I am Mets, Jets, and Knicks fan. I was born in 1988, two years after the Mets won the World Series, and since then there's been a championship drought for all three teams. Hopefully, at some point, I can change the name of this blog.
Considering Maryland took a week off last week, I think I’ll take a week off from writing about them. See if they can handle Towson at home, and then I’ll try to reattach the axles to the Maryland bandwagon
First and foremost I’m a New York Jets fan, and they’ll be playing about two blocks from my house on Sunday. So let’s get to breaking down a game between two of the top contenders in the AFC behind the standard of excellence, the Buffalo Bills.
Why the Ravens should win this game:
In their two wins, the Ravens have been dominant, outscoring Pittsburgh and St. Louis by a combined 72-14. Obviously, the Steelers win is going to continue to look better as Pittsburgh continues to round into form, while the Rams win could depreciate for the opposite reason.
They’ve looked like a better team in the first three weeks than the Jets. Even their lone loss doesn’t look as bad, with the Titans playing like a legitimate contender until Kenny Britt’s leg exploded last week. If I had to break it down position by position, the only spots that I could definitively give to the Jets would be defensive backs, and offensive line if Nick Mangold is healthy this week.
Specifically, The Ravens offensive personnel could be a particularly difficult matchup for the Jets if Cam Cameron plays his cards right. Looking into DVOA, the Jets are unsurprisingly the best in the league at holding #1 receivers in check, but from there it becomes somewhat murky. The 8th in league rank vs. #2 receivers could take a hit this week considering that either A) Cromartie will be playing with a bruised lung, or B) Kyle Wilson will be face a major step up in competition.
The weakness of the Jets pass defense lies in their coverage of tight ends (25th in DVOA). Jason Witten had 6 catches for 110 yards in week 1, and even Kevin Boss had a 28-yard catch last week. The Jets two starters at safety are undersized (Jim Leonhard), and shaky in coverage (Eric Smith) respectably. Even if Brodney Pool makes the occasional appearance, this week is the perfect time for the Ravens to unleash Dickson and Pitta over the middle.
Obviously the most obvious plan of attack for the Ravens would be pounding it out on the ground after seeing what happened last week against Oakland. But bear in mind two things: Darren McFadden is possibly the best running back in the NFL at this point, and this is almost the same defense that shut down Ray Rice last year (21 carries, 43 yards). As a Jets fan, I have to think that the strategy will be to keep the best player (Rice) from making a huge impact, and making Flacco win this game.If he stays away from Revis, and works on Cromartie and the tight ends, he should have an efficient, productive day on the way to a Ravens win.
Why the Jets should win this game:
Flacco and Sanchez aren’t separated by much this year. They’re 12th and 13th respectively in DVOA and DVAR, which measures how much better they’ve been than an average NFL quarterback. Flacco has more TD’s and fewer picks, but so far this season, Sanchez’s completion percentage is demonstrably higher (62.5 to 54.1). That number tells me that Flacco has dodged a few bullets this year with his inaccuracy, and an opportunistic Jets defense could jump on those (see the Jacksonville game).
Flacco has been outstanding out of the gates this year, going a combined 17/28 for 295 yards and 4 TD in 3 first quarters. But as you can guess by looking at his season stats, that means a disproportionate amount of Flacco’s production has come early in games. Although the Ravens have essentially put away two of their three games before halftime, Flacco is still only a 50% passer (22/44) with a TD and an INT in second halves this year.
Sanchez has been completely the opposite, completing 20/33 passes in 3 fourth quarters this year, and throwing 4 of his 6 touchdowns after halftime. What this all comes down to is that Sanchez has crunch time reps, and it’s accurate to say that he excels late in games. Could Flacco if he was put in the same situation? I don’t necessarily think so, considering he hasn’t thrown a 4th quarter touchdown since Week 10 of last year. So if this game is close late, I think the advantage swings heavily towards New York.
To win Sanchez needs to establish Holmes and Burress. The Ravens should do a very good job of taking away Dustin Keller and LaDainian Tomlinson (3rd in DVOA vs. tight ends, 5th in DVOA vs. running backs). The Ravens struggle on the outside of their defense, where Cary Williams and LaDarius Webb are two subpar corners who have had a lot of trouble containing big time receivers like Kenny Britt and Mike Wallace. Holmes has shown in the past two years that he’s capable of going off for a big game against an overmatched corner.
So I expect the Ravens to shift the coverage towards him, leaving Plaxico Burress in a lot of single coverage over on the other side. Mark my words, if Plax has a big day (say 6 catches for 80 yards and a TD), the Jets will win this game. With him producing, the Ravens can disguise coverages as much as they want, the Jets will just have too much firepower against an average Ravens secondary.
Ravens win if
Dickson and Pitta get over 120 yards combined.
Ray Rice gets over 150 total yards and a TD
Plaxico Burress has under 60 yards receiving
Flacco’s completion percentage over 60%
Jets win if:
The game is within 7 points going into the 4th quarter
Plaxico Burress has over 80 yards and a TD
LaDainian Tomlinson over 100 all-purpose yards and a TD
It may be a small sample size, but this could be the best, most electric passing offense ever seen. The only thing that I can think of that compares is the Rams during their "Greatest Show on Turf" era, but even they would be impressed with a team averaging 463 yards over their first two games. Everything about the Patriots attack is efficient beyond words, and there really isn’t a blueprint around for how to stop it, outside of getting heavy pressure on Brady without blitzing him.
Possibly the most brilliant thing about the offense is how it has been constructed. Instead of focusing on wide receivers, who are generally overpaid and can easily be double-teamed by safeties if there is only one major threat, the Patriots focused on taking those safeties away with game breaking tight ends.
Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski are two of the top 5 tight ends in the league right now, and they’re playing on the same team. Between them, they have 5 touchdowns and 6 catches of 20+ yards. Not only can defenses not double team New England’s receivers, they more than likely have to allocate one of the better players in their secondary to at least one of the tight ends.
Because of this, New England’s receivers benefit from routinely seeing single coverage, and occasionally getting major mismatches. Wes Welker is 3rd in the league in receiving, and even more telling, Deion Branch is 6th. The same Deion Branch who was little more than a warm body in a cold city in Seattle is now a lethal receiving threat in New England. And that’s because he’s treated as the 4th biggest receiving threat on the team.
Of course, the success of this system probably falls half to those who designed it, and half to those who implement it. By that rationale, about 75% percent of the credit belongs to Tom Brady. As opposed to Peyton Manning, Tom Brady has shown no signs of slowing down. Practically every passing statistic worth keeping track of has “T. Brady” at the top of the list, with the lone exception of completion percentage where he trails Matt Schaub – by 0.1%.
Brady is one of maybe three players (along with Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers) that could be put onto any team right now, and make them into not only a playoffs contender, but a Super Bowl hopeful. With him at the helm, and a healthy offensive line, the Patriots will be able to walk out of almost any shootout with no blood on their shirts.
Last year, the average quarterback against the Patriots completed 63.5% of their passes for 259 yards per game and an 81.2 quarterback rating. The Patriots defense had 36 sacks on the year and 25 interceptions. When comparing those numbers to the pass defenses of the past 8 Super Bowl champions, the Patriots defense ranked last or second to last in every category except for sacks (6th), and interceptions (3rd). This year, the Pats are again struggling to hold opposing quarterbacks in check.
Just last week, Phillip Rivers racked up 378 yards on 29/40 passing with 2 touchdowns and 2 picks. Had he not lost Malcolm Floyd during the game, the damage could have been even more substantial. A week earlier, Chad Henne – the same quarterback Dolphins fans booed during the preseason – conjured up memories of Dan Marino at Sun Life Stadium. He completed 30-49 passes for 419 yards, 2 touchdowns, and a late interception.
Now, it would be biased not to mention that Henne had a similarly monster day against the Jets early last year (26-44, 353 yards, 2 TD, INT). However, the Jets were missing a top 3 defensive player in football. What the Patriots have right now is what they will be working with the rest of the season. This is essentially the same defense that allowed 250+ yards in 8 of their first 12 games last year, and allowed 21+ points in 6 of those games.
They did meld into a borderline fantastic unit down the stretch last year, holding 4 of 5 opponents to 7 points or less to end the regular season. But they went back to struggling in the playoffs when they weren’t able to force a turnover on the Jets offense, and allowed Mark Sanchez to amass his 2nd best quarterback rating as a pro.
Albert Haynesworth was supposed to shore this defense up, and create the pressure on the quarterback that the team was so sorely lacking last year. Well, for a 6’6” 350 lb man, Haynesworth has done an impressive job of being almost invisible.
Of the 22 plays he was in against the Chargers, he was single blocked 15 times, and his stat sheet is completely blank. No tackles for loss, no quarterback hurries, not even a drawn holding penalty. Vince Wilfork has been a one man band one the defensive line, and without having to worry about Haynesworth, teams are free to double team him.
As I said earlier, having Brady means that this team will win 9 out of 10 shootouts that they’re in. But there will be those one or two games this season that Brady has a tough day. Last year he had a bad game against Cleveland (almost completely inconsequential), and against the Jets in the playoffs (the worst possible time). If the defense can improve, the Patriots will be blowing teams off the field. But if they have to keep putting up 28 points to win games, they just have to hope that their bad offensive performances come at convenient times for them.
A suffocating, and for the first time, healthy defense. Obviously health in NFL is extremely moment-to-moment, but as of right now, the Jets might have their strongest defensive unit that Rex Ryan has ever had. The first three quarters against Dallas were touch and go, but since the Cowboys’ first possession of the 4th, the Jets have been downright dominant.
After a fortuitous fumble forced on Tony Romo, the Dallas offense gained 40 yards total on their proceeding four possessions, which culminated in a blocked punt, punt, interception, and fumble respectively. Overall, it was an uneven performance, but as has become the Jets trademark, they harmonized in the waning moments.
I don’t want to get too excited about last week’s performance in Jacksonville, because of how incredibly stagnant and one-noted the Jaguars offensive “attack” is. I expected a dominant win last win for the Jets, and I wasn’t disappointed. But, there is a point to be made for exactly how dominant the Jets were. After all, the Jaguars did win their first game against a Titans team that is becoming a trendy underdog pick after their upset of Week 1 Super Bowl favorite Baltimore.
The Jets made the Jaguars look like an unpracticed high school team. The bowling ball with the MJD initials managed to get his (as he inevitably does), but after an error-free week 1, Luke McCown might have thrown one good pass all day. It was called back by a holding penalty. After what many considered to be a down year in 2010, last week’s performance showed they type of dominance that the Jets exhibited in their first year under Rex.
Muhammad Wilkerson needs to continue his improvement on the defensive line, and Mike Pettine needs to find the correct mix of what safeties should be on the field at what times, but those are the only two problems left to solve. The outside pass rusher that fans were clamoring for in the offseason has materialized in the form of a finally healthy Calvin Pace. The run defense has been stout as always, and the best cornerback in the league looks as good as ever when quarterbacks have accepted the gambit of throwing at him.
Antonio Cromartie was beaten twice for touchdowns in Week 1, and he’s certainly far from perfect. But most teams don’t have one receiver as talented as Miles Austin and Dez Bryant, let alone two. Cromartie’s perfect coverage on the Austin touchdown was overshadowed by a flawless pass by Romo, and a phenomenal job on the receiving end by Austin. He usually does get beaten on more than one occasion during a game, but he’s one of the few #2 cornerbacks capable of the exceptional play, and he’s the most dangerous player on the Jets with the ball in his hands.
Where they are struggling:
The offense is in the midst of an identity crisis. It unquestionably belongs to Brian Schottenheimer’s at this point, with most of the handoffs ending with the ball still in Mark Sanchez’s hands. Since Nick Mangold will be on the bench for at least the next two weeks, it should probably stay that way. But this team has made its hay the past few years hammering away at defensive lines with top notch blocking. The abundance of talent up front has allowed average running backs to consistently gouge 5 to 6 yards per carry every season.
Unfortunately, with the injury to Mangold, what was a talent thin offensive line is now emaciated. D’Brickashaw Ferguson and Brandon Moore are both still among the elite at their respective positions, but their top-level talent looks misplaced among their shockingly average peers.
Matt Slauson was a nice story last year at left guard, but even if he maximizes his ability, he’ll never be a left guard on the level of Alan Faneca or Pete Kendall who came before him. Wayne Hunter has served only as a flattened speed bump in the first two games, not even charging cover to pass rushers, while only barely stemming their momentum on the way to full force collisions with Mark Sanchez. He’s been bad enough that there has been talk of replacing him with Vlad Ducasse, which is like going to a gunfight with a plastic knife instead of a metal one.
And then there is Sanchez. This is after all his third year. The year that the honeymoon is not only over, but all of the pictures from it are gone. As always, he’s looked very uneven. His box score against Dallas has a gaudy number in the yardage column, but the mistakes were frighteningly amateur, as were his 2 early interceptions in the Jacksonville game.
And none of the mistakes have been because of bad luck with tipped passes or drops. All three interceptions have come when Sanchez was sitting in a comfortably sized pocket, and completely misreading the coverage. A fourth should have come on the last drive against Dallas where the immortal Alan Ball almost jumped a terrible throw, but had it fall through his hands. Sanchez may never be an elite fantasy quarterback, but he needs to remember to be a steady real one.
When the Patriots won the Super Bowl in 2003, the biggest keys for them were that they had a very good offensive line, an even better defense, and a quarterback who didn’t take them out of a game. In Tom Brady’s third year as a starter, he threw for 3,620 yards (a number not unreachable for Sanchez who threw for 3,291 yards in 2010) 23 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.
Brady didn’t have an interception in 12 out of 19 games, and was intercepted twice or more in only four (two of which were the Patriots only losses). He also completed 60.2 % of his passes, which is probably the biggest stat for a quarterback in my opinion. Huge yardage numbers are always fun to watch, but you only need ten yards to pick up a first down and keep your opponents defense on the field.
The point here is, is that Sanchez needs to realize that, just like a great pitcher, some days he’s not going to have his best stuff. Great players know how to work around that and still be effective. If Sanchez can hit the same baseline numbers that Brady hit in 2003, there’s no reason this team can’t win a Super Bowl with a healthy, dominant defense.
A defense that can win games for them every week. In every sport, an offense can be explosive but it’s inconsistent. Because defense relies more heavily on effort and less on luck, a great one will only vary so much from week to week.
The Ravens possess a borderline ideal mixture of young talent, and veteran knowledge. Terrell Suggs has set up camp in the top 3 NFL sack leaders, and Haloti Ngata is the best defensive lineman in football. Meanwhile, Ed Reed and Ray Lewis are playing like they’re half their age, but with game smarts that most defensive coordinators would covet.
What sets this team apart on offense is Ray Rice. Although Rice isn’t the traditional between the tackles 25 carry a game type back of yesteryear, he is an incredibly effective hybrid in the mold of Maurice Jones-Drew, Matt Forte, and previously Marshall Faulk. Rice’s pass catching ability is probably the envy of some of the wide receivers in Baltimore, and allows the Ravens to extend their running game from sideline to sideline with screen passes and flat routes. There aren’t many teams with dominant defenses in this league, and the Ravens may be the only one with a top 5 running back on the other side of the ball.
The offensive line, which had previously been a point of concern, now looks to be steady. It ranks 7th in the AFC in adjusted sack rate on Football Outsiders, and has only allowed 4 sacks this year, and with the talent in place, it will only get better as the unit melds.
Bryant McKinnie has curbed his apparently monumental appetite, and looked like an All-Pro left tackle in the Week 1 matchup against the Steelers. That has allowed Michael Oher to shift back to right tackle, where despite occasionally being overly anxious, he has morphed into an extremely effective presence. Matt Birk’s lingering neck issues haven’t yet been a factor, and his skill and leadership are undeniable. Joe Flacco will not have many issues with being protected this year.
Where they struggle:
Although the Ravens addressed plenty of things in this offseason, they still didn’t plug the hole at cornerback that Chris McCallister left when he retired. Jimmy Smith may eventually be the answer, but considering he's not only a rookie, but also injured it's safe to say that this won't be the year he determines that. For now, Ed Reed is still covering up mistakes in the secondary like the Wolf in Pulp Fiction, but he’s getting long in the tooth, and it’s tough to clean up the mistakes when he doesn’t know where they will be.
Last week, this secondary revived the argument that Matt Hasselbeck can be a viable NFL starting quarterback, mainly because they made Kenny Britt look like the second coming of Randy Moss. Although the safety position features significant depth with Bernard Pollard and Tom Zbikowski, neither of those two is especially adept in pass coverage.
Point blank, if Cary Williams is covering the other team’s best receiver, you’re going to need to give him help. The Ravens allowed a 100+ yard receiver in only four of their 17 games last year. This year both Mike Wallace and Kenny Britt have reached that mark. In a league where spread formations are now commonplace for almost every team, the Ravens don’t have the secondary necessary to shut down high powered passing attacks like New England, San Diego, and to a lesser extent Pittsburgh (when they don’t turn the ball over 7 times).
Lastly, the passing offense has yet to completely come together. If Eli Manning was able to guide a team to a Super Bowl, Joe Flacco is more than capable of accomplishing the same feat. But he needs to do a better job of avoiding the ugly games, like last week in Tennessee.
If there’s one suggestion I could make to the Ravens passing offense, it would be to adopt a similar strategy to the one that the Patriots use. This team can stretch the field vertically, but they would be more effective doing it with their tight ends instead of their receivers. Anquan Boldin’s strength is obviously not his speed, and Lee Evans is not the savior that some Baltimore fans have depicted him to be.
Instead, the Ravens should look towards the middle of the field where they have something akin to “Patriots-Lite” with Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta. They are being used some right now as evidenced by their numbers in the Steelers game. It’s time to use them more. Dickson has the speed to toast linebackers, and Pitta has a set of hands that are comparable to Jason Witten’s.
Joe Flacco has an absolute howitzer for an arm, but that doesn’t mean it needs to be employed exclusively on wayward deep balls. If the Ravens offense can simply recognize where their best matchups are (Rice against linebackers and the tight ends against safeties), and exploit them, the offense has the potential to be one of the more dangerous ones in the AFC.
In the five years I was at Maryland, the third week of the season was not exactly a banner one for the football team. Maryland played West Virginia during three of those years, and they were blown out by a combined score of 107-45 in those three games. We’ve all seen this movie before, and plenty of us walked out of the theater. The question is, with both teams employing completely different staffs and philosophies; can Maryland make some rewrites to the script?
It won’t be easy. The #18 Mountaineers are a legitimate top 25 team with a dynamic offense lead by the best QB in the Big East. Although there was significant turnover on the defense from last year, there are still some exceptional pieces left from the unit that was one of the top 5 in the country a year ago. Dana Holgorsen is a brilliant offensive mind whose resume reads like a who’s who of explosive offenses (Texas Tech, Houston, Oklahoma State).
All things considered, Geno Smith will be the best quarterback Maryland faces this entire season. He’s an efficient, accurate thrower, big enough that he’s difficult to bring down, and he didn’t particularly seem particularly vexed by the Maryland defense last year. As a sophomore, his 64.8 completion percentage was almost a full 8 points higher than Danny O’Brien’s. It was also better than Christian Ponder, Matt Barkley, and Ryan Mallett. He was only intercepted 7 times on his way to throwing 24 touchdowns. Quite simply, when Geno Smith was on the field, he routinely got the better of the defense rather than the other way around.
The spread offense installed by Dana Holgorsen means that a true #1 receiver isn’t a necessity, but junior Baltimore native Tavon Austin is widely regarded as the offense’s most dangerous playmaker. He reminds me a lot of Jacoby Ford, in that he’s a little guy (5’9”), but in open space he can burn just about everyone on this defense.
Arguably his biggest game came against Maryland last year with 7 catches for 106 yards and 2 touchdowns. He was deployed mainly as a receiver, most effectively on crossing routes where he had time to lose his defender and work in the open field. Stedman Bailey and Devon Brown are two more undersized but fast receivers, while Ivan McCartney’s 6’3” frame has made him a favorite target of Smith’s in the red zone (1 TD in each game so far this year). Overall, the secondary will have their hands full this week chasing these water bug receivers all over the field. They’re not going to turn into a phenomenal secondary overnight, so a lot will be on the defensive line and linebackers to pressure Geno Smith into early throws and hopefully mistakes.
What could present the biggest challenge for Maryland will be trying to keep Danny O’Brien upright. Pass-rushing specialist Bruce Irvin terrorized the Terrapins last year to the tune of 3 sacks, on his way to 14. Meanwhile on the other edge, Julian Miller provided 9 sacks of his own to make Irvin and Miller the most prolific pass-rushing teammates on any team in 2010. Maryland didn’t allow a sack against Miami, and even though the Canes were shorthanded, that’s still quite an accomplishment.
If they don’t allow a sack this week, the offensive line will have played exceptional, and Maryland should be in a position to win this game. Although it appears Crowton favors short drops and quick routes in his system, he will need to respect West Virginia’s significant presence on the edge when he does choose to have O’Brien drop deep to look for his targets.
Why Maryland can win this game:
With all of the talent West Virginia has, there are still several noticeable chinks in their armor. The most relevant of which this year has been their offensive impotence in first quarters. In two games against unimpressive competition, they’ve scored a total of 3 points in the 1st quarter combined. Particularly against Norfolk State, where they went three and out on their first three possessions, West Virginia has shown an inability to quickly find an offensive rhythm.
Although the issue has yet to rear its head this year, West Virginia had major issues protecting the football in 2010. Their 20 fumbles lost last year tied for the most in the country, including four coming against Randy Edsall’s UConn Huskies. The primary culprit was Smith, who fumbled 8 times last year resulting in 7 turnovers. Smith hasn’t put it on the ground this year, but he also has yet to face an even somewhat respectable defense. Maryland isn’t exactly the LSU of the east, but they do have athletes capable of getting past a WVU line that allowed 27 sacks last year, and has already allowed a sack each to Marshall and Nicholls State.
As explosive as the passing game has been in Morgantown, on the ground the Mountaineers have been almost completely toothless. Their rushing attack has ranged from weak (33 carries, 102 yards vs. Nicholls St.) to non-existent (26 carries, 42 yards vs. Marshall). Because this team apparently doesn’t have a capable feature back on the roster, it is extremely one-dimensional. Todd Bradford should be able to design a defensive game plan predicated almost solely on stopping the pass instead of having to worry about a Lamar Miller-like threat on the ground.
Lastly, this new Maryland spread attack will be the first major test for a secondary that was forced to replace a wealth of talent from 2010. Keith Tandy is an exceptional cornerback, but the only other returning starter in the 3-3-5 unit is hard-hitting safety Terence Garvin. Even without Ray-Ray Armstrong, it’s arguable that Miami’s secondary was more talented than what Maryland will face this weekend.
Four adjustments Maryland should make to win this game:
Kenny Tate should be emphasizing the S in STAR this week. After a mostly inconsequential performance against Miami, hopefully Maryland lets Tate play his most effective position on the field a few more times. This would appear to be the week to do it, considering the need for run support isn’t pressing. Maybe more nickel and other sub packages will see Tate roaming the secondary
There needs to be pressure on the quarterback, by any means necessary. Stephen Morris had an eternity to go through his progressions in Week 1, and if the same time is allotted to Geno Smith, he will pick the defense apart like he did last year. However, his fumbling issues added provide evidence that if the Terps can get to him, it could produce a game-swinging turnover.
The running game doesn’t necessarily need to have a big day, but a few big plays would go a long way. Irvin is an extremely adept pass rusher, but he’s undersized, and at times can abandon his run responsibilities while trying to get a sack. A few effectively timed draws to Meggett or Pickett could yield expansive yardage if Irvin is too single-minded in his goal of getting to the QB.
A quietly major issue that the team had against Miami was poor coverage on kickoffs. Tavon Austin returns kicks for West Virginia, and is averaging a ridiculous 48 yards per return in 2011, while cashing one in for a touchdown against Marshall. Mistake-free football also entails limiting the big play in every facet of the game. There’s enough offense on this team as is, so letting West Virginia start every series on their own 40 would more than likely be disastrous
There’s no doubt in my mind that Maryland will need a few things to go their way to win this game. But as I showed above, West Virginia is guilty of letting much less talented teams hang around due to their fumbling issues, and early trouble diagnosing opponents’ initial defensive strategy. The gap in talent is not wide between WVU and UMD, so if they make key mistakes, this game will swing in Maryland’s favor. The Terps are going to need to provide multiple looks in the first quarter for Geno Smith, and most importantly wrap up to limit damage after the catch.
I had Maryland losing one of their first two games, mainly because I’ve seen them get waxed by West Virginia so many times. This game rests heavily on Todd Bradford drawing up a solid defensive game plan to keep West Virginia in check, which worries me a lot. If they keep WVU under 24 points, this is a Maryland win, if not they will be 1-1 going into the Temple game.
Although I think it’s somewhat crazy that Verlander could win the award this year, while Pedro’s 2000 season (8.88 K/BB?!) didn’t, there’s no point in continuing a stupid precedent. Verlander may have hit the perfect storm this year, producing not only a dominant pitching season, but also having the only other legitimate candidates playing on two teams (the Yankees and the Red Sox).
Ellsbury and Gonzalez are the leaders for the Red Sox, and they represent two different types of ball players. Ellsbury is a fantastic lead off hitter who has shown a surprising amount of power to go with his always exceptional fielding and speed (36 SB). Gonzalez’s power numbers haven’t been as advertised, but his .341 average leads baseball, and his 103 RBI’s are second. These guys are going to steal votes from each other because although I think Gonzalez is the more important player for Boston, there’s a strong argument to be made for Ellsbury, which will lead to some stolen votes.
The Yankees have the league leader in home runs and RBI’s, which usually means the trophy has more or less already been delivered. But there are rotten parts of Granderson’s resume. He’s 3rd in the American League in strikeouts behind Mark Reynolds and Adam Dunn. He hits .248 with RISP (Ellsbury hits .347; Gonzalez .333). And although he’s stolen 24 bases, he’s not particularly efficient at it, considering he’s been caught 10 times. There’s no denying that he’s having a very good season, but those are a few things that prevent it from being truly great. Verlander surpassed very good a long time ago.
Probably the most overlooked important stat when it comes to Verlander is how he deep he goes into games. It’s because of this that the Tigers can limit their bullpen, which has been borderline awful this year (28th in baseball in percentage of inherited runners scored, 23rd in bullpen ERA). The Yankees bullpen has overwhelmingly better numbers. His closest competition at pitcher is CC, and there’s evidence that CC might be wearing down (August ERA: 4.68), whereas Verlander has still been outstanding in the midst of a pennant race (August ERA: 3.12). And the biggest blemish with CC is his 1-4 6.39 ERA vs Boston. Verlander’s ERA’s vs. New York (4.50), Texas (2.00), and Boston (1.72) show he’s at his best against the best.
As for Bautista, I like him, he’s on my fantasy team, but since the All-Star break, Edwin Encarnacion has better numbers across the board. Tough to vote somebody MVP of the league when, for half of the season, they’re the second most valuable player on their own team.
For the first half of this season, Jose Bautista was the undisputed best offensive player in baseball. But what I meant to say was, in the second half, Edwin Encarnacion has been a more valuable player to the Blue Jays than Bautista. The argument can definitely be made about Bautista’s defense, which I understand is valuable, but it’s just above average, not amazing.
To the naked eye, Bautista’s 2nd half line is .254/8/24 to Encarnacion’s .307/9/25. I know these measurements aren’t the most accurate, but it’s a start. Bautista’s 2nd half on-base percentage – a huge part of what makes him so valuable – is only 2 points higher than Encarnacion’s (.407 to .405), while Encarnacion’s slugging percentage is 58 points higher (.558 to .500).
The culprit is mainly a terrible stretch from July 14 to August 12 (.197, 2 HR, 20 K, 18 BB), but even his August numbers (.261, 8 HR, 17 RBI, .421 OBP, 24 BB, 26 K) just show him as a good player since the break, not an MVP worthy one in my opinion.