Excitement for the return of Isaiah Thomas: While We’re Waiting

Like last week and many times before it, I’m back here again today with The Boots. A Boot Up means a good thing. A Boot Down means a bad thing. You know the drill. Let’s talk some Cleveland sports this morning.

Boot Up: Isaiah Thomas’ potential impact. ESPN.com ran an article yesterday where it polled NBA writers Brian Windhorst, Jackie MacMullan, Chris Herring, Dave McMenamin and Kevin Pelton about the fate of the 2017-18 Cleveland Cavaliers. One specific question within the article: “On a scale of 1-10, how much of the Cavs’ issues will be solved by the return of Isaiah Thomas?”

The responses were 4, 6, 6 with a question mark, another 4, and a “No clue” from the infamously prediction-shy Windhorst. To me, the responses just seemed to fall short of how impactful Thomas, despite his 5-foot-9 stature and defensive limitations, could be for this team. Recall, he averaged 28.9 points per game last season! And was second-team All-NBA! And he was pretty darn efficient, clutch and valuable!

The Cavaliers entered Wednesday night as the league’s worst defensive team with a 113.9 defensive rating, per Basketball-Reference.com. Better offense – in the form of taking away 30-ish minutes of Derrick Rose and Iman Shumpert and giving those to Isaiah Thomas ASAP – will help to breed better defense. The Cavs won’t be forced into as many defensive transition situations. They won’t commit as many bad turnovers. They won’t go through as many lulls of downright abysmal offensive gameplay.

Sure, all five ESPN.com panelists still seemed fairly confident in the Cavs’ ability to get to the NBA Finals for a fourth straight season, despite this early season malaise. And maybe the numbers here were just low because maybe it may not matter in an ultimate Warriors rematch. That’s a fair middle ground, I suppose. But I think folks are just under-selling how much better IT is over Rose and Shumpert offensively. It’s like they play a different sport practically. It’s not even close.

Boot Down: Hall of Fame … just yet for Corey Kluber. On Wednesday, the 31-year-old Texan won his second career Cy Young award. The list of multiple-time Cy Young award winners is a prestigious, remarkable list of some of the best pitchers in modern baseball history. But doing so alone leads to no type of shoe-in for the stingy Baseball Hall of Fame.

Notable two-time Cy Young winners who are out, unlikely or at least not certain to reach the fabled halls of Cooperstown: Bret Saberhagen, Johan Santana, Tim Lincecum and Denny McClain. (Active stars Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer seem well on their way to Cooperstown … and Roy Halladay, who tragically passed in a plane crash at the age of 40 last week, likely will make his way in somehow, someway.)

Because Kluber only has pitched in 168 career games – just a tad over five healthy full season’s worth – his counting stats are nowhere near Hall of Fame standards. His rate stats are elite, especially the strikeouts and walks. But when you consider that his career Wins Above Replacement level (27.0) is in the ballpark of active veterans like James Shields, Ervin Santana and Bronson Arroyo, you can see there is a lot of work still left to do.

A third career Cy Young award would likely put Kluber over the hump, perhaps no matter the usual necessary stat-accumulation. Without some additional hardware, another three-or-more good-to-great seasons would likely be a baseline starting point. There are just too many other recent modern players with 50-plus WAR (Mike Mussina, Andy Pettite, Roy Oswalt, Mark Buehrle, Tim Hudson, etc.) for Kluber to slide in so quickly.

Boot Up: In continued appreciation of Carlos Santana. I debated putting this in a Boot Down because the odds seem lower and lower by the day that the Cleveland Indians will re-sign the slugging 31-year-old free agent this offseason. Fans – and apparently the front office? – maybe just don’t recognize Santana’s value on the baseball diamond.

Above, I noted how Corey Kluber has 27.0 WAR in just over five full season’s worth of play. Santana has 25.4 WAR (also via Baseball-Reference.com) in 1,116 career games (just under the equivalent of seven full seasons for a position player). Kluber’s average MLB season has been a quite good ace starting pitcher and borderline Cy Young candidate. Santana’s average season has been a clearly above average starter and legitimate All-Star contender (despite zero career All-Star nods). The difference between the two values is important; the context of the value of durable All-Star-worthy players also is important, too.

Carlos Santana has been one of baseball’s better everyday position players since he arrived in the majors in 2010. He has had just one below-average season – an anomalous 2015 season where he batted only .231/.357/.395 – and has played in all but 62 regular season games over the last seven seasons. His career offensive line is .249/.365/.445, which shows his incredible batting eye and above-average power. He also has improved to become a darn good defensive first baseman, winning the Wilson Defensive Player of the Year award at the position.

Michael Bode wrote a great post three weeks ago starting “I hope this is not good-bye.” The two of us have written a large number of posts over the years about why fans may not appreciate Santana as much as they should. It’d be a huge bummer if he wears a different baseball uniform in 2018. But man, I’m trying to just focus on how much of a joy it has been to watch him play for Cleveland for all these years.

Boot Down: Talks of a larger College Football Playoff. Shoot me. I actually like the four-team College Football Playoff and think it’s the best format possible. Everyone is always itching for a change and a year filled with parity – where we theoretically could have multiple two-loss semifinalists – has sparked continued debate on the ideal format for postseason college football.

In a six- or eight-team playoff environment, we’d have meaningless conference championships, a guarantee of multiple two-loss participants each season, and a long, drawn-out playoff schedule that would equal the length of the entire non-conference schedule for some teams. There wouldn’t be as much drama in the mid-to-late November climax of the year. It would sap the excitement of Any Given Saturday.

Of course, college basketball’s March Madness is a money-making behemoth of a spectacle. There are 65 teams, three weekend’s worth of games and billions of dollars coughed up for office pools by even the most casual of sports fans. March Madness also means that the best team doesn’t win it all every given season and for a moderate-to-diehard sports fan, the regular season conference basketball circuit doesn’t mean a ton.

Sure, any playoff or ranking system means that it won’t always be “decided on the field” in the most concrete of fashions. But I genuinely think the four-team playoff is the best of both worlds. It rewards play from September-through-November. It ensures end-to-end competitiveness among the Power Five conferences for a finite number of spots. And it just feels like the right amount of do-or-die contests. Sorry for being in the minority on that one.