Articles By Rich Mcvey
by Matt Taliaferro
1. Tony Stewart Stewart and crew chief Steve Addington already have scored two wins this season — and in only five races. Hey, wins count above all else here.
2. Greg Biffle The points leader’s only misstep — and it was a only a small hiccup at that — was a 13th at Bristol. He’s been sixth or better in the other four events.
3. Kevin Harvick Happy and his retooled No. 29 team have been nearly as good as Biffle. Their worst performance thus far are a pair of 11th-place runs. Otherwise, they’re seventh or better every week.
4. Jimmie Johnson Things couldn’t look better for Johnson and Team 48. Not only have all suspensions and point penalties been rescinded, but they’re rolling through top 10s even with blown engines.
5. Matt Kenseth Kenseth is either top 3 by day’s end or forgotten somewhere in the mid-teens. Still, this is one of a handful of teams that can win on any given weekend.
6. Brad Keselowski See: Kenseth, Matt. The only thing that kept either from a top-10 result at Auto Club Speedway was pit road penalties and a rain-shortened event.
7. Carl Edwards Edwards and the No. 99 gang have two fifth-place runs in the last three weeks. Inexplicably, though, this group has yet to lead a single lap all season. That needs to change.
8. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Yes, Earnhardt is still mired in a winless skid that dates back to 2008, but top-15 finishes in every race this season — including second- and third-place runs — find him trending in the right direction.
9. Clint Bowyer Bowyer’s solid start with the surprising Michael Waltrip Racing operation shows an average finish of 12.8 with sixth- (Vegas) and fourth-place (Bristol) runs highlighting the early spring.
by Jay Pennell
As the hours tick down to enter Athlon's Bracket Breakdown game, we decided to give you a peek into the minds of players who've already set their brackets.
We crunched the numbers from thousands of entries to give you a look of how people are picking. Here are the results.
MOST COMMON FINAL FOUR CHOICES
1. Kentucky, Michigan State, Ohio State and North Carolina
2. Kentucky, Missouri, Ohio State and North Carolina
3. Kentucky, Michigan State, Syracuse and North Carolina
4. Kentucky, Missouri, Syracuse and North Carolina
5. Kentucky, Missouri, Florida State and North Carolina
MOST COMMON NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP MATCH-UPS
1. Kentucky and North Carolina
2. Kentucky and Kansas
3. Kentucky and Syracuse
4. Kentucky and Ohio State
5. Michigan St. and North Carolina
MOST COMMON NATIONAL CHAMPION PICKS
2. North Carolina
3. Michigan State
MOST POPULAR UPSET PICKS
1. Wichita State over VCU
2. Long Beach State over New Mexico
3. Harvard over Vanderbilt
4. California over Temple
MOST COMMON LOW SEED TO WIN THE NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP PICKS
1. Texas (11 seed)
2. Colorado (11 seed)
3. Purdue (10 seed)
4. California (12 seed)
5. Ohio (13 seed)
The idea is simple: take a group of seasoned sports experts (we're talking about us, by the way) and pit our knowledge of college basketball against some of the greatest prognosticators known to man. See how Athlon Sports editors stack up against a psychic, a Magic 8 Ball, a quarter, and a pooping chicken in predicting the NCAA Tournament's Elite 8, and ultimate National Champion.
Magic 8 Ball
Methodology: We named the top seed in each match-up and then asked the Magic 8 Ball if they'd win. Near the end, we named one team in the match-up and asked if they'd win. Of course, we cursed and shook the 8 Ball violently every time it told us to "Concentrate and ask again." Thoughts on the picks? Shockingly, they're not too bad.
Methodology: We called a psychic hotline and spoke with Nancy, who said she was a "certified psychic." And yes, we laughed when she said it. After several minutes of her telling us she didn't know anything about basketball, we told her to "put up or shut up" on her psychic abilities and start picking some teams. Upon further reflection, we probably should have told her the names of some teams. Thoughts on the picks? We love that she kept saying Kansas over and over, but then picked the Seahawks to win it all.
Methodology: Uh, we know someone with a chicken. We had the chicken poop on the winning team's college logos. Surprisingly, it didn't take long. Apparently, chickens poop a lot. Thoughts on the picks? They seem like a longshot. But if they turn out right, we're buying this chicken and moving to Vegas.
Methodology: Basically, the top seed was heads, the other was tails. Near the end, we just named one team in the match-up and said "heads they win, tails they lose." We flipped until there was a winner.
So you've been pulled into your office's NCAA Tournament bracket picks game and you have no clue which teams to choose. Athlon Sports is here to help. We put together these handy cheat sheets of bracket picks—starting with the Sweet 16 on down—from three of our college basketball experts. Each editor has their own bracket picks, so you can choose one or use the cumulative knowledge of each to create your own unique picks. Either way, it will likely save you the office humilation of picking Norfolk State to win it all.
Mitch Light's Picks
Braden Gall's Picks
Nathan Rush's Picks
Think you've got what it takes to make the right picks in the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament? If so, Athlon has the game for you. No drafts. No rosters. No trades. Simply pick the winners of each game and start earning points. Everything you need to help with your decision is right at your fingertips, including the Athlon Sports StatCast™ - which gives you real-time statistical data on team matchups and who the rest of your competition is picking. PLAY NOW!
by David Fox (@DavidFox615 on twitter)
An unfortunate fact for college basketball is that many fans are just getting acquainted with the sport around tournament time.
Athlon Sports won’t judge.
For those about to get a heavy dose of college hoops over the next three weeks, we’ll help you get caught up. We broke down the NCAA Tournament field A to Z, highlighting some key teams, coaches, players, statistics and trends to watch.
It’s an exhaustive list, so some hardcore college basketball aficionados may learn a thing or two as well.
Alaska. With South Dakota State making the field by way of the Summit League’s automatic bid, Alaska and Maine are the only states never to have a team in the NCAA Tournament. The Dakotas were two of the last three states in the Lower 48 to join the field with North Dakota State earning a bid in 2009. The wait for Alaska to join March Madness may be a while, though. Alaska does not have any Division I basketball teams.
Burgess, Bradford. A year after advancing from the First Four to the Final Four, VCU won’t catch anyone off guard. Neither will its prolific wing Burgess. A year ago, Burgess averaged 15.7 points and 7 rebounds during the Final Four run. Like the rest of the Rams, Burgess got hot from 3 on the way to the national semifinal, hitting 17 from beyond the arc in six games. He’s one of two starters back to defend the Final Four along with center D.J. Haley.
Charity stripe. Any Memphis fan can stress the importance of free throw shooting in the NCAA Tournament. The Tigers that year were one of the worst teams from the line in the country in 2008, a deficiency that bit Memphis in the finals seconds against eventual national champion Kansas. Be nervous watching these teams from the free-throw line: Cincinnati (64.1), Kansas State (66.6), Connecticut (66.1). On the other hand, teams to like at the free-throw line: Missouri (76.5 percent), Indiana (76.2), Wichita State (75.1), Baylor (75.1) and Harvard (74.6). As for John Calipari’s current team, Kentucky led the SEC by shooting 72 percent from the line.
Defense. Be cautious of teams vulnerable on defense in the NCAA Tournament. Some teams that worry us include: Creighton (101.8 points allowed per 100 possessions according to kenpom.com, 183rd nationally), Davidson (98.7 points), Florida (98.3 points) and Saint Mary’s (97.4 points).
Eustachy, Larry. The return of Larry Eustachy to the NCAA Tournament is one of the major redemption stories for the coach and his program. He left Iowa State in disgrace in 2001 after he was photographed with beer in his hand among students at a campus party in Columbia, Mo. The AP National Coach of the Year admitted he had problem with alcohol and set out to solve it. He landed at Southern Miss in 2004 and rebuilt the program for its first Tournament appearance since 1991.
Fathers. Where would Creighton and Detroit be without good genes? Both teams’ star players – Doug McDermott at Creighton and Ray McCallum at Detroit – happen to be the sons of their head coaches. Both took different routes to play with their fathers. Greg McDermott, then the struggling head coach at Iowa State, didn’t think Doug had the size to flourish in the Big 12. The McDermotts reunited in the Missouri Valley where Doug became the league player of the year. Elsewhere, Ray McCallum Jr. could have played just about anywhere but he ended up in the Horizon League. The son spurned Arizona, Florida and UCLA to play for his father Ray McCallum Sr. at Detroit.
Green, Draymond. Few players in the country are as NCAA Tournament-tested as Michigan State forward Draymond Green. He came off the bench for the Spartans’ Final Four runs in 2009 and 2010 and had his best career tournament game in his only start last season with 23 points and 11 rebounds in a round of 64 loss to UCLA. In 12 NCAA Tournament games, Green has averaged 9.8 points and 6.3 rebounds. Look for him to exceed those averages as the centerpiece for the Spartans this season.
Harvard. Between Jeremy Lin and Ryan Fitzpatrick, Harvard has had a couple of opportunities to brag about its alums in the sports world. Finally, the Crimson can brag about current players in the NCAA Tournament. After falling short in a one-game playoff with Princeton for the Ivy League title last season, Harvard avoided such drama this season by winning the Ivy and earning its first NCAA Tournament since 1946.
Injuries. A handful of injuries could dampen teams’ hopes in the Tournament. Start with a torn ACL for Indiana point guard Verdell Jones. North Carolina also will be concerned with a wrist injury for ACC defensive player of the year John Henson. Injuries to Michigan State’s Branden Dawson, Duke’s Ryan Kelly and Florida’s Will Yeguete will put pressure on role players for each team.
Jayhawks. Kansas continued the longest active streak for NCAA Tournament appearances at 23 straight years in the field. Since losing to Bucknell and Bradley in the first round in back-to-back years, Kansas has won at least one game in the last five Tournaments, including the 2008 national championship. Mid-majors, though, still seem to have a hex on Kansas as the Jayhawks lost to VCU in the Elite Eight last season and Northern Iowa in the second round in 2010.
Kentucky. The Wildcats enter the tournament as the prohibitive favorite after losing only a buzzer-beater to Indiana on Dec. 10 and Vanderbilt this past weekend. Kentucky reached the Elite Eight in the first season under Calipari and the Final Four in the second season. Big Blue Nation is expecting the next step with good reason: Kentucky is stocked with future NBA talent, and it might have the best player in the country in Anthony Davis. Still, youth is a concern with freshmen and sophomores making up six of its top seven players. Kentucky won’t out-shoot many teams from 3-point range, either.
Lopsided losses. North Carolina is on the short list of teams capable of winning the national title, but the Tar Heels still have the 33-point loss to Florida State from Jan. 14 on their resume. Here are the worst losses for other top title contenders: Kentucky (by 7 points to Vanderbilt), Syracuse (9 points at Notre Dame), Kansas (10 points to Kentucky in Maui), Michigan State (15 points at Indiana), Ohio State (11 points to Kansas), Duke (22 points at Ohio State), Missouri (16 points at Kansas State).
Majerus, Rick. This season will mark the return of Saint Louis to the NCAA Tournament. The Billikens have been absent since 2000 under now-Washington coach Lorenzo Romar. This is also a return to the Tournament for Rick Majerus, who last coached in the Big Dance with Utah in 2003. The coach who led the Utes to the national championship game in 1998 left Utah citing health reasons partway through the 2003-04 season. After working with ESPN, he took the USC job for four days before leaving the Trojans due to health concerns.
New Orleans. The Final Four returns to New Orleans for the fifth time in the last 30 years, a fact a handful of top teams hope brings good mojo. North Carolina won the title twice here in 1982 and 1993. Carmelo Anthony led Syracuse to a championship in the Superdome in 2003. The Orange also played for a title in New Orleans in 1987 when they lost to Indiana. Kansas has reached the Final Four twice in New Orleans (2003, 1993). Kentucky has done it once (1993).
Orange. Syracuse first fought through the Bernie Fine scandal to start the season. Then came the Yahoo! Sports story that indicated Syracuse since 2001 played at least 10 players who failed tests for banned substances. Distractions don’t seem to be a problem for this group, though. If there’s another potential distraction to add: Since the 2003 championship, Syracuse has been eliminated by lower seeds in four of its last six appearances, including to sixth-seeded Marquette in the round of 32 last year.
Patsos, Jimmy. The NCAA Tournament is a great vehicle for drama and nail-biting, but it’s also a great vehicle to introduce basketball’s most interesting personalities to the mainstream. Loyola (Md.) coach Jimmy Patsos will be one of those this season. He picked up part-time work as a bartender while coaching under Gary Williams at Maryland, he loves the Grateful Dead, and he’ll talk and talk and talk. He can coach a bit, too. Loyola went 29-140 from 1999-2000 through 2004-05, his first season. This year, Loyola won 24 games and won the MAAC tournament for the Greyhounds’ first NCAA bid since 1994.
Quincys. Pierre Jackson is Baylor’s leading scorer, and Perry Jones is Baylor’s biggest star. That said, Baylor wouldn’t be the contender it is without its Quincys, particularly Quincy Acy. The forward is Baylor’s heart and motivator on the floor. The freshman Quincy Miller is far from a finished product, but he’s valuable contributor.
Rants. Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin and Lamar coach Pat Knight weren’t shy in delivering blunt assessments of their teams in front of the cameras. They must have been just as effective in the locker room. Cincinnati’s brawl with rival Xavier was one of the low points of the season, but the Bearcats turned around their season after Cronin clearly expressed his embarrassment after the incident. The Bearcats lost that day, in addition to losing to Presbyterian and Marshall weeks earlier. Cincinnati went 19-7 and reached the Big East tournament final after the brawl. After a Feb. 22 loss to Stephen F. Austin, Knight evicerated his seniors. Lamar went 6-0 since, winning the Southland tournament for the school’s first Tournament bid since 2000.
St. Bonaventure. The NCAA slapped the Bonnies with the “lack of institutional control” in 2004, setting up a major reclamation project for coach Mark Schmidt. By defeating Xavier for the Atlantic 10 tournament final, St. Bonaventure earned its first NCAA Tournament bid since 2000 and knocked a bubble team out of the field. The country now will get to know senior Andrew Nicholson, one of the nation’s best-kept secrets. Against Xavier, Nicholson had one of the best games of his career with 26 points, 14 rebounds and eight blocks.
Tigers. Missouri hasn’t made the most NCAA Tournament appearances without a trip to the Final Four. That distinction belongs to BYU with 27 Tournaments without a Final Four. Missouri is right behind with 25 appearances without reaching the national semifinals. Led by Jimmer Fredette, BYU had one of its best shots last season before falling in the Sweet 16 to Florida. Missouri is in perhaps its best position to end that drought this year with its best seeding since being a No. 1 seed in 1994 (the Tigers lost to Arizona 92-72 in the Elite Eight that season).
USF. The Bulls may be a shining beacon to the likes of UCF, SMU and others, moribund basketball powers who will soon join a basketball-centric conference. The Bulls went 1-15 in their first season in the Big East before navigating a weaker Big East schedule this year to reach its first NCAA Tournament since 1992.
Valleys. As in the Missouri Valley and Ohio Valley conferences. Since 2008, the MVC’s only tournament wins were Northern Iowa’s run to the Sweet 16 in 2010. Could the Valley make another major statement in this tournament? History says it could be. When the Missouri Valley is a multi-bid league, as it is this season with Wichita State and Creighton in the field, it tends to succeed. In 2007, Southern Illinois reached the Sweet 16 when the MVC was a two-bid league. In 2006, the MVC had four bids with Bradley and Wichita State advancing to the Sweet 16. Meanwhile, the Ohio Valley, a traditional one-bid league, has scored upsets in the last two tournaments with Morehead State upsetting fourth-seeded Louisville in 2011 and Murray State upsetting fourth-seeded Vanderbilt in 2010. This year, the OVC will be favored in its first tournament game with 30-1 Murray State in the field.
Western Kentucky. Western Kentucky was one of the most unlikely teams to clinch a spot in the field when the Hilltoppers won the Sun Belt tournament. Western Kentucky was 5-11 when it fired head coach Ken McDonald on Jan. 6. Then-interim coach Ray Harper went 4-7 before the Hilltoppers elevated him to permanent head coach on Jan. 19 after a loss to South Alabama. That loss was the last under Harper. Western Kentucky won its final six games, including the regular-season finale against Sun Belt champ Middle Tennessee and the conference tournament. At 15-18, Western Kentucky is the only team in the field with a losing record.
Xavier Thames. San Diego State’s third leading scorer, Thames started his career at Washington State. He’s one of a handful of transfers who could make an impact on this year’s field: Mike Moser (UCLA to UNLV), Drew Gordon (UCLA to New Mexico), Matt Carlino (UCLA to BYU), Rob Jones (San Diego to Saint Mary’s), Brandon Wood (Valparaiso to Michigan State), Chris Allen (Michigan State to Iowa State).
Yarou, Mouphtaou. We’ll use this spot – and the name of the Villanova forward – to note two major absences from the NCAA Tournament. The state of Pennsylvania has two teams in the field (Lehigh and Temple), but not Pittsburgh and Villanova. Pitt had made 10 consecutive tournaments, and Villanova made seven. Both were the longest active Tournament streaks in the Big East. That honor now falls to Marquette with seven consecutive trips to the Tournament.
Zellers. Expect a handful of sick days back in Washington, Ind., with hometown favorites Tyler and Cody Zeller playing a major role in the Tournament. Tyler anchors the frontcourt of a team with title hopes in North Carolina. If that could be upstaged, at least in Indiana, Cody helped pull the Hoosiers out of the cellar with their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2008.
—by David Fox (@DavidFox615 on twitter)
CHECK OUT ALL OUR NCAA TOURNAMENT PREVIEWS
The NCAA Men's Basketball Championship field of 68 is out and the brackets are revealed. Kentucky, who lost to Vanderbilt in the SEC Championship game earlier today, stands as the No. 1 overall seed.
Here are the top four teams in each region:
South: Kentucky, Duke, Baylor, Indiana
East: Syracuse, Ohio State, Florida State, Wisconsin
West: Michigan State, Missouri, Marquette, Louisville
Midwest: North Carolina, Kansas, Georgetown, Michigan
CLICK IMAGE BELOW TO ENLARGE THE NCAA BRACKET 2012
One of the most intriguing coaching positions in college basketball became available when Illinois dismissed Bruce Weber on Friday morning after nine seasons in Champaign. Some consider Illinois one of the elite jobs in the sport. The school has a strong history of success and is located near the hoops hotbed of Chicago. Others, however, believe this job is overrated. This faction contends that it’s very difficult to win at a high level unless you are willing to swim in murky recruiting waters.
That, however, is a debate for another day.
Right now, let’s take a look at some of the coaches that the school likely will target.
Shaka Smart, head coach, VCU
Smart emerged as a star in the coaching world when he guided VCU to the Final Four last season. This season, the Rams are back in the NCAA Tournament despite losing most of their key contributors from the Final Four team. He has a 38–16 record in the CAA in his three seasons at VCU. Smart, who has plenty of Midwest ties, would be a home run.
Brad Stevens, head coach, Butler
Stevens is perhaps the most respected head coach in the sport not named Mike Krzyzewski. Butler reached to the NCAA Tournament in each of his first four seasons as a head coach, highlighted by back-to-back trips to the national title game. Stevens has made it clear that he is very happy at Butler, but he might have to listen if Illinois came calling.
Chris Collins, associate head coach, Duke
Collins is an Illinois native who starred at Duke in the mid-'90s and has served on Mike Krzyzewski’s staff at his alma mater since 2000. He has no experience as a head coach, and his candidacy might be hurt due to the fact that several of Coach K’s assistants have not enjoyed a high level of success as head coaches.
Anthony Grant, head coach, Alabama
Grant, a former Billy Donovan assistant, has been a head coach for six seasons, three at VCU and three at Alabama. He took VCU to the NCAA Tournament in 2007 (and beat Duke in the first round) and 2009 and is on the verge of taking Bama to the NCAAs for the first time since 2006. Alabama is good job. Illinois is a better job.
Kevin Stallings, head coach, Vanderbilt
Stallings is in his 13th season at Vanderbilt and will have the Commodores in the NCAA Tournament for the fifth time in the past six seasons and the sixth time in nine seasons. Stallings is an Illinois native who played at Purdue and served as the head coach at Illinois State for six seasons. He is happy at Vanderbilt, but could be ready for another challenge.
Chris Mack, head coach, Xavier
Mack has been very successful in his two-plus seasons at Xavier, but he reputation took a hit early this season when his team was involved in a post-game brawl with rival Cincinnati.
Scott Drew, head coach, Baylor
Drew will be taking Baylor to the NCAA Tournament for the third time in the past five seasons. He has done a tremendous job recruiting to Baylor, but isn’t regarded as an elite strategist. He is a native of Valparaiso, Ind.
Buzz Williams, head coach, Marquette
Williams’ name has come up for several Big 12 jobs in recent season, but he has elected to remain at Marquette. He has taken the Golden Eagles to the NCAA Tournament in five straight seasons.
Gregg Marshall, head coach, Wichita State
Marshall has a 303–142 record in 14 seasons as a head coach. He took Winthrop to the NCAA Tournament seven times in nine seasons and will have Wichita State in the field this year (as a high seed) for the first time in his five seasons.-by Mitch Light
Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, aka "Gronk," is throwing his hat into the ring for The Madden NFL 13 Cover in a big way. Gronk recently put together a video of himself "getting jacked at all times, going crazy" in a bid to win votes. BTW, we're loving the retro work out pants worn by his brothers.
The 2012 baseball season is just around the corner. As players gets loosened up at Spring Training, we thought we'd pull from Athlon’s 2012 MLB Preview Magazine to catch you up on some of the top players at each position and help you win your 2012 fantasy baseball league. Today, we look at first basemen, starting with the top tier players and work our way down.
1. Albert Pujols, Angels (A) Let’s say you signed Pujols to a 10-year contract back in 2002. Your fantasy crew would have gleaned 47 BA points, 187 homers, 440 RBIs, 466 runs and even 63 steals more than the median first baseman with 2,000 more plate appearances in that decade. And as for 2012, Angel Stadium plays better for right-handed hitters than Busch. Heck, Albert fractured his wrist last June and still only missed 14 games. Incomparable and indestructible.
2. Miguel Cabrera, Tigers (A) Cabrera is now one of three active players to have won a league title in each of the triple crown categories, joining Pujols and A-Rod. The gap between him and first base preeminence is this: no 40-homer and two 120-RBI seasons to six of each for Albert. Not a bad consolation prize, though.
3. Adrian Gonzalez, Red Sox (A) We jumped Gonzalez 34 spots in our 2011 preseason top 100 after he signed with Boston, and even that played out as a bit conservative. He wound up leading the bigs in AVG on contact to the opposite field (.500) and the AL in opposite-field homers (10) — a Fenway effect that makes him a top-10 roto hitter.
4. Joey Votto, Reds (A) Votto’s power is a tad short of the first base elite, but he’s likely going to hit .025 higher than anybody on the list below him. No player laced line drives at a higher rate (26%) last year, and his .363 AVG with runners in scoring position since 2009 is 25 points higher than anyone else in the majors.
5. Prince Fielder, Free Agent (A) Fielder is so feared that only 38.0% of pitches to him were in the strike zone — lowest among regulars. There’s a good reason for that; only Pujols matches his hits-homers-ribs triumvirate since 2006. If he relocates to a friendly venue, slip him ahead of Votto.
6. Mark Teixeira, Yankees (A) Teixeira’s AVGs have regressed from .308 to .292 to .256 to .248, yet he’s kept his HR sum steady from 33 to 39, and his RBIs between 108 and 122. His BAbips imply there’s no cause for alarm; he should settle in the .280-.285 window.
7. Eric Hosmer, Royals A .357 AVG and .965 OPS in his last 34 games tells us that Hosmer’s the real deal. Just 34 walks all year tells us that he has work to do, but also that there’s tons more upside. We’re actually projecting Hosmer ahead of Teixeira, but the raw numbers must be tempered by the fact that Tex has been doing it eight years longer.
8. Paul Konerko, White Sox (E) With two of his five best seasons occurring at ages 34-35, Konerko has proven to be a durable commodity. He is, however, edging toward DH-dom, and his lineup protection is evaporating.
9. Freddie Freeman, Braves Hosmer’s NL doppelganger…six weeks older, a highly analogous stats overlay and almost indistinguishable promise (although we lean a bit to Eric). No 21-year-old first baseman since Orlando Cepeda in 1959 had as many hits (161) or homers (21).
10. Ryan Howard, Phillies (F) A guaranteed full year of Howard would bounce him into the bottom of the first tier, so this will be the most-watched Achilles since the Trojan War. Whenever he returns (estimates range from Opening Day to June), keep in mind his 2010-11 HR-RBI totals were off an average of 18-31 from 2006-09, and that his five-year AVG is merely .266.
11. Ike Davis, Mets (C,F) Davis was off to a big start before a mysteriously persistent ankle injury wiped him out in May. He purports to be 100% now, but since he declined surgery, there’s some unease. The out-of-sight/out-of-mind effect could make him a bargain at your draft, so you’d have to be out of your mind not to have him in your sights.
12. Justin Morneau, Twins (F) Morneau’s missed roughly half of each of the last two schedules with numerous maladies, but when last seen completely healthy (July 2010), he was playing at an MVP level. His spring training will be a page-turner.
13. Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks (C) The Minor League Player of the Year in some circles and Double-A Hitter of the Year in others, he showed power, patience and poise during his two-plus months in Phoenix. Not enough contact to be a high-average hitter, but he’s a future 30-100 type.
14. Mark Reynolds, Orioles A home run machine (fifth in the majors since 2008) who comes with his usual disclaimer (118th in AVG).
15. Lance Berkman, Cardinals (E) Berkman is a sho-nuff hitter’s hitter whose OPS stands in the all-time top 20. He’s also a 36-year-old injury time bomb who no longer has Pujols hitting in front of him.
Quarterback great Kurt Warner recently popped up in a video poking fun at his desire to return to the game. Kudos to Warner on his acting chops and his sense of humor.
The 2012 baseball season is just around the corner. As players gets loosened up at Spring Training, we thought we'd catch you up on some of the top players at each position to help you win your 2012 fantasy baseball league. Today, we look at catchers, starting with the top tier players and work our way down.
1. Joe Mauer, Twins Although the sickly Mauer may have to play the season in a Hazmat suit, his combination of résumé and career stage makes him the No. 1 choice at this perennially anemic position and a potential “best buy.” Target Field precludes anything resembling his .365-28-96-94 showing of 2009, but even .300-15-80-70 is something no catcher’s done since then.
2. Carlos Santana, Indians Though it’s just his second full season, we’re confident in projecting Santana as the 2012 positional HR and RBI leader. Of his last 90 hits, 47 went for extra bases. The rub is that his average was never above .245 after April 10, but .270 should be doable this time around.
3. Brian McCann, Braves McCann is the safest — if not the highest-ceilinged — pick in the tier, given that only three catchers (Yogi Berra, Mike Piazza, Jorge Posada) have ever exceeded his ongoing six-season run with minimums of 18 homers and 71 RBIs. His other categories are essentially neutral.
4. Mike Napoli, Rangers We were all over Napoli last year (“Thirty homers wouldn’t surprise…” — exactly what he hit), albeit as a projected DH. Now that he’s unambiguously a catcher (with some moonlighting at 1B), he merits a whole new level of fantasy deference. He holds the all-time record at the position with a HR in 6.6% of his ABs, but there are few prospects of anything close to another .320 AVG.
5. Matt Wieters, Orioles Wieters is looking a lot like McCann at this point, although he’s three years behind Brian’s age curve. Doubtful if there’s a ton more upside left, but 2011-type lines (.262-22-68-72) should be the norm for awhile.
6. Miguel Montero, Diamondbacks In the two years (2009, 2011) he’s been the Snakes’ primary catcher, Montero has averaged .288-17-73-63. That’s good stuff, but his injury proclivity casts a shadow.
7. Buster Posey, Giants (F) As he’s yet to play a full season, what we’ve seen from Posey to date is nothing more than a few bona fide hot streaks. Clearly he can be a special player, but, like Mauer, he’s emasculated by his ballpark (.697 career OPS at home, .915 elsewhere).
8. Alex Avila, Tigers Avila can hit, but whether he can hit .295-19-82-63 again is dubious. The AL’s third-highest batting average on balls in play (BAbip) at .366 suggests that many of the holes he found were providential.
9. Wilson Ramos, Nationals (B) Ramos pinged .227 in a May-through-August malaise, but he bracketed that with .358 in both April and September. One of our sleeper specials last year at 23, he’ll round out those edges and edge into 20-jack territory very soon.
10. Jesus Montero, Mariners Montero is this year’s Santana, but with all the breathless expectations and hold-your-breath uncertainties of being four years younger. His .996 OPS was the fifth-highest ever at his plate appearance level (69) by a 21-year-old in his first season. But will he follow in the footsteps of three of those ahead of him (Willie McCovey, Ted Williams, Albert Pujols) — or the fourth (Daric Barton)?
11. J.P. Arencibia, Blue Jays Arencibia is all about how you weigh 25 homers and 75 RBIs against 350 outs. Matt Nokes and Piazza are the only rookies ever to have hit more bombs, all as a catcher. Then again, only Adam Dunn and Vernon Wells had a lower 2011 AVG (.219) at his plate appearance level.
12. Yadier Molina, Cardinals (E) Molina obliged the fantasy “age-28 rule” with personal bests of .305-14-65-55, but his prospectus is more aligned to his full-season career norms of .274-8-54-38. A major attraction is that he’s kind of a robo-catcher who, unlike most at the position, is predictably decent.
13. Kurt Suzuki, Athletics Batted .276 in 2008-09, then .240 in 2010-11. Combined for 86 RBIs in ’08 and ’11, but 159 in ’09-10. See the pattern here? Neither do we. One thing you can count on is that he’ll play — an AL-high 528 games caught in that span.
14. Jonathan Lucroy, Brewers Ran out of gas last year (.188 AVG in his last 34 games), but slightly exceeded expectations. More apt to be serviceable than a star.
15. Geovany Soto, Cubs His seasons can be characterized as huge-poor-good-fair, in that order. Even when he’s got his “Arencibia” on, he has value since McCann and Napoli are the sole catchers to have hit more home runs since 2008.
Other Fantasy Baseball Content:
2012 Fantasy Baseball Rankings: The Big Board
2012 Fantasy Baseball: First Base Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Second Base Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Shortstop Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Third Base Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Outfield Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Catcher Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Starting Pitcher Rankings
2012 MLB Fantasy Closer Grid
2012 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Infield
2012 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Outfield
The rumor mill is working overtime as reports are coming out that Broncos QB Tim Tebow and singer Taylor Swift were spotted having dinner Monday night at an Italian restaurant. The possible pairing has already earned the nickname Swebow. Of course, we kind of like the sound of Taybow.
During Monday's bizarre Juan Pablo Montoya crash that left drivers waiting around for a couple of hours, two drivers kept racing…sort of. Dale Earnhardt Jr and Brad Keselowski both made a mad dash for the Port-o-Potty at the Daytona track. There was some drafting and a little bumping along the way before Earnhardt nudged out Keselowski.
Although Matt Kenseth took home the checkered flag at the Daytona 500 last night, most spectators will be talking about the bizarre crash involving driver Juan Pablo Montoya. The crash took place while under caution when Montoya crashed into a jet dryer filled with about 200 gallons of jet fuel. The collision sparked a massive fire that scorched the track and delayed the race for more than an hour.
UPDATE, MONDAY, 10:20 am: NASCAR President Mike Helton has just announced that the race has again been rescheduled. The green flag is set to drop at 7 pm ET.
The Daytona 500 was scheduled to run Sunday, but scattered Florida showers kept drivers off the track and the guys in the Fox commentary booth scrambling to fill several hours of live TV.
NASCAR has since rescheduled the start time for noon (Eastern) Monday. However, a look at the Daytona forecast makes the likelihood of a noon start time seem unlikely.
Although rain has disrupted the Great American Race in the past, this marks the first time in the 54-year history of the race that is has been postponed to another day.
For historical reference, here's a quick look at previous rain disruptions at the Daytona 500.
1963—First 10 laps run under yellow due to rain.
1965—Rain-shortened -- 133 laps (332.5 miles).
1966—Rain-shortened -- 198 laps (495 miles).
1979—First 16 laps run under yellow due to rain.
1992—Laps 84-89 run under yellow due to rain on backstretch.
1995—Red flag on lap 71 due to rain. Red flag lasted 1:44.
2003—Two red flags for rain. 1st: lap 63; 1:08. Rain-shortened -- 109 laps (272.5 miles).
2009—Rain-shortened -- 152 laps (380 miles).
We're not sure who the Michigan fan is at Google, but we noticed something rather interesting while looking up "Ohio Stadium" on Google Maps. If you search for the Buckeyes home stadium and scroll over it, a notation (albeit for "Columbus Crew Stadium") pops up that offers a not so flattering description.
As the 2012 NASCAR season revs up, we've put together a quick look at this year's Sprint Cup schedule. To get links to tracks, driver bios, and race times, be sure to check out our comprehensive NASCAR 2012 Schedule and our NASCAR Hub, which celebrates 10 years of NASCAR annuals at Athlon Sports.
2012 NASCAR SPRINT CUP SCHEDULE*non-points race
Gary Carter, the Hall of Fame catcher best know for his years with the New York Mets, died on Thursday at the age of 57.
Carter, who was nicknamed The Kid, was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor last May, two weeks after finishing his second season as coach at Palm Beach Atlantic University.
"I am deeply saddened to tell you all that my precious dad went to be with Jesus today at 4:10 p.m. This is the most difficult thing I have ever had to write in my entire life but I wanted you all to know," Carter's daughter, Kimmy Bloemers, wrote on the family website.
"He is in heaven and has reunited with his mom and dad. I believe with all my heart that dad had a STANDING OVATION as he walked through the gates of heaven to be with Jesus," Bloemers wrote.
Nobody said it was easy putting on a dog costume and entertaining thousands of fans. Just ask the Cavs mascot Moondog, who, while trying to work the crowd into a frenzy of drum-beating excitement, took a nasty fall. Of course, his pain is our entertainment. Kids, don't try this at home. Well, unless you have a dog costume.
The always-fabulous Kate Upton is gracing the cover of Sports Illustrated's 2012 Swimsuit Issue. And we love that. But what we love even more is that SI also has a video of Kate Upton during one of her photo shoots. So the question is, why are you still reading this?
Be sure to check out Kate's entire SI Swimsuit gallery.