Murphy the Goat

Murphy the Goat

The G.O.A.T. is a pretty polarizing term in the world of sports. On the one hand, it’s an acronym for  “the greatest of all-time”; which is a bit overplayed with hot-take culture and social media these days, but an accolade all the same. On the other hand, it’s also an abbreviation of the word scapegoat, the opposite of a hero. It’s the person who takes a brunt of the blame when a team fails or loses.

In October of 2015, then-Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy was first deemed “the goat” thanks in part to some Chicago baseball history, and eventually went on to embody both the positive and negative connotations of the word. Murph had a historic postseason in 2015, homering six games in a row and seven times total between the National League Division and Championship series. He hit .529 in New York’s four-game sweep over the Cubs with an astronomical 1.294 slugging percentage (seriously, calling them video game numbers doesn’t even do it justice). Murphy’s performance was so otherworldly that he completely outshined New York’s stellar pitching staff, and was credited with single-handedly beating the Cubbies and carrying the Mets to the National League Pennant.  

The comparison was easy. Not only did Murph turn in one of the greatest postseason performances of all-time against Chicago, he also happens to share the name, Murphy with the infamous billy goat that has cursed the Cubs organization since 1945. In just that one playoff series alone, this league-average player became a hero for one fanbase and a scapegoat for another, but the story doesn’t end there…

 

Murph’s slashline in the World Series looked as is the Monstars had stolen his powers right after they rolled out the champagne in the NLCS. He hit just .150/.320/.150 in five games against the Kansas City Royals, and made a crucial error in Game 4 that all but sealed his club’s fate in the Fall Classic. Mets fans can attest to these “Oh Murph” moments being a common phenomenon, which is likely why the team let him walk despite that magical postseason run. He’d always been a gifted hitter, but anyone who remembers Murphy’s left field experiment will tell you that he was a positionless player very prone to the occasional brain fart on the bases. For real, David Wright once said that Murph thinks he’s invisible out there sometimes.

Anyway, the Mets extended Murphy a qualifying offer that offseason with the thought that he’d return to the player he’d always been in Flushing the following season; an above-average hitter with modest power and shaky defense. Instead, Murphy signed a 3-year deal with the Washington Nationals and carried his 2015 playoff performance into the 2016 regular season. It was as if the World Series never happened and he went back to being the positive version of “the goat” we were all acquainted with in the Divisional and League Championship rounds the previous year.

Murph was unbelievable in 2016. He was Wade Boggs with pop. Murphy went from being a .755 OPS guy with the Mets to the league leader in that stat at .985 (over 170 points better than his teammate and unanimous 2015 NL MVP, Bryce Harper). He also took the race for the National League batting title down to his final at bat, and will likely finish in the top-3 of the NL MVP voting.

No one expected this; not even the Nationals, who were more interested in trying to pry Yoenis Cespedes away from the Mets than Murphy. They settled for Murph. He was their second choice at best behind an aging Brandon Phillips. The Nats lucked out and ended up with one of the best pure hitters in all of baseball, but what’s next for Daniel Murphy?

It’s hard to say what kind of player Murph will be in the years to come following the 2016 season. I mean, this monstrous spike in production can’t be sustainable, can it? History says no, but all other signs point to yes.

The safe bet would be to say that Murphy settles into the mean next year. Somewhat like Matt Carpenter, who averaged about 10 home runs a year through his first two full seasons, then jumped to nearly 30 in 2015, and settled into 20-homer territory this past year. Carpenter sold out for that power stroke, which added about 40 strikeouts and cut down his walk-rate, before correcting the problem and putting up his most consistent season yet at 30 years-old. Murph, who will be heading into his age 32 season, saw a power did dip in the second half (dropping from 17 homers before the All Star Break to just 8 after), which could mean he’ll average somewhere between his 109 wRC+ in 2015 and his 156 mark in 2016; however, that was the only noticeable change in Murph’s game and he did spend a nice chunk of time on the DL in late-September/October.

It’d be one thing if Murphy coasted to some great numbers on hot April following his heroic playoff performance, but he’s proved his numbers this year are anything but a hoax no matter how you look at them. Murph hit over .340 before and after the All Star Break, .347 on the year, and .329 against lefties. He earned his hits with a .349 BABIP while leading the National League in slugging percentage at .596. Murph also struck out in only 9.8% of his ABs, and was worth about 5.5 wins despite costing his team about seven runs on the defensive side of the ball according to Fangraphs’ calculations.

The least likely outcome for Daniel Murphy’s 2017 season is a complete free-fall from grace, and I believe his days of being the negative definition of “the goat” are long behind him. This recent success for Murphy can be attributed to a new approach at the plate, which saw him tracking pitches early in the count and hunting balls in specific zones that he knew he could really drive. Murph’s hard contact jumped from 31% to 38% between 2015 and ‘16, and his HR/FB ratio go from 8.3% to 12.4%. He is, by all measures, a completely different player and one of the most talented hitters in the MLB. Murph is still a goof, and an absolute liability on defense and on the basepaths; but get used to referring to him as the positive form of “the goat” rather than the negative one.

Remembering Jose Fernandez

Remembering Jose Fernandez

Jose Fernandez last pitched on Tuesday, September 20th in front of a sizable hometown crowd at Marlins Park in Miami. Attendance was up that day (as was the norm for whenever Fernandez took the ball), and the young righthander dazzled against the Nationals (as was the norm for whenever he pitched at home).

“We may or may not see Jose again in 2016” the announcer said via the broadcast. The 24 year-old was still on somewhat of an innings limit after his Tommy John surgery, but with two on and two out in the top of the eighth, the Marlins’ ace bared down against the MLB’s leading hitter, Daniel Murphy. “What a way this would be to go out” he said having no way of knowing Fernandez was about to record the final out of his life.

Jose’s family was in attendance that day too, “Mom’s on her feet. Grandma is on her feet. Much of Marlins’ Park is coming to its feet.” Fernandez delivered the 1-2 pitch and got Murphy to roll over to the second baseman, Dee Gordon before exiting to a roaring crowd in Miami and capping off an eight inning, three-hit shutout with 12 strikeouts.

I really didn’t want to write this column; partly because cause I still don’t want to believe it’s true and partly because I don’t know what there is left to say. Jose Fernandez was taken from this world far too soon, and the pain of this lost has had a ripple effect all throughout the entire baseball community. He was one of the five-best pitchers in baseball; a fearless competitor with electric stuff that was essentially the unbeatable “Final Boss” at the end of a videogame when he pitched at home for Marlins fans. Losing a generational talent like Jose in one thing, but in a way, I don’t think baseball will ever fully recover from losing a human being like him.

Fernandez tried defecting from Cuba four times before he successfully reached the United States in 2008. He saved his mother who had fell into the ocean while making their voyage, and was later reunited with his Grandmother after six years apart when the Marlins were able to get her a two-year visa. He became an American citizen, and was one of the leading players spending time with U.S. soldiers during the Fort Bragg game.

Fernandez was a great young ambassador for the game of baseball and was a hero to countless Latin born baseball fans with big league dreams. Jose had a vibrant personality and a magnetic smile, but I think what a lot of us will miss most about him is his incomparable love for this game.

Anyone who has read my writing over the years has probably realized I have a deep appreciation for anything that keeps you young: coming-of-age stories, punk rock, and of course baseball. Jose Fernandez was the epitome of youthful exuberance on the diamond, and was the personification of the love of the game. The wound from his untimely passing is still raw with baseball fans all over the world, and the scar from Saturday may never completely heal; however, it will fade over time. Today was hard, but tomorrow will be better. Jose would not have wanted the game he loved so dearly to come to a halt without him, and I truly believe that. So we play on.

Rest in peace, Jose. The game will never forget you.

Modern Baseball vs. The Hotelier

Modern Baseball vs. The Hotelier

The analytics boom in Major League Baseball has forced the greatest minds in the game to think differently about the ways in which they view and evaluate players. Finding talent and projecting out performance is more detailed than ever, and it seems the most efficient way for the common fan to make sense of this information overload is through comparative analysis.

I know, I sound like Brian Kenny reciting an excerpt from his book Ahead of the Curve, but there’s a point to this. In theory it’d be great if all our favorite music and movies can exist in a vacuum without any societal context; it’s just not the reality we live in. Some of us make Year-End lists, look at the rankings to see where our favorite radio hits land on the Billboard Hot 100, even tune into those award shows we claim to hate just so we’re ready to tweet when the academy gets something wrong. We love this shit. Comparative analysis is how we put our art into perspective.

To paint with broad genre strokes, two of my favorite emo-tinged rock records of the year have been Modern Baseball’s Holy Ghost, and The Hotelier’s Goodness. Both bands have released three albums and have played shows in the same indie and punk circles for the last handful of years; but if you had to say, who is the better band at this very moment?

Since both bands are three LPs in, that means we have three records’ worth of data. Modern Baseball’s debut full-length, Sports didn’t reinvent the wheel by any means, but it did show that the band was a lot more than just a derivative of American Football. Sports was a snappy and clever emo record that was equal parts The Front Bottoms and Say Anything. It remains the band’s most quiet record to date, but Mobo did play around with that blink-182 country-punk sound from their earlier material and had a few ear-wormy hooks that have kept the record from completely vanishing from the band’s live set. Sports was a solid introduction to Modern Baseball for me. The Hotelier, on the other hand; I didn’t hear until LP2.

It Never Goes Out was the first effort from the band back when they were still going by the name, The Hotel Year. I’ve since gone back to explore the album on a couple different occasions, but the somewhat generic take on late-90s emo (a la Sunny Day Real Estate and The Get Up Kids) still feels like it belongs to an entirely different band. Aside from subtracting the additional singer delivering vocals alongside Christian Holden, The Hotelier made a massive jump as a band with the name change and the release of their seminal record, Home, Like NoPlace is There.

Home was this relentless attack on mortality with emotive vocal performances, a consistent theme of combating loss, and a precise use of gang vocals that basically says, “hey, we feel this too.” The record is remarkably cohesive without an ounce of sounding same-y and it made tidal waves in the worlds of punk and emo alike. Home, Like NoPlace is There is every bit as powerful today as it was back in 2014 and is arguably one of the most important records to come out of the scene in the last 5 or 10 years.

Modern Baseball released a record in 2014 as well; and while it didn’t have the same immediate impact or resonance that Home did, You’re Gonna Miss It All was no slouch of a sophomore record. The Mobo dudes came back with a stronger sense of urgency on the second album and delivered a batch of songs that were a lot more conducive to those pop-punk, pinball mosh pits. They were still quirky and sharp, but their vocals sounded a lot less amateurish and their current sound really started to take shape on YGMIA. Lead singers Jake Ewald and Brendan Lukens spun these wistful and awkward college tales that were presented so thoughtfully it’d be hard for listeners not to relate.

Through two records, the respective careers of Modern Baseball and the Hotelier were very comparable with the Hotelier having the slight edge thanks to the success of Home; however, just like your most recent season in baseball is the strongest indicator of future performance, it’s all about your last release. The Hotelier definitely had a better pedigree going into 2016, but when it comes to Holy Ghost verse Goodness, Mobo gets the nod.

Along with operating on the fringes of emo, something else Modern Baseball and The Hotelier have in common with their most recent records is grandeur. The Hotelier’s Goodness is this love and break-up record through the lense of the Chinese philosophy of Taoism, whereas Modern Baseball’s Holy Ghost seems to directly reference an idea in catholicism without actually having anything to do with religion.

Now, you don’t actually have to believe in a certain ideology to enjoy Goodness, but that theme running throughout is just one of several instances where The Hotelier lay it on a bit thick with the new album. They tried to be bold by making a group of nudists in the wilderness their cover art and incorporated three interludes including the intro; none of which feel necessary. The stray snare hits on the track “Goodness, Pt. 2” stick around for way too long and the second half of “Sun” really drags on with the title essentially being shouted over and over again for the better part of the last two minutes. I’m not saying there aren’t highlights on this record, but I think The Hotelier would have had more success with Goodness had they used a little more subtlety.

Modern Baseball played Holy Ghost with more of a deft hand and found a lot of character in their record thanks to all these little nuances. The artwork felt tangible with just a photo of the two songwriters standing one in front of the other in a parking lot and a camcorder hiding their faces; they built a vocabulary with phrases like “chit-chat” and “TV clicker”; and they constructed their album like Outcast’s Speakerboxxx/The Love Below by splitting the songwriting duties half and half, right down the middle. These finite details helped Mobo to further connect with their audience and gave the larger theme of having someone watching over you some real weight. Kind of like The Hotelier’s Home, Like NoPlace Is There, Holy Ghost feels like Modern Baseball saying, “Hey, we’re here for you.”

I think the ability to execute these large-scale ideas while staying self-contained is why Modern Baseball is the better band for me right now. Mobo has continued to improve with each record, which puts them on a better career trajectory going forward. These are two great bands and were lucky to have them both operating in this much needed space, but for this particular contest, Modern Baseball is the clear winner for me. When it comes down to it, The Hotelier may have isolated some listeners with their approach on Goodness, but Modern Baseball opened their arms with Holy Ghost.

Blink-182 Thrived on Competitive Balance

Blink-182 Thrived on Competitive Balance

Blink-182 will never replicate what they accomplished on 2003’s Untitled album, and that’s perfectly fine.

With Alkaline Trio’s Matt Skiba in and Tom DeLonge out, Blink was put to the task of having to reassure their existing fan base that the band was still moving forward, while simultaneously trying to reach a new audience without a full-hearted effort in over ten years, and without one of the founding members of the band.

At the height of their powers, Blink-182 rocketed to the top of pop-radio and provided the score for an entire generation of bratty teens from the late ‘90s through the early 2000s (granted, they did so with songs about their ineptitude with women and dick-jokes, but they were influential all the same). Blink dominated airtime on TRL back when MTV was still playing music videos, and were quite possibly the biggest band in not only their genre, but in the entire world. Now, with all three members of the current lineup in their early 40s, and a good decade removed from the pinnacle release of their career, Blink was going to have to pivot.

California is the record Blink-182 had to release to have any chance a of relevancy in 2016: squeaky clean production, detailed vocal layering, and a relentless attack of pop hooks. Although the majority of their more diehard and obsessive fan base prefers the band’s angrier nameless record, it’s that bright and summer-y sound they perfected on Enema of the State and Take Off Your Pants and Jacket that launched their meteoric rise. On California, Blink-182 went out to prove their music is just as synonymous with eternal youth as it was back when nobody like Mark at 23, and for the most part, they succeed. There are a couple songs that fall a bit flat like “Teenage Satellites” or the title track, but overall, Blink came through with another catchy and fun pop punk record that will be highlighted in party playlists all summer long. The only issue with California is that it illuminates just how far past their peak the band truly is; so, while I’ve had the album on a loop since it dropped July 1st, I can’t help but feel just a little bummed about it at the same time.

They may dethroned Drake’s Views at the top of the Billboard 200 List, but Blink seemed to take a step back towards the rest of the pack with California. Rather than setting the standard for the rest of the pop punk scene, I heard other bands in their sound for the first time in their entire career. When I listen to the new record, I hear shades of All Time Low in the gang vocals on “Sober”, Sum 41 in the blistering post-chorus riff of “Kings of the Weekend”, A Day To Remember in the way the hook soars over the half-time beat of “Bored To Death”, and even Fall Out Boy in whatever the hell they were trying to do with the verses of “Los Angeles”. Blink was so far past everyone else on Untitled that listening to California inevitably feels like watching Michael Jordan play for the Wizards; still dropping 20 points a game, but a shell of the legend we once called the GOAT.  

Untitled is Blink-182’s darker, slightly more mature record that came in their absolute prime, and serves as a constant reminder to fans of the portion of the band’s legacy we were robbed of. Smash radio-hits were met with beautifully arranged instrumentation, dark undertones, and a punk ethos that likely spurred New Found Glory’s Catalyst, and the early stages of Fall Out Boy’s career as well. That sound was actually something that Alkaline Trio always did very well, which was why the acquisition of Skiba seemed like such an exciting prospect; unfortunately, we now know Blink didn’t travel back down that path. The reason I don’t think they can ever get back to that level at some point down the line doesn’t have so much to do with the absence of DeLonge himself, but more of fact that the band seemed to thrive on a competitive balance within.

I believe the drastic progression from TOYPAJ to the Untitled era of Blink came from a competitive mindset that manifested from the band’s inner turmoil during that time. DeLonge said in the Angels and Airwaves documentary Start the Machine that he felt he was being asked to chose between his family and the band with their rigorous touring schedule, and the disagreements really seemed to cause a rift between him the Blink’s other chief songwriter in particular, Mark Hoppus. There were instances where the two were visibly annoyed with one another on stage and a suspicious late-night TV performance that looks like it came right after a band brawl, so how is it that Blink released their best record with all of this bullshit going on?

As one of arguably the five best living-drummers, take Travis Barker out of the equation. He generally wasn’t the one who’d conceive the song idea anyway; he’d just add the muscle to its skeleton, and turn Mark or Tom’s little pop punk tune into a juiced-up banger. Barker’s performance is so otherworldly on the Blink records, he’s almost a nonentity in the songwriting process. He’s just there to make every track better. The rivalry, if my assumption is correct, was between Hoppus and DeLonge.

Mark and Tom made comparable incremental improvements as songwriters throughout Blink-182’s first run from 1992 to 2005, but the duo each took a huge leap forward on UntitledSuddenly, they were both crafting their lyrics around nightmare-ish imagery, using unconventional song structures, and weaving in call-and-return vocals so seamlessly it sounded like they were battling each other for your attention on every track. The songs had teeth but were also suitable for the radio. If it was bubble gum then it would bite back. The hot streak lasted a solid five or six years, starting with DeLonge and Barker’s side project, Box Car Racer back in 2002, and bleeding into the the band members’ first releases in life after Blink, +44’s When Your Heart Stops Beating and Angels and Airwaves’ We Don’t Need to Whisper. Mark and Tom really hated each other for a while there. Just listen to “No, It Isn’t” by +44 if you don’t believe me.

The real strength of Blink-182 always came from the stark differences in Mark and Tom’s songwriting process and the way their contrasting styles seemed to elevate the other’s performance. Throw some competitive juices into that dichotomy and you get an once-in-a-career type of anthem like “Feeling This”. Although Hoppus and DeLonge share the vocal workload on this hit-single, they wrote their lyrics in entirely separate rooms. Tom sings of brash action where as Mark takes a thoughtful, more emotional approach, and the result is a beautifully chaotic outro of about five choruses being sung at once as the band rips apart from the inside.

Blink probably won’t write another “Feeling This” this time around. They’ll never write another “Stockholm Syndrome” and they’ll never write another “Easy Target”. The band’s dynamic will never be as it was on Untitled with Skiba in the picture despite the punk veteran’s obvious talents. Blink is in comeback mode now, and they can’t toss a brand new member into the line of fire with another drastic departure from their core sound. Mark and Travis just want to put the whole Tom saga behind them and be Blink-182 again; and, although he’s an incredibly accomplished songwriter in his own right, on some level Matt Skiba’s just happy to be there.

For me, Blink-182 had always been the truest representation of the pop punk genre. They were more committed to the sound than the early bands that played around with it like The Ramones or The Clash, they were less up-their-own-ass than Green Day, and they weren’t manufactured like a majority of bands to come out of the neon-era of the scene. Blink pushed back against the bullshit of conventional top-40 music, but also had a stronger grasp of melody and harmonies than any other band playing a subgenre of modern rock music during their prime.

Pop Punk is simple, everyone. It all boils down to how interesting can you be while still being infectiously catchy? How interesting can you be lyrically? Musically? Emotionally? The good bands always bring something extra to the table, and Blink emphatically checks both boxes on California. A good three quarters of this record makes sense as singles, and of course, having Travis Barker behind the kit doesn’t hurt. California is a great pop punk record; likely the best one that will come out this year. The only reason anyone is disappointed with it is because they’ve finally realized that Blink is past their peak.

Book Review: Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train

Book Review: Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train

Production for the upcoming film, The Girl on the Train, began back in November of 2015, but it’s hard to imagine the perpetual tension of the story will be as palpable on the big-screen as it was in the script’s source material. Often billed as “the next Gone Girl,” The Girl on the Train is the debut mystery/thriller novel by Paula Hawkins that is a gripping read from nearly start to finish. Hawkins tells her story through the first-person perspective of three different narrators, and passes the point-of-view chapters like a baton from one character to the next in order to best broker the suspense of the story. The three POV characters are all loosely connected to one another based on their relative proximity to the train traveling into London, but their lives become far more intertwined as the story progresses.

The book begins with our titular character, Rachel Watson, also known as the girl on the train. Rachel lives just outside of London and takes the train into the city every morning; gazing out the window and letting her imagination wander on her commute. The reader first encounters Rachel having just scraped against rock-bottom after recently losing her job, husband, and home. She relies heavily on alcohol to cope with her current situation, and drowns her reality in cans of gin-and-tonic and made up stories about the people she sees while riding the train. Two of the people Rachel often fantasizes about are Jess and Jason, her proclaimed “perfect, golden couple” she sees nearly everyday in their backyard. Rachel enviously watches this couple (that she’s named for herself) living what seems to be a perfectly happy life just a few houses away from where she had lived with ex-husband, Tom. Rachel is perceived to be a total basket case by the other characters throughout the story; a drunk and desperate mess who often stalks her ex and his new family.

Rachel’s alcoholism is a constant in the book, and makes her the most unreliable narrator of the three. Her drinking problem started around the same time her marriage began to spiral, and this detail about her becomes an integral part of Rachel’s character as she gets mixed up in the investigation surrounding the disappearance of our second narrator, Megan Hipwell.

Megan, otherwise known as “Jess” to Rachel, is the main character whom we the readers spend the least amount of time with; however, her disappearance is what spearheads the whole story. The entirety of Megan’s storyline occurs in the months before she goes missing, and her chapters are paced out through the main narrative until her true fate is revealed towards the end of the novel. Megan can come off a bit pretentious and maybe even a little bit entitled at times, but she is mostly a misunderstood character with a rich, yet tragic backstory. Aside from being one half of Rachel’s fantasy couple, Megan is also connected to the rest of the characters thanks to a brief stint as the nanny for Tom and his new wife, Anna.

Anna is the novel’s third narrator and Tom’s former mistress/now wife who began seeing him while he and Rachel were still married. Anna is an incredibly vain, self-centered character who admittedly got quite a bit of enjoyment from sleeping with another woman’s husband. She has a harsh, if not understandable opinion of Rachel, and can certainly share the blame for a lot of the incidents that occur between Rachel and her family. Anna’s one redeeming quality is her unmistakable love for her daughter despite some feelings of annoyance that pop into her head every so often, and she starts to realize all she has in common with Rachel as the story unfolds.

Along with the three female narrators of The Girl on the Train, there are also three male characters that help drive a great deal of the plot. There is Tom Watson, a pathological liar who was married to both Rachel and Anna; Scott Hipwell, the jealous and suspicious husband of Megan who has some nasty, violent tendencies; and Kamal Abdic, Megan’s therapist whom she shares a few romantic moments with and the suspect #1 in her disappearance.

None of the men in this novel particularly endearing individuals, but the perception of each of them differs greatly based on whose point-of-view we look at. Take Scott for example; a despicable human being based on some of his actions throughout the story, but also a tortured, somewhat sympathetic character when you get a clearer glimpse into his world. The same multifaceted personality goes for Tom as well, whose lies are often masked with a level of charm that makes it increasingly difficult to decipher what parts of him are real and which are not. Not a single one of these characters can be trusted; and in all honesty, not a single one of them are all that likeable either

At times, it’s hard not to absolutely loathe the characters in The Girl on the Train, but there are also quite a few moments that humanize their behavior, making them people that the reader can at least empathize with. Being a character driven story with unlikable characters in an interesting dynamic to say the least, and it leads the novel into becoming an elaborate game of “find the psychopath” in a batch of deeply flawed individuals. Not having one particular storyline or point-of-view to latch onto really keeps the story wide open and shrouded in mystery, which is used to great effect by Hawkins in her novel.

The case doesn’t become solvable until roughly ⅔ of the way through the book, and Hawkin’s does a phenomenal job with the pacing by placing each chapter-break in just the right spot to raise the high-level of drama. The Girl on the Train is a fast-paced novel that leans more on the side of mystery than thriller, but becomes harder and harder to put down all the same.

 

**Originally published by Punks And Recs

Album Review: Drake’s Views

Album Review: Drake’s Views

 

When Drake announced via OVO Sound radio that his fourth proper studio album, Views would be released later that month on April 29th, it was pretty much a forgone conclusion that the LP would go on to be nominated for a Grammy Award and debut at number one on Billboard. According to Noisey.com and analysis from Buzz Angle Music, Drake was already halfway to fulfilling that prophecy in just two days time. The record sold roughly 741,000 units in the U.S. and about 80,000 in Drake’s home country of Canada in the two days following its Friday release, and is already on the precipice of going platinum in record time. The 29 year-old rapper/singer is no stranger to widespread, mainstream success as his last commercial mixtape, If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late made him the first rapper ever to top Billboard‘s Artist 100 chart. At one point last year, Drake occupied 42% of Billboard’s Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Chart with all 17 songs from the tape earning a spot on the list of 50 at one time. To go along with the success of If You’re Reading This, Drake also released a couple smash hits with “Hotline Bling” and the Meek Mill diss-track “Back to Back”, as well as a collaborative mixtape with Atlanta rapper, Future entitled What A Time To Be Alive. Drake’s monstrous 2015 not only put him in the same breathe as some of the biggest stars of the last two decades in hip hop, but also in the pantheon of contemporary music legends.

After a five-year run on the Canadian teen-drama Degrassi and a few well-received mixtapes under his belt, Drake signed to Young Money Cash Money records and began his dominance in the world of music. The artist’s signature sing-song rapping cadence captivated audiences, and eventually turned Drake into the modern-day King of Pop as we know him now. Given Drizzy’s 2015 hot-streak, and the fact that all four of his full-length projects have gone platinum, it appeared as though Views would be the pinnacle release of his already storied career as an MC; however, that is just not the case.

In an exclusive interview with Zane Lowe the night prior to the release of Views, Drake stated that he wanted to make a record that he wanted to listen to while also paying homage to his city of Toronto. He referenced the blistering cold seven months of winter there, and how the city sort of shifts into scorching summers and right back to winter again. Drake definitely accomplished this sonic vision in his beat selection, with the first seven-tracks occupying a dreary and chilling atmospheric space, before moving into more rhythmic island vibes in the instrumentation for the following eight songs. That Caribbean flare is extremely evident on songs like the single “One Dance” and the token duet with Rihanna “Too Good”; however, this is where the 20-song record really starts to drag. Although Drake also said in the interview that he scrapped entire songs during the recording process just to save an idea here or four bars there, he seemed to really struggle to cut the fat and filler on this project. “Grammys” featuring Future clearly sounds like a WATTBA leftover, and a large part of me wishes Drizzy had the stones to tell Kanye having Jay-Z spit only the first two lines of his verse on “Pop Style” was bullshit. Rather than just using that song as a stand-alone single, Drake made the track worse by removing The Throne feature, and haphazardly placing a weak verse of his own in its place. The presence of so many mid-tempo tracks on this 20-song record really makes the pace lumber along despite what could have been really strong sequencing with a great deal of smooth transitions.

Another issue to take with Views is the content on the record. Although Drake often caught flack from hip hop elitists for pouring out so many feelings into his music, he had always been an artist that owned his own insecurities so wholeheartedly that they should’ve been called something else. Drake really reached that perfect level of transparency on 2011’s Grammy Award winning album Take Care on the back of some ethereal, moody beats and instantaneous quotables. At 25 years-old, Drake really hit a sweet spot with the college demographic as every young 20-something could relate to that rock bottom of drunk-dialing an ex, or tweeting out the lyrics to “Marvin’s Room”. I saw “I’m just sayin’ you could do better” on more facebook statuses than I could ever count, and Drake’s fragile arrogance was something very tangible and real at that point in time. On Views, it is as if Drake suddenly developed reservations about divulging too much of himself or putting his clever brash cockiness on display. This record is full of cringe-worthy lines as well such as “I get green like Earth Day” or “you toyin’ with it like Happy Meal”; and also comes through with his most painfully ignorant track, “Child’s Play.” With the amount of singing and R&B focused songs on this project, Drake would have been better served to go almost over the top with his vulnerability, rather than the front he took of not saying much of anything. Drake sounded hungry and out for blood on If You’re Reading This, but that sharp tongue only shows up on a few tracks here like “Hype”, “Weston Road Flows”, and the title track, “Views”.

Though it may seem like I’m totally down on Views, it’s not a bad record in general; just a little disappointing given Drake’s past output. Drake’s long-time producer and OVO Sound partner Noah “40” Shebib really shines on this record, producing a majority of these glossy and cloudy beats. The bass really knocks and drives a great deal of the production on these tracks, and Drake really does deliver some of his best vocal performances to date on the singing front. “Feel No Ways” seems like a hit, and “Keeping the Family” close delivers some real bombast as the album’s opener; it just that with MCs such as Kendrick Lamar and Chance the Rapper continuing to improve and defy expectations with each release, many hardcore fans of Drake (myself included) expected Views to be his Illmatic or Blueprint. Instead of the classic many were anticipating, Drake came through with a very calculated, yet incredibly formulaic record. I suppose it’s all a matter of what you come to Drake for. If you want that slick production and a pleasant listen, there is quite a bit of material on her that will most click with you; however, if you’re more like me, and expected a lot more from Drizzy, let’s just hope he has some more songs left in the chamber to fire off this summer.

 

**Originally published by Punks and Recs

New York Mets Pitching Profile: Matt Harvey

New York Mets Pitching Profile: Matt Harvey

 

It’s a huge honor,” Matt Harvey told reporters shortly after being named the New York Mets Opening Day starter. “Looking around the locker room, looking at this corner, obviously Terry could have announced anybody. So for me getting the nod, it’s a huge honor.” Whether it was the God’s honest truth or just a modest response we’ve grown accustomed to hearing out of ballplayers, there is definitely some truth to what Harvey said on Thursday. Manager Terry Collins did have a healthy array of options for his Opening Day starter in 2016, but choice seemed fairly obvious for this game in particular. Sure, Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz debuted just last year, and Jacob deGrom and his wife expecting their first child that first week of the season made Collins’ decision a little easier, but it just seems right to have Harvey take the mound on opening day considering the way last season ended.

The Mets will open the 2016 season on April 3rd at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City against the defending World Champion Royals — funny how that worked out. The ballclub will be out for redemption following last year’s five-game loss in the World Series, and no one player is out for justice more so than Harvey. The Dark Knight earned a no decision in the Mets game-one loss to the Royals in last year’s Series; and with the club’s back against the wall in game-five, Harvey turned in a performance that will live on in New York lore for some time. Harvey tossed an eight-inning gem to put the Mets in a position to extend the series, and demanded the ball in the ninth to finish the job. Though the moment got the best of Harvey and he surrendered a run without recording any outs before being lifted, his performance that night was captivating and solidified him as a gamer and true ace. Harvey’s explosive velocity coupled with his electric personality and warrior’s mentality make him the dominating pitcher he is, and the soon-to-be 27 year-old appears poised to take another step forward in his game for the 2016 season.

Profile

Matt Harvey is 6’4” 215 lbs. with strong legs and a powerful right arm. He features some of the most devastating velocity out of a starting pitcher in all of Major League Baseball, and his big-strong frame helps him maintain that velocity deep into ballgames as well. Just one year removed from Tommy John Surgery, Harvey posted a top-five VELO on not just his fastball, but with his slider and curveball as well. His average fastball velocity of 95.2MPH was good for 4th best in all of baseball last year, and he was able to gear that heat up to 99.4MPH when needed it. Harvey’s average curveball velocity stood at an impressive 83.6MPH as well (good for 3th best in the game) and his slider at 89.4MPH him in good company as he trails only reigning NL Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta at 90.3MPH and his teammate deGrom at 89.6MPH in average VELO. It’s pretty astounding to think, but Harvey could actually see an uptick in these numbers this coming season as he is yet another year removed he gets from his 2014 TJ-recovery.

Pundits

The Angels were actually the first team to pull the trigger on a young Matt Harvey, drafting him in the third round of the in the 2007 MLB draft right out of High School. Harvey declined the club’s offer and elected to hone his skills at the collegiate level for the University of North Carolina Tar Heels. He played three seasons at UNC, posting a 22-7 record with 263 strikeouts in 238 ⅔ innings. Although Harvey’s 3.73 ERA was well over what he’s produced at the professional level, his 22 wins and 263 strikeouts rank 9th and 10th respectively in the school’s history. That performance prompted the Mets to draft Harvey with the seventh overall pick in the first round of the 2010 draft right behind players such as Bryce Harper who was taken first overall, and Manny Machado who was selected third. His time playing Division I NCAA Baseball certainly helped Harvey develop as a pitcher, and he made short work of minor leagues by reaching the show with less than two full years in the Mets’ farm system. He was Baseball America’s #54 prospect after that 2011 minor league season, and debuted the following year against Arizona where he fanned 11 Diamondbacks in just 5 ⅓ innings. The brief debut in 2012 was stellar, and no doubt excited Met fans for the future, but Harvey truly broke out his first full-season in 2013 where his earned the All-Star game starting nod and finished fourth in the National League Cy Young voting. Harvey was on a trajectory to win the award until his season was cut short by Tommy John Surgery, but he worked his way back in spectacular fashion and won NL Comeback player of the year when he returned in 2015 as if the injury had never taken place.

Production

Harvey was downright impressive in his 2013 breakout campaign. He lead the National League with a 2.01 FIP and a 0.04 HR/9, but he also accumulated 191 strikeouts in 178 ⅓ innings with a 2.27 ERA. His overall numbers were a hair higher in most respects when he returned in 2015, posting a 2.71 ERA with 3.05 FIP and 1.76 BB/9 as opposed to his 1.56 mark in ‘13; but Harvey’s command really came on late in the season, and he was virtually unhittable in the month of August. He posted a 2.19 ERA in the second half with a 9.12 K/9 and 0.92 WHIP, and surrendered just one home run in the entire month of August leading to a 0.33 ERA and 100% of stranded base runners in 27 innings that month. Harvey finished 6th in the NL in ERA, 12th in strikeouts with 188, seventh in WHIP at 1.02, and sixth in batting average against with a .222 BAA. This regular season success bled into the Mets first playoff appearance since 2006 where Harvey posted a 2-0 record with 27 Ks and 3.04 ERA in four post-season starts including that memorable game-five outing.

Projections and Prediction

Most projections are a little bearish on Matt Harvey for 2016 considering he just came off Tommy John in 2015. Both Steamer and Depth Charts projections have Harvey’s ERA rising to at least 3.00 with a slightly higher walk-rate and BABIP as well. They do have him improving on his K-rates and innings – Steamer projecting a 9.18 K/9 in 203 IP and Depth Charts projecting a 8.84 K/9 in 209 IP – but it’s hard to believe an improvement in command and possibly additional velocity as well will yield worse results than last season. In fact, the Dark Knight could very well be the Dark Horse in this year’s National League Cy Young race as he continues to stretch out free of an innings limit. His numbers last season were very comparable to teammate Jacob deGrom – like his 9.8 HR/FB ratio finishing just one spot behind deGrom at 9.5 for example – but considering the recent injury and the fierce competitive nature of the player, it seems as though Matt Harvey still has another gear he can kick into this coming season. He’s the type of player that is enamoured by the bright lights of NYC and thrives off being the anchor of one of the most talented starting staffs in all of baseball. With the season Harvey put together in 2015 just one year removed from Tommy John, he has proved to be the exception and not the rule. I truly believe he will continue to shatter expectations this coming year and be the hero the Mets might not deserve but most certainly will need.

 

**Originally published by Sports Blog New York