Monday, October 5, 2015

Canucks - why it makes sense to put Frank Corrado through waivers today

The Canucks announced today that Frankie Corrado hasn't made the team and is being sent down to the AHL. To get there, he'll have to go through waivers.

That, by itself, is unfortunate news. Corrado is still just 22, and played well in Utica last year. Although he hasn't shown value in his 28 NHL games to date, he still has a good chance to develop into a real NHLer.

Trevor Linden then went on record today to say that the Canucks could've held Corrado up with the big club if they had put Chris Higgins on LTIR.

Here's the thing, though: Corrado was eventually going to have to be sent down. He doesn't have a spot with the big club, and keeping him around as a regular scratch would hurt his development. The best thing for him now, it seems, is to play top-pair minutes in the AHL and keep improving.

Getting him to the AHL means that he has to go through waivers at some point, and today is probably the best day to do that. 29 other NHL teams are making tough decisions about roster cuts, and claiming Corrado only makes sense for them if they're prepared to give him an NHL job. As of today, those teams have all spent a month picking their guys at training camp and teaching them their systems. Corrado's not such a world beater that they'll necessarily want to upset their apple-carts to get him.

For that reason, today's the best day to send him down. Three weeks from now, when Higgins might be back, Corrado would be more likely to be claimed by a team that has either lost guys to injury or sent their rookies back to junior/the farm. If you can get Corrado through today, he can play a full season in the AHL, or if he plays half the season and proves he's really ready to move up, you call him up then. There's no point in waiting until a later date.

All this said, of course, there are still the valid points that the team shouldn't have kept Corrado up for so many games at the beginning of his career and burned his waiver-proof contract years, or that maybe Corrado wouldn't be any worse than, say, Luca Sbisa on your bottom pair. Those decisions already having been made, though, sending him down is the right thing to do.

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Thursday, August 13, 2015

R.A. Dickey's fastball is just fine, thank you very much

FiveThirtyEight posted a thought-provoking article this afternoon applying game theory to FanGraphs' "Pitch Values" data. For the most part, game theory is a very useful way to interpret the Pitch Values data. If a pitcher is getting great results with his curveball and terrible results with his change, he should throw more curveballs, even if that means opposing batters will start to expect more curveballs and do a little better against them.

The 538 article does a specific analysis of R.A. Dickey's numbers, and that's where they go wrong. They assert that Dickey should be throwing a lot more knuckleballs, because his low-80s fastball, admittedly, is pretty darn pathetic. Given that Dickey is already throwing his knuckler for 87% of his pitches, it stands to reason he should reserve the fastball for throwing batting practice only.

What the article fails to grasp, though, is the role of Dickey's fastball in his arsenal. Dickey primarily uses it when he's behind in the count when he really needs a strike. It's not something he uses much on the first pitch. I'm not sure if FanGraphs' pitch values adjusts for this sort of usage; given that Dickey's throwing the fastball on a lot of 3-0, 3-1 counts, it shouldn't be a surprise that he walks a lot of batters with it and rarely gets strikeouts from it.

More importantly, though, the fastball is there to set up the knuckleball. Batters will try to rush their swings to take a cut at the fastball, only to have their timing messed up when the knuckler comes on the next pitch. In this way, Dickey uses the fastball as a waste pitch the same way other pitchers use brushbacks or fastballs at eye level to set up their breaking stuff as strikeout pitches.

So, R.A., don't pay too much attention to the latest from FiveThirtyEight. They've oversimplified the issue. It's perhaps a case of a little knowledge being a dangerous thing, and a classic error of economics that they've made some problematic assumptions in coming to the conclusion they did.

One of the key points of game theory for this sort of situation is that altering your strategy (i.e., altering the percentages of the time you choose different options) will alter your own results as well as influencing the strategy of your opponent. Dickey can't simply throw more knuckleballs without giving up the happy side effects created by the use of his fastball.

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Thursday, July 2, 2015

Jim Benning and the Canucks do have a plan: Steve Stamkos

It is a dark time for the Canucks. The team's recent moves have been a serious clearing of the decksoffice. Fan favourites Kevin Bieksa, Eddie Lack, and Zack Kassian have all been sent packing, as has longtime Assistant GM Laurence Gilman. One can find logical reasons for all of those to go; Bieksa's getting old, Lack was crowded out in competition with Miller and Markstrom, and Kassian wasn't turning into the player the team hoped he would. Gilman may not have been seeing eye-to-eye with the new regime; we may never know what happened there.

Say what you want about the sensibility of those moves. I am mostly in agreement with those that would say that the Canucks didn't get as much of a return in trade as one would hope. I think Gilman was a unique asset to the team in terms of his understanding of the cap and the player market in the league; obviously, Benning and Linden didn't agree. Those questions are being analyzed to death elsewhere. I'll spare you another analysis of that.

One comment that I will discuss: Does Benning have a plan? My answer is that yes, he does:

“We’re in a transition period where we’ve got some good young players now in our system,” explained Benning. “When these guys are ready to play we want the room for them to step in and play. With cap room next year we can be more active in the high-end unrestricted market.”
(thanks to Thomas Drance at Sportsnet for the quote)
Benning sure showed his cards there. He's got a vision of how to turn the Canucks into a winning team: clear as much cap space as possible to bring in a superstar to build around. The player he obviously has his sights on is Steven Stamkos, who will be a 26-year-old UFA next summer if Tampa Bay can't lock him up. The Canucks will have cap space to burn next year; Dan Hamhuis, Brandon Prust, and Radim Vrbata will be off the books, creating the option of offering an $11m+ salary to Stamkos, if they wanted to.

It's regularly rumoured that Stamkos wants to come home to the Toronto Maple Leafs (he was born in Markham), but Stamkos has remained tight-lipped about the possibility whenever asked. It certainly makes a lot of sense. It would also make sense that he'd be wary of Toronto, given the way they treated Phil Kessel and Dion Phaneuf.

It's another question if he would actually be willing to come to Vancouver. The team will be a shell of its former self, still employing the Sedins and Ryan Miller, and with a thin defensive corps. The young forward group offers some promise.

That's Benning's plan. This isn't some stealthy attempt to tank - he's trying to free up jobs so players like Horvat, Virtanen, McCann, Cassels et al can have a shot in the NHL and the team can figure out what it has. 2015-16 may well be an ugly year, but Benning's hope, one would think, is that there's enough talent there to surround a big star player like Stamkos and make it a winning team.

It's not the worst plan. I'm not sure I trust Jim Benning to execute it, given his checkered track record in both trades and contract negotiation, but that's what I think he's up to.

(an edit for clarification: I don't think that Steven Stamkos in a Canucks uniform is a likely result. It's just the only end-game that I can rationalize as an explanation for why Benning has been making the moves he has).

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