Sunday, September 28, 2014

UCLA QB Brett Hundley Scouting Report

I took advantage of my proximity to Arizona State's campus and enjoyed Thursday night's Sun Devil football game versus UCLA. I went primarily to see Bruins QB Brett Hundley who's got a shot to go in the first round of next year's NFL Draft. I wasn't the only one there to see Hundley. Two dozen NFL scouts were there, among them was 49ers GM Trent Baalke, Chargers GM Tommy Telesco, and Rams GM Les Snead. We left impressed.

Hundley stands 6'3" and weighs in at about 220lbs. It appears he's added weight to his frame since last year when I did some rudimentary film study of him in case he were to enter the draft. I had concerns about how thin and wiry he was and whether his body could stand up to an NFL beating. That was one of the things that caused Teddy Bridgewater to fall. While a potentially fragile build isn't a death sentence on its own (yeah, Bridgewater is skinny but he was the top QB on my board last year) it does factor into the evaluation and I was glad to see Hundley had added mass. He suffered a hyper-extended elbow a few weeks ago but
 it was more of a freak thing than damage caused by typical football contact. Hundley isn't built like Ben Roethlisberger or Cam Newton who are essentially human obelisks, but I feel better about his ability to stay healthy than I did last winter.

So the frame is there and so are the physical skills. Easy arm strength, touch when it makes sense, drive when he needs it. He can make all the throws and while the release isn't the quickest, it's not Byron Leftwich water wheel slow. There are times when Hundley's mechanics break down a bit, his arm action gets shorter, like a catcher's, and he one hops receivers. He does it when he rushes throws and it doesn't occur that often. Hundley's passing accuracy is also solid, if unexceptional. He struggles to throw across his body to his left, consistently throwing behind receivers on drag routes from the strong to weak side but this might be able to be corrected with improved footwork in these situations.

Speaking of footwork, Hundley's is mostly fine, if a little slow. He transfers his weight into his throws well and rarely throws flat footed. He doesn't have the in-pocket elusiveness of a Tony Romo or Mike Vick and is more the statuesque-type after he completes his drop back. His a long strider, so while he does have good straightline speed it takes him a while to get there. Like Donkey Kong in MarioKart. The athleticism comp here, for me, is Alex Smith.

What stood out to me was Hundley's willingness to stand in the pocket and go through his progressions. Many times Hundley's gaze would traverse one end of the field to the other before finding the most impressive of these was a play in which Hundley dropped back, went through his progressions, recognized the defense was zone, felt the pocket collapsing, climbed the pocket while keeping his eyes downfield (something he struggled with last year) and delivered a strike to a receiver who was just crossing into a hole in the zone. Hundley will have to do a better job of identifying who will be open based on his presnap reads because he can't hold the ball as long as he does at the NFL level, but the mental tools are clearly here for a good decision maker.

There are a few issues though they're not fatal. Hundley doesn't seem willing to make stick throws in man to man coverage. In the NFL, QBs have to make on-the-numbers throws vs tight man coverage all the time. Even if the receiver hasn't created much separation. Hundley isn't willing to throw the football into decent 1-on-1 coverage. He's going to have to learn to place the football in spots only his receiver has access to in these situations, because they're commonplace in the pros.

It's not flawless, but the package is great and I like Hundley more than I liked a good deal of recent early round QBs (I like him more than I liked Geno Smith, Johnny Manziel, EJ Manuel, Brandon Weeden, Ryan Tannehill) and have a strong first round grade on him right now while I acknowledge more film study will e required.

Friday, January 10, 2014

The Bocian Thing

My good friend, Zach Bocian, noticed something very strange about this weekend’s NFL Playoff matchups. Every game displays extreme similarities between the two opposing QBs. Check it out:

New Orleans (Drew Brees) at Seattle (Russell Wilson)

Two charismatic leaders who both scared off teams in the draft because of their size.

San Francisco (Colin Kaepernick) at Carolina (Cam Newton)

Two excellent, mobile QBs with absolute howitzer arms who can be inconsistent at times and rely on their defenses to keep them in games.

Indianapolis (Andrew Luck) at New England (Tom Brady)

The young stud QB who wears #12 and is becoming known for his dramatic comebacks heads to New England to take on the elder #12 stud QB who made a name for himself because of dramatic comebacks.

San Diego (Phil Rivers) at Denver (Peyton Manning)

Two older, immobile chuckers whose regular season stats are usually staggering but they’ve often left fan bases disappointed in the playoffs.

Those descriptions are anecdotal, but it’s still weird, right? This got me thinking about how often this has occurred. I looked back at every Divisional round since 2000 and found just one example. 2008.

The Class of 2004 (Steelers vs Chargers)

Both Ben Roethlisberger and Phil Rivers were top picks in the 2004 draft and, along with Eli Manning, they make up one of the better QB classes in NFL history. The three of them have had scarily similar career numbers. They’re all within 10 career passing TDs of one another and within 6% points of career completion percentage. Yet Roethlisberger and Eli have each won themselves Super Bowls while Rivers has, despite playing on generally more explosive offenses, failed to even really come close. That was certainly the case in this game as Rivers’ teammates included Darren Sproles, Antonio Gates, Chris Chambers, and a young Vincent Jackson. The Steelers went on to win the Super Bowl. There isn’t a corollary for this game in this year’s playoffs.

The Arms (Ravens vs Titans)

Joe Flacco and Kerry Collins. Both 6’6” behemoths crafted for quarterbacking duties by the football gods. Massive frames, massive hands, massive arm strength. And both pretty much sucked in this defensive slugfest. Yes, the defenses ruled this one and, looking back, it isn’t hard to see why. Look at some of the names:

Haloti Ngata
Trevor Pryce
Jarret Johnson
Ray Lewis
Bart Scott
Terrell Suggs
Samari Rolle
Fabian Washington (hey, he sucked but he was really fucking fast)
Ed Reed
Jim Leonard

Jevon Kearse
Albert Haynesworth
Kyle Vanden Bosch
Stephen Tulloch
Keith Bullock
Cortland Finnegan
Chris Hope
Michael Griffin

The game was a mess. 12 total punts, 20 total penalties, just 23 total points. Neither team could get anything going on the ground (Chris Johnson averaged 7 yards per carry but Jeff Fisher still gave LenDale White the ball more often) and the Titans leading receiver was Justin Gage. Yuck. Nevertheless, we’re looking at two similarly skilled QBs with dominant defense, much like the SF/CAR game this weekend. If that game goes like this one did, it’s going to depend on which defense plays better. Looking at the Titan and Raven defenses above, it’s clear that Baltimore had more talent. Can we examine the Panther and 49ers defense and determine which one we like more? (The players’ names are followed by their positional ranking based on Pro Football Focus’ game charting grades. They grade every player on every play every week)

San Francisco
Ray McDonald #22
Glen Dorsey #22
Justin Smith #16
Ahmad Brooks #33
NaVorro Bowman #1
Patrick Willis #2
Aldon Smith #5
Tarell Brown #32
Carlos Rogers #71
Eric Reid #16
Donte Whitner #6
The linebacking unit is impressive. The 08 Ravens team had a similar group. They were playing a 4-3 back then. Ray Lewis was #8 among MLBs, Bart Scott was #1 for OLBs, Jarret Johnson was #3 amd Terrel Suggs was #2 among DEs.

Greg Hardy #3
Kawaan Short #14
Star Lotulelei #16
Charles Johnson #19
Thomas Davis #3
Luke Keuchly #8
Chase Blackburn #76
Captain Munnerlyn #11
Drayton Florence #22
Robert Lester #15
Mike Mitchell and Quintin Mikell #35 and #32

More high-end talent in SF but the Panthers have more depth (and a few guys that don’t even start that are really good like Dwan Edwards and Colin Cole) so you’ll have to make up your mind on this one. Onto the next game from 2008…

The Journeymen (Panthers vs Cardinals)

The game that stole my innocence, undrafted free agent and old man, Jake Delhomme threw five interceptions. FIVE. Fuck, it was bad. Oh, and he fumbled once. On the other side, another elder statesman whose journey to the NFl was long and arduous, Kurt Warner. Delhomme was, in fact, Warner’s backup in the late 90s when both of them were playing for the Amsterdam Admirals in NFL Europe. Warner (and really, Larry Fitzgerald) torched the Panthers. Jake Delhomme ruined what was left of my childhood. Is there a game this weekend with similar traits? Let’s hope not, or else suicide rates will be up in Seattle or New Orleans. That’s right, mark my words. If a QB self destructs this weekend it’ll either be Wilson or Brees.

The Socially Awkward Lightning Rods (Eagles vs Giants)

Have any two QBs ever been simultaneously good and hated at the same time? Donovan McNabb and Eli Manning are two of the most bizarre sports figures of our time. Record setters, winners, just about everything you’d want in your QB but dear lord there is just something about both of them that people do not like. Again, this game was won with defense (Victor Abiamiri recovered a fumble!) as no position player topped 100 yards (Brandon Jacobs and DeSean Jackson came closest) NYG kicked three FGs and had a safety while Philly’s 2 TDs were both of the 1-yard variety. Exciting stuff. If you’re looking to compare this game to one of this week’s contests I suppose New England and Indy makes some sense. The offense are similar (Andy Reid and Bill Belicheck have similar offenses while the Giants and Colts both run a very traditional pro style offense) and all four teams have defensive star power in some spots but glaring holes in others. In that Eagles/Giants game, it seemed like both teams took advantage of the others weaknesses. Looking back at that game, the Giants had a few serious issues. First, all of their corners (Terrel Thomas, Corey Webster and Aaron Ross) were big, strong press-zone corners and their Strong Safety was something called “James Butler”. DeSean Jackson ran by all those stiffs to the tune of four catches for 81 yards, almost half of the Eagles total passing yards that day. Conversely, Brandon Jacobs ran right at shitty Eagles LB, Akeem Jordan. Jacobs had 19 carries that day. 13 of them were to Jordan’s side of the line and Jacobs tallied 84 of his 92 yards on those rushes.

So what weak links are to be exploited tomorrow in the Colts/Pats game? Well, the Patriots DTs suck. No more Vince Wilfork inside means Joe Vellano and Chris Jones are in there and I don’t know who the fuck those guys are. New England is solid, albeit unspectacular everywhere else (though I like Rob Nincovich and Chandler Jones). I don’t know if the Colts have the O-line and the RBs to exploit that Pats interior line the way they’d like but they’re going to have to try. Tom Brady has more options. Indy DT Aubray Franklin has been bad, so the Pats can run up the gut. More likely, though, you’ll see Brady attack former Pats DB Darius Butler. Butler ranked 61st in Pro Football focus’ CB rankings and is going to get a lot of attention this weekend with studly Vontae Davis locking down the other side. I’m assuming either Antoine Bethea, LaRon Landry or both will be helping Butler on whomever he’s covering every play, which might leave Shane Vereen as the key here. With one safety out of the picture at all times, Vereen will be manned on a linebacker (and probably a middle backer since Indy is going to rush Robert Mathis and Erik Walden almost every play) a lot of the time and he could rip them to shreds. The Patriots have had two weeks to prep for this. I like them this weekend.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Chris Dwyer Scouting Report (Kansas City Royals)

I’ve never seen a no-hitter. Over the past six years I’ve been to probably 500 baseball games in person and it’s never happened. On Tuesday, I came as close as ever to finally seeing one as Royals left-handed pitching prospect Chris Dwyer was perfect through 6 2/3 innings. He was positively masterful and hurled one of the best games I’ve ever seen anyone pitch, ever.  

Dwyer stands a solid 6’3” and is listed at a solid 210lbs. While his weight is something of a question (he had a thyroid condition in 2012 that caused some pretty serious weight fluctuation) he looks solid and strong now and while the thyroid condition might give me pause about his long-term health, he showed no signs of the 83-86mph fastball he was pitching with while he was sick.

The delivery is nearly straight over the top and Dwyer stands tall throughout while using his lower half adequately while sending everything toward the plate. There’s some deception and all of Dwyer’s pitches come out of his hand at the same release point. The fastball sat 87-90mph and topped out at 92mph. The heater features nice run, especially for someone with an arm angle as vertically oriented as Dwyer. Towards the very end of his start, Dwyer lost a good amount of velocity. He was down to 85-87mph range in the seventh when it became clear el perfecto wasn’t going to happen. He pitched up in the zone a little too often for my taste with the fastball but through a ton of strikes and can move everything in and out. I put a 50 n the fastball and a 60 on his control of it with the command lagging a bit behind it. Oddly, Dwyer’s main bugaboo during his minor league career had been his poor control and command. Many thought it would be the death of any chances he had to start. On this night, however, he was almost surgical.

The changeup sat in the high 70s and had nice arm action and some fade when Dwyer threw it right but it sailed on him at times. Overall it’s an average pitch and it might have some projection, though Dwyer is already 25 years old. The curveball has been plus in the past and I can see why some really like it, but for me it’s a 5. This is a near 12-6 offering with plenty of depth but it’s a little loopy and slow for me, sitting in the 74-76mph range. I’m not sure it’s going to get the swings and misses in the big leagues that it’s getting right now. Dwyer relies heavily on it.

Overall we’re looking at three average pitches. If the control/command I saw on Tuesday night were backed up by reports from the past I’d have no problem labeling him a #4/5 starter. But the discrepancy between what I saw and what Dwyer’s track record has been has my enthusiasm tempered at least a little bit. I’ve got him pegged as a role 45 player, a #5 starter who isn’t exactly an innings eater.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Pumpkin Pie Pop Tarts: A Comprehensive Review

If you’re not having fun within the system, it’s just a system. And that’s boring. This is why I don’t hesitate to skirt tasks at work in favor of actual fun. This fun comes in many forms and if I were to write about all of them, it too would be insanely boring. Really the things we consider fun in the office are only interesting in the context of the office itself where the alternative is mind-numbing interaction with a computer. Alas, this one is interesting because it involves food, a common cultural thread that runs through every part of the world. More specifically, it involves junk food. And we young Americans love junk food. We are, after all, the kids who grew up eating cereals made of cookies, Reese’s, marshmallows and Oreos. Fascinated by the colorful garbage that comes off of assembly lines in both ironic and legitimate ways, you can only imagine what it was like when I and a few co-workers of mine stumbled upon these:

We had to try them, of course, but that wasn’t enough for me. No, I needed something more. Intense records were kept and opinions were polled. Each taste tester graded several aspects of the pastry and submitted them for review. The categories included were: Visual Appeal Crust Taste Filling Taste Frosting Taste Overall Taste Sustainability (Can you see yourself eating several of them?) Versatility (Can you think of other interesting culinary uses for the pastry in question?) Grading was done on the 2-8 scale, a scientific scale in which 5 represents the average and each integer away from 5 represents a standard deviation away from the mean. In short, it looks like this:

8- This is Earth Shatteringly good and tasting it is like having sex

 7- I’m going to buy these things next time I’m at the grocery store even if I need to push an old lady over to get to them

6- These are delectable

5- Average

4- This is edible but I’m not gonna have another one

3- I’m making the “Ewwwww Face” as I chew

2- So bad you had to spit it out

The results are in. Below are the grades for each category along with comments from some of the tasters. Their names have been removed to protect their anonymity.

Visual Appeal

Average: 5.2

High: 7

Low: 4

Comments- “It has sprinkles. They’re pretty. How can you not like the way it looks? What has sprinkles and tastes bad?”

 Crust Taste

Average: 4.6

High: 5

Low: 4

“It tastes like every other plain crust on everything else. It’s not bad but I feel like an opportunity was missed here.” 

“Crust was bland.” 

Filling Taste

Average: 4.4

High: 5

Low: 4

“Pumpkin Flavor very limited.” 

“Too Sweet.” 

“Lacked the earthiness of actual pumpkin pie and was sweeter than I anticipated. Aromatics were one note: Nutmeg.” 

“I would have liked if there were more filling.” 

Frosting Taste 

Average: 5

High: 6

Low: 4

“It’s standard Pop-Tart frosting so it’s good. You need to eat it with the frosting side down to maximize frosting taste.” 


 Average: 5

High: 6

Low: 4


Average: 3.8

High: 5

Low: 2

“I’d like to try it after dipping it in coffee.” 


Average: 4.8

High: 5

 Low: 4


“Edible but not a top-tier Pop-Tart.” 

“Overall an average Pop-Tart but will not replace Belvita Breakfast Biscuits as go-to breakfast related snack.” 

 We also asked our panel to decide if the pop tart would be better warm. Most responses were affirmative in this regard although one panelist stated that he/she would never think that warming the Pop-tart could make any of them better and claimed warm tarts to be, “Gross.” We cannot, in good conscience, recommend Pumpkin Pie Pop Tarts to anyone who is looking for an exceptional product. They are a middling, mediocre offering far beneath the standards set forth by the Kellogs forefathers.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Joe Panik Scouting Report (San Francisco Giants)

Amateur talent in the northeastern part of the country is tough to come by and even tougher to scout when you do come by it. One of the first round one players I saw as a amateur was former St. John’s shortstop Joe Panik who was selected 29th overall by the San Francisco Giants in 2011. A shortstop in college, Panik spent most of his time in 2013 at second base.

Joe Panik has your commonplace middle infielder body. He’s a relatively thin 6’1”, 190lbs with long limbs. He is not overly physical but also isn’t so wiry that you’re concerned he’s going to have the bat knocked out of his hands. There’s still some projection left here and I do think Panik will put on some weight as he ages. How that weight will impact his game remains to be seen. It’s possible it could allow him to hit for more power than he does right now (which isn’t much) but it could also sap the already fringe range he has at second base.

Let’s keep it right there and address the defense. Panik has below average speed and his first step and reactions aren’t quick enough to hide it in the field enough for him to play shortstop every day. Not for me, anyway. The arm is average both on strength and accuracy. The hands and feel for the position are just okay. I’ve seen Panik make some fine plays toward the bag from both directions and I’ve also seen him make an adventure out of plays that I regard as routine. He could probably play a passable short for some, but my personal tastes prefer an above average defender at the position unless the bat is exceptional.

Panik’s bat is not. The pure bat-to-ball skills are really interesting. I put a future 55 on Panik’s hit tool. He’s short to the ball and displays good eye-hand coordination. He sports a simple, toe-tap stride and closes before he takes a nice, balanced swing. The bat speed is not good and, as a result, Panik just doesn’t hit the baseball very hard all that often, though he does show the ability to spray balls in every direction. I have a 35 on the power right now but I think that contact skills are good enough that he’ll hit his share of doubles in the gaps. I project the power to a 4.

So what kind of value does a player like this possess? There’s not enough glove to play shortstop (not that he’d play there for San Francisco anyway with Brandon Crawford there right now) and not bat to make you say, “Screw it” and stick him there anyway. Is there enough of both for him to play everyday at second base? We’ve seen players like this succeed there before. Marco Scutaro has had a nice career with a similar skill set (though his is a true plus hit tool and might be more) as did Randy Velarde and Tony Graffanino. One thing those guys have/had that Panik doesn’t right now is some positional versatility. Panik has worked at 2B and SS but I’d like to see him log some practice time in other places. The way the Giants have groomed him thus far suggests that they think he can be an everyday secondbaseman. The lack of pop would relegate him to second-division status for me if that’s the case. You could certainly do worse. Panik did not have a good year in 2013 and it's not out of the realm of possibility that he's sent back to Double-A to begin 2014. 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Drew Hutchison Scouting Report (Toronto Blue Jays)

I ran into an oddly high number of rehabbing starting pitchers this season. The most unique of these was Blue Jays right-hander, Drew Hutchison. Hutchison had barely pitched above A-ball before making his Major League debut in 2012. After logging about 60 innings with the Jays (and seeing his fastball velo tick up inexplicably) Huchison suffered an arm injury and needed Tommy John surgery. I saw four of the thirty-five innings he threw this year in rehabilitation on that injury.

At 6’2” and 195lbs, Hutchison is of average height and build. He’s thin, angular and proportional with strength in his thighs. There’s some room for him to add weight and maintain his current delivery but he looks comfortable with where he’s at right now. Hutchison’s delivery is slow and casual until he begins to accelerate his arm when everything speeds up in a mildly violent manner. He cuts himself off a bit in the process but for the most part everything heads for home plate. It’s not an easy-does-it delivery that’s going to summon visions of ballet dancers or make you think of a warm cup of tea on a cool autumn morning, but it also isn’t so bad that I think he’s going to break again.

The fastball sat 87-92mph for me with a little bit of movement. Hutch commanded it well on the horizontal axis but really struggled to keep the ball down a lot of the time. By my count, he yielded 12 outs in the air as opposed to just one on the ground. I put a 55 on his control and a 45 on his command. How those two develop as his rehab continues will have a big impact on his success. He can’t live up in the zone with a 55 fastball in the big leagues.

Hutchison’s slider was his best pitch. A true grade-6 weapon, slidey’s velo ranged anywhere from 82-87mph with serious horizontal whip. He worked it back toot to left-handed hitters and away from righties. I’d like to see him pitch backwards with it. He only threw four full innings in the start I saw so perhaps he’d be more likely to do so if he saw the lineup turn over a third or fourth time. The changeup is a fringe-average pitch with good arm speed but lacking in movement. The changeup grip was easy for me to see as the ball left his hand but whether or not the hitter can also make that distinction from field level, I don’t know.

I put a 50 on Hutch as an overall grade and I think he’s a fourth or fifth starter at the big league level. My main concern is how often that fastball was left up in the zone and whacked into the outfield somewhere. If he can correct that then I think he can attain the grade I’ve assigned him above. If not, I wonder if a move to the bullpen would allow the velocity to tick up a bit more and thus provide him with more margin for error on those pitches he leaves up. In that case I think he could be an interesting 7th or 8th inning reliever when you throw in that nasty slider.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Felipe Rivero Scouting Report (Tampa Bay Rays)

Rays pitcher Felipe Rivero had the most impressive arm of any that I saw during my trip to Florida. The 21 year-old, Venezuelan lefty presents scouts with an interesting conundrum. He has flashes impressive stuff but comes with a few concerning warts.

Rivero’s size has been an issue for scouts since he signed in 2008. Listed at 5’10” and 150lbs, Rivero looks every bit of that and might even be a hair taller. He certainly pitches taller, staying very upright through his release and firing from a nearly true 3/4s arm slot. He pitches far enough downhill that I’m not worried about him being homer-prone because of his height and a flat fastball. Rivero has certainly put on weight, mostly in the right places, as his thighs and ass are thick and strong. He makes good use of the lower half in his delivery. Rivero’s arm works pretty well, It’s not the most gorgeous, athletic delivery I’ve ever seen but I’m not squirming when he throws, either. The control and command aren’t great (control is fringy right now, command is a little worse) but aren’t so bad that you banish him to the bullpen solely because of it (though, if the ‘pen is his ultimate destination, it will be a contributing factor). There’s essentially no physical projection remaining here.

As far as pure stuff is concerned, Rivero is packing. His fastball sat 91-94mph in his first inning of work with late tail, a true plus offering that showed even better at times. Rivero lost velo, however, as his outing wore on. He was showing mostly 87-90mph as early as the third inning and struggled to amp things up above 91mph when he wanted it later. There are several potential causes for this drop, obviously. Again, if this is something Rivero experiences habitually, it’s something that could contribute to a move to the bullpen.

Quality secondary stuff is a rarity in Hi-A ball so it was a treat to see not one, but two potential weapons in Rivero’s curveball and changeup. The curve will spin in the 76-78mph range with impressive vertical depth. The pitch is consistently average and will show plus more than a few times. Like the fastball, Rivero’s breaking ball was less and less enthralling as his start progressed. It was never bad, it was simply less dangerous. The changeup is behind Rivero’s other two pitches but it isn’t bad. A tad firm at times (mostly 83-86mph), it featured quite a bit of arm-side run and arm speed to match the heater, showing a tad better than average in a few instances while settling in as a grade 45 pitch overall. Rivero clearly has a feel for it and it’s not unreasonable to think it might be a swing and miss weapon one day.

Overall we’re looking at what I think will be three useful big league pitches one day and a control/command profile that should improve enough to play out of the rotation. The one concern I have is the stamina. As long as that isn’t an ongoing issue for Rivero I think the Rays have a stellar #4 starter here with room for a bit more if the player development staff works an unforeseen miracle or two. I expect Tampa to continue barbecuing this young man like they have with virtually all of their pitching prospects over the last half decade.

The Grades: Present/Future

Fastball: 55/60

Curveball: 55/60

Changeup: 45/55

Control: 40/45

Command: 35/45