The Present and Future of Marth in Melee

Although Super Smash Bros. Melee has a dynamic and competitive meta, there are a few aspects of competitive play that many of its players take for granted: Fox is a good character, Ice Climbers vs. Peach will always be a brutal matchup and any character below 10th or so on the tier list doesn’t have a chance of winning a large international tournament.

For a long time, Marth was considered one of the game’s premier characters, with players like Ken and Azen practically having a guaranteed appearance in a major’s top eight or even grand finals. In early 2015, when PPMD won Apex 2015 playing mostly Marth, it was the first time a Marth won a Melee major since Azen won Viva La Smash in 2007, per Juggleguy. Afterwards, people wondered if a Marth renaissance would start again.

As we head into the summer of smash in 2016, Marth hasn’t won another major yet, but it doesn’t mean his time is over. Here are some notes to consider about everyone’s favorite tiara-wearing prince.

The best Marth players currently use him as a situational counterpick – and not as a dedicated main.

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Although PPMD won Apex 2015 by going Marth through most of the tournament’s top-eight, this was mostly due to his opponents playing characters with perceived favorable matchups for Marth, with Leffen going Fox and Armada going Peach, before switching back to Fox. At the time, he was still a Falco player in most other matchups. In fact, before switching to Marth at Apex, PPMD tried playing Falco against PewPewU in Winners’ Quarters and used the bird to win an earlier set against S2J.

Similarly, Mew2King brings out Marth against Fox and Falco, while he only sometimes uses him against Peach and Marth, depending on his mood. Meanwhile, we’ve seen Mango pull out his Marth in bracket against space animals like Hax and Leffen, though this strategy currently has done a better job giving himself gfycat-worthy moments of greatness and “busterdom.

Using Marth isn’t limited to the top echelon of players. Axe and Shroomed have played Marth in bracket before in order to avoid traditionally unfavorable matchups, like the Ice Climbers, for their mains. Colbol, who doesn’t like playing the Fox ditto or against Falco, now plays mostly Marth against these characters. DruggedFox also saw success against Mango at HTC Throwdown last year as Marth, though he hasn’t played Marth this year.

Though Marth as a character hasn’t won a tournament on his own, his relative success as a situational counterpick has clearly been valuable. Genesis, Pax Arena, Beat VI, Battle of the Five Gods, Pound 2016, Smash Summit 2, EGLX, DreamHack Austin and GOML all had Marth play at some point during their top eight phases.

All of this leaves Marth players in a weird position: where his use in a variety of matchups illustrates Marth’s incredible versatility as a counterpick, but his lack of solo success highlights consistency issues that come with playing the character. Does that mean it’s difficult to play only Marth at the top level?

The solo Marth mains are struggling.

If we count PewPewU’s use of Fox at GOML as something he’ll be using long-term, here’s how a few ranked dedicated and listed solo Marth mains from last year’s MIOM’s Top 100 fared this year in terms of major results and their losses.

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Along with the massive amount of N/A’s, notice how this already small table doesn’t take into account players like reaper, ZoSo or Dart, who have seen limited exposure to a wider audience and are seen as regional heroes, although these players could also rise nationally by the end of the year. The table also excludes PewPewU, who might be using Fox for more matchups that he currently struggles with, like Captain Falcon.

None of this is to diminish their work and placements as competitors – the relative lack of dedicated representation to using only Marth in bracket shows how the data points are too few in 2016 to definitively have an opinion on if he’s falling off in the meta as a solo main. Then again, you could argue that this clearly illustrates consistency issues as a legitimate weakness deterring other players from dedicating themselves to playing Marth over a character like Fox.

However, as seen from above, Marth mains aren’t just losing in unfamiliar matchups (such as Samus or Yoshi), like popular convention might hold true. They’re losing their stronghold on a matchup they used to dominate.

20xx is approaching/Fox players are starting to beat Marth/FD isn’t a guaranteed win.

Fox players have adapted to what was formerly considered one of the hardest matchups in the game for them. Their reign on the metagame has gotten to the point where some Marth mains have actually stopped counterpicking to Final Destination. At Get On My Level 2016, The Moon opted to go to Yoshi’s Story against Leffen for his stage pick.

When I asked The Moon why he counterpicked there instead of FD, he responded that he wanted a smaller stage, but I also think part of why FD doesn’t feel so safe is because Fox players have leveled up there.

Unfortunately for Marth mains, this isn’t relegated to only the large, flat space allowing for laser camping. Fox players have figured out how to hit Marth back – and sometimes even harder. Take a look at the following match at how each player converts off one grab, both in terms of guaranteed follow-ups and additional hits from stage positioning.

PewPewU grabbed Ice only twice throughout the entire game, averaging 33 percent damage on Marth’s follow ups. Meanwhile, Ice grabbed PewPewU five times and had just above 65 percent for his average combo game, including two that led to death. Ice both outplayed PewPewU in the neutral and followed following up much harder in his combos on stage. Only a few missed edgeguards and high variance situations, like when Ice overextended his character off stage and got killed at an absurdly low percent, made the game look closer than it actually was.

You can tell the difference in production partially comes from PewPewU being relatively weak at the matchup on FD. But even assuming PewPewU as an outlier, just use common sense. What’s an easier way to get 36 or more percent on a character: grabbing them and hitting two following up airs/aerials afterwards or having to mix up between frame perfect pivot regrabbing and regular regrabbing to avoid getting shined on the first frame out of hitstun? Marth could still win the matchup on FD, but not every Marth is going to be Mew2King.

Also consider the head to head game record of Fox vs. Marth within the Top 30 on every stage over the last two years. Per TafoStats, an online database with data from Daniel “tafokints” Lee, Fox players in this group maintain a solid 70-68 record against Marth. The only Marth players within the Top 30 to hold a lead in the head to head are Mew2King (23-17) and The Moon (12-5).

Although part of the data set still needs to be updated and could be biased given the sheer number of Fox players there are near the late-bracket stage of tournaments, consider that if Marth was really as valuable of a counterpick against space animals as people say he is, the record would be in his favor – and Fox players would pick other characters against him.

Moreover, in addition to Fox players doing better on FD  than in the post, they’re also hindering Marth’s combo ability on other stages. Take a look at how Armada quickly escapes a would-be combo from PPMD below.

Yoshi’s Story used to be considered a strong stage for Marth a decade ago due to the platforms setting him up for easy tipper forward smashes, but the short stage and platforms are not lopsided for Marth any more, due to Fox players playing faster, being able to shield drop, having better DI, etc. One thing we could see more from Marth players are the reaction forward throw tech chases as a mixup from just throwing Fox up on a platform. However, even that has counterplay, with Fox being able to mix up teching options, aSDI’ing jab resets on missed techs and also being able to escape to ledge when cornered.

Marth players were given a glimmer of hope at Apex 2015. But with Fox players fighting back, a lack of data points with solo Marth mains at majors and his heavy use as a complementary character to cover weak matchups, it’s tough to say where his future lies for sure. Only time will tell if we’ll see another prince take the crown in the game of Melee thrones.

The Greatest Basketball Team Ever Might Lose.

As of last night, the Oklahoma City Thunder are leading the Golden State Warriors 3-1: a result that almost no one expected heading into the Western Conference Finals. Given the Warriors’ record-breaking 73-9 regular season record, this series now has legendary upset potential.

Going into the playoffs, Golden State played dominantly to the point where it went beyond just their W-L record. They were beating both bad and good opponents by an absurd margin. Here’s a look at the kind of company that the Warriors historically have for their regular season success.

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Screenshot per me, from Basketball-Reference.com

I would write something like “these aren’t your dad’s teams,” but given some of the teams on the list, it’s probably safe to assume that many of them are. Nonetheless, it’s interesting to note that within the top ten greatest teams ever per SRS, only the 1972 Bucks and 2016 Spurs didn’t end up winning an NBA title, with the Bucks losing to the No. 3 team on the list and this year’s San Antonio team losing to Oklahoma City.

If the Thunder can close out their series against the Warriors, they will have the highest combined SRS of two consecutively defeated opponents ever. Here’s the secret to how Oklahoma City is now one game away from making history.

The Thunder brought the Warriors’ three-point shooting to earth.

Going from a collective .416 to a .355 three-point percentage makes a huge difference for a team like Golden State that shoots more than a third of its field goal attempts from the arc. This resulted in a drop off from a 114.5 regular season offensive rating to a 103.9 offensive rating in the series so far. The Thunder are making the Warriors play more like the Bucks.

In order to understand how much worse the Warriors are shooting this series, it’s important to look at Curry’s return to mortality.  Curry’s 24/5/5 (rounded up) box-score stat line on a 58 percent TS% might look deceptively pretty, but consider his 30/5/7 average on 67 percent TS% from the regular season. His current performance is quite different from what many people, myself included, considered to maybe be the best individual season ever. When you’re that good, the standards are that high and make that much of a difference for your team.

Kevin Durant (who has done excellently in defending Curry in isolation situations) and the rest of the Thunder’s defense may not be shutting him down, but they don’t need to if they’re holding him beneath his averages on a mix of strong isolation defense and giving Curry different looks. Of course, Curry missing wide open three pointers by virtue of bad luck and possibly injuries also helps, even if he denies it.

That’s not to say Curry is to blame for his team’s disappointing performance in the series. Klay Thompson’s subpar .317 three point shooting percentage hasn’t helped either. In fact, Draymond Green might actually be the biggest factor in his team’s sinking performance.

What’s up with Green?

Per Basketball Reference’s calculated offensive rating stat, the Warriors with Green on the floor have averaged an 84 offensive rating, which would put them as the worst team in the league. While this is a box score-calculated +/- stat, rather than a more predictive metric like Real Plus Minus, it’s not like raw +/- has Green rating favorably either.

Take a look at his now-infamous -73 rating over the last two games against the Thunder. For the series, Green has shot at a pitiful .167 three point percentage. Even if you doubled how well he shot, he would still be playing below average. That’s a huge change in fate for a guy who is currently No. 2 in the NBA in RPM. Think him going from superstar to LVP could have anything to do with the Warriors’ twist of fate?

Normally the heart and soul of the Warriors’ team-heralded passing, Green has also turned the ball over 13 times in the series, while having only 16 assists. Rather than letting his versatility as a premier passing big man intimidate them, the Thunder are using their lengthy group of defenders, from Durant to Steven Adams to the 6”11 wing-spanned Andre Roberson to play Green tightly.

His struggles aren’t unprecedented. When the Cleveland Cavaliers briefly led the Warriors 2-1 in last year’s NBA Finals, Green received a lot of flak for his disappointing performance before eventually shooting well again and helping Golden State win three more games. In this series, his struggles could be attributed to both a combination of luck going against him, as well as great help defense from the Thunder.

That said, though much of Oklahoma City’s success can be attributed to both their own play and the Warriors’ sudden mediocrity in shooting, they’re also doing something that Golden State fans might want to consider before dismissing the series as a fluke.

Oklahoma City is straight up beating Golden State at its own game.

Statistically speaking, underdogs tend to play at a slower pace when facing traditionally “better” teams. If there is a talent difference between two teams, a lower amount of possessions innately emphasizes high-variance aspects of basketball (like loose ball situations and fouls).

However, in this series, the Thunder have been more than willing to play the Warriors’ game – and to a ridiculously successful point. Rather than trying to slow down the tempo of each game, Oklahoma City have been playing chiefly in transition, with both teams playing at a 100.3 pace. The Thunder have clearly kept up the pace against the normally comfortable Golden State squad, often going for steals early in a possession and attacking on the fast break.

In addition to making Golden State’s offense look inadequate, Oklahoma City has been scoring at will, averaging a 111.6 offensive rating. That’s less than their regular season rating (which ironically ranked only behind the Warriors), but consider the expectation heading into a series against the No. 6 defense in the NBA, per defensive rating.

Perhaps most surprisingly is how effective the Thunder are neutralizing Golden State’s small ball lineups with their own. Long known as the vaunted “Death Lineup,” the mix of Curry/Thompson/Andre Iguodala/Harrison Barnes/Green (outscoring opponents by 45 points per 100 possessions against opposing lineups, per 82games.com) struggled immensely this series against Oklahoma City. Per ESPN, the lineup of Russell Westbrook/Dion Waiters/Roberson/Durant/Serge Ibaka killed the Death Lineup to a 55-13 tune over the last two games.

Can the Thunder keep up the good work? Much of Oklahoma City’s success has come from Westbrook (arguably the NBA’s playoffs MVP so far), Roberson and Waiters shooting above 40 percent from the arc this series: a far cry from Oklahoma City’s below average three-point shooting percentage for the year. Moreover, like last year’s NBA Finals, the Warriors’ relatively cold shooting for this series could be by virtue of players missing open shots.

While only eight teams have ever come back from a 3-1 series deficit, it would be silly to count out the Warriors. If teams like the 1981 Boston Celtics, 1995 Houston Rockets and 1968 Celtics can both make those comebacks and win NBA titles, it’s reasonable to predict Golden State to join that group of teams, considering its legendary season so far. But at the same time, Warriors fans might have to deal with incoming heartbreak.

Either way, exciting history is in the making.

The Return of Colbol

It’s becoming easier to say that the competitive “Super Smash Bros. Melee” talent pool is bigger than ever. With the vast increase in gameplay and rapid improvement by many its members, longtime veterans have seen a high level of success too. This includes one of Melee’s most criminally underrated smashers: Colbol.

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Colbol’s Twitter profile picture.

Often mentioned as an afterthought in relation to second-tier Fox players like SFAT, Lucky, Silent Wolf and Ice, the Florida Fox is having a bit of a rebirth in 2016. If you don’t believe me about him being underrated, check out the difference in Twitter followers between him and the rest of his contemporaries. 

It’s arguable whether Colbol is Top 15 or not, but nonetheless, here’s why you should pay attention to the return of #colinballin.

He is one of the world’s most aggressive players.

At a glance, most Melee players usually think of two kinds of Fox players: aggressive and campy. If you’ve ever watched Colbol, you can attest to how he might just be the embodiment of the first category, far different than what you might expect from a player on the East Coast.

While every top-level Fox player has to be somewhat comfortable playing in extremely tight-spacing situations, they will more than often avoid blatantly unsafe commitments. For example, Lucky with stage positioning frequently uses baits like wavedash down to visually trick his opponent into making an unsafe commitment before reactively punishing them with something like a grab or running shine-nair, though Lucky certainly goes for reads every now and then. On the other hand, Silent Wolf frequently employs extremely quick and short dash dances, while SFAT is known for his slick platform retreats and safe stage control.

In comparison, Colbol’s Fox plays one of the most balls-to-the-wall play styles. His movement isn’t ridiculous in the same way of players like Ice or Alex19, but his aggression, trap-based setups and willingness to fearlessly throw himself at his opponent make for a highly entertaining play style full of charged up smashes, upsmashes to cover tech rolls as a read, clean drillshine upsmashes and, well, just watch this match (even if he loses the set).

Colbol’s Marth, while having a great dash dancing game, can also be identified from other Marth players in its heavy emphasis on mixing up aerial timings and proactive reads, even throwing in seemingly out of nowhere dash attacks on the ground. Although his Marth sometimes doesn’t go for the most optimal of punishes and occasionally drops the spacies chaingrab, Colbol certainly developed an effective secondary to deal with both Fox and Falco.

Obviously, his trap-heavy gameplan isn’t always successful and can lead to somewhat streaky play. Anyone who watched Paragon Los Angeles last year can cite Westballz’s crazy three-stock comeback on Colbol’s Marth as an example of how Colbol’s hot and cold tendencies in gameplay can be a double-edged sword.

Conversely, watch Colbol dismantle Plup’s Falco in the last three games of CFL Smackdown from earlier this week, when he three-stocked, four-stocked and three-stocked him in less than three minutes to win the tourney. Even if that was one of Plup’s secondaries, consider that Plup’s Fox, another secondary, earlier this year 3-0’d Axe, who is considered a Top Ten player in the world.

When he’s on point, Colbol turns from just another Fox player to one of the most unpredictable, brilliant and in-your-face players in competitive Melee. And contrary to what you might expect to be the weakness of someone so aggressive, Colbol has a huge consistency mark in an area unlike many other Fox players.

Colbol dominates lower tier characters/unfamiliar matchups

Most Fox players tend to attack these matchups through a lengthy process of laser camping, platform movement and forcing characters like Jigglypuff, Samus and even Captain Falcon to approach. However, Colbol, while still often employing shooting lasers as safe means of racking up damage, will instead exploit these characters’ lack of defensive options while cornered or in shield.

In a way, instead of playing the “lower tier” game of seeing who approaches first, Colbol is instead pushing his character’s immediate strengths and waiting to see what his opponents can do. This is the mark of a player who has strong enough fundamentals and confidence in tech skill to where they can both quickly figure out both their opponent’s weaknesses and deal with unfamiliarity.

Take Colbol’s set against aMSa at Apex 2014. Throughout his career and that tournament, aMSa destroyed players that were unfamiliar with how to approach the Yoshi matchup. While Silent Wolf, SFAT and others (in tourney and in the post-tourney exhibition) were taken by surprise at aMSa’s precise movement and heavy use of parrying, crouch cancel and double jump cancel nairs, Colbol quickly figured out how to expose Yoshi’s limited options against drill, along with understanding when it wasn’t safe to continue a combo. This is despite having little to no practice against a Yoshi of aMSa’s caliber.

Additionally, outside of Plup’s Samus, which almost every spacie main in the world struggles to beat, Colbol dominates the Fox v. Samus matchup like no one around his skill level. In 2016, Colbol holds a 6-0 record against HugS and Duck, two Samus mains known for their proficiency against both Fox and Falco. For reference, Duck currently boasts a 2-0 record over the last year against Leffen and eliminated Silent Wolf at Smash Summit 2, while HugS drowned SFAT during pools in the Battle of the Five Gods tournament. 

In 2016, Colbol has so far maintained dominance over Wizzrobe, Gahtzu and Gravy: strong evidence of both his expertise against Falcon and how often he is a guarantee for Grand Finals. His tournament record against each of the Florida Falcons also is more impressive than even Lucky’s – and Lucky has an absurdly high win rate against Falcon from his lopsided record against S2J. Though Colbol’s loss to n0ne last year at Tipped Off 11 marks a relative blip in his record, Colbol also 3-0’d n0ne back at Fight Pitt.

Either way, Colbol’s fundamentals don’t extend only to Samus and Falcon. Colbol dominated dizzkidboogie twice at Fight Pitt VI and hasn’t lost to an ICs player in the last year, unlike several of his contemporaries. His experience against Luigi through his training with Blea Gelo also clearly shows through his victories over Abate at Fight Pitt V. Colbol also went even with Axe this year in two sets, per Tafokints’ smash database.

So How Good is Colbol? 

Other than “pretty damn good,” it’s hard to say for sure where he ranks. You could attribute some of Colbol’s bracket success in two of the year’s largest tournaments to bracket luck, as he got to flex his Samus matchup knowledge at Genesis and got to play Infinite Numbers for a top eight finish at Pound. Those are also only two majors for the year: a relatively small sample size.

Moreover, we shouldn’t ignore Colbol’s flaws. Along with his exciting victories come disappointing performances against Fox players in particular, like when he was double eliminated by Twitch at Bad Moon Rising, sent to losers by Redd at Super Smash Con 2015, and eliminated by  MikeHaze at The Big House 5 (where he was also sent to losers by MacD).

Yet historically speaking, Colbol isn’t exactly unproven either. Even last year, Colbol still managed to bring Armada to a last-stock and last-hit situation at Paragon Orlando, 3-0’d Hungrybox and sent Mew2King to loser’s bracket at HTC Throwdown, among numerous victories over Plup’s Sheik in several Central Florida tournaments. Not many people took two sets off two non-sandbagging “gods,” while also beating Plup within the last two years. 


Furthermore, are Colbol’s losses really any worse than people around his skill level? If you’re going to bring down Colbol for losing to players like Pengie, it’s only fair to criticize MacD for losing a lopsided matchup in his favor to Infinite Numbers, along with someone like Duck for losing to a fresh out of retirement Bizzarro Flame at Pound. By virtue of Melee growing, there’s more more potential for upsets at a tournament than ever. They’re hardly a reason to sleep on someone any more. 

Though last year was a harsh return to Earth , it looks like Colbol is back and better in 2016. Whether or not he’ll keep up his latest streak of performances remains up for debate, but if you’re a fan of competitive Melee, you should definitely be paying attention to one of its most wacky, freestyle and underrated players.

Tweet your Melee thoughts to @ssbmjecht for your thoughts on Colbol and follow me for more smash content! Also feel free to correct/inform me on any missed sets or anything I wasn’t able to find. 

How About Them Red Sox?

The Boston Red Sox have been killing it. By almost any metric, the Red Sox have been the best team in the American League and one of the best in the MLB. Judging by Wins Above Average By Position, the Red Sox lead the way at 7.4 wins above average. For reference, the Chicago White Sox are in second place at 5.6. That doesn’t sound like much, but consider that Boston also leads its conference in point differential (+59) and SRS (1.1), which measures both point differential and strength of schedule. Clearly the Red Sox aren’t just beating up on bad teams or barely passing by.

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So here’s the question that everyone’s asking: how did a team that finished at the bottom of its division turn it around so far in a year?

David Ortiz is going out with a bang. 

It shouldn’t surprise too many of us, but the Red Sox designated hitter is a legend. And this just might be his finest season yet. Judging by traditional statistics, his 10 home runs, 33 RBIs and .320 batting average put him as one of the league’s best batters. Even that might be underselling how phenomenal he has been there.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Cleveland Indians
David Ortiz hitting a home run against the Cleveland Indians in 2016. Photo is per Ken Blaze/USA TODAY

“Moneyball” statistics like on-base percentage, slugging percentage and OPS (which combines the two) put Big Papi as either the best or one of baseball’s premier hitters. He’s third in the MLB in OBP (.405), while leading the league in SLG (.695), OPS (1.101) and isolated power (.375). This is a rare breed of a player: someone simultaneously fantastic at getting on base and hitting for power. Ortiz is literally so good that his hitting value alone practically nullifies any kind of baserunning flaws he might have. Hell, he’s had his moments there anyway.

Perhaps he’ll keep up his fantastic production – or he’ll slow down as the grind of a season brings him closer to expectations heading into the season. Given that he plans to retire after this year, it’s easier to be skeptical about Ortiz keeping up his incredible production. But it’s not as if the Red Sox are entirely dependent on him.

Boston’s pitching has been just fine.

Ask any Red Sox fan about what they have to complain about: chances are they’ll mention how frustrated they are with the team’s pitching. I talked to my dad about his thoughts on Boston’s starting pitchers and he rolled his eyes in response. Given that the Red Sox’s offense basically grading as “terror on wheels” this season, it’s natural to assume pitching as the team’s Achilles heel – especially given last week’s embarrassing 6-5 loss against the Houston Astros after they opened up with a 5-1 lead early in the game.

Yet look beyond Boston’s deceptive 4.21 ERA. The team plays half of its games in one of baseball’s most hitter-friendly ballparks. Qualitatively speaking, it’s easier for batters to score there, thus inflating opposing team’s offensive production. You could bring up Boston’s question marks at the end of their starting rotation in terms of talent, but having amazing No. 4 or 5 starting pitchers isn’t exactly a necessity.

Per Fielding Independent Pitching, which measures a pitcher’s ability to prevent home runs, avoid walks and cause strikeouts, the Red Sox have actually been above MLB average, ranking tenth (3.82 FIP) out of all 30 teams. While the criteria sounds arbitrary – being easy to dismiss as overly complex math that has little bearing to do with a pitcher trying to give up hits – remember that there’s been tons of statistical research put into the metric’s merits, showing that pitchers actually don’t have much agency over the outcome of balls put into play.

David Price
Red Sox pitcher David Price playing against the Minnesota Twins during the beginning of a spring training game on March 10, 2016. Photo used per the Boston Herald, which used an AP Photo from Patrick Semansky.

In particular, the performance of David Price, who is perhaps the league’s most “unlucky” pitcher, has been of notable critique from Red Sox fans. But while his 6.00 ERA may initially depict a bust of an pitching ace, FIP actually has him as the second best starter in the AL (2.53), just behind the White Sox’s Jose Quintana. That’s drastically different and more worthy of a $30 million price tag.

If you don’t believe the predictive value of FIP for future success, here’s an example that Red Sox fans may not want to remember: Daisuke Matsuzaka. In 2008, the Japanese pitcher’s 18-3 and sub-3.00 ERA told the story of a foreign pitcher that turned into one of the league’s premier aces, but his 4.03 FIP and high walk-rate showed a pitcher with an unsustainable process – and you can ask Bostonians how he turned out for them over the future, when he never reached that level of production again. It’s sometimes hard to believe, but even a full season of individual production in the MLB can be reliant on factors outside a player’s control.

Though it’s naive to expect Price suddenly ending the season as a Cy Young candidate, it’s just as silly to dismiss him as a failed star pitcher. Most likely he will “regain” form through the year as the outcome of balls put into play slowly moves back towards league average. His improvement alone, ignoring the development of the Red Sox’s backend pitchers, will go a long way towards Boston’s future success.

The Young Guns are Blazing

Guys like David Ortiz, Hanley Ramirez and Dustin Pedroia have been stars before, so it’s not unexpected to see them succeed. While it’s easy to attribute Boston’s monstrous, world-breaking and  6.03 runs per game to these veterans, what’s more promising is the development of Boston’s young guns – and I don’t mean in a Laremy Tunsil way.

Already one of the league’s best fielders at his position, 26 year-old center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. went from being an offensive albatross (.241 BA/.335 OBP) and weak link in a stacked lineup to being one of the league’s best contact hitters (.331 BA/.374 OBP) and one of the Red Sox’s safest bets to getting on base. If Bradley Jr. turned his former weakness to just being “okay,” his work would have already done wonders for his player value. Becoming one of the league’s best hitters, while somewhat implausible over the long-term, is simply an added bonus for Boston if he keeps it up.

Moreover, the 23 year-old Xander Bogaerts continued his breakout year from 2015 and has even (.338 BA/.390 OBP) improved as a batter. While Bogaerts still has questions about his fielding, watching him play shows that he’s clearly improved from the year before. Quantitatively, Bogaerts went from a negative (-10) in Zone Fielding Runs Above Average per 1,200 innings to grading decently (7). The +17 difference doesn’t sound like that much over the course of a year, but consider how innately low-scoring baseball can be in comparison to sports like football or basketball.  Those runs matter a lot more over the course of a season.

However, the biggest surprise for Boston is the guy they replaced their now disgruntled, hurt and possibly eating problem-ridden Pablo Sandoval with. In fact, Travis Shaw (.317 BA/.391 OBP) hasn’t just outplayed Sandoval for the job – he’s played like the best third baseman in the AL, while being paid this season just under three percent of Sandoval’s $17 million salary. Even if Shaw doesn’t keep his level of performance up, he’s already vastly exceeded expectations.

Ultimately, if you’re a Red Sox fan, there’s plenty to be excited about. The team has the best offense in baseball by a good margin due to both veteran and rising stars, while the starting pitching is due for a turnaround. I wouldn’t expect Boston to make the crazy 11-1 scores routine over the course of a season, but for Bostonians who have suffered the last two years of uninspiring play, this year so far rightfully got them talking again.

All statistics are as of May 17, 2016.

Where Has Big Nokh Been?

Hi.

This is probably coming completely out of the blue – hell, if you’re reading this right now, chances are that I probably asked you to reading this for me, considering I haven’t written on this blog in what feels like forever.

I could bore all of you with excuses about why I haven’t updated the blog, but long-story-short: most material I’ve written has already been published for the Daily Campus during my last semester in college. I also became too busy to write in my free time, due to obligations as a section editor and student.

However, now that I have a bit more free time after college, I’m ready to write again. Later I’ll try to post a “mailbag” edition where I’ll try to answer some questions that you guys (or at least a few of my close friends) have for me. This can be something as simple as a “who is better between Player A and Player B” vs. a more complex topic, like the rebirth of the transition game in the NBA.

Feel free to tweet questions to my Twitter, @ssbmjecht. It’s good to be back. Or at least to have enough free time to write for fun, before I eventually start working full-time.

EDIT: An earlier version of this article had the words “later today.” That clearly did not happen.