Monday, April 29, 2013

Where do the Bucks go from here?

The Bucks just finished a season that was pretty much what everyone expected. They had enough talent to play about .500 basketball and get into the last playoff spot. For the first time in a while the Bucks will have some roster flexibility when free agency opens this summer. The Bucks only have salary commitments to 7 players beyond this season including 6 forwards/centers- Ilyasova, Gooden, Sanders, Udoh, Mbah-A-Moute, and John Henson. Monta Ellis has an 11 million player option for next season that you would assume he will opt out of in favor of a long term guaranteed deal. Jennings is a restricted free agent and the Bucks can match any offer he gets. I see basically 3 ways forward for this team.

1) Blow it up. The Bucks have no chance of winning a championship in the next 2-3 years unless the Heat team plane goes down in a crash, or their big 3 all suffer major injuries. Neither of which seem very likely. Championships should be the goal, so why not go in the tank yet again, hope for a couple top picks in the next couple years and hope you hit on a superstar in the draft you can build a roster around for a decade. The Bucks can clean up their salary cap even more and then spend in a few years when they Heat will be older and Lebron may have opted out of his contract and moved to L.A.

Seems simple, but it's not. It's harder to land a superstar in the draft then it seems. Not every team is lucky enough to land Durant, Westbrook and Harden in consecutive drafts, let alone one player of their caliber. A team has to lose a lot to get those high picks, and fan support can fade a lot in that time. As you may recall Seattle lost the Thunder in 2008 in the midst of all that losing. The losing wasn't the only issue, but it was a factor.

The Bucks have a less than stable ownership situation as Kohl isn't getting any younger and he has been trying to sell the team to someone who will keep them in Milwaukee for a decade without success. The Bradley center is old and the Bucks and the city are still in the process of finding a long term stadium solution. All of this means that tanking the team just isn't good business, unless your goal is to move out of Milwaukee. I don't see Kohl going that way, so I put the chances of the Bucks Blowing it up at about 2%.

2) Go big. With the flexibility the Bucks have they could take some chances and try to pull off some big moves to make this team a contender in their division. This would mean taking some risks and moving some of the young talent they have acquired. The Bucks could start by resigning their two best players in Ellis, and Jennings. They could find a team looking to dump a big salary and bring in some talent by trading some of their young players. Think if the Lakers blow up their roster and dump Pau Gasol's 2 years for 40 million, and the Bucks give up Ilyasova (a nice stretch 4 to play next to Howard) and throw in Udoh (center depth) and Mbah-a-Moute (a replacement for Artest). Yes, I used the ESPN trade machine and this trade would work within the NBA rules. I doubt the Lakers would do this, but you get the idea.

Don't see this happening, but it's more likely than Blowing it up. It would fit the business model of winning now and trying to get in new ownership and a new stadium. Kohl wants his team to win now to sell more tickets which makes the team more attractive to potential buyers. If the team is winning and draws local support it becomes easier to sell public financing of a stadium than a team that is losing and no one cares if they leave. There is still the possibility the big contract player gets hurt, or gets old and sucks, then they are back to blowing it up in a couple years. Chances- 8%.

3) Stay the course- you can do the math. Chances- 90%. The Bucks have the right to match any contract offer Jennings gets, and he is the only marketable player on the roster so he will almost certainly be back. Sorry frontcourt fans, but no one is coming to games to see Ilyasova or Sanders play even if they are more efficient players by some measures. The Bucks may try to bring back Ellis or JJ Redick, or they may just sign a couple other free agent guards. The Bucks are high on their front court and all the young players, especially Sanders and Henson. Seems likely they give those guys another year of seasoning before they start making decisions about trading them or making long term commitments to them.

This is not a super exciting path, as it likely leads to another season of about .500 basketball and maybe a last playoff spot. Not very exciting, but probably in the long term interests of keeping a team in Milwaukee, so I guess it may be the best path for now.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Cha Cha Cha Changes

The Bucks are almost out of the playoffs, so I will soon have to turn my attention to the Brewers. I promise I'll start to post some baseball stuff, or at least comment on Brett's posts.
Until then I have one more post on NCAA basketball.
Bo Ryan had some interesting comments about the proposed NCAA rule changes to the shot clock and practice start. The full article is on Andy Katz's blog.
On starting practice early:
You will have 30 days between Oct. 4 and your first game, so they would be expanding the time to get your 30 workouts in so you can give guys more days off. You can spread it out a little bit better. (Wisconsin's Bo Ryan)
On shortening the shot clock to 30 seconds:
I'm OK with 30 seconds. [But] when they say go to 30, they'll think 'Oh man, the points will go up.' People are much more sophisticated on defense, bodies stronger. There is a lot more than the shot clock on why scoring is down. (Wisconsin's Bo Ryan)
The practice rules don't seem like a huge change. Practice would start 2-3 weeks early, but the amount of time coaches can spend with players would still be regulated. As Bo states, it would allow kids to have fewer back to back practices and give bodies more time to recover.
I imagine his response to the shot clock changes will surprise those who still believe UW to be a run the shot clock down and chuck it team. Bo is dead right that shortening the shot clock will increase possessions but may not necessarily significantly increase scoring. Contrary to what many may think, if anything I think the change may benefit UW. UW will still run the same offense and 5 less seconds won't force any big changes to their system. However teams that play good defense like UW could gain an even bigger advantage if teams don't have an extra 5 seconds to get a good shot.
The best quote in the article was from Steve Alford about the Cuse D:

I don't buy the argument that shooting will go up or scores. Seems college kids struggle enough knowing how to get good shots in 35 seconds. The shorter clock helps better defensive teams, though. Have fun going against the Syracuse zone with five less seconds. (UCLA's Steve Alford)

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Streak Lives

The Brewers have now won nine games in a row.  It is the first streak of such length since 2003 when they racked up ten straight W’s.  Tonight, staff co-ace Gallardo hurled 6.2 IP giving up 3 ER.  Command issues nearly cost him in the 7th inning when with no one on base and needing just one more strike to close the inning Gallardo suddenly lost his stuff and ended up walking the bases loaded.

Southpaw Tom Gorzelanny entered in relief and needed just three pitches to fan lefty Yonder Alonso and extinguish the threat.

Jean Segura (.377) continues his climb to stardom going 3-5 and flashing some serious leather at short stop.  His unassisted double play in the 4th bailed Gallardo out of a major jam.  That Greinke trade is looking like a pleasant surprise right now.  Despite my eternal optimism, I must admit feeling like trading a former Cy Young winner for some prospects would take a while to pay dividends.  If I weren't so naturally optimistic, I might have thought offloading Greinke for AAA and AA farmhands would certainly doom the club to a decade of mediocrity.

Thankfully, I am a glass half full kind of guy.  (Full of what, who is to say?)

John Axford pitched a 1-2-3 eighth inning touching 97 on the gun and flashing a tight breaking ball on the black.  If he rights the ship the one-two punch of Axford and Henderson could prove lethal.  He still owns an ugly 9.35 ERA, but tonight’s performance was Ax’s sixth straight scoreless outing.

Jim Henderson earned his 5th save of the season, sealing victory with a swing and miss strikeout on a 96 MPH fastball.

The Brewers currently have 4 players in the top 20 in WAR:
  • Jean Segura: 1.2 WAR (6th in NL)
  • Ryan Braun, Carlos Gomez: 1.1 WAR (9th in NL)
  • Norichika Aoki (or “lazy river,” in Japanese): 0.9 WAR (16th in NL)
Bryce Harper, 8th in NL WAR, is getting a lot of hype in the media again this year for his hot start—much like last year when he was all but declared a hall of famer but ended the season mired in a funk that saw his average dip from a season high of .307 in June all the way down to .270.  (Also, Kemp had sealed up the MVP with his .417 average through April.  Oops.  It’s a long season.)  No doubt the #phenom Harper is deserving of superlatives given his age and supreme talent, but Jean Segura is rivaling if not outperforming the young stud in many ways so far this year and deserves more national recognition.  It must be true that chicks—and the media—dig the long ball.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Freak Injuries Continue

Up 7-1 in the 6th inning against the lowly San Diego Padres, appearing likely to extend a winning streak to eight games following a 2-8 start, the Brewers' best starting pitcher to date attempted a sac bunt.  Hit too hard, the sacrifice turned into an out as the Padres gunned down the lead runner at second.  Kyle Lohse, who was throwing a gem, jogged out the fielder's choice and, in the process, somehow injured his left pinky finger against the first baseman's body. There was no throw on the play. He was immediately taken out of the game after it appeared the trainer attempted but failed to pop the possible dislocated digit into place.  Now, the announcers are speculating Lohse's left pinky finger -- on his non-throwing hand -- might be broken.

I am biased, to be sure, but it sure seems like the Brewers have been stung by an unusual number of injuries the past couple years.

Last year, Mat Gamel, who was supposed to be the replacement for Prince Fielder, tore an ACL chasing down a routine pop fly in foul territory.  Jonathan Lucroy, on pace to make the all-star team (in my humble opinion), broke his hand in a hotel suitcase incident when, as legend goes, he reached under the bed in search of a sock at his wife's behest and a suitcase just happened to fall on his hand.

For certain, that excuse is cleverer than "I just fell down."

But (possibly) breaking a finger jogging to first base by having your hand brush against the first baseman's body as your foot touches the base?

C'mon, man!

Lohse has a 2.52 ERA, four quality starts, and, if the Brewers can hold a 7-1 lead after 7.1 IP, is going to move to 1-1 on the year.  Suffice it to say, losing their best starting pitcher on top of Hart and Ramirez would be a major blow.  The likely candidate to replace Lohse would be Fiers, the rookie standout from last year in the midst of a major swoon who was just sent back down to the minors.

If that worst case scenario occurred, the Brewers would have three starting pitchers who began 2012 in AAA or lower.

UPDATE: A little birdie told me Lohse only suffered a dislocated pinky finger and he hopes to make his next start. The Brewers caught a break there. Er, avoided one. Ha ha, get it?

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Improbable Surge to .500

After winning the first game of the season in walk-off fashion, the Milwaukee Brewers lost five games in a row.  They then lost three of the next four to fall to 2-8.  They played 60% of those games at the friendly confines of Miller Park.

Even for me, ever the eternal optimist, this looked pretty grim.  

By this point, the Brewers had been decimated by injuries—key injuries.  So many that they extended Corey Hart’s ride on the pine to the dreaded 60-day DL to make room for Blake Lalli, a player few of us had ever heard of (he hit a walk-off sac fly in his first home plate appearance).  

This move pushed Hart’s return back until May 30th at the earliest, about a month later than expected—wishful thinking, perhaps—when the injury occurred.

In addition to former all-star Hart, the erstwhile potent Brewers lineup that led the league in homers in 2012 also found itself without all-star caliber cleanup hitter Aramis Ramirez, who is not expected back even when eligible to come off the 15-day DL.

The slew of injuries forced the Brewers to reunite with a much maligned player who some claim is the worst player in major league baseball, a guy who was waived in 2012 by the KANSAS CITY ROYALS: Yunieski Betancourt.  At one point, rumor had it Betancourt was to replace Aramis Ramirez in the cleanup spot.  

Hell, folks, had just frozen over.  

(Not that he could have done any worse than Rickie Weeks, who has turned the four spot into a black hole, going 5-46 with 22 strikeouts; worse, prior to moving to the cleanup spot, Weeks had been one of the Brewers’ hottest hitters, batting .467 in the club’s first four games.)

As if all this wasn’t bad enough, Ryan Braun had missed three games of his own during the 2-8 start and showed clear signs of a nagging neck injury, slumping in very un-Braun like fashion going 1-12 with 6 Ks in a series against the rival St. Louis Cardinals.  One can almost hear the chants: urine sample!

But, heading into the 8th inning of the series finale against those Cardinals, down 0-4, the Brewers amidst a franchise record in futility with 32 straight scoreless innings, Ryan Braun blasted an opposite field home run.  One hit wiped out the scoreless streak and began a stirring extra innings comeback that halted a five game losing streak and, importantly, avoided a sweep at the hands of the Cardinals.

As far as early season games go, it was a huge win.  But it was just one game, and the Brewers were sort of lucky not to be 1-10.  And was Braun really back?  (The next game, Braun went 0-5 with 4 strikeouts.)  Could a lineup missing two of its top three power hitters from 2012 prop up a middling starting rotation led by Yovanni Gallardo who at that point sported a not so sterling 6.61 ERA?

The off day following this victory slash glimmer of hope, Yovanni Gallardo was arrested around 2am for a DUI.  This was rock bottom.  It had to be.  For both Gallardo and the Brew Crew.

That remains to be seen.  But so far so good.

Since starting 2-8 the Brewers have won six straight games becoming the first team to win six games in a row after a 2-8 start since the 1977 world champion Yankees.  In Gallardo’s first start after the DUI arrest, he threw 6 dominant innings, earned his first victory, and crushed a two-run homer off San Francisco Giants ace Matt Cain.  Braun isn’t quite the Braun we know and love, but he has drawn five walks in his last four games.  Jean Segura is second in the National League with his .386 batting average.

Corey Hart is still out another 5 weeks.  Aramis Ramirez is shelved for another couple weeks.  But with a stunning winning streak that includes a sweep of last year’s World Series champs, the Brewers have discovered what to do when you find yourself with a shovel in a deep hole.

Just dig up, stupid.

Monday, April 8, 2013


Has any Badgers team ever gone 2-0 against the eventual national champion?

I believe the last time the Badgers beat the national champion was 2010, when they beat eventual champ Duke in the Big Ten / ACC challenge.

The Badgers also beat eventual champion Michigan back in 1988-89, but split the season series. Same with Michigan State in 1979. Obviously, Wisconsin went 0-4 against MSU in 2000. Pretty sure Wisconsin never beat any of Bobby Knight's title teams, and certainly never swept them. Indiana '53 and OSU '60 swept the Badgers, and they lost to Marquette in 76-77.

Other than Duke in 2010, I don't know if the Badgers have ever beaten an eventual champ in the non-conference, but surely they've never gone 2-0 against an eventual champ from another conference.

Assuming this has never happened, this is another good reason to root for Michigan tonight.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Bo Ryan Really Should Have Been to a Final Four By Now

Another successful season has come and gone for the Wisconsin basketball team. In some ways, it was a surprisingly successful season. After Josh Gasser's injury, my expectations for this season plummeted. But they were still a good team. They had the ability to make a run in this year's tournament. Instead, they lost in the first round—for just the second time in Bo Ryan's 12 trips to the tournament.

Based on the current Ken Pomeroy ratings (including all tournament games played so far), this year's Badgers were expected to win 1.58 games. They were big favorites against Ole Miss, and would have been favored to win in the second round, too, even if Kansas State had beaten La Salle. Their performance of -1.58 is the lowest of the Bo Ryan era—even worse than the 2-seeded 2008 team that lost to UNLV in the second round. (That team was expected to win 2.3 games and won one, for a -1.30 performance.) Indeed, it was one of the most disappointing results of the past 11 seasons. Here are the worst tournament performances (as compared to expected wins) since 2002-03:

One thing you'll notice about that list is that it is a who's-who of college basketball. Kansas has had three of the six most disappointing seasons. Georgetown is (unsurprisingly) on it twice, as is Duke. And Pitt shows up (though not this year's Pitt team, despite its disappointing first-round exit). The lesson is: high expectations mean bigger disappointments. Indeed, this is is one of life's core insights, which is why I try always to keep expectations low.

Yet the question arises, after so many years of very good Badgers teams that couldn't make a run in the tournament: what should we expect from the Badgers? To answer this question I used the final Kenpom numbers from every year since 2003 and ran 10,000 simulated tournaments for each year. Here are the results for the Badgers:

What you see is several years where the Badgers had a decent chance (greater than 10%) to make the Final Four.* (Ironically, they made their deepest run, to the Elite Eight, in one of the years (2005) when they had their lowest chance at the Final Four.) Overall, the number suggest that in the average universe the Badgers have been to 1 or 2 Final Fours over the past 11 seasons. Their chance of making at least one Final Four (that is, the inverse of the chance that they would have missed the Final Four every year) in that period is 76%.

The numbers don't lie. Bo Ryan's Badgers deserve to have gone to a Final Four. Why haven't they? Dan Hanner asked this question last week, and proposed a number of possibilities:
Does a system based on making fewer mistakes than your opponent fail when you get into the tournament and every opponent is playing fundamentally sound basketball? Is Top 100 talent more important in the tournament than in the regular season? Does the slow tempo mean that even if Wisconsin is better, they do not have enough possessions to pull away from their opponents? Does the dependence on outside shooting make the Badgers less consistent? All of these things are probably true to some degree. But it is also quite possible that Bo Ryan has just had a string of bad luck.
I will consider (and debunk) these hypotheses in my next post.

*Of course, this data leaves out Bo Ryan's first year. But it's safe to assume that team had basically no chance of making a Final Four—probably 1% at best, which is the average for 8-seeds in my data.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Where have the champions gone?

Much has been made of the Big Ten's lack of NCAA tourney champions over the past 20 years. In watching Iowa tonight I was thinking that the Big Ten sure seems to do well in the NIT. Turns out that is right. Since 1997 the Big Ten has won 5 NIT titles (97 and 98 titles by MI and MN were vacated later), and Iowa has a chance at number 6 if they win 2 games in New York. No other conference has won more than 2.

Who says the Big Ten can't win the big one?

Another coaching change for Bucks

There wasn't much chance Bucks' interim coach Jim Boylan was going to hang around past this season, but you would have to think any chance is now gone after his benching of Brandon Jennings, and continued issues over playing time. Jennings is a restricted free agent after this season and his minutes and production down the stretch and in the playoffs will have some effect on his next contract. I don't mean to say all he cares about is the money, as NBA stars are rarely happy about benchings regardless of their contract status. Some of Jennings' quotes can be found on the Journal-Sentinel's Buck's Blog

Jennings was benched after being beat for a layup in the 3rd quater against Philly and did not play the rest of the game. The MJS quoted him "This is the third time I've been benched in the second half and it hasn't been under (former coach Scott) Skiles".

The drama continued in a blow out win last night when the Bucks won 131-102, but Jennings played just 24 minutes. Jennings was quoted after the game saying "From where I was looking at, it looked like it was fun," and when asked by the MJS if this is the way the Bucks want to play, at such an up-tempo pace, Jennings said: "You would have to ask (coach) Jim Boylan."

What's going on here is hard to say. If this was an established coach I would think they were sending a message to the team and Jennings. Boylan certainly knows he has no chance to return as Buck's coach, so why the benching if there is no long term reward to the team. Is there a personal score to settle? I doubt it. Boylan doesn't seem the type and management wouldn't have any problem dumping him if there was. If you want more conspiracy theories then maybe management knows they have no option but to match whatever offer he gets a restricted free agent, so devaluing him now could save them some money. This seems even more unlikely than the Boylan score settling.

It will be interesting to see how the minutes get divided up down the stretch, and especially in the playoffs.