2011-12 NFL Preview: AFC South

Houston Texans

Projected Record: 9-7 (Division Winner, 4th Seed in the AFC)

The Texans go through a roller coaster season. Running back, Arian Foster tries to play through his injury in week one . . . and regrets it. Foster is out for the majority of the season. Quarterback, Matt Schaub throws twenty interceptions. Head Coach, Gary Kubiak, nearly gets fired and wide receiver, Andre Johnson, reportedly wants out of Houston. Somehow though, the Texans manage to win nine games, including both games against the Colts, due to their improved secondary and linebackers Brian Cushing, DeMeco Ryans, and Mario Williams. New Defensive Coordinator and former Cowboys’ Head Coach, Wade Phillips, would win the Defensive Coordinator of the Year Award . . . if there was one.

Indianapolis Colts

Projected Record: 9-7

The Colts won’t have their typical Colt season. Payton Manning plays in his first game during week two, yet throughout the entire season, his neck bothers him. Dallas Clark, Dwight Freeney, Robert Mathis, Jeff Saturday, Adam Vinatieri, and Reggie Wayne all experience drops in production. At some point in the season quarterback, Kerry Collins wishes he had stayed retired. In Collins’ only start of the year, he’ll struggle in week one at Houston.

Tennessee Titans

Projected Record: 7-9

Head Coach, Jeff Fisher turns Vince Young around and the Titans have a monster season! Wait, what’s that? They got rid of both of them? Ohh, that was dumb. On a serious note though, if it wasn’t for running back, Chris Johnson, the Titans would be absolutely screwed. Quarterback, Matt Hasselbeck struggles and as a result, first-round draft pick, Jake Locker starts the majority of the Titans’ games at QB. Also, look for cornerback, Cortland Finnegan to have over five interceptions this season.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Projected Record: 5-11

The Jaguars won’t play nearly as bad as their record might say. They have to play at New York (Jets), Pittsburgh, Houston, Indianapolis, and Atlanta. Running back, Maurice Jones-Drew, will get less touches this year, resulting in about 1,000 yards and seven touchdowns. While those are solid numbers, those aren’t up to par with MoJo’s standards. Quarterback, David Garrard will have an excellent season making the Jags ask themselves, “Why did we draft Blaine Gabbert?” The Jaguars’ defense though, while improved, will cause them to lose many close games. Yet, now that the Jaguars are without Garrard, they are screwed and simply playing for the future.

Photo Credits

Logos

Peyton Manning and Kerry Collins

2011-12 NFL Preview: AFC North

Pittsburgh Steelers

Projected Record: 12-4 (Division Winner, 2nd Seed in the AFC)

Quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger struggles at time this season, but running back, Reshard Mendenhall sets career highs in rushing yards as well as rushing touchdowns. The Steelers’ defense, continues to lay down the law and put up big numbers. Look for linebacker, James Harrison to struggle this season though, while cornerback Ike Taylor will set a career high in interceptions this season.

Baltimore Ravens

Projected Record: 11-5 (Wild Card, 5th Seed in the AFC)

Joe Flacco puts up huge numbers this year passing the pigskin to Anquan Boldin and Lee Evans. At the end of the year, people put him in the same class as Ben Roethlisberger. As for the running backs, Ray Rice does his thing and offseason addition, Ricky Williams gets the job done when asked. The Ravens get two of the biggest steals in the draft in cornerback, Jimmy Smith (26th pick) and wide receiver, Torrey Smith (58th). Like their rivals in Pittsburgh, Ray Lewis and his friends dominate on defense. The Ravens win a wild card, despite having the third best record in the AFC.

Can Joe Flacco and co. win the AFC North for the first time since 2006, or will the Steelers beat them once again?

Cleveland Browns

Projected Record: 6-10

Quarterback, Colt McCoy takes major strides in his second season in the National Football League. Peyton Hillis is not affected by the Madden curse and Joe Thomas continues to be the best offensive lineman in the game. That’s about the only positive news coming out of Cleveland this season though.

Cincinnati Bengals

Projected Record: 5-11

If the Bengals had any other starting quarterback in the NFL, their young group of wide receivers (Andre Caldwell, A.J. Green, Jordan Shipley, and Ryan Whalen) would be among the best in the NFL, but Andy Dalton will be throwing them the ball, most likely, this season. Look for safety Taylor Mays to surprise people, this year. Carson Palmer does indeed play this season, yet it is for a playoff contender who after having their starting quarterback go down with an injury, makes the Bengals an offer they can’t resist.

Photo Credits

Logos

Joe Flacco Being Sacked

Hacking

Soxoholics was recently hacked. Please ignore any Soxoholic activity from August 15-August 28. Also, if anyone nows how to report a hacking it would be greatly appreciated.

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Josh Beckett: All-Star, World Champion, and Cy Young Winner?

A lot of attention has been given to the Red Sox’s three MVP candidates: Jacoby Ellsbury, Adrian Gonzalez, and Dustin Pedroia. And while they deserve every bit of the attention they’ve been given, Josh Beckett could and should win the Cy Young award.

Josh Beckett went from a power pitcher to a complete pitcher this season. His average fastball velocity has dropped 0.7 MPH since last year and 1.5 MPH since 2007. Last season he threw a fastball 36.3% of the time. Yet, so far this season he has thrown it 34.6% of the time.

Beckett threw his cutter just 0.1% of the time back in 2007 and last season 16.2% of the time. This season though, Beckett has thrown it 20.4% of the time. As for his changeup, he threw it 3.8% of the time in 2007, 11.5% of the time in 2010, and so far 15% of the time in this season. For more, see the data bellow from Fan Graphs.

While people have been noticing Beckett’s bounce back season, it doesn’t seem like people are putting him in the same class with C.C. Sabathia, Justin Verlander, and Jered Weaver. But, Beckett’s numbers are equal to Sabathia’s , Verlander’s, and Weaver’s.

"One thing that will help Verlander's case is his no-hitter this season against the Blue Jays (I guess Toronto forgot to steal signs that day)."

Some voters don’t seem to care about wins anymore. Felix Hernandez won the A.L. Cy Young award last year with a thirteen and twelve record. In my opinion the best stats to judge a pitcher on are ERA, WHIP, Batting Average Against, Quality Starts, and K/9. Strikeouts per nine innings is a better stat than strikeouts, but isn’t as important as the other four stats.

Here are the four Cy Young candidates’ stats as well as where their stats rank among American League starting pitchers.

When you average their stat ranks, including wins and K/9, Beckett’s average is eight, Sabathia’s is 8.67, Verlander’s average is 1.83, while Weaver’s is 4.5.

Yet, when you average their stat ranks, without wins and K/9, Beckett’s average is three, Sabathia’s is 10.5, Verlander’s average is 1.5, and Weaver’s is two.

But, when you average their stat ranks, not including wins, Beckett’s average is a five, Sabathia is a 10.2, Verlander’s average is a two, and lastly, Weaver has an average on 4.8.

However, when you average their stat ranks, not including K/9, Beckett is a seven, Sabathia is an 8.6, while Verlander’s average is 1.4, and Weaver has an average of 2.2.

What can you take away from this? Well, Sabathia hasn’t been as good as he has been subscribed. He is just benefiting from playing in a large market. Verlander is first, every time you do it, but Weaver follows in at a close second and Beckett is at a somewhat distant third. If you value any three of the stats used above, than it is clear that Sabathia shouldn’t win the award.

"Josh Beckett . . . has a record of three and zero in four starts against the rival, New York Yankees."

Yet, the voters look at more than stats. If you happen to be a big game pitcher that sure helps. When the Angels played in Detroit recently, Weaver and Verlander went head to head. Verlander carried a no-hitter into the eighth inning. Weaver on the other hand, gave up two home runs, lost his cool, got ejected and subsequently suspended. Weaver cracked under the pressure of having his team no-hit and going up against one of the best. To me, that moment showed that Jered Weaver is not a big game pitcher.

Josh Beckett on the other hand, has a record of three and zero in four starts against the rival, New York Yankees. In those four starts (twenty-seven innings) he has an ERA of 1.00 and an opponent batting average of just .170. Also, against the rival Tampa Bay Rays, Beckett has an ERA of 0.00 and the Rays are hitting just .038 off him this season.

So that leaves Beckett and Verlander. One thing that will help Verlander’s case is his no-hitter this season against the Blue Jays (I guess Toronto forgot to steal signs that day). Yet, if I’m a voter I think the fact that Beckett has reinvented himself as a pitcher will impact my vote. Ohh, and pitching in a bigger market than your “opponent” doesn’t hurt your case.

While the numbers say Verlander should win it, stats can’t tell everything and besides, we still have over seven weeks of baseball to decide on who will be the 2011 A.L. Cy Young award winner.

* All stats as of Thursday, Aug. 11

Photo Credits

Verlander & Beckett

Red Sox Rumors: Mike Aviles and Erik Bedard

Mike Aviles Filled in for a Dizzy Marco Scutaro in Last Night

The Red Sox didn’t pull off a blockbuster, like they have in years past, at the trading deadline this year. Boston’s biggest needs were a shortstop, a starting pitcher, a left-handed reliever, and a right-handed hitting outfielder. The emergence of Josh Reddick took the Red Sox out of the outfielder market.

On the other side, with left-handed batters hitting just .195 off of Alfredo Aceves and improved pitching from Matt Albers and Dan Wheeler, they took Boston out of the reliever market.

That left shortstop and starting pitching as the two needs for Boston. Boston acquired utility-infielder, Mike Aviles for Kansas City for Yamaico Navarro and Kendal Volz. Aviles can play third, second, as well as shortstop and is also a good base runner as he was ten for twelve in stolen base attempts, while with the Royals.

Fielding wise, Aviles’ best position is probably second base, followed by shortstop and third base. However, career wise, Aviles has spent the majority of his time in the field at shortstop. Yet, this season, he has spent the most time in the field at third base. Clearly, Alviles is an experienced utility man despite only being in the big leagues since 2008. Manager, Terry Francona has said that he wants to try and play Aviles in the outfield. Aviles hasn’t played the outfield since college, but is willing to try.

However, the Red Sox gave up to much in my opinion. According to Alex Speier of WEEI, “A talent evaluator recently suggested that he (Yamaico Navarro) was ready to be an everyday third baseman for a second-division team in need of offense right now.” Navarro is never going to be a Kevin Youkilis or an Scott Rolen, he could end up being similar to Brewers third baseman, Casey McGehee.

Kendal Volz was a ninth-round pick by Boston back in 2009. This season, he was moved to the bullpen and is now pitching in high A ball for the Wilmington Blue Rocks. Volz is twenty-four years old and attended Baylor University.

Boston also made two moves just before the deadline. First, Boston traded Minor Leaguers Tim Federowicz, Stephen Fife, and Juan Rodriguez to the Dodgers for Trayvon Robinson. The Red Sox then traded Robinson along with Chih-Hsien Chiang to the Seattle Mariners for Erik Bedard and Josh Fields.

The best part about this deal is that Boston didn’t have to give up a whole lot for Robinson, the cornerstone of the deal, who is now the Mariners number four prospect according to Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com. Robinson hit twenty-six home runs in a hundred games for the Albuquerque Isotopes (he Dodger’s AAA affiliate), but struck out a whopping 122 times. Robinson also stole eight bases, walked forty-five times, and hit .293 for the Isotopes. In his first game in the Seattle Mariners organization, he went one for three with a stolen base, a run scored, and a walk.

Since Clay Buchholz is most likely out for the season (even though Terry Francona says there is a chance he could start before the season is over) with a stress fracture in his back, Bedard if healthy, should be able to fill Buchholz’s role with no problems. However, Bedard has an injury history of his own, but if the Red Sox were scared of by Rich Harden, than Bedard must be healthy. Bedard, is a lefty who was A.L. East experience when he pitched with the Baltimore Orioles from 2002-2007.

Since it appears he is healthy, the only reason Bedard should struggle is his dislike of well, attention. According to Gerry Callahan of the Boston Herald, “Bedard doesn’t like the media. He doesn’t like crowds. He doesn’t like attention. He doesn’t like day games. Some people wonder if he even likes baseball.” You can read the rest of the article here and after reading that article, Bedard seems like a jerk in my mind.

According to Gerry Callahan of the Boston Herald, "Bedard doesn’t like the media. He doesn’t like crowds. He doesn’t like attention. He doesn’t like day games. Some people wonder if he even likes baseball."

Anyway though, this season, Bedard is four and seven and an ERA of 3.45. Yet, if you take out his horrible start on July 29 against the Tampa Bay Rays when he gave up five earned runs in 1.1 innings, Bedard’s ERA is 3.00. The bad news though, is that that was Bedard’s first start off the D.L. and his last in a Mariners uniform.

The other player Boston acquired from Seattle is twenty-five year old reliever named Josh Fields (not to be confused with Josh Fields, a former White Sox and Royal who recently signed with the Yomiuri Giants). Fields was the twentieth overall pick by the Mariners in the 2008 MLB draft. Fields has split time between AA Jackson and AAA Tacoma. In thirty-nine innings, Fields is one and two with a 3.92 ERA and a WHIP of 1.54. In a few years, it’s very possible that Fields could be the best player Boston got in this trade.

Yet, personally, I think Boston will regret both trades. Navarro should become a starting third baseman somewhere in the majors and Boston should have just held on the Robinson. As for Bedard, it’s a toss up on how he will pan out in Beantown.

Photo Credits

Mike Aviles and Erik Bedard

*Also thanks to everyone for making Soxoholics the twenty-eighth most visited fan blog during the moth of July.

Red Sox Rumors: Ubaldo Jimenez

Could Ubaldo Jimenez Play For The Team That Cost Him A World Series Ring Back In 2007?

Ubaldo Jimenez

Unlike Hiroki Kuroda (Another starting pitcher that the Red Sox have been rumored to be interested in), Jimenez’s contract could last anywhere from 2012 to 2014. You see, Jimenez has team options for the 2012 and 2013 seasons, with one million-dollar buyouts both seasons. His salary for the 2013 season could be increased from $5.75 million-dollars depending on Cy Young results. In 2014, his salary would be eight million-dollars, but unlike the 2013 season, the “Cy Young bonus” could be voided if Jimenez is traded.

It has been reported that there are four main players in the Ubaldo Jimenez sweepstakes. One of those teams, is the Cincinnati Reds. The Reds are supposedly the furthest along as they have already talked prospects. The Rockies are reportedly interested in starting pitchers Homer Bailey, Mike Leake, and Travis Wood, all have major league experience. Another player the Reds are looking at is twenty-four year old, Yonder Alonso.

With Joey Votto locked up until 2013, the Reds decided to move Alonso to left-field. When the Reds traded Jonny Gomes to the Nationals the other day, they made it clear, at least to me, that Alonso is untouchable. Mild-infielder Billy Hamilton and catcher Devin Mesoraco are also supposedly untouchable.

According to Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com, Mesoraco is the Reds number one prospect, followed by Alonso and Hamilton. Also, according to Mayo, Mesoraco is the second best catching prospect, Alonso is the third best prospect at first-base, and Hamilton is the second best prospect at second-base. But, with the Reds now 6.5 games behind the Brewers in an already crowed National League Central, this deal might be more focused on the future than the present.

Another team that has interest in Jimenez is the Detroit Tigers. Yet, it doesn’t look like that they are willing to trade starters Max Scherzer or Rick Porcello. The Rockies have inquired about both players. It looks like Detroit is more likely to go after someone like Erik Bedard or Jeremy Guthrie.

The third team looking at Jimenez, is none other than the New York Yankees. The Yankees have the first, fourth, and sixth rated catching prospects in Jesus Montero, Gary Sanchez, and Austin Romine. Therefore, it makes since to trade one of them.

Jon Heyman of Sports Illustrated reports that the Yankees won’t trade Manny Banuelos (the fourth rated left-handed pitching prospect in MLB according to Mayo), Dellin Betances (the eighth rated right-handed pitching prospect in MLB, also according to Mayo), and rookie Ivan Nova, who was recently sent down to AAA, but had an eight and four record in sixteen games started up in the big leagues. Unless the Yankees part with a pitcher, Jimenez won’t be wearing pinstripes.

The last major player for Ubaldo Jimenez are none other than the Boston Red Sox. Unfortunately for Boston, it doesn’t look like Clay Buchholz will be back soon. Yet, Boston is more likely to trade for a rental player, as their first four starting pitchers for next year are set (Beckett, Buchholz, Lackey, and Lester) and Felix Doubront, Andrew Miller, and Tim Wakefield (Unless he retires) will battle for the fifth spot until Dice-K returns. A Major League executive said that the Red Sox are most likely to trade for Kuroda followed by Guthrie and Bedard.

Photo Credits

Ubaldo Jimenez