Nationals

Oregon promotes OC Helfrich to coach

Oregon promotes OC Helfrich to coach

Mark Helfrich is Oregon's next man in.

As usual, the Ducks wasted little time finding a replacement for Chip Kelly, promoting their affable offensive coordinator to head coach Sunday. Kelly left to become coach of the Philadelphia Eagles on Wednesday.

Helfrich is the third straight offensive coordinator at Oregon to be promoted to the top job, following Kelly and his predecessor, Mike Bellotti.

The 39-year-old Oregon native signed a five-year deal with the Ducks for a reported $9 million. His promotion does not come as a surprise: Even before Oregon defeated Kanas State in the Fiesta Bowl, the Ducks' quarterbacks guru was considered the front-runner as Kelly's successor.

``Going forward we will attack in all phases. We'll embrace innovation and we'll strive to do our best to win each and every day,'' Helfrich said at a news conference Sunday afternoon where he was supported by players including quarterback Marcus Mariota and running back De'Anthony Thomas.

Helfrich, who embodies Oregon's ``Next Man In'' philosophy of substitution without skipping a beat, became offensive coordinator of the Ducks when Kelly took over four seasons ago. The Ducks have appeared in BCS bowls each of those four years, including an appearance in the national championship game against Auburn in 2011.

The Ducks, ranked No. 2 in the final AP Top 25, finished 12-1 this season.

``Win The Day and all that - that doesn't change for us,'' Mariota said.

Kelly, credited with creating Oregon's innovative hurry-up spread offense, went 46-7 as head coach at Oregon. It had been widely expected that he would jump to the NFL, leaving many surprised when he announced he was staying at Oregon after interviewing with Philadelphia, Cleveland and Buffalo following the Fiesta Bowl. Nine days later, however, he changed his mind and decided to go to the Eagles.

Just hours after Kelly's departure was announced, Oregon posted a job for a new head coach on its website. Under state law, Oregon was required to interview at least one qualified minority candidate for the job.

Former Stanford offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton acknowledged Saturday that he interviewed with Oregon before he was hired by the Indianapolis Colts' to be their offensive coordinator.

Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens said Oregon had already started the process of finding a replacement for Kelly following the Fiesta Bowl. He said it was important to name a successor quickly, because letter of intent signing day for high school recruits is on Feb. 6.

Mullens said interest from an ``impressive list of coaches for the job.'' In the end, he interviewed five candidates in person.

``We went through the process because we felt it was important to do our due diligence and we kept coming back to Mark,'' Mullens said on Sunday.

Before joining the Ducks, Helfrich was quarterbacks coach at Colorado from 2006-08. As Oregon's offensive coordinator, he also has been in charge of Oregon's quarterbacks, guiding both Darron Thomas and Mariota, a redshirt freshman.

This season Mariota set the team's single-season record with 38 touchdowns (32 passing, 5 rushing, 1 receiving), surpassing the previous mark of 36 held by Thomas (2011) and Akili Smith (1998).

The first freshman named to the Pac-12's all-conference first team in 23 years, Mariota passed for 2,739 yards, completing a school-record 68.5 percent of his passes. He had 3,429 yards of total offense, second only to Smith's 3,947 in 1998.

Thomas, his predecessor, passed for 2,761 yards and a school-record 33 passing touchdowns his junior season last season despite missing a game because of an injury. He left school with a year of eligibility remaining in hopes of playing in the NFL but went undrafted.

There are not expected to be any major changes under Helfrich. But he hinted he may allow reporters and boosters greater access to practice - something that Kelly had shut down this season - and he joked about a few other tweaks.

``I won't wear a visor, I'll eat more vegetables,'' he said.

Helfrich will also face possible fallout from an NCAA investigation into the school's use of recruiting services.

The inquiry is the result of reports that surfaced in 2011 concerning payments Oregon made to two such services, including a $25,000 check sent to Willie Lyles and Houston-based Complete Scouting Services in 2010. Lyles had a connection with a player who committed to Oregon.

Oregon had requested a summary disposition in the case and presented a report to the NCAA infractions committee outlining violations the school believed occurred and appropriate sanctions. But last month Yahoo Sports reported that Oregon is headed toward a hearing with the committee because the two sides couldn't reach an agreement.

The NCAA does not comment on ongoing investigations. The hearing could come as early as this spring.

Sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the it had not been announced said Sunday that Oregon promoted wide receivers coach Scott Frost, the former Nebraska quarterback, to replace Helfrich as offensive coordinator.

Frost, 38, came to Oregon in 2009 after serving as an assistant at Northern Iowa. He played seven seasons in the NFL after leading the Huskers to the national title over Tennessee in the 1997 Orange Bowl.

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5 things you should know about new Nationals' pitcher Kelvin Herrera

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USA TODAY Sports

5 things you should know about new Nationals' pitcher Kelvin Herrera

The Nationals traded for Royals' pitcher Kelvin Herrera this evening. 

Not only did the Nationals trade for Kelvin Herrera, but they did so without losing Juan Soto, Victor Robles, or Andrew Stevenson. The first two were never in any real danger of being traded for a relief pitcher who will be a free agent at year's end, but the Nats escaped only giving up their 10th and 11th ranked prospects:

On the surface, this deal looks exceptional for the Nationals. Herrera is another back-of-the-bullpen type that only further deepens the Nats' options in that department. Here are a handful of things you should know about the Nationals' newest pitcher:

1. Herrera's strikeout "issue" is complicated 

Herrera, like many other closers over the last half-decade, has made his name in strikeouts. He topped out at a 30.4 percent strikeout rate in 2016, and has a 23.4 percent clip for his career. His K% this season sits at 23.2 percent, which is both higher than last season and lower than his career average. 

People will look at his dramatic K/9 drop as a red flag, but "per/9" stats are flawed and not generally a worthwhile stat to build an argument around. A pitcher who gets knocked around for five runs in an inning -- but gets three strikeouts -- can have the same K/9 of a different (much more efficient) pitcher who strikes out the side in order. 

2. Herrera has basically stopped walking batters 

His career BB% sits at 7.1 percent. His highest clip is nine percent (2014, 2015) and his lowest was a shade over four percent (2016). 

This season, he's walking batters at a two percent  rate. In 27 games this season, he's walked two batters. Two! 

3. The jury seems to still be out on how good of a year he's had so far

Analytics are frustrating. On one hand, they can serve wonderfully as tools to help peel back the curtains and tell a deeper story - or dispel lazy narratives. On the other hand, they can be contradictory, confusing, and at times downright misleading. 

Take, for instance, Herrera's baseline pitching stats. His ERA sits at 1.05, while his FIP sits at 2.62. On their own, both numbers are impressive. On their own, both numbers are All-Star level stats. 

When you stack them against each other, however, the picture turns negative. While ERA is the more common stat, it's widely accepted that FIP more accurately represents a pitcher's true value (ERA's calculation makes the same per/9 mistakes that were mentioned above). 

More often than not, when a pitcher's ERA is lower than his FIP, that indicates said pitcher has benefited from luck. 

Throw in a 3.51 xFIP (which is the same as FIP, but park-adjusted) and we suddenly have a real mess on our hands. Is he the pitcher with the great ERA, the pitcher with the Very Good FIP, or the pitcher with the medicore xFIP? 

4. He was a fastball pitcher, and then he wasn't, and now he is again

Take a look at Herrera's pitch usage over his career in Kansas City:

In only three years, he's gone from throwing a sinker 31 percent of the time to completely giving up on the pitch. That's pretty wild. 

Since 2014, he's gone to the slider more and more in every year. 

His current fastball usage would be the highest of his career. He only appeared in two games during the 2011 season, so those numbers aren't reliable. Going away from the sinker probably helps explain why his Ground Ball rate has dropped 10 percentage points, too. 

5. The Nats finally have the bullpen they've been dreaming about for years

Doolittle, Herrera, Kintzler, and Madson is about as deep and talented as any bullpen in baseball.

Justin Miller, Sammy Solis, and Wander Suero all have flashed serious potential at points throughout the year. Austin Voth is waiting for roster expansion in September. 

The Nats have been trying to build this type of bullpen for the better part of the last decade. Health obviously remains an important factor, but Rizzo's got the deepest pen of his time in D.C. 

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MacLellan: Reirden will get the first crack at replacing Trotz

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USA TODAY Sports

MacLellan: Reirden will get the first crack at replacing Trotz

Will Todd Reirden replace Barry Trotz as head coach of the Washington Capitals?

Based on what GM Brian MacLellan said Monday, it certainly sounds like it’s Reirden’s job to lose.

“We’re going to start with Todd here,” MacLellan said. “I think we’ve been grooming him to be a head coach, whether for us or someone else.”

“We’ll see how the talk goes with him and we’ll make a decision based on that,” MacLellan added. “If it goes well, we’ll pursue Todd. And if it doesn’t, we’ll open it up a little bit.”

MacLellan said he isn’t sure exactly when the interview with Reirden will take place. The front office needs a few days to regroup. It’s also a busy stretch in hockey’s offseason. In the coming two weeks, MacLellan will direct the NHL draft in Dallas, monitor development camp in Arlington and then call the shots when free agency begins on July 1.  

“We need to take a breather here but I think Todd is a good candidate for it,” MacLellan said. “I’d like to sit down with Todd and have a normal interview, head coaching interview. I think most of our discussions are just casual. It’s about hockey in general. But I’d like to do a formal interview with him and just see if there’s differences or how we’re seeing things the same and if he’s a possibility for the head coach.”

Reirden, 46, spent the past four seasons on Trotz’s bench. He was elevated to associate coach prior to the 2016-17 season after coming up just short in his pursuit of the head coaching position in Calgary.

Reirden’s primary responsibility on Trotz’s staff was overseeing the defense and Washington’s perennially potent power play.

Prior to joining the Capitals in 2014, he was an assistant coach for four seasons with the Penguins. And before that, he spent a couple of seasons as the head coach of AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, the Penguins’ top minor league affiliate.

A native of Deerfield, Ill., Reirden also had a lengthy professional career that included 183 NHL games with the Oilers, Blues, Thrashers and Coyotes.

Asked what he’s looking for in the Caps’ next head coach, MacLellan said he’s looking for a forward-thinker, a strong communicator and a players’ coach.

Reirden is all of those things.

“Someone that's up to date on the modern game,” MacLellan said. “Someone that's progressive, looking to try different things. Someone that has a good relationship with players. They communicate, can teach, make players better. It's becoming a developmental league where guys are coming in not fully developed products and we need a guy that can bring young players along because more and more we're going to use young players as the higher end guys make more money.”

One of the side benefits of elevating Reirden is the fact he already has a strong relationship with many of the current players, meaning there won’t be much upheaval as the Caps look to defend their championship.

“It could be a natural transition,” MacLellan said. “But once we sit down and talk face to face about all the little small details in the team, I'll have a better feel for it.”

MacLellan said a decision on the other assistant coaches—Lane Lambert, Blaine Forsythe, Scott Murray, Brett Leonhardt and Tim Ohashi—will be made after the next head coach is named.

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