Bulls

New-look Red Sox introduce their new outfielder

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New-look Red Sox introduce their new outfielder

From Comcast SportsNetBOSTON (AP) -- Hawaiian Shane Victorino was so excited to arrive in Boston in the chill of December he ordered some New England clam chowder at dinner and sent a picture to his Twitter followers.That's when he got his first lesson."It's CHOWDA, Shane!" Red Sox center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury corrected him."That was the first real message from Jacoby for Boston," Victorino said Thursday at a news conference to announce the 39 million, three-year deal he agreed to at the winter meetings. "I've got to learn the lingo."Victorino joins Ellsbury in the Red Sox outfield, with the opportunity to replace the 2011 AL MVP runner-up when Ellsbury's contract expires at the end of next season. In the meantime, Victorino is slotted for right field, where he has not played regularly since 2007."I always look at it as, I'm going to help this team win,'" Victorino said. "I came in as a right fielder. ... Don't get me wrong, I love center field, I want to be a center fielder, but I play right. I'm excited for the opportunity. I might wrap myself around that pole, but if I've got to go get the ball I've got to go get it."Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington said adding a "center field-quality right fielder" was one of his goals for the offseason. It's also been important to add players who can improve the chemistry of a team that collapsed in September 2011 and never got in position to collapse in 2012."He fits perfectly into our short- and long-term plan," Cherington said. "He's been an outstanding performer for a lot of years in a tough place to play. He's been a big part of great teams. We're thrilled to add him to our team and to our clubhouse."Victorino said he followed the problems in Boston from afar, and he thinks the chemistry problems can be solved by winning."The last two years have definitely been tough for the Red Sox, the organization. But I look forward to 2013 and being the team we could be," he said, noting that he experienced his own disappointment this fall after making the playoffs five years in a row. "I fell short last year. It wasn't fun to be home at the beginning of October."Nicknamed the Flyin' Hawaiian, Victorino is a .275 hitter with 90 homers in seven full seasons. He came up to the major leagues with San Diego but played most of his career with Philadelphia before he was sent to the Los Angeles Dodgers at the July 31 trade deadline."I always said Fenway was one of my favorites-- there and Wrigley, because of the tradition," he said from an event room in the ballpark, where the scoreboard welcomed him to Boston. "To call this home for the next three years, I'm ecstatic."There is no convincing. It's Boston; that, in itself, says it all. It's the Red Sox. It's a historic franchise."Victorino said his experience with the demanding Phillies fans should also help prepare him for Boston."I'm hoping it's not worse than Philly," he said. "I hope it's not that tough because that was a very tough market. I played in Philly all those years. That was a trying experience."Also Thursday, Cherington said he had nothing to announce on Mike Napoli, the catcher-first baseman who also agreed to a 39 million, three-year deal during the winter meetings, pending a physical. That contract has yet to be announced."Our hope is that we'll be able to resolve the issues," Cherington said. "We're working on it."Cherington did not comment on negotiations with Ryan Dempster, who finished last season with the Texas Rangers. Later Thursday, the team reached an agreement with him on a two-year, 26.5 million deal, according to two people familiar with the negotiations who spoke on the condition of anonymity to The Associated Press because the deal was pending a physical."We're engaged with a pitcher," Cherington said, without mentioning Dempster by name. "That's all I can say at this point."

Shaquille Harrison is on a defensive hot streak

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USA TODAY

Shaquille Harrison is on a defensive hot streak

The Bulls signed guard Shaquille Harrison to provide depth to a rotation that is missing it’s best perimeter defender in Kris Dunn and is lacking playmaking/ball-handling when Zach LaVine gets a rest. So far the results have been positive. Though Harrison hasn’t shown a tremendous amount of promise in terms of being a playmaker, he provides a solid option in the backcourt due to his defensive fundamentals.

Harrison racks up a lot of steals but it is more impressive due to the fact that he is not gambling for steals too often (i.e. getting out of position to try to strip a player you aren’t guarding). He picks up a decent amount of his steals by “digging”, which is a basketball term for applying pressure with a second player without making it a true double-team.

Simple “stunting” (jumping towards an offensive player to mimic pressure) or digging would help the Bulls prevent many of the easy drives to the rim they give up.

A big part of successful NBA defense is making the opposition think you are committing to one thing before executing something else. And the Bulls defense does little to keep the opposition on their toes.

The aggressiveness of Harrison in on- or off-ball defense has serious potential to be contagious to the Chicago roster, and even more so once Dunn returns. We don’t know if we will ever see Hoiberg trot out the Dunn-Harrison pairing or if that duo could do enough to spur on a change--over a big sample size-- in the overall team defense, but the basketball world has definitely started to pick up on his 110 percent effort on the struggling Bulls:


Even when Harrison does things that coaches traditionally don’t like—such as the ol’ ‘Rondo/CP3 reach around swipe’—he makes it work out:

In the above clip he was going over the screen on Celtics guard Brad Wanamaker--the correct play since Wanamaker is a solid shooter--and prevents Felicio from having to contain the guard for too long. A common thing you see from NBA guards in the pick-and-roll is the “snake dribble” that gets them into the paint. Harrison times up this move perfectly, knockling the ball loose as soon as Wanamaker transfers his dribble from his right to left hand.

Part of the reason that Harrison’s gamble in the above play was so great is that fouling can be a good thing, so even if he had fouled Wanamaker, that would’ve been a preferable outcome when compared to Felicio vs a guard or Cam Payne coming over in help defense to contest the 6-foot 8 Daniel Theis.

Harrison’s locked-in defense will certainly be needed as the Bulls head into a three-game slate that features matchups against the Bucks, Raptors and Harrison's former team, the Suns. All three teams have excellent wing scorers in Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kawhi Leonard and Devin Booker, and rookie Chandler Hutchison and Jabari Parker can’t be depended on to slow down those players by themselves.

Per Basketball-Reference, the 2018-19 season represents the first time that Harrison has played small forward in his NBA career (6 percent of the time). It will be interesting to see how Hoiberg deploys Harrison against two of the best three offenses in the league, his newfound versatility and consistent effort level should afford him a long-term on the Bulls.

Javy Baez loses out on NL MVP to Christian Yelich

Javy Baez loses out on NL MVP to Christian Yelich

Javy Baez had an absolutely fantastic 2018 campaign, but he is not the National League MVP.

Brewers star Christian Yelich was deemed the best player in the Senior Circuit, receiving 29 of the 30 first-place votes. Baez finished second with no first-place votes. Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado finished third after leading the NL in homers (38) and posting a .935 OPS for a Colorado team that lost out on the division in Game 163 and then beat the Cubs in the NL Wild-Card Game.

It may not be popular with Cubs fans who love them some Javy, but it's easy to see why Yelich will take home the highest yearly honor.

The 26-year-old outfielder enjoyed a special season, leading the league in OPS (1.000), batting average (.326) and WAR (7.6 — FanGraphs), finishing 1.3 WAR above the next highest guy (Anthony Rendon — 6.3). For reference, Baez notched a 5.3 WAR.

Baez led the NL in RBI (111) and was among the league leaders in nearly every offensive category while also filling a huge role for the Cubs playing very good defense all over the infield (104 games at second base, 65 at shortstop, 22 at third base and even played an out at first base). 

It's easy to say Baez was the Cubs' most important and valuable player in 2018 and there's no way they win 95 games or maintain a share of first place through Game 162 without his contributions.

But the Brewers surged past the Cubs in the NL Central in large part because of Yelich, who slashed .372/.451/.762 (1.213 OPS) from July 14 on, driving in 68 runs and hitting 25 homers in only 68 games. He was even hotter over the last two weeks of the season — posting a .488/.621/1.116 slash line (1.737 OPS) while Milwaukee went 11-2 and caught the Cubs from behind. 

With both players under contract through at least the 2021 season in the same division, it'll be interesting to see if they can build off their breakout campaigns and continue to battle against each other for future NL MVP voting.