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Saturday, June 9, 2018

2018 Brewers Prospects

It's beyond embarrassing that I haven't written one of these in quite some time, but there's no more time to waste: let's take a look at the current Brewers system rankings.

I compiled this list from Baseball Reference prior to the MLB Draft, and since signings will not be complete for quite some time, I'm punting on including draft rankings in this midseason update. Following last year's custom, I am extracting MLB players from the prospect rankings because even with any particular role concerns or shortcomings, a rookie that has worked in the MLB has quite a different assessment than a player that has yet to make the leap. After all, a true MLB floor, even "last guy in the bullpen" or "Triple-A Colorado Springs shuttle team," is much different than placing a "could be a 4th OF" floor on a prospect at Class-A Advanced Carolina.

Sharing Link: Prospect List and Risk Approximations

Additionally, since the Brewers system is in the nascent stages of developing a lot of low minors talent, I've divided the list into "Top Prospects," "Role Sleepers," and "Depth Roles." I believe there is enough information and risk asymmetry between prospects like Keston Hiura, Tristen Lutz, and Dustin Houle that they deserve to be assessed on their own merits. Really, a ranking is pointless. But, if it matters to you, this is probably how I'd do it (excluding current MLB guys):

Rank 2018 Brewers Comprehensive Prospects Highest Role
1 Corbin Burnes #2 SP
2 Corey Ray All-around CF
3 Keston Hiura Star 2B
4 Devin Williams #2 SP
5 Mario Feliciano All-around C
6 Luis Ortiz #2 SP
7 Tristen Lutz First Division RF
8 Mauricio Dubon Glove-first 2B
9 Marcos Diplan Ongoing SP Development / Elite Reliever (#FreeDiplan)
10 Zack Brown Power pitcher projection play
11 Trey Supak Brewers "systemic starter"
12 Trent Grisham Top order CF / Quality 4th OF
13 Nathan Kirby #3 SP / Quality reliever

If you'd like MLB guys who are currently rookies, I'd place Jacob Nottingham (full package C if the power bat comes around, quality half-time C otherwise) and Brandon Woodruff (full arsenal SP) as the long-development curve top MLB prospects. If there's one MLB guy I'm dead wrong on, it's probably Freddy Peralta. I think one could make a great argument that he's the best prospect among the MLB guys.


Compared to last year's prospect list, this one is a lot less fun in terms of recognizing (relatively) solid impact ceilings at the top of the system, but it's a great proving ground for looking deep into a system and understanding how roles can play out over a decade of development. After the trade involving Lewis Brinson, Monte Harrison, Isan Diaz, and Jordan Yamamoto to Miami (to receive Christian Yelich, which may even have been a bargain return), as well as graduations involving Orlando Arcia, Josh Hader, and others, and the back-pedaling of some of the top prospects of the system in 2017, the Brewers do not have as strong a system in 2018. Baseball Prospectus ranked the system in the bottom of the middle tier of the MLB, which reflects the trades, graduations, and general lack of impact prospects.

However, I'm not content to simply stop there, because what is clear about the Brewers system is that they seem to have an abundance of high floor, potential MLB types in the advanced minor league ranks, as well as a number of extreme risk prospects in the low ranks. In the former camp, I'm thinking of everyone from Freddy Peralta and Troy Stokes to Jake Gatewood, Thomas Jankins, and even Quintin Torres-Costa, to name a few. Nationally, I do not think many of these prospects would gain notoriety in terms of rank, but Milwaukee's player development and MLB system has shown an ability to extract fantastic value from high floor guys (here I'm thinking of Zach Davies, Hernan Perez, and Jesus Aguilar, to name a few). Freddy Peralta is the best prospect of this bunch, and probably a legitimate Top 10 prospect in the system, but even with that ranking in mind his role is extremely difficult to pin down. NEIFI Analytics said it better than I could in their recent analysis of his stuff and deceptive delivery.


Lately, I've been obsessed with the time horizons of MLB player development. This is spurred in part by Keston Hiura prospect hype, which is leading me back to reports of previous "can't miss" impact, advanced college bats in the Brewers system. Here I'm thinking of Matt LaPorta, who was scouted as a top prospect in a relatively solid system a decade ago, hailed as a power-discipline bat with some questions about defensive position. Hiura is not LaPorta, for many reasons; Hiura is not a power prospect, and I'd argue to date he's not necessarily recognized as a discipline-first bat, either. Hiura is a hit-tool-first prospect, and the rest will have to follow on his ability to reach power due to his plate approach, bat speed, and use of the hit tool throughout the strike zone. Could power come for Hiura? Absolutely, I would not be surprised if some of that doubles power morphs into home run power with refinement and development at the MLB level; I'd cite Jose Altuve as evidence that even smaller stature players can reorient their approach with MLB refinement and turn a hit tool into a powerful hit tool.

The problem with Hiura is his positional risk, as well as his elbow injury, and this has kept me from placing him at the very top of the Brewers system, for if Hiura becomes a LF, there are instantly questions about his bat (placing a premium on the development of that power), as well as his path to Milwaukee (where does Hiura crack the outfield in Milwaukee? Is a Hiura-Cain-Yelich outfield, left-to-right, suitable for Milwaukee's current fielding-first system?). If Hiura becomes a DH, there are obvious league-based barriers to entry for the prospect, making Hiura quite a rare advanced prospect with a relatively clear ceiling (perhaps the clearest ceiling in the system and a good route to get there!) as well as an extreme drop off in terms of role risk. Hiura is not an "impact-bat first 2B, but potential utility infield option" Overall Future Potential / realistic risk role type prospect; his value comes from 2B-or-bust. What's interesting is that with Corey Ray potentially finding a mechanical adjustment that suits his tools, as well as Corbin Burnes's solid rotational floor, there are very good arguments to be made that some order of Ray and Burnes are #1/#2 in the system, with Hiura as #3 with an asterisk.


Looking back at 2007-2008 scouting reports and system rankings for the Brewers helped me to reframe questions and frameworks about development at the MLB level. It is rather clear that player development cycles should not simply include a potential MLB ceiling, as well as a realistic floor with some risk assessment of reaching either of those levels. Here I have Lorenzo Cain in mind, who was a Top 10 organizational prospect in Milwaukee a decade ago, with quite a chasm between his ultimate MLB role (elite all-around center fielder) and his question marks (could he be a 4th outfielder if the CF defense did not stick?). When the Brewers included Cain in the Zack Greinke trade package, the outfielder was no sure bet to even perform as a starting CF in the MLB, let alone an elite CF, and it took Cain years of development and opportunities to reach his ultimate role.

The Cain development problem, and the decade-long MLB development cycle, is helping me to assess prospects ranking from Tristen Lutz and Jorge Lopez to Demi Orimoloye and Caden Lemons. Keep in mind that years ago, Baseball Prospectus scouted Jorge Lopez as a potential star pitcher who nevertheless might take a decade to reach that level; that places Lopez only about halfway through his development horizon for his ultimate MLB role. Now, it's tough to look at Jorge Lopez, who is a serviceable organizational depth arm that could potentially develop into an impact reliever with his fastball-curveball combo, and say that he could potentially become a star MLB pitcher. But here is a question about opportunity, as well: has Lopez reached an opportunity plateau in Milwaukee? Will the righty ever have a chance to become a starter in Milwaukee's system after losing his stuff / mechanics at Triple-A Colorado Springs? Or is this simply part of his climb back to a rotation role in Milwaukee?

With this series of questions in mind, Adrian Houser is perhaps the most interesting prospect in the Brewers system right now. Houser's ascent to the MLB after Tommy John elbow surgery recovery has been nothing short of remarkable, and as an MLB depth reliever Houser already has quite a solid floor. But the righty is also displaying multiple off-speed pitches at the MLB level, as well as a wicked fastball, which has produced some rumblings that the Brewers might develop Houser as a rotational arm if possible. In Milwaukee's short-starter set up currently exhibited by Brent Suter and Junior Guerra, Houser's stuff could potentially play-up as a starter, and he could attain an elusive role that may not exist anywhere else: "true classical middle rotation arm that becomes a runs prevented monster in Milwaukee."

Additionally, while researching recent features at Baseball Prospectus Milwaukee, the primary concern coming to mind is, "Can a two-pitch starter work in Milwaukee?" I don't necessarily mean a two-pitch starter like Ben Sheets was, but rather a two-pitch starter that might grade lower on at least one of their pitches, or command, than Sheets. The reason this question is important is that the current Brewers pitching system under Craig Counsell's management requires basically 16 outs and two full times through the batting order as a starting pitcher. To my mind, this clouds the grades of potential prospects; if a prospect like Trey Supak never gets the third pitch down, but has the stamina and command of his first two pitches, could his stuff play "up" given the requirement for shorter starts? If starting pitchers are no longer expected to work three times through a batting order, their roles arguably change and therefore their qualifications necessary to meet a role can change. There are arguably a handful of pitchers in the Brewers system that this affects: Peralta, Supak, Jankins, Jon Perrin, and Marcos Diplan immediately come to mind. It is curious to think how another MLB club would value some of these prospects in terms of trade requests or other acquisition costs, and how the Brewers value these pitchers within their own system; in each case I'd argue that these arms could see their roles potentially "play up" in the current Brewers organization.

Finally, if one is using extremely long development windows to assess MLB prospects, the role grade of someone like Brett Phillips becomes quite murky. Phillips is an intriguing prospect because theoretically his defense is so good that he'll probably stick around in the MLB as a bench outfielder long after his bat fades. But he's entirely too young to surrender the bat, and there are many different ranges of roles that Phillips could fill. Within the span of a decade, could he find an MLB team that gives him a chance as a starter? If Phillips's bat comes around, he might not necessarily reach a .250 AVG, but his power and speed would be the tools to watch; with glove and arm, that's a profile that will play. On the other hand, Phillips could p-l-a-y as a "true" 4th outfielder, the next guy behind starters, still managing to grab 400 plate appearances at most. The defense and power are good enough here that Phillips could easily match Keon Broxton's WARP (as one model), although the underlying elements would be different (mostly, better glove and arm, maybe not as much of an impact bat at best). The trouble is, if Phillips has yet to find time on this Brewers squad, a squad that could really use his left-handed bat and bench strengths, one wonders where he will land in any reorganization of the club's outfield / first base surplus (or, roster jam). With this in mind, Phillips may be the current Brewers prospect that I am most convinced will have a chance to be a star elsewhere.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

2017 Brewers Prospects

Have I only written about Brewers prospects here, and has it taken me four months to update? Dreadful!

With spring training winding down for the Milwaukee Brewers, it's time for some system fun: what will the system look like in midseason 2017? What will the system look like with graduates to the MLB, steps forward and backward in the minors, injuries, etc.? For this exercise, I have made a couple key assumptions: (a) there is no draft or international signing period for these purposes (nor are there any trades), and (b) players that make the MLB in 2017 will not be ranked as prospects. After all, if I'm saying "Jon Perrin will surprise as rotational depth and reach the MLB," it does not really matter if I think he's the 10th best prospect or 25th best prospect in the system; he made the show, and that places him leaps and bounds ahead of the system by making the MLB.

So, this is a pure internal logic measurement: what will the Brewers' own system look like with no additions, no subtractions, in 2017?

LINK: Brewers Projections:

(1) MLB Additions
Assume that a minor league system circulates around 210 players in a year -- approximately 30 players per level, seven levels (DSL / R / R / A / A+ / AA / AAA), including injuries. In this case, graduating even four players to the MLB in a season is solid; that's two percent of the system right there, advanced into primetime. Consider the case of the 2017 Brewers, then, where at least ten players could emerge from the minor leagues: we're talking about players like Lewis Brinson or Josh Hader, who fans love because they could be starting role prospects by midseason, and we're talking about players like Andrew Barbosa, who fit the Brewers' "maximize old players" strategy of recent vintage. There are so many players in between, from Michael Reed to Jorge Lopez, so on and so forth.

It's absurd to suggest that ten players could reach the MLB from the minors this year, but that's where the Brewers are. In fact, that number is nearly double the minor league rookies graduated by the 2016 Brewers, including Junior Guerra (who was indeed a minor league rookie graduate, thank you very much). So, yes, I suppose the Brewers could graduate even a dozen players, but I stopped myself at ten simply because there is so much MLB depth as it stands. But, the pitching rotation will need at least ten players to complete a season; here Josh Hader and Jorge Lopez could shine, yes, but so too could Jon Perrin catching fire in the advanced minors, and Brandon Woodruff reaching as a September call-up. Why do I like Andrew Barbosa more than, say, Paolo Espino? He's left-handed, which is unfair to Espino, but a reflection of the situational nature of the MLB bullpen; there are more opportunities for Barbosa to make this particular Brewers club.

Yes, I like Jon Perrin, because he's an advanced profile, has a big frame (like Corey Kluber big), and frankly has the type of "mundane" profile that ranks him behind Luis Ortiz and Woodruff and Hader and Cody Ponce, etc., but could have us shaking our heads two years down the line (cue, "How did we miss Perrin?" features). Similarly, I've thought Ponce could be a fast-riser since draft day, and his big frame, big fastball, fastball/cutter-slider arsenal could carve up advanced minors bats to leap the righty to the bullpen or depth role in Milwaukee.

There's been a lot of hype surrounding Mauricio Dubon and Ryan Cordell, but I like both as 2017 roster additions because of their utility flexibility. I pegged both for September, but I would not necessarily be surprised if either grabs a bench role sooner than that. It's not clear to me that either Cordell or Dubon has a true starting ceiling or role in Milwaukee, but both have the kind of ceiling and profile that could lead to a Jarrod Dyson-type (sneaky depth that could find 75 percent of games started, and sneak near 10 career WAR. In fact, Dyson is actually one of the very best players in his draft class!). There could be real value to be found for Cordell and Dubon in this current MLB climate.

With these players graduated to the MLB, plenty of ranking space frees up:
Ortiz and Isan Diaz are not going anywhere barring injury. So, the burners the Brewers system will see will come from Wisconsin and Carolina, the Class-A and Advanced A ranks, which will serve as proving grounds for approximately two dozen "just interesting" guys to take a step forward. Here I'm betting on those three 60s scouted in Demi Orimoloye on draft day leaping out as the hit tool advances. Corbin Burnes emerges as the top 2016 draft arm, and Mario Feliciano is on Lucas Erceg's tail as best position player drafted in 2016.

A word on Corey Ray and Erceg, who I have ranked relatively low compared to much fan hype: both players are extremely talented, and have diverse skillsets that can promise a range of MLB roles. But they also have some serious question marks (as everyone on this list does); both could end up as MLB depth roles, Ray especially as a classic 'tweener outfielder (who could certainly have a tough time unseating Ryan Braun from LF if the bat does not materialize in such a way to make a LF profile enticing). Erceg's bat faced weak competition in Wisconsin, so this is simply a cautionary statement about watching that competition level in 2017; even a step back in 2017 does not necessarily dent his ceiling, but it could certainly bring the floor into focus a lot faster.

As an aside, I can't help but think about Rickie Weeks when I hear prospect hype. Now, Weeks had a successful MLB career, but it is worth questioning whether prospect hype derailed fan sentiment against the power/speed/discipline player. I always wonder about how the hype will affect sentiment about Ray or Erceg should they make the bigs; if both emerge as depth players, or perhaps as regulars that show shortcomings in their toolshed, will the hype derail fan sentiment against them as well? So, throughout 2017, say to yourself "Tweener Corey Ray" and "Depth Bat Lucas Erceg" in order to keep those expectations in check: there's a lot to like here, but neither of these guys are the sure thing (which is fine! They can still be very good professional baseball players without being the sure thing. Like Weeks.).

Rounding out the Top 15% of the organization (including the MLB graduates), there are a lot of fun players to emerge from Brewers prospect lists past...Joantgel Segovia was a BaseballAmerica Top 30 prospect entering 2015, and if that bat advances with his (hopeful) first full season, there's an exciting type of contact-defense-burner centerfielder that will be worth keeping an eye on. Taylor Williams has been a success in camp thus far in terms of showing off that heat, and while I see a post-Tommy John future as a reliever for Williams, it is worth emphasizing that some scouts viewed Williams as the best arm in the system three or four years ago. If that fastball/offspeed plays against competition, Williams could surge back into the RHP-arguments among Brewers fans.

Franly Mallen is another guy that I've liked from the get go, and even though it seems like he's been around forever, he's still only 20 and probably entering his first full season. Mallen is a guy that could serve many different futures now, but could especially see value rise in 2017 if a full season solidifies that floor for the middle infielder.

There's just too much to write about here. So much so that the Top 50 of the system just becomes a holding group, waiting for many of these guys to take the next step (or, waiting to see how others respond to injury). In 2017, many of these guys could answer questions about profile mismatch, be it Wendell Rijo (who's never really performed according to what some scouts have seen) or Kodi Medeiros (yep, he's only 21, I had to check twice, too) or Jake Drossner (who I could really swap with Quintin Torres-Costa), or about five other righties (I'd love to see what Nelson Hernandez can do to build off his zone control demonstrated in 2016).

By this point, I'm basically picking names from a hat in some sense. Here, I've added many of the Brewers' Independent and Minor League Signings, so this group reflects the "we like old guys" gamble for the 2017 system. Even here, there are some guys who could take off, be it Josh Pennington solidifying a ceiling, or Yhonathan Barrios coming back from injury.

What leaps out at me after graduating MLB prospects is how incredibly young this system is. I've written about this at BPMilwaukee, and it's worth repeating here: in terms of ranking, the system could really take a step back in 2018, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. This system will have infinite futures after those advanced prospects graduate, presenting GM David Stearns will his most important player development test.

Friday, December 2, 2016

2016-2017 Brewers System Rankings

Over the last year and a half during my work with Disciples of Uecker and BaseballProspectus, I have worked on an extensive record of the Brewers farm system. This includes collecting information from BaseballProspectus, BaseballAmerica, and other sources where available, and also reading between the lines of scouting reports to guess at grades where they are not readily published. I have tried to keep a conservative standpoint in terms of prospect hype, and I generally attempt to favor overall future potential over floor. But it's obviously an imperfect science to balance these tasks with risk, assessing a player's breakout potential with their tools, or assessing their likelihood of depreciating from a top prospect to a bench player, a starting pitcher to a reliever, etc.

The Brewers have acquired boatloads of talent via 2015 rebuilding trades under Doug Melvin (see Marcos Diplan, Zach Davies [graduated], Brett Phillips, Domingo Santana [graduated], Yhonathan Barrios, Adrian Houser, Josh Hader, etc.); 2015-2016 rebuilding trades under David Stearns (see most notably Lewis Brinson and Luis Ortiz, who immediately became the top prospects in the system following the Jonathan Lucroy-Jeremy Jeffress trade); 2015-2016 counterbuilding trades by Stearns (see most notably Isan Diaz, as a part of the Chase Anderson/Aaron Hill return for Jean Segura and Tyler Wagner); and the first two drafts under Ray Montgomery's direction (see most  notably Trent Clark, Corey Ray, and Cody Ponce, among others obviously). This even fails to consider breakouts from the late Bruce Seid's scouting tenure, including most recently Brandon Woodruff.

As a result of this obscene influx of talent, I have found numerical rankings to be pointless. The Brewers system is at a point where there is really not that much of a difference in saying "Trent Clark is #4, and Devin Williams is #11," or "Jorge Lopez is #14 and Jon Perrin is #26." Rather, I find it more useful to split the farm system into segments based on approximations of the total number of players under reserve by the Brewers. Thus, I have found it more useful to judge players by their standing within the Top 25 percent (or so) of the system, which I have estimated around 60-to-65 players or so (counting the 40-man roster down to the Dominican Summer League). Within this framework, I have found it useful to assess players within certain ranks -- to my eyes, Brinson, Ortiz, and Diaz are the very best prospects in the system in terms of overall future potential and floor, and easily rank among the Top One percent of the system. Then, we can make somewhat meaningful distinctions between someone like Diaz and Clark (who has a fine OFP but struggled with injuries in 2016) or Miguel Diaz (who has an excellent OFP but more risk than Ortiz, Brinson, and Diaz thus far). Again, this is not an exact science, and getting hung up on the numbers risks missing more qualitative views of players' roles.


One of my favorite aspects of the expanding quality within the Brewers system is the quality of depth. First and foremost, there are prospects such as Phil Bickford, Demi Orimoloye, and others, who have potentially strong tools (a great fastball, or three potential 60 tools in Orimoloye's case), but tons of risk (in Bickford's case, his stuff is backing up; in Orimoloye's case, his distance from the MLB and overall polishing work). It would not surprise me if Bickford or Orimoloye take charge in 2017 and lead the system in next year's rankings. Similarly, I feel like most of my 2016 draft rankings are tenative, awaiting more information and another look. I'm not sure I would be surprised if someone like Corbin Burnes ends up ranking ahead of Corey Ray, or if Chad McClanahan becomes the third baseman of the future; then, there are total sleepers like Zachary Clark, who could have the best total tools package of the entire draft class. This is what makes ranking prospects both frustrating and fun -- there are cases where highly ranked guys will not ever reach those heights, and conservatism ends up making us look foolish on guys like McClanahan or Burnes. Outside of the 2016 draft, there are other total sleepers in Carlos Herrera and Trey Supak, Wendell Rijo and Franly Mallen (comparing scouting and stats, Rijo simply has never flashed his tools, but way too many reports grade him highly to surrender hope), and there are still a number of potentially talented profiles that are just too young and inexperienced to accurately rank yet (I'm looking at Jose Sibrian and Yohel Atencio here, who could help make the Brewers an amazing catching system behind Andrew Susac, Martin Maldonado, and Jacob Nottingham, among others [for example, I know some are high on Dustin Houle]).


(Photo Updated at 10:04 AM with corrected 2017 age)


A word on Luke Barker, who was recently signed out of the Frontier League and has received some attention from my esteemed colleague Kyle Lesniewski. Barker is a just plain fun addition to the system -- the eye test says he looks like Jake Arrieta, and his 6'4", 215-225 pound profile perfectly mimics Arrieta's listing. Translation: Barker looks like a physicality righty, and it's intriguing that he's a biomechanics scholar (which leads me to think of Mike Marshall, among others, as following a profile of baseball mechanics junkies).

According to a self-uploaded scouting video (h/t BCB), Barker throws five pitches, and the video shows some sharp stuff and a wrinkly little fastball. Given the Brewers' vast history as a biomechanics system, and Vice President and Assistant General Manager Matt Arnold's noted expertise in that area, it should be exciting to see what a signing like Barker produces. I ranked Barker just outside the Top 30 for fun, because I think it's hard to sleep on the frame and stuff profile. Basically, it's a hedge that the righty could serve as one of the system's big jumps in 2016 (but this analysis could very well be translated to Paolo Espino, as well, as Espino is much closer to the MLB and calls to mind the Junior Guerra pick up prior to 2016 for Milwaukee). It is my mistake not to include Espino here, but he could easily slot into the Top 20 or 24 percent of the system. Hell, by #60 in the Brewers system, there are probably (at least) a dozen guys that could be ranked any which way.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Most Exciting 7-Game World Series

There was a sense throughout the recent Cleveland and Cubs World Series that it was one of the most competitive and exciting World Series I'd seen in some time. The teams played three one-run games, including the absurd extra-inning thriller that closed the series, and those one-run games were piled onto the fact that Cleveland had a chance to clinch with a 3-1 lead (like the 1985 Cardinals, 1979 Orioles, 1973 Mets, and 1972 Athletics. So, pretty good company even if you're included to think that's a choke for Cleveland). Moreover, the series featured two clubs with rather large discrepancies between their regular season win totals, meaning that there was a real chance for an underdog to knock out a big shot club (although these are relative terms, because Cleveland still won 94 games). Furthermore, both teams played so evenly that their final runs scored and runs allowed were tied, at 27 (making the Cubs the lowest scoring seven game champ since the 1991 Twin, and this series the first seven game tie since 1971). So, how does this series compare with other seven game World Series?
World Series (Team Wins) Final Score (RS / RA) One-Run Games Extra Inning Games Series Narrative Arc
2016 Cubs (103) d. Cleveland (94) 27-27 Three One 3-1 Cleveland lead / both teams lost home field / Extra Innings Game 7 (Cleveland had chance to clinch at home)
2014 Giants (88) d. Royals (89) 30-27 One Zero Giants 2 consecutive W to 3-2 lead / 1-1:2-2:3-3 Progression Progression / both teams lost home field (Royals had chance to clinch at home)
2011 Cardinals (90) d. Rangers (96) 38-30 Three One Rangers 2 consecutive W to 3-2 lead / 1-1:2-2:3-3 Progression / both teams lost home field
2002 Angels (99) d. Giants (95) 41-44 Four Zero Giants 2 consecutive W to 3-2 lead / 1-1:2-2:3-3 Progression / both teams lost home field
2001 Diamondbacks (92) d. Yankees (95) 37-14 Four Two Perfect Home Field Advantage (2:3:2) / Game 7 Walk-Off Win
1997 Marlins (92) d. Cleveland (86) 37-44 Two One 1-1:2-2:3-3 Progression / both teams lost home field / Extra Innings Game 7 (Walk off Win)
1991 Twins (95) d. Atlanta (94) 24-35 Five Three Perfect Home Field Advantage (2:3:2) / Consecutive Extra-Innings Walk-Offs (Game 6 & 7)
1987 Twins (85) d. Cardinals (95) 37-26 Zero Zero Perfect Home Field Advantage (2:3:2)
1986 Mets (108) d. Red Sox (95) 32-27 Two One Both teams lost home field / Road team won first four games / Infamous Game Six Mets walk-off
1985 Royals (91) d. Cardinals (101) 28-13 One Zero 3-1 Cardinals lead / both teams lost home field (Cardinals with chance to clinch at home) / Infamous Game Six Royals walk-off
1982 Cardinals (92) d. Brewers (95) 36-33 One Zero 1-1:2-2:3-3 Progression / both teams lost home field
1979 Pirates (98) d. Orioles (102) 32-26 Two Zero 3-1 Orioles lead / both teams lost home field / Orioles had a chance to clinch at home
1975 Reds (108) d. Red Sox (95) 29-30 Four Two 1-1:2-2:3-3 Progression / both teams lost home field / Consecutive one-run games 6 & 7 with winning runs scored in extras & 9th (Red Sox had a chance to clinch at home)
1973 Athletics (94) d. Mets (82) 21-24 Two Two 3-1 Mets lead / both teams lost home field
1972 Athletics (93) d. Reds (95) 16-21 Six Zero 3-1 Athletics lead (chance to clinch at home) / both teams lost home field / Reds had a chance to clinch at home
1971 Pirates (97) d. Orioles (101) 24-24 Three One Perfect Home Field first six games / Game 7 was first road win in series (Orioles had chance to clinch at home)
I judged these categories for a few reasons: First, I wanted to use regular season W-L as a basic measure of team strength. I know there are better run-based measurements of team strength, but the fact is that playoff baseball is situational, and if a team wins or loses more games than their run differential or underlying stats suggest, that reflects on their situational play. I also counted final RS / RA (it's interesting that six of 16 winners were outscored by the loser over seven games) one-run games, which I believe is an obvious metric of a closely played contest, extra innings affairs (which are exciting for many reasons, and demonstrate an evenly-played contest), and other specific notes (such as whether teams kept or lost home field advantage, whether a team had a 3-1 lead, whether the series progressed in a 1-game-to-1-game fashion, if a team had a chance to clinch at home, and if there was an iconic game that I know of in Game 6 or 7, and anything else interesting I noted.
These series can arguably divided into a couple of different groups. First, there are three series that are a cut above the rest, for one-run games, game 6 or 7 walk-offs, extra innings contests, teams losing home field advantage, teams losing 3-1 leads, or some combination of those factors. I believe that the perfect home field advantage in 1991 is very boring, but two consecutive extra innings walk-offs to close the series conquers all else. The 2016 series is oddly similar to the 1975 series, both in terms of the difference between team wins, the failed chance to clinch at home, and an iconic extra innings game:
Best Series Final Score (RS / RA) One-Run Games Extra Inning Games Series Narrative Arc
1991 Twins (95) d. Atlanta (94) 24-35 Five Three Perfect Home Field Advantage (2:3:2) / Consecutive Extra-Innings Walk-Offs (Game 6 & 7)
2016 Cubs (103) d. Cleveland (94) 27-27 Three One 3-1 Cleveland lead / both teams lost home field / Extra Innings Game 7 (Cleveland had chance to clinch at home)
1975 Reds (108) d. Red Sox (95) 29-30 Four Two 1-1:2-2:3-3 Progression / both teams lost home field / Consecutive one-run games 6 & 7 with winning runs scored in extras & 9th (Red Sox had a chance to clinch at home)
Next follow a group of series that certainly have their iconic moments, but maybe were not as evenly played, had a lot of one-run games but not much else, or had some combination of events that simply was not as exciting or as iconic as the above series (this is rather subjective, of course). For example, although the 2001 series had a lot of historical drama and a great final set of games, both teams followed home field advantage, and the final score of the series indicates that it really was not much of a contest whatsoever, overall; it's quite an odd mix of close games, home field determinism, and blowouts. That's just one example:
Interesting Series (Team Wins) Final Score (RS / RA) One-Run Games Extra Inning Games Series Narrative Arc
1972 Athletics (93) d. Reds (95) 16-21 Six Zero 3-1 Athletics lead (chance to clinch at home) / both teams lost home field / Reds had a chance to clinch at home
2002 Angels (99) d. Giants (95) 41-44 Four Zero Giants 2 consecutive W to 3-2 lead / 1-1:2-2:3-3 Progression / both teams lost home field
1997 Marlins (92) d. Cleveland (86) 37-44 Two One 1-1:2-2:3-3 Progression / both teams lost home field / Extra Innings Game 7 (Walk off Win)
1986 Mets (108) d. Red Sox (95) 32-27 Two One Both teams lost home field / Road team won first four games / Infamous Game Six Mets walk-off
1973 Athletics (94) d. Mets (82) 21-24 Two Two 3-1 Mets lead / both teams lost home field
1979 Pirates (98) d. Orioles (102) 32-26 Two Zero 3-1 Orioles lead / both teams lost home field / Orioles had a chance to clinch at home
1971 Pirates (97) d. Orioles (101) 24-24 Three One Perfect Home Field first six games / Game 7 was first road win in series (Orioles had chance to clinch at home)
2001 Diamondbacks (92) d. Yankees (95) 37-14 Four Two Perfect Home Field Advantage (2:3:2) / Game 7 Walk-Off Win
2011 Cardinals (90) d. Rangers (96) 38-30 Three One Rangers 2 consecutive W to 3-2 lead / 1-1:2-2:3-3 Progression / both teams lost home field
Finally, a group of series that have much less drama. For a seven game series, 1987 almost objectively has as little drama as possible for a seven game set: no extra innings, no one run games, the home team won every time, and the final score was lopsided, too. It is really interesting to me that each Champion in this category has fewer wins than the team they defeated. Perhaps that places these teams in a singular category, as they certainly deserve credit for that (well, maybe except for the Royals and Giants, who both had almost exactly the same record):
World Series (Team Wins) Final Score (RS / RA) One-Run Games Extra Inning Games Series Narrative Arc
2014 Giants (88) d. Royals (89) 30-27 One Zero Giants 2 consecutive W to 3-2 lead / 1-1:2-2:3-3 Progression / both teams lost home field (Royals had chance to clinch at home)
1985 Royals (91) d. Cardinals (101) 28-13 One Zero 3-1 Cardinals lead / both teams lost home field (Cardinals with chance to clinch at home) / Infamous Game Six Royals walk-off
1982 Cardinals (92) d. Brewers (95) 36-33 One Zero 1-1:2-2:3-3 Progression / both teams lost home field
1987 Twins (85) d. Cardinals (95) 37-26 Zero Zero Perfect Home Field Advantage (2:3:2)
So, in conclusion, the 2016 series truly will stand the test of time as a competitive and entertaining series. Its great features include a bonkers seesaw final game, a tie score for the series, three one-run games and one extra innings contest, a blown 3-1 advantage for one team, and a blown chance to clinch the series at home. Pretty thrilling!

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Ranking Brewers Prospects

I began covering Brewers prospects during Milwaukee's exceptionally disappointing 2015 season, since the big club was doing nothing and it was clear that looking to the future would be more entertaining. The season was particularly interesting because several key prospects took huge steps forward (Orlando Arcia, Jorge Lopez, and Michael Reed most notably), which was a huge boost for the system prior to the influx of talent through an excellent draft (Cody Ponce, Trent Clark, Nathan Kirby, Demi Orimoloye, etc.) and slicing rebuilding trades (Brett Phillips, Josh Hader, Domingo Santana, Adrian Houser, Zach Davies, Malik Collymore, Yhonathan Barrios). Milwaukee even made some quiet International signings that could be praiseworthy as well (Jose Sibrian, for example). From four fronts, the Brewers system immeasurably improved.

The same development has occurred under David Stearns's watch. In his first season as GM, Stearns has made remarkable low-cost/no-risk moves (Junior Guerra, Jonathan Villar, Garin Cecchini, Rymer Liriano, Keon Broxton, Trey Supak, etc.), which are especially astute for their counterbuilding nature (i.e., Stearns unloaded prospect depth to acquire Villar, Broxton, Supak, and Liriano, for example). A couple of true rebuilding moves netted Freddy Peralta, Carlos Herrera, Daniel Missaki, Jacob Nottingham, and Bubba Derby.

Stearns adroitly acquired a "bad" contract (Aaron Hill) while moving Jean Segura and Tyler Wagner to the Diamondbacks, which added potential impact talent to the Brewers not once (Isan Diaz) but twice (Wendell Rijo), thanks to the recent pre-deadline deal to Boston. Once again, the Brewers executed a perfectly orchestrated draft in terms of leveraging risk and potential assets, which is beginning to create a signature for scouting director Ray Montgomery (Corey Ray, Chad McClanahan, Lucas Erceg, Zachary Clark,  Zach Brown, Braden Webb, Francisco Thomas, and Thomas Jankins, among others).

All told, Milwaukee has added or developed at least 30 intriguing-to-impact prospects over the last calendar year. This is a bewildering task for judging talent within the system, for even this number hardly accounts for the fact that previous impact-potential prospects are continuing on their course to success, too (Devin Williams, Marcos Diplan, and Franly Mallen, for example). Milwaukee's system is not simply stacked, it is stacked with depth pipelines emerging for Catcher, Second Base, and Shortstop, not to mention the club's glut of outfielders. The low minors may currently feature more true impact potential than the advanced minors at the moment, but several of the advanced prospects are tuning up their games in preparation for legitimate shots at MLB roles. Arcia's glove alone could carry him at shortstop; Brett Phillips is flashing five tools in centerfield; and even through some setbacks, Jorge Lopez adds rotational depth.

So, how to rank these players? Admittedly, some of these pitchers may still have question marks about whether they will start or relieve, and some of the centerfield prospects are more likely to work at other outfield positions, which digs into their potential impact. Still, there is an impressive array of tools available, and even if some players move off of elite middle diamond positions, they may have the bats to carry an offensive juggernaut. More raw power is appearing throughout the system, and there are several power/speed potential profiles. For this reason, I am inclined to believe that the bats are ahead of the arms at this point, although this could arguably be a reflection of the fact that the system's best potential arms have not yet hit AA.

I am writing this ranking here because it is too unwieldy, and also has too many question marks, to publish elsewhere. There is simply to way to say, right now, the system's #35 prospect is better than their #25 prospect; after five or six true impact top prospects, there are at least 20 intriguing prospects with tools that could grade into some MLB role.

I ranked prospects first and foremost on their highest potential tools and roles, giving preference to high probability middle diamond players and starting pitchers. But I do have a liking of big tools on their own, so it's tough for me to pass on Josh Hader's 97 MPH lefty fastball whether or not he starts or relieves. I am also trying to round out the general Top 30 range with high-floor players that could provide MLB impact in starting or bench roles. This is a necessity because prospects like Michael Reed, Jon Perrin, Damien Magnifico, and Garin Cecchini still have immense value, even if they do not have the high ceilings of other prospects.

For the purposes of this exercise, I mean the following:

  • An elite role is a starting contribution that could provide at least 10 runs above average (all around, bat and field) or 10 runs prevented. 
  • An impact role is a contributor that could be average or better (0-10 runs). 
  • A "bench" role is someone that has a tool to make the MLB, but a role that is somewhat uncertain. 
  • Power/speed players are ranked separately because I like them too much to grade fairly against others. I would invariably rank many of these players higher than I "should."
  • There are other players that I think are interesting, but there is some injury issue or they are simply too far from the advanced minors to grade.
Here's the table:
Elite Roles (6) Impact Starters (6) Impact Depth (Uncertain Role) (10) Power or Speed Loves (10) Depth (18) Don't Know / Extreme Risks (14)
Orlando Arcia Jorge Lopez Marcos Diplan Demi Orimoloye Trey Supak Nathan Kirby
Cody Ponce Isan Diaz Freddy Peralta Lucas Erceg Bubba Derby Taylor Williams
Bertt Phillips Trent Clark Kodi Medeiros Jake Gatewood Garin Cecchini Daniel Missaki
Jacob Nottingham Devin Williams Michael Reed Gilbert Lara Tyrone Taylor Aaron Familia
Miguel Diaz Corey Ray Adrian Houser Chad McClanahan Damien Magnifico Jean-Carlos Carmona
Josh Hader Franly Mallen Jon Perrin Victor Roache Francisco Thomas Karsen Lindell
Carlos Herrera Zachary Clark Zach Brown Nash Walters
Javier Betancourt Malik Collymore Braden Webb Jordan Yamamoto
Monte Harrison Tyrone Perry Jose Sibrian Nelson Hernandez
Aaron Wilkerson David Denson Troy Stokes Carlos Luna
David Burkhalter Johel Atencio
Thomas Jankins Max McDowell
Drake Owenby Yhonathan Barrios
Jake Drossner Rymer Liriano
Dustin Houle
George Iskenderian
Jose Cuas
Gentry Fortuno

Even with this table of 64 players, I am certain I forgot several interesting prospects. Like Wendell Rijo, for instance (whoops!).

Additionally, the Brewers have several rookies currently playing in the MLB:

2016 Rookies (WARP)
Junior Guerra (2.0)
Zach Davies (1.0)
Jhan Marinez (0.3)
Jacob Barnes (0.3)
Andy Wilkins (0.0)
Yadiel Rivera (-0.2)
Colin Walsh (-0.2)
Ramon Flores (-0.3)
Keon Broxton (-0.4)

What is especially interesting for the Brewers is the emerging pipeline at each position on the diamond, which should allow Milwaukee's front office to consider more depth trades (alongside the traditional/expected "rebuilding" trades involving MLB players). This chart is based on games played, as of late June, so I excluded Arizona Rookies, given that their team was under construction with draft signings:

Brewers Pipeline C 1B 2B 3B SS
AAA Pina Cecchini Elmore Middlebrooks Arcia
AA Nottingham Cooper McFarland Shaw Macias
A+ Houle DeMuth Iskenderian Cuas A. Ortega
A McDowell Sharkey Allemand Gatewood I. Diaz
R+ N. Rodriguez J. Ortiz Mallen Erceg Lara
Brewers Pipeline LF CF RF Depth Depth
AAA E. Young Jr. Reed Wilkins Pinto Orf
AA Roache Phillips Taylor Betancourt O. Garcia
A+ B. Diaz J. Davis Coulter Collymore Ray
A Stokes Harrison Belonis T. Clark L. Aviles
R+ Y. Martinez Segovia Orimoloye W. Wilson R. Gideon

With this type of depth, the Brewers front office can begin trading players that might have similar profiles, in order to maximize high prospect value and turn it into MLB wins (by both trading some prospects and developing others). Each of these players will not make the MLB with the Brewers, so as the big club's roster needs unfold throughout 2017 and 2018, the Brewers will have the deep farm system to (a) withstand injuries, (b) make impact trades, and (c) graduate talent to the MLB.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

The Descent of the 1995-1996 NBA

Lately on my own social media, I've been vehemently defending the 1995-1996 Chicago Bulls. Obvious nostalgia aside, the team was a powerhouse that had just returned (arguably) the greatest player of all time to an exceptional supporting cast. I also fondly remember the Miami Heat, Orlando Magic, New York Knicks, and Seattle SuperSonics, and used these teams to justify personal arguments about the strength of the 1995-1996 NBA. A close friend pointed out that the league added two expansion teams for that season, raising a question about the competitive nature of the league. I hypothesized that ELO, a measurement designed to account for franchise strength based on performance in individual games, would readily account for the strength of the league. Furthermore, the presence of the "tank" (or, sorry, "The Process") in the 2015-2016 NBA would surely equate this years bottom of the league with that bottom of the league in 1995-1996. Or so I suspected.

Thankfully, ELO provides a clear and intuitive tool for judging the strength of a given league, so I set out to collect the season opening and closing ELO for each 1995-1996 NBA team, and each 2015-2016 NBA team. The 2015-2016 NBA had 30 teams, while 29 played in 1995-1996 (hereafter 1516 and 9596). My hypothesis was simple: the 1995-1996 NBA, despite its expansion era, would prove to have stronger teams than the 2015-2016 NBA. My findings challenge this, but there are a boatload of interesting facts and interpretations in-between.

(1) Elite Teams.
Let's cut straight to the chase: who were the best teams in 1995-1996? Since the "average" ELO is 1500 points, I used a 10% above average threshold (or, 1650 points) to define "elite" teams at season's end. The 1516 Warriors could be poised to overtake the Bulls, who are currently the most elite team of the bunch. However, the 1516 Spurs, Thunder, and Cavs all are currently rated stronger than the 9596 Sonics and Jazz.

Elite Teams ELO Opening Closing
9596 Bulls 1592 1853
1516 Warriors 1746 1790
1516 Spurs 1667 1759
1516 Thunder 1567 1744
1516 Cavs 1645 1725
9596 Sonics 1627 1704
9596 Jazz 1604 1687

This list doesn't tell the whole story, however. Entering the 1516 season, the NBA featured two elite teams (Warriors and Spurs). By contrast, there were no elite ELO teams entering the 9596 NBA. Instead, there were nine "very good" teams, or teams that were 5% to 9% better than average ELO. In the 9596 NBA, those teams were the Spurs, Rockets, Sonics, Jazz Knicks, Pacers, Bulls, Sun, and Magic. Interestingly enough, the 1516 NBA began the season with the two elite teams (Warriors and Spurs) and four very good teams (Clippers, Cavs, Rockets, and Grizzlies).

As an aside, looking at actual opening and closing ELO development, one can make a better argument for the 1516 Thunder as a comp for the 9596 Bulls, rather than the 1516 Warriors. But that's another day.

(2) League Picture
So, take your pick: entering the season, the 9596 NBA featured no elite teams, but a ton of very good teams (31% of the league entered the season as "very good"). In 9596, the league finished with three elite teams (see table above) and three very good teams (Magic, Lakers, Spurs, Pacers). By contrast, the 1516 NBA opened with a solid number of elite and very good teams (20% of the league fell under these classifications), and finished the season with four elite teams (see table above) and five very good teams (Blazers, Clippers, Heat, Hawks, Raptors).

Elite: 1650+ ELO
Very Good: 1575-1649 ELO
Good: 1500-1574 ELO
Mediocre: 1425-1499 ELO
Bad: 1350-1424 ELO
Terrible: -1349 ELO

Category of Team Opening Closing
9596 Elite 3
1516 Elite 2 4
9596 Very Good 9 4
1516 Very Good 4 5
9596 Good 5 8
1516 Good 11 7
9596 Mediocre 6 5
1516 Mediocre 8 6
9596 Bad 7 2
1516 Bad 1 5
9596 Terrible 2 7
1516 Terrible 4 3

In the broadest terms possible, or the "Big Picture," the 1516 NBA is almost the exact inversion of the 9596 NBA. First, the 9596 NBA, where five good teams declined and produced one mediocre and one bad team (the Lakers ascended to very good); six mediocre teams split into two good, two mediocre, two terrible teams; and nearly half the bad teams became terrible teams (the Pistons became good, the Warriors and Bullets mediocre). Perhaps most tellingly, the 14 very good and good teams nearly split equitably, producing 3 elite, 4 very good, 5 good, 1 mediocre (#LOLHornets), and 1 bad (#LOLNuggets) teams.

9596 Opening Closing
Spurs Very Good Very Good
Rockets Very Good Good
Sonics Very Good Elite
Jazz Very Good Elite
Knicks Very Good Good
Pacers Very Good Very Good
Bulls Very Good Elite
Suns Very Good Good
Magic Very Good Very Good
Hornets Good Mediocre
Nuggets Good Bad
Blazers Good Good
Lakers Good Very Good
Hawks Good Good
Cavs Mediocre Good
Kings Mediocre Mediocre
Celtics Mediocre Mediocre
Mavs Mediocre Terrible
Heat Mediocre Good
Bucks Mediocre Terrible
Nets Bad Terrible
Sixers Bad Terrible
Warriors Bad Mediocre
Pistons Bad Good
Clippers Bad Bad
Bullets Bad Mediocre
Twolves Bad Terrible
Grizzlies Terrible Terrible
Raptors Terrible Terrible

In harsh terms, the 9596 NBA saw its teams' talents redistributed throughout the year, where a bunch of very good and good teams scattered in several different directions, all while the bottom of the league flat-out dropped out. The best thing that can be said about the 9596 NBA is that at least its redistribution was balanced, as nearly a third of the league either improved, remained the same, or declined (see table below).

By contrast, the 1516 NBA was a story of stasis and improvement. While the 1516 NBA opened with more terrible teams than the 9596 league, two of the four terrible teams improved in 1516. Otherwise, teams remained rather steady across categories: the two elite teams entering the season remained elite; the very good teams scattered into elite, very good, good, and mediocre (#LOLGrizzlies) placements; five of eleven good teams remained just that (only the Bulls and Pelicans declined from that category. OUCH!); three of eight mediocre teams remained in place (two teams declined, #LOLBucks & #LOLNets); the Magic, the lone bad team, improved.

1516 Opening Closing
Warriors Elite Elite
Spurs Elite Elite
Clippers Very Good Very Good
Cavs Very Good Elite
Rockets Very Good Good
Grizzlies Very Good Mediocre
Bulls Good Mediocre
Thunder Good Elite
Hawks Good Very Good
Blazers Good Very Good
Mavs Good Good
Jazz Good Good
Wizards Good Good
Pelicans Good Bad
Celtics Good Good
Pacers Good Good
Raptors Good Very Good
Suns Mediocre Bad
Pistons Mediocre Mediocre
Nets Mediocre Terrible
Heat Mediocre Very Good
Bucks Mediocre Bad
Nuggets Mediocre Mediocre
Kings Mediocre Mediocre
Charlotte Mediocre Good
Magic Bad Mediocre
Lakers Terrible Terrible
Sixers Terrible Terrible
Twolves Terrible Bad
Knicks Terrible Bad

Here are how these charts look when they are compared to one another:

Teams Remaining the Same 9596 1516
Elite 0% 100%
Very Good 33% 25%
Good 40% 45%
Mediocre 33% 38%
Bad 14% 0%
Terrible 100% 50%
Overall 10 / 29 (34%) 13 / 30 (43%)
Teams Declining 9596 1516
Elite 0% 0%
Very Good 33% 50%
Good 40% 18%
Mediocre 33% 38%
Bad 43% 0%
Overall 10 / 29 (34%) 7 / 30 (23%)
Teams Improving 9596 1516
Very Good 33% 25%
Good 20% 36%
Mediocre 33% 25%
Bad 43% 100%
Terrible 0% 50%
Overall 9 / 29 (31%) 10 / 30 (33%)

(3) League Strength
It's tempting to argue that the presence of an even distribution of improving, static, and declining teams makes the 9596 NBA the more competitive league. However, the presence of nine bad or terrible teams  (out of 29) simply makes that case more difficult. In terms of basic statistics, the 1516 NBA finished with fewer bad or terrible teams (8 of 30), and had a higher percentage of their preseason bad or terrible teams improve (the Magic, Twolves, and Knicks, here). The 9596 NBA had the Warriors, Pistons, and Bullets improve, but that simply was not enough to tilt the numbers in their favor.

There's also a grand sense of possibility about the 1516 NBA going forward: 22 of 30 teams are mediocre or better, and it's a top-heavy list (16 of those teams are good). Two of those mediocre teams (Bulls, Pistons) are within shouting distance of the league average ELO, and the Magic are trending upward. These numbers are ultimately close to the 9596 NBA, but just a tick better (I feel like that matters, too, as a mediocre team can sell "trying to win" to its fanbase, and the more teams that can do that, better for the league). It is simply better, or more competitive, if 22 teams can fight for playoff spots, instead of 20.

On the other hand, there remain arguments in favor of the 9596 NBA. At the very least, since fewer teams remained the same, the league was at least more interesting, arguably, than the current NBA. Furthermore, nearly as many teams improved in 9596 as in 1516, which means that some of the moves within the league were equally as exciting as the current league.

Isn't it interesting how many franchises have similar arcs within a 20 year span? The poor Rockets: both teams declined from Top 5 openings in 9596 and 1516. That's neither here nor there, really, but still interesting: the 1990s Rockets descending from their Championships, the 2010s Rockets never really succeeding in the playoffs (1st round exits in 3 of their last 4 trips). Teams that were (approximately) within 37 ELO points, or 2.5%, in both their 9596 and 1516 ratings? Rockets (1503 to 1536), Washington (1498 to 1530), Pistons (1528 to 1494), Nets (1327 to 1289),  Kings (1431 to 1425), Hawks (1556 to 1593), and Nuggets (1404 to 1427). That's seven teams that have played nearly a generation of basketball, only to come 'round and land almost in exactly the same spot.

Notably, the Sixers missed the cut, but they were nearly as bad in 9596 (1256 ELO) as their current "Process" (1203 ELO). The current Sixers finished this season with a worse performance than both the expansion Grizzlies and Raptors, which alone should disqualify them form their Draft Lottery. The Sonics / Thunder also missed the cut by a small margin, but they are equally fascinating from the other end of the spectrum: this franchise finished Top Three in both years, elite teams both years, and (arguably) in a transitional season both years. This year's Thunder potentially closed out Kevin Durant's era with the club, closing their attempt at a dynasty; the Sonics weren't quite there in 1996, but they were close to winding down; they wouldn't return to the Western Conference Finals in Seattle.

It remains to be seen if the Warriors can top the Bulls dynasty of the mid-1990s. One might wonder whether that team will become as universally loved or hated as the Bulls (I wonder if video game programmers will tank the Warriors, a la the hideous Bulls in NBA Jam). The one thing that remains extremely interesting about those 1996 Bulls is the return of Michael Jordan, which adds a completely different arc to the story. Moreover, even in the midst of their dynasty run, even including the "break" from the Finals between 1993 and 1996,  the Bulls responded to adversity and rebuilt their club; their ELO climb from 1592 to 1853 (!!!) in 9596 alone proves this. So, one only needs to ask of Golden State, what will their adversity be, and will they beat it?

Monday, May 9, 2016

Political Parties & Academia

Since Nicholas Kristof's "A Confession of Liberal Intolerance" will undoubtedly make the rounds, given its seemingly "countercultural" critique in favor of the GOP in academia, it is worth providing at least two specific responses to Kristof's argument. Kristof is merely sneaking power into the classroom, research, and publication through his argument, which is an unacceptable implication in any academic argument.

In the first place, it's ridiculous that any college professor would be represented by their political affiliation in the two-party system: no one is a good scholar or teacher or representing their scholarly viewpoint because they are GOP or Democrat. Even in "left-leaning" fields this would be absurd: it would matter less if two Sociologists or Anthropologists or Philosophers were Dem & GOP, rather than structuralist, feminist, Marxist, Foucauldian, Weberian, etc. [or not] (ironically, the same even goes for "right"-leaning fields, like Economics, where one can take a striking variety of ideological positions on institutionalism, corporate governance, Monetary policy, etc. It would obviously matter more, anyway, if one followed Keynes in economics, rather than political party). 

Speaking especially as someone educated in fields that are publicly viewed as "left," there was not ever a time that I hoped my political theory prof would out themselves as Dem / GOP; it mattered much more what they had to say on Locke / Rousseau / Rawls / Arendt, etc. Philosophically, it would be absurd to suggest that political party affiliation matters in a debate about 20th century epistemology, or the Theory of Ideas from Plato to Aristotle, etc.; even fields colloquially aligned with what the USA calls "the left" have little-to-no-room for State parties in the classroom. 

Suggesting that academia should correct for "political diversity" as "political party membership" in anyway is a great way to out oneself as an apologist for the State's political order itself, rather than a champion of academic freedom.

In this sense, given the GOP's extreme cultural victories from the ground-up, from roughly the 1970s-to-present, I find Kristof's argument about academic diversity disingenuous. Conservatives threw money at institutions to found right-leaning journals (stacking 2nd Amendment scholarship in their favor), to build law school curriculum and societies (creating The Federalist Society, an actual route to conservative judicial power), all the while even the most "groundbreaking" canonical political theorists of that time were "center" at best (Rawls, even as a welfare state theorist, was quite conservative). If anything, the GOP are a model for how a State-sponsored entity could maximize wings of academia for their agenda, instead of a model for "political academia outsider."

Anyway, the GOP has been an absolute force in local-state-Congressional election cycles, and they have effectively used academic infrastructures to create positions of strength in fields of cultural prestige or political monopoly (i.e., the judiciary). Acting as arms of the State, it's shortsighted (at best) to say that either Democratic or Republican views should be represented in the academy, and this point becomes even more dangerous when one considers the success that the GOP has had in the academy in terms of actually building ideology over the last 45-50 years.

This is simply shrouded power politics, and the implications for the right (that the GOP somehow is underrepresented in the academy) or the left (that representation as a Democrat in academic work) are both equally untenable.