In an attempt to shed its image as a site dedicated to shouty fan blog posts and slide shows, Bleacher Report in recent years has hired accomplished writers and taken on more ambitious projects.
One of the best things I’ve seen from the site is an oral history of Kevin Garnett, which starts with this setup:
As Garnett’s brilliant career quietly winds down back where it all began, in Minnesota—after stops in Boston and Brooklyn—it seems like the right time to reflect on one of the most unique figures ever to grace the NBA.
B/R spoke to more than 40 people who played or worked with Garnett over the course of his basketball life for a two-part oral history of a unique NBA career.
It’s full of wonderful detail from voices both current and perhaps long-forgotten, including this anecdote from Garnett’s predraft workout in 1995:
John Hammond, Bucks general manager: The thing that I remember vividly was how nervous Kevin was. He got to the point early in the workout where basically he almost started hyperventilating. I thought he was going to pass out. … So he and I just walked to the other end of the court, with no one on that end. Now we have our backs to everyone. I just had him start shooting some free throws and tried to get him to relax and pull himself back together.
And this from Flip Saunders: That was probably the best workout I’ve ever seen one individual ever have. … Kevin [McHale] and I both thought that there was no risk. We were just hoping that he was going to be there.
Oral histories can be hit or miss, but this one is a must-read. It’s so long that it’s in two parts, but it’s well worth your time.
Statcast, the new tracking system installed in every MLB park this season, allows the public to know some interesting things — chief among them being just how hard the ball is coming off the bat when players make contact.
For those obsessed with the radar gun on pitchers, this is the next great thing. It also demonstrates why a pitcher getting hit by a line drive is often scarier than a batter getting hit by a pitch, since batted ball speeds routinely top 100 mph and have reached as much as 120 mph this season (Giancarlo Stanton).
But is this data just fun, or does it tell us something? After all, data is useless unless we know what to do with it. Five Thirty Eight did some interesting work recently, discovering that each mph increase in batted ball velocity equates to an increase of roughly 18 points of OPS. This shouldn’t be a surprise since hard-hit balls = extra-base hits, and extra base hits drive up OPS. But Five Thirty Eight used it as a way, in albeit a small sample size, to measure which batters have been lucky or unlucky so far in 2015 based on correlation between batted ball velocity and OPS.
It’s interesting stuff, and you should take a look at the link. For our purposes, the Twins are the main focus. So looked at Twins hitters for whom there are at least 30 at bats with batted ball speed tracked this season (while Statcast is in every ballpark, the data is so far incomplete in terms of measuring every at bat … for instance, Joe Mauer has 145 at bats this season, but only 85 of them show up in Baseball Savant’s batted ball data tracking).
There are 10 Twins hitters with at least 30 tracked at bats; the graphic below (thanks to the capable help of coworker CJ Sinner) shows both the average speed off the bat and the top speed off the bat for each of those 10.
What conclusions could we tentatively draw from that small sample size, aside from simply saying that knowing the speed of the ball off the bat is pretty cool? Well, I’d say these things:
*The OPS/batted ball speed correlation is pretty strong with the Twins. The top four Twins regulars in terms of OPS are Brian Dozier (.833), Torii Hunter (.790), Trevor Plouffe (.759) and Joe Mauer (.709), who are also the top four in terms of average batted ball velocity — though not in that order. Plouffe has hit the ball the hardest but perhaps hasn’t been rewarded as much as he should be based on OPS (and his slugging of .423, which is also third on the team).
*Kennys Vargas is the leader on the Twins with a single batted ball that traveled 114 miles per hour, 4 mph faster than any other of the 10 charted players. But he’s only fifth in average batted ball velocity of the 10 … perhaps an indication of the inconsistency in his at-bats that got him sent back to Class AAA Rochester.
*Jordan Schafer, at 79.10 mph average batted ball velocity, is by far the softest hitter of the 10 and is among the softest in all of MLB. Not surprisingly, he has a very low OPS (.510).
So the conclusions aren’t surprising, but I do like Five Thirty Eight’s approach of using it as a way to calculate whether players have been lucky or unlucky — particularly as we get a full season (and seasons) of data going forward.
The Vikings’ starter at left guard this season could be … Brandon Fusco?
In a recent conversation with our Sid Hartman, head coach Mike Zimmer revealed the Vikings “have actually been looking at Brandon Fusco moving over to left guard.” Fusco played right guard in his first four NFL seasons.
The Vikings still have a void at left guard after they did not add a veteran guard in free agency or use one of their early draft picks at that position.
Charlie Johnson was the starter there a year ago and he performed poorly, leading to his release after the season. Left tackle Matt Kalil also struggled mightily, in part because he couldn’t get on the same page as Johnson even though they had been lining up next to each other since the 2012 season.
The Vikings brought back Joe Berger, a valuable reserve at all three inside positions. He started nine games at right guard last season after Fusco tore his pectoral in a Week 3 loss to the Saints and went on injured reserve. Berger is capable of playing right guard again if Fusco does switch sides.
Zimmer also told Sid that the Vikings are considering fourth-round pick T.J. Clemmings at right guard. Clemmings played right tackle in college. But at the team’s rookie minicamp two weeks ago he lined up at guard some, too.
Still, considering that Fusco is comfortable at right guard and was one of the NFL’s better players at the position, why would the Vikings move him?
Zimmer didn’t say, but there is certainly some logic in moving Fusco next to Kalil in the hopes it will help the 2012 first-round pick reclaim his game.
Of course, the Vikings would then have a void at right guard, which some feel is the more important of the two guard positions because teams often slide their protection to the left, leaving the right guard and right tackle in 1-on-1 blocking situations. However, the money that is being handed out shows that NFL teams are valuing left guards more than right guards.
Anyway, it’s the middle of May and players aren’t even wearing helmets yet. So we will see if the Fusco switch becomes permanent or if they are just tinkering around. Either way, though, it’s an interesting development.
The Wolves have never had NBA Draft Lottery luck. That much has been well-documented, to the point that fans waver somewhere between having a complex and forming conspiracy theories.
The popular one this season goes something like this: even though the Wolves have the best odds (25 percent) of landing the No. 1 pick, there’s no way the NBA would let that happen since both the Knicks (second-best odds) and Lakers (fourth-best) are marquee franchises.
That type of thinking alludes to a sort of rigging of the lottery by the NBA, and that kind of sentiment goes back exactly 30 years to 1985, a season in which fans remain convinced that the NBA did in fact rig the lottery to give the Knicks the No. 1 pick (which they used to select franchise-altering center Patrick Ewing).
The rigging of the lottery would not explain, though why a number of small-market teams (most notably Cleveland, which got the number one pick in 2011, 2013 and 2014) have won the lottery, so modern day fans shouldn’t have much to worry about. Still, that 1985 conspiracy theory has some legs and has caused three decades of mistrust. If the NBA did it then, why couldn’t the league do it again?
In case you aren’t familiar with the juicy 1985 conspiracies, SI.com’s Chris Ballard has a nice video taking you back in time. Have a look if you are so inclined … and if you’re a Wolves fan, hold your breath until tomorrow night’s drawing.