Tag Archives: Atlanta

Retract of a Retract, Paul Johnson MUST Go. No, Really

The last few weeks have put me back on the fire Paul Johnson train, and really, I never should have gotten off. I was blinded by the bright lights and shiny objects that were distracting us from the truth of this program while we beat Georgia and won the Orange Bowl.

Most defenses of Paul Johnson begin with bringing up the ACC championship in 2009, the two victories against Georgia (one of which occurred in 2008), and the trio of 9 win seasons culminating in a top 25 post season ranking (Two of which came in 2008 & 2009) during his tenure.

That’s wonderful. Except this is college football, where once the players under the old coaching staff leave, they must be replaced by those of your choosing. You cook and buy the groceries in college football. Being able to make gourmet meals out of what someone else brought into the kitchen is nice. But then what? What do you do when you have to buy the groceries and then make the meals? Being the sous chef in someone else’s kitchen is one thing. Running the show yourself is a different ballgame.

And what we’ve found is Paul Johnson does a fabulous job of taking someone else’s ingredients and preparing them in ways far superior to what his predecessor managed to accomplish. We’ve also found that when Paul Johnson buys the ingredients himself, he can’t prepare anything above a mediocre meal found at Applebee’s.

The numbers, simply put, do not lie. When Paul Johnson arrived at Georgia Tech he inherited a pretty talented roster thanks to Chan Gailey’s ability to recruit due to his NFL background and the fact that Tech was one of the upper echelon programs in the ACC. For the first two years of his tenure with guys like Demaryius Thomas, Jonathan Dwyer, Josh Nesbitt, Roddy Jones, Derrick Morgan, Mario Butler and Morgan Burnett, everything was roses, or oranges, as Tech not only snapped a seven-year losing streak to Georgia in year one under Paul Johnson, but also won an ACC championship in year two as they compiled a 20-7 overall record and went 12-4 in the ACC, with the victory over Clemson in the ACC championship game.

But something happened after that. Those players that Gailey recruited were leaving. The cupboard was bare of the talent brought in by Gailey and Paul Johnson was going to have to rely on his own players going forward. To say the results have taken a nosedive off the cliff would be a slight understatement.
Just consider his numbers since beating Clemson in the 2009 ACC Championship game (which, really, doesn’t actually even count anymore, just to throw even more fuel on that fire) in Tampa.

Overall Record: 41-33

Record vs ACC: 25-15 (two ACCCG losses to Florida State)

Record vs FBS Opponents: 34-32

Record vs Power 5 (ND/BYU): 29-31

This does include the first six games of the 2015 campaign, which, with any reasonable look at the next six games and at best one could see Georgia Tech going 3-3 in those games, with the distinct possibility of going 0-6 being a legitimate fear. But yep, you’re reading that right. Against the big boys of college football, the teams that really matter, Paul Johnson, since winning the ACC championship with Chan Gailey’s players, including the Orange Bowl loss to Iowa that season, is two games under .500 against Power 5 teams and BYU and Notre Dame.

And lets not forget who some of these losses came against. There was the loss in 2010 to a Kansas team that is the definition of atrocious program, and finished 3-9 that season. Both BYU losses came against a Cougars team that wound up 8-5. And of course there’s the real kicker, the blowout loss to Middle Tennessee State in 2012. And no, this wasn’t a Middle Tennessee State team that was a mid major school having a banner year. The Blue Raiders went 8-4 that season and lost to Louisiana Monroe and Arkansas State.

And the rivals?

vs Miami: 1-4

vs Virginia Tech: 1-4

vs Clemson: 2-4

vs Georgia: 1-4

And these numbers of course INCLUDE the 11-3 record in 2014 that looks more and more like an anomaly. Can you imagine what these numbers would look like if for giggles we just ignored them (which, you should ignore the outlier when analyzing statistics) and took them out of the equation? Well, imagine no more.

Overall Record: 30-30

Record vs ACC: 19-13

Record vs FBS Opponents: 24-29

Record vs Power 5 (ND/BYU): 21-28

Not to mention, wipe out the only wins against Georgia, Virginia Tech and Miami.

If you look back at Georgia Tech’s recent coaching history, all of it since Bobby Dodd, actually, you can see that Johnson really doesn’t compare all that favorably to the better names on that list. In his first seven seasons Johnson has had three six loss campaigns. Only William Alexander and Bud Carson have more, and once the Jackets drop their sixth game this year, Johnson will tie Carson for the second most six loss seasons in school history. And he’ll have done it in just 8 years on the job by accomplishing the feat in half the seasons he’s been on The Flats.

But perhaps even more noteworthy is to look at when the six loss seasons occur. Bill Curry lost six or more games three times while he was at Georgia Tech, but remember he went 2-19-1 in his first new years getting the program out of Pepper Rodgers’ wishbone offense (that’s what we have to look forward to once Johnson is finally let go, but that’s an entirely different animal to approach altogether), giving him 2 six loss seasons in his first two years while inheriting someone else’s players and installing his system. Curry won 29 games over the next five seasons (not a remarkable record, by any means) and only had 1 six loss season over his final five years.

Bobby Ross came in to inherit what Curry had left behind and the Jackets promptly went 5-17 in his first two years at the helm. They wouldn’t lose six games in a season again under Ross.

We’re just going to skip Bill Lewis because, well, can’t we just skip the Bill Lewis era? Let’s move onto his replacement, coming into a giant mess. George O’Leary inherited a team that had just gone 1-10, winless against Division 1-A (FBS) competition the year before. O’Leary would start his career at Tech by going 11-11. And having the only six loss season of his tenure.

Chan Gailey arrived in 2002, and as many coaches are prone to do, came with his own system. While using his predecessor’s players, Gailey lost six games in each of his first two seasons. He only lost six in a season once in his final four years at the helm.

And that brings us to Johnson. Johnson comes in, takes over Gailey’s players and wins 20 games. Remarkable. It certainly showed Chan could recruit. The problem is, whereas most coaches start to see more success once they have their players in their system, at leas the successful coaches do, Johnson has done the opposite. He’s reversed the trend. The more of his players he got, the worse the program became. Johnson’s six loss seasons have come in year 3, 5, and 6. And his fourth is going to come in year 8. That would be 4 six loss seasons in six years. The six years after the two transition years where you expect most coaches to struggle the most.

And yet, people will vehemently defend the employment of Paul Johnson. It’s astonishing, really.

One argument people will make is that the 2014 season was one of the greatest seasons in school history. Well, if you consider one of the 25 best seasons in school history to be that big of an accomplishment, then okay. After all, there was no conference championship and there was no national championship. 11 games were indeed won, by playing 14. The winning percentage of the 2014 team was only the 24th best in school history. I’m sure some of Heisman’s, Alexander’s and Dodd’s, even Ross’ and O’Leary’s teams could have benefited from playing an extra game against a patsy to bolster the record. So, you know, the whole double-digit win thing doesn’t really do much for me.

Seven different times Georgia Tech posted a higher winning percentage than it did in 2014 AND won a major bowl game. Take into account two bowl losses and that number moves to nine. And that does NOT include the national championship seasons of 1917 and 1990. So even if you REALLY stretch it out, even with your best argument, 2014 barely makes it into the top ten of Georgia Tech seasons. So, lay off the kool-aid like Johnson had the most amazing year the school has ever seen.

And we can also conveniently ignore the fact that 2015 is shaping up to be one of the worst years in school history. Should Tech manage two more victories and finish 4-8, that will be the 100th best winning percentage in school history. That would mean only 14 years were worse. I think that kind of cancels out 2014. Never mind that I’m not sure I even see two more wins on this schedule. So, if your argument is centered around how great 2014 was, you can stop there.

Others will point to the three trips to the ACC championship game. I’m just going to say right now, if you, in any way, use the 2012 season to argue why Paul Johnson should be here, you probably should never speak about the game of football again; Except to say, “I don’t know anything about football.” Yet, in a season where we only made the conference title game because TWO teams in front of us were ineligible, and a year in which we had to seek a special waiver to make a bowl game because we finished the year 6-7, with only five wins against FBS opponents, people will point to our “bowl streak” and our two trips to the ACC title game in the past three years as reasons Paul Johnson should stay. I suppose fans like that actually deserve the mediocrity of Paul Johnson.

The difference in the mindset of the fan bases in Athens and Atlanta is amazing, when you think about it. Georgia Tech goes 11-3, follows it up with a 2-4 start, and fans are still beating the Paul Johnson drum like Mark Richt beats Paul Johnson. Meanwhile in Athens, despite a 4-2 start following a 10-3 season and top ten final ranking, fans are once again calling for Mark Richt’s head. Baffling, isn’t it?

Maybe Paul Johnson is the genius after all. He manages to be mediocre year after year, yet he takes advantage of the insecurities and inferiority complex within the Georgia Tech athletic department that result in their willingness to hand out silly contract extensions to any coach who ever does anything remotely good.

What happens at Georgia Tech is the Georgia Tech athletic department becomes that guy who is love struck by someone he ultimately can do much better than. And finally, just as that guy decides he’s got to break the news to her that he’s going to have to move on from the relationship, Paul Johnson becomes that girl that gives you the best sex of your life and the next thing you know, you’re at Shane Company’s newest location in Kennesaw buying an engagement ring.

This isn’t to bash Paul Johnson, or to say he’s the worst thing to ever happen to Georgia Tech. He’s a fantastic chef who can take someone else’s ingredients and do amazing work with them. But when asked to buy his own groceries, the meals he turns out are pedestrian, at best. Occasionally he’ll stumble upon something great that makes you give him a second chance running the restaurant. At this point, it’s time to cut bait and find someone who can consistently produce a better product, it’s just that simple.

Even if Johnson somehow wins 3 of the final 6 games this year, the bowl streak would come to an end. Even more interesting would be that over the last six seasons of his tenure at Tech, Johnson will have amassed 44 wins.

Chan Gailey’s career win total at Georgia Tech before being fired after six seasons?

44

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Enough About “Bandwagon” Hawks Fans, Hypocrites

If you’re a Hawks fan I’m sure you’ve heard it enough to make you want to scream, you’ve probably been accused of being one, and you may very well be one, but enough is enough. I’ve had it with these fans of opposing teams chastising the city of Atlanta, the Hawks, and their fans, for being such “bandwagon” fans. I’m not saying this team doesn’t have plenty. News flash, EVERY winning team has bandwagon fans. It’s how it works. But to see these people sit up on their high horse as though they’re some sort of superior fan base has finally grasped at the last straw.

It’s time to set the record straight with some of these people. Granted, the truth may cause some to go into deep depression as it’s become very clear in my dealings with NBA fans that many, MANY, draw all of their sense of self worth from who their favorite basketball team is. It seems to be who defines them, as though being a fan of a select group of teams makes them a valuable person, even a superior person, especially to those who root for lesser peons on the NBA totem poll. Another news flash, you’re no better than us. At all.

We’re just going to forget that in the 1982-1983 & 1983-1984 seasons the almighty Chicago Bulls drew a grand total of 562,000 fans. TOTAL. For 82 home games. That’s an average of 6,854 a game. The year before His Airness arrived in the Windy City, the Bulls got a staggering 6,300 people a game in to watch them play. Right, only the Hawks have ever had attendance issues. From the Bulls 1966 entry into the league, until the final year B.MJ. they averaged 11,000 or more fans a game only twice in their history. In fact they averaged under 8,000 fans on six occasions. One third of their years of existence they couldn’t draw 8,000 fans a night. But yes, tell me more about how horrible Atlanta fans are.

Cleveland fans are even worse. The year before Lebron James was drafted the Cavaliers drew 11,496 fans a night. Do you know the last time the Atlanta Hawks drew that few? The 1985-1986 season. But the embarrassment doesn’t end their for Cleveland, oh no, it gets better. The 1982-1983 Cavaliers drew under 4,000 people a game. Yes, under 4,000. For a professional sports team. In the 80s. But I love hearing Cavs fans (who half were Heat fans a year ago) talk to me about poor fan support from Hawks fans, and about how they suddenly appeared out of nowhere. From the beginning of the 1980 season thru the conclusion of the 1984 regular season, Cleveland TOTALED 829,644 fans. For FOUR full seasons. Perspective? They drew more than that just in Lebron’s final season during his first tour of duty in Cleveland. But of course, all those Cavs fans showing up then were such life long fans who’d been supporting the team for decades, right?

Three times in a six year stretch in the early to mid 90s the Dallas Mavericks failed to draw 600,000 fans. More perspective? The Hawks haven’t missed that mark in a decade, the exception being the lockout season where they only played 33 home games, and the math indicating they would have surpassed 600,000 in that season as well.

Even a basketball hotbed like Detroit isn’t immune. Remember what they were before Isaiah Thomas showed up? They were so bad Isaiah adamantly didn’t want to be there, and for good reason. To that point the Pistons had only drawn 330,000 fans over a season once in their entire Detroit existence, and in 1980-1981 averaged a paltry 5,569 a night.

As recently as 2001-2002 the Houston Rockets were getting under 11,800 fans a game. Again, a number lower than anything the Hawks have drawn in almost 30 years, since the 1985-1986 season.

The 2007-2008 Pacers only averaged 12,221 a game. Again, since 1986, the Hawks have only had two seasons with poorer turnout than that.

And the Clippers? Don’t even get me started. They actually had an NBA franchise in the city of Los Angeles that couldn’t draw even 10k a night in the late 90s….. But they want to talk about Phillips Arena and how empty it has been in the past? Okay.

The Grizzlies have twice in the past 8 years drawn under 13,000. That’s something the Hawks have not done since 2002-2003.

The year the New Jersey Nets made their first of back to back NBA Finals appearances they drew under 14,000 a night. They had a winning product and still couldn’t put butts in seats. But only the Hawks have this problem, I know.

Keep in mind that the Atlanta Hawks have not been under 15,000 a game since the 2004-2005 season. Now consider that Philadelphia has been under that mark in five of the last eight seasons.

From 1982 thru 1988 the San Antonio Spurs never drew over 9,800 fans a night. In fact, the Spurs franchise didn’t crack the 12,000 a game mark until the 1989-1990 season. But I’m sure all the Spurs fans today were diehards through the 80s, right?

The point of this piece wasn’t to try and defend Hawks fans, or to make them seem like the greatest fans the world has ever known. Not at all. The point was simply to point out the hypocrisy coming out of the mouths of fans from other teams who are so quick to lambaste and ridicule the Hawks based on a lack of recent fan support. I’ve already touched on the reasons for such a lack of support, and the consistently filled arena currently speaks to a forgiveness from the city that was two decades coming. But the point still remains, these other fans should probably refrain from throwing stones from glass houses.

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We do it for…

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For every non Braves fan who thinks it’s a racist hand thing, and for the Braves who become sick when they hear the chop now, we do it for you.

For the Eagles who couldn’t make a 43 yard field goal,

For Miami, who choked a huge lead away,

For Clemson, who couldn’t be beat in regulation, but could in extra time,

For Louisville, teased by the mob,

For Notre Dame and curious offensive pass interference calls, we do it for you.

For Savannah State, who never should’ve endured such humiliation,

For Florida who had to have Will Muschamp,

For Mark Richt, we do it for you.

For Jordan Lynch and your career ending that way,

For Joe Hamilton who should’ve had a Heisman,

For Calvin Johnson having to endure Reggie Ball, costing you a Heisman too,

For Reggie Bush having to give his Heisman back, we do it for you.

For every Tar Heel or Auburn fan who has heard a program like Florida State take shots at your program,

For the programs who don’t just say they have integrity, we do it for you.

For people who hate Danny Kannell and his SEC hatred,

For Dillard’s,

For every Publix, or Kroger, or Food Depot who has been stolen from, we do it for you.

For the kid who is told he can play on defense but wants the ball, to play quarterback even, we do it for you.

For so called basketball schools,

For Vanderbilt and Northwestern, we do it for you.

For all who have been called a nerd,

For the forty year old virgins, we do it for you.

For those who hate the Florida State fan with Cowboys hat and Yankees jacket, we do it for you.

For those sick of seeing them squeak by everyone, we do it for you

For any girl who said no and nobody listened, we do it for you.

America! We do it for you!

But most of all, for you desperate for a magical moment sports fans in the state of Georgia, we do it for you.

More than that, for you cursed Atlantans, we do this for US!

SATURDAY NIGHT, WE ARE ALL JACKETS!

NOW LET’S ALL SING THE GREATEST FIGHT SONG IN THE WORLD

I’m a ramblin’ wreck from…

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A Brave Take Over in the All-Star Game?

For discussion purposes, which Braves do you think deserve to be in Kansas City, and which ones should be starting?

Honestly, I think only one Brave truly deserves to start, and that’s Michael Bourn. I absolutely believe he deserves to be the starting center fielder for the National League. I’ll argue that Ryan Braun and Melky Cabrera should probably be flanking him.

Bourn has been everything we were hoping for when we traded for him last season. He’s been nothing short of outstanding with the glove, being arguably the best defensive outfielder in the league. Offensively he’s also more than held his own, being a top 15 player in the league with the bat. His value would probably even be increased were it not for a handful of shoddy calls on stolen base attempts during the course of the season.

While his numbers don’t have the sexiness of a Braun, or Joey Votto, his defense coupled with his offense make Bourn one of the league’s most valuable players and should have his name in the MVP discussion. It will be interesting to see what happens if this team does wind up contending for the division in September and how the voters treat Bourn.

Bourn however is just part of a phenomenal outfield, quite possibly the best outfield this franchise has ever fielded. It may not have the brute power and the pure offensive greatness of the 2003 unit, but defensively this trio of Bourn, Jason Heyward and Martin Prado may more than make up for that. Not to mention, offensively, they aren’t exactly chop liver. The question is, are the other two going to be all-stars?

I feel that Jason Heyward, with the run he’s gone on lately, has played himself into the All-Star game. Outfield in the National League is exceptionally crowded though, so it will be interesting to see if he gets in. What separates Heyward from the others isn’t necessarily something that usually gets a player into the All-Star game. Heyward’s exceptional on the base paths and in the field. While he trails guys like Carlos Beltran, Andrew McCutcheon and Matt Holiday in offensive production, he run circles around them defensively. Will it matter? It should. Especially now that the offensive numbers are coming around to the defense.

Heyward’s arguably the closest thing this team has to a national superstar outside of Chipper Jones, so if he keeps his performance up, and the team stays in contention, he may very well also have his name thrown into the MVP discussion.

Of course, many Braves fans will tell you Martin Prado is the team’s MVP, and his versatility might make them correct. Personally, I wouldn’t mind him playing some second base to give Uggla a spell some. But the love Braves fans have for one of the ultimate glue guys in the game isn’t enough to be an all-star.

However, with the game somewhat meaning something, though not necessarily to manager Tony LaRussa this year, Prado’s ability to play several positions might make it impossible to leave him off the squad. Of course, that’s not the only case Prado makes for being an all-star. He’s one of the better defensive outfielders in the league, in addition to his stellar .838 OPS. Overall, he, like the other two outfielders, is one of the more valuable players in the entire league. Throw in the versatility, and if all things are equal, the entire Atlanta Braves outfield will be in Kansas City.

What’s somewhat interesting is that with Melky Cabrera on his way, that’s four people who have manned the outfield for the Braves in the past 2 1/2 seasons that will be on the all-star team.

Dan Uggla is likely going to start at second base for the National League thanks to the fan vote. But, should he? I say no. Brandon Phillips, in my opinion SHOULD be the starting second basemen for the National League as I feel he is the most complete second basemen in the league. In fact, if Prado makes the team, it’s possible Uggla wouldn’t even be on the roster, and the National League would go with just the one second basemen and then use Prado as the backup.

That said, if you’re taking two second basemen, a strong case can be made for Uggla, as in the National League there are really only three all-star caliber second basemen in the league. Yes, Uggla strikes out a ton, and no his average that pops up on the screen isn’t exactly nice to look at, but looking deeper into things, he’s still a very good offensive player with his on base percentage thanks to newfound patience at the plate and his power. And at a position like 2nd base, that’s a nice, nice bonus to have. Defensively, he’s also not exactly been a problem, though it would be nice if he had more range to help offset Freddie Freeman’s lack of it.

Darwin Barney is phenomenal defensively, but his offensive game is still too lacking to be an all-star. Not only that, you gotta think Cardinal fans would be none too pleased if LaRussa decorated this all-star team with members of the Chicago Cubs.

However, there is one player out in the desert that makes a very, very good case for Aaron Hill, who since coming over from Toronto last year has been nothing but outstanding at the plate. Actually, now that I think about it, if Uggla weren’t to win the fan vote, I honestly don’t know that I’d put him on the squad. But that’s not something we have to worry about, as the fan vote will land him on the team, and starting.

Freddie Freeman currently sits second among first basemen in the fan voting, and that’s as close as he’ll get to the All-Star game. For some reason Fredi Gonzalez continues to bat him 3rd, despite the fact that right now he’s definitely not a three hitter. The power is nice, and when Freeman gets hot, he gets really hot. But he still makes way too many outs to be an all-star.

For what it’s worth, Andrelton Simmons and David Ross both have better oWAR numbers than Freeman does, and Randall Delgado is right there with him. That’s what happens when you make a lot of outs. He has 100 more plate appearances than Chipper Jones, yet he has the same number of walks. Until that changes, Freeman’s not going to be playing in any all-star games. Plus, Joey Votto plays his position, so the starting spot should be anchored down for years to come.

However, on the flip side of this coin is a dearth of big name guys to go. Consider that Lance Berkman has played in all of 13 games this year, yet he’s second in voting at first base. So who goes as Votto’s backup? Bryan LaHair probably should, but again, that whole Cubs thing may get in the way. Brandon Belt has quietly put together a solid year, but Freeman’s power numbers and RBIs might tilt the scales in his favor. However, when it comes to putting the sexy power numbers with a solid offensive game all around, former Brave Adam LaRoche may make his first appearance in the mid-summer classic.

At shortstop, Andrelton Simmons hasn’t played enough games to warrant all-star consideration, but, had he, one would think he’d be in the discussion. The National League isn’t exactly a hot bed for shortstops this year. When you think of the position, does anyone in the National League jump out at you as a sure-fire all-star game starter? Didn’t think so.

The race itself is a close one between Rafael Furcal and Troy Tulowitzki to get the fan vote, though Tulowitzki obviously is injured and won’t be playing in the game. Even if Furcal doesn’t get the vote, I expect LaRussa to nab his former shortstop and have him start. Starlin Castro has done enough offensively to go with his superior defensive skills to make his way on to the team as well, though Jed Lowrie certainly has done enough with the bat this year to keep his name in the conversation as well.

Brian McCann’s run of six straight all-star games will certainly come to an end this season. In fact, it can be argued McCann hasn’t been even a top five catcher in the National League this season. I expect LaRussa to take two backup catchers, and the three it should be are pretty clear-cut, in my opinion. Yadir Molina and Buster Posey are locked in a tight battle for the starting nod, and Carlos Ruiz should also be secure as an all-star.

Now comes the controversial topic of Chipper Jones. He’s made a late run, and is closing the gap on David Wright and Pablo Sandoval for a chance to start an all-star game in his swan song season. Performance wise, does he deserve to? Of course not. But sometimes the all-star game, and the selection process isn’t about performance, it’s about names, and sentimental favorites. Two things Chipper has going for him.

Another thing Chipper has going for him is, who else you gonna take? David Wright is the unquestionable rightful starter. In fact, as long as the Mets stay in contention, you have to consider him a heavy favorite to be the league’s MVP with the way he’s played thus far. But after him?

Yes, Pablo Sandoval has put together some solid numbers, but he really hasn’t been ALL that better than Chipper. If Chipper were marginally healthier in fact, the two would be much closer I believe in terms of production. In a surprise development, Chipper actually hasn’t been atrocious at third base defensively this year, he’s been solid. Sandoval though on the other hand has been absolutely pitiful. His terrible defense pretty much negates everything he does with the bat. So, you factor in the nostalgia, feel good, retirement aspect of Chipper, he’s probably got a spot reserved in Kansas City. And he may actually be deserving of it too.

Now, to the pitchers…

Going into the season we all thought this was a strength. Now, with the injury to Brandon Beachy, it’s pretty much all but assured only one Braves hurler will be in the all-star game.

Craig Kimbrel is as close to a lock as there is in the league, no sense even really discussing him. He’s become one of the most dominant closers in the entire league. The National League will do well to have him pitching the bottom of the 9th inning in Kansas City.

So, do any starters even warrant consideration? Maybe. Tim Hudson likely would if he’d been healthy to start the year and had more than five starts under his belt. He’s had his rough spots, but he’s been for the most part the typical Tim Hudson. Unfortunately, those bone spurs in his ankle aren’t going anywhere, so he’s somewhat of a question mark the rest of the year. He’s going to be a wildcard as we may have no idea what we’ll get out of him every time he takes the hill.

Tommy Hanson might get some consideration, but the National League is so deep in pitching, I just don’t see where there’s a spot for him. I can only see it if the rotations of other teams prevent some guys from playing in the game that otherwise would. Hanson hasn’t been bad this year at all, but he’s not been as good as we all expected when he first got called up. We were expecting an ace. What we have is a good number two, and very solid number three pitcher. That’s typically not an all-star. If Hanson could just learn to keep the ball in the park, it would help immensely. Consider he’s only allowed four fewer home runs than Mike Minor has. Ouch.

So there you have my evaluation of the chances of Braves players to make the all-star game. If I were betting, I’d say the locks are going to be Bourn, Uggla, Jones and Kimbrel, while Prado and Heyward SHOULD be joining them with Freddie Freeman having an outside chance to join them. If those who I think should make it, indeed do, that’s six all-stars, not bad.

However, what would make those six even more intriguing, consider the number of former Braves likely going. Adam LaRoche is a possibility at first base, while Rafael Furcal and Melky Cabrera are absolute locks. It’s conceivable that at any given time during the all-star game, every position but catcher will be manned by a Brave, or former Brave. Now wouldn’t that be wild?

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The Great Nate McLouth Tommy Hanson Debate

In this day and of instant gratification with just about everything, it comes as no surprise that instant conclusions are all the rage after the first week of the Major League Baseball season.

In general, these conclusions are simply panic-stricken fans making irrational, sometimes even idiotic, claims based on less than five percent of the season.

A word to the wise; chill out.

The baseball season is a long one, and as Tony LaRussa once said, “Great baseball players who have a bad week are still great baseball players”. Rushing to judgement is often a sure-fire way to make yourself look silly come July, and being the guy who once let go of Cliff Lee a long time ago, I know how this works.

However, this is not to say it’s always too early to feel confident in your conclusion about a player.

For the most part, all one needs to do is simply look at a players past before making ridiculous claims about how a player either a) needs to be traded immediately for a bag of popcorn, or b) is headed to the All-Star game.

When a player that has a track record of being an elite player gets off to an amazing start in the season, one can feel rather confident that their numbers at the end of the year will likely keep on pace with what has typically been the result.

However, when a player without a proven track record gets off to a heart, before suggesting they’ve suddenly uncovered something new and are set to bounce back with a great season, or suddenly found their groove, one must seriously consider scaling back the level of expectations placed upon a player. You might want to hold off on the all-star talk for a few weeks.

On the flip side of that very coin, when a player with a solid track record gets off to a slow start, it might be a good idea to consider what this player has done in the past before demanding this player be sent packing.

I bring this up because two names in particular seem to create a dividing line among Braves fans. These two have been lightning rods early in this 2011 Braves fans.

On one side, you have the camp that believes Nate McLouth is going to round out into a solid contributor to what they feel is a championship caliber club. They feel that McLouth will revert back to the hitter he was with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2008 and be a solid piece of the Braves lineup before the season is over.

Then you have those who have zero confidence in McLouth and would probably prefer to see Matt Young manning center field for the Braves.

 

This image of an exasperated Nate McLouth bears a striking resemblance to how many fans feel as well

 

 

With Tommy Hanson, it’s somewhat of the opposite. You have the sector of fans who feel is rather less than stellar start is an indication that the pitcher just doesn’t have it, and that the Braves should part ways with the youngster while he still has value.

On the opposite end of the spectrum are those that feel Hanson still has the makings of an ace, and that his 2010 season was actually pretty solid, and that he will more than adequately add to the pitching staff of a club expecting to go to the World Series. Their belief is that his struggles early in the season are minor, perhaps just coincidental, and nothing to be alarmed about.

Here’s where the two arguments differ though, and why in one player’s case, the gloom and doom is probably correct, while in the others, the glass empty is pure insanity at this point time.

Everyone, including yours truly, is waiting on, and yearning for, the Nate McLouth of 2008 to show up one day and starting being a power and speed threat for the Braves lineup.

However, there is a faction of people who simply no longer believe it’s going to happen. And as much as they’d like to be wrong, and as much as perhaps those on the other side of the fence wish to disagree, the numbers say they are right.

Consider for instance that the average big league player strikes out 20.7% of his times to the plate. The bottom tenth percentile come in striking out at a clip of 27.5%, or worse.

McLouth has twice in the past four seasons has twice been over 23%. In 2009 his number for the entire season was 19.5%, a bit better than the league average. But I think it is indeed worth noting that it went from 17.3% to 20.6% once he became a member of the Atlanta Braves.

The high strikeout percentage isn’t that big of a deal if a guy is still drawing a lot of walks, and hitting for power.

McLouth has only once seen his base on balls percentage climb into double digits. So, maybe he’s offering something in the power department, right?

Well, aside from three terrific months in 2008, no, not at all. He slugged .497 in 2008, which has turned out to be .038 points higher than his second best season. In fact, he’s seen his slugging percentage drop to .436, and then a dismal .322 last season.

Let’s look at that 2008 season itself a little more closely too. It’s already established that his 2008 season was a career year, but a closer look tells us that it was more the product of a career three months.

McLouth’s OPS before the all-star break was .899, a very, very fine number, and worthy of his all-star bid, as were his 19 home runs and 33 doubles.

However, somewhere over the course of the summer, pitchers began to figure him out. That or the real Nate McLouth emerged. McLouth would hit just 7 home runs the rest of the way, and collect only 13 doubles while seeing his OPS drop all the way  to .781.

Over the final two months of the year he struck out in roughly 18% of his plate appearances, a good deal higher than the 12% mark he displayed during the seasons first three months.

In all actuality, the hopes people have for Nate McLouth are basically centered around the months of April, May, and July of 2008. McLouth, in those three months posted an OPS of .900 or greater. Here’s the problem, only one other time in his career has he managed to do this.

McLouth set career highs in 2008 for home runs and doubles, and the difference between his 46 doubles in 2008 and his second best year in terms of two baggers is really staggering, as his second highest output was 27.

McLouth did indeed get off to pretty good start with the Pirates in 2009, but it wasn’t quite up to the level of play he had reached in 2008. However, once he was traded to the Braves, his production at the plate quickly took a turn for the worse.

You look at his stat line from 2008 with 152 games played (.256, .356, .497, 46 2B and 26 HR) and compare it to what he’s done in 172 games as a Brave (.228, .329, .375, 33 2B and 17 HR) , you see why the downward trend can’t be expected to cease.

Beyond that, McLouth doesn’t offer much by way of speed on the bases, or defensive help in center field.

He’s only stolen 19 bases as a Brave, and been caught 9 times. A conversion of rate of barely above 66% is terrible, especially for a guy getting on base as infrequently as he is.

Perhaps if McLouth wasn't spending so much time looking lost in the field, his offensive inadequacies would be forgiven

 

In the field, his range is limited and pedestrian, and he doesn’t do much with his arm to hold base runners, or even attempt to throw them out at times. In fact, his defense has steadily declined since becoming a Brave. It has declined so much so that in 2010 McLouth was in the bottom tenth percentile of all fielders in baseball according to UZR.

Weak offense can be accepted if you play premier defense at the game’s most pivotal defensive positions (catcher, shortstop, center field). However, when you combine offense that fails to be above average with defense that is among the worst in baseball, what you get is a serious problem when filling out your lineup card.

McLouth fans long for him to return to what he did in 2008 with the Pirates. The bad news is that there is simply nothing to indicate that he will.

With Tommy Hanson though, just the opposite holds true.

Yes, Tommy Hanson has struggled out of the gate, although his performance against a very good offensive team in Milwaukee wasn’t exactly the stuff of Vicente Padilla.

However, it hasn’t stopped people from saying Hanson needs to be traded while he has value. Some have gone so far as to suggest Hanson was actually “bad” in 2010, that it’s been a steady digression for the young right hander.

Sometimes I wonder if people are watching the same game I am.

Or maybe they just aren’t watching them all. Apparently the only three games that a great many people saw Hanson pitch last year were his three worst outings of the year, and arguably of his young career.

Never mind the fact that in his 31 other starts last year Hanson posted a 2.34 ERA (would be good for 3rd in the NL) and a WHIP of 1.073 (would have been for fourth in the NL). I don’t really know about the rest of you, but if you’re going to tell me I can have numbers like that from a 23, or 24-year-old kid for 31 outings, I’ll take them all day, any day, every day. Without question. Anyone who wouldn’t should probably find another sport to follow, or in the very least quit expecting everyone to be Bob Gibson.

I understand when Hanson was bad last year, which wasn’t that often, he was really bad. But what seems to have been forgotten is that when he was good, which was quite often, he was very, very good.

Have people really already forgotten how good this kid is?

 

I’ve heard more than one person say that Hanson wasn’t as good last year as he was his rookie season. This sort of ludicrous statement can only come one of two ways. Either the only games they watched last year were those few disastrous starts, or, the only numbers they look at for a pitcher is the W-L record, with a little glance at ERA.

The problem is, people point to his apparent decline in 2010 as proof that his 2011 struggles are even more of a sign that he will never be a front line pitcher, and he needs to be dealt while he still offers value.

Well to begin to refute this absurd line of thinking, one should first look to see just how “bad” he really was in 2010, and how much worse he was than in 2009.

One of the first things people point out was the decrease in strikeouts. These people probably forget that for a pitcher to be most effective, pitching a lot of innings is something managers and fans of teams that want to win place a lot of value on. Taking five pitches to strike a guy out is far less efficient than inducing a ground ball after two or three pitches.

So yes, his K/9 ratio did decrease from 8.2 to 7.7. However, what is completely forgotten and ignored by his critics is that he also decreased his BB/9 ratio by a 50% better margin. His K:BB ratio actually increased from just 2.52 to 3.09. Not only that, also saw his HR/9 average go from .70 to .62.

Now, I’m not sure if you’re completely aware of how baseball works, but when a pitcher faces a batter, there are, for the most part (rare instances such as catchers interference, or a 3rd strike getting away aside), there are three possible outcomes that a pitcher, and a pitcher alone, is in complete control of. He can issue a walk, strike the hitter out, or allow a home run.

So, I’m thinking that if a guy is is increasing his strike out to walk ratio, while decreasing the number of home runs he allows, he’s probably pitching better.

Oh, sure, his ERA goes up, but ERA is highly fielder dependent. And please don’t start in with how ERA accounts for errors. It does NOT account for the range and skill, or even mental acuity of the fielders in charge of turning batted balls into outs.

Hanson’s FIP (Fielder independent Pitching) actually dropped in 2010. In other words, if Hanson had the typical average major league defense behind him in both 2009 and 2010, his ERA would have dropped in the 2010 season.

ERA skews numbers two ways, it can be made to be higher than it should be for pitchers with poor defenses, while making pitchers who benefit from great defense behind them appear to be world beaters, not taking into much account how good the pitcher is actually pitching.

Hanson managed to increase his ground ball percentage in 2010, while also decreasing the number of line drives hit against him . Yet, the average on balls in play against him went up. Usually, the correlation between such events works the opposite, in Hanson’s case it didn’t. For that, you can attribute some of that to the defense behind him.

It is forgotten also that Hanson, in 2010, in 25 of his 34 starts allowed 2 earned runs or less. You don’t think that’s pitching well? Yikes.

So yes, Hanson hasn’t exactly been brilliant in his TWO starts to begin the year. I think however his track record has shown that more often than not, he will be, and he’s getting better.

But I wouldn’t want anything like the actual numbers to fool you.

So, yes, you can indeed take something from a players first week, but not a players first week alone. Sometimes the first week is only the continuation of a troubling trend that is possibly years in the making. Sometimes though, it’s just a blip in a strong career that just so happened to come in the first week of April.

Talk to me in July, and I’m willing to bet that most will have completely forgotten their disdain for Tommy Hanson, while if Nate McLouth is still in the lineup, there will be much anguish in Braves country.

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Hawks, the Worst Team I’ve Ever Cared About

I’ve lived in Atlanta all of my life, safe to say, I’ve seen some really, really bad sports teams. However, the 2010-2011 basketball season is shaping up to take the cake.

While I won’t touch too much on them, the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets were easily one of the worst major conference teams in all of college basketball. Hell, as evidenced by their loss to Kennesaw State early on in the season, they were simply one of the worst teams in the nation, period. But that story has been told.

There is a basketball story that reeks of far more ineptitude and sadness than the Georgia Tech story does. It’s the story of the Atlanta Hawks.

As has been stated, I’m an Atlanta sports team, I’ve seen plenty of horrible sports teams. The Falcons, until the Arthur Blank era, were putrid. The Atlanta Braves were a wreck throughout the 80s, and had a rough spell lately before rebounding the past two years. I won’t even start with the Thrashers.

However, this Hawks team may very well be the most disappointing, and disgusting, sports team I’ve ever watched.

Yes, they are still in 5th place in their conference. Yes, they are returning to the playoffs for a fourth straight year. Okay, and?

They also are the holders of the three worst home losses suffered by an NBA team this year. Yes, you heard that correctly. The same Hawks team that once made Philips Arena a very difficult place to play, to the tune of just a mere seven home losses ALL of last year. They’ve managed to lose 6 in the past 18 days.

This is a team with an All-Star at guard, an All-Star in the post who might be the 2nd best such player in his conference at his position (and that is while playing out of position), an all-star talent at the other forward position (who ultimately, is a microcosm of all things wrong with this team), the reigning Sixth Man of the Year winner, and a former number two draft pick. They have a young, fast, defensive minded, explosive point guard, and off the bench some veterans with some playoff experience. Yet, no team in the league loses in such brutal ways as often as these Hawks do.

Please, someone explain.

Here’s what I’ll explain, blow it up. All of it. There are the positives to this collection of players as mentioned before, but there are a lot of negatives too.

I’ve addressed the issues with Josh Smith, and they only seem to be manifesting, and even spreading to other players on the team. His disease is infecting the rest of this squad, and making him a captain prior to the year only made it even easier to immediately get to the heart of the squad.

Joe Johnson, well, I’d prefer not to speak about him. His contract given appears more and more each day as one of the worst contracts handed out in Atlanta professional sports history. He still dominates the ball too much. People can argue his assists are up, ok sure, I still see too many possessions consist strictly of Joe Johnson dominating the basketball. J.J., there is no “M” as your first initial, quit thinking there is.  Hopefully the impending labor strife with the NBA and new CBA will rescue the Hawks from themselves here. If there was a way to be rid of this contract, the Hawks would be dumber than even I think they are not to explore it.

Marvin Williams is a nice player, but he will never, ever, ever, be worthy of his number two overall pick. And this is only magnified considering the caliber of player drafted behind him. What’s worse for Atlanta, his trade value has only decreased. The day his contract becomes an expiring contract will be a day of much rejoicing in Atlanta, if of course management makes proper use of such an early get out of jail free card.

Jeff Teague must just be the worst practice player since Allen Iverson. Seriously, can anyone else explain the baffling decision of Larry Drew to play him so sparingly, and inconsistently. Isn’t it just common knowledge that sometimes you have to go through growing pains with young players, take the good with the bad? We don’t get to see much good with Teague because his opportunities come so infrequently. When he does get on the court, we’ve seen him put it all together at times with magnificent games, and at others, seen the obvious talent, athleticism, and skill set that could make him a very solid NBA point guard come in flashes.

Apparently in practice he just looks like Jordan Crawford or something.

Oh, wait, Jordan Crawford, the rookie that Larry Drew refused to play, despite having a team that struggles to put the ball in the basket, who averaged 24 points per game in his last three games as a starter in Washington, that Jordan Crawford? Oh, yeah, about that….

Sure, there’s Al Horford, but really, what is he? Other than perhaps the most under-used, most out of position played, elite NBA player in recent memory? He’s still stuck at center, and he’s still one of the last options for the Hawks offense. Never mind the fact that he’s arguably the Hawks best offensive player, he’s far down the list on the pecking order. Joe has to get his, Josh Smith is going to take his, and from less than desirable spots on the floor, and then Jamal Crawford is going to come in and want his. So who cares if Horford is in the process of going 6 for 7 from the field, those other guys need to be shooting their jump shots.

Al Horford has become the really pretty soap in your grandparents bathroom that you’re not allowed to actually use.

As for Larry Drew? Well, I just thought Paul Hewitt was bad. Yikes.

This isn’t a team who suffered a catastrophic injury (such as Jamal Anderson or Michael Vick for the Falcons), or who suffered through some horrible injury luck to their entire team (the 2008 Braves) or just a roster devoid of talent. This is a team that’s been relatively healthy, has been together to grow together for a few years, and has plenty of talent. Yet it has managed to embarrass this city in ways not seen since the summer of 1996.

For all of the individual talents, and the positive things each can bring, there are the negative aspects to this collection of talented players. And therein lies the problem, this collection of players just simply will not work. It will never work. The sooner they give up on that, the better.

The worst part however is that I don’t think they even really care. The Hawks teams of the 80s, and then the one of the mid 90s were a similar bunch. A good team, but not a great team. They couldn’t ever quite get completely over the hump. However, you rarely, RARELY found yourself questioning the desire and effort of those teams. The same can’t be said of this bunch, and that is the difference, and that is reason number one to find the self destruct button and send these pieces scattering around the league.

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Paul Hewitt Cannot Return

I had a really nice, long, well thought out piece planned on the absolutely atrocious ineptitude of Paul Hewitt, but all that did was annoy me, so I decided to make it shorter, and hopefully sweeter.

In short, Paul Hewitt can return to Georgia Tech for a 12th season. He just can’t. Not if we are to believe Georgia Tech athletics actually care about winning something besides football.

Sure, Paul Hewitt coached this team to a national final, a chance at a national championship. But in reality, we all know the truth, Jarrett Jack and Will Bynum took that team to the final. Looking back on that team, they should have been better than they were. There were a lot of games lost during the regular season during their two year run that better coached teams don’t lose.

The year following the magical run to San Antonio, remember, Tech started the year ranked third in the nation, then went on to finish just .500 in ACC play and lose in the second round of the NCAA tournament. Yes, a team that just a year ago was playing for a national championship, and returning most of it’s key contributors, and was arguably MORE talented found a way to lose MORE games.

Of course it should be noted, the Final Four team managed to barely finish above .500 themselves in league play, at a pedestrian 9-7.

Take for a minute, will you, and examine the number of regular season wins in ACC play for Paul Hewitt’s Yellow Jackets during his tenure, leading up to this, his 11th season. Beginning with the 2000-2001 season, Tech’s ACC win total reads as follows: 8, 7, 7, 9, 8, 4, 8, 7, 2 and 7. Ten years, only once did Hewitt finish above .500.

Perhaps Hewitt should ask Chan Gailey what a bunch of .500 ACC seasons did him. Ask Mark Richt what one or two .500 or worse conference play years did for his place in the eyes of Georgia faithful.

Think about that again, TEN years, one time above .500, and even then, it was simply 9-7. And yet this man is still employed? Tech’s listless performance in Blacksburg gave this year’s squad their seventh ACC loss, ensuring their 10th year in 11 where they will fail to win more than they lose in ACC play.

And again, this man is employed? 67-93. Just let that soak in, 67-93. That’s a winning percentage of .419. Who in the world of sports today keeps a job with a winning percentage of .400? Who keeps a job anywhere with a track record like this? We aren’t talking about a blip of two bad years where the winning percentage drops. This is over ten years.

Even prayer hasn't allowed Paul Hewitt to avoid losing 60% of his ACC games

In ten years he’s had six full recruiting classes come and go. And he’s got a .419 winning percentage. We aren’t looking at a small sample size here. Paul Hewitt is actually one of the longer tenured coaches in the nation outside of the holy trinity of coaches of guys like Calhoun, Boheim, Izzo, and Krzyzewski.

And it’s not been for a lack of talent, either. Chris Bosh? You heard of him? He played for Georgia Tech. Didn’t even play in an NCAA tournament game.

Jarrett Jack and Will Bynum have both gone on to play in the NBA, and Anthony Morrow has become one of the NBA’s best three point shooters, yet together they couldn’t win more than eight ACC games in 2005.

Point guard Javaris Crittenton and forward Thaddeus Young were both selected in the first round of the 2007 NBA Draft. NCAA tournament wins? Zero.

Derrick Favors just went third in the NBA draft, fellow forward Gani Lawal was also drafted. Yet, despite being teamed with guys like Brian Oliver, Glen Rice Jr, and Iman Shumpert, they couldn’t finish above .500 in the ACC.

Shumpert will surely be drafted, as he’s quite possibly one of the most underrated players in college basketball. Unfortunately he’s trapped in the obscurity of playing for Georgia Tech, and he’s even worse, hampered by the inability of Paul Hewitt to create any type of offense that is able to work consistently.

But Paul Hewitt is still employed. He loses 60% of his games, and now the school wants to make $45 million renovations to the arena in which he does his wretched work? How do you sell that to a fan base and alumni? I know we really stink, and I know we are keeping the man responsible for our futility, but we need $30 million dollars so we can give him a better place in which to work. Yeah, sounds like an excellent plan.

There can be an argument made that Paul Hewitt is the worst division one college basketball coach in the nation, and very little argument can be made that’s he’s not at least in the bottom 30. Besides, anyone who is deemed a bigger failure than Hewitt surely has not been employed for over a decade.

And it’s not as if there’s any reason to believe things are going to get better. As of today, over the last three plus years, Tech is an atrocious 16-42 in ACC play. Yes, you read that correctly.

Remember that winning percentage of .419 I was talking about for his career? Well, that’s a shining mark considering what he’s been in the last third of his tenure. The number has dropped to .276, and with the way this current team has been playing, it’s going to continue to drop.

I wonder how long Paul Johnson would have his job if over four years Johnson went 8-24 in ACC play, which would be a similar mark to what Hewitt has compiled. My guess is, not very long. In fact, my guess is that Johnson wouldn’t be around long enough to compile such futility.

It’s also probably worth noting, Bobby Cremins, now at College of Charleston, is 63-27 in conference play since taking over in 2006-2007, with only one fewer NCAA tournament victory than Paul Hewitt in that span.

If Georgia Tech cares anything about basketball, and anything about not asking for money to support a program they clearly don’t support themselves, Paul Hewitt needs to go, the day after his team makes a quick exit from the ACC tournament.

Wow, it appears my Hewitt rant went as long as his career has gone.

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