image description

HC3 Cold Hard Sports

The Case for Mookie Betts as American League MVP

Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

Let me preface this column by saying this: Mike Trout should be the MVP. He is the most talented, most consistent and simply the best player in the game. He repeatedly puts up the best numbers, he shows up to work every day with an infectious smile and hard-working mentality even though his team is terrible and he positively affects his team in all facets of the game.

But, for some reason, those attributes are not enough for the voters recently. No, they want a player whose team makes it to the playoffs. Never mind that the player might not be as good or as productive as Trout in a given season, even though Trout doesn't have near as much of a supporting cast or as much protection in the order.

Even though it is an absolute atrocity, that is how it is. Which is why, if the coveted award is going to go to someone not named Mike Trout, Boston Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts is the most deserving.

Simply put, he is having a phenomenal season. Betts is slashing .312/.353/.539 with 30 home runs, 105 RBI, 109 runs scored and 23 stolen bases. He is the only player in the American League with at least 100 RBI and 100 runs scored, which is a testament to his dynamic blend of speed and power.

He started the season hitting in the leadoff spot in the order in front of sluggers like Dustin Pedroia, Xander Bogaerts and David Ortiz. During that time, he hit a bevy of doubles and home runs and scored runs in bunches. Then he moved to third and then the cleanup spot, where he has continued to knock the cover off the ball while also driving up his RBI total.

Betts has used his 30 homers, 40 doubles and five triples to amass a league-leading 332 total bases. His ability to generate so much torque and power out of his 5-9, 180-pound frame is ridiculous. How many players in the majors possess the flexibility of Betts -- someone who could hit in any spot in the order?

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Maybe Mike Trout, but remember, he is obviously not very good or valuable since his team isn't in playoff contention.

"Mookie does it all; that's what's so impressive about him," Red Sox starting pitcher Rick Porcello told Tim Britton of the Providence Journal. "He can go 0-for-3 with a walk, steal a base, score a run, throw a guy out in right field and make a diving play — and basically win you the game doing that."

Said Boston right-hander Clay Buchholz, "He's a special player. Every facet of his game is built to make a team better. He hits for average, hits for power, steals bases, plays really good outfield. That's how they calculate a five-tool player. That's Mookie Betts."

Betts, a full-time second baseman only a couple of seasons ago, leads all American Leaguers not named Trout in wins-above-replacement (WAR), according to FanGraphs. A big part of his value has come from his defense, where it hasn't taken him long to establish himself as an elite defensive outfielder. He leads all MLB outfielders with 29 defensive runs saved and is fourth in baseball with an ultimate zone rating (UZR) of 16.8.

Betts has found a home in right field after playing in the infield for most of his career.
Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

And, as Paul Swydan of FanGraphs pointed out earlier this month, when the Red Sox offense was struggling toward the end of July and at the beginning of August, Betts was at his best. During that stretch, when Boston averaged a mere 3.5 runs/game, Betts hit .344 with 166 weighted runs created plus (wRC+). In other words, he was 66 percent better than the average MLB hitter during that span.

In other words, when his team needed him most, Betts delivered. That is what the valuable part of the MVP award is all about. At least I think -- who knows what the voters are looking at these days.

As for Betts' competition, that's probably going to be Jose Altuve and Josh Donaldson. Both players have had terrific seasons, but Betts has been better. Altuve's batting average is what propels him into consideration, but Betts has hit for much more power, created more runs and been an infinitely better baserunner. Plus, barring a miracle, the Astros will not make the postseason.

Donaldson, meanwhile, is mired in an 0-for-23 slump as his Blue Jays are hanging on for their playoff lives. Last year's MVP has been excellent once again in 2016, but, like Altuve, Betts has been the superior player.

He has impacted his team in seemingly every way imaginable, his numbers are outstanding and he has been the best player on a playoff-caliber team.

If Mike Trout can't win, then Betts has certainly built up a resume good enough to be the 2016 AL MVP.

Texas Tech Superstar QB Patrick Mahomes Has Heisman-Caliber Ability

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Texas Tech had just dominated Stephen F. Austin in the opening game of the season. The final score was 69-17 and quarterback Patrick Mahomes had amassed nearly 550 yards of total offense and six touchdowns in a little more than two quarters of action, but head coach Kliff Kingsbury was mad.

He didn't care that Mahomes' stats were nearly flawless or that a whopping 17 different Red Raiders caught passes. Even the fact that Tech racked up 758 yards of total offense didn't mean that the 37-year-old coach was going to praise his star pupil after the game.

"I thought he was a little loose, kind of doing his own thing a few times," Kingsbury said of Mahomes. "When things are there within the system, let's take it. And then when it's not, get out and work your magic.

"I just didn't think offensively we played very technical -- kind of some streetball going on early."

When the expectations are so high that even after such a statistically superb night the coach still has his critiques, that's when you know greatness is on the horizon.

Or, in Mahomes' case, greatness is already taking place. You might not know too much about him since he plays out on the South Plains in Lubbock, Texas, or because his team likely won't be in the National Championship conversation because it can't play defense, but that should in no way diminish his excellence.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Last weekend, Mahomes played another outstanding game, this one against Arizona State. The junior gunslinger from Whitehouse completed 38-of-53 passes for 540 yards and five touchdowns and also ran for 44 yards and another score. The Red Raiders ultimately lost a 68-55 shootout to the Sun Devils, but it wasn't Mahomes' fault.

All he did was repeatedly carve up the ASU defense, finding open receivers all over the field and scrambling for extra yardage when he had to. He led scoring drives on almost every drive of the game and looked like an elite, dynamic signal-caller.

For the season, he is leading the nation in total offense with 562 yards per game. Lamar Jackson has gotten all the hype to this point, but Mahomes has accounted for nearly 60 more yards per game.

"We did play better on the road [than we did last year] but we didn't win, so I'm not particularly pleased with how we played," Mahomes said in Monday's press conference. "I think we could have scored more points."

As crazy as scoring more points sounds, he's exactly right. The offense appeared to tighten up in the second half and didn't look nearly as efficient as they did in the first. Mahomes admitted that he started trying to pick up big yardage on every play instead of going through his reads and taking what the defense gave him.

Mahomes could be Kingsbury's most talented quarterback yet.
Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

But that was likely just a byproduct of a porous Tech defense that let Arizona State score at will all night long. Nonetheless, Mahomes is a special talent. He possesses an uncanny ability to extend plays and a cannon of an arm that allows him to find open receivers no matter where they are on the field.

Mahomes exhibits this improvisation with regularity, and it forced Arizona State defensive coordinator Keith Patterson to make some flattering comparisons.

“The thing that’s different is this guy is kind of a Brett Favre-type quarterback," he said of Mahomes, via Craig Grialou of Arizona Sports 98.7 FM. "He has just an uncanny ability to get outside the pocket. He will run to one side and throw back to the middle of the field. It’s a cardinal sin to do that. He does it with regularity. The other night he throws a no-look pass. I mean, he’s looking out here and throws the ball to a guy in the middle of the field, so he’s extremely talented.

“He just has a sense; he has that quarterback-sense that he just feels that pressure and has a unique ability to get back outside of containment and when he does, boy, hold onto your hat.”

But Brett Favre wasn't enough for Patterson, as he went to another legend later on in the session.

Mahomes' elusiveness inside and outside the pocket is a big part of his success.
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

“He kind of plays football like Magic Johnson played point guard,” he said, per Grialou. “He’s big. He’ll run up in there (in the pocket) and all of a sudden you’ve got guys converging on him and whoever you left in coverage, he’ll just dump it right over your head. We have a plan to try and cast a net and keep him in, like everyone else does, but that’s easier said than done sometimes with a guy of his ability.”

How many current college quarterbacks can say that they've been compared to both Brett Favre and Magic Johnson? I don't think many, if any, can claim that.

The fact of the matter is that there are very few quarterbacks more talented than Mahomes. DeShaun Watson comes to mind, but he hasn't looked in sync through two close wins. Chad Kelly and Baker Mayfield are both excellent as well, but their numbers are not even on the same page as Mahomes.

Watson became the first player in NCAA history to pass for 4,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards in a single season. That is great, but Mahomes could easily surpass that in 2016. At this rate, it's not even that big of a stretch to say he could go 5,000-1,000. Kingsbury understands Mahomes' immense ability, which is why he puts the ball in his quarterback's hands almost every play. Instead of traditional running plays, the Red Raiders are throwing swing passes and check down throws to the running backs. The result is more mind-boggling video game-like numbers from Mahomes. 

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Kingsbury has coached several record-breaking QBs in his coaching career, most notably Case Keenum at Houston and Johnny Manziel at Texas A&M. Mahomes has the potential to be better than both. He's not quite as quick as Manziel was, but he has a much stronger and more accurate throwing arm and possesses the same type of escapability that is so hard to defend. 

Again, stats aren't everything, but Mahomes has been too productive through two games to go unnoticed in the Heisman picture. I don't care that he plays in Lubbock or that his defense will likely keep his team from double-digit wins. 

He has a bevy of speedy and athletic skill players around him, and Mahomes distributes the rock beautifully. He is an absolute nightmare for opposing defenses because of his arm strength, high football IQ and improvisation skills and he very well might go down as one of the most prolific quarterbacks in college football history. 

Why Tim Tebow Shouldn't be Criticized for Pursuing Major League Baseball

Tim Tebow wants to play baseball.

That statement shouldn’t seem too unbelievable. After all, baseball is America’s Pastime—doesn’t everyone want to play it?

However, Tebow’s aspirations have been met with tremendous doubt from people inside the baseball community. Ever since his agent made the announcement in early August, Tebow has been insulted, mocked and told that he has absolutely no chance to ever play in the Major Leagues.

Is this surprising? Not really. Major League Baseball is a tight-knit fraternity that is incredibly slow to change and is easily threatened by outsiders. But while it’s not all that surprising that Tebow’s most recent challenge has been heavily scrutinized and criticized, it still is vastly unnecessary and downright wrong.

Baltimore Orioles center fielder Adam Jones was the first player to share his thoughts to the public, calling out Tebow via Twitter.

Jones’ message is clear: how dare Tebow insult the sacred game of baseball despite not having played since high school?

But the reason this is disturbing is because Tebow isn’t trying to resurrect his athletic career as a baseball player because he thinks it’s an easy sport that he can immediately find success. Trust me, if he wanted to find an easy sport to play, he certainly wouldn’t have picked baseball.

He has said so himself. He is picking baseball back up because he loved playing it as a kid and doesn’t want to live his life thinking what could have been.

Tebow won two National Championships and a Heisman Trophy in his career with the Florida Gators. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

“When did pursuing what you love become a bad thing,” Tebow asked reporters. “I’ll make all the sacrifices to be the best I can.”

“This isn’t about publicity, it’s definitely not about money,” he said. “For me, you pursue what you love regardless of what else happens. If you fail or fall flat on your face, and that’s the worst thing that can happen, that’s OK.”

He’s exactly right. Adam Jones, if you have a burning desire to play football again, there is nothing stopping you from doing everything in your power to make that happen. And if Jones does it—which he never will because he has established himself as a premier player in Major League Baseball—he shouldn’t be met with mockery, either.

Tebow doesn’t need this baseball thing to come to fruition. He could always do a few football tryouts and, with his resume and character, he might be able to convince a team to sign him—maybe the 49ers?

Tim Tebow works as a college football analyst for the SEC Network and as a special contributor to ABC's Good Morning America. (Scott Halleran/Getty Images)

Or he could remain as a full-time broadcaster. I had the privilege of spending a few minutes around him on Friday during a media session at SEC Nation’s set in College Station, Texas, and it was evident that Tebow has all the qualities of a successful analyst. He knows the game and he is articulate, handsome and insanely popular. If it becomes evident that baseball isn’t going to work out, the world will go on.

And so will Tebow’s life.

He will find another passion or challenge that he wants to pursue, and he will put his heart and soul into achieving it, just as he has done everything else in his illustrious athletic career.

That’s the thing that cannot be forgotten—Tebow has options. It wouldn’t make sense for him to engender some elaborate scheme of playing baseball simply to get his name in the headlines—he can do that by himself. He could devote his time and energy to increasing his role in broadcasting, he could write books about his inspiring life, he could go on more mission trips to poor countries around the world or he could even go into coaching if he so desired.

Tebow last played football as a member of the Philadelphia Eagles. (Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

So again, why must the baseball world feel it necessary to repeatedly bash Tebow for his actions?

Like when a scout said this about Tebow’s tryout last week in front of MLB teams:

“It was a complete waste of time,” an anonymous AL scout told USA TODAY. “It was like watching an actor trying to portray a baseball player.”

Now, he’s certainly free to say what he wants, but there’s a sense of cruelty there, like the scouts don’t want Tebow to succeed simply because he is taking a different route to achieve his goals than the typical prospect does.

This is a guy who hasn’t played baseball since his junior year in high school and he’s launching balls out of USC’s Dedeaux Field—in batting practice and off live pitching. Of course his mechanics aren’t going to be perfect, and obviously it is going to take a while to begin to effectively recognize pitches out of the pitcher’s hand. Baseball is a hard game, but the people that have been around Tebow the most have been positive.

Former MLB catcher Chad Moeller, who has been Tebow’s primary trainer, has said repeatedly how impressed he is with the amount of improvement he has seen out his pupil in the short time they’ve worked together. Former big-leaguer Gary Sheffield took to Twitter to share his thoughts:

All in all, it would be incredibly dumb and short-sighted to count Tebow out of anything. He is arguably the hardest-working athlete of his generation, he is ridiculously big and strong with good speed and he is pursuing something he loves.

“Since I was four or five years old, the two things I’ve loved the most are one, playing quarterback with 10 guys looking at you and depending on you to win a ballgame and, second, hitting a baseball,” Tebow said after his tryout.

Give him the benefit of the doubt. He’s earned it.