It’s time to fight for the crown. Correspondents Drew Conn, Jason Cantor and Mike McLoughlin will duke it out to win the highly-coveted AtD Fall Semester Championship. Managing Editor Bobby Olivier will ask our contestants if the Bengals’ signing of Larry Johnson was wise, if Tim Lincecum and Zack Greinke deserved their Cy Young awards and if Kansas is in danger of losing its No. 1 spot in the standings. Who will take home the gold?
1. With all of his baggage, was signing Larry Johnson a smart move by the Cincinnati Bengals?
DC: I think it was a good move because he has been signed as a reserve and as a veteran influence. With their backup being rookie Bernard Scott, it’s a smart idea to grab Johnson in case Cedric Benson’s injury lingers for the season. It’s hard to gauge how much talent Johnson has left because the Chiefs are so bad this year. If Benson gets healthy, then Johnson may still be able to contribute to the team as a spell running back, adding another element to their offense. The Bengals don’t need to worry about his off-field antics. He said some bad things about Chiefs’ fans but he isn’t a locker room destroyer like Terrell Owens. And if he does begin to distract the team, then the Bengals can easily cut him without worrying about a big contract.
JC: Although it is not a move that will put them over the top, signing Larry Johnson was a very wise decision by the upper management of the Cincinnati Bengals. Even though Larry Johnson is known for his antics, the Bengals will only be paying him $255,290 to finish the season. If he has any intelligence, Johnson will be on his best behavior so a team will sign him next year. With Johnson, the Bengals get a guy that only a few years ago put up back-to-back 1700-plus yard seasons. Although everyone will agree that Johnson has lost a few steps as most running backs do by the time they hit 30, he was playing on an awful team. Just last year Johnson put up a respectable 4.5 yards per carry. The man can still contribute. The Bengals are a team that could really make some noise in the playoffs and signing Johnson can only help. And if it doesn’t work out, the Bengals can waive him and hardly take a hit at all.
MM: Larry Johnson could be a prime example of an athlete who just needs a change of scenery. In the past, risky moves on embattled stars have worked (Randy Moss to the Patriots) and have not (Moss to the Raiders). The starting running back of the Bengals right now is proof that a struggling player with baggage can come in and turn a team around. The effectiveness of this move completely hinges on Cedric Benson. If the Bengals are not confident he will be healthy enough to run effectively, this is a smart move. Johnson would add depth behind Bernard Scott and Brian Leonard, and for a team poised for a playoff run, depth at running back is a necessity. If Benson is out for just one week, the move could pay dividends, allowing him to spend more time recovering. However, Benson has not exactly embraced the idea of the Bengals signing Johnson. If he is unhappy, the Bengals locker room could become an issue that could spill out onto the field. At the end of the day, I do not see Larry Johnson making much of an impact either way. The fourth running back rarely sees playing time. Benson has something of his own to prove, and would do much better for himself playing well instead of worrying about the people behind him. Johnson is a good depth signing, but will not have much on or off-the- field impact.
BO: Mike gets the 3 here because he is clearly the one that did his research. Johnson is a No. 4 back for the Bengals and shouldn’t see much playing time, so Mike gets the 3. Drew and Jason both mentioned that either way, his financial impact will be minimal, so I give you each 1.5 points for similar answers.
2.Tim Lincecum and Zack Greinke took home the NL and AL Cy Young awards this year. Were they both deserving, and if not, who should’ve received the award?
DC: Both pitchers deserved the Cy Young. Greinke was absolutely dominant against all teams, including those in the AL East, despite playing for the pathetic Kansas City Royals. With his league-leading 2.16 ERA, you cannot place any blame upon Greinke for his lack of wins. No matter who he played, good or bad, Greinke went out there and pitched dominantly for the entire season. With Lincecum leading in strikeouts, Adam Wainwright leading in wins, and Chris Carpenter in leading ERA, the award really could have gone to any of them. Carpenter and Wainwright took votes away from each other and the vote would have been different if they were on separate teams. I would have given the award to Wainwright because his pitching was most clutch and essential to a winning team, but I’m not appalled by the voters’ decision to go with Lincecum.
JC: I think it is about time that players are awarded for what they did and not what their teams did. Due to terrible lack of run support, Zach Greinke and Tim Lincecum did not put up gaudy win totals, but they both were lights out almost every appearance they made. Greinke’s league leading 2.16 ERA was a full run lower than CC Sabathia’s 3.37, who ranked fourth in the AL. Greinke ranked in the top two players in strikeouts, ERA, walks and hits per innings pitched (WHIP), batting average against (BAA), complete games (CG) and shut outs pitched. Greinke’s 2009 season is arguably the most dominant season by an AL pitcher since Pedro Martinez was throwing for the Red Sox. Lincecum deserved to win the award, but if Carpenter or even Wainwright won the award it would have been more than justifiable. Like Greinke, Lincecum was also in the top two in the NL for strikeouts, ERA, BAA, CG, and shut outs pitched. However Carpenter and Wainwright were just as dominant. The reason I give Lincecum the nod is because Carpenter’s win total and ERA were not better than Lincecum by enough to negate his lack of strikeouts and BAA. Wainwright had a great year, but his WHIP, BAA, and lack of CG’s aren’t overshadowed by his win total. With that being said, if Wainwright and Carpenter weren’t on the same team Lincecum likely wouldn’t have won, but he would have my vote.
MM: The writers got both the AL and NL Cy Youngs correct this year. It was refreshing to see that the writers did not rely on a statistic like wins, which does not paint a good picture of their overall performance, and instead gravitated toward numbers that better evaluate a pitcher’s skill. In the AL, Greinke was far and away the best pitcher in the league. The only other pitcher within striking range was Felix Hernandez, but his numbers were not on Greinke’s level. Posting a 2.16 ERA in the NL would be ridiculous, and in the AL it is unheard of. To compare, an AL ERA is usually about one run higher than a comparable NL ERA. If Greinke pitched to the tune of a 1.16 ERA in the NL, it would rival Bob Gibson’s 1.12 ERA in 1968, a year in which he was so dominant that they changed the height of the pitcher’s mound. The NL race was a little tighter, with Lincecum, Carpenter and Wainwright having stellar seasons. It is unfair, again, to look at wins because the Cardinals were a better overall team than the Giants. Wainwright led the league in wins, Carpenter in ERA, and Lincecum in strikeouts. The Cardinals played in a more pitcher-friendly ballpark than Lincecum, with a better defense behind them. While they had fine seasons, Lincecum was the most dominant pitcher in the league. He struck out the most batters, and when you isolate his performance, regardless of the talent behind him, the numbers back him up as well.
BO: Drew gets the 3 here for avoiding the stat vomit. Jason gets 2 for comparing Greinke’s season to old Pedro Martinez seasons, a fair comparison. Mike gets 1 for assuming the AL-NL converter.
3. No. 1-ranked Kansas University almost lost to unranked Memphis University this past week. Do the Jayhawks have what it takes to go the distance and make waves in the NCAA tournament this year?
DC: They definitely have a chance to do well in the tournament this year. Kansas is not a very strong No. 1 though, and I don’t see them going undefeated and holding that rank for the entire season. Last year the University of North Carolina was the No. 1 team at the start of the season, and it looked like they had potential for absolute dominance. I don’t see that same potential in Kansas this year. There are some very good teams right on their heels such as Texas and Michigan State, and I wouldn’t be shocked to see three or four different teams hold the No. 1 spot this year. Their near loss occurred in the first game of the season so they were probably just rusty and nervous in their first game as the No. 1 team. But let’s face it – November and December are pointless months anyway. In college basketball it’s all about January, February and March.
JC: The Jayhawks absolutely have what it takes to go the distance. In college, the team with the best big man will usually win. Kansas’ Cole Aldrich is one of, if not the best, big men in college. Last year North Carolina was ranked No. 1 in the preseason and went the distance. Florida did the same in 2006-07, and Connecticut in 2003-2004. Michigan State is returning a bunch of players, Texas is playing great, even Duke is back as an elite team. The bottom line is that there is going to be a lot of really good teams this year. Literally every team ranked in the Top 25 can do damage. Even pesky younger teams like Memphis showed Kansas that this is not going to be an easy season.
MM: While Kansas was a huge favorite in this game, it is not entirely surprising that the game was as close as it was. Memphis has been a solid basketball program for years, but was stripped of its recruits when head coach John Calipari left. Still, the team showed the heart and grit of a team playing with a chip on its shoulder. The reason I am not worried about the Jayhawks is that the team played part of this game without its star and team leader, Sherron Collins. Collins played 32 minutes in the game and committed two turnovers. His replacements came in and proceeded to turn it over 11 times. Do the Jayhawks have what it takes? If they stay healthy they do. They came into the season ranked No. 1 because they have the best team on paper in the country. As long as the team plays to its potential, the players will definitely make waves in the NCAA tournament this year.
BO: And it all comes down to this. Drew wins the final question and the semester, scoring 3 for ultimately saying that this game didn’t matter because it’s so early. Mike gets 2 for mentioning Collins and the turnovers in the Memphis game, and Jason gets 1 for the least interesting answer.
Drew wins the AtD Fall Championship, 7.5 – 6 – 4.5