Oakland 2017: How Raiders Can Get Better, Yet Win Fewer Games

David Malinsky

Tuesday, August 22, 2017 1:57 PM UTC

Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2017 1:57 PM UTC

The Raiders will improve on the field 2017, but not necessarily in the standings…The third quick look vs. the Indians may not play out well for Doug Fister…

Point Blank – August 22, 2017

As the NFL team tour now moves into the AFC, the Raiders are a fascinating team to handicap in 2017, and also a delicate one. There are some genuine football science issues involved, and also what has become the day-to-day sociological weirdness that is their upcoming move to Las Vegas. If only Dr. Thompson was still among us in body, and not just spirit, an essential time for a “Fear and Loathing” reprise just last week, when there was a “Watch Party” for the pre-season opener vs. the Cardinals.

This was an event for folks to gather to watch nothing more than a glorified scrimmage involving a team that won’t actually play its first game in Las Vegas until 2020. From the local standpoint it has been a bizarre twisting of the usual notions of feeding frenzy; in this case it is not the sharks getting fed, but instead whiplashed, because they have been jumped so many times.

I bring that up because there is something to that in the marketplace – most Nevada sports books report that Oakland is at or near the very top in terms of Super Bowl futures, and as that unfolds it cannot help but impact the way that the prices get set on anything involving the Raiders. That will be an on-going topic here, but for now time to focus on one key item for the handicapper as the new season approaches, and this time it deals with the team in general –

 The Raiders should get better in 2017, yet will also likely win fewer games

You can understand, of course, the excitement in Las Vegas – not only does the city get an NFL team, but they get a young team on the rise, one that went 12-4 in 2016, and might have extended deeper into the playoffs if not for the injury to Derek Carr. That stems from the usual “glass half full” notions of human optimism, in this case buoyed by the belief that the vessel is almost filled to the brim.

Except that it isn’t, and that is where Oakland 2017 can take such an unusual sporting twist. I believe the Raiders will be better than they were last year, with the passing game filled with young talents that will improve, and a defense that could be starting three rookies (once Gareon Conley is healthy) bringing some fresh talent to build upon. But now the issue – before getting carried away with that 12-4, note that indeed the glass was legitimately only a little more than half full. Let’s go to the Football Outsiders overall ratings once again, to see the stage -

Oakland Raiders 2016

Offense              #11

Defense              #20

Special Teams   #18

In terms of actual points scored and allowed the Raiders projected to just a tick below 9-7 (call it 8.8 wins and 7.2 losses on the Pythagorean model), and to put things into a proper perspective note that their +31 in point differential was the lowest in NFL history for a 12-win team, #2 Detroit of 1991 a full 13 points above that.

Hence my starting point for the team is to view a franchise that has built from 3-13 in the first season before Jack Del Rio arrived, to 7-9 and 9-7 in his first two campaigns. That is a substantial and realistic plus, and it avoids having to put the 12-4 into any kind of historical context, because in terms of power rating this team is just doesn’t.

But in my grading the 2016 season as 9-7 instead of 12-4 now brings the issues -  A. Is the rush to back Oakland for the Super Bowl a “locals” phenomenon across the state of Nevada, or is it a crowd genuinely buying in to the 2016 standings; and B. If the Raiders bought in themselves to being 12-4, might there be a crisis of confidence if this season doesn’t play out through the same favorable bounces?

Both matter, but in particular let’s to go B. For the Raiders to finish 10-6 against the schedule they are facing should be classified as an “achievement” based on their talent level, yet to them might it appear to be a drop from 2016? That is ever so important for the psyche of what is a young team relative to the rest of the league, and one that has legitimate weaknesses. Pass rush? Imagine a team that has Khalil Mack rating dead last in the NFL in sack percentage, where the Oakland defense placed at 4.4.

When passes were completed they went for an average gain of 13.0 yards, and where did that place the Raiders? Yep, dead last again. The defense has a lot of holes to fill, and can be improved this season while yet still rating below league average.

I have already taken a bite in the opener with #464 Tennessee at +1.5, with +1 or better the value point, and note the difference between Nevada and the rest of the marketplace in that one – there is still +1.5 available at the local William Hill shops, all the while the better off-shore properties are running the Titans at -1.

Evaluating the Raiders will not just be about stats this season, but if there are some early losses chalked on the ledger it will also be about reading between the lines to determine their psyche. How much different would the energy of the 2016 season have been if not for three wins by three points or less in the first five games? Confidence is a fragile thing, and if they believe they are under-achieving it could have some impact.

Confidence may be a particularly fragile thing for Doug Fister this evening, not from under-achieving, but the realization that he simply is who he is right now…


The third quick look for Doug Fister vs. the Indians may not play out well for him

There are no hidden gems to be found inside the 2-6/5.56 bottom line for Fister – for the second straight season he is sporting a career-high in terms of ERA, FIP and xFIP, all three categories in 2017 running more than a full run above his career standards. The issue is a simple one – a pitcher that lacks velocity has to rely on pinpoint control and ground balls to survive, and Fister’s weakening in those two key areas tell the tale about where to place him on his career arc.

I believe it is a weakness that can be magnified in tonight’s setting, Cleveland getting a third look in three weeks at those limited offerings, which means the ability to fool hitters into rolling over borderline pitches for weak ground balls becomes lessened, that gangly 6-8 delivery no longer being a surprise.

Fister’s 44.0 GB% is not alarming off of his career 48.1, but it is enough to be his low of any season in which he has worked at least 100 innings. It is his control counts that jump off the page -

Fister    Career   2016   2017

BB/9     2.1       3.1        4.7

BB%      5.4      8.0      11.4

He was able to grind a quality win against The Tribe on July 31, a respectable 2.4 BB/9 with 57.1 ground-balls, but in the rematch last Monday it was ugly, seven hits and four walks of the 24 batters faced, laboring to 96 pitches to only get through 4.1 innings of a 7-3 defeat.

It is rare that any team draws the same opposing starter three times in this short of a cycle, and I believe the style of Fister exacerbates his weaknesses tonight – the Indians know to be patient, and to not over-swing against a pitcher averaging 89.3 mpg on his fastball, the success of that second encounter still fresh in their minds. Yet despite this the full game total has dropped from 9 to 8.5 this morning, and that helps open the value door to be in play with #918 Cleveland Team Total Over (7:10 Eastern), which is available at fair vig off of 4.5 in the morning trading.



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