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Here’s Why Andrew McCutchen Should Do Big Things Atop Phillies’ Lineup

BWanksCB - March 20, 2019

One of the few remaining mysteries surrounding the Phillies as the spring training schedule slogs to its conclusion is how Gabe Kapler plans to construct his Opening Day lineup. While we still don’t know exactly how it will run from top to bottom, we do know now that Andrew McCutchen will be the first Phillies hitter to step into the box against Braves starter Julio Teheran next Thursday:

This is the right call, for a few reasons:

  • McCutchen still has quality on-base skills. His .368 OBP a season ago serves as proof.
  • He still possesses the requisite pitch selection quality needed at the top. His 19.4% O-Swing% (the percentage of pitches offered at outside of the strike zone) was second-best in all of baseball and trailed only Joey Votto’s 16.4% last season. That discipline yielded 95 walks and a 13.9% walk-rate, the second-best of his career.
  • It’s not just about OBP. Hitting McCutchen ahead of offensive threats such as Jean Segura, Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto, and Rhys Hoskins will force pitchers to attack him. It would be very surprising if he didn’t see a lot of fastballs for this reason, and if he does, he should be extremely dangerous. McCutchen struggled with sliders (.453 OPS) and changeups (.649 OPS) last season, but mashed against four-seam fastballs (.946 OPS) and sinkers (.997 OPS). If he replicates his plate discipline and pitch production splits against hard stuff, he’s going to thrive at the top.

Hitting McCutchen first also means Cesar Hernandez is likely headed for the six or seven-hole. While the second baseman’s lack of power doesn’t traditionally play in these spots, his on-base skills outweigh his power deficiencies in this lineup. Such skills should compliment the order well in the event Kapler hits Maikel Franco and Odubel Herrera, each of whom possess some thump, behind him. That particular lineup construction essentially takes the top of last year’s order and flips it to the bottom, thus making for a deep offensive attack which will force opposing pitchers to navigate multiple waves.

We’ve been doing a lot of gambling content around here in recent months, so in the spirit of that, here’s some friendly betting advice. Take the over on the team’s 4.18 runs per game and its league-worst .234 batting average of a season ago. This team is going to rake.

Will the Flyers Pursue RFAs? It Sure Sounds Like It.

Russ Joy - March 10, 2019

Restricted free agency in the NHL has stood as something of a forbidden fruit. It’s there. It’s right in front of you. You want to take a bite, but can you? Should you? The initial bite might tingle your tastebuds, but that momentary joy can turn to the bitterness of a rotten lemon in a millisecond. It’s a rarity to even broach the topic, let alone maintain possession of the fruits of one’s labor. How rare? There have been just 35 offer sheets made to restricted free agents in NHL history. In the past twenty years, only eight, yes EIGHT offer sheets have been extended to another team’s restricted free agent. It just so happens that two of those eight – a staggering 25% – have been offered by your team, your town, your Philadelphia Flyers.

Will Chuck Fletcher become the third Flyers GM in thirty-three years to make an offer to a restricted free agent? There are plenty of reasons to believe that it’s going to happen.

Reason #1: Influencers

I mentioned earlier that only two Flyers general managers have ever made an offer sheet to a restricted free agent and you’ll recognize the names: Bob Clarke and Paul Holmgren. The latter is the man who officially hired Fletcher and currently serves as the Flyers Team President. The former is a man who played a bigger role in the hiring of Chuck Fletcher than he might let on. Clarke first hired Fletcher as an Assistant GM of the Florida Panthers back in 1993. He’s spoken glowingly of Fletcher including this:

Reason #2: Bob Clarke Said As Much

When Anthony and I sat down with Bob Clarke, who now serves as Flyers Senior Vice President, for an exclusive interview for Snow The Goalie, I asked about why more teams don’t make offer sheets to restricted free agents. Then Clarke dropped this bombshell:

“You’re gonna see it with restricted free agents, just because of the salary cap. Teams get a restricted free agent coming up… they’ve got three or four million dollars in cap space, someone’s gonna come in and offer five or six, maybe overpay, but it’s gonna happen.” One could take that quote a couple of ways. Could Clarke have been talking league-wide as he referenced “teams”? Sure. But, remember, this wasn’t the question asked. Clarke’s got Fletcher’s ear. This was about as much of a pronouncement of off-season strategy as I think we’ll ever get. As for teams he could be referencing, I’ll get to that later. I wondered if Fletcher – or any GM for that matter – has been/would be hesitant to burn bridges with another member of the sacred front office fraternity:

Ultimately, he’s right. Another front office shouldn’t hold it against Fletcher professionally if he were to poach a top RFA away from a contender, but it’s easier said by a guy who by his own admission spends much of his time golfing in Florida than for someone actively working in the NHL.

Reason #3: An Exorbitant Amount of Cap Space

With a projected salary cap of roughly $83 million for the 2019-20 season, the Flyers find themselves with slightly less than $47 million committed to players against the cap. That leaves them with about $36 million in cap space, third most in the entire league behind only Ottawa and Colorado. It looks tantalizing until you take into account the fact that the Flyers have critical restricted free agents of their own to re-sign long-term including Ivan Provorov, Travis Konecny, Travis Sanheim, and Phil Myers. The team could also choose to bring back Ryan Hartman and they’re also expected to re-sign UFA netminder Cam Talbot.

Assuming the team makes reasonable offers: Provy ($5m), Konecny ($5m), Sanheim ($4.25m), Myers ($3.25m), Hartman ($2.25m), Talbot ($3.25m), that leaves them with $13 million in potential cap space. That’s more than enough to pry away a top RFA or deliver a Shea Weber sized poison pill to a team at the top third of the conference.

Side note: Don’t look past 2020, when the team will also have to offer deals to Nolan Patrick, Oskar Lindblom, and potentially Robert Hägg.

Reason #4: Fletcher Could Irreparably Damage An Eastern Conference Foe

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Are You Really, Truly Enjoying This Sixers Season?

Kevin Kinkead - March 7, 2019

Take a glance at the NBA standings and you’ll see a 41-24 Sixers team sitting in fourth place in the Eastern Conference. Brett Brown’s squad is 1.5 games ahead of the Celtics and plays a back-end schedule that I think is easy enough to eventually jump the Victor Oladipo-less Pacers, who still have to play at Milwaukee, Boston, Golden State, Portland, Denver, and Oklahoma City.

Indiana will eventually hit the skids and Joel Embiid will soon be back in a Sixers jersey. Things are looking up, right?

I guess.

I don’t know what it is, but this Sixers season feels exhausting to me, and I’m just a writer. Are you, the fan, really truly enjoying it? Sure, Elton Brand made a pair of blockbuster trades, two guys under the age of 25 were named All-Stars, and this team beat the Warriors in Oakland. They’re on track to begin the playoffs at home for the second straight year.

But there’s been A LOT of shit along the way, stuff like this:

  • Markelle Fultz was a debacle and had to be unloaded for peanuts.
  • There remains incessant questioning of Jimmy Butler’s fit on this team, both offensively and defensively.
  • We survived the whole “Butler challenges Brett Brown at a film session” saga.
  • The team continues to turn the ball over.
  • They blow late leads and sometimes have trouble finishing games.
  • Ben Simmons has improved in the post but still does not and cannot shoot the ball.
  • Embiid has missed seven straight games with knee soreness after participating in the meaningless All-Star game.
  • Even after wins, social media is nothing but one big fruitless argument over Brett’s  coaching philosophies and decision making.
  • Nonstop talk of Ben Simmons going to Los Angeles at some point in his career.
  • Nonstop talk of whether T.J. McConnell plays too much or not enough.
  • The bench still feels like a weakness.
  • They still can’t beat Boston or Toronto.
  • Zhaire Smith suffered the 1st round draft pick curse.

It seems strange to point out those things when the Sixers are on pace to win 50 games for the second straight season, which hasn’t been seen in this town since 1986, when I was two years old and Judas Priest had just released the Turbo album.

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When the Sixers Lose, There’s Blame to go Around

Kevin Kinkead - March 7, 2019

Alright.

Let’s talk about Brett Brown and everything else that went wrong last night.

I’ll frame the article with this disclaimer:

One of the things that bugs me about Philadelphia sports fandom is that we tend to narrow our focus when looking to assign blame. For whatever reason, we insist on pinpointing one specific thing or one specific person when seeking accountability or trying to explain what went wrong over the course of a 60 or 48 minute game. We do it in football, when we say “the offense deserves the blame!” or “the defense deserves the blame!” or “the refs deserve the blame!” While identifiable mistakes might tip the scales towards one or more of those phases of the game, you know as well as I do that there is typically blame to go around when you suffer a bad loss in any sport. It’s very rarely ever on just one person or boiled down to one play.

To that point, there was a lot that went wrong in Chicago last night.

I watched the final five minutes of the game three times this morning and wrote down these bullet point problems:

  1. Robin Lopez was getting offensive rebounds against Mike Scott, who was playing center in the Sixers’ small ball look.
  2. The field goal drought went from 7:10 on the clock to the 3:29 mark. The only points they scored in that time frame were two Ben Simmons free throws.
  3. JJ Redick bad pass turnover looking for Scott
  4. some easy pick and roll switches put Zach LaVine in mismatches against Scott (the bigger, macro-level issue here is that the Sixers still really struggle against good guards)
  5. Redick misses wide-open three after Harris offensive rebound
  6. There was a defensive sequence where Redick got switched onto Lauri Markkanen, Tobias Harris got lost, and Otto Porter was wide-open for a game-tying three-pointer.
  7. Ben Simmons offensive foul while trying to set a screen (kind of a weird call)
  8. Butler offensive foul (I don’t know if this was an over the back, I thought he actually made a good play on the ball)
  9. Simmons lost the ball while driving 1v3 for some reason after a brilliant steal on the defensive end
  10. Scott’s foul on Lopez, which I’m not sure was a foul. He did get some forearm on him before the shot was taken.
  11. Blown switch on LaVine’s game-winning basket
  12. I didn’t like the final play call (the first one). Not sure if Ben was supposed to go to Harris there, but Butler was the target, he was closest to the rim, and his momentum was taking him away from the basket. On the second one, they didn’t run anybody at the rim at all and tried to get Jimmy on a heave.

Thoughts on those bullets after the jump:

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Rambo Jimmy Butler – Observations from Sixers 114, Magic 106

Kevin Kinkead - March 6, 2019

Things got a little hairy last night when the Sixers suffered a five-minute scoring drought smack in the middle of the fourth quarter.

Then Jimmy Butler, looking like Rambo and/or Jrue Holiday with an extra long headband, hit a fadeaway jumper and a James Harden step back while adding a steal on the other end and stripping Nik Vucevic on the following defensive possession.

It was a “what the hell?” type of moment, at least for me. Here was Butler, who had only attempted eight field goals to that point, hitting a couple of incredibly difficult mid-range jump shots while clamping down on the defensive end, as if somebody just flicked a light switch or turned their front burner from “low” to “high.”

When Mike Scott’s three-pointer went in with 49 seconds on the clock, the game was essentially over:

Butler gave one of his classic quirky press conferences after the game, coming out to the table alongside Amir Johnson for what he claimed was “moral support.” He didn’t want to answer our questions, not in an asshole-type of way, but in more of a “I just don’t have much to say” type of way.

But we asked anyway, and got this exchange out of him:

Crossing Broad: Jimmy this late game role –

Butler: Pffff, I just said I wasn’t answering questions.

Crossing Broad: Nah, hey, it’s two ways here. You had a big game, you gotta answer questions.

Butler: I didn’t do nothing.

Crossing Broad: You didn’t hit two jumpers and you didn’t have two big defensive plays at the end of the game?

Butler: I can’t remember (laughs).

Crossing Broad: You only took eight shots up until that point. When your number is called, is it difficult to be the closer when you really haven’t taken that many shots throughout the game?

Butler: Nah, I think I know when my number is gonna get called. I’m cool with it. I understand my role. Just gotta make shots late in the game. That’s why I’m here. Just happy that we can win.

Serena Winters: When you say that you understand your role and when your number is being called, what is that role?

Butler: For sure late in the game I think my teammates and coaches have a lot of confidence in me to take and make shots late. That’s all I’m worried about. I hope we never get into that situation anyways, but if we do, I feel like a lot of the times I’m gonna be called upon to make some shots.

Of course you’re probably wondering where Butler was for the previous 45 minutes, and I think that’s been a question over the last few games. He’s been oddly deferential, has he not? It’s one thing for Jimmy to be a good teammate and share the ball and play defense and glue everything together, but the other side of the coin is that he’s totally capable of putting up 30 points on any given night, when he’s really dialed in and assertive.

Brett Brown had more to say about Butler flipping that switch late in the fourth quarter, after the jump:

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“I Will Coach Aggressively” – Brett Brown Explains Thought Process Behind Intentionally Missed Free Throw

Kevin Kinkead - March 4, 2019

Brett Brown sounded like Doug Pederson on Monday.

That’s not a bad thing, right?

We’re talking about different sports though, and while basketball situations certainly are not perfectly congruent to football situations, the macro-level ideas are typically the same. In channeling Pederson, Brett Brown said he wanted to be aggressive Saturday night when asking Ben Simmons to intentionally miss his second free-throw attempt while down by two points with 10 seconds remaining on the clock.

It seemed like a head-scratcher at the time, since the most common practice in that situation would be to attempt to make the second free throw, cut the lead to one, and then foul Golden State as soon as possible. You would then have 6-8 seconds to come down the court and get off a shot, being unable to advance the ball without a timeout.

What’s the higher percentage play?

Is it missing the free throw and going for the rebound and put back? Or is it traveling the length of the floor to try to spring a decent look?

I asked Brett on Monday about the data supporting his decision, and whether the analytics steered him in any specific direction the other night:

“I’m glad you brought that up and I thought you would. This is what you should all hear – I will coach aggressively. I will coach aggressively. Is it reckless or is it just a calculated risk at times? It’s gonna be a calculated risk. When I look on the floor and I have a 57% free throw shooter, with no timeouts, we don’t have Joel Embiid, it’s a stage of the game that I think we can steal something. They didn’t have DeMarcus (Cousins) on the floor. We subbed and brought Jonah Bolden on the floor. So at that point, it’s like an onside kick, you start the second half with an onside kick and maybe that works or maybe that doesn’t and you’re either a hero or a goat.

My point is, when we study it, and I have a gut feel on something, you judge the situation and you’re playing the NBA champs at home – with all those types of things, and they wouldn’t have expected it – then I’m gonna do it. We’ll live with the consequences. Normally if you’ve got a timeout, or JJ Redick at the line, you know, you’re not going to do it. So under those circumstances I did it. I’ll do it again. In relation to what the numbers say, it’s too vague, it’s mist to the question you’re asking because there’s too many events surrounding what I just said. Without getting into all those iterations again, that’s why I did it.”

There’s your explanation, which is fair to me. I think the consideration of Ben Simmons as a below-average foul shooter certainly plays into the decision to miss intentionally instead of relying on him to make two in a row.

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How Does Bryce Harper Fare at the Other NL East Ballparks?

Kevin Kinkead - March 4, 2019

We’ve spent a lot of time talking about how well Bryce Harper hits at Citizens Bank Park.

In 179 career at bats, he has a .930 on-base plus slugging percentage to go along with 48 hits, 14 home runs and 32 RBI. Those are great numbers in a ballpark which now serves as his home stadium.

One of the quirks of staying in the National League East is that Harper has familiarity with the other parks he’ll be frequenting over the next 13 years, should he play out the entirety of his $330 million contract.

Here’s how he’s done at other NL East parks over the years, with dimensions and park factors courtesy of Swish Analytics:

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Failing to Execute When It Matters – Observations from Warriors 120, Sixers 117

Kevin Kinkead - March 3, 2019

What the hell just happened?” I thought to myself after the final buzzer sounded on Saturday night.

The Sixers had inexplicably fouled Kevin Durant before trying and failing to execute an intentionally missed free throw with 10+ seconds on the clock. Then Tobias Harris caught the ball out of play on a last minute inbound attempt and the game was over. The whole thing felt like a blur after both teams spent most of the fourth quarter trading baskets.

More than any of those specific situations down the stretch, I thought the bigger disappointment, and the real reason for the loss, was the fact that the Sixers missed five straight shots from 2:43 in the fourth quarter until 0:38, when Harris knocked down a three-pointer to cut the Warriors’ six-point lead in half.  JJ Redick had previously missed a floater and a wide-open three-pointer as the Sixers stumbled to the finish line.

At 117-114, Mike Scott, who played a hell of a game last night, bizarrely fouled Durant to put the Warriors on the line with 35 seconds remaining.

Brett Brown confirmed post game that Scott was not told to foul, and Scott took ownership of the play while not exactly explaining why he did what he did:

I have no excuse. I’m not one for excuses. Just gotta be better. Easier said than done.

Just wasn’t good. Better execution, and that’s on me. I don’t have nothing for you, just gotta be better.

The Sixers were able to cut the lead the three, then won the ball back on a brilliant defensive play by T.J. McConnell, gaining possession under their own basket with 19 seconds left.

At that point, Ben Simmons walked the ball up the floor, the Sixers looked to get into a play with Harris and Redick but could not spring either player, then Golden State ultimately fouled at the 10 second mark to send Simmons to the line. After making the first free throw, Simmons was instructed to miss the second, which he certainly did, but committed a violation by failing to hit the rim.

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