Is John Fox guaranteed anything beyond 2017 with the Bears? ... Is Danny Salazar teasing us, or is it finally his time?
The Tuesday edition takes us to Chicago as the team-by-team tour across the NFL training camps continues, and while the format remains of aiming for one key handicapping notion, there is a slight pause for a general concern as well.
My base point with the Bears is not an easy one to pin down – just what is the job security for John Fox, which will not be easy to pin down. But before getting to that, time to touch a bit on information flows, since sorting through them will be a big part of your processes this season.
One of the essentials tools these days is Twitter, yet it is a sharp knife that must be handled properly – for all of the good information one can find, and find timely, there is an astounding amount of gibberish. That came front and center in the sporting world on Thursday night, when Mitch Trubisky’s good performance for the Bears quickly became far more viral than any showing against a back-up defense in a pre-season game should. That does directly play into the Fox situation, but before connecting it there must once again be the caution to sort ever so carefully through what you read.
Twitter was abuzz with Trubisky suddenly being the best Chicago QB since Sid Luckman, which you naturally take with a grain of salt, especially given what Kyle Sloter did later in that same game (5-6 for 94 yards and a TD). Sloter is unlikely to ever play a down in a regular-season NFL game, yet out-played Trubisky that night, to far less acclaim.
In telling you to be cautious about the info you observe I am not breaking headlines, but how about at least offering a tool – for those of you that have not made Tweetdeck a part of your processes, this would be a good time for it. It is a terrific way to separate feeds across the various sports that you follow. And while knowing what is good and what is garbage as the info flows will remain your on-going responsibility, Tweetdeck brings the ability to at least grab the knife by the handle, and wield it effectively.
Many of the tweets I will click on for more detail will be about Fox’s job security…
Is John Fox forced to be bullish on the 2017 season?
Here’s the gist – in Jordan Howard and possibly Trubisky, should he indeed be good enough, the Bears have some pieces to build their offense of the future around. If a coach had job security he could have daydreams about that, that security allowing a rookie QB that only had 13 college starts to be allowed to learn on the job, trading some early miscues for long-term development.
But does Fox have that security? Chicago has gone 9-23 under his leadership, a record that is a bit unfair to him because of how limited the inherited roster was, with injuries over the past two seasons compounding the difficulties. And guess what could be found in the Tweetdeck flow in recent weeks? Rumors that Bob Stoops could be in line to coach the 2018 Bears, should this season not meet a certain standard.
Hence my focus going to reading between the lines on Fox, and whether he is confident that he has a future that allows for the development of Trubisky, or if he has to deliver at least an 8-8 this season to be a part of 2018 and beyond with this franchise.
The decision process would be easier, of course, if Mike Glennon really brought anything to the table. There isn’t much upside there, however, Glennon a capable back-up that could be in the NFL for another decade, but not someone you can build an offense around, with an uninspiring bad showing in training camp so far, and a dismal outing last week against the Broncos (2-8 for only 20 yards, with a pick-six interception).
Here is what matters – when I wrote “build an offense” around Glennon it brings a key point into play. His particular talents, and those of Trubisky, are different. If the goal is to win in 2018, there would be a focus on tweaking the packages towards Trubisky right now, but if the goal is to instead merely survive to 2018, gutting out a few early wins with Glennon becomes the priority.
Fox is aware of the dynamics involved behind that - "I've been around situations like that before, back in my time at Denver even with Tebow. We're going to do whatever we can. As coaches, we've got to put guys in positions where they can utilize their skill set, and it won't be any different this year."
Fox is also likely painfully aware that the Bears could be underdogs in their first nine games, and the only times this season they are certain to be favored are late home affairs vs. the 49ers (Game 11) and Browns (Game 15).
This is a tough juggling act for a veteran coach, and a part of my Bears power rating will be connected to whether I believe they are going all-out to play as well as they can each week, or if there is a consideration to long-term development, which could be the coaching staff voluntarily negotiating their own severance package.
It isn’t just about football performance, of course, but also about Fox having to deal with the distractions of what a fan base clamoring for Trubisky can bring. He has been around the league long enough to understand such things, and already showed some irritation on that front in the aftermath of the Denver loss - “If you’re asking me if I was excited about how he (Trubisky) played, I was. It beats the alternative. I’m sure glad he played well and not poorly.
Is Danny Salazar just being a tease (again)?
Salazar is 27 years old, with a 37-32/3.78 over 564.2 innings, which places him just a touch better than MLB average. That can bring yawns from casual observers, as can his 4-5/4.15 of 2017. But for those that do not follow casually, there have been those occasional flashes of something much better, which happens when a guy is carrying a 10.4 K/9 over his career.
Want some perspective on that K-count? Of those that have thrown at least 500 innings during Salazar’s career span, only Yu Darvish, Max Scherzer, Chris Sale and Clayton Kershaw rate better, Kershaw by only a tick (10.45 vs. 10.42). But while Salazar would often flash brilliance, it would also be followed by erratic efforts, and those attempting to time his performances often saw their bankroll reduced in the process.
Hence what is happening now brings quite a challenge, and calls for some closer scrutiny. Might this finally be the moment in which Salazar has found it?
First the bottom line for 2017 is nonsensical, so discard it. Salazar had to deal with some early-season physical issues, which magnified his inconsistency, and he went on the DL with a 5.40 ERA back in early June. Since returning he has made four starts, working to a 1.42 tune, and it might have been the best sequence of his career. How about 36 Ks vs. only 15 hits allowed over that stretch, which renders the full-season measurements as being stale.
How dominating has he been? Corey Kluber leads MLB this season with a 16.5 SWS%, which is superb. Scherzer captured that crown with a 15.3 in 2016, two years ago it was Kershaw at 15.9. How has Salazar fared over those last four games?
Salazar L4 SWS%
But now our caution - is this just another one of those short-term bursts that will inevitably be followed by a lapse? It is a pertinent case study because this is not the same Salazar out there; he really has been a different pitcher since coming off the DL.
One of the things that can be frustrating with a guy that has great stuff is that sometimes they just don’t trust it, and try to get too cute instead. It is a delicate balance in baseball, where so many geometric bounces are a part of the results, and can play havoc with a delicate psyche. In this instance we deal with a performer that may be a classic example.
Could we make a case that one of the prime reasons for the early bad start by Salazar was thinking too much? This offers us one tangent in which the full season numbers do matter, and those numbers tell us he has thrown fewer fastballs, and more changeups, than ever before.
Across all of 2017 it has been 59.6 percent fastballs for Salazar, off of a career 68.7, and 28.2 percent changeups, compared to 19.7. But what has happened since his return from the DL? Back to 66.1 on fastballs, and down to 18.6 on changeups. He is back much closer to what his physical skill set would call for, perhaps not over-thinking the sport.
I filed this away after Salazar’s first game back off of the DL was a terrific showing at Toronto in which the Blue Jays only got the ball out of the infield four times in seven innings - "As soon as I walked out there, I just tried to be aggressive and attack the zone and use my fastball. That was really big for me tonight." And what he has done, and what he has sad, have been matching up since then.
I know the potential trap here in terms of Salazar and cycles, but this has not been any kind of run of baseball luck of late – he has simply overpowered opposing hitters, and if he shows that same confidence tonight in a key series tonight it may be time to raise him a grade, something I have been hesitant to do in the past.
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