Defending Antonio Conte’s Omission of Mario Balotelli

Newly-minted Italian national team coach Antonio Conte made headlines when he selected his first official squad for a friendly against the Netherlands and the Azzurri’s first Euro 2016 qualifying match against Norway. Those headlines were made based on who he did, and more importantly didn’t, call up. Or in other words, Conte made headlines for not calling up Mario Balotelli.

The coach insists that he is not sending a message with the omission, and it shouldn’t be looked at as such. First off, no player is entitled to a call up every time around. Yes, Balotelli is clearly the most talented striker at Conte’s disposal, but that alone doesn’t merit a call up. It should also be remembered that the last international matches for Italy were at the World Cup—a competition where the Italians struggled. There were few Italian bright spots in Brazil and the former AC Milan striker wasn’t one of them.

Based on Brazil, the only Azzurri members who would have been locks for inclusion in these two games would have been Juventus’ Gianluigi Buffon and Andrea Pirlo, Lazio’s Antonio Candreva, Torino defender Matteo Darmian and PSG duo Salvatore Sirigu and Marco Verratti. Balotelli obviously is not one of those players.

The newest Liverpool signing is mercurial. In fact, if you look the word “mercurial” in the dictionary, you probably get a picture of Mario Balotelli. Not only that, he picks up his fair share of cards. Among those cards included were two yellows compiled in Brazil including one in Italy’s final game. Because the Italians didn’t progress in the tournament, their star striker will have to sit out the next competitive game on the international calendar. That game is the first Euro qualifier against Norway.

Most will point to the fact of Claudio Marchisio’s inclusion in the team as one of the key reasons why Conte is sending a message by leaving out Balotelli. Marchisio picked up a red card in the Italy/Uruguay game, and like Balotelli will miss the Norway match through suspension. However, this is Conte’s first camp in charge of the Azzurri. He will be implementing his system, his style of play and things of that nature. Not only does Marchisio understand Conte and his tactics from their time together at Juve, he also provides leadership and experience in the midfield. Conte has also been forced to call up a relatively inexperienced group due to injuries. Usual call ups Pirlo, Riccardo Montolivo and Thiago Motta are all out with injuries. Because of this, the likes of Marco Parolo, Alessandro Florenzi and Andrea Poli all been brought in. All have fewer than six caps.

As odd as it sounds, leaving out Balotelli may let Conte evaluate his options in a more comprehensive manner. If Balotelli is in the team, he’s starting. Leaving him at home gives Conte the chance to experiment with and give more minutes to the likes of Mattia Destro, Ciro Immobile, Simone Zaza and Stephan El Shaarawy up front. Doing so will be crucial as all four are under the age of 24 and will play vital roles for the Azzurri leading up to Euro 2016 and Russia 2018.

Antonio Conte’s decision to leave Mario Balotelli off his first Italy roster didn’t sit well with some fans. However, when you consider Balotelli’s mercurial play, suspension and other factors, it makes sense why Liverpool’s newest player was left off the Azzurri team.

Detroit Tigers: The Statistical Ridiculousness of Miguel Cabrera’s “Down Year”

Miguel Cabrera is having a down year. That much is true. He may not win a fourth consecutive batting title, he may not win a third straight MVP and he may not win another triple crown. But, despite the sub-par season (by his extremely high standards) he may just be showing his brilliance as a hitter. Why? Because when most hitters have down years, they look awful—comparatively and in general. Miguel Cabrera’s down year includes a .304 batting average. He’s that good.

A typical season for the Tigers’ slugger has generally consisted of gaudy numbers and some kind of hardware. Whether it is an MVP award, a triple crown, an American League pennant, Cabrera has won them all.

His biggest accomplishment may be this season—his “down” season. Here’s just a small snippet of his stats this year. I remind you, this is his “down” season.

  • His .304 line is a far cry from the his batting averages over the last five years (.348, .330, .344, .328 and .324) but only eight players in the American League have a higher clip.
  • Leads the AL in doubles with 42. Only Johnathan Lucroy of the Brewers has more in Major League Baseball.
  • Has driven in 94 runs. Also a far cry considering Miggy’s RBI output the last two years (137 and 139 respectively), but only four players have more. Three of those four players would be home run mashers Mike Stanton, Jose Abreu and David Ortiz. In other words, players who get a lot of their RBIs from the long ball. Cabrera only has 19 homers this year, further showing his ability as a complete hitter (as if he needs to show that).
  • Despite his lower numbers, Cabrera still has scored only six less runs than Angels’ wunderkind Mike Trout. I should also point out that Trout is a threat on the base paths and has speed—Cabrera doesn’t check either of those boxes.
  • Also has a top-ten ranking in the AL in Slugging Percentage (ninth, .501) and OPS (eighth, .868).
  • Ranks eight in the AL in hits with 156. Players with fewer hits include Trout, Dustin Pedroia and Jose Abreu.
  • Top ten rankings in total bases (tied for sixth, 257) and runs created (seventh, 92).
  • Only Trout and Jose Abreu have more extra base hits in the American League.
  • Only seven players have reached base more times than Cabrera (206 times) in the AL.
  • Drives in the runs any way he can—leads the AL in sacrifice flies with 10.
  • Still strikes fear into opposing pitchers, he has ten intentional walks on the year. It may not be as high a number as teammate Victor Martinez’ 23, but it still shows the danger Miggy presents to pitchers.

They may not be the leaderboard leading numbers the world is used to from Cabrera, but for a “down year” they’re pretty fantastic.

 

All stats courtesy of http://www.baseball-reference.com/ unless otherwise noted.

Detroit Tigers: JD Martinez and Detroit’s Experience With Out-of-Nowhere Hitters

Dating back to the “Great Chris Shelton Hot Streak” of 2005, the Detroit Tigers have grown accustomed to hitters coming out of the woodwork (relatively speaking) and making an impact.

Take Shelton for example, he hit a robust .345 in the first half of the season in 2005. Over that span is OPS was .970. Then came the second half were he regressed to a still-respectable .279 batting average and .826 OPS.

Shelton got off to another solid start in 2006 when he hit .282 in the first half, coupled with an .857 OPS. For a time, it seemed that he would continue a moderately high level of play. But once again, the second half struck. Shelton’s batting average regressed to .236. His slugging percentage dropped from .508 in the first half to .292 in the second. His OPS also dipped, going from .857 to .595. That and a .231 batting average at home contributed to him being off the team. He found his next taste of big league action in Texas during the 2008 season were he hit .216. A number that portrayed him more accurately as a hitter than the .345 clip did.

It would seem that the Tigers had another Shelton type on their hands when rookie Brennan Boesch burst onto the scene in 2010 with a nearly identical, Shelton-esque .342 batting average and .990 OPS in the first half. Unlike Shelton, Boesch numbers tanked dropped like a lead weight. His second half batting average was a paltry .163 and his OBP was more than halved, going from .990 to .458. From everything Boesch did in the second half, it seemed like the Tigers had another Chris Shelton on their hands—however, that would change as the rookie posted a solid sophomore season.

The fifth place finisher in the 2010 Rookie of the Year voting posted a solid .283 batting average and a .799 OPS. In addition, his first and second half numbers weren’t separated by a continent sized chasm— .289 was Boesch’s batting average in the first half, while the second half brought a .276 line.

It took longer than Shelton, but Boesch eventually succumbed, his batting average in 2012 was .240. His OBP was .659. A full .140 points lower than 2011’s. He wasn’t with the team by the start of the next season.

As it is right now, Detroit has found a third hitter who has come out of nowhere, JD Martinez. This time, they’re hoping the story plays out a little differently.

Martinez’ first half numbers are very similar to both Shelton and Boesch. He hit .346 in the first part of the season with a 1.035 OPS. In addition to those gaudy numbers, Martinez has added a presence that Detroit desperately needed in the middle of the lineup. In most cases, Brad Ausmus will deploy some combination of Ian Kinsler, Rajai Davis, Torii Hunter, Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez in the first four spots in the lineup. Outside of those five the team’s hitters aren’t nearly as potent. Or at least that was the case heading into the season. JD Martinez’ arrival has added much needed power to the teeth of the lineup—power that also extends the lineup and gives it more depth.

His numbers haven’t tanked as badly as Boesch’s did, but Martinez splits are significantly different. He’s hitting .261 in the second half with a .723 OPS. However, there is reason to believe that he’s turning things around mid-decline. Over the last 14 days, the former Astro owns .327 batting average and a .836 OPS. Martinez is clearly turning it around, and that can only be good news for the Tigers.

Tigers’ hitters to come out of nowhere on hot streaks have had their faults. Shelton struggled to hit at home (in addition to his decline) and Boesch couldn’t sustain success after pitchers started throwing more off-speed offerings and less of the steady diet of fastballs that he had been feasting on. Martinez however, hits at home (.318 batting average) and looks to be sustaining his success. If the numbers of the last few weeks tell us anything, it is that JD Martinez is here to stay in Detroit.

 

 

All stats courtesy of http://www.baseball-reference.com/ unless otherwise noted.

Detroit Tigers: Center Field Alternatives After Missing Out on Rusney Castillo

Regardless of how far the Detroit Tigers came in their pursuit of Cuban prospect Rusney Castillo, they missed out on adding the highly regarded center fielder. Castillo is heading to Boston. With Austin Jackson shipped out as part of the David Price trade, the Tigers are in need of a center fielder, if they don’t go after one to help their postseason run, then they will almost surely try to acquire one in the offseason. Here are some options.

Options for Right Now

The Internal Guys: Rajai Davis and Ezequiel Carrera

Detroit got spoiled by Austin Jackson—a superb fielding, centrally based outfielder who hit for some pop. Sure, he struck out a ton, but at least he contributed in other categories. The Tigers now face reality without their once-longtime center fielder. Any disapproval of his replacements’ play has been answered with the question “Well, would you rather have David Price or not have David Price?” and while’s it’s fantastic to have Price, the team could use a center fielder. I’m not saying the trade shouldn’t have happened, but Detroit need a center fielder, and his name isn’t Rajai Davis or Ezequiel Carrera. Both can cover miles of ground, but aren’t close to the defensive player that Jackson was for the Tigers.

Davis has filled in admirably in center, but his best position remains in left field. This gives Brad Ausmus flexibility in picking his lineup—flexibility that Detroit has relied on and will need to continue to rely on.

While Carrera isn’t as strong defensively as Jackson, he isn’t good offensively as Jackson or Davis. Yes, he brings speed, but his hitting hasn’t been on par with the rest of the lineup. A .220 hitting center fielder with speed might play on a young team auditioning players, but on a team with championship aspirations like the Tigers, it simply isn’t good enough.

In 24 games, Carrera has a total of three extra base hits—two doubles and a triple. Jackson accumulated four extra base hits alone over the course of three games against Diamondbacks.

*Note: I probably wouldn’t be writing this piece if the Tigers were still in first place in the division, but new additions or better play is needed to pass the Royals. It’s also nearing panic mode in “Tigerland.”

The Current Trade Market: Various

With the non-waiver trade deadline come and gone, players must now pass through waivers before being dealt. The bad teams get first crack at players, so because of that and other factors, it’s unlikely that a player would fall through the cracks. However a number of players have passed through waivers with no teams claiming them, and are available to be dealt anywhere. According to MLB Trade Rumors, these players include outfielders such as Shin-Soo Choo, Curtis Granderson, Alex Rios, Matt Kemp, Brett Gardner, Carl Crawford and Andre Ethier. Each is a unique player, but all of them have one thing in common—they’re owed a lot of money.

In addition to being owed a collective 164 million dollars over the next six years, Choo and Granderson just signed deals with their respective teams this offseason. It would look bad for future free agents assessing their options to see that a team traded a player just months after signing him to a long contract. Choo has also played exclusively in both left and right field this year while Granderson has predominantly played right. Granderson has extensive experience in center; just ask any long-term Tigers’ fan, but his salary makes it hard to justify a reunion.

Rios falls in a similar boat defensively seeing as he hasn’t played centerfield since 2011. Plus, he’ll be 34 at this time next year and doesn’t have the power he once possessed.

The Dodgers’ trio of representatives on the list are harder to quantify trading. They aren’t exactly hitting the cover off the ball with batting averages of .247 (Ethier) .271 (Crawford) and .277 (Kemp). Ethier has played center field this year, but his batting line and hefty contract make a move unlikely. Crawford, on the other hand, isn’t a centerfielder. He never played the position extensively, as evidenced by the last time he was in center field—seven innings of a game six years ago while he was with the Rays.

Kemp may be the closest thing to a “goldilocks” fit. Not only does he play center (he’s won two Gold Gloves there), but if he can get his production near where it was during his accolade filled year of 2011, the Tigers would have another elite bat to hit in a lineup that features a handful of them. The red flag is that Kemp hasn’t played a full season since 2011 and is owed north of 100 million dollars over the next five seasons.

The Dodgers are also in the thick of a pennant race of their own, and with Yasiel Puig as the only other starting caliber outfielder on the team, it seems unlikely that LA would part with any of their three contractual albatrosses.

Finally, there’s Gardner. From a skillset standpoint, the Yankee outfielder would fit perfectly in Detroit. He has played 333 games in center field over the course of his career. He is a threat on the base baths with 179 steals over nearly 750 games—and, to top it all off, he hits for power. Albeit power closer to that of Rajai Davis as opposed to Miguel Cabrera, but it would be an upgrade. But similar to Kemp, Gardner’s contract calls for a lot of money. The Yankee outfielder is owed close to 50 million over the next four years, not including a 12.5 million team option for 2019. The money and the fact that the Yankees trail Detroit in the wild card standings may make a trade near impossible.

Splurging cash on one of these previously mentioned outfielders would seem counterproductive—especially after trading Prince Fielder and Doug Fister in cost-cutting moves. It would also seem odd considering the team will likely hand one/both of David Price and Max Scherzer a massive contract extension.

It’s unclear what Dave Dombrowski will do with the Tigers center field situation. Maybe Rajai Davis will prove he can play there full time. Maybe Ezequiel Carrera will hit. Who knows. But reinforcements via trade or Cuba are unlikely this season. If nothing is done, expect the Tigers’ GM to make a move for a center fielder this winter.

 

All stats courtesy of http://www.baseball-reference.com/ unless otherwise noted.

 

Detroit Tigers: The Statistical Ridiculousness of Miguel Cabrera’s “Down Year”

The Detroit Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera is having a down year. That much is true. He may not win a fourth consecutive batting title, he may not win a third straight MVP and he may not win another triple crown. But, despite the sub-par season (by his extremely high standards) he may just be showing his brilliance as a hitter. Why? Because when most hitters have down years, they look awful—comparatively and in general. Miguel Cabrera’s down year includes a .307 batting average. He’s that good.

A typical season for the Tigers’ slugger has generally consisted of gaudy numbers and some kind of hardware. Whether it is an MVP award, a Triple Crown, an American League pennant, Cabrera has won them all.

His biggest accomplishment may be this season—his “down” season. Here’s just a small snippet of his stats this year. I remind you, this is his “down” season.

  • His .307 line is a far cry from the his batting averages over the last five years (.348, .330, .344, .328 and .324) but only six players in the American League have a higher clip.
  • Leads the AL in doubles with 42. Only Johnathan Lucroy of the Brewers has more in Major League Baseball.
  • Has driven in 90 runs. Also a far cry considering Miggy’s RBI output the last two years (137 and 139 respectively), but only four players have more. Three of those four players would be home run mashers Mike Stanton, Jose Abreu and David Ortiz. In other words, players who get a lot of their RBIs from the long ball. Cabrera only has 17 homers this year, further showing his ability as a complete hitter (as if he needs to show that).
  • Despite his lower numbers, Cabrera still has scored only nine less runs than Angels’ wunderkind Mike Trout. I should also point out that Trout is a threat on the base paths and has speed—Cabrera doesn’t check either of those boxes.
  • Also has a top 10 rankings in the AL in OPB (ninth, .369), Slugging Percentage (tenth, .496) and OPS (eighth, .865).
  • Ranks eight in the AL in hits with 151. Players with fewer hits include Trout, Dustin Pedroia and Victor Martinez.
  • Top 10 rankings in total bases (tied for seventh, 246) and runs created (eighth, 89).
  • Only Trout and Jose Abreu have more extra base hits in the American League.
  • Only five players have reached base more times than Cabrera (206 times) in the AL.
  • Drives in the runs any way he can—leads the AL in sacrifice flies with 10.
  • Still strikes fear into opposing pitchers, he has ten intentional walks on the year. It may not be as high a number as teammate Victor Martinez’ 22, but it still shows the danger Miggy presents to pitchers.

They may not be the leaderboard leading numbers the world is used to from Cabrera, but for a “down year” they’re pretty fantastic.

 

All stats courtesy of http://www.baseball-reference.com/ unless otherwise noted.

Detroit Tigers: The Importance of Victor Martinez

As the Detroit Tigers claw their way back into the playoff picture, one player remains as important, and consistent as ever—Victor Martinez.

The man referred to as V-Mart is turning in his best season as a pro. Not only is passing previous career highs, his 26 home runs are one more than previous best and his 22 intentional walks are 10 more than he’s ever had in a season, but at times he is carrying a Tiger offense that has sputtered occasionally. With Miguel Cabrera mired in the midst of a down year (by his own high standards) and Ian Kinsler, Torii Hunter and JD Martinez struggling at times, V-Mart has been the constant presence in Detroit’s lineup.

Miguel Cabrera’s “protector” in the lineup has always been a vital position in Detroit—or in other words, a batter to hit behind Cabrera that will keep pitchers honest so they can’t simply intentionally walk the MVP and deal with a much lesser hitter.

There’ve been all kinds of hitters protecting Cabrera since the former Marlin arrived in Detroit. Ranging from Carlos Guillen to Brennan Boesch to Prince Fielder, there was certainly diversity in terms of hitter types. However, Victor Martinez has been the best of the group. It may have been a forgone conclusion before, but now it should be set in stone.

Martinez is a complete hitter. He used to catch on a full time basis before becoming a designated hitter. He’ll get the odd start at first base when Miguel Cabrera gets a day off from the field, but for the most part V-Mart is a DH. That fact may prohibit him from gaining serious traction in an MVP race, but he certainly deserves to be part of the conversation.

Once thought of as a hitter more acclimated to contact than power, Martinez has brought it in the slugging department. His 26 home runs are the most he’s ever had. His previous high was 25 and it took him 27 more games to accomplish it. And it’s not just the home runs; the former Indian’s slugging percentage is half a point higher than it’s ever been. At .555, his slugging percentage ranks fifth in the Major Leagues. Notable hitters with a lower number include David Ortiz, Jose Bautista, Paul Goldschmidt and all-worldly Miguel Cabrera.

Martinez hasn’t fallen off in terms of hitting for contact either. A quick glance at MLB’s statistical leaderboard finds the Tigers’ DH in the top 10 in batting average (second), on base percentage (sixth), OPS (third), total bases (seventh) and runs created (tied for fifth). He also is tied for tenth in the AL in hits.

You could list stats proving Victor Martinez’ worth as an elite hitter until your blue in the face, but the most telling and important stat is his strikeout to walk ratio. Most elite hitters draw a ton of walks, but they also strike out a lot. Giancarlo Stanton and Mike Trout have respective walk totals of 87 and 69. They both have more than twice as many strikeouts as they do base-on-balls.

Martinez doesn’t walk as much, he only has 54, but his strikeout total is miniscule—38. This territory isn’t new to the former Red Sox hitter; he had one more walk (75) than his strikeout total in 2009.

Strikeouts are rally killers. They let the opposing pitcher gain more confidence and feel like he’s getting into a grove, especially the first time through the order. The fact that Martinez doesn’t punch out much means that when he gets out, he isn’t constantly hitting into double plays and destroying scoring chances.

Moving into the cleanup spot has worked wonders for Victor Martinez, he’s already surpassed his RBI total from last season in 39 fewer games. With two more home runs he’ll have doubled his total from last year.

To sum it up, Victor Martinez is immensely important for the Tigers, down the stretch and otherwise.

 

All stats courtesy of http://www.baseball-reference.com/ unless otherwise noted.

 

Real Madrid: Why Kroos and James Don’t Make Sense Tactically & How the Hoarding and Exorbitant Spending Produce Results

Real Madrid has a tendency, or, more like a need, to employ the best players in the world in their team. In the process, the club spends absurd amounts of money. They will routinely spend tens of millions of dollars just for squad players.

Recent signings Toni Kroos and James Rodriguez are hardly squad players, but it shows how far the team is willing to go to be the best. Both signings undoubtedly help the team improve (they would help any team) but they don’t make the most sense tactically. In coach Carlo Ancelotti’s favored 4-3-3 formation, Luka Modric, Xabi Alonso and Angel Di Maria were favored as the midfield trio. Admittedly, the team sold Di Maria, but with Kroos’ addition, the team will now field an overcrowded midfield group. A group that includes Modric, Alonso, Kroos, a healthy Sami Khedira and last summer’s splurge signings Isco and Asier Illarramendi. That’s a lot of midfielders who, if you combine their transfer fees, could fix a country’s economy.

While Kroos’ signing gives Madrid even more quality in the middle of the park, the team’s signing of Rodriguez produces questions. Lots of them. James is a superbly talented player, and his skill probably merits a place on a team like Madrid’s roster, but tactically it is a bit tough to fit him into the current team.

James Rodriguez can play as an attacking midfielder, a true No. 10 or he can be deployed out wide as a winger. In the current 4-3-3 that Ancelotti employs, there is no way on Earth Rodriguez displaces either Gareth Bale or Cristiano Ronaldo. It simply won’t happen. And to be fair, no one in the world is going replace Madrid’s two most expensive players. The team could alter the 4-3-3 and play him in his favored position as a traditional No. 10 with two pivot midfielders sitting behind him. This could provide deadly results offensively, but it would also limit the number of central midfielders Ancelotti can use. With a huge glut of them already, to accommodate Rodriguez he may have to sacrifice one of them, hence pushing someone further down the totem pole and potentially off the team all together.

This is where the hoarding strategy comes into play. Real Madrid is able to sell off star players in order to make room for star players. Or they simply sell off their highly priced squad players to other clubs where those players will play prominent roles.  While it may not be the most fiscally responsible thing in the world, it helps the team avoid the swinging axe that is Financial Fair Play.

Last summer the team spent over 150 million euros (a little over 200 million US dollars) bringing Bale, Isco, Illarramendi, Daniel Carvajal and Casemiro into the fold. Normally a team spending that kind of capital would be hit with FFP sanctions. However, unlike fellow big spenders PSG and Manchester City, Madrid made some cash to offset that absurd sum. They unloaded Mesut Ozil to Arsenal for 50 million euros and sold striker Gonzalo Higuain to Napoli for 40 million euros. Combine those with the sales of Raul Albiol, Jose Callejon (both also to Napoli) among others and Madrid made nearly 130 million euros from outgoing players.

This allows the team to recoup some of the money they spent, but more importantly it allows them to escape those FFP sanctions. PSG wasn’t able to avoid the axe as they spent nearly 140 million euros on four players. Of the players they sold or let go, they collectively brought back 26 million euros.

City, on the other hand, spent north of 90 million pounds, while recouping a little over 15 million pounds on player sales.

These may not seem like serious issues, but they have impacted both teams’ current offseason spending. PSG, who doesn’t want to cross the line with FFP having already been sanctioned, tried and failed to acquire Di Maria from Madrid without paying a deservedly large sum of money. This is mainly due to the fact that they don’t want to, and can’t spend too much money.

Meanwhile, City has lost a number of spots on their team as part of the sanctions, and thus their international slots are full. Because of this, the team had to sell Spanish midfielder Javi Garcia in order to acquire long rumored target and French center back Equiliam Mangala.

The penalties only get worse for clubs like PSG and City if they continue to breach FFP guidelines. Real Madrid seems to have figured it out. The team buys star players. Should the star players fail to adapt or a bigger, better star comes along, then the incumbent stars get the boot. Because of this, Madrid escapes Financial Fair Play penalties all the while being one of the best, if not the best, club in the world.

 

Juventus: What Happened to Milan Under Allegri and Why it Must Not Happen in Turin

Since Antonio Conte’s departure from Juventus, the club has made an equally shocking move by hiring Massimiliano Allegri – one of the architects of AC Milan’s descent from continental power to borderline mid-table Serie A team.

Allegri inherited a talented Milan squad, one that finished third in Serie A. he took that talent and infused it with a wealth of attacking options. In came the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Kevin-Prince Boateng, Robinho and Antonio Cassano. All four players helped the coach claim the Scudetto in his first season on the job. After that, however, it was a steady diet of decline for the Milan club. The following year they slipped to second, after that third and after that an uncharacteristic eighth.

Some of this had to do with personnel. For one reason or another, players left Milan at a somewhat alarming rate over the course of Allegri’s tenure. Now to be fair, player movement is anything but uncommon, but at a winning club, you would think it wouldn’t be as pronounced as in a weaker team.

One of the coach’s most common lineups in his Scudetto winning tenure featured Christian Abbiati in goal with a four man defense of Ignazio Abate, Alessandro Nesta, Thiago Silva and Luca Antonini protecting him. Sitting in front of them was the midfield diamond of Mark van Bommel, Clarence Seedorf, Gennaro Gattuso and Boateng supporting Robinho and Ibrahimovic in attack.

Allegri showed a strange resolve not to use Pirlo as much as he could. I don’t care who you have on your team, if you are a manager, you should start Pirlo. If it’s a three-man midfield and the likes of Pirlo, Xavi, Xabi Alonso and Bastian Schweinsteiger are at your disposal, you should sit one of them in favor of the bearded wonder.

This is what Allegri did, preferring to use Gattuso, Seedorf, van Bommel (upon his arrival) instead of Pirlo. To be fair, Milan did have an embarrassment of riches in central midfield with the aforementioned trio, Pirlo and club legend Massimo Ambrosini. All five were some of the finer midfield players of their generation, but there is absolutely no way you leave arguably the best passer of the last 15 years on the bench.

Ok, if he doesn’t start, at least give him a “super-sub” role. That sounds like the smart thing to do in the situation. Is that what Allegri did? Eh, not really. The coach handed Mathieu Flamini more appearances in terms of players who weren’t established starters.

It’s a little more acceptable to sit Pirlo behind legends like Seedorf and Gattuso as opposed to Flamini. Don’t get me wrong, Flamini is a fine player who has enjoyed an extremely successful career, but Pirlo should be playing ahead of him 98 times out of 100.

This led to Pirlo ultimately leaving and signing with Juventus, where he has since gone on to beat Milan to three straight Scudettos.

Pirlo wasn’t the only face to leave the northern club throughout Allegri’s tenure. Of his starting XI that claimed the title in his first season – Abbiati, Abate, Nesta, Silva, Antonini, Gattuso, van Bommel, Seedorf, Boateng, Ibrahimovic and Robinho – only Abbiati, Abate, Antonini, Boateng and Robinho remained on the team two years later. Four years later and the list shrinks to Abbiati, Abate and Robinho with only the former as a starter on a weekly basis.

Ok, so maybe some of the players like Nesta and Gattuso were close to retirement and it isn’t that surprising that they left, but players still left in hoards. Of the 23 players to make ten or more appearances across all competitions in the championship winning season, only four remain with the team. Of those 23, 18 of them were gone by the beginning of last season.

The lack of stars like of Pirlo, Ibrahimovic and Silva, left a massive void in the Milan team. They were never quite able to recover after the latter two left. These weren’t the only names to leave northern Italy during Allegri’s spell. Slipping through the cracks was then young and up-and-coming players like Matteo Darmian and current Dortmund pair Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Sokratis Papastathopoulos.

Despite the departures, some Allegri did make a few smart signings as replacements. Riccardo Montolivo was a fantastic free transfer acquisition, as was getting Philippe Mexes for free. Milan also bought Stephan El Shaarawy outright and signed Mario Balotelli. Antonio Nocerino was a superb signing upon arrival, but struggled following the departure of Ibrahimovic and company. He has since been farmed out to West Ham and Torino on loan.

Under Allegri, Milan went from spending on top-level talent like Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Kevin-Prince Boateng to splurging a significant amount of money on misfiring striker Alessandro Matri (a player Juve fans know well) when the team already had Balotelli, Robinho, Giampaolo Pazzini and El Shaarawy under contract and glaring holes elsewhere on the roster.

Is all this going to happen at Juventus? No. Could it? Yes. Allegri won’t make the same blunder with Pirlo that he made the first time. He, along with anyone who’s familiar with football who has seen Juve play, knows that Juve runs through the bearded maestro. Running through Pirlo has netted the Bianconeri three straight titles. I get the feeling Allegri’s not going to mess with that. Juve must win to maintain everything, namely their roster. Allegri must be successful; otherwise players could leave in hoards. You would think if the team truly struggled after a long period of time, a team with Juve’s ambitions would cut the chord with Allegri rather than experience a prolonged nightmare like Milan. This is a proven winner, Allegri shouldn’t be make any bizarre personnel decisions like he did at Milan in fear of upsetting the proven formula. Allegri is in a completely different situation then Milan. He must produce results, and judging by what he’s already said, he has the right mind-set. Either way, the gradual nose dive that occurred at Milan won’t happen at Juventus.

Detroit Tigers: Why Justin Verlander will be the Tigers’ Key to Reaching the World Series

Thanks to the Detroit Tigers’ recent acquisition of David Price, many pundits and fans alike are earmarking the team for the World Series. However, it won’t be Price, reigning Cy Young winner Max Scherzer or superstar Miguel Cabrera who will be the key to Detroit reaching baseball’s biggest stage. Granted, those players will play their part, but Verlander will be the most important.

David Price gives Detroit five premium starters—himself, Scherzer, Verlander, Anibal Sanchez and Rick Porcello. In the playoffs, teams generally use only four starters and use their fifth starter in relief. This situation falls firmly under the “good problem to have” banner. Regardless, the idea has been floated that Verlander should be the fifth starter and moved to the bullpen.

This would be foolish. Admittedly, Verlander’s numbers are down this year, as they were last season, but he brings it in the playoffs. Last season the former MVP went 13-12 with a 3.46 ERA across 218+ innings and 34 starts. Decent numbers for most pitchers, but for the seemingly super-human Verlander, that was a down year. Despite the pedestrian showings, the Tigers’ ace turned it on for the playoffs. In three postseason starts, he threw 23 innings, allowing one run on ten hits while posting an absurd 31/3 strikeout-to-walk ratio. If you like translating ERAs, you would know that Verlander’s would equate to 0.39 in last year’s playoffs. It’s not just the flashy stats that made Verlander a strong performer for the Tigers last year, he also went deep into games, often protecting a shaky bullpen that ended up being the team’s undoing.

The Tigers’ longest tenured player will not only be important because of his past success in the playoffs, but also because of the teams Detroit will be playing. Verlander dominates the A’s in the playoffs. He eats them for breakfast. He wipes the floor with them. He uses their jerseys as dish rags. Ok, one of those examples isn’t true, but the fact is that Justin Verlander is Oakland’s playoff kryptonite. In the last two years, the Detroit pitcher has made four postseason starts against the Athletics. Here are his results against them.

(* indicates deciding game)

2012 ALDS Game 1- Tigers win 3-1. Verlander: 7 innings pitched, 3 hits, 1 earned run, 4 walks, 11 strikeouts.

*2012 ALDS Game 5- Tigers win 6-0. Verlander: 9 innings pitched, 4 hits, 0 runs, 1 walk, 11 strikeouts.

2013 ALDS Game 2- Oakland wins 1-0. Verlander: 7 innings pitched, 4 hits, 0 runs, 1 walk, 11 strikeouts.

*2013 ALDS Game 5- Tigers win 3-0. Verlander: 8 innings pitched, 2 hits, 0 runs, 1 walk, 10 strikeouts.

Oakland has scored one run off of Verlander in 31 innings. Over that same span, Oakland batters have struck out 43 times compared to a paltry seven walks.

If you’re Brad Ausmus, you want this guy at the top of the rotation for October—if not for Game One, then at the very least Game Two so he can pitch the deciding game should the series get there.

And it’s not just Oakland that Verlander excels against; he owns a 9-2 all-time record against playoff contender Baltimore while also posting dominant numbers against New York and Boston in the last two postseasons. He went at least eight innings in each game, held both teams to a run each and walked a cumulative one batter across both starts.

Despite Justin Verlander’s struggles (by his own high standards) in the last two years, he still brings it in the playoffs. He did it last year, and there’s no reason to think he won’t do it again this year. That, and his overall dominance of Detroit’s biggest rival for the AL crown, Oakland, make him a lock to be the Tigers’ most important player in reaching the World Series.

 

All stats courtesy of http://www.baseball-reference.com/ unless otherwise noted.