Where Sabermetrics And the Eye Test Disagree

Defensive Runs Saved: Despite “Baseball Tonight’s” penchant for highlighting Web Gems, great fielders4At least, great defenders according to WAR’s fielding metric, Defensive Runs Saved. appear to be given short shrift in the ratings. Regardless of position, they were systematically underrated by the BBTN 100 panel. After controlling for other characteristics and overall WAR, a player who invests in his defense to the point where he saves 2.5 runs per 600 PAs gets dinged by one point in BBTN’s ratings. A great example is the Atlanta Braves’ Andrelton Simmons, who saved an astounding 40 runs per 1,200 innings in the field. His 7 WAR/600 suggested a BBTN score of 84; instead, the panel rated him a mere 76. Positional Scarcity: The voters tended to judge players’ offensive numbers without regard to the position where they were produced. It’s a lot easier to find a great hitter physically capable of playing first base than it is to find the same hitter who can also play competently at shortstop, but the BBTN rankings don’t reflect that.5The position adjustment in WAR is derived from changes in fielding performance when players move between different positions. For instance, the history of players switching from shortstop to second base suggests that players gain four extra defensive runs above average per 1,350 innings with the move, implying that second base is an easier position to play than shortstop. Holding WAR constant, for every 2.1 fewer runs of positional value that a player’s position was worth, his BBTN rating increased by one point. This sits in stark contrast to the sabermetric idea of positional scarcity, which Bill James gave voice to in the 1980s and, more rigorously, was popularized by Keith Woolner in the 1990s with the development of VORP. The effect is most evident with designated hitters, whose WAR totals are limited because they provide literally no defensive value. DHs like Billy Butler of the Kansas City Royals and David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox rated 10 and 8 points higher, respectively, than WAR says they should have. Isolated Power: All else being equal, players with great power were significantly overvalued by voters. If a player somehow increased his isolated power by 11 points while keeping his overall value equal, he would have been rated one point higher by the BBTN panel. To wit: Chris Davis of the Baltimore Orioles is a fantastic power hitter (his .269 ISO since 2011 tied the Detroit Tigers’ two-time MVP Miguel Cabrera for third in our data set), but he rates as a below-average baserunner and a weak fielder at a non-premium defensive position. His three-year WAR should be equivalent to a 62 BBTN rating, but the panel gave him an 81. Two weeks ago, ESPN1FiveThirtyEight’s owner, for those unaware. released its “Baseball Tonight” (BBTN) 100, a player ranking based on votes from a panel of 40 experts. The panelists graded each of a group of 277 players on a 0-100 scale and then ranked them accordingly. For instance, Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels topped the list with a score of 98, while his most valuable player foil from recent seasons, Miguel Cabrera, came in second at 96.2Ratings are rounded throughout.It’s just one group of ratings from one group of writers, former players and ex-pats of the game. But it’s a useful proxy to understand the difference between subjective valuations and empirical ones. I was interested in seeing what these experts’ preferences tell us about how they view the game. If the BBTN panelists were ranking players, surely some of their metrics would differ from more empirical measures. This isn’t to say that the experts didn’t look at statistics at all when voting, or that most of them aren’t knowledgeable about baseball’s growing culture of numeracy. Many of them are. But purely subjective votes like this bring out the emotional decisions inherent in evaluating players. I wanted to know where those emotions led the panel when — right or wrong — they strayed from the path of pure sabermetric orthodoxy.To that end, I broke down what caused players’ BBTN scores to differ from what would have been predicted from their wins above replacement marks, an advanced metric designed to statistically measure a player’s on-field contributions in a logical, structured way. Think of this as an investigation into where sabermetrics and the “eye test” disagree.For the 149 position players who logged at least 600 plate appearances from 2011 to 2013, I adapted per-plate appearance WAR rates to the same scale as the BBTN ratings.3For qualified players, the correlation between BBTN score and WAR per 600 PAs was just 0.42. But that’s kind of the point — we’re interested in investigating what correlates with the residuals between WAR and BBTN score. For instance, a rate of 6 WAR per 600 PAs, as Jose Bautista of the Toronto Blue Jays produced, would typically lead to a BBTN score of 78 — precisely the mark the panel gave Bautista. But not every player’s BBTN score lined up so perfectly with his WAR numbers.The Texas Rangers’ Prince Fielder generated just 3.3 WAR/600, which my calculations predict would lead to a BBTN rating of 62; instead, the voters deemed Fielder worthy of a 79, one of the most divergent ratings in the data set. Meanwhile, Craig Gentry of the Oakland Athletics created 6.7 WAR/600 — normally good for a BBTN score of 82 — but was rated a 45 by the panel.These divergences are a proxy for over- and under-ratedness, where — for the purposes of this concept — a player’s accurate rating is just his WAR rate. If a player was overrated, his BBTN score would be higher than his WAR implied it should be, and the opposite for an underrated player.But not every overrated player is overrated for the same reason. To understand if the experts are snookered by certain skills more than others, I gathered a bunch of numbers (including scouting-style defensive opinions) from Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs, looking to see which were significant predictors of how much a player’s BBTN rating diverged from his WAR.Seven factors turned up as having a real effect on how a player was regarded by voters, relative to his sabermetric output. Contact Rate: Perhaps unsurprisingly, BBTN 100 panelists have a bias toward guys who put the bat on the ball when they swing. All else being equal, a 1.9-point increase in contact percentage leads to a player being rated one point higher in the voting. The Toronto Blue Jays’ Jose Reyes connected on 88.5 percent of swings, which coupled with a .321 BABIP to help give him a .306 batting average — and a BBTN rating of 71, seven points higher than his WAR would typically warrant. Arm Strength: Sabermetrics is indifferent to the flair with which a player plays — its only concern is production. Arm strength is one of those pieces of flair most associated with raw athleticism (or “tools,” in scouting parlance) that the eyes appreciate even if the numbers are indifferent. That’s speculation, of course, but the regression is detecting some kind of real effect. It tells us that between two equally valuable players rated six points apart in arm strength, as measured by Tom Tango’s Fans Scouting Report, the more rifle-armed of the pair would score one point higher in the BBTN 100. All told, these results aren’t incredibly shocking. They exhibit a bias toward many of the traditional “tools” of scouting: hitting for average and power, speed, fielding and throwing. The voters’ bias isn’t conscious, but it is real. It’s indicative of all the factors that add up to our impression of a player, rather than his empirical value.Sabermetrics isn’t automatically the “correct” answer in these comparisons, but it does offer a rigorous, systematic way of valuing players. Examining where human biases conflict with the statistics is a useful way to determine where our eyes’ prejudices lie. Batting Average on Balls in Play: There are two possible explanations for the value placed by the BBTN 100 voters on BABIP. One is that the panel doesn’t seem to agree with the standard sabermetric view that much of a batter’s BABIP is driven by chance. (Remember, this isn’t to say success on balls in play is all luck, but it does take nearly two and a half years worth of plate appearances for an individual hitter’s BABIP to stabilize.) The other is that they strongly value those select batters whose playing style lends itself to a higher than normal BABIP — think speedy, ground-ball hitters like Ichiro Suzuki in his prime. With WAR held constant, a player would need a BABIP 14 points higher to see a one-point boost to his BBTN score. Clutch Hitting: Success in the Win Probability Added “clutch” metric — which measures whether a player hits better in high-leverage situations — may follow from playing style more than mental fortitude. But whatever the reason, the voters enjoy a player who raises his game in crucial situations. A player whose clutch play added 0.45 wins per 600 PA more than another (despite equal WAR) receives a one-point boost to his BBTN 100 rating. The New York Yankees’ Jacoby Ellsbury might be the poster child here after leading baseball in clutch wins above average over the 2011-13 span; Ellsbury was rated eight points higher by BBTN than WAR suggests he should have been. read more

Read More »

Has the AL East Just Been Unlucky

The weakest division of the American League so far this season is the one that has been the most dominant in recent years: the AL East — featuring the Yankees and Red Sox, the two winningest AL teams since the league expanded to three divisions in 1995.Baltimore is leading the division with a puny 16-14 record, the worst for any division leader in baseball. Four of the AL East’s five teams are being outscored. And it could get even bleaker: All five teams have put up these poor results while facing schedules that are significantly weaker than average.There’s plenty of time for things to turn around; four-fifths of the season remain. Even if just one or two AL East teams get better, that could be enough for the division to win another pennant and even the major-league title.Winning pennants and titles has been the forte of the AL East since the majors reorganized after the 1994-95 players’ strike. Teams from the division have represented 36 percent of all AL clubs but have won 11 of 19 pennants and eight of 10 World Series titles for AL teams — twice as many as any NL division. (NL East teams have won four.) The division has also claimed 71 percent of available AL wild-card slots, twice as many as it would be expected to by chance alone.Much of that postseason success was achieved by New York and Boston, and the division has had plenty of underachieving clubs, too. But the AL East’s overall results stand up nicely, too. Its teams won 51 percent of regular-season games between 1995 and 2013. That understates its success because division games each had winners and losers, so they canceled each other out. Against opponents from outside their division, AL East teams won 52 percent of games, including the same proportion against both intraleague rivals and against NL teams.Surprising early-season results often stem from bad luck: Opposing batters’ grounders find gaps in the infield, and their fly balls sail for home runs, at unsustainable rates. One way to measure this luck is to compare teams’ skill-interactive ERA to their ERA. SIERA tries to control for factors beyond pitchers’ control — so it’s roughly what a pitching staff’s ERA would be if it had the same luck, and fielding ability, of the average team. And all five AL East teams have a SIERA below their ERA. The Yankees’ gap is nearly a run per nine innings.Then again, last year, all five AL East teams also had ERAs worse than their SIERAs. And while that doesn’t appear to have been due to bad fielding, this year most of the AL East clubs have below-average fielding.There’s one more sign that its slow start could mean real trouble for the AL’s worst division. A few days ago, Dave Cameron at FanGraphs calculated teams’ expected scoring margins — based on how well they’ve hit the ball, run the bases, fielded and pitched — relative to their actual scoring margins. If the AL East really has been the victim of hard luck, we’d expect its teams to have better scoring margins than they do. Yet overall, they’ve done about as poorly as expected. Because they’ve won even more than we’d expect by scoring margin, if they keep playing as poorly as they have, their luck — and tougher opponents — could make it even harder for AL East teams to maintain the mediocre level they’ve established so far this season. read more

Read More »

Carmelo Anthony Makes The Thunder Whole

As the NBA super team has returned to fashion over the last decade or so, basketball fans have been trained to rein in expectations — that putting together “on paper” talent full of volume scoring and high usage rates is a foolish way to assemble a fantasy team, let alone an NBA roster. They’ve been warned, in other words, against getting too excited about exactly what the Oklahoma City Thunder just did.At first glance, Sam Presti and the Thunder pulling off yet another surprising trade — this time swapping Enes Kanter, Doug McDermott and a second-round pick for 10-time All-Star Carmelo Anthony — seems like fool’s gold. There’s only one ball, and Anthony, Paul George (whom the Thunder acquired earlier in the offseason) and reigning MVP Russell Westbrook all used prolific amounts of it last season: Anthony had a usage rate of 29.1 percent, his lowest in a decade but still a top-20 figure in the league. George’s was 28.9, also in the top 20, and Westbrook’s, famously, was 41.7 — a single-season NBA record. Anthony isn’t what he once was and his Knicks haven’t made the playoffs since 2013; George’s Indiana Pacers and Westbrook’s Thunder washed out in the first round. There’s plenty reason to question whether this will work. But Oklahoma City isn’t just any rebuilding project, and that makes its needs unique.It’s hard to evaluate the revamped Thunder by looking at these players as they existed on other teams. A player’s role can change drastically when going from a bad team to a contender (e.g. Kevin Love). More important is how they’ll fit on a Thunder team gunning for the Western Conference Finals and beyond. And unlike most teams adding star players to a modest roster, there’s a template in the team’s recent history for how the fit might go: The Kevin Durant-led 2015-16 Thunder went up 3-1 on the Golden State Warriors in the conference finals.Westbrook, starting center Steven Adams and standout perimeter defender Andre Roberson are all holdovers from that team, and George will likely be asked to fill a trimmed-down Durant role. Anthony, meanwhile, has a surprising amount in common with another former OKC standout: Serge Ibaka.This takes a bit of explaining. Ibaka’s defense has slipped recently, but he’s still a good defender overall and blocks shots at a high rate. Even in the 2016 playoffs, when Ibaka was no longer the fierce rim protector he was in earlier playoff runs, he held the Warriors to 40.8 percent shooting on attempts he defended in the conference finals. Meanwhile, Anthony can string together a few high-intensity defensive plays, but he has never shown the ability to do that over a season or even a playoff series. Big advantage for Serge. But Anthony has traditionally been a very good rebounder for his position and excels at Ibaka’s other major contribution: floor spacing from a “big” position.Anthony had an effective field goal rate of 58.6 percent on catch-and-shoot jumpers last season, better than known sharpshooters like Kevin Love and in the top half of players with at least 200 attempts. (This is more impressive than it sounds, because the ranks of players who are asked to take 200 spot-up jumpers is a heavily self-selected group. Anthony will obviously hold the ball more than Ibaka, but he’s also a better ball handler and passer. The who-does-what balance will be crucial, which it doesn’t take deep analysis to see. But at minimum, Melo walking into a spot-up shooting role — the role he played so well for Team USA — will help the Thunder no matter what else he does, simply because he’s a good enough shooter to space the floor. And the Thunder desperately needed spacing.As a team, the Thunder had an effective field goal rate of 48.4 percent on catch-and-shoot jumpers last season, third-worst in the league. The season before, they were middle-of-the-pack at 52.2 eFG, despite Ibaka underperforming and bricklayers like Roberson, Kyle Singler and Randy Foye eating up a lot of looks. Now they add Anthony, George was even better last season at 60.1 percent eFG and Patrick Patterson (55 percent eFG). The Thunder didn’t just address their need for shooters — they course-corrected their recent tendency to address shooting deficiencies with players who can only shoot, Anthony Morrow or Alex Abrines.The bigger question for Oklahoma City is depth. The Thunder rotation was already perilously thin, and trading Kanter and McDermott for Anthony replaces two young players with a 33-year-old forward. But even that is offset by the ways Anthony and George fundamentally change the makeup of the roster. Last season, the Thunder scored 10.6 fewer points per 100 possessions when Westbrook sat, making role players like Roberson or fellow defensive standouts such as Jerami Grant much less valuable than they would be on a team that was competent offensively. So the fact that Anthony and George carried their respective offenses with fairly limited rosters should mean that Roberson, Grant and other role players can focus on their strengths rather than their deficiencies.And that gets to the core of why the Westbrook-Anthony-George team-up isn’t quite like other recent collections of stars, Golden State notwithstanding. The core of a contending team was already in place but was gutted by Durant’s exit in free agency and general roster turnover. The Thunder were a good team with a few specific, extreme holes in the roster. Trading for Paul George filled a bunch of them, and trading for Melo has emphatically closed the rest. read more

Read More »

Tony Gwynns Legacy Is Stronger Than Ever

Twenty years ago today, San Diego Padres legend Tony Gwynn flared a first-inning single over the head of Montreal Expos second baseman Mike Mordecai to become the 22nd member of baseball’s 3,000-hit club. It was a classic Gwynn swing: The two-strike breaking pitch from Expos starter Dan Smith was low, but Gwynn tracked it perfectly, waited to swing through the ball and deposited it into right-center field with his signature looping one-handed finish.A lot has changed in baseball over the decades since Gwynn joined one of MLB’s most immortal clubs. The beloved Hall of Famer died of cancer in 2014, at the far-too-young age of 54, and the sport has generally moved away from the type of player Gwynn epitomized: the quintessential singles hitter. However, Gwynn’s influence is still felt in the sport as much as ever — primarily in the way players prepare for games and analyze their own performance.Gwynn made his big-league debut in the summer of 1982, the same season Whitey Herzog’s St. Louis Cardinals used small-ball tactics like speed and spray-hitting to win the World Series. That era of baseball suited Gwynn just fine: The former point guard at San Diego State would quickly establish himself as one of the game’s premier contact hitters, posting an MLB-best .351 average in 1984, while also stealing 33 bases. (Young Tony Gwynn was fast!) It was the first of eight batting titles Gwynn would win in his career, a number tied with Honus Wagner for the second-most in history behind Ty Cobb.Even as the game began to shift towards power (I wonder why…) during the 1990s, Gwynn exemplified a different type of hitter — one whose value came from putting the ball in play and using the whole field, rather than working the count and mashing for power. Gwynn finished among the top half of MLB batters in walk rate in only five of his 18 seasons with at least 150 plate appearances,1Per 162 team games. and the same can be said of his seasons with above-average isolated power. However, he led the majors in contact rate 10 times — never dropping below the 87th percentile in the category — and he was perennially among the hitting leaders in batting average on balls in play (BABIP) as well.Players in that mold — albeit pale imitations of Gwynn himself — used to populate baseball. In 1998, Gwynn’s second-to-last season as a regular, 49 qualified players hit .300 or better and 18 hit at least .320 (a mark Gwynn eclipsed in each of his final nine seasons). In 2019, only 17 qualified players are on pace to hit .300, and six are on pace to hit .320. That’s not an artifact of overall league offense being down, either — MLB-wide runs per team per game are basically the same between 1998 (4.79) and 2019 (4.83). The incentives of the modern game, which emphasizes power and walks rather than simply making contact, have just shifted away from Gwynn’s playing style.Some recent star players have managed to carry on Gwynn’s legacy. Houston Astros second baseman Jose Altuve has almost carbon-copy levels of contact, walks, power and BABIP (relative to the league) as compared with Gwynn’s prime seasons. Jeff McNeil of the New York Mets, as Jared Diamond of The Wall Street Journal recently called him, is the “last player in baseball who cares about batting average.” His .330 average through his first two seasons would make Gwynn proud. And Seattle Mariners legend Ichiro Suzuki — who hit .350 or better in four separate seasons2He and longtime Colorado Rockies outfielder Larry Walker were the only players since Gwynn to do that. — drew parallels to Gwynn for his contact-hitting skills.But the 45-year-old Ichiro retired this past March, after making a couple of appearances when the Mariners played in his home country of Japan. And among the Top 25 players on Gwynn’s list of most similar career hitters (according to Bill James’s Similarity Scores system), only Ichiro, Johnny Damon and Mark Grace played in this century. Gwynn had a lot more in common with long-retired stars such as Rod Carew and Pete Rose than he did with most of today’s top batters, an absurdly talented generation who care more about sabermetric measures such as OPS than batting average.“If I wanted to hit .300, I’d hit .300,” Astros third baseman Alex Bregman told reporters at the All-Star Game in July. “It’s an OPS game, though. It’s about driving the baseball and getting on base, walks and extra-base hits. If it turned into an average game, I’d get the ball out of the air and hit line drives and hit .330.”“All the hitters care about now is OPS,” Bregman continued. “We don’t care about batting average. Some guys do, I guess. Batting average is an old stat that doesn’t matter. It’s OPS, runs created, WAR. Look at Mike Trout’s numbers. There are guys that hit .340. Mike Trout is hitting, what, .300 on the dot? I’d rather have Mike Trout’s numbers with all the walks and the damage than the guy who hits .340 [with a bunch of singles]. It’s an OPS game.”If Gwynn’s influence on the field has waned, however, his influence off it has grown more than young players like Bregman can imagine. One of the secrets to Gwynn’s unparalleled success as a hitter was something we all take for granted in today’s age of media-savvy game-watching: Video. Mired in a rare early-career slump back in 1983, Gwynn asked his wife Alicia to record broadcast footage of him hitting.“I called home, told my wife to tape my at bats,” Gwynn told Sports Illustrated in 1995. “Just hit the record button whenever I came to the plate. When I got home and looked at it, I saw right away what I was doing. I couldn’t wait to get to the ballpark and correct it. Took me 15 swings. Hit .333 the rest of the year.”Gwynn eventually became legendary for his obsession with video analysis, keeping a vast library of tapes at home and toting around a portable VCR on the road. The exercise was a means of both detecting small changes in his own swing mechanics and scouting opposing pitchers. As quaint as it sounds now, Gwynn was a pioneer in that regard; according to Jerry Crasnick, he invested thousands of dollars in video equipment to help himself and his Padre teammates become better hitters.Even if Gwynn hadn’t dug so deep into video so early, it’s likely other major leaguers would have eventually adopted similar practices as the technology got cheaper and more accessible. But it’s also undeniable that Gwynn’s success accelerated the trend of tape-watching and video analysis, which has since become commonplace in the game — particularly among today’s young, forward-thinking players. In many ways, Gwynn’s spiritual successors are technicians like Cincinnati Reds pitcher Trevor Bauer, who uses footage (and data tracking) from high-speed cameras to improve his pitches and detect mechanical flaws before they cost him on the field.Many words have been spilled lamenting changes to baseball since Gwynn collected hit No. 3,000, particularly when it comes to the loss of similar contact-hitting virtuosos. But Gwynn’s larger legacy is as strong as ever. Along with the few batters in today’s game carrying the torch for Gwynn’s style of play, there are many, many more who emulate his work ethic and attention to detail to improve their performance.Check out our latest MLB predictions. read more

Read More »

Can We Just Enjoy Nikola Jokic For A Minute

With just a few games remaining in the regular season, the Denver Nuggets are, for the moment, outside of the playoffs. For Denver, this is a familiar place. A season ago they finished ninth in the West, one game out of the postseason. But in a Western Conference playoff race in which the fourth-place and 10th-place teams are separated by only three games, this sort of squeeze can happen. Even if the Nuggets miss the postseason again, though, they can take heart in knowing that this is the season Gary Harris cemented himself as one of the most consistent players in the league. It’s the season Jamal Murray began to realize his potential. It’s the season they convinced someone to take Emmanuel Mudiay off their hands. But above anything else, it’s another year of startling development for Nikola Jokic, the team’s budding superstar.This season, Jokic added a more consistent 3-point shot to a game that was already blowing up box scores in cities across the country. He now takes just under four threes a game and hits 40 percent of them — up from about two attempts with a 32 percent hit rate a season ago. But because Jokic doesn’t amass buckets at a rate commensurate with his skill ceiling, and because his deficiencies on defense make it easy to write him off as a regular-season curiosity, he doesn’t share the stature of other rising-star big men, such as Karl-Anthony Towns, Joel Embiid or Kristaps Porzingis. Embiid may in fact be the complete package. But through three seasons, Jokic, the 41st overall pick in the same 2014 draft where Embiid went third, has looked every bit as capable.We’ve known since Jokic’s sophomore season that he is unique. He handles the ball at the top of the key, throws one-handed cross-court passes to shooters who aren’t yet open, lobs entry passes over fronting defenders, and posts up like he’s suiting up for Georgetown in the 1980s. He’s too multifaceted to be subjected to a trite Dirk Nowitzki comparison, and it would be too sacrilegious to compare him to truer points of reference. (Bird? Sabonis? KG?) If you refine the Basketball-Reference.com Play Index to show anything that remotely resembles what he does on the court, it has a tendency to spit out a list of one. There is no precedent for a player like Jokic, who can rebound, pass and shoot at the highest levels. There isn’t even a half-cocked historical precursor, like how when you look at Kevin Love from a certain angle he kind of looks like Troy Murphy. No. There’s only been one Jokic.But it isn’t just Jokic’s complete package that’s hard to replicate — his game is extraordinary even in pieces. If we remove his shooting from the equation and look only at players who have rebounded and passed at similar levels, the only players who have approached Jokic are Kevin Garnett, Joakim Noah and DeMarcus Cousins. If we look at players who have rebounded like Jokic and shot threes at a similar rate — never mind whether they made those threes — we’re left with Cousins, Charles Barkley, Love, and, yes, Murphy. And if we look at players who have passed and shot as well as Jokic has this season, the index spits out a list of point guards — along with Kevin Durant and LeBron James. The only players 6-foot-8 or taller are those two and Magic Johnson.Jokic is a little less special when we zoom out and look at his contributions as a whole, but only slightly. He’s in the top 30 all time for win shares in the first three seasons of a frontcourt player’s career, and that list is littered with Hall of Famers — Bill Russell and Hakeem Olajuwon just ahead of him, Dwight Howard and Arvydas Sabonis just behind.Despite the modern ways Jokic pops off of the stat sheet, his game also features at least one traditional element. He posts up much more than most stretch bigs, coming in fifth in overall posts this season according to data from Second Spectrum — ahead of Towns and Anthony Davis. He creates points out of his post-ups at one of the best rates in the league, in line with Embiid, LeBron and KD.Jokic has been aflame the past few games, as Denver claws its way toward the postseason. The Nuggets have the seventh-place Minnesota Timberwolves tonight in Denver, and play the 10th-place Clippers on Saturday in Los Angeles. They likely need wins in both games to stay alive, plus at least a split in their final two games, against the Portland Trail Blazers and Minnesota again.1Two wins over Minnesota would help tremendously, since for now Denver is down in the tiebreaking season series 0-2. Maybe Denver limps across the finish line, and maybe it has enough juice left over to thrill us with a competitive game or two against Houston or Golden State on the road to certain doom. Maybe it narrowly misses the postseason yet again and has to deal with those consequences. But in the very worst case, the Nuggets still have Jokic. They still have a true surplus-creating superstar, the most valuable asset a team can possess. And they still traded Mudiay. To the Knicks. So even if things go bad, it ain’t all that bad. read more

Read More »

How The Champions League Draw Changed Each Clubs Odds Of Moving On

Porto3954+15– Dortmund5044-5– Schalke 041410-4– Paris Saint-Germain7075+6– Manchester City7890+12– Real Madrid6244-18– A lot has changed with Liverpool since that ill-fated final, too. For starters, the team found a keeper whose hands function the way a keeper’s hands should function (i.e. not like this). And while the Reds struggled away from home during the group stage — they managed just one goal and five shots on target in 270 minutes of gameplay — their home stadium at Anfield was predictably a fortress. Liverpool won all three of their home matches, including a dominant, do-or-die performance in their last group match against a strong Napoli team.A week ago, Liverpool’s chances of merely reaching the knockout stages of the UEFA Champions League were about as good as their chances of correctly predicting the outcome of the ceremonial coin toss that precedes each match. Now, our model gives Liverpool the sixth-best chances of winning the whole thing — they have an 18 percent chance of reaching the final and a 9 percent chance of winning the trophy, according to SPI. But before they can think about playing in their second final in as many years, they’ll have to deal with the small problem of squaring off against German juggernauts Bayern Munich in the first round of the knockout stage.Bayern striker Robert Lewandowski scored at an obscene rate in the group stage, and Liverpool will be without the suspended defensive stalwart Virgil Van Dijk for the first leg. Lucky for the Reds, that first leg is at Anfield. And no team wants to see a front three of Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah in a two leg knockout situation. This is likely to be the highlight fixture of the Round of 16, and Bayern fans must be feeling a little hard done by: Liverpool is the biggest hurdle they could have drawn. That’s reflected in our forecast: Bayern is only the slightest of favorites, with a 52 percent chance of moving past the Reds. Bayern’s odds of making the quarterfinals before the draw were 72 percent — that’s the biggest decline between pre-draw and post-draw chances of advancing in the field of 16..The team Liverpool is battling atop the English Premier League table, Manchester City, should be much, much happier about its draw. They will face Schalke 04, the competition’s weakest remaining team, per SPI. According to our model, the German team’s chances of winning the Champions League are less than 1 percent. On the other hand, the Citizens have the best chances of winning the title (19 percent), which would be the first in club history. Only two teams, Roma and FC Porto, saw a bigger improvement in their chances of reaching the quarterfinals before the draw and after (Man. City went from 78 percent to 90 percent).Pep Guardiola’s squad ran into a couple of roadblocks in the group stage — a home loss to Olympique Lyonnais being the most notable — but they still managed to score the second-most goals per 90 minutes. Schalke 04, who scored the fewest goals per 90 minutes among teams that advanced to the knockout stage, will hope their defensive record holds up — they conceded the fourth-fewest goals per 90 minutes during the knockout stage. But defending against Porto, Galatasaray and Lokomotiv Moscow is one thing; defending against City’s pass-happy brand of soccer is a different thing altogether. Kevin De Bruyne’s recent return from injury won’t help matters for Schalke 04. So far, City’s path is clear. They’ll just have to hope they don’t run into Liverpool again.Unlike their Mancunian rivals, Manchester United drew the competition’s most potent offense: Paris Saint-Germain. Les Parisiens scored 2.63 goals per 90 minutes en route to topping a group that included Liverpool and Napoli.1It was the group of death, to be sure. United have been better in Europe than they have been domestically, but Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Edinson Cavani must be salivating at the prospects of running at the likes of Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and Victor Lindelof. SPI puts PSG has 3 in 4 favorites against Man U.Tottenham Hotspur’s Champion League hopes were on a knife’s edge a week ago, just like Liverpool’s. But a crucial draw with Barcelona — and some help from Internazionale — saw them through. To advance any further, Spurs will have to figure out a way to unlock what’s been a nearly impenetrable Borussia Dortmund defense.2They’ve given up the fewest goals per 90 minutes in the competition so far.And because it’s the Champions League, all eyes will be on the two players who’ve dominated European club soccer for the past decade: Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. Even though Ronaldo hasn’t hit the heights he’s used to hitting in the Champions League yet for Juventus — he was sent off in his opening match against Valencia, and has scored just one goal in the competition so far — the Italian champions comfortably topped their group. Our model gives them a 10 percent chance to win the Champions League — good for fourth best (tied with Bayern).But to do so, they’ll have to get past perennial contenders Atletico Madrid first. Both teams are known for the defensive prowess, but Atletico conceded at a higher rate per 90 minutes during the group stage than they have in previous years. If Ronaldo finds his scoring touch, Atletico could be in deep trouble.Finally, Barcelona may not have the best chances to win the title — our model gives them the second-best chances at 14 percent — but Manchester City doesn’t have Messi, either. Hilariously, Messi finished fifth in the Ballon d’Or voting this year. Fitting payback for the snub would be to lead Barcelona to their first Champions League victory since 2015. Four years may not seem like a long wait for such a trophy, but when your bitter rivals are the team that won each of the intervening titles, it creates some urgency. Messi scored 1.67 goals per 90 minutes during the group stage and assisted on another .28. Olympique Lyonnais were a pain in Manchester City’s side during the group stage, so there’s no reason they shouldn’t cause Barcelona fits. But our model gives Barcelona an 84 percent chance of advancing — Lyon is the second-worst rated team remaining — and if the Messi that shredded opponents in the group stage shows up to play, Olympique Lyonnais won’t stand a chance. Nor will anybody else, for that matter. Barcelona7484+10– Manchester United3125-6– Liverpool6148-12– Which club got the best draw?Chances of making the UCL quarterfinals, before and after the Round of 16 draw, according to FiveThirtyEight’s Soccer Power Index Ajax5056+6– Roma24%46%+22– The UEFA Champions League knockout stage draw happened today. Sixteen teams found out their next opponent on the road to the final. How pot-holed of a road did your club draw? Here’s what FiveThirtyEight’s Soccer Power Index thinks of the Round of 16 matchups.A lot has changed at Real Madrid since they won the 2018 UCL final. Cristiano Ronaldo left the club and moved to Turin, and French legend Zinedine Zidane stepped down as manager. The transition hasn’t been smooth: Despite winning their group, Los Blancos are scoring fewer goals per 90 minutes than they did in any of their previous three Champions League campaigns (all of which they won), and they managed to lose two matches to CSKA Moscow, who currently sit in third place in the mediocre Russian Premier League.The Champions League knockout stage draw didn’t do Real any favors, placing them against Ajax. The Dutch squad boasts the world’s best young player at the back and a reinvigorated Dusan Tadic leading their attack. Fans at the Bernabéu shouldn’t panic just yet: Our model gives Real a 44 percent chance of advancing to the quarters. But even if they get past Ajax, it should come as no surprise if Real fails to win its fourth consecutive title: Our model gives them just a 5 percent chance of raising the trophy. Juventus6762-5– Lyon2516-9– Atletico Madrid38380 Bayern Munich7252-21– TeamPre-drawpost-drawChange Tottenham4556+10– read more

Read More »

Is Virginia Too Slow

Wichita St.1666Sweet 161-0.41119 So, what gives? Why has Virginia — a team that has so thoroughly dominated the regular season lately — disappointed so much in March? It may have something to do with the glacially slow pace at which Bennett has his team playing.A team’s efficiency margin (i.e., the amount by which it would outscore an average Division I opponent over the course of 100 possessions) is generally a good predictor of wins and losses. Teams that score efficiently and make it hard for their opponents to do so tend to win a lot of games. According to Ken Pomeroy’s ratings, Virginia has hovered near the Top 5 in adjusted efficiency margin during its recent period of excellence, finishing each of the past five seasons somewhere in the ballpark of +25 to +30 points per 100 possessions. This year, the Cavs have the best margin of any Division I team at an eye-popping +35.Of course, Virginia never actually has a chance to play 100 possessions in any individual game. The typical 40-minute college game has only about 70 possessions in each direction. And because the Cavaliers play at the slowest pace of any Division I team (353rd), they typically use even fewer possessions than that — just less than 60 on average.Reducing the number of possessions available to each team puts a greater emphasis on randomness; each stroke of bad luck — a cold-shooting snap, a blown call, a bounce of the ball in the wrong direction — matters a bit more when the pace is slow. Extra randomness puts the favorite at greater risk and bolsters the underdog’s chances at an upset. By playing at a slow pace, the Cavaliers are essentially giving themselves fewer opportunities to prove that they are the better team in any given game. This is especially problematic if the Cavs find themselves trailing by a large margin, as they were early in the second half last year against UMBC.But does it actually matter? We know that pace has only a very modest influence on the predictability of postseason outcomes in the NBA. That’s because each NBA game is 48 minutes long, each team uses about 100 possessions per game, and each playoff matchup is decided over a best-of-seven series. However, in a single elimination tournament with shorter games and fewer possessions, playing at a slower pace has much greater potential to introduce some wild volatility — hence, March Madness.We ran a simulation to gauge just how big of a problem Virginia’s slow pace might be in the NCAA Tournament. Starting with the Cavaliers’ per-100-possession stats, we broke down the likelihood of the various potential outcomes for each possession on offense and on defense — how often they would score or allow 3 points (3-pointer made, 3 free throws or a 2-pointer and a free throw), 2 points (2PM or 2FTs), 1 point (1 FT) or 0 points (0FG, 0FT or a turnover) against an average opponent. Then, by sampling randomly from these distributions of potential possession outcomes, we created 10,000 simulated games for a range of different pace scenarios — from 50 to 80 possessions per game — to find the ratio of points scored to points allowed in each simulation. These simulations assume (undoubtedly unrealistically) that Virginia’s offensive and defensive efficiency would be unaffected by a change in the pace of play. Playing at a fast or slow pace tends to nudge a good team’s range of outcomes one way or the other by about a quarter of a win. So, yes, Virginia’s slow pace of play puts it at a relative disadvantage compared to other, higher-tempo No. 1 seeds. But that doesn’t necessarily mean Virginia should start playing faster.After all, Bennett knows a low-possession team can succeed in the tourney. He witnessed it firsthand in 2000 as a member of his father Dick’s coaching staff, when their methodical Wisconsin squad reached the Final Four despite playing at a snail’s pace. Now, Tony has implemented the same pace-defying pack-line defense that Dick once used to stifle Wisconsin’s opponents and tempo alike. That conservative defensive scheme is so integral to the Bennetts’ coaching identity that playing at a slow pace has basically become a family tradition.In the end, a team’s efficiency margin is still a much better predictor of tournament success than its tempo. And, in practice, Virginia’s huge efficiency margin may be inextricable from its slow pace of play. A faster-paced Virginia team might also become a less efficient Virginia team, especially on the defensive end.Theoretically, Bennett would maximize Virginia’s tournament chances by having his team play at a faster tempo. But in reality, his best bet may be to continue following in his dad’s slow-paced footsteps in the hopes that they will eventually lead him back to the Final Four.The journey will start for Bennett and Virginia on Friday afternoon against Gardner-Webb of the Big South. On paper, the Cavaliers will be 35 points better than the Runnin’ Bulldogs, at least on a per-100-possession basis. But we will just have to wait and see if 59 possessions will be enough for the Cavs to prove they are better than a No. 16 seed this time around.Check out our latest March Madness predictions. * Seed averages since 1985. Game totals through March 17, 2019.Source: sports-reference.com Michigan St.1629Final Four—+0.3529 SCHOOLTOTALTOURNEYBEST FINISHNo. 1 SeedAVG.Rank Duke17212Champion1+0.1145 WINSWins Vs. expected Virginia1727Elite Eight3-1.30159 Kansas17212Final Four3-0.55131 Arizona1688Elite Eight1-0.54127 Last year, coach Tony Bennett and his Virginia Cavaliers earned the embarrassing distinction of becoming the first No. 1 seed in men’s NCAA Tournament history to lose to a No. 16 seed in the opening round. Bennett may end up being tied to that ignominious bit of trivia for the rest of his life, but he also has a real shot at redemption this year. Virginia is a No. 1 seed once again, and the reigning coach of the year will have another chance to win his (and the school’s) first national championship. But the questions linger: Was last year’s loss to the underdog Maryland-Baltimore County Retrievers just a one-off fluke for Virginia, or was it symptomatic of a fatal flaw in Bennett’s system? Will this be the year that one of his teams finally breaks through?Broadly speaking, Bennett has been very successful at Virginia. He has racked up multiple 30-win seasons, recruited a string of NBA-quality players and fixed the Cavaliers firmly in the AP Top 10. It took him just three seasons to transform a 10-win team into an NCAA Tournament participant. And yet — despite five subsequent tourney appearances, including three No. 1 seeds — victories in the Big Dance have been few and far between for Bennett, as his Virginia teams have notched a total of just seven tournament wins. In fact, Virginia’s performance against seed expectation of -1.30 wins per tournament is the second-worst of any team over the past five years. Under this assumption of a stable efficiency margin — where the digital Cavaliers are programmed to score an average of 1.3 times as many points as they allow regardless of the tempo — we find that Virginia wins slightly more simulated games when playing at a faster pace. Visually, you can see the orange band of simulated results narrowing from left to right as the range of likely outcomes shrinks toward the average with an increasing number of possessions. The Cavs lost 9.7 percent of their simulated games when they played at a 59 possession-per-game tempo (equivalent to their usual pace), but the more their pace increased, the fewer upsets there were.This is an interesting thought experiment, but is there any empirical evidence to support the idea that playing at a slow pace is tied to underachievement in the tournament?To find out, we examined game results from the 17 NCAA Tournaments from 2002 to 2018, for which there are team-tempo stats available from KenPom. We created a model for expected win totals based on tournament seed and adjusted efficiency margin. Next, we compared the expected win totals from the model with the actual win totals for each team in each tournament, excluding the First Four and other play-in games.164 teams per tournament x 17 tournaments for a total of 1,088 distinct team-year combos. From there we sorted the teams by quality (i.e., expected to win more or less than two games in a single tournament) and by adjusted tempo (possessions per game, divided into tertiles), forming six groups. We found that, among the teams that were expected to win the most games (two or more), those that played at a slow pace tended to underachieve, while those that played faster were most likely to outperform their expected win totals. Virginia has been successful lately, just not when it countsTournament wins vs. average for seed* for the 10 Division I NCAA teams with the most total wins since 2013-14, through the 2018 tournament Kentucky17915Finalist1+1.187 Villanova19015Champion3+0.0549 Gonzaga19113Finalist1x+0.8812th of 160 UNC16915Champion2+0.6621 read more

Read More »

Suspended 5 working to train their successors

Ohio State’s jersey scrimmage on Saturday meant the Buckeyes were finally getting back to what they do best: playing football. There was no dark cloud looming over the field; there were no remorseful press conferences. Just football. It would be easy to get caught up in all the negativity, but the Buckeyes are relying on veteran leadership and team unity to stay focused and move forward. “I think it’s important for everyone to step up and provide leadership, no matter if you are a senior or a junior,” senior linebacker Andrew Sweat said. “Obviously, we lose some guys the first couple games. I think it’s important that everyone steps up.” The losses of Terrelle Pryor, Dan Herron, DeVier Posey, Mike Adams and Solomon Thomas for the first five games of the upcoming season will give the Buckeyes a new look, but the players said they haven’t seen much of a change in the way things run. “Honestly, I haven’t seen a difference. I think people fail to realize that our team is very close,” senior linebacker Etienne Sabino said. “We’re really like a family here. I haven’t seen much of a difference at all.” One aspect that has changed is the role of the five suspended players. They’ve taken on more of a teaching role in addition to their playing duties. While recovering from surgery on his left foot, Pryor can be seen guiding freshman quarterback Braxton Miller and helping him find his way in the new system. “If anything, they’ve been helping the young guys,” Sabino said. “You see Terrelle out there helping Braxton. You see DeVier out there; you see Mike out there helping the new linemen. … If anything, they’ve become more like coaches.” The five, with the exception of the injured Pryor, are still getting their usual reps in practice, but senior center Mike Brewster said the five’s future absence has created a lot of opportunity and, consequently, competition. “Anytime you lose five guys for some games, there’s going to be some more spots open, but even before that, there were a lot of spots open,” Brewster said. “I think everyone is competing, and they’re realizing it’s been their dream to start at Ohio State and they’re one step further in conquering that.” Coach Jim Tressel was not available for comment, but the players said he has done a great job in making sure that when the team is together, it’s not about everything happening off the field — it’s about getting the job done. Tressel will also serve a five game suspension in the upcoming season. “(Tressel) does a really good job,” Brewster said. “We really do block everything out. When we’re here, we’re focused on what we need to get done and what we need to do within this practice time we have.” Brewster said the adversity is inevitable but the way the team responds to it is what’s really important. “You can do two things,” Brewster said. “You can get mad or you can use it to your advantage. You can use it as fuel to prove people wrong. I think that’s the attitude we take. Just keep working hard. You know, let’s shock the world. Let’s show people what we can do by staying together.” Staying together seems to be the key. Brewster said all the criticism from the outside has pushed the team closer together. It finds support and solace in the confines of the program. “I loved all the past teams I’ve been on, but man, something about this team,” Brewster said. “It’s just like everybody is cool with everybody. It’s like a big family. I’m so excited for this year. Just being in the locker room after practice was just like guys love being here. We just want to win.” read more

Read More »

Womens Soccer Ohio State upsets No 6 Penn State 10

Ohio State junior goalie Devon Kerr makes a save in the 81st minute of Ohio State’s 1-0 win over Penn State Sept. 30 at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium. Credit: Mac Connor | Lantern ReporterThe Ohio State Buckeyes women’s soccer team (9-2-1, 4-1-0 Big Ten) upset the No. 6 Penn State Nittany Lions (7-3-1, 3-1-1) 1-0 Saturday night at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium, earning the team’s first victory over Penn State in seven years.The pressing attack of the Ohio State offense finally paid off at the 74th minute when a cross from sophomore defender Marike Mousset landed in the center of the box to be struck into the back of the net just inside the right goalpost by senior forward, Sammy Edwards. The goal proved enough to earn a victory in the hard-fought match.“It honestly is the best feeling right now,” junior goalie Devon Kerr said of the win. “I even said to my team that I’m on such a high because we played from minute to minute and did not give up the entire time, and it clearly spoke on the field. I’m just so proud of our team and the outcome we got here tonight.”The talent of the top two teams in the Big Ten was apparent as they each opened the game with patient ball-handling to feel out the opposing defense. Possession was steady and changed hands every few minutes as the teams equally shared the ball as they both waited for an opportunity to strike. The Buckeyes had an early cross dribble across the box two yards from the Penn State goal line that came close to breaking the scoreless tie, but the Ohio State offense was unable to capitalize as the ball rolled away from the net untouched.Penn State battled back in the 24th minute as senior forward Megan Schafer dribbled the ball past the Ohio State defense and struck a hard shot from eight yards out, but it was saved by Kerr. The Nittany Lions earned another opportunity in the 36th minute as sophomore midfielder Laura Freigang sent a powerful shot that was blocked by Buckeye defenders.The teams spent the rest of the half trading extended possessions and meticulous attacks as both defenses stifled any further attempts to attack the goal. Both teams played at the top of their game in a half well managed by each side.The second half started off with a much quicker pace than the first, with both sides executing more aggressive attacks. Both of the teams had passing inside five yards of the goal within the first 10 minutes, only to end up being cleared to the midfield by defenders.Penn State earned a close shot from junior midfielder Marissa Sheva in the 53rd minute that sailed over the bar as they looked to start an attack. Its attack was quickly met with a Buckeye counterstrike in the 68th minute, where a high cross from 20 yards out was saved and held in a huge collision between Penn State junior goalie Rose Chandler and Edwards.Ohio State spent the rest of the game holding off an extremely aggressive Penn State attack with Kerr making save after save, backing up her Big Ten defensive player of the week honors. The game came down to the last minute, as the Buckeyes were able to bend, but not break under the pressure of the Nittany Lion attack.“These clean sheets are not just me. It’s my team helping with the no-shot mentality and making sure shots can’t come off the other team’s foot,” said Kerr. “When the shot’s coming on net, I just try to stay as focused and engaged as I can. Hopefully I can hold the ball or at least do something to get it out of the game of play.”The Ohio State women’s soccer team next faces off against Michigan State at home on Friday at 5 p.m. read more

Read More »

Womens Gymnastics Ohio State edges out Penn State for third Big Ten

Ohio State junior Amanda Huang performing her routine on floor exercise against Penn State on Friday, Feb. 10, 2018. Credit: Megan Russell | Senior Lantern ReporterThe Ohio State women’s gymnastics team (6-3, 3-2 Big Ten) came out victorious against Penn State (2-4, 1-4 Big Ten), finishing with a razor-thin victory of 196.200-196.025 on Friday at St. John Arena.“This is exactly what we’ve been training for all year,” Ohio State head coach Meredith Paulicivic said. “This is the team that I knew that we had, that no matter who I put in that lineup, I believe we can be a 196 team.”The Buckeyes saw many lineup changes throughout the night. Senior Kaitlyn Hofland appeared for the first time in the vault and balance beam lineups, while sophomore Amanda Huang and freshman Brooke Chesney performed on floor in place of senior Alexis Mattern and freshman Jenna Swartzentruber.“Resting some big guns tonight, a lot of people would have thought that was risky going up against Penn State, but I felt like it was the right thing to do for the kids, their health,” Paulicivic said. “I knew that our kids that I put in could step up and do the job, and that’s what they did.”The Buckeyes took to the vault and posted a 49.050 total score in their first event of the night. Junior Jamie Stone and sophomore Olivia Aepli earned a 9.850 to share second place for the event. Junior Janelle McClelland also posted a 9.825 to tie her career-high score. Ohio State started to gain momentum in its next performance on uneven parallel bars, earning a 49.175 overall total. Swartzentruber earned a 9.875 to take the No. 1 slot overall. Mattern also had a chance on the podium, garnering second place in a four-way tie with Penn State’s Briannah Tsang, Lauren Bridgens and Alissa Bonsall.At the midpoint of the meet, the Buckeyes held a running score of 98.225, leading the Nittany Lions’ 97.900 tally after their first two events.Moving to its third rotation on balance beam, Ohio State posted a 48.775 score. Mattern took a fall that resulted in a low 9.200 score. But the Buckeyes rallied with the rest of the lineup earning increasingly improving scores. Stone posted a 9.800 mark, the team-high of the night and a third-place score, shared with Penn State’s Mason Hosek, for the event.“Being in front of a home crowd, obviously we get a little more nervous than we expect,” Stone said.  “It’s always down to those last routines that count the most, but we just stayed in our bubble, and didn’t let the crowd affect us.”The Buckeyes did not disappoint on their final event, closing the night strong on floor exercise to post a 49.200 mark. Stone and senior Stefanie Merkle claimed a 9.875 tally to tie for first, alongside Tsang and Penn State’s Sabrina Garcia. “I think we obviously knew it was a close meet, but we know we have a strong floor team, and it’s everybody’s favorite to perform because it’s fun and you’ve got the music, and the team is behind you,” Paulicivic said. “So I feel like we’re very comfortable to go over there, know that we’re going to do a good job, relax and have some fun and close out the meet.”The Nittany Lions put up a fight to try to take the lead in their final event on balance beam, but came up short to finish the meet with a 196.025 score. Ohio State earned its sixth win and second-highest final score of the season with a 196.200 finish, with seven other podium appearances.Next up, Ohio State will be back at home in St. John Arena to take on Western Michigan at 4 p.m. Saturday. read more

Read More »