It’s hard to imagine the last time that MLB’s reigning home run king had so little interesting from teams in free agency that he considered playing overseas. Yet, that was where Chris Carter stood a couple weeks ago. Despite lack of interest, Carter ended up signing a deal with the New York Yankees for one year and $3 million. What role can Carter play on the Yankees?
When the Yankees signed Carter it seemed like his playing time for this upcoming season would be very limited. When his deal was signed, Carter was listed on the Yankees depth chart as the third string first baseman and third string designated hitter. Carter is fortunate as he is likely going to be promoted, at least in the short team, to backup first baseman. The Yankees’ backup first baseman, Tyler Austin, broke his foot recently and will miss several weeks.
Why did Carter’s value fall so much despite hitting 41 home runs last year? He doesn’t do anything else that well. Last year Carter’s batting line was .222/.321/.499 with 76 walks and 206 strikeouts. In addition to leading the league in home runs, Carter’s 206 strikeouts was also the highest. Carter walks at a decent clip which brings his on base percentage to a reasonable clip, but mainly only hits home runs. Fangraphs.com gave Carter a 0.9 WAR last season which ranked 19th out of 23 qualified first basemen. His low average and less than stellar on base percentage plays a role, but his defense and baserunning was also a major factor. Carter’s defensive rating was -16.9 last year, also ranking 19th and his baserunning rating was -4.1, ranking 18th. Given those stats it's no surprise why more teams were not bidding for Carter’s services.
However, $3 million for a one year deal is practically nothing for a team like the Yankees so it makes to give a player with that power potential a shot. Unless Carter can increase his on base percentage or play better defense, the Yankees shouldn’t want him to play first base regularly. But he provides a veteran presence and depth at a position that may be unpredictable. Austin is hurt and likely starter Greg Bird missed all of last season with a torn labrum. If neither Bird and Austin can play, Carter is at least very familiar with the position.
Ideally, the role Carter plays is backup designated hitter that can come off the bench to pinch hit when a home run is needed. He can also be that emergency role at first base. Most teams would not keep a third string designated hitter and third string first baseman on its roster, but it can work for the Yankees. Carter’s competition at designated hitter is Matt Holliday and Aaron Hicks. Holliday will be the starting designated hitter but at 37 years old may need regularly scheduled days off. Hicks is also the backup right fielder who can play center field as well. With Aaron Judge slated as the starter in right field, Hicks may get playing time if Judge continues to struggle in 2017 or is sent back to the minors. That scenario would also allow Carter to get some at-bats.
This is a great move by the Yankees. At $3 million, New York is able to have a bat with massive power that can play two positions in which health are major factors. If everything goes right for the Yankees and Bird, Austin, and Holliday stay healthy, Carter regret signing with the Yankees rather than going overseas.
College sports are great, but there are some things that set college sports apart from most professional sports. One of the differences is determining which teams make the playoffs and what seed based on opinion rather than straight record.
In the NFL and MLB, the teams that reach the playoffs are determined strictly on record. In college basketball there are polls to form a standings and a committee who determine which teams advance to the NCAA Tournament and the seed the team has.
The way college basketball and college football do it, in theory, is better in that playoff seeds are based on which teams are actually better and more deserving. In most professional sports, it’s possible for a lesser team to make the playoffs over a better team. It’s possible in college basketball that a team that wins its conference tournament automatically gets into the NCAA Tournament, but it’s less of an issue.
One other difference is that there are many more teams and conferences involved in college basketball than other professional sports. So many teams that every year there are distinct skill level differences between them. The eighth best team in the Atlantic Coast Conference might be better than every team in the Horizon Conference. Every year there are those teams that are hard to rank due to this. This year, two of those teams are the Villanova Wildcats and the Gonzaga Bulldogs. Those two teams are both highly ranked, but don’t play in the greatest of conferences. Are either of them overrated?
Currently, Gonzaga is No. 1 and Villanova is No. 2 in the latest AP Top 25 Poll. Gonzaga is the last undefeated team and has a record of 26-0 while Villanova is 24-2. Of the two of them, Gonzaga is the toughest to gauge. The Bulldogs play in the West Coast Conference, which only has one other ranked team, Saint Mary’s. After those two teams the quality really drops off.
The Wildcats play in the Big East, which isn’t great but is better. Apart from Villanova, the Big East includes two other ranked teams. Creighton and Butler, and possibly four tournament teams.
The answer to whether or not Villanova is overrated is pretty easy; they are not overrated. For one, their strength of schedule this season, despite playing in the Big East, is not that bad. According to KenPom.com the Wildcats had the 23 toughest strength of schedule.
Their non-conference schedule could have been tougher, but they defeated No. 16 Purdue, No. 25 Notre Dame, and No. 14 Virginia. In conference play, Villanova has defeated No. 20 Creighton and Xavier. The only two losses came against No. 24 Butler and Marquette, both on the road and both against likely tournament teams.
Maybe the biggest reason they are not overrated is because Villanova proved it last season. There are differences from this seasons Wildcats team, but they have many of the same players from the team that won the NCAA Tournament last year, Kris Jenkins, Mikal Bridges, Josh Hart, and Jalen Brunson. Losing Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu is big, but this team is just as good as the one that won it all last year. Forward Eric Paschall has stepped up this year to fill the void.
It’s harder to determine if Gonzaga is the best team. It’s understandable that the Bulldogs are ranked No. 1. Any team that is the last team undefeated at this point in the season should be No. 1. As time goes on, it seems like Gonzaga is for real.
At the beginning of the season, the Bulldogs’ non-conference schedule looked weak. While it still isn’t great, it has looked better thanks to Florida and Arizona. Gonzaga’s non-conference strength of schedule ranks 135th and overall strength of schedule ranks 118th. Those are not good numbers. However, Gonzaga defeated then unranked Florida 77-72. Florida is now 21-5 and is the No. 15 team in the nation. The Bulldogs also beat then ranked No. 16 Arizona, 69-62. Arizona is now 23-3 and ranked No 5.
That being said, apart from those two teams, Gonzaga hasn’t beaten anyone that great. The Bulldogs recently just defeated No. 22 Saint Mary’s for the second time this season, but that is the only other ranked team that Gonzaga has faced. It’s hard to say a team that is 26-0 isn’t great, but to prove it, playing another game or two against a top 10 team would be helpful.
All things considered, Gonzaga may be slightly overrated, but still a top five team. It may be possible if not likely that Villanova or Kansas is better, but they can go toe to toe with any of them. This is the best and most athletic Gonzaga team in years. They showed that by defeated Arizona and Florida. The advanced statistics also say that they are a very good team. ESPN’s RPI, which tends to look down on teams like Gonzaga has them ranked sixth. KenPom.com’s Pomery rankings which adjusts for strength of schedule says Gonzaga is by far the best team in the nation.
While some teams there are teams from poor conferences that are ranked highly and receive a high seed in the NCAA Tournament due to inflated numbers, this is not one of those years. Gonzaga and Villanova both deserve its current rankings and are not overrated.
The Milwaukee Bucks entered training camp with high hopes for this season. Despite finishing the season 12th in the East with a 33-49 record last season, there was real reason to be optimistic for this season; Giannis Antetokounmpo made large strides last season with improvement on the horizon, Jabari Parker’s knee would be 100% healthy after having surgery for a torn ACL and Khris Middleton was an All-Star caliber player last season. Then the Bucks went out and signed Matthew Dellavedova, Mirza Teletovic, and traded for Tony Snell.
Everything looked to be in great shape, but then in September the Bucks got the news that Middleton would be out for about five months with a torn hamstring. Middleton is the second most important player on the Bucks behind Antetokounmpo. While Parker may have better promise and be the better player, Middleton is a very crucial piece. Middleton provides that three point sharp shooting threat that no one else on the team has. While improving, Antetokounmpo is not a threat from three and Parker isn’t reliable enough. Without Middleton, opposing teams can defend much better by leaving the three point line undefended.
Around 40 games in the season, things were going alright. The Bucks at one point were 20-18 and fourth place in the East, all of this without Middleton. This was largely due to Antetokounmpo making another massive improvement in his game from the last season. Antetokounmpo is sixth in the NBA in player efficiency and can defend multiple positions.
Parker became a huge offensive threat averaging 20 points per game and shooting 49% from the field and 36.5% from three. For many of those games, Antetokounmpo was essentially the point guard and his versatility opened up the floor for everyone else.
At this point, the optimism of Bucks fans before the season was still there given the fact Milwaukee had played that well without its best shooter. Then things fell apart. The Bucks are now 23-30 and have lost 12 of 15.
What went wrong? Much of the lack of success over the last month is due to coach Jason Kidd. There are three things Kidd did in that span that backfired. One, he has stopped using Antetokounmpo as the main ball handler. Players like Dellavedova and Malcolm Brogdon have the ball more. While both are quality point guards, they don’t open up the offense like Antetokounmpo does.
Second, Kidd’s rotations have been poor. Antetokounmpo and Parker should be getting many more minutes together, but Kidd rarely sits either on the bench at the same time. Then there are players like John Henson, who get too many minutes.
Lastly, Kidd’s defensive scheme has finally been exploited. The defense has not been a strong point for the Bucks this season as it has in the past. Milwaukee has allowed an average of 105.4 points per game. They allowed 103.2 points per game last year and 97.4 the year before. The issues with the defense have been there since last season, but now teams know how to defeat it. It’s almost as if Kidd’s defensive strategy is to allow corner threes. Here is a graph which shows the percentage of shots allowed in each zone.
This shows the Bucks allow by far the most corner three attempts in the league and are allowing many shots in the restricted area and non-restricted area. They also rank last in the NBA in effective field goal percentage.
Kidd often mentions the Bucks lack of effort for their defensive woes, but the way the defense plays, it isn’t lack of effort but exhaustion. Every team seems to be able to drive to the basket and kick out for a corner three every possession. Then when the Bucks try to defend that there are other holes the players need to fill. The defense is running around so much it can’t keep up and even if the players weren’t tired, the scheme wouldn’t work.
The Bucks finally got some good news when it was announced Middleton would be returning before the All Star Break. While the defense was still a problem, a boost in the offense might help balance it out. On Feb. 8th, Middleton returned to the lineup. That same night, rising star Parker tore his ACL for the second time in two years. Any optimism is now gone.
The Bucks are a mess right now. Parkers’ productive career may very well be done. They still have Antetokounmpo, who is playing like a star and have Middleton back, but it might be time to tank. There is still much promise for the future of the team. Even if Parker is not a part of that future, Antetokounmpo and Middleton can be stars and the Bucks are slowly finding out what they have in rookie Thon Maker.
The Bucks can’t waste Antetokounmpo’s prime. This season is a lost cause, they should experiment and give Maker 20+ minutes a game. The Bucks also need to fire Kidd. As a player developer, Kidd is great but as a strategist and in-game coach has been horrible and it doesn’t seem as if that is changing. Tank this season, get a top draft pick and try to Own The Future as the Bucks slogan says.