The Pick Your Cornerstone QB Debate… Sanchez Makes NFL Mark

January 17, 2011

Read the opposing arguments from Optimist Prime and Bleacher Fan.

When considering a quarterback to build an NFL franchise around a lot of names come to mind. Names like Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, and Drew Brees, for example. But today I propose a more subtle and often underrated candidate – Mark Sanchez.

While Sanchez may not seem like the obvious choice, he is no doubt one of the most talented quarterbacks in the NFL. He has quietly turned around a less than stellar New York Jets franchise and has shown flashes of brilliance along the way. He has handled the pressures of playing in the New York market under constant media scrutiny with relative ease. Sanchez rises to the occasion in big game situations, and in all likelihood still hasn’t peaked in terms of his maximum ability. What more could a franchise ask for?

People often forget that Mark Sanchez is young. He is currently wrapping up his sophomore season as a professional but has already accomplished some incredible things. In 2007 – two years before Sanchez’s arrival – the Jets were a 4-12 team. They had virtually nowhere to go but up. The next season the team thought it had lucked into an answer for its quarterback issues in landing Brett Favre, but Favre’s brief tenure in the Big Apple was a band-aid for the Jets problems at best. Under Favre the Jets improved to a 9-7 record, but any progress the team experienced was offset by the transition to a new head coach, and then rookie quarterback in Sanchez in 2009.

Sanchez certainly had big shoes to fill in coming in after #4, but he did so in incredible fashion. In his first year as a pro Mark Sanchez led the Jets to another regular season 9-7 record, and then a deep playoff run that took them within one game of the Super Bowl – and that was as a rookie.

This season Sanchez is right back at it again, and he has dispatched both the Colts and the Patriots in the process. It speaks volumes of his composure and talent that Sanchez can not only hang with, but beat the biggest names in the NFL today – a feat he is not supposed to be able to pull off. He has again taken the Jets to within one win of the Super Bowl, and all that stands in his way is the Pittsburgh Steelers. He has only thrown one interception in the playoffs this season and is getting hot at the right time, as evidenced by his three touchdown performance against the Patriots. That is quite an impressive season for a second year guy, especially considering most players struggle in the midst of the dreaded “sophomore slump.”

Sanchez is still making huge stride, too. He was perfect through the first five games of this season throwing eight touchdowns and zero interceptions. While he began to struggle with turnovers during the second half of the season, critics ignored the fact that he continued to win games. From his rookie to his second season he created statistical gains across the board. During the regular season this year Sanchez passed for his first 3,000 yard season and saw his total passing touchdowns outnumber his interceptions. Those are all the hallmarks of progress, and that is something you want to see in a franchise quarterback.

Another great thing about Sanchez is that he is eager to be molded into a better player. Last season when he was criticized for a reckless and awkward sliding ability that was bound to get him hurt, he responded immediately. Instead of getting defensive and making excuses he addressed the issue head on… or rather feet first, the next time. Sanchez worked with New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi to learn how to slide in a safer, more effective manner. You don’t see that type of humbleness and eagerness in many franchise quarterbacks.

The guy is a great quarterback, and as long as he continues to improve he should see a ring very soon. He’s got the skills and growth a coach wants to see, but most importantly he has the intangibles that make a winner on the biggest stage possible. In a real life fantasy draft, any coach would be lucky to take him first and build a winning program around him.

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The 2009 World Series Pivotal Decision Debate – It Is Better To OVER-Manage Than To UNDER-Manage!

November 5, 2009

Read Sports Geek’s argument and Loyal Homer’s arguments about which was the most pivotal coaching decision of the 2009 World Series.

New York Yankees’ manager Joe Girardi has taken a lot of criticism this year for being a micro-manager in how he led the Yankees through the 2009 season. Look who is laughing now!

In a twist of ironic fate, it was Girardi’s critical analysis, combined with a lack of critical analysis by his World Series counterpart, Philadelphia Phillies manager Charlie Manuel, that ended up winning him his first World Series ring as a manager, and the 27th World Series championship for the Yankees.

At a crucial point in the series, after the Yankees had just taken a 2-1 lead in the series, Girardi decided it was time to play strategy, while Manuel decided to play convention. It was a move with very high risk, but also very high reward!

During Game One of the series, Cliff Lee, the ace in Philadelphia’s pitching rotation, had put on one of the most dominant performances in the history of the World Series. Lee threw a complete game against the very dangerous Yankee offense, giving up only one run on six hits. Lee had done his part for the Phillies, outshining his former teammate, Yankees’ ace C.C. Sabathia. The Yankees responded strongly, though, winning the next two games to take that 2-1 lead in the series.

It was at this point that Girardi saw an opportunity to position his team to win the series. Rather than go with the fourth pitcher in his rotation, he decided to pitch C.C. Sabathia again, on only three days rest. With that move, Girardi was attempting to position his team to take a 3-1 lead in the series, which would be extremely difficult to overcome. How did Charlie Manuel respond? He stuck with a conventional rotation.

Instead of putting his best pitcher, Lee, up against Sabathia in an attempt to give his team the best matchup possible, he decided to rest Lee for the extra game. The matchup he seemed comfortable with was to have the fourth pitcher in his rotation, Joe Blanton, take on the 19-game winning Sabathia. As expected, Sabathia went on to pitch 6.2 solid innings, with the Yankees going on to take that 3-1 lead in the series.

During the next matchup, Cliff Lee, who was by far the most dominant pitcher of the series, won his second game with another very impressive showing, but it was too little too late. Manuel had already handed the series to Girardi by not pitching Lee one game earlier.

Girardi had made a strategic decision that gave his team the edge it needed to steal victory away from the Phillies. Had Manuel pitched Lee in Game Four instead of Game Five, he may have been able to give his team a better chance to draw even in the Series at 2-2. Instead, he seemed unwilling to deviate from his rotation, not wanting to put too much strain on Lee.

What I don’t understand is the benefit that Manuel felt he was gaining by saving Lee for the extra game. This wasn’t the sixth week of the regular season, this was the World Series. You need to play to your strengths at all times. Entering into Game Four, the assumption had to be that Sabathia, despite pitching on only three days rest, would still outperform Blanton. Even IF Lee managed to win Game Five, the Phillies would still have to win Games Six AND Seven in order to take the title. In the case that the Phillies did manage to reach Game Seven, though, Manuel would THEN be faced with the prospect of pitching his ace, Lee, on shorter rest than Sabathia. It essentially created a lose-lose situation for Manuel and the Phillies. Either way, he was faced with the need to pitch Lee on short rest, so why not do it on the same night that your opponent is pitching HIS star on short rest? The only way the plan would have worked in Manuel’s favor would have been the very unlikely event that Blanton outpitched Sabathia in Game Four.

Baseball is a situational game. Although Girardi took a lot of heat during the season for sometimes overthinking a situation, he understood the philosophy of allowing the situation to dictate his play. Rather than stick with conventional wisdom, he saw an opportunity to leverage the situation into his favor, which is why he is celebrating a championship today instead of Manuel!

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The Most Important Player In the World Series Debate – See, See? It’s C.C.!

October 26, 2009

Read Loyal Homer and Bleacher Fan’s argument about which player in the upcoming 2009 World Series is the most important.

“The time for potential is over. It is time to perform, no matter how much pressure exists.”

I imagine New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi saying something along those lines to his ace pitcher, C.C. Sabathia. Sabathia, for much of his already impressive career – if Cy Young awards are important, that is – has performed up to his potential… provided pressure situations are not counted. While it may seem unfair to criticize a player who is one of the top pitchers in baseball and just turned 29 in 2009, pressure situations are the occasions where Sabathia’s ability and consistency have eluded him. It is Sabathia’s maddening search for playoff performance and consistency that makes him the most important player in the upcoming 2009 World Series.

Before the 2009 MLB playoffs began Sabathia had not demonstrated the ability to carry over his regular season dominance over the competition to a playoff atmosphere. Since 2006 Sabathia has not had a regular season ERA below 3.37. He has not won fewer than 17 games or struck out fewer than 172 batters in the last four seasons, either. Sabathia was the 2007 America League Cy Young award winner based on a magnificent season where he faced more batters than anyone else in the majors and pitched more innings than anyone else. He amassed an impressive 19 wins against just seven losses with an outstanding 3.21 ERA and 209 strike outs.

But, when the lights dim and the temperature cools, Sabathia’s dominance seems to hibernate. In his three most recent postseason performances – before 2009’s playoffs – Sabathia pitched just 14 innings and allowed 17 earned runs on 23 hits. He hurt his own cause by walking 11 hitters in that span. Sabathia’s 2008 playoff ERA was 12.27.

Fortunately for the Yankees Sabathia seems to have improved thus far in the 2009 postseason, as seen by his newest award: the 2009 ALCS MVP. This postseason he is 3-0 with an ERA hovering just below 1.15. Despite Sabathia’s inability to win his 20th game in his final start of the 2009 season – when pressure was high – Sabathia is standing tall in the postseason.

Sabathia is the type of pitcher who is strong enough to throw over 230 innings per season and be effective. When his stuff is matched only by his stamina he is one of the more difficult pitchers for hitters to solve in the league. The Yankees must have him perform to his regular season abilities. Sabathia has the capacity to throw 20 plus innings in the World Series alone. If he is needed to start games one, four, and seven – a very likely possibility – then he must refuse to cave to the pressures of October. Especially October in New York.

Especially with that contract.

The Yankees are spending $161M for Sabathia’s services over the next several seasons. If the pressure of the playoffs is not enough, AND the pressure of New York is not enough, the pressure of the contract piles on an extra layer.

Thus far in the postseason Sabathia’s teammates are pleased with his performance. With the World Series looming on the horizon, and Sabathia figuring to be a large part of it, the pressure will be at the highest point of any in Sabathia’s career. Can he perform to his standard of excellence? Will he continue to 2009 postseason C.C., or will he regress to a previous iteration? It is likely that the Series will be greatly influenced by Sabathia’s performance, for better or worse. Sabathia’s ability to perform under the most pressure of his career – or not perform – makes him the most important player in the World Series.

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