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The Detroit Lions, the Detroit Tigers and winning now

Lions celebrate

Dave Dombrowski didn’t have to say anything. He sent his message when he gave up two of the Tigers’ best prospects for reliever Joakim Soria: We’re effin’ going for it. 

It doesn’t matter that we overpaid. It doesn’t matter if Cory Knebel and Jake Thompson are good. If we win it won’t matter if Joakim Soria doesn’t perform as expected. I made a move to win now.

He has the right attitude. The Tigers’ window is closing. Miguel Cabrera’s OPS is the lowest it has been since his second year in the league. Justin Verlander’s strikeout rate is lowest it’s been in eight years. His ERA is nearing 5.00. Yet the Tigers hold a five-game lead in the AL Central. The team that’s dominating the AL, the Athletics, is the same team the Tigers have owned in the postseason for eight years.

This has to be the year. Max Scherzer will become a free agent. Dombrowski might become commissioner. Verlander and Cabrera might recover, but what if they don’t? Eventually time will have it’s way. It won’t be too long until Verlander is a breaking ball pitcher and Cabrera is dragging around man boobs.

A franchise that has those factors, an 85-year-old owner and a 30-year championship drought has to go for it. Especially after coming close two times before.

But the Tigers aren’t the only ones. This fall might be just as important for the Lions.

They’re not as close — winning one playoff game would be a start — but the urgency to perform is similar.

Detroit tabled contract talks with Ndamukong Suh this week. They didn’t pick up a fifth-year option on Nick Fairley. There’s a real possibility that by 2015 the Lions will have nothing to show for their 2010 and 2011 first-round picks.

Then there’s Matt Stafford. He’s only 26. There’s still time to improve. But when the Lions brought in Jim Caldwell to be their new coach, they hyped the work he did with Peyton Manning above everything else. If Stafford doesn’t take a step forward this year or the next, there’s a chance he’ll be the guy we see now forever: Just good enough to give you hope, but not good enough to get you anywhere.

Even if that doesn’t happen, even if he starts hitting his peak around the 30, it might be too late. At a certain point Calvin Johnson is going to regress from intergalactic to just good. Instead of drawing triple coverage he’ll draw just double.

The Lions can’t completely effin’ go for it, even if their salary cap situation allowed them to. They’re not good enough. They can’t overpay for a corner and explain it by saying, ‘Hey we’re one player away and we just got him.’

But they have to better if they want any hope at either signing Suh or to lesser extent Fairley or attracting useful free agents. They can’t become the next Dallas Cowboys, posting 8-8 year after 8-8 year. At some point this season, they’re going to have to pull a page out of the Tigers book and take a risk, whether that’s on signing someone, making the rare in-season NFL trade, letting a late-round rookie take the reins at a key position like they did last year, or something else.

They’re going to have go for it to the extent that a Lions team can.

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As training camp begins, it’s time to catch up with our football JMMA winners

Welcome to the roster jungle.

Welcome to the roster jungle.

Baseball has Ruth and Mays. Football has Payton and Rice. Basketball has Jordan and Chamberlain. Hockey has Gretzky and Lemieux.

We have Austin and McClendon.

As we set off in our search to find the next football winner of the James Mungro Memorial Award presented by (sponsor pending), it’s important to remember the legends of the game. Their the ones whose dominance showed us what a single human is capable of. Today we do that by updating our former champions’ status ahead of training camp.

Current football champ (for a few more weeks anyway) Rodney Austin had a glimpse of hope in the spring and a glimpse of defeat in the fall.

The Lions signed Austin to the 53-man roster at the end of last year, keeping him away from the Titans. The move indicated Detroit had Austin in their future plans. In May it appeared those plans had Austin contributing next year.

With Rob Sims limited in OTAs, the left guard spot opened during first-team drills. The Lions gave it to Austin.

But they also drafted center/guard Travis Swanson in the third round and then signed guard Garrett Reynolds in July. Reynolds started 10 games for the Falcons last year and outplayed his $1.1 million contract according to Pro Football Focus, in July.

As training camp begins, Austin has his career in his hands to an extent. Play well and he could be a key backup, the first option if injury-riddled Rob Sims goes down. Disappoint and he could get caught in a roster crunch.

There are only so many interior line spots. The Lions invested a third-round pick in Swanson. Beat writers are already talking about him being the heir to Dominic Raiola at center — but only if he doesn’t win a guard spot first. Either way, he’ll make the roster. The Reynolds is likely also on the roster based on his performance last year.

If the Lions want to keep all three they could, it just might mean relegating Austin to the practice squad again. He already has two years of practice squad time, but Detroit could keep him there for one more as long as they have 53 men on their roster at all times, which hey will.

(Side note: Reynolds might be the first football player to ever compete with two former JMMA winners. He fought off Jacques McClendon last year and will wage battle with Austin this year.)

Like Austin, Jacques McClendon, our inaugural JMMA champion has reached a tipping point in his career. But his has much higher stakes.

Despite starting two games last year, McClendon heads into Jacksonville’s training camp in an all-out battle with rookie Brandon Linder for the left guard spot. McClendon started the camp taking first-team reps but the Jaguars beat-writer-types think Linder is the favorite for the job.

Linder is a third-round pick out of the University of Miami. The team is building for the future. Might as well let the young guy take his lumps now instead of using a journeyman for a year or two.

Big Jacques can’t just be better than Linder. He’s got to be so much better that it forces Linder to question his being.

It’s nothing he hasn’t done before.

He did win the James Mungro Memorial Awaard presented by (sponsor pending) not to too long ago.

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Sunday Red Wings rumor roundup: The latest on restricted free agents, Griffins sign prolific college scorer

Every Sunday I’ll bring you a recap of all the legitimate Red Wings-related transaction and signing rumors from the previous week. I see all this stuff anyway. I figured I might as well share it with you.

• Griffins tough guy Tristan Grant signed a free agent deal with the Milwaukee Admirals.

• Thanks to the Malik Report’s translation skills we know Tomas Tatar has three offers on the table from the Red Wings and he’ll likely sign a two- or three- year deal. Tatar is currently a restricted free agent.

• Danny DeKeyser, the Red Wings’ other remaining restricted free agent, isn’t close to being signed General Manager Ken Holland to the Free Press’ George Sipple. But Fox 17 got hold of DeKeyser at a golf tournament and he said, “There won’t be any problems.”

• The organization signed former Wisconsin forward Mark Zengerle to an AHL deal, according to the university. Zengerle spent the past four years as a prolific scorer for the Badgers. His 162 career points are the most by a player since Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves took over the program in 2002.

• The Griffins also signed former Miami University RedHawk Alden Hirschfeld to a one-year contract. Hirschfeld had 29 points in 49 games for the ECHL’s Toledo Walleye last year.

• Griffins assistant coach Jim Paek is leaving to become the head coach of the South Korean national team. South Korea is the host of the 2018 Olympics, so they get an automatic bid into the hockey tournament.

• The Red Wings signed restricted free agent Landon Ferraro to a one-year deal, two-way deal. 

• Remember Jason Williams? We he just signed a deal with the Oklahoma City Barons, the Edmonton Oilers’ AHL affiliate.

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James Mungro Memorial Award, Lions edition pre-preview: The field is set

Never forget the legend

Never forget the legend

The Lions open training camp on Monday, which means we’re close to naming the sixth winner of the James Mungro Memorial Award presented by (sponsor pending).

That’s right. We made it. The second most prestigious award on the internet is back.

We’ll have a more complete preview on our competitors in the leadup to the first game, but here’s an introduction to the 22 souls in contention to follow in the footsteps of legends like McClendon and Austin.

Isa Abdul-Quddus, FS, Age:  24, Four years of experience. Career NFL games: 42. While he’s got a lot games under his belt, he’s only started four of them. The hyphenated last name is always a plus.

Chad Abram, FB, Age: 23, Rookie. Abram’s number is “44b” according to the Lions’ official roster. I’m excited to see that on a jersey.

Alex Bullard, G, Age: 23, Rookie. Like 2012 JMMA winner Jacques McClendon, Bullard is a guard out of the University of Tennessee. Foreshadowing?

Jerome Couplin, S, Age: 22, Rookie. Couplin is out of William & Mary. As a small school guy at a position where he could make a couple of highlights. Unfortunately he’s already had a feature story written about him, putting his eligibility for the competition in question.

A.J. Dalton, T, Age: 22, Rookie. At 6-4, 280 he’s way to small to be an offensive tackle in the NFL. (LaAdrian Waddle is 6-6, 321. Reilly Reiff is 6-6, 313) But he can bench press 225 pounds 33 times.  That would’ve been the 10th best at the NFL Combine this year. Maybe, if he works hard and believes in himself he’ll make it. Well, probably not. Still, who doesn’t love a 6-4, 280-pound underdog story.

DeJon Gomes, SS, Age: 24, Four years NFL experience. Career NFL games: 46. Gomes probably sounds familiar. He played in all 16 games for the Lions last year. But since he was picked up by the Lions at the beginning of September after he was cut by the Redskins he never got a chance at the JMMA. The committee has determined his play last year was so anonymous that he was eligible for the award this year. Congrats to him, I guess.

Aaron Hester, DB, Age: 24, One year NFL experience. Career NFL games: 0. Spent 2013 camp with the Broncos before being cut. He’s the cousin of former Bear and current Falcon Devin Hester.

Gregory Hickman, DT, Age: 23, Rookie. Like Abram, Hickman’s number contains a letter. He’s ’60w’. I really hope these aren’t typos.

Justin Jackson, LB, Age: 22, Rookie. There’s not much I can find on Jackson other than he’s out of Wake Forest. He’s just another dude, which is either the best thing or the worst thing for a guy to be in this competition.

George Johnson, DE, Age: 26, Five years NFL experience. Career NFL games: 11. The name is well below average, but the career arc is there: 11 games in five years, zero starts, One career solo tackle.

Kalonji Kashama, DE, Age: 23, Rookie. An early favorite for three reasons. 1.) The name. 2.) His dad’s name is Ferdinand. 3.) He’s Canadian. Unfortunately he’s probably not going to make the team, which means he’ll probably head to the CFL. He was the 27th overall pick in the CFL before his final season at Eastern Michigan.

Cornelius Lucas, T, Age: 23, Rookie. If there’s going to be a third straight offensive lineman to capture the JMMA, the money is on Cornelius. He’s obviously got the name, but more importantly, he lives on the island with his fellow Wild Things. Lucas is 6-9, 328 pounds. The only downside: He too, had a feature written about him. This one came back in June.

Gabe Lynn, S, Age: 23, Rookie. He’s got an uphill battle. I tend not to trust anybody named Gabe.

Jacob Maxwell, TE, Age: 23, Rookie. After about five minutes of his 23-minute YouTube highlight video I feel like I know Maxwell. He’s a non-blocking, average speed tight end who looks more like a receiver. His route-running is good and his hands are even better. Unfortunately the Lions already have the rich man’s version of him in Joseph Fauria.

Andrew Peacock, WR, Age: 23, Rookie. We all love the scooters, and judging by Peacock’s 5-9 frame, he’s a scooter. That attribute, plus his last name and him wearing the No. 1 jersey put him on the list of early favorites.

Bryce Quigley, G, Age: 22, Rookie. Quigley is fun to say, so he’s got that going for him. He had a semi-feature written about him a couple days ago in which he talked about risking his NFL future by playing with an injury in the Idaho Potato Bowl. Quigs, the minimum NFL salary is $420,000. A win over Buffalo in the Potato Bowl isn’t worth anything close to that.

Mohammed Seisay, CB, Age: 24, Rookie. I like Seisay because if you flipped his first name and his last name it’d sound just as cool. If he can turn in a competent performance in the preseason, not only could he win this award, but he’d earn the adulation of Lions fans everywhere who are just looking for a cornerback that doesn’t have a nervous breakdown.

Julian Stanford, LB, Age: 23, Two years NFL experience. Career NFL games: 20. You probably didn’t know Stanford played in four games for the Lions last year. That’s cause he out-smarted you. Anybody who has Stanford right in their name has to be a genius.

Jordan Thompson, TE, Age: 25, One year NFL experience. Career NFL games: 0. I’m least excited about Thompson of all the tight ends — unless there is a 23-minute YouTube highlight video that I’ve missed.

Larry Webster, DE, Age: 24, Rookie. Webster is out of Bloomsburg University, which Wikipedia tells me is a Division II school in Pennsylvania. He is also 6-7 and 250 pounds, which means he’s 45 pounds lighter than Dominic Raiola despite being six inches taller than him.

Reese Wiggins, WR, Age: 23, Rookie. An all-name team selection, Wiggins is a contender. But he’s going to have to balance playing good enough to advance in the competition with playing just bad enough not to get noticed.

George Winn, RB, Age: 23, one year NFL experience. Career NFL games: 0. Despite entering his second year, he’s already had stints with six NFL teams. That combined with the fact he’s at a position where he could see a small bit playing time if he moves into the third string, makes him the early favorite.

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Your update on the baseball winners of the JMMA gets happy then sad then good at pitching

Where art thou Jose?

Where art thou Jose?

The details on the Angels’ trade with the Padres’ for Huston Street came in increments. First we learned the deal was done. Then we learned that the Angels were including second-base prospect Taylor Lindsey in the deal. Then came this:

Jose Alvarez to the Padres. I was excited. The Angels are contenders and probably will be for a while, especially if they figure out their pitching. The Padres suck. Alvarez could develop there. He could get a serious chance to become a long-term piece as San Diego starts its rebuilding process all over again once they hire a new GM.

Goddammit.

So the One True Alvarez remains with the Angels. He also remains on the disabled list. With just six weeks left in the season, there’s no way he’s coming back. It’s a lost year for Alvarez.

*

It’s been just the opposite kind of year for Blaine Hardy.

He had trouble on Saturday, allowing an earned run, but Hardy continues to rule the American League like a dictator.

He’s currently got a 2.51 ERA, and while the advanced stats say it’ll like increase with a bigger sample size, I refuse to believe it. (If you’re a nerd his xFIP is 3.48. If you’re not a nerd, congratulations.) Saturday’s slip up was his first run allowed in his past seven appearances.

Hardy’s plan has stayed the same: Get ahead with the fastball, then BAM! drop the ol’ hammer of Thor right at the knees. (Especially against righties. He tends to stick with the fastball a little more with lefties.)

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Sunday Red Wings rumor roundup: Who is untouchable?; When to expect a Daniel Alfredsson decision

New feature! Every Sunday I’ll bring you a recap of all the legitimate Red Wings-related transaction and signing rumors from the previous week. I see all this stuff anyway. I figured I might as well share it with you.

• In a mailbag, MLive’s Ansar Khan says that Gustav Nyquist, Anthony Mantha, and the Red Wings’ 2015 first-round pick are either close to or already untouchable but Tomas Tatar isn’t. He also says the Red Wings would likely trade Tatar before they traded Tomas JurcoKhan also listed Brendan Smith, Jakub Kindl and Joakim Andersson as possible trade chips. He was also asked about a possible trade for the Coyotes’ Keith Yandle and said the Red Wings likely wouldn’t include Jurco, especially since Yandle has only two years remaining on his contract.

Daniel Alfredsson will either play in Detroit or retire, says the Free Press’s Helene St. James. It’s just a matter of if he feels good enough to play again. Ken Holland and Alfredsson will sit down right before training camp and come to decision.

• As expected, Red Wings assistant coach Tom Renney left to become the president of Hockey Canada. Not long after that, Tony Granato accepted a position as one of the Red Wings’ assistant coaches, which was also expected.

• Mike Babcock won’t talk extension during the season, says St. James.

• The Griffins re-signed veteran defenseman Brennan Evans to a one-year contract. Don’t expect to see him in Detroit.

• NBC 4’s Adam Vingan emailed with Don Meehan, Mike Greens agent. Meehan said he and the Capitals haven’t had any conversations regarding Green’s status.

• Speaking of Green, CSN Washington’s Chuck Gormley pointed out that new Capitals coach Barry Trotz loves Nyquist and would be a good fit for the Capitals. That’s great, except for the first bullet above where it says that Gustav Nyquist is basically untouchable.

• Ken Holland tells the Free Press’s George Sipple that the Red Wings aren’t close to signing Tatar or Danny DeKeyser, their two remaining restricted free agents. Sipple says the team will also try to work out a deal with Griffins center Landon FerraroFerraro played four games with the Red Wings last year.

• The Red Wings signed minor leaguers Mitch Callahan and Andrej Nestrasil to one-year contracts. Callahan played one game with Detroit last season.

• The Toledo Walleye signed miniature goaltender Jeff Lerg and former Farmington Hills Flame (among other things) A.J. Jenks. Lerg is a former Michigan State Spartan. Jenks is a former fourth-round pick of the Panthers.

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Beating the system: Can the Red Wings increase their shootout prowess with better shot choice?

When we last convened, we established that an eight percent increase in SPDO equals one shootout win and that the Red Wings’ poor shooters cost them two to three points last year, which led to the question: What’s the best way for the Red Wings to increase their shooting percentage, and in turn, their SPDO? The answer is complicated. The problem with shootouts is sample size. The average team plays in only 10 of them a year. If you keep the same three shooters and goalie for every shootout, that’s only 10 shots per shooter and 30 shots faced by a goalie (barring any extra shooters) each season. Looking at shootout season data is like trying to determine a baseball player’s hitting skill by looking at their batting average after three games. Because of that, the consistency on any metric from year-to-year by is minimal. Here’s a look at the SPDO of a team from 2012-13 to 2013-14: Rplot The R^2 value is 0.111, so a team’s 2012-13 shootout performance could only predict about 11 percent of that same team’s 2013-14 shootout performance. When you look at individual players, it gets even worse. I took every player who had a minimum of five shootout attempts in the 2012-13 and 2013-14 seasons and graphed it:

R^2 = 0.074

R^2 = 0.074

The chart for goalies is just as bad. We could increase the minimum number of attempts, but our data set would be almost nothing. There were just 33 players who had five shootout attempts in 2012-13 and 2013-14. Obviously, part of the reason is that 2012-13 was a lockout year. You might see a slightly better correlation if you compared two full seasons, but I ran out of run to run these regressions for every season. (That data and an examination into how many attempts it takes for a player/goalie’s shooting/save percentage to stabilize could come in future Shootout Weeks.) My guess is it wouldn’t make much of a difference, just based on how low this number is.

So after all that we’ve just figured out a bunch of way to not find what we’re looking for. Continue Reading »

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