Monday, December 13, 2010

Is It Just Me... Or is Logan Mankins the REAL MVP this Year?

As I was reading the Boston Globe's sport page this weekend, it dawned on me. Logan Mankins is the reason that the Patriots have gone from a good to dominant team in the NFL. After sitting out for seven games, he returned (and started) during the Cleveland Browns game. It's no coincidence that that was the last game that the Patriots lost.

New England Patriots All Pro Guard, Logan Mankins
I know that Kyle Flaherty will back me up on this but just like starting pitching going an average of seven innings versus six can have a profound impact on the bullpen and the other starters, a great offensive lineman (especially a guard -- right or left) can have an equally great impact on all aspects of the game. For one, Mankins, a two time pro-bowler, provides better blocking protection for the running game which of course makes passing easier. And then there's the passing which is up about 2 yards/catch on average in games where Mankins starts. While a lot of that has to do with the receivers (and backs) continuing to have monster YAC numbers, anecdotally, I know this also has something to do with the extra 1-2 seconds Brady has in the pocket to look downfield at his 2nd and 3rd reads. And because the offense is now spending more time on the field, a well-rested defense is also looking better.

Yes, part of this has to do with the emergence of the law firm aka Green-Ellis stepping up his game. And it doesn't hurt to have a second "possession receiver" in the form of Deion Branch. The growth of tight ends Hernandez and Gronkowski as they shake off their rookie jitters also contributes. But at the end of the day, I think many of the commentators and prognosticators have overlooked the importance of having one of the best right guards in Patriots history (second only to John Hannah of course) back in the fold.


Image courtesy

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Why I'm Not Thrilled about the Crawford Signing.

First, let's get this out of the way: Carl Crawford is, at the very least, a good baseball player. In some ways, he's a very good baseball player. I'm not trying to take anything away from him.

But he has never been a great baseball player. Not ever. Not so far. Yet the Red Sox just signed him for great-player money and a contract that is probably two years too long, if we're only looking at performance on the field. Let me give you a few reasons why:

  • Item: Crawford just finished his age-28 season, which means that we've probably already seen him at his best. He may well sustain that level for several more years, which will certainly be valuable to the Sox, but it's unrealistic to expect him to raise that level, or to raise it by much. He won't get faster, he probably won't translate his speed into 70-steal seasons, and he probably won't raise his walk rate or his home run rate by enough to make a big difference. At this point, he is who he is, for better and for worse.
  • Item: Crawford plays left field, which means that he must -- absolutely MUST -- hit the crap out of the ball to justify great-player money. Yet he's never cracked the top 10 in the American League for either on-base percentage or slugging percentage. (Contrast this to Adrian Gonzalez, playing at another slugger position, whose career OBP is 31 points better, and whose career SLG is 63 points better.) Crawford's been in the top 10 in total bases once, and he's about 15-20 extra-base hits per year below truly elite numbers. Leading the league in steals and triples isn't enough to make up for this.
  • Item: Crawford is clearly well above average as a defender, with superior range, a sure glove, and enough assists to tell you that he throws pretty well. But good left fielders will never be worth as much defensively as similarly good defenders in center or right. If Crawford put up identical numbers, but as a center fielder, it would mean substantially more. 

A lot of discussion among this group has centered on Crawford's personality traits: Is he a focused "grinder"? Is he misdirected? Is he a loafer or a malcontent in the locker room? To all of that I answer: Who knows? And who knows how he'll react as a newcomer to a club with a strong culture and several outspoken leaders? If pressed, my guess is that he'll be fine -- less of a clubhouse gem than, say, Victor Martinez or Kevin Millar, but also much less of a head case than Manny Ramirez.

I understand the economics of the game, and no doubt Crawford will put more butts in the seats at Fenway, and get more people to tune in on television. The financial structure of the franchise requires continual sellouts at Fenway, and lots of ad revenue from broadcast venues. So his contract might make sense from the perspective of selling more tickets. It just doesn't make sense from the standpoint of his performance on the field.

In this off-season, Adrian Gonzalez is the steak. Crawford is just the sizzle.


(Image source.)