Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Do the Yankees miss Derek Jeter?

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Since Derek Jeter went on the 15-day DL with a strained right calf, all the Yankees have done is go 10-3 without their captain. Does this mean they are better off without him?

The answer to that question depends heavily on which Jeter we're talking about. Are we looking at the Jeter who has hit .260 in 62 games this season with just two home runs, 20 RBI and a .649 OPS? Or are we talking about the Jeter who has hit .312 for his career with an .832 OPS?

New York is obviously better off with a healthy and productive Jeter in their lineup but he has been anything but this season. Eduardo Nunez has filled in capably at the plate since taking over at shortstop, batting .295 (13-44) with a homer, 4 runs and 4 RBI.

The Yankees have actually performed better as a lineup without Jeter, averaging a full run more per game (6.1 to 5.1) and hitting .288 compared to .249 in the 20 games Nunez has started. Nunez also has three errors since Jeter hit the DL, while the captain had just four all season before his injury.

Defense aside, this brings up a legitimate point about New York's lineup: The Yankees are better off with Nunez batting ninth than they are with Jeter batting first.

Forgive my potentially blasphemous words, but shouldn't Joe Girardi consider batting Jeter ninth when he returns?

Despite sabermetricians' best efforts, Jeter is an obvious upgrade defensively over Nunez, diminishing range aside. While Nunez has hit well over the past two weeks, Jeter is also a better hitter. If the Yankees lineup is better with Nunez ninth than it is with Jeter first, wouldn't it be even better with Jeter batting ninth?

Brett Gardner is the only prototypical leadoff man on the Yankees roster. His .360 OBP this season trumps Jeter's .324 on-base percentage and that includes an awful April where people were questioning his spot in the lineup. In limited at-bats against left-handed pitching, Gardner's OBP is actually higher (.386) than it is against right-handers.

There's no need for a leadoff platoon at the top of the Yankees order. Gardner should be the man at the top and while Jeter has been a No. 2 hitter for most of his career, Curtis Granderson is thriving in that spot this season.

With the copious power running through the Yankees lineup in the next six spots, Jeter batting ninth makes perfect sense. He still has enough speed and base-stealing ability that he won't slow down Gardner and who else would you want to turn your lineup over?

If he doesn't hit, it's not a big deal; you don't expect heavy offensive contributions from your last hitter anyway.

If Jeter was truly a great Yankee captain, he would recognize that he hurts the team batting leadoff if he's not hitting .300 and I can't find many people who think he's still a .300 hitter. I sure don't.

Jeter has been the consummate team player throughout his career but he can add to his Yankee legacy by being open to batting ninth. New York may be in first place in the AL East right now, but they are not a championship-caliber team with a .260 leadoff hitter who has a home run in just one game this season.

Do the right thing, Derek. Offer to bat ninth when you come back, because Joe Girardi does not have the stones to pencil you in there. Your team will be better off and you just may have another ring on your finger.

Friday, June 24, 2011

What to make of Iman Shumpert?


The Knicks surprised everybody last night by drafting Georgia Tech guard Iman Shumpert. As an avid college basketball fan and somebody who follows the sport almost religiously, I can honestly say my first reaction was, "What?!? Who?!? The Knicks did it AGAIN!"

While I didn't have the opportunity to catch a Yellow Jacket game this season and know little first-hand about Shumpert, it's obvious that he has great size for a point guard at 6'5''. He's a gifted athlete and his size and length will allow him to guard up to three positions in the NBA.

Replacing the outgoing Donnie Walsh, interim general manager Glen Grunwald said in an interview after the pick that the Knicks wanted to upgrade their defense and they expected Shumpert to help in that regard. The problem with that statement is that the best perimeter defender in the draft went right after the Knicks' pick, with the Wizards drafting Florida State's Chris Singleton.

I understand Singleton is a forward with no jump shot and the Knicks already have Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire locked in at the forward positions. But like Shumpert, Singleton has size (6'9'') and the perimeter defensive ability to guard point guards, shooting guards and small forwards.

Also like Shumpert, Singleton has no jump shot. Although Walsh has claimed Shumpert has improved his shot, I'd like to see it in game action at real-time speed before I make any judgments. Since I admittedly haven't seen Shumpert play, I can't do that now.

The difference between Shumpert and Singleton, and the reason the Knicks likely took Shumpert, is the potential to play the point. Singleton is a better defender but Shumpert can handle the ball. ESPN's Chad Ford said this about Shumpert: "If he can learn to run a team and shoot the ball, he can be a monster in the NBA. But right now, that's a big if. "

It seems the Knicks envision Shumpert as a lock-down defender on the outside and their potential future point guard, especially if Chauncey Billups proves to be the solid mentor he was to Toney Douglas last season. A future Knicks backcourt with Shumpert, Douglas and Landry Fields, assuming the Knicks don't land a big-name point guard, could be an excellent defensive trio.

Singleton wasn't the only player the Knicks passed on that would have filled a need. Morehead State rebounding machine Kenneth Faried was still on the board and went five picks later to Denver at 22.

Faried's boundless energy and tenacious defense was on display in the NCAA tournament, when his block in the final seconds of round one (or do I mean round two?) led to Morehead State's shocking upset of Louisville. But he's only 6'7'' and the Knicks need a center, not a power forward.

Regardless of his ability to rebound and defend, his height was the likely reason the Knicks went with Shumpert. Faried isn't likely to be a starter in the NBA but having him and Stoudemire on the floor would require Stoudemire to defend the opposing center, which isn't something the Knicks wanted.

Speaking of centers, secound-round pick Josh Harrelson is worth a mention. The Knicks traded with Charlotte to get Harrelson, who has size and really stepped his game up in the NCAA Tournament for Kentucky.

This may just be the Syracuse fan in me, but I think the Knicks should give Rick Jackson a look as an undrafted free agent. They worked him out previously and I thought there was a chance they would trade into round two to get him, but they didn't have to.

Jackson is big, strong and knows how to rebound and defend. He improved drastically from his junior year to his senior year and is a hard worker. Those are the players that make it in the NBA at the back of a big-man rotation, and I'd like to see Jackson get a shot.

Overall, my thoughts on New York's draft have fluctuated. At first, it was shock, disbelief and disappointment, mainly because I knew little about Shumpert. As the hours went on and now, a day later, I can understand what the Knicks were thinking. I may not agree with it, but I can understand it.

They didn't pass up any potential superstars, that's for sure. In a weak draft, they picked a player who fills a positional need, a defensive need and has the upside to be a "monster" (Chad Ford's words, not mine). Ford gave the Knicks draft a B- and I'll copy his grade for the moment.

With the draft in the books, the next question becomes: Will there be an NBA season? Charles Barkley says no, while Ric Bucher says a 50-game season is the best-case scenario. The Knicks are rooting for no lockout, as they can't afford to lose a season in the middle of their stars' primes.

A lockout would also put Billups one year closer to retirement and hurt Shumpert and Douglas, as they will have less time on the court to learn from Billups. James Dolan should be one of the NBA owners pushing for a deal although with his history, he'll do the wrong thing. He always does - what would a Knicks article be without a shot at Dolan?

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Rise of Rory: Will he be better than Tiger?

(photo courtesy of

At the Masters in April, Rory McIlroy had a four-stroke lead heading into Sunday. But the 21-year-old suffered through one of the worst final-round collapses in major history, shooting an 80 and losing by 10 strokes.

Just two months later and a year older (technically, since his birthday was May 4), McIlroy was again in an enviable position through three rounds of a major tournament. His eight-stroke lead heading into Sunday's final round at the U.S. Open would seem safe for any other golfer but with his Masters collapse fresh in the mind of many, including himself, there was reason to think the tournament wasn't quite over yet.

McIlroy, who called his Masters meltdown "a character-building day" back in April, proved that statement true by shooting a 69 in the final round to set the U.S. Open scoring record, one of 12 marks he set this weekend. McIlroy also set the 36-hole and 54-hole scoring record, among others.

Just eight months older than Tiger Woods was when Woods destroyed the Masters in 1997, the comparisons between McIlroy and Woods have been constant in the past day. If you're tired of hearing about it, please stop reading now.

Last year's Open winner Graeme McDowell was quoted as saying McIlroy was the best player he's ever seen, high praise for such a young pro from a fellow major champion. While Woods was a prodigy seemingly from birth, McIlroy has burst onto the PGA scene with much less hype than Woods did, possibly because he doesn't have a father who liked to fuel such a moniker.

The resolve McIlroy showed in his first major following the Masters was impressive to say the least, as similar major meltdowns have crashed the careers of other very talented golfers. That's the first sign to me that McIlroy is on top to stay.

Golf experts everywhere are saying he has the prettiest swing they have ever seen and are even throwing his name around as the premier challenger to Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 major victories.

Does all this sound familiar? Wasn't this the same hoopla surrounding Woods early in his career? The difference is, McIlroy has a much better head on his shoulders than Woods at the same age and even now.

Woods would have never handled an epic collapse the way McIlroy did after the Masters. McIlroy was more than willing to face the media and took it as a learning experience, which only spurred his performance this weekend.

We've seen Woods' media ineptitude plenty of times, from the start of his career until the infamous incident with his ex-wife two years ago. Woods' fragile psyche has yet to recover and, despite being just four majors short of Nicklaus, he may never reach the same heights he once achieved or the records many claimed he was a lock for.

McIlroy is the new Woods and frankly, he's easier to root for. I haven't seen him snap at anybody for taking his picture or act out at the attention he's received, positive or negative. I see no reason that McIlroy can't continue his rapid ascent to the top of the golf world, where he is now ranked as the fourth best player on tour.

If I had any advice to McIlroy it would be this: Don't follow in the footsteps of Tiger Woods; make your own path. And please, don't get married until you've won your 19th major.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Heat blow Game 2, can they recover?

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Up 15 points with seven-plus minutes to play after a Dwyane Wade three-pointer, the Miami Heat looked well on their way to a 2-0 series lead and being a near-lock for the 2011 NBA title. My friend who was watching the game with me even went as far as to say, "This game is over" and many other people posted Facebook statuses proclaiming Miami champions of the world.

That last part may be a bit sarcastic, but as instantly as those statuses hit the Internet the Heat cooled down in a major way. Dallas went on an 8-0 run as Miami didn't score for three minutes, finally getting points on a pair of LeBron James free throws.

The Mavericks continued to clamp down on defense, forcing the Heat into bad offensive possessions with little ball movement and making them settle for deep jump shots as the shot clock ran down. A Jason Terry steal with a minute left led to a three-on-one fast break that ended with Dirk Nowitzki finishing over Chris Bosh to tie the game at 90.

The rest is history, as Nowitzki used a beautiful Tyson Chandler screen to make a wide-open three with 26 seconds left. But a defensive breakdown off of the ensuing inbounds pass left Mario Chalmers wide open to tie the game, which he did.

Nowitzki once again beat Bosh at the basket on the final possession and Dwyane Wade's desperation three-pointer at the buzzer hit back iron. With a 22-5 run in the final 7:13, the Mavericks kept their championship hopes alive. And by taking their foot off the gas pedal too soon, the Heat let a golden opportunity slip past them.

Some of you may be thinking that Dallas went up 2-0 at home on Miami in 2006 and lost the next four games, so it's crazy for me to say a 2-0 lead was impossible to overcome. I just didn't think Dallas could beat Miami three times in a row, even on their home court. Now they don't have to.

That's a huge boon to a team that relies on its bench for so much. I'm a firm believer that role players play better at home and Jose Juan Barea is a perfect example of that. If you don't believe me, check out the stats from his last four road playoff games and his last four home playoff games. It's a telling story, especially if you've watched him struggle in the first two games of this series.

Peja Stojakovic, another key bench player, didn't score a point in the two games in Miami. If Dallas can win on the road in impressive, comeback fashion with just their top five players playing well, are they really going to drop two out of three at home when they get their bench and their crowd going?

Miami is lucky the NBA Finals format is 2-3-2 rather than 2-2-1-1-1. If Dallas was going home for just two games, this series could easily be 3-1 heading back to South Beach. It's just difficult to convince me that any NBA team can beat James and Wade three straight times, home court or not.

Everything you heard before the series started and after Game 1 was about Miami and their new-found ability to close out games. But nobody was talking about Dallas' ability to do the same; they were the only other team in this year's playoffs to consistently close out opponents and take advantage when other teams didn't finish against them.

Yes, the Heat blew last night's game in epic fashion, but the Mavericks saw an opportunity present itself and took control on both ends of the court. Teams like Oklahoma City and Chicago didn't, because they aren't championship-caliber yet. Dallas is, and many people overlooked that fact heading into the series.

I heard many people saying the Heat were going to win this series in five games or even sweep Dallas, which proves that people were getting way too caught up in the Heatles hysteria. Miami is a great team that has beaten a bunch of really good teams so far, just like Dallas. Now, the only two great teams in this year's playoffs have a battle on their hands.

I didn't expect Dallas to steal a game in Miami and now that they have, the Heat will probably need seven games to close out the Mavericks unless they find a way to steal two in Dallas. I think the momentum from Game 2 will carry over enough for the Mavericks to take Game 3, but the Heat should bounce back in one of the following two games.

That means this series will go back to Miami 3-2 in favor of Mark Cuban's Mavs and I think whoever wins Game 6 will take the title. Which makes my revised prediction: Heat in 7 (Honorable Mention: Mavericks in 6).