In this week’s Around the Dorm, the “Ref,” Andrew Grossman, asks our panel of experts three questions: will Chris Johnson be the weapon the New York Jets have been lacking at RB, is New York Yankees pitcher Masahiro Tanaka’s strong start to the season a fluke, and who can upset Rafa Nadal in next month’s French Open?
1. How much of an impact will Chris Johnson make with the Jets?
Chris: It all depends on Johnson’s attitude. We know he has the talent — he rushed for over 2,000 yards one year and over 1,000 yards every year in his career. Now being with the Jets, there are two ways he can go. He can either be rejuvenated by coming to New York and have one of his best seasons in years or he can be satisfied by his new contract and continue to play poorly and unmotivated. I think the former will happen. Johnson has something to prove, and the hype of him going to the Jets has been big. Johnson is also not an incredibly big back, so having Christopher Ivory to spell him will help him out and keep him healthy. The Jets could do some interesting things on offense with Michael Vick and Johnson, so don’t be surprised to see some gimmicks as well.
Mike: Honestly, not much of one. I suppose Johnson did technically gain more yards rushing last season than any single Jet, but his average of 3.9 yards per carry was below the team’s average of 4.4 in that all-important rushing statistic. He also definitely isn’t the all-time great rusher he makes himself out to be. Other than his one great season in 2008, he’s been a good, but not great, running back in the NFL. He’s also been plagued by injuries throughout his career, which is never a great sign for a player who has been in the league for a while. Furthermore, the Jets are looking to be better on offense by strengthening their passing game, either by continuing the development of Geno Smith or by hoping Michael Vick has one more great year left in him. Neither of those options is helped tremendously by a star running back, especially not one who needs a huge amount of carries to be successful like Johnson.
George: Johnson will definitely provide an element that the Jets offense sorely lacked last season. His phenomenal speed will play nicely off fellow RB Chris Ivory’s more powerful running style as they share the load next season, improving the Jets’ running game. Johnson’s oft-overlooked ability to catch the ball, demonstrated by his average of 45 catches per season and his 503 receiving yards during his 2000-rushing yard season, means he’ll be able to run screen passes for the Jets as well. This will give the Jets’ offense the variety they were missing last season.
Chris gets 3 points for describing Johnson’s motivational issue, Mike gets 2 points for saying Jets needs a passing game, and George gets 1 point for discussing Johnson’s catching ability.
2. New York Yankees pitcher Masahiro Tanaka has started out the season strong. Is his 2-0 start and 28 strikeouts in three games a fluke, or will he be able to maintain it throughout the season and justify his $155 million contract?
Chris: While I don’t think it’s a fluke, Tanaka will probably come down to earth a little bit, similarly to how Yu Dravish did in his first year in the majors. It’s simply a case of hitters seeing Tanaka more and figuring him out. That’s not to say that Tanaka won’t be good. He’s still got ace potential and filthy stuff, so expect those strikeout numbers to stay steady. With the way he pitched in Japan and the way he’s started so far, it’s easy to be very optimistic. The gophers might come, but I wouldn’t be too worried about them. That’s what happens when you play at Yankee Stadium.
Mike: I would say it’s a little of both — I don’t think Tanaka’s great start is a fluke, but I also don’t think he’ll be able to maintain this level of domination for very long. I mean, before we get too excited about this guy let’s look at the teams he’s faced so far: Toronto, Baltimore and the Cubs aren’t exactly striking too much fear into the hearts of the opposition, although the Blue Jays and Orioles do have a few dangerous hitters. So I’d like to reserve judgment just a little bit until we’ve seen Tanaka pitch against better clubs, especially once they know what to expect from his pitching. That all said, a 14-to-1 K/BB ratio is just about as good as it gets, and boasting a 2.05 ERA after three major league starts is nothing to scoff at. I think Tanaka could end up being a very good pitcher in this league, but I also think he’ll cool off a bit later in the season when better teams are prepared to face him.
George: Tanaka’s stats are inflated at the moment because he’s only played three games. Batters don’t have enough film of his pitches to study, just like with every new pitcher. Also, one-third of the batters Tanaka pitched to were Cubs. Those factors are going to skew things a little bit. But I still think the Yankees have something in Tanaka. His first three games demonstrate control having only walked two players. He’s adapting fast to the American league as well, showing obvious improvement as a game goes on. In his debut against the Blue Jays, his only two mistakes occurred during the first three innings. This is important for players transitioning from a league as different as NPB, which is less competitive in general than MLB.
Mike gets 3 points for mentioning the Yankees schedule, Chris gets 2 points for making the Dravish comparison, and George gets 1 point for saying stats were inflated.
3. With the French Open happening in about a month, what tennis player has the best chance of overthrowing the King of Clay, Rafa Nadal?
Chris: It’s the easy pick, but it’s the only pick — Novak Djokovic. Tennis is a very top-heavy sport. The elite players usually come out on top. Djokovic is Nadal’s true rival now, and he favors playing on harder courts (I know, Nadal loves his clay). The reason why Djokovic has a shot is because of the combination of his fierce, cold-blooded approach combined with the fact that Nadal just lost on clay for the first time since 2004 David Ferrer. This mortality could be all Djokovic needs to go in for the kill.
Mike: I really wanted to give a different answer than Novak Djokovic. I really did. But there isn’t much point in denying the facts: The Djoker is one of just three players to have ever beaten Nadal in a clay-court final, and he’s done it three times, including last year. In fact, given that he beat Nadal on clay last year, one could argue that Nadal is attempting to reclaim his lost crown, rather than having other players chase him for it. I could get fancy and pull a wild card like Horatio Zellabos, the other man besides Djokovic and the ever-aging Roger Federer to take down the Rafa in a clay final, but the player with the best chance at this point absolutely has to be Novak. He’s beaten Nadal in their last three matches, he beat Nadal last year, and he’s just the best shot to do it again. That said, I’d say Nadal still has to be considered the favorite, since he’s won 93.4 percent of the matches he’s ever played on clay.
George: Current No. 3 Stanislas Wawrinka can topple the King of Clay on his own turf. He’s already proven he can do so on at least a hard court with his victory at the Australian Open, which made him the first player outside the Top Four to win a Grand Slam title since 2009. During that tournament, he not only beat Nadal, but also No. 2 Novak Djokovic as well. His winning the Monte-Carlo Masters this year against former No. 3 Roger Federer can be seen as a testament to his ability to play on clay.
Chris gets 3 points for mentioning Nadal’s most recent loss, George gets 2 points for making a risky prediction, and Mike gets 1 point for pointing out Djokovic’s recent success.
Chris wins Around the Dorm, 8-6-4