The fall from grace of RG3 continues with latest trade talks

By Sam Cowan

Two weeks after stating that he’s the best quarterback in the league, Robert Griffin III now faces trade rumors and the possibility of getting relegated to a backup role.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported on Sunday that coaches and front-office officials for the Washington Redskins were looking to trade the former No. 2 overall pick.

If a trade happens, it would cap off a tumultuous tenure for Griffin in Washington.

The Redskins traded three first-round picks and a second-round pick to the Rams in order to move into position to select Griffin in the 2012 NFL Draft.

At the time, Griffin was viewed as a potential franchise quarterback with his mobility and arm. For the first year of his career, it appeared as if Griffin would live up to the hype.

The Redskins went from last place in the NFC East in 2011 to a division title in 2012 with Griffin winning Rookie of the Year while recording a Total QBR of 75.6 in the regular season. Tom Brady and Peyton Manning were the only eligible quarterbacks to record a higher QBR in 2012.

Griffin tore his ACL in the ensuing playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks and would never be the same player afterwards.

In 2013, Griffin’s Total QBR fell to 42.2 which ranked 24th among qualified players. The Redskins went a conference-worst 3-13 in 2013.

The drop in Total QBR would continue for Griffin in 2014 as he reached a new career-low of 33.5 while playing in just nine games due to a leg injury.

Despite ranking among the bottom-half of the league in Total QBR for the last two seasons, Griffin still seems confident in his ability as a quarterback.

“I know I’m the best quarterback on this team. I feel like I’m the best quarterback in the league and I have to go out and show that,” said Griffin in an interview with WJLA.

However, Griffin’s competition for the quarterback position in Washington, Colt McCoy and Kirk Cousins, both recorded higher Total QBRs than him in 2014, leading to the recent trade rumors.

While Griffin has often been at odds with his coaches, the ownership of the Redskins has stayed consistent in their support of him.

Former coach Mike Shanahan and owner Dan Snyder had a well-publicized feud in 2013 over Griffin’s role on the team. Shanahan would leave the team at the end of 2013.

If the Redskins are serious about trading Griffin, his contract could prove a major obstacle in that process.

Griffin is signed through the end of 2016 and is owed $22.8 million over the next two seasons. Of that money, $16 million is due for the 2016 season alone.

Considering the amount the Redskins gave up to draft Griffin back in 2012, it would seem like they would want a lot in return for a player who was a star during his rookie year.

However, it seems unlikely that Griffin will net very much in a trade given his performance over the last two seasons and the massive amount of guaranteed money he will be owed.

Wherever he is at the start of the season, Griffin faces the possibility of being outside the top spot in the depth chart for the first time in his career.

Update: Kirk Cousins has been named as the Redskins starter for Week 1.

Reds continue to slide in standings, on pace for worst finish in 32 years

By Sam Cowan

The Cincinnati Reds fell to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Tuesday for their 10th loss in their last 11 games.

The 5-1 loss, combined with a 9-1 win by the St. Louis Cardinals against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Tuesday, has placed the Reds 27.5 games out of first place in the NL Central.

The 27.5 games is the furthest the Reds have been out of first place since the 2004 team finished 29 games out at the end of the season.

If the current standings hold, it will be the first time since 1983 that the Reds finish in last place in their division. The Reds are tied for last in the division with the Milwaukee Brewers.

That 1983 Reds team finished the season 17 games out of first place in the NL West and ended the year with a record of 74-88.

At their current pace, the Reds would finish the season with a record of 67-95, which would be the worst record for the franchise since 2001.

The Reds have struggled since the All-Star break with a record of 13-25 since July 17.

Part of the reason for that struggle has been the trading of top pitchers Johnny Cueto and Mike Leake prior to the trade deadline. Those trades have forced the Reds to rely on rookie starting pitching with mixed results.

The oft-derided offense of the Reds has also not helped. While Joey Votto and Eugenio Suarez have both hit well since the break, the averages of Todd Frazier, Jay Bruce and Brandon Phillips have dropped.

The issues at the plate have not been helped by the waiver trade of Marlon Byrd on Thursday and a shoulder injury to Billy Hamilton.

The futility of the Reds performances has been shown in two separate nine-game losing streaks during the season. It is the first time since 1989 that the Reds have had multiple nine-game losing streaks in the same season.

While the Reds have struggled this season, the NL Central has remained competitive at the top. The Cardinals hold the best record in baseball while the Pirates and Cubs control the wild-card spots in the National League.

After making the playoffs three times in four years from 2010 to 2013, the Reds will now miss the playoffs for the second year in a row.

With the season a lost cause, the Reds will look to rebuild for next year. The remaining month of the season might prove an important step in the rebuilding process as the Reds assess what they have in terms of players.

From a historical perspective, the near-future does not look promising for the Reds. After the aforementioned 1983 season, the Reds failed to make the playoffs until 1990.

Does winning the Home Run Derby hurt the winner? Not necessarily

By Sam Cowan

Cincinnati Reds third baseman Todd Frazier has been unable to find his rhythm since the All-Star Break.

In July, Frazier became the first player since Ryne Sandberg in 1990 to win the Home Run Derby in front of his hometown crowd.

However, Frazier has seen his stats dip significantly in the second half of the season.

Coming into the break, Frazier was batting .284 with 25 home runs and 57 runs batted in. Since winning the Home Run Derby on July 13, Frazier has batted a measly .178 with four home runs and 16 RBIs.

Whenever a derby winner hits a cold spell in the second half, some are quick to say that just playing in the Home Run Derby changes your swing and throws off your timing at the plate.

Looking at the available data, however, leads to a different conclusion.

It is true that derby winners see a drop in batting average for the second half. In fact, winners see their batting average in the second half drop by about 11 points on average, though it should be noted that the last four winners prior to Frazier have all seen a jump up in batting average for the second half.

However, there seems to be no correlation between winning the derby and hitting fewer home runs for the rest of the season. Of the 30 derby winners prior to Frazier, half of them actually hit home runs at a faster pace in the second half than the first.

There is also no clear correlation between winning the derby and RBI production. 18 of the aforementioned 30 winners averaged less RBIs per game in the second half, but that is hardly a strong relation.

So if there is little to no correlation between performance in the derby and performance in the second half of the season, how can Frazier’s struggles since July 13 be explained?

The answer is actually quite simple. It is a natural regression based on Frazier’s career prior to the 2015 season.

Through the end of the 2014 season, Frazier was batting .258 for his career and was averaging a home run every 23rd at-bat. Prior to the All-Star Break, Frazier’s batting average in 2015 was 26 points above his career mark and he was hitting a home run every 14th bat.

This shows that Frazier was batting well beyond the career averages established in his prior three seasons at the major league level and made a regression for the second half almost inevitable.

Since July 13, Frazier’s average for the season has dropped to .257 and he is now hitting a home run every 16th at-bat. He is also averaging about 0.6 RBIs per game this season, which is still above his career average of 0.5 per game.

These numbers are much closer to what Frazier has done throughout his career, though he is still outperforming expectations in terms of home runs and RBIs.

While Frazier has struggled at times in the second half, he is still on-pace for the best season of his career thus far. He has already tied his single-season best for homers and is seven RBIs away from tying his single-season high in that category as well.

Regression is a natural part of baseball and happens to all players over the course of a 162-game season. This is why sample size is very important when judging a players value as a whole.

Regression also makes it hard to blame the Home Run Derby for players slumping in the second half, especially when some have actually performed better in a season after winning the derby.

Jason Day wins first career major with record-breaking performance

By Sam Cowan

Jason Day won the PGA Championship on Sunday for his first career major win as he recorded the lowest score to par in major history.

The 27-year-old Day had a share of the lead through three rounds in both the U.S. Open and Open Championship this season, but fell short at both events.

A 5-under 67 on the final round gave Day a score of 20-under for the tournament, breaking the record for lowest score under par for a single major. Tiger Woods previously held the record with a score of 19-under at the 2000 Open Championship.

Day was clearly emotional after the win and shared hugs with his wife and son before also hugging runner-up Jordan Spieth.

Spieth, who fell short of becoming the third golfer to win three majors in a calendar year, shot 17-under for the tournament, but never got within two strokes of Day during the final round.

However, Spieth also made history with his performance over the weekend. Spieth’s overall score of 54-under for this year’s majors broke the single-year record of 53-under set by Tiger Woods in 2000.

The 22-year-old Spieth also moved to No. 1 in the Official Golf World Ranking for the first time in his career. Spieth passed Rory McIlroy who had been No. 1 for over a year before being bumped down a spot after a 17th-place finish on Sunday.

With his win, Day moved from No. 4 to No. 3 in the rankings, passing two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson.

Day is the fifth Australian to win the PGA Championship, joining Jim Ferrier, David Graham, Wayne Grady and Steve Elkington. He is also the first Australian to win a major since Adam Scott won the 2013 Masters.

The win was Day’s third this season and was his fifth career win on the PGA Tour.

Day made headlines in June when he combated vertigo throughout his run in the U.S Open and still had a share of the lead heading into the final day. A 4-over par in the final round would leave him five strokes behind a winning Spieth.

Day again held a share of the lead through three rounds in July’s Open Championship. This time a missed birdie putt on the final hole would end his chances, leaving him a stroke out of a playoff ultimately won by Zach Johnson.

Day would not be denied on Sunday as he bogeyed just twice in the final round while sinking six birdie putts.

A birdie on the par-5 16 and back-to-back pars on the final two holes secured the win and the scoring record for Day.

Jordan Spieth takes shot at history in PGA Championship

By Sam Cowan

22-year-old golfer Jordan Spieth enters the PGA Championship on Thursday with a chance at doing something only two other men have accomplished.

After winning the Masters and the U.S. Open, Spieth will be looking to claim his third major win of the calendar year. Ben Hogan and Tiger Woods are the only golfers to have accomplished that feat in 1953 and 2000, respectively.

If he wins, Spieth would also be the youngest player to win three majors in a calendar year.

Spieth claimed his first major championship with an impressive performance in the Masters in April. Spieth led the event from wire-to-wire and tied the event record for lowest overall score with an 18-under 270 for the weekend.

Spieth would follow up on that impressive performance with a narrow victory in June’s U.S. Open. Entering the final round, Spieth found himself in a four-way tie for first.

A missed birdie putt by Dustin Johnson on the 18th hole clinched the win for Spieth, who became the youngest player to win the U.S. Open since Bobby Jones in 1923.

However, Spieth’s chance at a historic calendar Grand Slam would come to an end at the Open Championship in July.

Spieth found himself with a share of the lead as late as the 16th hole of the final round, but a bogey on 17 and a par on 18 would leave him one stroke back of the leaders at the end of the round.

Zach Johnson went on to beat Louis Oosthuizen and Marc Leishman in the three-hole playoff to claim his second-career major and his first since the 2007 Masters.

The main competition for Spieth this weekend might come from the current No. 1 ranked golfer in the world, Rory McIlroy. McIlroy is the defending champion at the PGA Championship.

McIlroy has been out of action since July 6 with a major injury to ligaments in his left ankle that he sustained while playing soccer. The injury forced McIlroy to miss the Open Championship which was held in his native Scotland.

It was initially speculated that McIlroy might not return until 2016, but the four-time major winner confirmed on Monday that he would be ready to play for the final major of the year.

The PGA Championship could be a major proving ground for both men as Spieth has a chance to move into the No. 1 spot in the world rankings with a win and anything less than a second place finish from McIlroy.

The PGA Championship is scheduled to start Thursday with tee times beginning at 7:45 EST. Television coverage is scheduled to begin on Thursday at 2 EST on TNT.

ESPN continues to experiment with eSports and it’s a good thing

By Sam Cowan

The finals of The International Dota 2 Championships took place in Seattle on Saturday and an American team won for the first time in the five-year history of the event.

The Evil Geniuses beat Chinese team CDEC Gaming in the finals, winning the best-of-five series 3-1. The winning team received $6.6 million in prize money to split among their team.

The event was streamed live on ESPN’s mobile platform, ESPN3, as well as Twitch and Youtube, among other major streaming platforms. It was the second year in a row that the event was streamed on ESPN3.

Dota 2, also known as Defense of the Ancients, is a video game in which two teams of five must destroy the opposing team’s base to win. The game is part of the increasingly-popular MOBA, or multiplayer online battle arena, genre.

ESPN’s recent association with eSports has not gone without controversy. Shortly after the 2014 International Dota 2 Championships were aired on ESPN3 , ESPN president John Skipper later stated that he wasn’t interested in eSports as a regular feature on his networks.

“It’s not a sport, it’s a competition,” said Skipper. “Mostly, I’m interested in doing real sports.”

The debate about whether eSports should be considered a real sport is a contentious one.

A common argument is that games such as Dota require little physical exertion or athleticism to play well. While that might be true, the same could be said of poker, NASCAR, or the Scripps National Spelling Bee and yet the latter three are all regularly seen on the ESPN family of networks.

The dictionary definition of sports is:

“An athletic activity requiring skill or physical prowess and often of a competitive nature, as racing, baseball, tennis, golf, bowling, wrestling, boxing, hunting, fishing, etc.”

The keyword there is “or”. While physical ability may not be necessary to play competitive video games, an ample amount of skill and dexterity is a requirement. That is the best argument in favor of eSports.

Whichever side of the argument you’re on, it is hard to dispute the potential financial gains of associating with the rapidly-growing eSports industry.

A study published by market research firm Newzoo showed that over 205 million people watched or played eSports in 2014. Of those 205 million, 89 million were frequent viewers of eSports events.

The combined viewership for the 2014 International Dota 2 Championships across all platforms was about 20 million, more than the NBA Finals, the World Series and the Stanley Cup Finals that same year.

The same study showed that 56 percent of American fans were between the ages of 21 and 35, a valuable demographic for advertisers. Coke, Intel and Nissan are examples of brands that have gotten involved as sponsors of eSports teams and events.

The audience for eSports has substantially grown each of the past three years and it will be interesting to see how the partnership with ESPN will affect that growth.

While there are some in the company who may not like the concept of games like Dota airing on their network, there is an undeniable audience for it.

If the viewership for future events is high enough, it is even possible that eSports events may make the move from ESPN3 to ESPN’s main broadcast channels. However, that may take some time due to the general view towards eSports as a non-sport by those in power at ESPN.

Reds’ youth pitching movement creates positive internal competition during crucial rebuilding phase

By Sam Cowan

Losses in free agency, trades and an untimely injury have forced the Cincinnati Reds to test the potential future of their starting rotation.

Entering Wednesday, all five members of the Reds rotation are rookies and that is unlikely to change this season.

It is the first time that a Reds team has boasted an all-rookie rotation since 1935.

In 2014, Reds starters had the third-lowest ERA of any team with a rotation of Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Mike Leake, Homer Bailey, and Alfredo Simon playing a majority of the games. However, all but one of those players has now left the franchise.

Simon and Latos both left during the 2014 offseason via free agency and a trade, respectively. Cueto and Leake both started the season on the roster, but were dealt prior to the trade deadline. Bailey was forced to undergo Tommy John surgery in May and will be out of action until the 2016 season.

In their place, Anthony DeSclafani, Michael Lorenzen, Raisel Iglesias, David Holmberg and Keyvius Sampson have risen up to fill the holes in the rotation.

Those five players have a combined 4.21 ERA for the 2015 season.

Rookies are valuable for teams because of the ability to control the players long-term. MLB teams have exclusive negotiations rights with their players for their first six years of major league service.

This means that all five players are under the Reds control for the next five seasons at least, which could make them valuable and reliable pieces for the team down the road.

While the Reds are well out of playoff contention, these last two months of the season are very important for both the players and the Reds.

Bailey is scheduled to return next season, which means at least one rotation spot will be filled by the veteran pitcher. Bailey will serve as an ace for the Reds in 2016 and will be the de-facto leader for the younger arms.

Additionally, the rookies will face competition from the minors. Robert Stephenson has been a top pitching prospect for the Reds the last couple of seasons and is expected to make a move to the majors as soon as September.

Brandon Finnegan and John Lamb, two left-handers acquired in the Cueto trade, are both potential candidates to make the move to the majors and may do so soon if they perform well at AAA Louisville.

This makes August and September incredibly important for the pitchers currently in the rotation and those waiting for their chance in the minors.

The Reds are in a situation where they can look closely at the young guys that they have and make personnel decisions for next season based on how they perform.

Bailey is a guarantee to lead the rotation and DeSclafani has arguably performed well enough to keep his spot. The status of everyone else might be determined in these final two months.

Who, if anyone, can stop Ronda Rousey?

By Sam Cowan

Ronda Rousey knocked out Bethe Correia in 34 seconds in the main event of UFC 190 on Saturday to retain her women’s bantamweight title and improve to 11-0 in her career.

After the fight, an emotional Rousey dedicated the win to recently-deceased wrestler, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper.

The win marks her seventh successful defense of the title, which she won in March 2012. It was also Rousey’s third win in four fights against an opponent who was undefeated coming in.

The victory is the latest in a long line of impressive performances by Rousey up to this point as she has dominated the bantamweight division in UFC since her debut.

10 of Rousey’s 11 fights in her career have ended in the first round and her last three fights have gone a combined 64 seconds.

Rousey’s dominance has drawn a lot of fan and media interest and heading into UFC 190 she was ranked by the media as the fourth best pound-for-pound fighter in the company regardless of gender. Champions Jose Aldo, Chris Weidman and Demetrius Johnson were the only fighters ranked ahead of her.

With her latest challenger dispatched, the question now becomes who will step up to the plate next to challenge for Rousey’s championship.

Shortly after the Rousey-Correia fight concluded, former Strikeforce bantamweight champion Miesha Tate posted a tweet stating her desire for another chance at Rousey. It would the third fight between the two.

The first match between Tate and Rousey was for the Strikeforce bantamweight title and Rousey won via her signature armbar in 4:27.

Their second fight took place in December 2013. During that fight, Tate became the first and so far only fighter to make it out of the first round against Rousey. However, Rousey would again win with her armbar as Tate was forced to submit 58 seconds into the third round.

Tate would seem to be the likely choice to face Rousey next, but it is questionable if the fight will end any differently than their previous two match-ups.

While Rousey likes to finish her opponents off quickly, 8 of Tate’s 17 wins in her career have come by a decision.

Regardless, the second Rousey-Tate match was the most competitive of Rousey’s career thus far and I could see the UFC building a PPV around a third and final match between the two. The match would likely be a PPV main event, especially if the buyrate for UFC 190 is high enough.

Rousey has previously stated that she wants to retire as an undefeated champion and with every dominant victory that seems more likely to happen. Her success in the octagon has gained Rousey mainstream fame and she has begun branching out to movies as of late.

If she defeats Tate for a third time, it is very possible that Rousey could consider hanging up her gloves while she is at the top of her game.

If so, it would be hard to blame her. After all, Rousey’s dominance to this point means she has nothing else to really prove.