Point Blank – May 18, 2017
The Weekend Edition, NBA and all that…Has the magic worn off for Danny Duffy…
I will be doing things a bit differently the next couple of days because of a travel cycle, opening a general “Weekend Edition” now, and then adding bits and pieces as events in the sporting world, and in particular the NBA playoffs, unfold. Today I will set up the talking points per usual, but they will also be re-visited over the course of the weekend, with updates both in the on-going thread, and posted back into the original take.
With so many bits and pieces coming up this is an ideal time to plug the jukebox in for some background, and the focus on the spring/summer weekends will be some extended pieces that can get you through multiple topics. There has been a request from regular poster “Champthinks” for some Joe Grushecky, who has found his way into this spot every now and then, so let’s go to one of Rock and Roll’s most under-rated statesmen and some of the best musicians Pittsburgh has to offer, from the WDVE “Stones for Children” benefit at the Rex Theatre in 2016 -
(And yes, there will be some Chris Cornell/Soundgarden coming up soon, likely next week.)
CLEVELAND/BOSTON – Is there anything Brad Stevens can do to prevent another Déjà vu (there is only so much that one day in the weight room can accomplish)
There was a lot of focus on the Rust vs. Rhythm aspect of the series opener on Wednesday that the television screen looked even larger at tipoff, with a heightened focus to see if some In-Running opportunities unfold. And not all that long into the game I had to hit the info button on the remote control, and make sure what I was seeing was the live game, not a re-run.
I put a comment into the Wednesday thread not too long after that because for all of the various schedule elements in play, the first half of Game #1 looked eerily similar to the opening salvo when these two teams met a little over a month ago on the same court. That becomes the starting point in putting the pieces together because it may not be Game #2 of a playoff series, but instead Game #3. And the thread comment of LeBron James and the Cavaliers treating the Celtics interior defense like it wasn’t even there sets the stage.
On April 5 these teams tipped off in Boston in what was essentially a playoff game, because the Eastern Conference home court advantage was at stake. To show how much perceptions have changed since then, the Celtics closed at -4 that night. Yet in a game that was seemingly matching up two even teams, one getting the edge for being at home, there was an early Cleveland knockout punch delivered, and it was over by halftime. Which is what we saw again last night. Take a look at how similar the two games were:
April 5 Cle 57-42 Cle 33-19
Game #1 Cle 61-39 Cle 28-14
That would combine to a full game count of 118-81, with a 61-33 rebounding margin. And as dominating as that may appear, consider that the Cavaliers only made 6-28 beyond the arc over those 48 minutes. There is more –
James 41:28 +44
LeBron scored more than a point-per-minute (42) in the opening half of those games, with 12 rebounds, seven assists, and only one turnover. And how about this for a different take on the first half rebounding mismatch –
Kevin Love 18:03 20
Boston starters 161:14 23
In general Cleveland is not an overly imposing team in terms of physical play, and in particular the Cavs don’t have a lot of depth around the basket. But the Celtics have looked like they are in a fight two weight classes above where they belong in these last two games. I like Brad Stevens as a tactician, but this is something that doesn’t get solved with X’s and O’s; instead his front-court has to play with more toughness. That is not a specialty for this bunch; they just can’t go out on the Thursday practice court and get tougher.
GOLDEN STATE/SAN ANTONIO – Assuming a healthy Kawhi, is this line adjustment proper
I did put some San Antonio +6.5 in pocket when that was available, on the assumption that there will be a healthy Kawhi Leonard on Saturday. I believe at the time there was a pure value component in play, but since then have also liked some of the things that I have heard coming from the Spurs side of the equation, which means the chance to back a team with a lot of pride at a time that their collective egos will be taking a beating for a few days from Gregg Popovich.
I’ll start with the value component. There is simply no way to solve the riddle of what would have happened in Sunday’s opener had Leonard not been injured; while logic would dictate that the Warriors were going to play better in the second half and close the margin, the game flow when Leonard left was such that a Golden State win would have been an extreme long-shot. So based on a closing line of -10 in that game, what would the proper plateau have been for these teams to play in San Antonio? Sure as hell not -6.5. The fact that the sports books opened it there meant that Tuesday’s Game #2 pointspread and outcome carried some influence, which I do not believe they should have – I don’t even have that box score in the database, the numbers of little use in terms of predicting any future outcomes.
But while the score and statistics may be useless, the impact they had on Pops is not - “I'm disappointed. The only way I can process this is, I think it’s not about O's and X's or rebounds or turnovers or anything like that. I think we've maybe felt it too much, Kawhi being gone, in the sense that I don't think -- as I watched -- I don't think they believed. And you have to believe. I don't think as a group they really did, which means probably a little bit feeling sorry for themselves psychologically, subconsciously, whatever psycho-babble word you want to use. That's the way I process it. I don't think they started the game with a belief. And it showed in the lack of edge, intensity, grunts, all that sort of thing. That was disappointing.”
For another team at another time, getting back up off of the mat would be difficult. But this is a veteran bunch that tends to do the right thing in practice just about every day, focusing on the small details that mean so much. It is most unlikely that one blowout loss takes them out of that routine. And we may see a few fires get lit across the board, like the spark Popovich is looking for from LaMarcus Aldridge –
“LaMarcus has to score for us. He can't be timid. He turned down shots in the first quarter. He can’t do it. You've got to score. Scoring has to come from someplace. I think he’s got a major responsibility in Game 3 to come out and get something done. Whether it’s for himself or teammates. They come after him, to find somebody, take good shots. He's got to do it. No doubt about.”
From Aldridge - “I took the wrong approach. I thought I would come out and move the ball, but I ended up taking myself out of rhythm and out of the flow of the game…I kind of got lost in the flow of just standing around.”
Yes, the Warriors are special, but I believe just about all of that was accounted for at the price point, which means +6 or better brings some value.
As for that other fun dynamic in play, we have one more 0-2 Home Team First Half scenario coming up, one sports book operator only half-joking that that prop had won “17 million times in a row”. It isn’t that extreme but it is one of the stronger patterns in recent years in terms of attracting the market, so look at the adjustments – I see Golden State -1.5 -115 and -2 out there this morning, rather clear statements by shop owners anticipating another deluge.
(Saturday AM update - no Kawhi Leonard for Game #3, so my early investment has been washed out, losing a little big, and there are no Spurs notions unless the line really takes a leap over the course of the day).
Item: Danny Duffy goes under the microscope
Duffy was a feature topic here on a couple of occasions, and was rather good for the pocket, last season. I am not seeing the same stuff from him this time, which means time to take a deeper look.
For a quick tour, Duffy opened the 2016 season in the Kansas City bullpen, several seasons of inconsistency having dropped him from a starter’s role. It may have created a psychological spark, but there were also a couple of baseball realities – instead of having to pace himself as a starter, Duffy could be much more aggressive out of the ‘pen, and he also began getting much more comfortable working form the stretch.
Some good showings put him back into the rotation, and he became a major money maker, working from the stretch full time because it brought him better command, without any loss in velocity. Duffy finished the season with a career high in K% and a career low in BB%, all the while being priced cheaply in a marketplace more tied to his past patterns. Now he has opened 2017 with a 3.38 ERA, even better than in 2016, but be careful with that -
2016 3.51 3.79
2017 3.38 4.70
I’ll get to xFIP in a moment, but here is the cause for concern – Duffy’s strikeout and walk rates have taken a significant decline, and it can be attached to the way the radar guns are tracking his average fast-ball -
K% BB% MPH
2016 25.7 5.8 94.9
2017 16.7 8.1 93.0
So how can this happen, and a pitcher have a lower ERA? xFIP is the best category to explain it, because it normalizes home runs to league average. That can be meaningful in short samples, when a pitcher has his pendulum get stretched too far in either direction. What Duffy has been surviving off of so far is a ratio of fly balls ending up far more in the gloves of outfielders, instead of the hands of fans in the seats -
There are 95 pitchers that have worked at least 40 innings so far, and only Jesse Hahn and Jason Vargas have a lower rate than Duffy, all the while the MLB average is at 13.0.
I don’t have a way to get in play today, looking for a Yankees Team Total of “4” that the early markets are not offering, but I will continue to chart Duffy closely for potential opportunities in the games ahead.
Item: And coming up Saturday
Also a reminder that through the MLB summer regular poster "Pappahoops" from Matchup Center will be coming in on Saturday mornings with a "Game of the Day", showcasing some of the various edges that can be found across the diamonds. Those folks do some outstanding work, and we appreciate them coming in to share with us here.
In the Sights, Friday MLB…
This one has tipped a bit over the edge of the value meter, with the planned “buy” being at -130 or less, but because the talking points matter it is worth some discussion, so let’s call it #961 Arizona (10:10 Eastern) still good for about a half of a unit at -140 or less. There won’t be any bargains playing against Jered Weaver anymore, but the gap between pitchers and teams still allows for this with one key notion in play – Weaver may be even worse than his abysmal bottom line (6.05 ERA, 7.31 FIP, Padres are 0-8 in his starts) shows.
Here is the gist – for as dismal as his 2017 season has been, Weaver opened with the best of it, getting a “first look” advantage against many of the hitters as he moves over to the National League, and also a soft opening slate – of the 98 pitchers that have thrown 40 innings or more, his DBF is #80. Yet the sad numbers are all he could produce, so what happens when a team gets a second look? He lost 6-2 vs. the Diamondbacks on the road earlier, allowing a pair of home runs to Chris Owings and also one to Yasmany Tomas, while only getting one strikeout of the 24 batters he faced.
Want to see the “Anatomy of a Decline”?
2014 19.0 8.9
2015 13.5 9.9
2016 13.4 12.7
2017 12.6 26.4
Weaver has survived fly balls in West Coast ballparks throughout his career, via a .273 BABIP, but he allows too much contact these days, and even on the first look this season hitters were squaring the ball up quite well.
Arizona brings a lot of team momentum, and there is plenty to like form Taijuan Walker’s peripherals. While I bemoan having to sweat Fernando Rodney in the latter stages, the entire D’Backs bullpen is fresh, so I will opt for full game instead of first half, in order to find a better price point.
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