Early concerns about Doug McDermott’s productivity

At some point, I won’t be the only person concerned about Doug McDermott’s production.

While it looks like I’m nit-picking on a rookie 16 games into the season, I can’t shake the negative vibes I’m getting from thinking about him — especially after looking at Friday’s box score of the Bulls’ win against the Celtics.

McDermott’s line: 2 minutes, 0-0 FG-FGA, 0-0 3PM-3PA, 1-2 FT-FTA, 1 point, 0 rebounds

That’s no good for any of the parties involved. Well, unless you’re the Celtics. Consider Friday’s ugly line as a glimpse to McDermott’s first 16 games.

The averages: 12 minutes per game, 1.4 field goals made, 3.2 field goal attempts, 1.8 rebounds, 0.1 assists, 3.4 points, 23.1% 3-point percentage; 43.1 field goal percentage, 16.6 percent usage rate

Note that McDermott has yet to earn a start this season. Not to say he has been deserving of one, but use this as perspective as we move forward with some of the players he was compared with before the season.

Leading up to the draft, NBADraft.net compared McDermott to Wally Szczerbiak and Tracy Murray.

We’ll start with the Szczerbiak comp:
—15 starts, 33.6 MPG, 5.1 FGM, 11.0 FGA, 0.1 3PM, 1.0 3PA, 12.5 3P%, .804 FT%, 4.0 REB, 2.8 AST, 1.1 STL, 12.7 PPG, 17.8% usage rate

Moving on to Tracy Murray:
—6 starts, 10.8 MPG, 2.6 GF, 6.2 FGA, 41.4 FG%, 0.5 3PM 1.8 3PA, 81.8 FT%, 6.2 pts, 1.8 reb, 0.4 ast, 27.7 USG

Szczerbiak is the high-end comp (what you might want out of him as a rookie) garnering nearly three-times the minutes McDermott is currently receiving. On the other hand, Murray represents the low-end comp, playing similar minutes, but getting a significantly higher usage rate.

In either case, McDermott has a lot to do to reach either of these comps at his current pace.

Because of the Bulls’ recent history, fans came up with some comps of their own. Namely, current Bull Mike Dunleavy Jr. and former sharpshooter Kyle Korver.

Mike Dunleavy Jr.

—16 starts, 32.9 MPG, 4.8 FG, 11.8 FGA, 40.2 FG% 1.3 3PM, 4.4 3PA, 30.0% 3%, 13.0 PPG, 2.4 APG, 6.8 RPG, 21.0 usage rate

Kyle Korver

—0 starts, 3.9 mpg, 0.3 FG, 1.6 FGA, 16.0 FG%, 0.3 3PM, 1.2 3PA, 21.1 3PT%, 0.9 PPG, 0.6 RPG, 0.1 APG, 23.3 usage rate

The more I look at it, the more I think of Mike Dunleavy Jr. as an underrated player — the type who wasn’t great at one thing, but was serviceable in multiple aspects of the game — and the more I think that the Korver/McDermott comparisons go beyond being stars at Creighton University.

Like Korver, McDermott gets a lot of his scoring from jump shots and being the recipient of some quality passing. As a rookie, 93.88 percent of Korver’s shot attempts came on jump shots — 63.3 percent of those were 3-point attempts.

Korver attempted 1,089 shots in two years with the Bulls (playoffs included, per Korver’s basketball-reference.com page) and 96.3 percent of those (1,049 if you’re tracking at home) were jump shots.

McDermott’s shots are mostly coming off jumpers (60.78 percent), but not nearly at as high of a rate as Korver. And only 83.87 percent of McDermott’s attempts are coming from the 3-point line.

There is a bit more balance in his game, but unlike in college, McDermott has been unable go to many other go-to scoring moves because of the defensive match-up he sees nightly.

Maybe McDermott could use a little bit of help from his teammates. He is only being assisted on 66.7 percent of his jump shot attempts, while as a rookie, Korver was assisted on 98.1 percent of his jump shot attempts. Being on the floor with a distributing point guard (or a healthy Derrick Rose) could unlock some of the mystery of McDermott’s struggles.

After looking at the aforementioned comparisons, I found myself trying to see how McDermott stacks up against other players at similar positions in that same draft slot.

2011 (1st round, 11th overall pick): Klay Thompson
—1 start, 17.2 MPG, 2.6 FGM, 6.1 FGA, 42.9 3P%, 1.3 3PM 2.9 3PA, 44.7%, 6.7 PPG, 1.4 APG, 1.5 RPG, 20.1 USG

2009: (1st, 11th): Terrance Williams
—3 starts, 27.4 minutes per game, 4.1 FGM, 11.5 FGA, 35.9 FG%, 0.8 3PM, 2.7 30.2 3P%, 10.4 PPG, 1.9 AST, 5.5 RPG, 24.2 USG

2006 (1st, 11th): J.J. Redick
—0 starts, 9.1 minutes per game, 1.3 FGM, 2.7 FGA, 0.4 3PM, 1.3 3PA, 35.0 3P%, 84.6 FT%, 3.6 PPG, 0.4 APG, 0.3 RPG, 15.8 USG

2003 (1st, 11th): Mikael Pietrus
—0 starts, 7.0 MPG, 0.6 FG, 1.9 FGA, 32.3 FG%, 0.4 3PM, 1.1 3PA, 41.2 3P%, 2.3 PPG, 1.1 RPG, 0.5 APG, 17.3 USG

Mixed bag at 11th overall. Klay Thompson is the star of the bunch. Pietrus was a decent enough role player for Orlando’s Finals appearance against the Lakers. Redick has turned himself into a sharpshooting contributor after struggling early. Williams hasn’t played since the 2012-13 season.

Digging into the numbers, it’s safe to expect a mixed bag from McDermott moving forward.

In some cases, you can see where McDermott could follow the path of late bloomers such as Redick and Korver, who eventually carved out their niche with perimeter sharpshooting. Or put together a long career as a role player like Dunleavy Jr. or Szczerbiak.

But based on this small sample size it would be hard for McDermott to reach those numbers without ample amount of floor time to hone his craft.

The concern here is when you trade two first-round picks to acquire a player who is supposed to contribute immediately in your championship window and he doesn’t — that could lead to problems down the road.


White Sox make improvement with Adam LaRoche addition

I’m not going to act as if I know what the White Sox’s grand plan is moving forward.

After all, I’m not convinced Kenny Williams knows what it is either, considering he is a few weeks removed from saying the team is done rebuilding — not too long after saying the organization said it weren’t rebuilding.

In either case, adding Adam LaRoche on a two-year deal to the mix is a quality addition.

By adding LaRoche, the White Sox filled their vacancy at designated hitter, while also giving someone who can adequately play first base on days when Jose Abreu could use a breather. And they did it without committing a lot of years and a lot of money, as they would have done with someone like Victor Martinez.

LaRoche has a career slash line of .264/.340/.472/.811 while averaging 27 homers and 92 runs batted in during his 11-year career. But the White Sox’s new DH/1B is more than just what the back-of-the-baseball card stats say he is on the diamond.

LaRoche, who owns a 10.3 percent walk rate and 21.8 percent strikeout rate, is coming off a year in which he had a 14 percent walk rate and an 18.4 percent strikeout rate. Those numbers will provide a bit of a breath of fresh air after Adam Dunn had a woeful 32.9 percent strikeout rate, though his 14.6 percent walk rate was solid.

Plate discipline is becoming increasingly important to baseball teams and adding LaRoche is the White Sox’s attempt to address that. His 4.04 pitches seen per plate appearance last season would have led White Sox players who had a minimum of 400 at bats.

Check out LaRoche’s 2014 stats and ranks among MLB first basemen:

  • Batting average (.259, 13th)
  • Home runs (26, T-7th)
  • Runs batted in (92, 7th)
  • Walks (82, 2nd)
  • On-base percentage (.362, 6th)
  • Slugging percentage (.455, 11th)
  • OPS (.817, 7th)
  • weighted on-base average (.356, 8th)
  • Walk rate (14.0, 2nd)
  • Isolated slugging (.196, 9th)
  • WAR (baseball-ref: 2.2, 12th; fangraphs: 1.6, 15th)

Now, check out how the White Sox designated hitters fared in 2014 (rank is among AL teams only):

  • Batting average (.254, 8th)
  • Home runs (27, T-4th)
  • Runs batted in (83, 7th)
  • Walks (62, T-4th)
  • On-base percentage (.338, 4th)
  • Slugging percentage (.453, 6th)
  • OPS (.791, 5th)
  • weighted on-base average (.312, 8th)
  • Walk rate (11.4, 3rd)
  • Isolated slugging (.175, 7th)
  • Fangraphs WAR (-1.1, 11th)

You can see why the White Sox found it important to bring LaRoche into the fold as an attempt to improve what was, at times, a rather stagnant offense.

Again, I’m not sure what the end-game is here, but that piece should provide a slight improvement for the next two years.

What Cubs are missing by not getting Russell Martin

No one said the Cubs rebuild was going to be easy.

While the organization has completed the tear down portion of the Cubs reconstruction project, the rebuild is still in the process — one that took a bit of a hit on Monday with the Blue Jays outbidding the Cubs for the services of free agent catcher Russell Martin.

The Jays will reportedly get Martin on a five-year deal worth $82 million for his age 32-36 seasons. A price too rich and a year too many for the Cubs, who have cleared a copious amount of salary, but don’t necessarily feel inclined to waste it.

So, what are the Cubs missing out on?

Offensively, it’s hard to believe that Martin was going to repeat his .290/.402/.430/.832 slash line from 2014, especially considering his .336 BABIP is likely unsustainable (based on a .289 career clip). Even without some lucky hitting, Martin’s offensive value comes in the form of a career 11.6 percent walk rate — which was in line with the 12.8 percent clip he posted in 2014.

Defensively, the Cubs lost out on a Gold Glove caliber defender, a quality pitch framer, a good game caller and a veteran leader coming off two seasons as a key cog for the young, but playoff-tested Pirates. Even if his offense was to dip to league average levels, his steady defense brought the kind of value that could have softened the blow for any offensive letdown.

Based on the concept that 1 WAR is worth approximately $7 million, the Jays are paying Martin to be an 11 WAR player over the life of the contract. It’s not impossible, but it’s not without its risks.

Since 1969, there have been nine catchers who have been worth 11 WAR in their age 32-36 seasons, according to baseball-reference.com. The comparable catchers include Jorge Posada (17.5, 2004-08), Ivan Rodriguez (13.4, 2004-08), Carlos Ruiz (12.2, 2011-14) and Jason Varitek (11.5, 2004-08).

I can’t help but think Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer probably saw a little bit of Varitek (or Posada, for that matter) in Martin.

Martin is coming off a two-year stint in which he was worth 9.9 WAR — or 4.95 WAR per season. Let the record show 4-win catchers don’t grow on trees.

The Cubs have had 10 catchers produce 4-WAR seasons in their history, three of which have occurred in my 28 years on this planet (Rick Wilkins in 1993, 6.6; Welington Castillo, 4.5, 2013; Jody Davis, 4.0, 1986). Heck, catchers with 3-WAR seasons seem rare, too. The Cubs have 15 of those in their history, nine of which came between 1902 and 1936. This organization has not had a four-year run with a catcher worth on average of 3-WAR per season since Randy Hundley was worth 12.0 WAR from 1966-69.

Lost in all this is the Cubs losing out on a chance to upgrade and do so at a position without simultaneously blocking a high level prospect. So, to stabilize that position as they let Kyle Schwarber develop at a normal pace in the minors would’ve put the team ahead of the curve for a change.

Alas, they will move on without Martin in the fold and reassign their focus toward acquiring the high-end pitching the organization so desperately needs at the big league level. I mean, the Cubs didn’t clear salary space and create financial flexibility to end up with mid-level talent, right?

The Cubs return a decent catcher in Welington Castillo, whose offense took a bit of a hit in 2014 with a .237/.298/.389/.686 slash line and 89 OPS+ after posting a .271/.345/.404/.749 slash line and 105 OPS+ in 618 plate appearances from 2012-13.

Castillo posted an astounding 4.5 WAR in 2013, but it’s a number sandwiched between a 1.2 in 2012 and a 1.8 in 2014. His defense was adequate, while his pitch framing skills were deemed as poor — costing his team 24.3 runs, per StatCorner, which was the second worst in baseball.

And believe it or not, that stuff matters — at least until we get the robot umpires calling balls and strikes that we (as fans) so truly deserve.

Unfortunately, for the Cubs, the rest of the free agent catching pool is shallow. So much so, A.J. Pierzynski is at the top of the list. If you’re not a fan of the list, I don’t blame you.

The Cubs could target Miguel Montero in a trade with the Diamondbacks. He is owed $40 million over the next three seasons. You can see where some might suggest Montero as an alternative to Martin. He owns a 9.7 percent walk rate and is known as a good receiver and pitch framer (saving his team 24 runs above average ranked best in baseball via StatCorner).

If the Cubs can land the left-handed hitting Montero, they could put together a quality short-term platoon with Castillo.

I imagine new manager Joe Maddon could take advantage of Montero’s .272/.356/.442/.797 slash line and 10.7 percent walk rate against righties and team it with Castillo’s .306/.373/.472/.845 slash line against lefties.

It’s only Nov. 18 and the Cubs have found a way to stay steadily in the headlines. The next step is to have a headline be a result of a transaction, rather than another missed opportunity.

Targets not adding up for Bears

When the Bears cut Santonio Holmes on Tuesday, the common thought was that it opened up the possibility for Marquess Wilson’s return.

Surely, all the Bears offense has been missing this whole time is a No. 3 wide receiver.

Well, kinda…

… OK, the third wideout isn’t going to be some sort of panacea, but the lack of balance in the passing offense should be highly disturbing to Bears fans. Let’s look at the Bears targets for a second, shall we?

Continue reading

Big picture Bears blog post

When I talk big-picture stuff in regard to the Bears, oftentimes folks think I’m just copping out or going out of my way to defend Jay Cutler. (Because if you’re not demanding he gets fired out of a cannon and into the sun three snaps into any given Bears game, you’re going out of your way to defend him.)

But here is some Bears stuff to put in perspective.

Well, at least from my perspective.

I was born in 1986. Since then, the Bears have had 13 losing seasons, 10 playoff seasons, 3 winning seasons in which they failed to qualify for the playoffs and 2 seasons in which they finished exactly .500.

They have had four quarterbacks who have won playoff games: Jay Cutler, Rex Grossman, Steve Walsh and Mike Tomczack. Of those QBs, only Grossman and Tomczack have won more than one playoff game.

Speaking of playoffs, they’ve made them in consecutive years only twice since 1990.

Let’s say you give the Bears the 10-year free pass after winning the Super Bowl in 1985, we’re still looking at a team that has made the playoffs only four times (six winning seasons) in the last 17 years.

And to think, the only shake-up at the top in this time frame came in 1999 when Michael McCaskey botched the hiring of Dave McGinnis to replace Dave Wannstedt so badly (Bears sent a press release and had the media gather for an announcement before McGinnis and the Bears had formally come to an agreement) he had to be kicked upstairs and was replaced by Ted Phillips, who has overseen more losing seasons (7) than playoff berths (4) since becoming team president.

In short: The Bears have been pretty much a disaster since my birth and are currently, without a doubt, the most poorly run franchise in Chicago.

They have turned into the Cubs of my youth. Perpetually mismanaged, behind the learning curve, held back because of self-made shortcomings and in need of a top-to-bottom change.

It will be different for Cubs under Joe Maddon (Seriously)

Things will be different for the Cubs under the watchful eye of Joe Maddon.


I’m not joking.

You could stifle your laughter at any time.

Moving on…

Heck, getting Joe Maddon, in and of itself, is different. How often in your lifetime have the Cubs zeroed in on a target, only to see him go elsewhere?

Lost count, didn’t you?

Three years after talking heads wouldn’t and couldn’t believe the Cubs would pry Theo Epstein from the Boston Red Sox, the Cubs are snatching Joe Maddon from the Tampa Bay Rays in a cold-blooded move in which the team fired its manager after one year, only weeks after saying he would be returning for his second season.

That is not something the Cubs I knew growing up would have done.

Then again, these are not the Cubs I knew growing up.

New ownership. New front office. New philosophy.

Much has been made of the culture change that is coming when Maddon becomes the 54th manager in franchise history. But here is some news for those of you who have slept on the Cubs the last three years: The culture change you’re writing about now is already here and has been underway since the winter of 2011.

The only survivors from the Epstein-Hoyer purge of the major league roster are three-time All-Star shortstop Starlin Castro and catcher Welington Castillo.

(Side note on Castillo, whose 6.6 WAR is comparable to Brian McCann’s 6.7 WAR in the same time span — and at the fraction of the cost, seeing that McCann has made $40.5 million, while Castillo has earned approximately $1.5 million. That’s cost efficiency, folks.)

The Cubs have traded 40 percent of their starting rotation each of the last three years, turning Paul Maholm, Ryan Dempster, Matt Garza, Scott Feldman, Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel into Jaye Chapman, Arodys Vizcaino, Christian Villanueva, Kyle Hendricks, C.J. Edwards, Mike Olt, Justin Grimm, Neil Ramirez, Pedro Strop, Jake Arrieta, Addison Russell, Billy McKinney, Dan Straily and a player to be named later.

If you didn’t have time to read through that all, the Cubs traded six pitchers (each of whom had two years or fewer of team control left on their contracts) in exchange for 14 players — one of which has yet to be named.

The Epstein-Hoyer regime has also targeted high-end pitching on the organizational levels through the draft, signing 45 draft picks in the last three years. Of the Cubs’ first 40 picks in the last three drafts, 28 have been pitchers.

(You know, just in case you’re one of those: “WHAT ABOUT DA PITCHING!?!!?” people.)

Of the organizational top-10 prospects who were in the system before the new regime’s arrival, Brett Jackson (#2), Matt Szczur (#3) and Josh Vitters (#6) have totaled 322 plate appearances. Of those big three, only Szczur is still on the Cubs 40-man roster.

You look here and you realize that Jed Hoyer wasn’t too far off when he told season ticket holders the Cubs did five or six years of rebuilding in three years.

“Yeah, but we’ve seen this before with celebrity managers. Don’t you remember Dusty Baker and Lou Piniella?”

Of course I do.

And Joe Maddon is nothing like Baker or Piniella. And the Ricketts-owned Cubs are nothing like the Tribune-owned or Sam Zell-owned Cubs.

Signing Dusty Baker was one of the handful of few moves made by TribCo in an attempt to actually win something of substance. Baker was coming over as a people manager — and how could he not be when you’re successfully guiding the Giants to six straight winning seasons with Barry Bonds and Jeff Kent in the locker room.

But Maddon isn’t a manager coming off a stretch in which he was riding the coattails of a once-in-a-generation star who won three MVP awards, five Gold Gloves and posted a .311/.461/.664/.1.126 slash line, 197 OPS+ and averaged 50 homers and 124 RBI per 162 games.

Nor is he a manager coming out of retirement to be the button-pusher for the “Win One For The Tower” Cubs, who spent boatloads of money and produced exactly 0 playoff wins.

And it’s not as if Piniella or Baker were without their moments of glory. Baker helped guide the Cubs to their first consecutive winning seasons since 1971-72 and Piniella led the team to its first back-to-back playoff berths in my lifetime — and the organization’s first since 1906-08.

So, when people say they’ve seen this before from the Cubs, it’s nothing more than regurgitated, lazy sports talker rhetoric.

Again, Maddon is different. He is coming off a run with the Rays in which they had six winning seasons and four postseason berths in nine years.

During Maddon’s six-year run of success (from 2008-13), here are the average ages of the teams he managed: 27.0, 27.8, 27.5, 27.1, 29.7, 29.4.

The Cubs’ average age in 2014 — 26.7.

Here are the payrolls Maddon has managed under, via Cot’s (in millions): $43.75, $63.31, $72.85, $42.17, $63.63, $61.93.

In total, Maddon’s Rays racked up 550 wins during that stretch at the cost of $347.64 million.

That is approximately $630,000 per win.

Talk about bang for your buck.

That is why the Cubs will be holding a press conference in about an hour to introduce Maddon as the next Cubs manager. His experience leading young, cost-controlled teams to new heights is well-documented. Once again, that is something the Cubs have never had before.

For the better part of 90 years, the Cubs have been trying to play catch-up with the Cardinals. And for the most part, they’ve failed. And in recent years, they’ve failed miserably. For all the talk about The Cubs Way, the organization has really taken a page out of the Cardinals’ playbook — which dates back to the days when Branch Rickey was running the show.

Will it work? There are no guarantees and no one has suggested there are any. But the way the Cubs are doing business now gets them closer to that elusive third World Series title. And if you’re blind to that, well, I have nothing for you.