There's a consensus top trio this year, and unless you're drafting with a bunch of amateurs, they will all be off the board by the end of Round One.
For my money, you cannot go wrong with any of the three-headed-ace monster.
THE TOP THREE
Shane Bieber, 11Ks in 22 Seconds. https://t.co/f03Q67gGak— Rob Friedman (@Rob Friedman)1565406007.0
Each of these pitchers posted sub-1.00 WHIPs, sub-3.00 ERAs, and over 8 quality starts. Bieber and deGrom vaulted over 100 Ks in the shortened season, and Cole nearly got there with 94. While other pitchers that will go later had similar numbers, these are the guys in the best position to repeat/exceed their performances.
If you are dead set on going for a starter early, or if one happens to fall to you in the back half of the first round, I wouldn't think twice about selecting these workhorses. (As someone who's relied on streaming pitchers after going offense-forward in past drafts, I think building a strong rotation from the jump provides peace of mind for the homestretch and playoff push).
THE REST OF THE TOP TEN
The drop off from the top to the next group is not as steep as many might imagine, especially as pitchers continue to use advanced analytics, such as spin rate, to perfect their games. With the added talk of a deadened baseball, which allows a better grip, I think it's safe to assume a lot of the following dudes will be well worth a pick at their projected draft slots. However, I want to issue a buyer beware for a couple.
The enigmatic Twitter presence had a career year of career years in 2020, earning him a much sought after Cy Young. He parlayed his success into a massive contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers, which pays him $38 million in 2021 and includes player opt outs after each season that could tack on $2 million, if exercised the first season, or $15 million for the second (maybe don't get too used to Bauer in Dodger Blue is all I'm saying).
Don't get me wrong, his only full season in Cincinnati was obviously spectacular. 100 Ks, 1.73 ERA, 0.79 WHIP, and 9 quality starts will get teams to smash their piggy banks. However, this is a guy, who has only two seasons of an under 4.00 ERA. The first was in 2018. How did he follow that up? A hefty 5.09 between his time in Cleveland and Cincy.
The change of scenery is worth mentioning here, as well. The NL Central looked like the dredges of baseball for most of last season. The Cubs were the one team to finish truly over .500, and they fell in the first round to the Miami Marlins, the Cards jumped in and out of quarantine so much that they didn't even play a full season, the Brewers went the way of Christian Yelich (who suffered with no video replay) and the Pirates were officially the league's worst team, posting a mere 19 wins.
Remember these are THE ONLY teams that Bauer pitched against last season, due to COVID rules. Facing even slightly stiffer competition from intra-divisional rivals, like the Padres, and across the league will undoubtedly have an effect and not a positive one. Throw in MLB's vendetta against sticky stuff, and I think it's very possible we see a much more average (by his own standards) season from Bauer.
Trust me, I'm not just picking on Dodgers pitchers here. Buehler possesses the raw skill and tools that most starters would kill for if given the chance. There are really only two red flags going into his fourth season.
First, the Dodgers historically have employed extreme caution about wearing out the young hurler's arm. They tend to ramp him up slowly, and he's never cracked 200 innings over a full regular season. (He and Giolito are the only two in the top ten not to sniff 190).
Now, he's coming off a shortened season in which a record number of pitchers experienced injuries, and he put up a total of only 60 innings. He only had one start go over six innings, which explains his one quality start. Usage alone might be reason enough to go in a different direction in the second round.
The other reason for concern is his paltry output this spring. Take this all with a grain of salt, but he's sporting an 8.10 ERA in his five exhibition starts, and a decreased velo on his fastball is to blame. Normally, he's sitting around 96, as opposed to the 93-94 that he's currently rocking. Do I believe that he'll build up and regain his form at some point? Absolutely.
But how long are you willing to wait for a top pick to find his juice? A month or two might be the difference between making or missing the playoffs.
Walker Buehler, 99mph Fastball Mechanics/Arm Action. https://t.co/ohe2o0KQ9O— Rob Friedman (@Rob Friedman)1506029123.0
VALUE IN THE 11 TO 20 RANGE
These five guys will almost definitely fall into the fourth and fifth rounds, giving you an opportunity to bolster your rotation without breaking the bank. We run the gamut from established number ones to aging wunderkinds to a Cy Young-winner and World Series stand-out to a bevy of ascending aces.
These are pitchers that will offer a little more volatility than their higher-ranked brethren for a variety of reasons that range from age to injury to stuff not matching production:
After winning the Cy Young, Blake Snell dealt with "loose bodies" in his left shoulder that required surgery in 2019 and had some lingering soreness in 2020 that led to a decrease in innings and productivity. However, his effectiveness down the stretch this past season and into the playoffs is noteworthy, especially his sterling Game 6 start against the Dodgers coupled with his early hook that may have spelled the end of his time in Tampa.
His trade to the Padres represented the first of many dominoes to fall in San Diego's direction, and it appears as if it will pay big dividends for them. Snell had a clean bill of health coming into Spring Training, and the results reflect that with no earned runs to his name and a 0.75 WHIP over nine and a third innings pitched.
Sure, those stats are all meaningless until they aren't, but seeing Snell looking healthy and dangerous could mean a full-on return to form for the former top pitcher in the AL.
Blake Snell of the San Diego Padres. 🦖 https://t.co/tMXqEtMIlq— Rob Friedman (@Rob Friedman)1614802490.0
Early in his career, Lance Lynn was a consistent third or fourth starter, who predominantly threw sinkerballs to induce soft contact and groundouts. It led to a success at the major league level that's impressive but hardly enviable. The glory in being a dependable guy that manufactures outs is almost always twinged as a little backhanded.
It came to a head when before the 2018 season; he was a free agent that had to wait until camp to get an offer. That's when two things changed that put him on an entirely different trajectory. First, he began to pitch from the 3rd base side of the rubber, which allowed him to drive harder through his lower body and generate more power behind his pitches. Second, he returned to a pitch that he abandoned as a member of the Cardinals organization: the four seamer.
These two tweaks have taken him from free agency afterthought to trade chip for a team with championship aspirations. Over his last two seasons in Texas, he has proven to be a different "D" word: Dominant. He's led the league in innings pitched, tied for first in starts with Aaron Nola, and tied for fifth in strikeouts with Max Scherzer. That's the kind of company Lynn deserves to mentioned in and drafted amongst. He'll be, dare I say, a pitcher to depend on.
Lance Lynn, Filthy 87mph Slider...and Sword. ⚔️ h/t @ChrisHalicke https://t.co/IWTFmDsYD0— Rob Friedman (@Rob Friedman)1598744260.0
The Phoenix Suns are just a win away from sending LeBron James home in the first round of the playoffs for the first time in the King's illustrious career.
After stating that "These shoulders were built for a reason," James referring to facing the challenge of taking on added responsibilities after Anthony Davis was ruled out for Game 5, the Lakers and LeBron disappointed in a big way Tuesday night. L.A. started off hot jumping out to a 10-5 lead behind a couple shots from James and a three from Davis' replacement Markieff Morris. But it didn't take long for the wheels to completely fall off for the defending champion Lakers as they spent most of the first half trying to remember how basketball works.
LeBron looking on during Game 5Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Two numbers stick out in the Game 5 loss for the Lakers and those are 34.5 and 12. Los Angeles shot 34.5% from the field on Tuesday night and were minus 12 in turnover ratio. No matter who's on your team, if you can't shoot and you can't protect the ball, the outcome is already determined.
The Suns weren't simply beneficiaries of a poor performance however as the Suns put it on the Lakers early and often and they never let their foot off the pedal for 48 minutes. Phoenix ended with 15 more assists, had seven more combined steals and blocks, and outscored L.A. in the paint by 12 points. Devin Booker and Cameron Payne were spectacular and they seemed to hit big shots every time the Lakers appeared to threaten a comeback. Mikal Bridges was effective on both sides of the ball adding three steals and two blocks to help electrify his team with the defensive effort.
🗣 DEVIN BOOKER— Phoenix Suns (@Phoenix Suns)1622601795.0
The idea of effort is something that was lacking on the purple and gold side last night though. It didn't take long after Booker started hitting everything that the Lakers team started playing sloppy and launching up bad threes in a failed attempt to not let the game get out of hand. Well it did.
The two teams were among the best defensive teams in league this season, the Suns finished seventh in overall team defensive rating and the Lakers first. The Lakers typically like to use their defensive prowess to control pace and work in the half court with their combination of speed on the wings and their combination of big men down low that includes Andre Drummond, Marc Gasol, Anthony Davis (when healthy), and former Sixth-Man of the Year winner Montrezl Harrell. Incase you forgot Harrell does in fact still play for the Lakers, but before last night if you blinked for too long you would've missed him on the court.
WHY ISN’T MONTREZL HARRELL GETTING PLAYING TIME?????@MONSTATREZZ #FreeMontrezl https://t.co/j55u9zg9kN— NBALakersReport (@NBALakersReport)1622603465.0
For some unknown reason Trez has been an afterthought in Frank Vogel's rotations, not only in this series, but throughout parts of the regular season. With AD being ruled out for Game 5, it would've been logical to think that we'd see an uptick in minutes for the high energy reserve, and we did. But not until the game was far out of hand in the second half. While the Suns were building a 30 point lead we saw Phoenix's guards cooking the slower big men of the Lakers off pick and rolls.
30 points is the largest lead at half in Suns playoff history. 🔥🔥🔥 https://t.co/UoozhMf6Io— Phoenix Suns (@Phoenix Suns)1622604230.0
It's understandable to want some size to limit Deandre Ayton, but when it's Booker, Payne, and Bridges hurting you offensively why not see how a quicker and more agile defender like Harrell might fare slowing down the pick and rolls? We saw Jae Crowder having success doing that on the other side for the Suns all night!
It's not fair to just talk about how bad the Lakers were, in fairness it looked like they were getting open looks and were just collectively having an unlucky shooting night. Maybe they all got it out of their system now? But the Suns would have beat anyone on that home court last night. Let's give all credit to them by playing one of the best games ever seen against a LeBron James-led playoff team. Devin Booker is an absolute star and this team plays with a very focused chip on their shoulder which has been manicured by Chris Paul. His leadership has made ALL the difference for this Phoenix team and it can be seen most on the defensive side of the ball. The Suns players have adopted Paul's attitude and intensity on that end and it all paid off last night.
We've seen LeBron actively frustrated during playoff games on the court, and last night is one of the most cringe-worthy to have seen. James spent way too much time talking to officials about calls, and not just between whistles. It would be interesting to know how many possessions the Lakers played four on five because James never made it back on defense before the Suns put more points on them. LeBron was seen leaving the court with about five minutes left in the fourth quarter, and sure it could be to start receiving treatment on the injured ankle. But we know the real reason he left. We can only hope he didn't punch anything on the way to the locker room.
While the teams will travel back to L.A. for Game 6, the Lakers know they are in a must-win situation. We saw the rest of the team around LeBron scrambling because they felt the pressure. James was the only Laker in the second half that kept the team functioning. When we've seen a visibly dejected James like we did last night, it's been because he knew his team didn't have it. I don't think that's the case with this Lakers team.
There's plenty of talent on the roster even without Anthony Davis. Maybe Game 6 is when we get to see Harrell getting some meaningful minutes. Maybe Vogel can devise a way to get Andre Drummond more involved offensively. Maybe AD plays and isn't slowed by the groin injury. Or maybe you should've listened to us back in January when we told you the Suns were a pretty good basketball team.
The NFL's all-time leader in receiving yardage per game is looking for a new home.
Five time all-pro, Julio Jones, stated on FS1's Undisputed earlier this week that he was "out" of Atlanta and that his only focus on where he wants to play next year includes winning. This corroborates with reports back in April as Ian Rapoport indicated the Falcons were receiving calls for their star receiver prior to the NFL Draft.
It's no surprise that Jones wants out considering the Falcons have only made the playoffs once since their Super Bowl appearance in 2016. Jones is 32 now and coming off a season where nagging injuries kept him off the field for all but nine games in 2020. In those games Jones caught 51 balls for 771 yards while adding three touchdowns. Having only reached double-digit touchdowns once in his career in 2012, the volume and yardage have always been Julio's strengths. A lack of availability would certainly hurt his chances to be a major contributor for any title-contender.
According to SportsLine, the teams with the best odds to land Jones are as follows as of May 28, 2021.
- Patriots +200
- 49ers +300
- Titans +400
- Raiders +600
- Ravens +700
- Chargers +900
- Colts +1000
- Packers +1200
- Dolphins +1400
- Jaguars +1500
- Cowboys +2000
The theoretical talk about where Julio will go has been fun. But as we approach June 1 the situation is going to get real, and most experts believe we'll see a trade sooner than later. If it weren't for the fact that Atlanta is in such a bad salary cap situation, the organization and GM Terry Fontenot, may have tried to salvage the relationship as we're seeing the Packers attempting to do with Aaron Rodgers. But as it stands Atlanta isn't going to be able to sign their own draft class to contracts as they only have around $340K in available cap.
The Atlanta Falcons have discussed several trade offers for Julio Jones, including an offer for a future first roun… https://t.co/wkaP9RPs2O— Dianna Russini (@Dianna Russini)1622122213.0
By trading Jones after June 1 the Falcons will only take on a dead cap hit of $7.75 million, saving them $15.3 million if dealt before that date. The Patriots (+200) have jumped up the oddsmaker's list and are now sitting as the favorites to land Julio. The check all the boxes you would want checked if you're the Falcons front office.
They have a first round pick they can send, which is something the Falcons have made clear is an important piece. They are coming off a season where it doesn't appear giving them Jones in a trade would be enough to push them to winning the Super Bowl. Finally they're in the AFC, and teams rarely like to trade stars within their own conference.
When Atlanta says no to Julio Jones for N’Keal Harry and two 6th round picks https://t.co/EAN8caa731— Boston Diehards (@Boston Diehards)1621973206.0
The Patriots are in pseudo-rebuild mode. They're doing a lot of things to set a new foundation for the future (Mac Jones) but have aggressively spent money in free agency this offseason and bringing back Cam Newton means that Bill Belichick saw enough that he liked to run it back. Bringing in Julio to line up outside with Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry in double tight end sets allows the Pats to continue to let Cam take off on designed run calls. Now that I'm thinking this out, maybe trading Julio to the Patriots does make them a Super Bowl contender.
Another great landing spot for Jones would be in San Fran and they have the second best odds (+300) to do so. The selection of Trey Lance indicates the team is ready to move on from Jimmy Garoppolo and they can save $25 million by simply cutting him after June 1. That would mean it would be very easy for them to take on Jones' salary, but the question is whether the Falcons would want to send their disgruntled star to an NFC power house.
Give Julio Jones back to Kyle Shanahan https://t.co/6DWAchs1SZ— PFF (@PFF)1621954860.0
Although the Ravens (+700) aren't one of the favorites to trade for Julio, they should be making calls to Atlanta. Baltimore drafted Rashod Bateman and Tylan Wallace in the draft to help bolster the group and Sammy Watkins signed with the team in the offseason. Hollywood Brown is an okay B-level Tyreek Hill.
But the team is going to have to pay Lamar Jackson and their championship window on his rookie deal runs out after this season. The fifth year option has already been exercised and while that means that Lamar will still be a Raven in 2022, the $1.8 million cap hit in 2021 jumps to just over $23 million next year. That makes the Ravens cap situation for bringing in Jones murky taking into consideration Lamar's contract increase.
The last team that is just fun to consider before that June date is if the Packers front office actually did something good, and figured out a way to get Julio Jones to Green Bay (+1,200). Now this situation is not only highly unlikely, it's virtually impossible. GM Brian Gutekunst has put the team in a very unfavorable cap situation for next season, and they only boast around $5 million in available cap now while still needing to sign draft picks.
But it's about the only way I see Aaron Rodgers willingly playing football for the Packers next season. It would be pretty tough to walk away from a duo of Davante Adams and Julio Jones, even though it may mean they would be losing an important defensive piece or Aaron Jones in an attempt to match up contracts in a potential deal with Atlanta.
The image of Julio donning the Falcons helmet with the jet black visor will always be the way I'll remember him, but it's apparent that it won't be how we'll see him ending his career. We should have a better idea of who the serious bidders are for the receiver's services by mid next week.
The play-ins have been a short, but wild rollercoaster and the playoffs are getting ready to set off.
The seeds are finally set, and the first-round matchups are 76ers(1) vs Wizards(8), Nets(2) vs Celtics(7), Bucks(3) vs Heat(6), and Knicks(4) vs Hawks(5).
Today’s #NBAPlayoffs schedule 📺 ▪️ MIA/MIL: 2020 Eastern Conference Semifinals rematch ▪️ DAL/LAC: 2nd consecutiv… https://t.co/VBl9jKJOJF— NBA (@NBA)1621693800.0
76ers vs Wizards:
The Russell Westbrook-Joel Embiid rivalry will continue during this year's playoffs and fans cannot wait. The Wizards finished the season with a 16-6 record, and after a lackluster start this season, they have made themselves a dangerous 8th seed. While the 76ers didn't finish the season hot, I'm sure with a team-full of veterans, rest was more of a priority. The 76ers beat the Wizards three times during the season, but two of those games were very close and came early in the season.
The Wizards can definitely make this series a challenging one for the 76ers. The Wizards have shooters all around with Bradley Beal, Davis Bertans. But the 76ers have a much deeper team with guys like Danny Green, Seth Curry, and Dwight Howard providing good veteran leadership. The Wizards are riding on the health of Bradley Beal, who has dealt with hamstring tightness in the past two weeks.
Nets vs Celtics:
The Nets finally seem to be healthy just in time for the playoffs, which is dangerous for Boston. Although the Nets big three only played eight games together, the Nets still finished with a 48-24. The Nets also have a great mix of reliable veterans like Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, Jeff Green, and Joe Harris. These two teams meet three times during the regular season with Brooklyn taking all three games.
The Celtics have not lived up to expectations this year. After making a conference finals last year, it was expected to carry through the regular season, but they never found their stride. Jaylen Brown will continue to be sidelined with a broken wrist, so most of the load will be carried by Jayson Tatum and Kemba Walker. I see this series being an easy one for the Nets.
Jaw-dropping handles, unlimited scoring ability and incredible playmaking… Kyrie Irving. #ThatsGame Kyrie and th… https://t.co/Oxb2hKv6OL— NBA (@NBA)1621697400.0
Bucks vs Heat:
A rematch of the heated second-round matchup last year, where the Heat upset Milwaukee, who had Giannis dealing with injuries. Interestingly enough, both of these come to the playoffs on the right side with an 8-2 record in their last 10 regular-season games. Giannis is back with more weapons on his sides like Jrue Holiday, PJ Tucker, and Jeff Teague, while also keeping their core from last year. Giannis had had another MVP-type season averaging 28 points and 11 rebounds.
The Miami Heat started the season off slow, probably because of the NBA finals hangover, but got hot after the all-star break. Miami also acquired many new weapons like Trevor Ariza and Dewayne Dedmon. The Jimmy Butler-Giannis Antetokounmpo matchup will be the most important aspect of this series.
Knicks vs Hawks
After what seems like a lifetime drought, the Knicks are finally back in the playoffs! We can all agree that when the Knicks are good, the league is in better spirits. Tom Thibodeau has turned this team around, and you can't forget about how Julius Randle has been playing this season. Possibly the most improved player, Julius Randle has proved all his doubters wrong and has taken the keys to this Knicks franchise. The Knicks have great veteran leadership with guys like Derrick Rose, and Taj Gibson who are familiar with Thibodeau. They also have great young talent with guys like RJ Barret, and Obi Toppin.
The Hawks on the other hand have turned it around since firing Lloyd Pierce and having Nate McMillan made this team do a complete 180. Trae Young and John Collins are one of the best duos in the league. With guys like Lou Williams, Danilo Gallinari, and Bogdan Bogdanovic who can get hot at any point of the game. This series can definitely go to 7 games, with last-second shots determining the outcome.