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FANTASY BASEBALL 2017: Two guys who are mid-round Chris Sale & late-round Clayton Kershaw

FANTASY BASEBALL 2017: Two guys who are mid-round Chris Sale & late-round Clayton Kershaw

Relative to active players, Clayton Kershaw has no level comparison at this stage in his career. His contributions on the mound are so unparalleled one could get away with assuming he’s been performing an entire standard deviation better than any other hurler in the game since his arrival. With a league-leading 2.06 ERA, 2.60 xFIP, 67 xFIP-, and 23.8 K/BB ratio since 2011, his 42.8 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) is almost a third higher than the second-best WAR recipient among starting pitchers in that time frame!!

All of this is meant to assure you that, no, the Kershaw apprentice I am about to cover is not going to produce an MVP-caliber campaign in just 150 innings pitched, or a K/BB ratio higher than about 95% of all relief pitchers in the same season. However, 2016 had said apprentice showing flashes of a particularly golden Kershaw season that should at least whet the appetite of those chasing a potential late-round ace.

Here’s what Kershaw accomplished in his 2012 season, which – for fun – is going to be the comparison point I will be using for Player “X”.

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Source: Fangraphs.com

 

Now, let’s take a look at Player “X”‘s numbers from this past baseball season.

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Source: Fangraphs.com

Notice any similarities? In 121 innings pitched, Player X managed to keep pace with a full season of (2012) Kershaw in regards to K/BB%, HR/9, and FIP-. He even bested his superior in FIP, leaning on a 48.1% groundball rate that justified his ability to control the home run ball – and also calls foul against those putrid BABIP and LOB% rates. He’s a late-round-instead-of-mid-round sleeper due to his injury woes (in four years of MLB service, his 121 innings pitched in 2016 is his career high), but amidst the skepticism lies a 28-year old in his physical prime, with a fastball that touches 100 miles per hour and a ridiculously scary cutter/slider hybrid – and in 2016, it looks like he may have put everything together.

With the suspense on high, I now present to you: Player X – James Paxton. 

 

Regardless of the outlook, he’s a guy I’m targeting in all leagues because his improvements a season ago were the product of a simplified delivery . Where he was all herky-jerky in the offing is where he has subtracted to achieve promising gains in velocity, which correlates with the increasing amount of success he experienced with his “slutter”. That pitch produced massive amounts of missed swings, as it accumulated 28% and 35% whiff rates in August and September of last year, respectively. As a result, he racked up an outstanding 11.7% swinging strike rate in general, which would’ve ranked 16th in baseball among all starting pitchers had he qualified.

However, the new delivery Paxton relied on in 2016 made the biggest difference in regard to his command. Between 2015 and 2016, his first-pitch strike rate shot up by almost nine percent, helping shave his walk rate by over five percentage points. In layman’s terms, his control went from Francisco Liriano to David Price in one whole year!

The sustainability of this level of performance hinges entirely on both the repeat-ability of his delivery and his own health; two factors that could fall squarely on its head right at the dawn of the 2017 season. So, Paxton should be, at best, a back-end member of your pitching staff in any league – but a draft pick nonetheless. Take him knowing the risks involved, but well aware of the upside he carries if everything falls in place at once.

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Before being traded to the Red Sox this offseason, Chris Sale was THE difference between a win or a loss for the Chicago White Sox every five days. Despite pitching in a homer-friendly ballpark behind the worst offense in the Majors according to WAR, Sale demonstrated a poise and longevity on the mound that extended past his unforeseen durability. As a result, he’s been a top-5 fantasy stalwart as a starter – but I can’t help but feel like he continually flies under the radar alongside the Kershaws and Scherzers of the world.

Therefore, Player “Y” seems like an incredibly appropriate sleeper comparison; he, too, was just about the only true saving grace in his ballclub a season ago, but he went relatively unnoticed in a year where rookie pitchers flooded fantasy baseball message boards and Kyle Hendricks nearly rode a Changeup and a World Series run to a Cy Young nod. Like with Kershaw-Paxton, we’re gonna start with two identical seasons and start with one from Sale’s career. This time, however, we’re going side-by-side with the 2016 performances of both starters.

Here’s an advanced look at what Sale’s 2016 looked like:

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Source: Fangraphs.com 

 

 

Now, Player “Y”:

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Source: Fangraphs.com

A gradually declining groundball rate and subsequent drops in whiff and swinging strike rates led to Sale having his first +1 HR/9 season of his career, but none of that mattered because he still produced a 5-Win (I.E. Cy Young-caliber) season off the heels of a career-high 3.58 ERA. Because he didn’t throw 226 innings like his superior, however, Player “Y” amassed just a 2.8 WAR mark in 179.2 innings pitched – but you wouldn’t know it if your only source of comparison were these two tables.

That 5-Win threshold is the upside possessed by Danny Duffy, the well-deserving recipient of a 5-year, $65 Million contract extension about a week ago. Before we dig a bit deeper into his fantasy value, let’s take a look at what he brings to the table:

Yep; he sure did break the Kansas City Royals single-game strikeout record for a starting pitcher! This was the pinnacle of what could have been a hardware-heavy campaign had Duffy pitched a full 34-35 starts with 200 innings – but, again, we must consider exactly how he’s reached this point.

Like Paxton, he (super-duperly) changed his delivery in 2016, opting to work exclusively from the stretch a-la Yu Darvish and Carlos Carrasco (the latter of which I’m sure one good friend of mine will appreciate seeing acknowledgments here). Again, like Paxton, this led to an uptick in velocity, and universally jaw-dropping increases in command. You think Paxton’s walk rate was bad? Duffy never posted a double-digit K/BB rate in his entire Major League career up until this point. You know what his K/BB% was last season? 20 percent!!

Add in the night-and-day difference in plate discipline-based peripherals, and what we – and millions of restless Royals fans – got in return for his advancements was a pitcher we didn’t see coming, but probably should have all along. Believe it or not, Duffy has a devastating slider AND changeup! By just simply finding the strikezone, his slider picked up a six percent jump in whiffs relative to his career usage, while the changeup induced swings and misses at a rate of 19.78 percent; eight percentage points higher than his career averages prior to 2016. The respective strikeout rates on both pitches last year? 41.1 and 30.1 percent! In regards to whiffs, Duffy virtually carries Sale’s slider, Marco Estrada‘s changeup, and Max Scherzer‘s fastball (fun fact: last season, both fastballs carried just a single percentage of disparity).

Until he finds a true groundball offering (his two-seamer, quite frankly, is a shit pitch that generates far more fly balls than anything else), home runs are going to be Duffy’s bugaboo, and unfortunately I can’t envision a season going forward where his Bronson Arroyo-esque HR/9 rate in 2016 will deflate to anything considerably lower. Also, the wheels fell off rather abruptly in September/October, during which he posted a 5.50 ERA and served up nine bombs (despite his xFIP sitting at a pretty 3.56 mark during that period). Endurance from Duffy is going to be a question mark going into 2017, as he bested his professional baseball career-high in innings pitched a year ago; Kansas City paid him like an ace, but there’s no guarantee he drops a top-20 campaign on us just yet. He’s also an injury risk in just about the same vein as Paxton, so there’s that, too.

Still, he’s the (slightly) healthier, more reliable option of the two lefties I’ve covered here, which makes him a much safer draft pick in either the middle rounds or that awkward phase in the draft where all elite names are off the board and owners begin to farm for key position depth in certain areas. That being said, I absolutely love everything about Duffy post-delivery change, and I personally wouldn’t mind reaching a little for his services on draft day. In leagues that include quality starts, strikeout-walk rates and/or innings pitched, I highly recommend that you do as well.

 

Other left-handed starters to consider on draft day (Some are recommended for deeper leagues):

Sean Manaea

Robbie Ray

Blake Snell

Daniel Norris

Matt Boyd

Julio Urias

–  Tyler Anderson 

Tyler Skaggs

 

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Atlanta: Season One Review **SPOILERS**

Atlanta: Season One Review **SPOILERS**

The real world is always a fascinating canvas for a television series, and with the right mix of precision and imagination any show in that particular light could be depicted as more than the sum of its parts while retaining a striking authenticity. But in order for that kind of show to work, it needs to embrace its nuances – which doesn’t necessarily mean following a typical TV show format. For the typical viewer, the greatest challenge in experiencing Atlanta is acknowledging that it doesn’t follow a typical TV show format: anything can happen, and you have to just accept that as Gospel. However, those who quickly come around to this approach and simply go along for the ride will realize that FX’s latest life-chronicling comedy relies on its inherent unpredictability to broaden its thematic flexibility, which lends to its relatively grounded trappings. There is a living, breathing world in this new series that feels just as real as yours or mine, but it’s not confined to a specific tone or a method of storytelling. Atlanta portrays the subtleties of everyday life by playing by its own rules, allowing the viewer to interpret the proceedings however he or she interprets them; that alone is enough to warrant its freshman season a resounding success.

Following the earnest exploits of – ahem – Earnest “Earn” Marks (Donald “Childish Gambino” Glover), his cousin and sort-of client Alfred “Paper Boi” Miles (Brian Tyree Henry), and shockingly enlightening realist Darius (Keith Stanfield), Atlanta presents the daily happenings of everyday life under the perspectives of three ambitious African-American males (and one African-American female who I will delve into later) struggling to thrive amidst their surroundings. About three or four episodes in, after their dynamic together is cemented, we get a surreal sense of the world they live in and the hurdles it leaves in their wake. For Earn, his hurdles include making ends meet: he’s a child-caring father with little money to his name, carrying a disposition that appears even smaller than his pockets. Alfred does a particularly better job gathering cash, but his “Paper Boi” hip-hop persona generates an entirely different wave of trouble he combats throughout most of the season. Darius, however, is more or less just there – but in the best possible way imaginable. From his insights to his incredible relatability, he quickly justifies his presence by being far and away more likeable and down-to-earth than anyone else I’ve seen on television in quite some time (a good portion of that is the result of Stanfield’s performance, but the character himself is fantastic all the same).

I cannot stress enough how important it is to understand these characters, particularly because a large portion of the season revolves around their perceptions of the real world. For example: “Streets on Lock”, the worthy extension to a rather fantastic pilot offering, is largely a showcase of Earn’s many different deadpan reactions to the endless array of personalities he either bumps into, or, in this particular episode’s case, is confined to a police precinct room with. Despite virtually saying a few lines and resorting to facial expressions, Glover’s performance opens us up to the realization that his character simply does not fit in with the environment from which he’s been brought forth – but the real magic in “Streets” is how it perpetuates this notion through setting. The police precinct plays as much of a character as Earn or Alfred, and through the drag queen, the mentally unstable jailbird, the abrupt police brutality and the number of masterfully-written conversations in-between, we are given an incredibly vivid sense of Atlanta the city through Earn’s eyes.

 

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Through AlfredAtlanta not only gives way to the rest of Atlanta’s underpinnings, but exercises a media outlet that offers some considerably strong social commentary. One of today’s biggest stereotypes in the music industry is the belief that the typical rapper is little more than a tunnel-visioned gang-banger with minuscule disregard for the influence his or her work may have on society; Atlanta both counters and slightly bends towards this through the gradual upswing of “Paper Boi”. In order for Alfred’s hip-hop lifestyle to seem plausibly adjacent to the personality of his everyday ego, the show needs to properly establish that dynamic and “The Big Bang” and “Go for Broke” both expertly parlay the musical talent (Alfred’s mixtape rightfully making waves on the radio in the former episode) and the hustle (Alfred’s drug-dealing shenanigans in the latter) necessary to do so. As a result, his ability to stay afloat financially while his music career continues to ascend doesn’t counteract with the credibility found elsewhere in Atlanta. However, these factors alert Alfred of his surroundings to the same extent that up-selling, exasperating waitresses and evasive club owners remind Earn of the significance surrounding his own monetary progression. The way he reluctantly obliges to take photos with the police officer in “Streets on Lock”, as well as his subsequent attempts to clarify his stance on violence to influential children, are prime examples of the plight he must undergo as a byproduct of his career path. When he’s tussling with a Black Justin Bieber in a celebrity basketball game, or facing a Twitter war with a multi-cultural personality who’s true roots of nationality are undefined,  Alfred also has to fight for and/or defend his reputation in an uphill battle with the media.

Even though this season plays off as more of a collection of individual episodes than a serial story arc, it gives characters like Alfred ample room to develop, with life experiences like these quietly molding into a game-changing moment later on. This is where installments like “The Club” come in. A breathtaking portrayal of the Atlanta club life scene, this particular episode finds Alfred losing his shit, as the frustration of playing second-fiddle to a more popular public figure leads to an act of pure “gangsta” instinct that redeems Earn and rejuvenates the ideal that “Paper Boi” deserves his due. The actual scene that perpetuates all of this is as fascinating as it is hilarious, but that could be said of a couple dozen other brilliant moments throughout season one that help define everyone else. In “Juneteenth” Earn dishes out his own comeuppance to a married couple who’s devoid of any emotional attachment to the culture they label themselves under, and that comes after his inability to handle the situation that sparks Alfred’s “oh shit” moment from “The Club”. For Earn, this scene appears to be his own coming out party, with the unflinching awareness of his personality finally catching up to the heaping load of bullshit he’s taken from society. By confidently speaking his mind to Monique and Craig over quietly filtering his thoughts, he’s proving to the viewers at home that he’s tired of playing a pre-determined role (I.E. showing up to the Allen’s Juneteenth in a pseudo-happy guise with Van just to maintain a certain appearance) and, as with the fast-food clerk in “Go For Broke” and the aforementioned, evasive club owner, being short-changed by others.

Atlanta was certainly in no shortage of wonderful characters this season, but none of which were as brilliantly-conceived as Van. Subverting nearly every trope in the “cranky spouse/budding love interest” comedy book, this woman faced the toughest of obstacles among the four leads (living with Earn, taking care of her daughter with Earn, bailing Earn out of prison, losing her teacher’s job over an admittedly failed drug test), and never before have I seen someone so honestly tackle the lows and continue marching on. Given the unusual living situation between her, Earn and their child, she’s constantly living a life filled with regret and crushed ambitions – but none of that deters from her own personal pride and determination. Van also keeps it real, and the dinner scenes in “Go for Broke” and “Value” are surefire indications that she doesn’t believe in compromise. Zazie Beetz does excellent work here, exhibiting Van’s wide range of emotions with a startling pragmatism – but, again, Van keeps it real, and when the script’s calls for Beetz to react to the absurdity of others we see her at her absolute best. Furthermore, the dynamic portrayed by both Zazie Beetz and Donald Glover is given exceptional nuance through Van’s soft spot for Earn; a negligible character arc centered around the structural fortitude of parenthood that gets a pair of perfect payoffs at the tail end of the season’s final two episodes.

 

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As I mentioned earlier, Atlanta is a very non-linear television show, and with that approach the show doubles down on enveloping viewers with its unique take on the real world. Whether it’s a casual afternoon stroll through Atlanta’s shady underground markets, or an actual guest appearance from Migos, there’s an innate sense of realism in each scene that’s extremely arresting; every opportunity Glover and company get to characterize this city through scenery or one-off encounters with other civilians is proudly taken. Like most other shows with the TV-MA label, Atlanta‘s also prone to violence, but even those brief instances of death and belligerence are handled carefully enough to feel tangible and immersive. These things come together outside of the main action to not only perpetuate Glover’s view of Atlanta, but to also let us know that this city is as essential as the characters who live in it.

From a interpretive standpoint, this season carries a whole lot more meat than you’d think, and part of that is because of the directional approach allowing for a number of moments that ignite the variable responses viewers probably have while watching Atlanta. Sometimes, we get strange little occurrences like the man in “The Streisand Effect” who’s pleading on the phone before a herd of baby goats, and the white-faced student in “Value” who exudes one of the creepiest smiles a child could ever exude. The rest is either filled with rewarding levity (who can ever forget the “lightsaber”-wielding valet from “Go for Broke”?) or woeful reality (the police shooting in “The Jacket”). Even with repeated viewings, these instances appear to only exist as singular events or images: the show doesn’t even bother giving them much context, and when they do have context the intention comes off as open-ended. (The mysterious outcome of the shooting in the pilot episode is a prime example of this, and I’m absolutely certain that it will be a talking point for years to come.) Ultimately, they simulate the immediate, unorthodox and inexplicable nature of real life, giving Atlanta an added depth that gives it a distinct edge over other offerings in the genre.

 

If there’s any true concern that certain viewers may or should have with Atlanta, it’s most likely its loose narrative structure. Because it relies on a boundless form of storytelling, we never get a crystal clear idea of what the show is building up towards, and I could see that rubbing off on some folks the wrong way. Sometimes, it’s good to just know exactly where things are going, but Atlanta is far more content with expressing its characters and its talking points. The BET spoof “B.A.N.” is loaded with keen pop culture references and sight gags that not only poke fun at the network the show is directly insulting, but provide a strong argument base for some of America’s most undervalued political issues. Alfred may have not gotten paid for his time on “Montague”, but at least he participated in a heated exchange that has him saying things stored in the back of many people’s minds (like, for example, how little some individuals actually care about Caitlyn Jenner, and how laughably insulting they find cross-racial identity crisis). This is also an uproariously hilarious half-hour of television, maximizing the potential of telling many different stories about race, gender, equality and pure common sense through a variety of meta-heavy commercials. Where “B.A.N.” polarizes the Atlanta fanbase is in its lack of narrative progression; you’re either on board with this one-off approach and enjoy it for what it is (like I did), or become innately frustrated with its level of stagnation.

 

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ATLANTA — “The Streisand Effect” — Episode 104 (Airs Tuesday, September 20, 10:00 pm e/p) Pictured: (l-r) Donald Glover as Earnest Marks, Keith Standfield as Darius. CR: Guy D’Alema/FX

 

Everything this season eventually circles back around to Earn, whose personal plight throughout the season culminates in the reassurance of his “outsider” persona. The reveal that his personal home is a storage room tells us he’s slowly figuring out how to survive on his own, while the slight bit of cash to his name represents a promising start for better things. All season long, he’s had to overcome the adversities society has laid in his path, and the heartwarming catharsis he gets from both Alfred and Van in “The Jacket” bring the character arcs of those three individuals together beautifully. Suffix to say, season two will most likely handle the task of showing us whether or not the new status quo – Earn’s “house”, Paper Boi on tour, Van’s job search – will lead to better things for these folks. Even if it somehow doesn’t, and the entire concept of a narrative is thrown out the window, we’d get to continue exploring their socially conscious misadventures in Atlanta – and still be all the better for it.

 

 

 

 

The Verdict:

Atlanta, if nothing else, is a confirmation of Donald Glover’s expertise and versatility as an entertainer. His vision here proudly exudes social commentary with a raw accuracy, tackling the nuances of race, gender and social stature in remarkably refreshing ways. In addition, the trials and tribulations of life in Atlanta is captured with an authenticity that breathes life and character into both the show’s setting and its character beats. It also helps that the cast is outstanding, with Glover and Beetz in particular giving us honest portrayals of human beings who are constantly navigating their way towards a promising future together. The lack of a true defined narrative may be a bit off-putting for certain viewers, but given the amount of creative freedom as a result it’s hard to argue with the unusual approach this show decides to take.

Personally, I loved just about every minute of Atlanta this season. The show is such a breezy watch, but it doesn’t overindulge in its distinguishing qualities. Every episode offers something substantial the writers have to say, but never did I get the sense that I was being forced to agree with the perspective. Above all else, it’s so darn striking in its execution – regardless of whether the mood is comedic, tragic, or enlightening – that it truly feels like an enthralling escape from an actual real world to one seen through someone else’s eyes. 2016 has been a great year for television in general, but it’s television series like these that transcend our expectations – and prove that shows don’t always need to follow a set structure in order to succeed.

 

 

 

 

 

RATING: 9.7

+ Casting, script, and performances

+ Realistic portrayal of Atlanta

+ Loose, non-linear episodic structure makes each episode feel fresh and unique

+ Unexpectedly weird, violent, cathartic moments

+ “B.A.N.” 

 

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Westworld: Series Premiere Review **SPOILERS**

Westworld: Series Premiere Review **SPOILERS**

Disclaimer: I have never seen the original Westworld film from 1973, and neither do I intend to draw many conclusions from or references to it in my reviews of the television series on HBO. In other words, expect my Westworld reviews to exclusively cover the material in the television series – whether I decide to eventually watch Michael Cricthon’s original film or not. 

 

Westworld is a thinking man’s television show: the kind of sixty-minute endeavor that’s recommended to be seen with one’s attention fixated in every line of dialogue, every thought-provoking facial expression, and every course of on-screen action. You simply can’t watch or enjoy it any other way, because its cast, its world and its message are impressively sprawling. Game of Thrones currently holds the reputation of being the king of “every moment counts” kind of TV over on HBO (which is quite amusing considering how Westworld‘s Sunday premiere already has people drawing comparisons to it), but with only two more seasons under its belt the network appears desperate for a successor. With its heavy science-fiction trappings and cerebral character themes, Westworld very well could be the light at the end of its “predecessor’s” dragon-clad tunnel.

But in order for this new series to help HBO succeed in its goal, it can’t just be entertaining; it needs to be relentlessly engrossing. It must be large in scope, yet ripe in detail; firm in the rules of its world, yet unceasing in its level of ethics and morals; deep in strong casting, and rich in Emmy-worthy performances. Suffix to say – and I’m proud to say this myself, as an avid Game of Thrones fan – that Westworld is all of these things, and more.

Set in a western-infused, Jurrasic Park-style theme park, Westworld questions the limits and nuances of artificial intelligence, peeling off philosophies and curiosities for the viewer to ponder through the stories of “Westworld”‘s hosts: the technologically-advanced robots that inhabit this fictional amusement world. Of which we are first introduced to Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood), a scripted”daddy’s little girl”/damsel-in-distress that also holds the label as the theme park’s longest-running host. Her Westworld story parlays with Teddy’s (James Marsden), the cowboy with a heart of gold whose role is to fall in love with Dolores, leave town (either on his own accord or “by blood”), return, and do it all over again. We see one of their stories be violently interrupted by “The Man in Black” (Ed Harris) right around the same time the park’s science department decides to update a portion of its hosts, which calls into question the sudden off-script tendencies that they’ve recently been addressing.

 

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It’s initially hidden and eventually proven that Dolores’s presence, being the oldest robot in the park, stands for practically every theme and story thread the show wishes to pursue, as her sanctioned conversations with the host creators bookend the episode, filling us in on the roles these hosts play while giving us a sense of Dolores’s own understanding. Through Teddy, she questions the viability of her existence, as she witnesses his murder at the hands of the same guest who drags her into her family barn shortly before raping her. That moment is played off as a nightmare: a bad dream that is actually an erased memory that enables Dolores to continue playing her everyday role. But Dolores lingers on her recollections, and regardless of what her programmers tell her she’s past the point of blind complacence. If there is one instance that goes beyond proving my point here, it would have to be her conversation with Stubbs (Luke Hemsworth), where she basically lies about always telling the truth just to save face. Another reason why I consider Dolores as such a focal point in Westworld is because we see how these little outliers in her stories have affected her throughout the episode, and considering her pedigree with the programmers it’s only fitting that she’d be the one thing standing in between a revolution and a never-ending theme park atmosphere.

There are two other perspectives to follow in Westworld, with one of them being behind the scenes. Jeffery Wright’s Bernard Lowe is the lead host programmer, and because of his enthusiastic direction we are provided with an internal conflict that falls sternly into a matter of interpretation. Unlike his colleagues, Lowe is intrigued with the possibility of advanced hosts with heightened emotions and expressions; others, like Simon Quarterman’s Lee Sizemore, prefer to leave things as is for the benefit of the guests. Bernard is enamored in the upward trajectory these robots could take, while everyone else besides Anthony Hopkins’s Dr. Ford is content with make an easy buck off the rich and eliminating any potential risk the hosts may carry going forward. In turn, the internal contrast between Lowe and his workmates ignites debate amongst the viewers at home. Knowing what we know about Dolores and The Man in Black, should Lowe be given the keys to furthering the evolution of his hosts? Or is allowing the guests to roam freely within the park alongside the hosts currently on display a more feasible move?

This argument undoubtedly carries over to the third perspective: the relationship between the guests and the hosts. Already firmly established here in “The Original”, the actual living human beings who visit the park feed off of their Western fetishes, but like The Man in Black helps prove a number of times in the episode, their behavior could be counter-intuitive to the hosts remaining emotionally tied to the roles and stories they were assigned to. Of course, this will eventually lead to the hosts garnering enough influence to act on their own free will, but who’s to say that’s a bad thing just yet? Peter’s conversation with Anthony Hopkins’s Dr. Ford teases the idea that the robots were created under more than a simple pre-determined image, and hints that there are supposed skeletons in the closet that we don’t know about right now. And on top of that, any host that was forced to go off-script at any point in the episode did so in a humane matter without contentiousness. Whether the hosts’ reactions vary depending on the robot remains to be seen, but the uncertainty sparks intrigue for future episodes.

 

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Lastly, the performances all around are absolutely fantastic, but there are still some noteworthy standouts. Evan Rachel Wood juggles the circus act of a humanized robot with pathos, while Wright and Hopkins truly draw you into the human side of the story as Bernard and Dr. Robert. Wright is especially impressive, but for those who’ve seen him in other works like Boardwalk Empire his brilliance here shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Other standouts include Sidse Babbett Knudsen, who’s refreshingly sharp-tongued as the realist Theresa Cullen, and Louis Herthum as Peter. Unfortunately for the latter, his shelf life on Westworld is woefully limited after the events in this episode, but at least we got that one chilling scene between him and Ford over that picture.

 

The Verdict:

It’s only been this one episode so far, but Westworld has already got me hooked. There’s appeal dripping from its pores, and once the allure of its cinematography wears off we’re left with a swarm of theories, twists and individual instances to write home and talk about. So much that this series initially has to offer is working like clockwork, and even with just a 10-episode season order I feel like it has only scratched the surface of what it has in store for those who choose to follow along. Whether you view it as the Sci-Fi drama that it is, or the multi-layered study into the ethics of artificial intelligence that’s underlined by the western standoffs and the brief spurts of prostitution – you owe it to yourself to hop on the bandwagon and see where this imaginative piece of television could take you.

 

 

 

 

 

RATING: 9.2

 

+ The hosts, and the ethics and emotions they’re programmed with/slowly learning

+ The programmers and the argument behind advancing the hosts

+ Guest/host integration, theme park atmosphere, and The Man in Black

+ Standout scenes (Dolores’s “dream”, Peter’s freakout against Ford, etc.) that constantly question the viewer, encourage philosophical analysis

 

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Shameless: “Hiraeth” Review **SPOILERS**

Shameless: “Hiraeth” Review **SPOILERS**

If I didn’t know any better, Shameless peaked quite a long time ago – about around the end of season four, to be exact. For a series just now approaching its seventh season, it’s gotten much too comfortable with the basic traits of its central cast, allowing the Gallagher clan to fall down, pick themselves up and repeat over and over again – all without much in the way of tangible character development. It’s a sad reality because, at the conclusion of season four, we saw this family gear up and strive for great change in their lives; it just never materialized at all these last couple of years.

“Hiraeth” finds the new season at just about the same place every other season has started at, and for better or worse that very tone is what sets up Shameless‘s latest tabling of episodes. As expected, we see the Gallaghers moving on with what they have (Debbie and her baby, Franny; Carl’s latest relationship with Dominique; Ian and his own relationship with Caleb) and what they have lost (Fiona after her wedding fiasco; Lip after his ordeal with Helene, Frank after being Frank for another season). And as expected, we spend the entire hour catching up with where they’re at, with the results varying on the show’s ability to expunge compelling story arcs for upcoming installments, and the average viewer’s remaining interest in the characters themselves.

Where this premiere episode succeeds is in giving us a whiff of what keeping the promise this series made three years ago looks like in practice: that great change season four’s conclusion hinted at. Lip’s experiencing his change through rehab, and the habits he’s picked up since returning home leave his future as a pertinent topic of discussion. Like last season, his excess drinking and screwing around left many (myself included) with the impression that he is heading down the same road as Frank, and despite moderating his alcohol intake with rehab chips and physically testing himself on the street, he’s still micro-managing in the same sort of ways his dirtbag father did not so long ago. Lip’s post-rehab plan is obviously going to spiral out of control, but the significance of that potentially colossal forest fire is ever-present. On top of that, his unusually calm demeanor and eagerness to make a living without a college education speaks to the years of settling for less that he’s been content with; an especially sad truth that the character has expressed since the show’s very first episode. With all this put into consideration, is it truly possible for Lip to find true happiness for the rest of his life? He seems certain of it, but all we see as viewers is pure regression: the already planted seeds growing modestly into something far less than expected.

Fiona’s change revolves squarely around independence, and it’ll be very interesting to see just how long she could go about her business without the influence of sex or intimate relationships with men. Like Lip (somewhat), I’m both very glad and very heartbroken to see her settle for the cards she’s recently been dealt with. As much as she hates managing the diner in the wake of Sean’s falling out, she lacks the experience or the knowledge to appeal for either a better position or a wage that’s higher than an extra dollar an hour. Fiona prefers to return to setting up tables and serving the customers, but doesn’t think to consider how that would only stump her career path even more than it has been. Even still, I like her new “warrior” mentality, if only because it could make her more focused on achieving her own happiness going forward. It would have been nice to have gotten a clearer understanding of what kind of hold she has on the house and the rest of the Gallaghers, however.

 

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Debbie and Carl’s respective story arcs are already off to better starts this season than they were a year ago, and there’s a fair bit of social commentary to collect from them as well. Debbie’s illegal money-making activities and spending habits vividly remind us of the expansive intelligence she has that was missing throughout most of season six, while also poking fun at the recklessness in decision-making that comes with underaged individuals who carry large sums of money (or, in this case, credit cards) in hostile living environments. Of all the Gallaghers, Debbie is definitely making the most of her new lifestyle – but that’s mostly because she’s literally profiting off of it. Carl, on the other hand, is blinded by love – and instant gratification, and he’s making the least out of his new lifestyle by needlessly investing in his sex drive. (The social commentary here is firmer and more necessary, since plenty of minors in this day and age are more susceptible to – and aware of – the vices of lust and intimacy than those of previous generations.) It appears as though Carl still has plenty to learn about growing up, but what I like so much about his situation here is that it’s a way more plausible storyline for him than his drug/gangster phase from last season; Carl’s social background shamelessly invites and promotes sex, and he’s at a stage in his life where he should be overly curious about his body.

Ian’s suspicions over Caleb and Frank’s return from the dead mark the low points of “Hiraeth”, as both storylines might as well live and die on a different show entirely. Ian has been done such a terrible disservice since Mickey was written off that any indication of a future breakup with his new boyfriend would be a victory for fans of the character – so, in a sense, Caleb cheating on him (with a woman, no less) might lead to better things for him later on in the season. Unfortunately, this is probably going to drag for a few more episodes; just like Frank barging back into his children’s lives. I think it’s amusing how every Gallagher (including little Liam!) walks over him and pays him no mind at all, but that’s just about the most enjoyment I collect out of his presence nowadays. I honestly wished the show would’ve let him drown in that ocean of water they dumped him in last season.

 

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Here are some extra notes from this week’s season premiere:

 

  • Don’t think for a second that I forgot about the “throuple” of Kev, Veronica, and Svetlana. I still love how insanely efficient their joint marriage is, on top of Kev’s heightened enthusiasm (“Family Meeting? What, is that what we’re calling sex now?”). It’s also no surprise that Svetlana opened Kev and V’s eyes to the long list financial shortcomings they’ve accrued over the years.
  • Things we need to see more of: dialogue between Lip and Fiona, Fiona throwing Frank out of the house, and Kev complaining about breastfeeding the babies.
  • Professor Youens is a class act for staying by Lip’s side through thick and thin, and I continue to enjoy their father/son dynamic. It’s heartbreaking, though, that Lip still views him as nothing more than an enabler of jobs.
  • Fiona fixing Debbie’s room just to leave it the same way she saw it is one of my proudest moments as a longtime fan of this series. I love that it reassures us of how much Fiona still remains in disgust over Debbie going through with the pregnancy.

 

 

 

The Verdict:

More setup than anything else, “Hiraeth” is a promising start to Shameless‘s seventh season, as we see the Gallaghers be more like themselves for the first time in quite a while. It’s also a refreshing look into the future of this family, with everyone branching out into different paths that are thematically tied in ways that speak more to who they are as individuals, and less to what the writers want them to become. This absolutely needs to be the year that the change these Gallaghers yearn for come into fruition, and for the moment Shamless‘s heart (and direction) is firmly in the right place.

 

 

 

RATING: 8

+ Lip post-rehab

+ Fiona post-men

+ Debbie and Carl given much stronger, true-to-character material

– Frank just existing at this point

– Ian/Caleb story arc

 

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Pitch: “The Interim” Review **SPOILERS**

Pitch: “The Interim” Review **SPOILERS**

What concerned me in the pilot for Pitch is that the series appeared limited in scope. We can follow Ginny around all season long and watch her ascent to fame and stardom, but there didn’t seem to be much else to keep most viewers invested. The clubhouse struggles and the now-inevitable firing of Al are decent enough story arcs to have co-exist with the meteoric impact the team’s new female teammate was having throughout the sports world, but a large portion of the cast just seems to be along for the ride, playing their roles without the allure of any compelling characteristics or personalities. Thankfully, “The Interim” addresses this problem head-on, relying heavily on backstory, interlocking episode themes and strong character moments to flesh out the cast. The result is a much better sophomore outing that instantly becomes a more gravitating watch than the pilot.

Ginny’s backstory continues to shed light on her family history, as we got to spend some quality time between her and big brother Will (B.J. Britt). Their feel-good flashback scenes together were a welcome change of pace from the intensifying media and clubhouse atmospheres, but they also did a solid job showing us exactly how Amelia convinced Ginny to market herself. Through Will, Ginny sees the importance and the disadvantage of working with family: he’s a great brother who looks out for her and guides her down the right path, but as a college dropout with minimal agent expertise he’s incapable of opening new doors.

Even though Amelia checked out as a legitimate sports and entertainment agent at the time, her hold on Ginny has never went beyond becoming a walking, talking brand. So, some of the episode’s strongest material comes from watching their dynamic materialize in the flashbacks, and be reinstated by Ginny in the present time. Amelia prefers being in control, yet Ginny still holds the power to speak her mind and lay down ground rules. Both factors play a big part in Ginny’s Jimmy Kimmel interview, where she decides to go completely off-script to protect her manager (more on him later) and speak out over a rape scandal that was wrongfully dropped on her conscious by a female news reporter. This particular instant speaks to the character we were introduced to in episode one, and it also perpetuates the kind of work relationship she and Amelia currently have.

 

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A whole lot went down internally with the Padres in “The Interim”, as the players continued to lose gracelessly while an inappropriate tabling of words from Al in an old interview resurfaced. Obviously, Ginny’s presence in the locker room remains the primary source of the players’ recent struggles, but Pitch finds a neat way of spinning the issue in a number of different directions. For one, Al simply cannot manage this team; it’s very apparent now. He definitely has no control over his players, and the comments he made about Ginny while she was in the Minors confirms that he’s also too old-school to acknowledge the rules of interviewing that today’s managers must abide by. (In other words, he should know better than to outright say she’s hot in front of a camera.) I think Dan Lauria deserves some serious credit here, because even despite the alarming lack of sensitivity regarding Al’s handling of his resurfaced interview, he still portrays the San Diego manager with a sort of nuance that makes it hard to condemn him for his behavior.

Another way the episode successfully turns the Padres’ woes away from Ginny is in the front office. Frank insisting that Oscar – who worked his way up to GM with Al’s help – find a replacement manager by the end of the season is more justified than it was a week ago, but by learning Oscar’s backstory there is a stark amount of emotional stakes at play now. Oscar feels he owes Al the chance to redeem himself because Al opened doors he never dreamed he had access to. He went from being a middling utility player to helping run an entire Major League franchise, so Oscar’s ties to his supposed mentor extend past the ballclub’s overall performance. In addition, I think it’s pretty impressive that Oscar’s current plight parallels with Ginny’s, as both individuals are in prime positions to speak their minds while harnessing the power to make an impact decision.

 

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PITCH: Kylie Bunbury and Mark-Paul Gosselaar in the all-new “The Interim” episode of PITCH airing Thursday, Sept. 29 (8:59-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. Cr: Ray Mickshaw / FOX. © 2016 FOX Broadcasting Co.

 

The twist where Rachel Patrick (JoAnna Garcia Swisher), the same reporter who cornered Ginny over the rape scandal, was revealed as Mike’s ex-wife manifested into the episode’s best use of backstory. Her presence in Mike’s life affects him even after marriage, as we see him fighting to discover a concrete reason as to why he still plays baseball at his relatively advanced age. She also represents the life – and the happiness – Mike now yearns for. Just by the way he’s carried himself around his teammates, you can tell he’s been hiding something behind his proud exterior – and Pitch boldly uses his damaged relationship as fuel for character development; whether that progression involves him rallying the troops in the clubhouse, or finding himself at a bar with Amelia, another broken heart who experienced her own divorce years ago.

 

 

Here are some extra notes regarding this week’s episode:

  • Although this was a great week for some backstory, the flashbacks weren’t very kind to Amelia. The breakup between her and her husband is an odd, poorly-written scene, and on top of that it does very little to explain exactly what she saw in Ginny that made her quit her old job. Her past remains very murky – so does her presence in Ginny’s life.
  • Ditto for Elliot, who’s still just floating around being awkward.
  • That C-story with Blip and Evelyn is much more necessary than you’d think. Real life baseball players truly believe in rituals of all kinds, so Blip freaking out over the absence of his Funkmaster Flex t-shirt is very believable.
  • Ginny makes a conscious effort to “be one of the guys”, and goes about it in some plausible ways this week. One of which, however, is not with her dance moves.
  • Mike calling Ginny out for shaking him off is the kind of self-awareness this show needs to remain grounded in its source material. First of all, it shows the importance of batteries in the Majors: the best pitcher/catcher duos are always on the same page. Furthermore, it raises questions about Ginny’s pitch arsenal that deserved to be pondered. She knows her fastball sucks, but it truly is up to Mike to convince her that it’s still just as crucial to being successful as any one of her other offerings. A great pitcher understands that each pitch can help the other, and the sooner Mike can get Ginny to mature into that mentality the better.
  • Having the contrasting viewpoints in Colin Cowherd and Katie Nolan’s talk shows overlap each other was the neatest of touches the show has had thus far.
  • The in-game content in this episode was condensed considerably, which sort of helped the transitioning feel more organic. Also, Kevin Burkhardt’s play-by-play commentary, while not revolutionary in any sense, still trumps whatever the hell Joe Buck and John Smoltz were spouting out a week ago.
  • Evelyn joked about Blip not making the All-Star game because of his recent hitless streak, so that gives us a clearer time frame than before. It also omits my belief that the Padres were completely out of the NL West race; they’re just playing shitty baseball right now.

 

 

The Verdict:

 

“The Interim” did no favors for Amelia or her backstory, but was otherwise a very strong follow-up to last week’s pilot. Ginny continues to come into her own as a ballplayer, a teammate, and an supposed ambassador for women in America. Elsewhere, most of the main and supporting cast were fleshed out plenty, with Mike and Oscar in particular facing emotional plights that are compelling enough to come back for in the coming weeks.

 

 

 

 

RATING: 8.5

+ Ginny’s flashbacks with Will, Amelia

+ A number of strong character moments for Ginny and Mike

+ Al’s handling of his comments felt very real 

– Flashbacks do little to flesh out Amelia or explain her move to baseball

 

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Survivor’s Remorse: Season 3 Review (Part 2)

Survivor’s Remorse: Season 3 Review (Part 2)

“The Age of Umbrage”

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We live in a world that is very easily manipulated by whatever the media has to say, and in Cam Calloway’s case this harsh reality (almost) came back to bite him in the rear. In an attempt to promote a foundation in Julius’s memory – and help a “close friend” make waves with his new radio talk show – Cam says a few things that are technically taken out of context in a one-on-one interview and finds himself on the sharp edge of the typically misconstrued media backlash. He faces a bit of a fall from grace, where a world-renowned sports outlet labels him the “Scumbag of the Week” (then, later on, “Scumbag of the Month” and a frontrunner for the annual SportsScummy Award), and a particular mother of a child who was diagnosed with the “fucked up nose syndrome” creates a strong enough case to guide the anger and disgust towards him.

“The Age of Umbrage”, however, doesn’t simply resort to a trial of denial and an eventual apology; Cam’s not even sorry for what he said or the manner in which he said it. As the episode rolls along, we are awoken to the alarming degree of media exploitation that actually occurs far more often in real life than we realize – all the while Cam bands together with both his family and his under-qualified “fixer” to craft a verbal solution that could save his image while clearing up his initial spewing of words.

For the most part, everything plays out like a sensible tug-of-war, with both sides struggling to reach an amenable center surrounded by an audience none too keen to the intricacies of the affliction Cam was discussing in his interview. That latter half is where most of the episode’s satire molds from, and I’m very impressed with how bluntly and aggressively it exposes the underlining negligence of pop culture figures. Cam’s big podium speech at the conclusion, for example, exercises the sum of the parts that got us to the episode’s big finish in hilarious fashion – but does one better by making us question those six-figure personalities and the causes they truly stand/care for. It’s an incredibly risky moment for Cam: by taking the initiative and formulating a proper apology for the whole world to acknowledge, he’s burning potentially crucial bridges with popular individuals by backing them into a corner and making them take a financial endeavor they never planned on pursuing in the first place. However, it correlates with his line of thinking from the beginning of the episode and the level of maturity he’s reached as a multi-million dollar basketball superstar; I cannot imagine a similar scenario where he wouldn’t use his current population and reputation to further a cause he truly believed in.

 

Score: 9.3

 

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“The Photoshoot” 

 

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Not to speak ill of the fascinating line of work that the show has presented up until this point, but I just don’t see Survivor’s Remorse topping itself anytime soon after watching “The Photoshoot”. Clearly my personal favorite/highlight of the season, this episode rides along a wave of social commentary with a fierceness and confidence that the series has never expunged, and elsewhere it’s naturally tying these very real concerns to the characters in play without the disadvantage of feeling one-off or outside the realm of their respective arcs.

There are three sides to this rather linear storyline: Missy, Cam’s latest PR consultant after her all-too important guidance with the media fiasco in the previous episode, has arranged a photoshoot in the interest of marketing Cam, with Reggie quietly lingering in the background and holding everything together. With that comes varying perspectives that manifest throughout the course of said photoshoot. We discover that Missy’s search for a dark-skinned model to complement Cam and his photos is her way of using her newfound power to promote a sort of influx of other dark-skinned talents; a much-too-real problem that has plagued most of the entertainment business throughout history. Cam, on the other hand, simply wants to innocently indulge in a couple hours in front of the camera, hoping that he won’t have to beg for the respect of his auxiliaries in regards to such things as decision-making or any sudden change of plans. Reggie’s role in all of this is the enabler: by quietly lingering in Missy’s shadow (which is primarily meant to allot her full control of the photoshoot), he indirectly forfeits any and all respect he normally has for Cam in regards to such things as decision-making or any sudden change of plans.

Since anything Missy says goes, the entire evening is ruined: the photoshoot is abruptly delayed, the model, who was replacing the darker-skinned female Missy originally demanded, is replaced with another darker-skinned female, and the photgrapher, Family Matters icon Jaleel White (who does splendid work here, might I add), has to scramble in a search for someone who fits Missy’s description. The snowball effect here is cerebral, primarily because she altered an already-occurring event after making a rather tardy arrival to said proceedings (root canal or no root canal), but mostly because she did a good thing far too late. And what I love the most about this is that the episode shows us exactly where, how badly, and why Missy was in the wrong. Her initial planning could’ve stuck had she just been at the studio set in time, but instead her presence exceeds itself while she overlooks the consideration she should’ve had for the original model out of a lifelong frustration against light-skinned women “winning”. The message her photoshoot aims to convey is plausible – the perception that athletes only date light-skinned women is very true – but under this light it becomes counter-intuitive because what’s done is done and since the matter was pushed too far a poor mother simply striving to make ends meet was denied the opportunity over an unfair labeling. All of this is also why I think having her be confronted by the original model was an important way to drive home the problem at the core.

 

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Like I said before, Reggie’s handling of the photoshoot does Cam no favors, but worse yet is how inconsiderate it makes him out to be after the fact. Yes, he eventually faces Missy’s wrath in the wake of sitting idly by – but like Cam alluded to, Missy’s actions bear much greater consequences on his reputation. Perhaps Reggie failed to acknowledge that for himself on account of giving his wife a chance to demonstrate her skills in a field she’s always dreamed of conquering. Unfortunately, this is a three-way work engagement, and Cam’s going to have to answer to most of what transpired here. Hearing it from Cam doesn’t over-perpetuate that, either, because he has every right to express his disappointment; he feels that his saying power means nothing in these sort of executive decisions, and going forward that only stems to disrupt the relationship these two gentlemen share.

Even the B and C storylines in “The Photoshoot” shined, particularly M-Chuck’s college arrangement and Jimmy’s assistance in the matter. Not only are we treated to a delightfully down-to-earth dynamic that’s spurned from humble beginnings (learning the reasoning behind Jimmy’s particular tastes in food was particularly compelling), but, like with the differing perspectives in the photoshoot, are reminded of the character growth both individuals have experienced throughout the series. It would have been enough to watch them converse about school and homemade cuisine, but realizing Jimmy’ genuine warmth and M-Chuck’s yearning for a self-preserved future let us connect with them on a similar – albeit less tangible – way. Very few installments at this point in the series have ever been as enthralling on a personal level.

 

Score: 9.7

 

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Here are a few extra things I’d like to point out about these couple of episodes:

 

  • M-Chuck and Jimmy bear-hugging each other just might be the highlight of this entire season.
  • Cassie and Da Chen Bao’s relationship took its next big step in “The Photoshoot”, and I thought having those sex dolls represent the different mindsets they’ve had over their long-distance troubles was a weirdly effective way to table their problems.
  • Bao is as lovestruck and confused as they come; of course his initial solution would be to compensate sexually with a robot via webcam.
  • Squeeze has never seen Seinfeld before, and after Reggie explains the show to him he winds up thinking the Soup Nazi made noodles out of Jews. Squeeze has: 1) licked too many envelopes, and 2) needs to reset his priorities and familiarize himself with Seinfeld.
  • “There are ten bathrooms in this house. Don’t spit in my sink.”

Cassie speaks for no-nonsense mothers across the world.

  • Cam and Reggie’s dynamic in both episodes is very intriguing. in “The Age of Umbrage”, Cam doesn’t mind considering certain people he knew back in school or in Boston as close friends, even if his association with them was only vague. Meanwhile, Reggie’s just trying to steer the ship from money or attention-hungry fiends who use their prior association with Cam as a way in. As a result, Reggie rejects an interview from an old college friend that Cam quietly accepts. In “The Photoshoot”, however, Cam understands the parameters of his situation and is at peace with it, whereas Reggie goes behind his cousin’s back and flips the script for the advancement of his wife’s wishes. Bottom line is there appears to be a silver lining between them where any thread of trust is closed off, yet considering their pasts and their separate personalities it’s hard not to be surprised by this kind of repeated disagreement.
  • “The ignorant are the last people you want to upset.”

There’s definitely a college student out there somewhere who’s seen this episode all the way through and will be using this quote as a thesis statement for a given essay.

  • “People will not pay to watch an asshole play basketball.”

“People watched Kobe play for years.”

Well said, Cam.

 

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**FANTASY BASEBALL 2016** The Sudden, Subtle Regression (?) of Jacob DeGrom

**FANTASY BASEBALL 2016** The Sudden, Subtle Regression (?) of Jacob DeGrom

 

There’s no denying the upside and the potential of the New York Mets and their sweeping starting rotation, and as a fan of a notable crosstown rival who seems to rely much too heavily on decaying free agent contracts it’s rather refreshing laying witness to a natural, organizational revival happening elsewhere. Of course, the majority of the Mets’ recent success is the result of their quality arms, and I’m sure the fantasy community has responded in draft boards and such. From Noah Syndergaard to Steven Matz, New York’s now-popular starting rotation has become as desirable as the talent level they possess. Even Bartolo Colon is viewed more comfortably these days as a dependable streaming option.

But if these first seven weeks are any indication, that allure may not always translate into pure results. In the case of Jacob DeGrom, he’s done his part to justify his draft price at least to a decent extent. He’s got a 3.07 ERA and 1.24 WHIP all while collecting 3 victories, and a brief look at his plate discipline peripherals will tell owners that he’s the same Cy Young-caliber starter from a season ago. Here are my two cents in the matter: Extended research has led me to believe that there’s a decent argument in selling DeGrom. All the convincing you really need as a current owner is to: A) watch any one of his previous starts if you have the resources, and/or: B) take a very close look at ALL of his 2016 numbers. Let’s start with the basics. A year ago, he finished the 2015 season as one of the top starting pitchers in all of fantasy with a 2.52 ERA over 191 innings and a 22.2% K-BB ratio. His fastball was absolutely elite, almost averaging 95 miles per hour and generating one of the best run values out of any starting pitcher’s fastball in the big leagues – all while being complemented with an arsenal with +15% K material and a wipeout changeup that had a fantastic 32.4% K rate on its own. There was no secret to the “how” in regards to DeGrom’s immediate success carrying over so seamlessly a year ago, and these graphs should give a pretty good idea of how he found so much consistent success in 2015.

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In nearly every month, Degrom featured one different pitch that famished opposing hitters more than the rest, which meant adjusting by neutralizing just a single one from his repertoire did little to no good in the long run. He had the benefit of putting away batters with whatever pitch he wanted, and even if one were to remove his changeup or curveball from the equation we’d still be talking about an 8 K/9 type starter because of his fastball/slider/sinker offerings.

I’m showing you all of his work from last season because it all applies to my argument against keeping him in fantasy: his pure performance thus far has not come close to this level of excellence, yet his surface stats suggest otherwise. For example, here are a few more graphs I plucked out from this season that point to – or at least are pointing to – decline:

Brooksbaseball-ChartBrooksbaseball-Chart (3)

 

Allow me to explain what’s happening here by comparing these two graphs with the previous two. Last year, DeGrom’s pitch usage never leaned too far into the two-pitch territory we’re starting to see from him (or at least, starting to see from him this month). In other words, he threw more sinkers, changeups and curveballs in 2015, which led to almost half of his pitch usage stemming from offspeed pitches, breaking balls or pure downward movement offerings. It made him deceptive, and hard to gauge. This year, he’s trending in the wrong direction, almost going away from his elite changeup and above-grade sinker, and throwing his curve less in the process; the results showing that he’s becoming more lenient on his fastball and slider. Right now, he’s becoming more predictable.

Now, I would stand by this decision if those two pitches were his best, but even when you factor in the fastball that’s hardly the case right now. First of all, DeGrom’s four-seam fastball and sinker are off by a full two miles per hour, and the K rates for both have dropped about 11 and 8 percent, respectively. Furthermore, his changeup has seemed to have lost its magic, with a tremendous dip in whiffs and strikeouts (20% drop in K rate) – which leaves only his slider and curveball as the only two pitches in his arsenal that have been virtually unfazed by these changes (although the slider is also experiencing a noticeable dip in whiffs itself).

His pitch selection/effectiveness is not the only concerning development, however. His Skill Interactive Earned Run Average (SIERA, which measures a pitcher’s pure performance by including batted balls with the usual independent pitching numbers) is at 4.23 right now; nearly a run and a quarter higher than his actual ERA. Even though he’s getting just as many swinging strikes and chases outside the zone as he’s always gotten, he’s getting hit much harder when guys make contact; presumably the result of him throwing so many more fastballs (51-point increase in wRC+ between 2015-2016) and sliders (38-point increase in wRC+). I believe it’s also important to note that the velocity drop I mentioned before has affected his entire arsenal, so I’m curious if that is the main culprit for the harder hits and fewer strikeouts.

As someone who closely observes fantasy-relevant starters, Jacob DeGrom worries me for a number of reasons. These days, he’s hardly topping 94 on his fastball after throwing as hard as 97-98 at times a year ago, and he’s completely redone his pitch sequencing, fixing a good thing that was never broke. Also, I can’t help but feel that maybe all of this has to do with him hiding an ailment or experiencing some sort of diminished confidence. Where’s that changeup he rode to Cy Young consideration? Why is he going to his fastball and slider so much? And where are all the strikeouts? (9.66 K/9 in 2015, 6.59 K/9 in 2016.) I did catch wind of him having some sort of mechanical issue with his delivery, but when he did last season it didn’t affect him nearly as much and he re-adjusted rather quickly in comparison. Looking at everything presented here, I’m sure some of you might be thinking that it’s only been seven starts, and he’s already past his lat issue from April, but it’s been a very telling seven starts that appear very uncharacteristic on his part. He could bounce back right before our eyes and become a mid-2s, top-15 starter (let’s not forget that this walk rate is still pretty good), but at this rate he’s lucky to even have the 3.07 ERA he’s escaped with thus far.

My advice right now would be to listen to whoever’s out there in your league anticipating the bounce back, or at the very least tune in to his next start and pay close attention to his stuff. If his pitches continue to look like a pale imitation of what he had to offer a season ago, it might be time to consider baiting him to potential suitors for an ample return on investment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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