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Reminiscing on the Ndamukong Suh era with the Detroit Lions

Suh

As fans and columnists spray blame across all parties, the actual event of Ndamukong Suh leaving Detroit lays on the bench.

The Suh era is over in Detroit.

It was filled with controversy and ended with a kidney-punch loss. Detroit never won anything while he was there, but Suh’s stay coincided with a 38-42 record and two playoff appearances. That’s the best five-year stretch for the franchise since 1994-1998.

Suh was the turning point. Calvin Johnson and Matt Stafford had arrived, but it was Suh who forged the Lions’ identity. Suh turned the Lions into villains. Suh got the Lions to buy into “Detroit vs. Everybody” before there was ever a song about it.

At his best he kicked extra points during the preseason and won Defensive Rookie on the Year on a bad team. At his best he was a combination of strength and speed that didn’t make sense. At his best you saw a man who worked relentlessly to win.

At his worst he was the guy with shady automobile accidents. At his worst he played dirty, leaving fans to either come up with stupid defenses for his actions or acknowledge that, yeah, he got out of hand every once in a while. They were willing to accept the stomps and the weeks of criticism from the TV blowhards for those moments when Suh got to the backfield and threw out his big right arm around a running back before the offensive lineman could get out of his stance.

Stafford is too inconsistent. Johnson needs help from someone else to take over the game. Suh was the leader. Through different coaches and different levels of success, Suh forced his personality on that team.

Why would he want to leave the team he helped build?

The most insight you’ll get into why he made the decision he made won’t come from whatever was written in the past day or two. It’ll come from this ESPN piece from September. 

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James Mungro Memorial Award update: The favorite is out but it leads to new arrivals

Wynton Bernard

The story was too good. He was too good. Now he’s out.

Wynton Bernard flew into the competition on top of a nice afro and a story of going from an open tryout to the Tigers’ 40-man roster. We should’ve seen it then. We should’ve known his likeableness, his proximity to the majors and his position — center field, a weakness last season after the Austin Jackson trade — would prevent him from being anonymous for long.

Bernard’s journey in the competition started out well enough, with a fuzzy story about Ian Kinsler giving him a new pair of cleats. 

Then he went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts. Thn, two stories were written about Bernard’s story, one by Fox Sports, one by MLB.com. Those are mainstream enough to disqualify him from the competition.

A positive came out of all of this though. As I was on the Tigers website looking at Bernard’s stats, I noticed something peculiar. In past years, MLB.com’s team rosters have included every player in spring training for that team. This time, they split up non-roster invitees into their own tab. 

For the first time ever, players are being added to the JMMA pool in the midst of spring training.

The Tigers brought 16 non-roster invitees to spring training, but not all of them qualify for the James Mungro Memorial Award presented (sponsor pending). Catchers Miguel Gonzalez, Austin Green, Manny Pina and Grayson Greiner have no chance of making the team, so they’re out. I’ve heard of infielders Jordan Lennerton and Josh Wilson as well as pitcher Luke Putkonen, so they’re out. Pitcher Joe Mantiply is out because he’s the guy everyone singled-out as “under the radar”, thus putting him on the radar.

That leaves eight new additions to the competition:

Alberto Cabrera, P, Age: 26. Cabrera has 32 games of MLB experience, but none since 2013. His dad is a street vendor in the Dominican Republic, baking and selling bread, which is fun.

Rafael Dolis, P, Age: 27. Dolis made the Cubs’ opening-day roster in 2012 but was demoted after 34 games. He has five games of major league experience since then.

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Know your James Mungro Memorial Award nominee: Josh Zeid, the controversial inclusion

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(Photo: Tom Hagerty)

The final candidate for the James Mungro Memorial Award presented by (sponsor pending), Josh Zeid, is also the most controversial.

Last week we eliminated Daniel Fields  after ESPN’s Keith Law named him one of the Tigers’ top propsects and a feature story from before spring training was discovered.

Zeid had has own feature story written about him just before the start of spring training, yet he remains in the competition. It’s a gray area. The difference between Fields and Zeid is the former had another strike. He was labeled a prospect. The latter is also ran.

Zeid is a 27-year-old right-handed relief pitcher who posted a 6.97 ERA with the Astros last year.

According to his borderline illegal feature story, it was because he was pitching with a broken bone in each foot. He missed the second half of the season because of them. When the season ended, the Astros waived him, the Tigers signed him and after two offseason surgeries, Zeid — like every other player at spring training — finally feels healthy.

We have some high potential for a comeback story: former prospect plays injured for his team, maybe keeps it from some trainers, team doesn’t see it or appreciate it and gives him up, he’s picked up by another team in a better situation. If Zeid is to comeback and lay so much waste to the majors that the other 29 teams enter a post-apocalyptic state, I want to be in on the ground floor.

While Zeid isn’t guaranteed to make the team, he’ll be in competition with Kyle Ryan, Alex Wilson, Buck Farmer, etc. for one of those final bullpen spots. Off the field, he apparently really likes food and his liberal use of exclamation points, unnecessary abbreviations and sponsor shoutouts on Twitter are Chris Bootcheck-esque.

He’s also Jewish (a semi-distinguishing characteristic) and pitched for Israel in the World Baseball Classic qualifiers. That led to this quote from Zeid’s mother:

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Breaking down the Red Wings’ sixth segment: Niklas Kronwall’s finest hour

(Photo: Bridget Samuels)

(Photo: Bridget Samuels)

It took 61 games but the Red Wings are finally back to last-season form.

Two shootout losses and two shutout losses pushed Detroit to a 5-3-2 record over the past 10 games, earning the team for 12 points.

The Red Wingers garnered 12 points per segment consistently throughout all of last year and barely made the playoffs. This year they have a cushion, but this segment reminding us of last year’s injury-riddled season isn’t a good sign.

Most of their splits were similar to last year:

2013-14 Avg Seg 1 Seg 2 Seg 3 Seg 4 Seg 5 Seg 6
GF 27.1 29 30 32 24 35 27
GA 27.6 22 27 25 22 26 28
5-on-5 GF 19.1 19 17 19 11 18 15
5-on-5 GA 18.4 15 18 16 11 13 19
PPG 6.1 5 12 10 10 9 8
OPP PPG 5.9 3 5 6 5 11 6

(*The splits don’t add up to the total because I didn’t include empty-net goals, short-handed goals, 6-on-5 goals, etc. on the chart.)

The Red Wings were out scored both overall and 5-on-5. Their power play continues to be good, but is regressing back to the mean. In the past five segments Detroit has scored 12, 10, 10, 9 and 8 power play goals respectively.

Poor five-on-five play mixed with a power play that is coming down from it’s astronomical high isn’t a winning combination.

There was some good news individually, though. Here were the top five Red Wings last segment based on Adjusted GRM. 

(A note before the numbers: Unadjusted GRM numbers favor forwards and punish defensemen. With a year plus of data we somewhat overcome that by making adjustments based on position. I averaged all the GRM totals from every segment ever recorded — including this one — separately for forwards and defensemen, and subtracted that number from a player’s score depending on his position. The average GRM for a forward was 0.741. For a defensemen it was -0.846. So a forward who posted a 0.00 GRM will have an Adjusted GRM of -0.741, while a defenseman with a 0.00 total GRM has an Adjusted GRM of +0.846.)

Top 5 

1. Niklas Kronwall, 2.43

2. Pavel Datsyuk, 2.07

3. Tomas Tatar, 1.75

4. Jakub Kindl, 1.27

5. Darren Helm, 1.13

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Know your James Mungro Memorial Award nominee: Alex Wilson, the forgotten man

Alex Wilson

(Photo: Keith Allison)

 

If this was four years ago, Alex Wilson wouldn’t stand a chance of surviving in JMMA chase.

For one, he wasn’t a member of the Tigers. But even if he was, he’d was too good to be considered.

In 2011, Wilson, now 28, was ranked the No. 11 prospect in the Red Sox system by Baseball America. The publication said he had both the best fastball and best slider in the Red Sox system. According to this fine gentlemen, who sounds like a caricature of a Bawwston guy, he was the franchise’s minor league pitcher of the year that year as well.

He made it to Triple-A in the same season, and stayed there for most of the next three, posting average numbers. In 2013 he made his MLB debut. Last year he pitched in 18 games for the Red Sox and posted a 1.91 ERA.

On it’s surface, that’s too good for this competition, even now. But something happened to Wilson after 2011. People forgot about him.

He went from the No. 11 prospect to No. 18 to No. 29. The Red Sox thought so little of him they threw him in the Cespedes-for-Porcello trade this winter like he was spare change.

Cespedes earned all the talk after the trade (and rightfully so). Wilson slid quietly into what should’ve been a guaranteed bullpen spot. Instead he came to spring training with a chance to secure the final spot for a right-handed reliever. Think about the Tigers’ bullpen last season. Now a pitcher arrives with a career 3.38 ERA. That guy isn’t a lock to make the team?  No respect.

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Know your James Mungro Memorial Award nominee: Kyle Ryan, who is playing for keeps

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Kyle Ryan entered the chase for the James Mungro Memorial Award presented by (sponsor pending) as an underdog, but the more he reveals himself, the more his chances keep increasing.

Ryan isn’t an ideal candidate. He’s a tall skinny pitcher in a world lousy with them. His background is bland: 12th-round pick of the Tigers, worked his way through the system one step at a time. He might be too good: he pitched six games in the majors last year, including one start, and posted a 2.61 ERA. His name get some points for being two first name but overall it’s bland.

Yet, Ryan survives in this competition. Why? He’s kind of the odd man out this year in the Tigers’ bullpen. Last season’s impressive performance didn’t earn him much goodwill, at least at the outset of spring training. The Tigers have him competing with prospect Buck Farmer for one of the final bullpen spots and they just signed Joba Chamberlain back.

That sets up a situation where Ryan has chance to make the team but isn’t a favorite. He’s a minor underdog story. He’s going to have scorch some spring training batters boxes to get to the bigs.

If the one video on YouTube of him is any indication, he’s ready to do so. This is a Q&A with Ryan when he was with the Class A Whitecaps. There’s not much else on the internet about him, so these answers are the only insight we have into his psyche.

Q: If you were stranded on a deserted island, what would three items would you bring?

Ryan: “It would have to be a bow and arrow, a fire starter and a knife.”

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Know your James Mungro Memorial Award nominee: Angel Nesbitt (plus the competition’s first eliminiation)

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This year’s version of the James Mungro Memorial Award presented by (sponsor pending) chase is less than a week old, but it already has a controversy.

Today we were supposed to learn about Daniel Fields, the local-boy outfielder who couldn’t hit or stay healthy last year. We’re not. Fields is the first player cut from this year’s competition.

He was a strong candidate: good enough and young enough that if he found his stroke the Tigers would be willing to call him up this year.

But that was also part of the problem. His repulsive season turned him from a high prospect into a never-was. When ESPN’s Keith Law ranked the Tigers’ farm system the worst in baseball, he mentioned Fields as the No. 2 prospect in the system. That by itself wasn’t enough for him to take a one-way trip to cut city though. Fields isn’t list among the top 20 by MLB.com or the top 10 by Baseball America.

No, the death blow as this feature story on him before spring training even started

With Fields is gone, possibly to never be seen again, we move on to our next candidate. A delightful young man named Angel Nesbitt.

Nesbitt, 24, has two strengths: his fastball and his name.

His fastball can hit 98 mph at times. That type of stuff makes him the biggest prospect remaining in the competition, ranking No. 15 in the Tigers organization according to MLB.com. Nesbitt is already on the 40-man roster, so if he can develop an off-speed pitch or two he could find a spot in the bullpen next to former JMMA winner Blaine Hardy. But if he gets there this season it’ll probably be late in the year. The highest level he’s pitched at is Double-A, although he did some Hardy-like assassinating in the half season his pitched there: 2.23 ERA, 10 strikeouts per nine innings to four walks per nine (he’ll need to lower the latter number) and 1.082 WHIP.

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