Don't Kill The Mellinger

Twitter Tuesday: Why recruiting rankings are silly, Chiefs and Royals in the playoffs, and worst loss ever?

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson was a three-star recruit coming out of high school.
Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson was a three-star recruit coming out of high school. The Associated Press

The biggest football game of them all will be hyped here in an otherwise drab downtown and played a few miles west in the giant space ship off the 101. You have probably heard about this. It’s the game so big we’ve made a national scandal out of how much air is in a football. CSI: PSI, or something.

Anyway, once we all get talking about the game, we will see that it involves — and I’m doing this completely off the top of my head here, so be kind — as many as eight Hall of Famers:

Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Darrelle Revis and Vince Wilfork from the Patriots; Russell Wilson, Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas from the Seahawks.

Quibble with the specific number if you must, but whatever, that’s a lot of talent, and we haven’t talked about Marshawn Lynch, Bobby Wagner, Max Unger, Russell Okung, Devin McCourty and Stephen Gostkowski.

So, yeah. A lot of great players. And here’s something: no starter on either team was a five-star recruit out of high school.

Not a one.

Wilson, Sherman, Chancellor, Thomas, Revis and Brandon Browner were all three-star recruits.

I bring this up because a week from tomorrow is what’s become known as national signing day, when high school kids with lots of potential and zero experience are hyped as program changers. Some fan bases will count their five- and four-star recruits and start expecting national championships; others will count their two- and three-star recruits and start wondering if their coach needs to be fired.

It’d be nice if we could chill out a bit on that, realize that not only are these rankings inherently flawed, but that kids mature and develop at vastly different rates. I say this as much for the five-star recruit who doesn’t need all the expectation as the two-star kid who might need some confidence.

Anyway, this week’s eating recommendation is the shrimp taco at Sabor Y Sol, and the reading recommendation is Mark Leibovich on Tom Brady.

As always, thanks for reading and thanks for your help.

Forms of this question are a bit of a constant in this silly weekly timesuck we’ve all created here, and for a long time some of you thought I was crazy for saying the Royals would make the playoffs before the Chiefs won a playoff game.

I don’t get many predictions right, so I hope you’ll pardon me pointing this out, but I only use it as background to say that I believe we’re headed into the first season since, well, ever, where both teams make the playoffs.^

^ And, yes, I’m aware that The Great Collapse^^ against the Colts happened in 2014, the same year the Royals — double checks to make sure … yep, wow — made it to the World Series. But that was the 2013 season, so stop cheating.

^^ I should know this, but did we ever settle on a name for that game? If not, I propose we just go with “38-10.”

I think the Chiefs are moving in the right direction, finally built on solid ground, and enter an offseason with a thousand draft picks and plenty of cap space that be created to fill obvious, glaring, gaping, marked-by-flashing-neon-signs weaknesses at receiver, linebacker, and along the offensive line. NFL history is full of teams that make dramatic jumps like the one the Chiefs did from 2012 to 2013, then fall back a bit like the Chiefs did from 2013 to 2014, and then prop themselves back up like I believe the Chiefs will this season. Long way to go, but I think they’ll win 10 or 11 games and then lose another playoff game.

I’m willing to be naive on the Royals, too. There are some trends I don’t like. For instance, I’m not sure you’d want to bet that Yordano Ventura^, Danny Duffy and Greg Holland will all stay healthy this season. I believe Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas are ready to break out over a full regular season, but I’ve believed that for a few years now.

^ If you haven’t already, check out the wonderful work by my friends Vahe Gregorian and Dave Eulitt from the Dominican Republic.

All that said, I think the Tigers are entirely beatable. I don’t like the Cespedes-Porcello trade for them, I don’t think Victor Martinez is recreating last season, I don’t think their rotation is as good as it was last year, and I don’t think they addressed an enormously weak bullpen.

The division should be deeper than in recent history, but the Royals still — even as the mainstream label of this incredibly young team is off and outdated — have guys on the good side of the career arc. Shields will be tough to replace, but if the Royals can again keep their rotation healthy, they should be fine there. Again, long way to go, but I see 90 wins and the division title.

None of that answers your question, of course, so: I’d bet more money on the Chiefs making the playoffs than I would the Royals.

But I think they’ll both make it.

Really. I do.

No, not at all. It was a great game to watch, no doubt. Relatively clean, intense, well-played. But one game does not fix the problems of college basketball any more than one nice text message fixes a broken relationship.

Scoring is still tracking toward historic lows. Same with pace, and TV ratings.

I love the sport. I love the passion, the traditions, the environments, the personalities of different programs. I love watching a player improve from freshman year to sophomore, and so on. But the sport is diseased with choppy play, possessions that are too long and too few, and no leadership.

I appreciate that the column has generated some conversation, but I want to reiterate a point I tried to make here on the blog yesterday. We can sit around all day and argue about specific rules changes — I’d shorten the shot clock, widen the lane, stop defenders from chucking cutters and drivers, and change the timeout rules, for starters — and those are good debates to have.

But it’s also a bit like arguing whether you’d be better off adding a sun room or expanding the kitchen in your house if you can’t find someone to do the work.

Because so much of what is ailing college basketball right now can be linked directly with its nonsensical lack of leadership. Nobody is in charge, so who do you go to for change?

Look, I will probably always love college basketball. I will continue to watch, and not just because it’s an important part of my job. But there is no question that the sport can improve, both in how it looks, is played, and is marketed.

College basketball is like a bunch of loosely related fiefdoms acting in their own self-interests. The sport needs a leader, someone to make the whole at least equal to the sum of the parts. There is so much potential in the sport. But they need to admit they have a problem, and put someone in charge of fixing it.

One of the great victories of my adult life is that I have not been to Taco Bell in years. I don’t know why I draw this distinction between Taco Bell, which I find disgusting, and Taco John’s, which I crush every chance I get,^ but I do. I’d like to say it’s the delicious potato oles and taco bravo, but it’s almost certainly something much dumber and baseless.

^ There’s one in Manhattan now!

As for the eating recs, I wouldn’t say they’re always nice restaurants. I’ve probably linked the Peanut here more times than anywhere else. My only requirement is that the place be locally owned, not a chain, because I like to support local and I think we all know that you need the chips and salsa at Chili’s.

Honestly, I don’t think there’s a good and feasible way, and this gets to part of what makes football so damned great in the first place.

Everything about why the Pro Bowl is irrelevant goes to the idea that there is nothing at stake. Nothing. Nobody cares who wins, so nobody plays all that hard, and the schemes and blitzes and play-calling are all entirely different than anything we’d see at even the high school level.

This will always be a fundamental flaw for the Pro Bowl, because there is no feasible way to create the kind of stakes that would both make for a compelling game and attract guys to play. It’s just not realistic to give the winning side, like, a half million each and the losing side a box of orange slices.

Football is full of bodily sacrifice, of inherent injury risk, and no matter what we might tell ourselves, that is at least a small part of what draws us to the sport. This is an extra game, an exhibition, a showcase. Nobody is getting a better contract based on what they do at the Pro Bowl, so guys are either not playing with their full hearts and minds or not showing up at all.

I’m completely OK with all of this. I don’t think football needs an All-Star game. It just doesn’t fit, not like it does with the other sports. Which is fine, because there is plenty else to love about the sport.

Depends entirely on what you want out of your game. My view is that the game is for the fans. Entirely for the fans. It’s a chance to see stars against stars, to see, for instance, Felix Hernandez face Andrew McCutchen, Yasiel Puig and Troy Tulowitzki in order. For fans of a particular team, it’s a chance to see their guy play alongside a star from a different team. It’s fun and entirely pointless beyond entertainment, which, when you think about it, can be said for most of sports.

The trick here is that Pro Bowl selections and All-Star game appearances are often used as shorthand to quantify how good a certain player is. This shorthand is often misleading, intentional or otherwise, and to this end it’s no coincidence that John Dorsey always says something to the effect of, hey, we got a Pro Bowl quarterback for a second round pick when talking about the Alex Smith trade.

The best outcome is a world in which we use “All-Pro,” instead of “Pro Bowl,” to quantify a player’s greatness. Baseball could adopt something similar. In addition to the Cy Young and MVP, you could have an equivalency to the NFL’s All-Pro team. Pick it after the season, so it’s more than reputation and hot starts that are rewarded.

And if that’s the purpose of what we’re doing — to honor the very greatest, and not just fill out a roster for an exhibition game — I think the best way to choose is a combination of players, coaches and media votes. Each of those groups have their own specific strengths and weaknesses, and I think using them all together would get you closest to choosing the best in a sport.

The other option would be to mandate that any reference to a Pro Bowl selection had to be accurate and specific, so that, for instance, he’d be known as “Pro Bowl Seventh Alternate Andy Dalton.”

Tamba Hali said it was about the contract. That makes sense, is entirely reasonable, and is probably the advice Houston got from his agent and anyone else who has his best financial interests at heart.

Houston denies this, and says he had a stomach bug. My first thought about that was he didn’t want people thinking he was just about the money, but then, if he didn’t want to play he could’ve turned down the selection and given someone else the spot. I’m fairly certain Houston could’ve found another reason to go to Phoenix or, if I was him, somewhere better.

So, I don’t know. The contract thing makes the most sense, but I’m not sure why Houston would lie about it. Either way, he was smart not to play in that silly thing.

Yeah, well, first can I say something? I’m dubious about this. Hali is smart, and thoughtful, and honest — especially by NFL standards, and ESPECIALLY by the standards of what the Chiefs coach their players to say publicly. So I’m not saying he’s lying here, or even misleading.

But I am saying that it’s one thing to talk about taking less money. It is an entirely different thing to actually, in real life, leave millions of dollars on the table. I know the reaction here is always something like, “C’mon, he’s made like $70 million in his career, why does he need every dollar?”

And it’s true that some athletes do take less money to play in one place over another.^ That’s wonderful for them. I’m happy any time someone is happy with what they do and what they’re being paid to do it.

^ Or, in the astonishing case of Gil Meche, flatly refuse to take $12 million — going against the union’s directives in the process — after retiring.

But, you know, I listen a lot harder to “no big deal, he doesn’t need those millions of dollars” when the person saying that has, in fact, turned down millions of dollars.

Anyone like that out there?

The mock drafts — and I just can’t overstate how little any of us should care about mock drafts, especially mock drafts in January — put Lockett in the third round or later. I have never claimed to be an expert on these things, and I know the receiver position is fairly strong relative to the rest of the draft, but I think Lockett is better than that. He seems like a second-round guy to me, maybe even late first, depending on the fit.

His — deep voice here — football character is very strong. He loves the game, is versatile in that he can help return kicks, and has a skill set and instincts and work ethic that should allow him to get open in a league where open receivers are vital.

And I can’t go through 31 teams and go hypothetical about each fit, but, seriously, he’d be a great fit for what the Chiefs and Alex Smith do. Not a good fit. A great fit.

This was sent before it was announced that defensive line coach Craig Kulogowski decided to stay at Mizzou, obviously, but I’m including it here anyway because it’s one more example of something that’s been mentioned here and many other places many times: Gary Pinkel’s assistants are fantastically loyal.

It cuts both ways, of course, because Pinkel has always been loyal to them, and fought for a bigger pool of money for his assistants’ salaries. It is, without question, a foundation of the success that Pinkel has built there.

I don’t mean to minimize Kulugowski’s specific contributions. It is not happenstance that Mizzou has a growing list of standout defensive linemen graduating from the program. I’m just saying that this fits character about what that program has been about. It’s a rare thing in college football, for sure.

I hate it.

Did you want more?

I despise it. We should start by pointing out that MLB isn’t doing this, but only saying it is open to discussing it. But it would be such a backwards, short-sighted thing, an example of a league that has always been too slow to embrace change making a bit of a knee-jerk, get-off-my-lawn dismissal at an evolution that has clearly given certain teams an edge.

There are a lot of things MLB could do to improve its product, many of them relating to pace of play, but also getting into fan experience at stadiums. Any minute spent discussing whether teams should be allowed to position their defenders in a way they believe gives them the best chance of winning is a ridiculous and counterproductive waste of a minute.

The Royals would like it, though.

No.

First, I really don’t like when elite programs like KU and Kentucky talk about how young they are. Like they don’t choose to be young. Like they don’t use their profile and tradition and general greatness as a way to recruit the best talent available, talent that often goes to the NBA after a year or two, leaving them in a bit of a feedback loop where they’re always young. If being young is a big problem, Bill Self and John Calipari are free to recruit kids who will redshirt and graduate as fifth-year seniors.

But, more to the point of your question, Self has had a lot of great coaching jobs. He went 37-3 and won a national championship one year, which is pretty good, and the best pro on that team is, what, Mario Chalmers? Who’s scoring a career-high 10.7 points a game this year? The season after the national title. He’s won league titles (plural) replacing all five starters, while losing three straight road games (he did this twice), and losing two of the first three. Another year, he lost to a bunch of aliens from Kentucky in the national championship game with Thomas Robinson, the mercurial Tyshawn Taylor, and not a whole lot else. Also, and he would never say this out loud, but he kept Sherron Collins eligible^ and in relative playing shape for four years.

^ Collins was waived by the Bobcats in 2011, but they liked him enough to want to bring him back later in the season. He missed his flight. The team arranged for another flight. He missed that one, too. Collins has not played in the NBA since.

The Big 12 is probably better and certainly deeper than many years where KU has won, and Self is having to change the way he coaches this year more than most, but the case for this as better than any of the previous ten conference titles is pretty weak and relies mostly on short memory.

I’d put KU at TCU as a nine, not a 10, just because it was on the road and I think a perfect score should be reserved for a truly horrendous and inexcusable loss.

Texas Tech is really bad. I’ve had the grand fortune of seeing them twice in person already this year, and it’s just hard to see how they can beat a good Division I team. My prediction before the season was that KU and Iowa State would share the conference title, and I still think that’s fairly likely, but if you’re a team that wants to challenge the ten-time defending champs it’s a good idea not to lose to the ONLY awful team in the league.

But, and maybe I’m just trying to be nice here, this isn’t the first or last strange result in Lubbock. It’s definitely not as bad as KU losing at TCU a few years back, but it’s fairly awful.

It’s an eight.

Wait. Is that true? Seriously?

/fires up the Google machine/

Jeez. Really, it’s not even close. I’m finding seven Rivals top 250 recruits, and 27 draft picks.

That’s just … wow. I did not realize the difference was that big.

Anyway, I think there are a lot of possible reasons for this. There isn’t a lot of local talent to be had, and chunks of K-State’s success have been built largely with junior-college kids who don’t count toward these high school rankings. But the most important reason might be that Bill Snyder seems very particular about who he recruits. There is a well-told theory that the program started to slide off track before his first retirement because he chased too many top recruits. There is obviously no way to know if this is true or not, of course, but there are dots to be connected there.

It will be interesting to see where the K-State programs goes after Snyder’s second retirement.^ Obviously, it didn’t work the first time, but you’d think that the university learned from its mistake. Whoever the new coach is, I hope he’s given the freedom to lead the program the way he wants, which may or may not include changing the recruiting strategy.

^ I mean, I ASSUME he won’t coach forever. But I’m not entirely sure.

That was fun while it lasted, wasn’t it?

I’m fully aware that I probably think Weber is a better coach than many fans, and there’s a chance that my whole he’s-a-great-fit-for-KSU thing will be proven baseless. But I do think that program is in good hands.

Now, this 5-2 start in conference play does not excuse the six-loss lead-up, particularly that Texas Southern loss, but I do think it’s a pretty clear indication that the general freakout was always rather silly.

The interesting thing about K-State this season, though, will come tournament time. The Big 12 is good and deep enough that it should have six or even seven NCAA Tournament teams, but with such a crap nonconference showing, it will be interesting to see how far K-State needs to rise to make the cut.

It’s entirely possible that they will be left out with a better league record than a team that gets in. Another thing that will be interesting to watch is if K-State keeps winning, if that affects the Big 12’s RPI or general reputation. It would be really easy for people to say, “Wait a minute, you’re supposed to have the best league in the country, so why is a team that lost back to back home games to Texas Southern and George in second place?”

/Cut to James Shields, at home, furiously reading about what happened with Ervin Santana and Kendrys Morales when they went hunting for big contracts, doing a shot of Cuervo every time he reads the words “draft-pick compensation./

I figured he’d sign for something like five years and $90 million shortly after Scherzer signed, but so far, as you can see, bupkis. It’s a strange market for him at the moment, because you would think everyone could use a reliable starting pitcher, but he does have some age concerns, did fade a bit down the stretch, and teams are — with some notable exceptions — smartening up to the idea of giving every free-agent pitcher a five-year contract and truckload of cash.

I still think he’ll become richer than he already is, but by now he has to know that nobody believes the story about him having a $110 million offer on the table, and he might want to lower his sights just a bit.

But, to answer your specific question, the Royals have already bumped payroll more than 20 percent, to around $110 million, a number that — stop laughing — could mean a net loss in 2015 even the year after a World Series appearance. Do you think they would bump that payroll by nearly 20 percent more for a 33-year-old pitcher with almost two thousand innings on his arm?

Me neither.

To reach Sam Mellinger, call 816-234-4365, send email to smellinger@kcstar.com or follow on Twitter @mellinger. For previous columns, go to KansasCity.com.

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