gg/smite

 

At the end of the day, fans are still getting what they want, and that’s some 5v5 standard SPL conquest. Sure the rosters may be a bit jumbled, but that just adds to the fun of it all. Everyone still has a favorite player or team they’ll be supporting this weekend.

What we could be getting with the NRG Invitational is important to the scene. We may end up with a small glimpse of the new Meta for the Fall Split, although that could be a stretch as players don’t really want to give up strategy. Due to players being less familiar with each other, these matches won’t be as heavily team based as true SPL matches. This will allow the raw ability to shine through as players won’t have the same type of communication they would with their own squads.

An interesting thing that could come out of this would be an improvement from North America. Again, this is a stretch, but with the NA players being on the same team as European players, it’s possible that they can pick a few things up from the comms. Most importantly, however, is that the NRG Invitational will be the last time we get to see two time Smite World Champion Peter “Dimi” Dimitrov compete this Season. NRG has replaced the Solo Laner, and we as fans are fortunate enough to have one last look at him before he steps into his new role as Coach of NRG.


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Feature Photo by Hi-Rez Studios

Boston Red Sox Pitching: The Success and Failure

Coming into this season, The Red Sox’ pitching was ranked at the top, if not the best. The Red Sox acquired Chris Sale from the White Sox. Rick Porcello was coming off a Cy Young-caliber year. David Price was back, and hopefully healthy. Craig Kimbrel was coming off a 31-save year.

Although Boston sits in first place in the American League East, the pitching has taken a rocky path so far. Lets take a look.

Success: Chris sale

The American League All Star Game starting pitcher is on pace to winning his first Cy Young Award. The 28-year-old was traded in an offseason deal with the Chicago White Sox, involving four minor league prospects including Yoan Moncada.

Boston Red Sox Pitching

Photo Courtesy of (chicagotribune.com)

Sale is cruising with a 13-4 record and the most wins in the American League. He has tallied a whopping total of 211 strikeouts, the most strikeouts in all Major League Baseball.

Sale is on track to tally 300-plus strikeouts. He reached 200 strikeouts in his start this past Friday against the Angels, making him the fastest pitcher in American League history to obtain 200 strikeouts in a season. Sale did this in 141 1/3 innings.

He joins Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson and Nolan Ryan in reaching 200 strikeouts in less than 20 starts. Keep in mind, Pedro did this in close to 150 innings, also known as one of the best pitchers to wear the Boston uniform.

The Red Sox are coming off a 2-4 road stretch. Sale recorded both wins. In a 6-2 win against the Angels, Sale went 6 innings on four hits with nine strikeouts. On Wednesday, he recorded a 4-0 win against the Mariners, going seven innings with three hits with 11 strikeouts.

Sale is dealing for this team. Even in his four losses, he’s been completely dominant. He’s tallied a total of 45 strikeouts in his four losses. Truly, the Sox did not produce runs for him.

Sale is the best pitcher in the American League, if not Major League Baseball. He will continue to dominate.

Success: Drew Pomeranz

For a guy who went 3-5 last season with a 4.59 ERA, Drew Pomeranz has made a complete turnaround for the first place Boston Red Sox.

Pomeranz has turned his record to an impressive 10-4 year. Yes, three wins shy of Chris Sale’s record, the American League Cy Young contender. Pomeranz has tallied 115 strikeouts on a 3.59 ERA.

Boston Red Sox Pitching

Photo Courtesy of (overthemonster.com)

Quite frankly, whatever Pomeranz did for change, its working. He’s defeated second-place rival New York Yankees twice this season, recording 14 strikeouts against them. He tossed 6 1/3 innings and only allowed four hits in the win against the best team in Major League Baseball, Houston Astros.

The Red Sox expected this from the lefty pitcher when they acquired him through a San Diego transaction. Pomeranz was an All-Star at the time of the transaction, and David Ortiz was one foot out the door to retirement, urging the Red Sox to add another All-Star to the team. They needed to add a starter to join forces with Rick Porcello and David Price.

Pomeranz has taken responsibility for his mistakes on the mound last year, and has transformed himself to a top pitcher on the team.

This is exactly what Boston needs, especially when the playoffs come around. The Sox will need their rotation to belly up and give it their all. Look at the 2013 World Series team. Clay Buchholz went 12-1, Jon Lester went 15-8 and John Lackey recorded 10 wins. You need depth to go deep in the playoffs. The facts show it.

success: Craig Kimbrel

Boston Red Sox Pitching

Photo Courtesy of (masslive.com)

The Red Sox closer has been the reliable factor for manager John Farrell. Kimbrel has tallied 25 saves with nearly 80 strikeouts.

Kimbrel reminds the Boston fans of Jonathan Pabelbon and his dominance he had coming out in the bullpen in late save opportunities.

Kimbrel currently sits in fourth in the American League in saves, however many believe he is the best closer in the American League. He holds a 1.27 ERA, as well as a 2-0 record.

Boston looks to have Kimbrel keep his dominant self throughout the last two months of baseball.

failure: rick porcello

Red Sox Nation had big expectations for right-handed pitcher Rick Porcello this season. He was coming off a 22-4 year last season, capturing the American League Cy Young award.

Porcello was the Red Sox go-to guy, last season and this season. Yeah, they brought in Chris Sale, a guy who finished in the top five for the Cy Young race last season, but they were still depending on Porcello to be their number one guy this season.

Boston Red Sox Pitching

Photo Courtesy of (bostonglobe.com)

Last year, he finished with a 3.15 ERA in 223 innings pitched, finishing an impressive 22-4 year. He tallied nearly 200 strikeouts and was completely dominant the whole way through.

This year, he has a 4-13 record with a sub-5 ERA through 133 innings pitched. He’s currently tied in six place for the most home runs allowed (23). Porcello has let up a total of nearly 80 runs, the most on the team, with the second most having 48.

Truly nothing what Boston had wished for.

However, this can all be forgotten if change starts here. We are only two months shy of October. Boston is on track to winning the American League East, and the Red Sox will need Porcello to do his job to get far.

Failure: David Price

Here come the true opinions. As we all know, David Price has been a dominant pitcher in this league for as long as we can remember.

He signed with Boston in late 2015, agreeing to a record-setting contract of seven years, $2.17 million. That said, Boston is writing a check for $31 million a year for Price.

Boston Red Sox Pitching

Photo Courtesy of (usatoday.com)

Price recorded a 17-9 record last season for the Red Sox, making his Fenway career record a whopping 15-4. Pretty good, right?

Until, this season happened.

Price started off the 2017 season after missing two whole months with elbow pain. Not to mention at the time, Porcello was already starting his current cold streak that he has not broken out of.

Since he has formally recovered, he is 5-3 with a sub-4 ERA. Yeah, he’s pitched 11 games, but throughout those 11 starts, they have not been pretty. He has let up 62 hits with 28 earned runs, allowing eight homers and 22 total walks.

However, we know Price can tend to find himself with off-the-field situations as well. The Price/Eckersley altercation has stirred up in the media, finding yourself to have a new look on left-handed pitcher. For those who aren’t aware, Eckerlsey made a comment regarding Eduardo Rodriguez, which led to Price calling Eckersley out completely on the plane back home from Toronto.

Price, like Porcello, needs to find his old self back. We know what he’s capable of doing. If we didn’t, he wouldn’t be the big talk this season.

 

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