Saturday, April 28, 2012

Let The NBA Playoffs Begin!

Because it gives people like myself a chance to do prediction posts. Easy content.

I should be more excited, and I am actually, it's just I'm not going to get to see any of the games. So, much like the regular season, I'm stuck following the scores online. Which puts me at a certain distance from the proceedings.

Bulls vs. Sixers: The 76ers apparently preferred this matchup to playing Miami. I guess they figure they have a better chance against a team built around working really hard on defense than on a team reliant on two extraordinarily good players (and one other good player). I don't think it'll make much difference in the long-run. The Bulls are similar to the Sixers, only better. Bulls in 5.

Heat vs. Knicks: It's hard for me to know what to make of this one, since the Knicks' roster has been through so much upheaval with injuries, player movement and whatnot. I'm sure Carmelo will be looking to have a big series, though I question whether that'll be good for the Knicks. As long as he doesn't start forcing things in an attempt to outdo LeBron, it should be OK. If Amar'e is close to healthy he could have a big series, but I still feel the Knicks are a little too shaky defensively to win the series. Heat in 6.

Pacers vs. Magic: No Dwight Howard doesn't seem like a good thing for Orlando. Then again, they're contending with Roy Hibbert in the middle, not David Robinson. I imagine Hibbert will do some damage, but I wouldn't expect him to go off for for 40 points and 20 boards or anything like that. I figure there'll be at least one game where Orlando's 3-point shooters can't miss, and perhaps a second one (or just a game where Indiana comes out flat) as well. Pacers in 6.

Celtics vs. Hawks: Boston is the 4 seed, but Atlanta has the better record and home court. This being Atlanta, I'm not sure home court will count for anything with them. There might easily be more Celtic fans at Games 1 and 2. That being said, I don't expect this to be a cakewalk for Boston. Atlanta's a big younger, probably not as worn down from the compressed schedule, and most of their key players are at least old hands as far as first round playoff series go. I'm curious to see if the Hawks repeat last year's tendency to alternate games where they're really impressive, with ones where they hardly bother to show up. Either way, I think the Celtics can lock down sufficiently on defense to pull this off. Celtics in 7.

Spurs vs. Jazz: The question is whether Utah has the interior size to exploit the Spurs like Memphis did last year. They have Al Jefferson, Millsap, Favors, and Kanter. I don't think any of those guys are on Zach Randolph's level as interior presences, but combined, they might be enough. Problem is, the Spurs love to use the pick and roll, and the Jazz stink at guarding it. I think it's more likely that San Antonio can figure out how to occasionally muffle Utah's post game, than Utah magically figures out how to defend the pick and roll. Spurs in 5.

Thunder vs. Mavericks: My gut instinct is the young Thunder can run the geezer Mavs off the court. The Mavs don't have the interior defense they had last year, nor do they seem to have the complimentary scorers for Dirk this year. Then again, one of the biggest stars for them against the Lakers was Peja, and nobody was expecting anything from him. Plus, we don't know how steady James Harden's going to be feeling, and if he's not his usual self, does OKC have another scoring threat after Durant and Westbrook? Those guys can't play every single minute of every game. Someone else would have to score sometime. Eh, I think the Thunder have enough to get by Dallas, but it's as much because of how poorly the Mavs have done putting together a title defense. Thunder in 6.

Lakers vs. Nuggets: I guess Gallinari's the guy who benefits from the absence of Metta World Peace. I'm not sure he can go off for enough points to offset the Lakers' interior advantage. That's assuming, of course, that Kobe doesn't start demanding the ball so much it marginalizes Bynum and Gasol. If the Lakers have several games where Gasol only shoots 10 times because Kobe's jacking up 30 shots in an effort to prove it's still his team, Denver might have a chance. But I'm not sure their depth is going to win out (though I'd like for it to). Lakers in 5.

Grizzlies vs. Clippers: Memphis has tenacious perimeter defenders, and with Randolph getting stronger, their interior presence is increasing. The Clippers have basically two top-notch players in Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, each with their own caveats. Paul's is that because of his knee he tends to hold back until it's absolutely necessary, which ought to leave him with something in the tank for the postseason, but also raises the possibility of games getting out of hand before he realizes he needs to shift into fifth gear. Griffin's a poor post defender, which is troubling since he'll be stuck guarding either Z-Bo or Marc Gasol if they play together, and he can't shoot free throws, so you can't really give him the ball in the last five minutes of a close game. Especially since you know teams are going to foul him really hard anyway, because they don't like his theatrics and showoff tendencies. Then there's the specter of Vinny del Negro as coach. I think the Clippers are going to get bounced quickly. Grizzlies in 5.

There's probably going to be at least one sweep, if not more in the first round, but I didn't feel right picking one. We'll see how I do.

Saturday, April 07, 2012

If You Needed More About How Unusual A Player Albert Pujols Is

There was an interesting thing I noticed over the course of that last little study I did. The Cardinals have essentially had five first basemen that stand head and shoulders above the rest: Keith Hernandez, Jack Clark, Gregg Jefferies, Mark McGwire, and Albert Pujols. Of course, they aren't all created equal. Jefferies lags behind Hernandez, Clark, and McGwire, worth about 1 win less per 162 games than each of them. And those three are well behind Albert (worth about 3 wins less per 162 games). But what was interesting was you can sort of group them as players, Hernandez and Jefferies, Clark and McGwire.

Clark and McGwire are the more traditional 3 True Outcomes (HR, K, BB) sluggers with limited speed and defensive abilities. Over 162 games, Jack Clark would average 688 plate appearances. And 311 of those would end with one of the 3 True Outcomes (45%). For McGwire, it's 365 of 665 (54.9%). In contrast, only 25.4% of Hernandez' PAs ended with one of those outcomes (178 of 700), and just 18.3% (128 of 701) of Jefferies' PAs. Both Clark and McGwire were poor defensively, Clark being 11 runs below average total over his 3 years as starter, McGwire a -28 over his 4 years. They had limited speed (2 SBs/162 for Clark, 1 for McGwire), and both were injury prone. Clark played fewer than 2 full seasons worth of games in three, and McGwire played in just 57% of the Cards' games his last two seasons (several of those in 2000 as a pinch hitter).

In contrast, Hernandez and Jefferies are more limited power, high contact hitters, who supplement their value with speed, and in Hernandez' case, defense. Jefferies was a .335 hitter, Hernandez .306. But their ISOs were both around .140 or .150, compared to Clark's .248, and McGwire's .411. But Hernandez averages about 18 SBs (albeit a 65% success rate), and Jefferies 38 SBs, with an 80.55% success. Jefferies is a slightly minus defender (-4 runs over 2 seasons), whereas Hernandez is excellent (+36 across 3 years).

What's most interesting is how Albert is some odd amalgamation of all 4 of them. In his 8 years as starting first baseman, Albert had a .326 average (Jefferies), but he walked an average of 99 times in 711 PAs (Hernandez, who averaged 97 in 700 PAs). But combined with his batting average, that gives Albert a .422 OBP, halfway between Clark (.413) and McGwire (.429). His slugging is .620, which is still over sixty points behind McGwire's, but almost 100 points ahead of Clark's. His ISO is .294, which is much further behind McGwire's but still well ahead of Clark's. Even so, Albert's Three True Outcomes score is only 29%, much closer to Keith Hernandez than the other two. Defensively, Albert was worth 98 runs above average over his 8 years. That's +12.25 runs per season, which is slightly better than Hernandez (+12), and much better than the others, who are all varying degrees of below average (from -2 to -7). Albert only averaged 10 SBs per 162 games, but his success rate is 73.8%, basically exactly halfway between Hernandez and Jefferies.

Also, it's worth noting the Cardinals didn't run as much during Albert's years. The Hernandez Cards stole 405 (135 per season) bases from 1980-1982, 45 (15 per season) by Hernandez, and that's with Herzog not arriving until partway through 1980, and 1981 being shortened by a strike. The Jefferies' Cards stole 229 in 2 years (115) - one of which was also strike shortened - and Jefferies accounts for 58 (29). The Albert Cardinals stole 593 in 8 years (74), of which 76 were by Albert (9.5). Going by that, Hernandez accounts for 11% of the team's SBs, Jefferies 25%, and Albert 13%.

So he hit for contact like Jefferies, drew walks and played defense like Hernandez. He got on-base and hit for power better than Clark, but not quite at McGwire's level. Compared to his team, he stole bases like Hernandez, but at a better success rate. And he stayed healthy pretty much throughout, or healthy enough to keep playing.

Labels: ,