Thursday, July 27, 2017

The Sounders Should Keep Their New Formation

On July 19th, after falling behind by three goals in only 50 minutes against D.C. United , the Sounders substituted Nouhou Tolo and Kelvin Leerdam into the game in the 54th minute. These players took over the left and right defensive back positions from Brad Evans and Joevin Jones, who each moved up to an attacking mid-field role. That new formation resulted in four unanswered goals for the Sounders in the final 36 minutes. Moved forward on the field and relieved of his defensive duties Jones started making plays and notched up two assists. Brad Evans also got involved with the offense netting a goal of his own. The new formation worked great against D.C United and resulted in a historic come from behind victory.

Head coach Brian Schmetzer decided to keep the line up in the Sounders next match against the San Jose Earthquakes on July 23rd. The decision to stay with what worked the week before paid off for the Rave Green yet again. Seattle had a sustained attack against San Jose and looked more alive on offense than they have most of the season. Best of all Seattle scored another three goals and held their opponent scoreless grabbing a win.

So, in the roughly game and a half that Seattle has played with Brad Evans and Joevin Jones as attacking mid-fielders, instead of their more common defensive back positions, the team has scored seven goals and given up none. I think that much of the credit for this offensive explosion has to go to the new formation. It puts a better defender, in Nouhou, at an important position and allows Jones to focus on what he does best, driving up the left side and crossing balls in front of the zone. It also makes room for newcomer Kelvin Leerdam to get on the field and, admittedly based on a small sample size, put him in a position to maximize his contributions to the team.

Jones has had a hot and cold season. On the good side he has notched nine assists, almost all of them on crosses from the left side of the field into the box. Much of this is because so far this season the Sounders attack has focused almost exclusively on this tactic. They relentlessly push the ball up the left side to Jones and give him opportunities to cross it. With as many chances as he has had the nine assists aren't as impressive. Additionally Jones plays left back, a position that requires good defensive skill, something Jones has failed to show consistently in 2017. Number 33 is regularly out of position on defense, often because he hasn't hustled back from the previous crossing attempt. This poor defense has let to several goals by Sounders opponents this year.

The player replacing Joevin Jones at left back in both games is rookie Nouhou Tolo. Watching him play it is obvious he is raw and full of energy. He often makes aggressive decisions and has exaggerated effort, but it has been effective. Nouhou (who at only 20 years old has apparently already earned the right to go by only his first name) is usually in the right spot and he is willing to tackle to make a stop. He is already a better defender than Jones and with more experience he should continue to get better at defense. The one things I dislike about Nouhou's play is his continued attempts to score a goal from 40 yards away. The shots are always errant and have no chance of working. Again this is something coaching and experience should fix.

The other big change in the new formation is the addition of right back Kelvin Leerdam. The Sounders just recently signed Leerdam and the game against D.C. was his first with the team. He made his presence felt and did a great job shutting down the right side. Against San Jose Leerdam was even more impactful. He continued to play solid defense and use his speed move all around the field and shut down attackers. In his limited playing time he appears to be a very solid defender.

Also, Leerdam's massive throw ins led directly to two of the goals. Speaking of those throw ins, wow they are amazing. The guy can huck it like no one else I can remember on the Sounders. He can turn an out of bounds throw in into basically a corner kick. This is a huge advantage for the Sounders and should continue to lead to goal scoring chances.

Moving Jones away from the left back position and into an attacking role allows him to focus on offense and it mitigates the risk of him not being in the correct defensive position. The change also gives the team room for Nouhou and Leerdam to play and both of these players are superior defenders to Jones. Leerdam also brings his strong throw ins to the team boosting their offense. Overall the position change improves the teams chances of winning and I for one hope they stick with it.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Tony Romo Did the Right Thing

In April, coming off a major back injury that caused him to miss most of the 2016 season, veteran Quarterback Tony Romo announced his retirement from the Dallas Cowboys and the NFL. Romo has a gig as a color commentator lined up at CBS. At 36 years old Romo is at the point of his life and career where most quarterbacks begin to regress. Father time and the abuse of playing professional football catch up to them and their skills diminish. So, his decision isn't entirely unexpected. That said there were many that were shocked at Romo's decision. There are several NFL teams with bad to mediocre quarterbacks slated to started in 2017. More than a few of these would probably have been interested in giving Romo one last chance to start in the NFL. Tony Romo did the right thing by resisting the temptation to get back out on the gridiron and instead retiring.

Even in a league as beset with injuries and medical trauma as the NFL Tony Romo stands out as someone whose body took a severe beating. In 2010 Romo broke his left collarbone for the first time. He would go on the break the same bone twice more in his career, both in 2015. Romo also broke parts of his back three times in his career, in 2013, 2014, and 2016. summed it up pretty well with this quote, "During his career, Romo played through broken fingers and ribs, a broken back and a punctured lung. He rushed his recovery from broken clavicles and fingers, often finishing games with a significant limp or hunch."

The glorification of Romo's toughness is a symptom of the NFL's dangerous worship of those players willing to continually put their bodies at grave risk for the good of the game. Romo should have probably retired years ago. Breaking your back once should be a wakeup call. When you break it a second time it is a flashing red siren to get out and let someone else take the physical punishment.  Waiting until now, after his third broken back, to retire is better late than never I supposes.

Hopefully Romo has a long and happy life outside football. I hope that Romo realizes how lucky he is to be able to walk and function as a relatively normal adult and decides to use his new position as a NFL game broadcaster to speak about the dangers of the NFL and the sacrifice that players make for the chance to entertain us.

I hope that Romo doesn't use his influence to voice a glorification of the violence in the NFL and the culture of toughness and manliness that it perpetuates. Americans need to see Romo as an example of someone making a decision based on his own personal health and celebrate it, not question his desire to win a championship. Romo did the right thing by retiring.

Friday, June 23, 2017

On Markelle Fultz

Some of you may realize that Markelle Fultz played basketball for the University of Washington last year, but many of you probably don't. Personally I have only a fleeting understand of who Markelle Fultz is and what makes him good at basketball. If it wasn't for Dave "Softy" Mauler on KJR, I probably wouldn't know anything about the young guard. That is a sad state of affairs because Markelle Fultz was just drafted number one overall by the Philadelphia 76ers. We should be excited and celebrating another Husky great being recognized by the NBA.

I never got to know Fultz as a player. The basketball team he was on was so bad that it was unwatchable. The Huskies routinely got embarrassed by their opponents. The team was so bad last year that the University fired long time head coach Lorenzo Romar and punted on the opportunity to have the best high school senior in the country come play for them in 2017. The team essentially quit playing defense halfway through the conference season. The only potential draw to watching them play was Fultz's NBA caliber talent, but that just wasn't enough to make me care about him or the team.

Don't get me wrong I am glad for the young man and I don't begrudge him at all. I hope that he has a spectacular professional career. However, I won't be rooting for him or following his exploits any closer than I do any other random NBA starter. He has no connection to me at all. I will never look back on the glory days of Fultz. I will never opine with friends about his place in the Pantheon of Husky greats. In fact, I expect, my only memory of him will be that he was drafted first overall by the Philadelphia 76ers.

Friday, June 9, 2017

On Colin Kaepernick's Lack of a Job

Colin Kaepernick was once a star quarterback in the NFL. In 2012, after he took over from Alex Smith, he led the 49ers to the Super Bowl. Although his team lost that game to the Ravens, Kaepernick had made a mark on the NFL fandom. He followed up his breakout Super Bowl run with two very solid years in 2013 and 2014. In those two years he threw for a combined 6,566 yds, 40 TD, 18 INT. Kaepernick also contributed with his legs rushing for 1,163 yds and another 5 TD. Although not elite, Kaepernick was definitely top tier, but then things fell apart in 2015. The 49ers and Kaepernick struggled to start the season going 2-6. The coaching staff benched Kaepernick after that and he eventually underwent surgery on his shoulder, ending the season on the IR

All that brings us to last season. Coming off his injury and the worst statistical season of his career, Kaepernick entered 2016 fighting for the starting job. That by itself would have been an interesting storyline. Then during a preseason game Kaepernick decided to sit in protest during the national anthem and all hell broke loose. Kaepernick was protesting the treatment of ethnic minorities in the United States. The quarterback's protest continue in various forms throughout the year. He pissed off a lot of fans, but inspired others. Regardless of what you think about his protest it worked in getting people talking about the issues and the place of political action in sports.

Coming into the 2017 season Kaepernick is a free agent able to sign to play with any NFL team that wants him. Several analysts, former teammates, and former coaches have said that Kaepernick still has the skills to play in the NFL. Additionally NFL contracts are not guaranteed so if any team signed him and found out he couldn't play they could cut him with little or no penalty. However, so far, no NFL team has offered him a contract. There could be lots of reasons for this, but one of them is definitely because of Kaepernick's decision to not honor the flag during the swinging of the national anthem before games.

Some teams like the Jets and Broncos are in great need of a quarterback and if only football related matters were considered should clearly sign Kaepernick. However, both of those two teams are run by strongly opinionated Republicans with a strong sense of nationalism and I think both were clearly biased against Kaepernick because of their political leanings.

(The Broncos main decision maker is John Elway, who is the Executive Vice President of Football Operations and the General Manager.  He is also a lifelong Republican and recently attended Donald Trump's inauguration. Elway also doesn't have a problem with mixing football and politics. As a recent example Elway wrote an endorsement of Neil Gorsuch to the United States Senate Judiciary Committee on Broncos letterhead. 

Woody Johnson is the owner of the New York Jets. He is a very active owner and is often involved in football personnel decisions. He is also is big time Republican donor and Donald Trump supporter. Johnson was rewarded for his party loyalty with being nominated to be ambassador to the United Kingdom. Johnson doesn’t strike me as someone that would put up with a person disrespecting the flag he clearly loves.)

As the decision makers for their respective teams John Elway and Woody Johnson have the right to not employee Colin Kaepernick, but when they make that choice it hurts their team's chances of winning. As long as they are honest that they chose to not sign the former 49ers QB because of his activism and not because of his football skills I don't see a problem with it. Just don't lie to us and him by saying it is a football decision.

It appears that other teams have chosen not to sign Kaepernick, not because of their own political beliefs, but because of the potential media and fan backlash that could result. They are afraid, right or wrong, that all the attention and controversy that comes with Kaepernick outweighs the potential football benefits. They view him as a potential distraction that would get in the way of the team concentrating of winning football games. They very well could be right, but for a team like the Houston Texans it seems like a gamble worth making. Without Kaepernick they are going into the 2017 with Tom Savage (someguy) or DeShaun Watson (a rookie) as their quarterbacks. They are taking the easy way out and hurting their teams in the process.

The third and final reason that teams with a need at the quarterback position could be avoiding Kaepernick is money he may be asking for. This reason is a lot more speculative as Kaepernick hasn't publicly stated how much money he wants to make. The assumption is that teams, like the Seattle Seahawks, that need a backup QB aren't willing to pay Kaepernick the amount of money he is asking for. He may be asking for starter money or even high end back up money. The Seahawks have a great starting quarterback in Russell Wilson and hope to never see their backup play a meaningful snap in 2017. If Kaepernick is asking for a large contract it doesn't make sense for a team like the Seahawks to sign him. Their salary cap limited resources are better spent on players at other positions.

All that being said and discussed I think it is a shame that Colin Kaepernick hasn't been signed to an NFL team yet. He is an upstanding citizen with strong well thought out political beliefs. He is someone willing to sacrifice for what he believes in and make very public and civil defenses of those beliefs. He should be a role model for us all. He should not be chastised for his actions.

Personally I was hoping the Seahawks would sign him. If the money was the issue I completely understand, but if it was because of the distraction factor or the front offices political beliefs shame on them. They should be able to see through nonviolent off field issues and make decisions that help the football team win.

For any of the NFL teams avoiding Kaepernick because of their politics or fear of distractions, especially the Jets and Broncos, it is a shame and has exposed yet again the hypocrisy of the NFL morality. Teams regularly employ wife beaters, drunk drivers, and other dangerous offenders, but they won't pay a brave nonviolent activist. Instead of trying to understand Kaepernick and the issues he brought up they are choosing to hide behind the shield of the NFL like cowards.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Jarrod Dyson is Fun to Watch

Speed in baseball is a under-appreciated talent especially on the Mariners for the last several years. The previous GM focused so much on power that he forgot what an important skill can be. By collecting lumbering power hitters the Mariners sacrificed runs. Fast players are able take an extra base and they can score when other slower players would be stuck on second or third.

The Mariners new GM, Jerry Dipoto, has recognized how valuable speed can be. He has filled the Mariners roster with athletic players. The whole outfield can fly. For me this has made the Mariners offense fun to watch again. They are getting on base (9th highest OBP in MLB) and scoring runs (10th most runs in MLB). Of all the new guys, outfielder Jarrod Dyson has been my favorite to watch. His defining characteristic, and why I love watching him, is he super fast speed. He is like ridiculous, blink and you'll miss him fast.

Whenever Dyson gets on base it is almost a guarantee he is going to steal second base. His walks and singles are as good as doubles. There is always a threat he might steal third base, something not many guys attempt anymore. As proof consider this, he already has 12 stolen bases, which is on pace for 45 by the end of the year. In 2016 the Mariners team leader, Leonys Martin, had 24 over the whole year.  Also Dyson has only been caught stealing twice. That is an 86% success rate for stolen bases, which is good.

Dyson's speed has also helped the Mariners by letting him score frequently. Despite having only 28 hits, 12 walks, and 8 HBP, Dyson has already scored 24 runs. That means he is scoring a run half the time he reaches base. For comparison's sake, the highest rate in the league is Trea Turner at 62.1%. Jarrod Dyson is ranked 14th of all eligible players for his run scoring percentage. That is almost entirely because of his speed.

As already alluded to, the problem with Dyson is he held back by his poor hitting skill. He is only batting .217 this year with an OBP of .318. In his seven year career he is only a .256 hitter. When you consider how fast he reaches first base, that average is low. Dyson doesn't make good quality contact frequently enough (only 17.8% of his hits are line drives) and he doesn't have any power (only 9 career home runs). I wish there was a way to improve Dyson's skills with the bat because once he doesn't get on base he is electric.

Dyson's speed is a huge offensive asset for the Mariners. He is able to turn single into extra base hits by outrunning throws and stealing bases. He is able to score runs on other players hits when most players would still be stuck on base. His speed is fun to watch and makes the game exciting. However, it would be even better if he could just get on base more often. His poor hitting prevents him from being great.

Sources: Fangraphs

Friday, May 5, 2017

My 2016-2017 NBA Games: One Bust After Another

I don't watch a lot of NBA basketball. When I do watch it is usually something I planned based on the matchup or with friends. I don't dislike the NBA, but without a pro team in Seattle it is hard for me to feel invested. However, fans are tell me all the time how exciting it is. They insist the games are full of drama and excitement. However, that wasn't my experience this year. I have only watched four games and all four were duds. The closet final score differential was 15.

The first game I watched was back in November. The best team in the NBA, the Golden State Warriors, were set to play the Los Angeles Lakers. The game looked poised to be an exhibition of the Splash Brother prowess. I was hoping to see the Dubs in their full offensive juggernaut glory. Against a team like the Lakers (who ended up the third worst defense team at the end of the year) there seemed to be a chance that Steph Curry or Klay Thompson could drop 50 points. Instead I got treated to see the first time in 157 games157 games that Curry didn't make a three point shot. I got to watch the Lakers beat the Warriors by 20 points. Sure seeing D'Angelo Russell play adequately was kind of interesting, but it wasn't what I was hoping for when I decide to watch the game.

The next game I watched was a random Thursday night game in February. I was on babysitting duty and channel surfing during a nap. I found the Knicks leading the Cavs early. The first quarter was a high octane offense driven affair. The score at the end of one quarter of play was 34-33 Cleveland. Sure, I knew the Knicks were bad and they should have no chance to hanging with the Cavs, but that one quarter had got my hopes up. I decided to stick around and see what happened. What happened was the Knicks remember who they are and fell apart in the second quarter getting outscored 35-18. That score doesn't even do the quarter justice. Watching the game it felt like the Cavaliers outscored them by 30. Carmelo Anthony and Courtney Lee tried valiantly to bring the Knicks back in the third, but the Cavs were just too much for them to handle. After the first quarter it never felt close again. The Knicks ended up losing 119 to 104.

The third and final regular season game I watched was in March. The San Antonio Spurs were set to take on the Golden State Warriors. This matchup should have been a great one. The Spurs and Warriors are two of the best teams in the league year after year. At the end of the season the Warriors ended up with the Western Conference's number 1 seed, yet again, and the Spurs landed the number 2 seed. Unfortunately both teams decided to rest their starters robbing us of this potentially awesome matchup. Ian Clark was the Warriors leading scorer and Patty Mills lead the Spurs. Those guys are far from stars, but being the leading scorers for their respective teams doesn't have to be a bad thing. The game could still be interesting. However, the thing is the Warriors, one of the greatest offensive forces in basketball history, scored a season low 85 points and they lost by 22 points. The Spurs B-squad at least showed up to play. Other than Ian Clark the Warriors bench looked like trash.

Yesterday I decided to watch the Boston Celtics third playoff game against the Washington Wizards. University of Washington Alum and PNW basketball hero Isaiah Thomas is the Boston Celtics star point guard. Thomas averaged 28.9 ppg on 46.3% shooting during the regular season. In the first two games of the playoff series of Thomas scored 86 points. The guy is also only 5'9" (which is generous), which makes it all the more amazing that he is able to score so dominantly in the NBA where the average height is 6'6". But that isn't all. Thomas is also overcoming the recent death of his younger sister and getting one of histeeth knocked out during the first game of the series. I was excited to watch Thomas continue his run of stellar playoff run and build his epic narrative. Instead Thomas went 3 for 8 shooting from the field, scored only 13 points and the Celtics lost by 27 to the Wizards. On the bright side I got to see John Wall run really fast, shot poorly, and get fouled a bunch all while scoring 24 points.

Like I said before I have had rotten luck picking NBA games to watch this year. The closet final score differential was 15 (Cavs vs Knicks). In three of the four games the losing team didn't even score 100 points. The player that scored the most individual points in any of these games was Ian Clark. Basically every game I watched was a complete bust. So NBA, if you want to convince me that your games can be exciting show me a game that isn't a blow out and where the star players actually perform