Aaron Hicks named Twins’ starting center fielder

Aaron Hicks named Twins’ starting center fielder

Three weeks ago when Aaron Hicks had a three-homer game against the Phillies it seemed all but certain that he’d be the Opening Day center fielder in Minnesota and now the Twins have made it official. Hicks, who ranked among Baseball America‘s top 100 prospects this year for the fourth time, will be making the…

Three things to know about Ravens sixth-round pick Maurice Canady

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Three things to know about Ravens sixth-round pick Maurice Canady

This week, I will profile the Ravens’ 11 draft picks with three things you need to know about them. First up is their final pick, cornerback Maurice Canady from Virginia, who went in Round 6 (209).

Three things about Canady:

1. University of Virginia alumni should be particularly proud of himself.

Canady was the only Virginia player drafted this year, and he extended the school’s streak to 33 straight years of having at least one player selected. He continues the Ravens’ recent connection with Virginia players. Left tackle Eugene Monroe, defensive end Brent Urban, and former defensive end Chris Canty all attended Virginia. Canady is a Richmond, Virginia native, so he’s thrilled to stay on the East coast.

2.  Special teams could be Canady’s ticket to making the team.

The Ravens are looking for game-changing punt returners, and Canady returned a punt 74 yards for a touchdown last season.

3. At 6-foot-1, Canady has the height and wingspan NFL teams prefer for cornerbacks.

Canady needs to work on his ball skills – he did not have an interception last season. However, his height is a plus matching up against bigger receivers. Canady had a strong week at the Senior Bowl against elite competition. If he stands out the same way during minicamps and training camp, Canady can carve out a place with the Ravens.

MORE RAVENS: CLIFTON BROWN SAYS DRAFT WAS SOLID, NOT SENSATIONAL

Open court: Do any Hornets free agents fit Wizards?

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Open court: Do any Hornets free agents fit Wizards?

An incredibly successful season for the Charlotte Hornets is over, after a 48-win regular season and a Game 7 elimination to the Miami Heat. They’re loaded with free agents who are worth pursuing.

The Wizards's goals are to get younger, more explosive and identify a few two-way players in the process to improve their 21st scoring defense. Adding players indiscriminately isn't an option because of the salary cap. The big fish (meaning, big-name free agents) will get signed first. Assuming the Wizards land one, even if it's not named Kevin Durant, they'll construct the roster with the remaining money with as many as eight other spots open. More than likely they'll retain 2-4 of their own free agents which will cut that number of open slots from 5-7.

They'll need a solid backup for Marcin Gortat at center, a true scorer behind Bradley Beal and a backup point guard for John Wall.

These are Charlotte’s free agents, in order of best fit (and projected affordability):

Courtney Lee: A career backup with the ability to start, Lee is a solid two-way guard who made $5.7 million and now is an unrestricted free agent. He has good size and is a perfect complement to Wall or Beal as he can plug two gaps. The question for him, is starting a requirement (he made 65 in Memphis and Charlotte this past season) and for the Wizards would be how much would they be willing to pay a No. 2? Lee also shot 38% from three. He fills a lot of voids in one player.

Jeremy Lin: At 6-3 and seasoned, he’s the perfect backup point guard but could start pending on where he ends up. He only made $2.1 million after coming off a monster deal previously and has a player option. Lin has done enough to get back some of that lost income with 11.7 points. Lin is a better defender than Ramon Sessions, who is looking for a starting job after playing the last two seasons behind Wall.

Marvin Williams: He has a few qualities to make him a prize catch as an unrestricted free agent -- size, experience, the versatility to play both forward positions and three-point range (40%). Williams, who was backup with Charlotte a year ago, was elevated to a starting role this season and is in line for a sizable contract, well above the $7 million he earned. Given the Wizards already have Morris who has a better low-post game and a much more cap-friendly deal, paying Williams makes little sense. But since Williams can play the three spot, too, there’s a scenario of playing both. Of course, Otto Porter and Kelly Oubre occupy those spots and are much cheaper.

Nic Batum: The perfect definition of a two-way player, Batum can shoot the three and defend both guard positions and the wing effectively as well as smaller fours. He finished the final year of his deal that paid him $13.1 million after being traded from Portland. Batum is now unrestricted and will be in high demand. If the Wizards were to make a play for him, that’s a lot tied up into one position with Porter and Oubre at the three spot. A roster move to relieve that glut would be likely for it to make sense which is why Batum is listed this low. Otherwise, he’s first.

Al Jefferson:  His 12 points and 6.4 rebounds represent his lowest output since his second NBA season, and he earned $13.5 million. But Jefferson was injured and came off the bench as the Hornets went to small-ball to adjust. He still can put up starter’s numbers, is a load in the post and by all indications accepted the backup role with grace. Jefferson is on the other side of 30 in a game that’s become increasingly about faster-paced players. He doesn’t make the defense any better but offensively he’s a true back-to-the-basket option. But at what cost? He can find a starting job and a bigger payday somewhere.

 

Nationals starters are throwing more pitches per game this year

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Nationals starters are throwing more pitches per game this year

It's a question I've received numerous times this season on Twitter: are Nationals starters throwing too many pitches this season? The question has been posed so many times that it warrants a closer look. The internet makes all sorts of baseball data available these days and there is plenty out there regarding pitches, both in terms of quality and quantity.

For the Nationals (17-7), it is true that through 24 games this season they are allowing their starters to pitch longer in games than they did last season. But, though their pitch counts are up, there is no evidence to suggest what they are doing is out of the ordinary. 

First, here is a look at how Nationals starters rank by pitches per start:

Max Scherzer - 105.4
Stephen Strasburg - 102
Tanner Roark - 101.4
Joe Ross - 99*
Gio Gonzalez - 98.3

*excluding injury-shortened start on April 20

For Scherzer and Gonzalez, there is not much to see here. Scherzer is second in MLB in pitches thrown, but he's always near the top of the league in that category. He was seventh in total pitches in 2015, third in 2014 and 12th the year before that. 

Scherzer has averaged at least 100 P/GS for each of the last eight seasons. In 2014, his final year in Detroit, Scherzer posted a career-high of 110.2. That's much higher than anyone in the Nats' rotation is currently on track for.

Gonzalez has also logged high pitch counts in the past. He averaged 103.6 P/GS in 2013, his second year with the Nats, and put up a career-high of 106.5 in 2011, his final year in Oakland. Like Scherzer and many other pitchers, he has proven he can take the pounding of a high pitch count.

The rest of the Nats' rotation is up in the P/GS category from their career averages. Strasburg's career average is 92.7 and he's putting up about 10 more per start this season. But his career-high was 96.9 in 2014 and that's not far off from 100.

Roark has never averaged more than 100 before, but did post a career-high of 96.7 in 2014. And Ross has seen a significant increase from the 85.4 P/GS he held last season, but that number was kept in check to limit his workload as a rookie. 

For instance, Ross went six scoreless innings in his final start of 2015, yet was removed after just 77 pitches. His penultimate start saw him throw only 82 pitches despite going seven innings with one run allowed. What he's doing this year is more normal than what he was limited to last season.

The Nationals are letting their starters reach higher pitch counts this season, but not to an extreme degree, at least not yet. Could that change as the season goes on? Sure, teams often allow pitchers to stretch out as the season goes on. For now, though, it doesn't seem to be a real issue in Washington.