Monday, August 17, 2015

A comeback for golf?

Golf has been in crisis mode. Tiger Woods, who had spurred golf's emergence to the masses, ran into trouble off the course after being injured, and simply hasn't been the same, not winning a major since  the 2008 U.S. Open. The Great Recession hurt golf even more than other industries at the participation level. It's also a difficult game that takes considerable time to play and learn, and more and more people are finding they don't have that time.
Spieth and Day: Impressive
But the recently-completed PGA Championship, and the 2015 season overall, has provided genuine hope for golf. Jordan Spieth is just 22, and played at a level this season only accomplished before by the likes of Woods and Jack Nicklaus.
Unlike Woods, he has a number of strong rivals. Jason Day, who won the PGA, hits the ball with extraordinary length. He is just 27 and decidedly likeable, too. Rory Mcilroy has already won four majors at 26, and was just passed by Spieth as the No.1 player in the world. Looks like there will be quite a back and forth between the two for the No.1 spot in ensuring years.
Dustin Johnson is as talented as any player ever on the Tour. Could be he gets his act together and threatens all the above. He is just 31.Whistling Straits is an imposing golf course, and Day and Spieth tore it up this weekend. It was great golf, and tremendous competition. It's the type of thing that could save the struggling entity of golf.

My column. Jim Harbaugh, Mark Dantonio and how unwillingly ESPN did MSU Spartans a big favor:

My column. Former Brother Rice, Notre Dame All-American and NFL linebacker Greg Collins making it as an actor in Hollywood, including role in "Straight Outta Compton."

My column. A lot more good than bad from the Lions in preseason opener:

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

On the passing of Mel Farr

When I was in elementary school, I remember going to Cranbrook and watching the Lions practice during training camp. Among the players I remember seeing were Mel Farr and Charlie Sanders, both of whom died recently, Farr on Monday.
I was hooked on football from that point forward to the point, where even to this day, I look forward to the start of Lions' training camp, which happened to be Monday.
That era of Lions' football was both exhilarating and extraordinarily frustrating. Carl Brettschneider, who was a starting linebacker with Wayne Walker and Joe Schmidt in the early 1960s, was the Lions' player personnel director when they drafted Farr, Lem Barney, Sanders, Earl McCollough and Greg Landry during the late 1960s. He was ahead of the curve envisioning the type of players that were going to succeed in the NFL, but lost a power struggle to general manager Russ Thomas with owner William Clay Ford and went into private business. Brettschneider died last fall. When Brettschneider left the organization, the Lions' drafted
horribly for years.
I knew Carl Brettschneider growing up. His son Brad and I were teammates in everything - football, baseball and basketball. I remember Carl Brettschneider as quiet, but a couple times it just kind of came out how he felt. Ah, he wasn't fond of Williams Clay Ford and Russ Thomas.
Sanders and Barney are in the Hall of Fame. Farr would have been, too. If you watch video of his rookie season in 1967, you see a lot of Gale Sayers in his skill set. He was big and fast, but also very elusive. He had a knee injury his second year, and like with Sayers at approximately the same time, medical science had not advanced to the point where players would have their knees scoped and completely recover. Back then, knee injuries for running backs ruined careers, even ones not considered that serious these days.
Farr played several seasons on a bad knee, and it was more about grit after that. He was a tough player, who used his size effectively. His career was over at 27.
His sons were both tremendous players at Birmingham Brother Rice High School for the legendary Al Fracassa, and followed their father to UCLA. Mike Farr, a wide receiver, was on the last Lions' team to win a playoff game (he caught five passes in the playoff win over Dallas in '91)..
Mel Farr Sr. was a consensus All American, who played on the UCLA team that upset top-ranked Michigan State and Bubba Smith in the 1966 Rose Bowl. Smith and Farr were both from Beaumont, Texas.
To generations of kids, though, he was "Mel Farr, Superstar," the car dealer. Those commercials made Mel Farr an icon in this town during the 1980s, but he was tremendous football player long before they appeared.

My column. Detroit Lions more about substance than hype these days:

My column. MSU Spartans big part of Big Ten rise on college football landscape:

Saturday, August 01, 2015

Perspective about what the Tigers got for being sellers at the trade deadline

I thought the Tigers did well in their role as "sellers" at the trade deadline, considering the circumstances. All three of the assets they "sold" (David Price, Yoenis Cespedes and Joakim Soria) are eligible for free agency after the season, and the teams that acquired them can't get a draft pick in return should they leave as free agents.
But the degree the Tigers have helped their farm system can easily be overstated. In a sense, what general manager Dave Dombrowski did this week was recoup  some of the losses from his previous trades that acquired veteran players for prospects.
Lefty Daniel Norris, who will start Sunday at Baltimore, replaces Robbie Ray, who the Tigers moved in a three-way deal that landed Shane Greene, who although not exactly a veteran, was supposed to provide immediate help.
Robbie Ray
There was a lot of angst about Ray because the Tigers traded a quality No.3 starter, Doug Fister, to Washington to get him, but the Tigers moved too quickly to trade Ray. Just a year older, Ray is much more advanced than Norris. He is 3-5 with a 2.70 ERA in 11 starts for Arizona, including 2-0, 0.83 vs. American League teams. He is allowing 7.8 hits and striking out 7.8 hitters per nine innings, while throwing much harder than he did for Tigers (4-seam fastball up to  93.3 mph from 91.3; Norris has been at 91 mph in MLB this season). The hope for the Tigers is Norris develops next season like Ray has from 2014 to 2015.
Michael Fulmer, the right-hander the Tigers acquired in the Cespedes' trade with the Mets, replaces Jake Thompson, the right-hander, who was traded to Texas for Soria last season and then flipped by the Rangers to the Phillies in the recent deal for ace Cole Hamels. Both Fulmer and Thompson were taken at similar points in the draft as high schoolers, but Thompson is a year younger and has pitched longer in Double-A. Most scouts see Thompson as the better long-range prospect, but it's anything but certain.

Matt Boyd
Fulmer is an interesting prospect. He runs his fastball into the mid 90s and has a solid, tight slider he commands well. He's three inches taller, and that's important because he throws straight over the top which gives him sharper tilt on his fastball, but his "stuff" is remindful of Tigers' reliever Alex Wilson, who was a starter, too, early on as a minor leaguer. Fulmer does not have a good change up and it's hardly given he will develop one that is major league caliber. He also short arms the ball, which can be good or bad. It's good because there is deception in his motion, but bad in that it leads to a somewhat violent delivery. Fulmer has had injury issues, including issues with his elbow.
Corey Knebel, traded in the Soria deal with Thompson and then flipped to Milwaukee during spring trainng, is having a pretty good season for Milwaukee as a depth guy in the bullpen. He has 2.96 ERA, a 1..244 WHIP and is striking out more than a hitter per inning in 24 appearances and 30 innings. More impressively, his average fastball has been 94.8.  He is just 23.
Another pitcher from the Tigers' system who has turned into a serviceable MLB reliever is lefty Jose Alvarez. Traded for Andrew Romine, Alvarez has emerged in the Angels' bullpen this season. He is striking out eight hitters per nine innings and has a 1.143 WHIP. He is 26 and was not signed originally by the Tigers, but did represent their minor league pitching depth when called to MLB originally at 24 for spot starts.
The Tigers also traded 2013 first-round pick Jonathan Crawford to Cincinnati in the Alfredo Simon deal  He has missed most of this season with a shoulder injury.
Willy Adames, traded to the Rays in the Price deal, is a far better prospect than the shortstop/utility player, Ja Coby Jones, they got in the Soria trade with the Pirates.
Matt Boyd (in Price deal) and Luis Cessa (in Cespedes trade) are fringe prospects, who have outperformed that status this season.
Also, the Tigers saved $12.3 million off the books this season, and obviously cleared salary for the off season to make moves.
It's painful in the sense this has been a genuine contending team for the better part of a decade, and this could get really ugly during the second half. The Tiger have not rebuilt anything yet, including their farm system. But it is a start in the right - and necessary - direction.

My column. Detroit Lions will only go as far in 2015 as these players taken them:

Saturday, July 18, 2015

The most difficult aspect to understand about the current state of the Tigers

The Tigers have had a lot of issues this season as they've floundered to a .500 record, even after the All Star break.
The most tangible explanation is their pitching is just mediocre. Ah, that was before they were one-hit Saturday night by the Orioles and lost despite an excellent start by David Price.
One thing I'm perplexed about is why the Tigers aren't better at home. They have a 23-24 record at Comerica Park after Saturday's loss.
Home field advantage in baseball is definitely a factor. Minnesota is 31-16 at home, 19-24 on the road. Kansas City is 30-16 at home, 24-19 on the road. Houston is 29-16 at home, 21-26 on the road.
It's even more pronounced in the National League. St. Louis is 32-11 at home and Pittsburgh 32-16, while both clubs are playing roughly .500 ball on the road. The classic example of this is the Mets, 32-14 at home, 15-29 on the road.
The Tigers have been OK on the road, 22-21. They just can't seem to shake loose at home, even against a team like Baltimore, which is just 18-27 on the road.
Through the early games Saturday night, MLB home teams had a 739-631 record - just a shade under a 54 percent winning percentage. Travel the issue? Can't be. The lone division in which home teams have a losing record is the American League West.
Does Comerica Park not fit the Tigers? It's a spacious in the outfield for sure, traditionally a triples haven. However, the Tigers have more range in the outfield than they've had in the recent past.
So the news about the Tigers to start the second half of the season - a home stand against .500 and sub .500 teams, like the Orioles and Mariners, should be good. Then again, this is a club that was destroyed at home by Milwaukee and Oakland this season, losing five of six to teams with a combined record of 80-103.
Entering this year, the Tigers were 430-299 at Comerica Park since turning around their fortunes in 2006. Even the 2008 team, which lost 88 games, was 40-41 at home. Otherwise, the Tigers haven't been remotely close to having a losing record at home since '06.
The losing at home is a trend the Tigers must change, or they have no chance in '15.

My column. Even without Notre Dame, Jim Harbaugh and Michigan figure to be tested before Big Ten season:


Wednesday, July 15, 2015

History and what it suggests about the Tigers reaching postseason

The Tigers are 44-44 after 88 games. Does it give them a realistic shot at making the playoffs as a wild card now that there is a one-game playoff between two teams? The past suggests they are fighting an uphill climb. This is a breakdown of where the wild card teams stood after 88 games since the one-game playoff was implemented in 2012:
2012 - NL Cardinals (46-42) Braves (49-39); AL Rangers (53-35, but lost AL West to Oakland, which was 45-43 at 88 games) Orioles (46-42).
2013 - NL Reds (50-38) Pirates (53-35); AL Rays (48-40) Indians (46-42).
2014 - NL Giants (49-39) Pirates (47-41); AL Royals (46-42) A's (55-33).
A few other notes:
- Last time the Tigers went to the World Series in 2012, they were also 45-43 after 88 games.
- In 2011, they Tigers were 46-42 and won AL Central going away.
- In 2013 and 2014 the Tigers were 51-37 and 49-39 after 88 games.
- In 2006, when they also reached the World Series, the Tigers were 59-29, but lost the AL Central title on last day of the season to Twins, who were 48-40 after 88 games.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Help from the minor league for Tigers bullpen? Here's one possibility

Jeff Ferrell has been under the radar in the Tigers' farm system - and with good reason.
He was a 26th-round draft pick out of junior college. He was just another OK minor league starter his first years in professional baseball.
But moved into the closer's role at Double-A Erie this season, he thrived with 12 saves in 13 opportunities, a 1.76 ERA and 35 strikeouts in 27 innings. His WHIP was below one.
He was promoted to Triple-A Toledo recently and had a save in his first outing, striking out two, including former major leaguer Nick Franklin, against Durham (he faced the heart of the order). He's 24.
Ferrell has an average fastball, but it's straight over the top and with some tilt (he's 6-foot-3). His calling card, though, is an outstanding changeup. It's a genuine outpitch and should translate well to MLB. He has excellent command of the baseball right now, rarely walking hitters.
I do see where he has the potential to help the Tigers this season as a right-hander, but more in the front end rather than the back end of the bullpen. His experience as a starter would help him well in that regard.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Should the Tigers release Joba Chamberlain? My thoughts