Month: September 2019
This February, amid the ongoing debate about whether college athletes should be paid, the University of Iowa’s Athletic Director Gary Barta went on TV and said he wasn’t in favor of paying athletes because doing so would be too complicated. Barta appeared on a local talk show and spoke at length about the effects markets have on coach pay, and said that a system for paying student-athletes was out of the question.“I’ll probably choose to do something else for a living if we ever had to go that route, because it’s so complex,” he said. Iowa’s student-athletes were part of an athletic department that helped the university make almost $100 million in sports revenue last year.Commentators have pointed to racism, greed and tradition as three reasons that college athletes aren’t paid. But Barta’s anti-pay comments got at another issue: logistics. To pay a college athlete fairly, a school first needs to figure out how much he or she is worth.That’s a fraught calculation, but not an impossible one. Let’s use college football quarterbacks as our case study. With the advent of advanced analytics and public disclosures about universities’ athletic department income, we can begin to approximate what each quarterback is worth to his university. Heisman Trophy-winner Jameis Winston of Florida State University, for example, is worth an estimated $3 million more than the average college quarterback. In his time at Stanford University, Andrew Luck was worth even more.We arrived at those calculations after building a model that relied on nine seasons of data on 6,884 football games from the BCS conferences and eight years of school financial data.1You can read the full paper here. Data for 2013 hasn’t been released yet for some schools. For 2013, we’ve estimated value using data from 2004 to 2012. Armed with those stats, we were able to identify the quarterbacks who generated the most revenue in college football over the last several years.First we quantified how much each quarterback helped his team win. That’s something that’s done in plenty of other sports. FanGraphs calculates a statistic called wins above replacement (WAR) in baseball using fielding, hitting and baserunning statistics for position players. In basketball, Wages of Wins creates an analogous statistic called Wins Produced based on a number of player statistics, including field goals made, missed shots, rebounds and blocked shots.Measuring player value is harder to do in football than it is in other sports because multiple players are involved in every play. So we used ESPN’s Total Quarterback Rating (QBR),2Disclosure: ESPN owns FiveThirtyEight, but our research was conducted well before we had any arrangement with FiveThirtyEight. which factors in clutch play, ability to avoid sacks, and yards after the catch by the receiver, among other things.The first step of our analysis used a “school-fixed effects” win-probability model to isolate how each quarterback affected his team’s winning percentage. We controlled for opponent quality, home field advantage and “school-fixed effects,” because a star quarterback at a football powerhouse like the University of Florida will win more games than one at Baylor University, all other things being equal. For instance, Heisman Trophy-winners Tim Tebow and Robert Griffin III started a similar number of games and had similar average career QBRs, but Tebow won 11 more of the games he started because his team was better than Griffin’s.From there, we took the QB’s marginal contributions and extrapolated them over an average season to estimate an expected “wins added.” For example, our results show that Tebow (2007) and Griffin (2011) added about three wins over what would have been expected from an average QB playing during their award-winning seasons.3Full details of the model and results can be found in our research paper.Calculating a quarterback’s win share was the easy part; calculating his economic value is more difficult. Using eight years of BCS schools’ financial data, we estimated the increase in revenue from an additional win.4Football program financial data was compiled using the U.S. Department of Education database. This data may underestimate football program revenue — athletic department financial statements often include revenue “not allocable by sport” (which we did not include in our primary results) that is potentially attributable to success on the gridiron. We controlled for a school’s average inflation-adjusted football revenue5Using “team fixed-effects” again. so that we could see the differences among schools with similar winning percentages. For example, the University of Texas averaged more than three times the annual football revenue over the period, likely due to its larger market size and more storied football tradition. We also controlled for variables within a season that might also have had an impact on revenues, such as year, the number of home games, change in conference affiliation, and local economic conditions like the home state’s unemployment rate.We found that, across all types of schools, the value of one additional win is close to three-quarters of a million dollars. We ran the model separately for small- and large-revenue schools, and found this figure to be consistent.6This estimate includes whatever expected boost current-season performance might have on the following year’s revenues.A truly elite college quarterback can add more than four wins and over $3 million to his school’s annual football revenue, as we saw in the table above. Andrew Luck’s career at Stanford is a good case study. In 2008, Luck’s predecessor, Tavita Pritchard, averaged a QBR of just 47.0 (slightly below our sample’s mean QBR of 52.6) and the Cardinal had a 5-7 record. Our model estimated that, based on his QBR, Luck added roughly two, 4.5 and 3.5 wins in his first,7In Luck’s first season as starting quarterback in 2009, his average QBR was 71 and he led Stanford to an 8-4 regular season. second8In his second season, Luck averaged an astonishing 89 QBR and the Cardinal went 12-1. and third9In his final year before turning pro, Luck’s team went 11-2; his average QBR that season was 80. seasons. So Luck earned $2.5 million in additional revenue per season over what an average quarterback’s performance would have brought in. During Luck’s three-year tenure, actual Stanford football revenues averaged $2.7 million higher than in Pritchard’s last year. Other star quarterbacks such as Sam Bradford (Oklahoma) and Pat White (West Virginia) saw similar increases at their schools of close to $2 million per season.Of last season’s quarterbacks who were drafted into the NFL, Teddy Bridgewater, now of the Minnesota Vikings, was the most valuable. Winston still bested him, though.The NLRB’s recent ruling that athletes at private colleges can unionize may eventually change the economics of college athletics. University leaders are trying to make sure it doesn’t. During a recent House of Representatives hearing on college athlete unionization, Stanford’s athletic director, Bernard Muir, said, “If (Stanford’s athletes) are deemed employees, we will opt for a different model.”
By Neil Paine, Chris Herring and Kyle Wagner Welcome to The Lab, FiveThirtyEight’s new basketball podcast, a weekly conversation about the NBA. On this week’s show (Oct. 25, 2017), Neil, Chris and Kyle first discuss the laundry list of things that have gone wrong for the Phoenix Suns this season, then debate where the team should go from here. Next, Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo is off to a mind-blowing start this season, with 147 points, 43 rebounds and 21 assists in his first four games. Can the Bucks harness this potential and become a challenger to the Warriors? We discuss. Plus, we take a look at the Oklahoma City Thunder and their suddenly not-so-great rebounding.Subscribe to the show in your favorite podcasting app, or use the links in the player above.Here are links to what we discussed this week:Bleacher Report’s Ken Berger wrote about how the Phoenix Suns turned into the NBA’s $1.1 billion running joke.ESPN recapped the Greek Freak’s impressive performance against the Charlotte Hornets.Kyle Wagner took a look at why the Thunder suddenly can’t rebound. Embed Code More: Apple Podcasts | ESPN App | RSS | Embed
The college football playoff committee didn’t make much news when it released its new rankings Tuesday: The top seven teams remained the same. The biggest shift was for Mississippi, which lost badly last week and fell from No. 8 to No. 19.This was in line with what our college football forecast model expected. Because the model is based mostly on a historic analysis of the Coaches Poll, this means the committee behaved in the same boring way the coaches usually do — keeping the teams in the same order except when one drops a game and loses its place in line. So, our national championship and playoff odds look very much like they did Sunday.Here’s the more comprehensive version of that chart, which includes the entire Top 25 as they might appear when the committee releases its final standings Dec. 7.The lack of movement may also have been because last weekend was a sleepy one on the college football calendar. This upcoming weekend features much higher stakes, with the top teams facing more formidable opponents and entries into the conference title games on the line.I’m going to run through the top 11 teams in the committee’s rankings as the model sees their chances. In each case, we’ll look at how much a win or loss this weekend would affect the team’s playoff odds along with some more complex scenarios: for instance, if the team loses this week but wins its conference championship next week. Some of the more involved scenarios will expose potential blind spots in the model; we hope it’s still a helpful tool for thinking through the various possibilities.No. 1. Alabama Crimson TideOpponent: No. 15 Auburn on Saturday night. Alabama is a 70 percent favorite according to the model; win probabilities are derived from a simplified version of ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI).Overall chance of making playoff: 75 percentChance of making playoff with a win: 87 percentChance with a win but a loss in SEC Championship: 60 percentChance with a loss against Auburn: 48 percentChance with a loss but a win in SEC Championship: 75 percentChance with a loss and Mississippi State win (Alabama misses SEC Championship): 40 percentYou might expect the No. 1 team’s path to be straightforward. But Alabama’s is one of the more complex cases. That’s because there are really five scenarios to analyze. Two are straightforward: If Alabama defeats Auburn and wins the SEC Championship game, it’s in the playoff, very likely as the No. 1 seed. And if it loses twice, it’s probably out — unless there’s a ton of chaos behind it.The other three are trickier. Alabama could win this week then lose in the SEC Championship. It could lose this week and win the championship. Or it could lose this week and fail to make the championship, which will happen if Mississippi State wins.Failing to make the championship at all is the most dangerous for Alabama; their chances of reaching the playoff would be just 40 percent in that scenario. But the ranking of the other two is debatable.It’s hard to imagine Alabama would be left out if it lost to Auburn but made the SEC title game and won it. The model puts their chances at 75 percent in this case. And that seems too conservative — the alternative would probably entail no SEC team making the playoff at all. Sure, it’s technically possible. If Oregon, Florida State, Ohio State and either Baylor or TCU all win out, the committee would have to bump a zero- or one-loss conference champion for two-loss Alabama. That would be a predicament. But anything short of that exact scenario, and SEC fans from Gainesville to College Station would put aside their differences and come at the committee with pitchforks.A more acute danger might be a win against Auburn followed by a loss to Georgia in the SEC Championship. That way, the committee might get an SEC team into the playoff by choosing Georgia. Georgia needs some help to get into this position. The Bulldogs need Missouri to lose this weekend (Missouri probably doesn’t have the resume to make the playoff even if it wins out) and probably to defeat nonconference foe Georgia Tech on Saturday (otherwise, Georgia’s case will be too weak also).A lot of these questions boil down to how much the committee will emphasize conference championships as opposed to everything else. We don’t have much data on that yet, and neither do the folks in Tuscaloosa. Until we learn more, the only totally safe course for Alabama is simply to win twice.No. 2. Oregon DucksOpponent: At Oregon State on Saturday night (Oregon is a 90 percent favorite)Overall chance of making playoff: 76 percentChance with a win: 81 percentChance with a win but a loss in Pac-12 Championship: 42 percentChance with a loss: 32 percentChance with a loss but a win in Pac-12 Championship: 49 percentWe might ask the same question for Oregon: If it must lose again, is a loss this week or in the Pac-12 Championship better? This case is simpler because Oregon is already assured of making its championship game.The model’s answer is that it’s slightly better for Oregon to lose this week — even against unranked Oregon State — and come back to win the Pac-12 title. The danger of losing the Pac-12 Championship is that Oregon’s Pac-12 opponent could possibly get in ahead of them, especially if it’s UCLA.No. 3. Florida State SeminolesOpponent: vs Florida on Saturday afternoon (Florida State is a 74 percent favorite)Overall chance of making playoff: 59 percentChance with a win: 75 percentChance with a win but a loss in ACC Championship: 18 percentChance with a loss: 15 percentChance with a loss but a win in ACC Championship: 22 percentFlorida State isn’t at risk of being overtaken by anyone in its conference. (It’s clinched a spot in the ACC Championship and its opponent in that game, No. 16 Georgia Tech, almost certainly won’t make the playoff even if it wins out.) But the committee seems to be down enough on FSU that it probably can’t afford a loss at all. Some of FSU’s problem is strength of schedule, as it has been all year. Neither Florida nor Georgia Tech is likely to impress the committee as an acceptable loss for the Seminoles, even if it wins the other game.No. 4. Mississippi State BulldogsOpponent: at No. 19 Mississippi on Saturday afternoon (Mississippi State is the underdog; it has a 41 percent chance to win)Overall chance of making playoff: 33 percentChance with a win: 74 percentChance with a win and an Alabama win (Mississippi State misses SEC Championship): 77 percentChance with a win and an Alabama loss (Mississippi State advances to SEC Championship): 65 percentChance with a loss: 4 percentMississippi State has to win this week against Mississippi. FPI has them as underdogs to do so. But the Bulldogs’ chances of making the playoff will more than double to 74 percent if they do.But now we’re going to get a little crazy. Surely, things would be even better for Mississippi State if it won while Alabama lost, which would get them into the SEC Championship game?The model says no: Instead, the Bulldogs should be rooting for Alabama!Here’s why: If Mississippi State wins this week and completes its regular season, that’s probably good enough. It’s already No. 4 and will have notched another big win, on the road, against a ranked rival. Sure, it could eventually be surpassed by a team like TCU, but it could also see a team like Florida State ahead of it lose. It’s a reasonably sound position.But now imagine that Mississippi State wins this week and makes the SEC Championship but loses that game. Instead of a one-loss non-champion, it’s a two-loss non-champion — not so attractive. Furthermore, Alabama would also be a two-loss non-champion in this scenario and one that beat Mississippi State head-to-head late in the regular season. The risk-reward ratio would be poor for the Bulldogs.No. 5. TCU Horned FrogsOpponent: at Texas on Thursday night (TCU is a 65 percent favorite)Overall chance of making playoff: 53 percentChance with a win: 79 percentChance with a win if current top four also win this weekend: 50 percentChance with a loss: 5 percentTCU was helped by the committee this week, which left it at No. 5 even though it was idle. Indeed, the committee’s affection for TCU is a bit bizarre. TCU lost to No. 7 Baylor in October and the more sophisticated computer systems like FPI also have Baylor ranked higher. There’s some thought that Baylor will suddenly jump ahead of TCU if both teams win out. But if the committee has been placing TCU ahead of Baylor for weeks now despite its head-to-head loss, why would it suddenly shift gears?In any event, the model now has TCU’s chances of making the playoff at slightly better than even — and their chances will jump to 79 percent with a win against Texas. However, some of that possibility is contingent on one of the teams ahead of them losing. If the top five teams all win out, TCU’s playoff chances will be stuck at about 50 percent.No. 6. Ohio State BuckeyesOpponent: vs. Michigan on Saturday afternoon (Ohio State is an 89 percent favorite)Overall chance of making playoff: 42 percentChance with a win: 47 percentChance with a win and a win in Big Ten Championship: 73 percentChance with a win and a loss in Big Ten Championship: 6 percentChance with a loss: 2 percentThis is one of the simpler cases. Ohio State isn’t assured much of anything, but the team has about a 3-in-4 chance of making the playoff if it wins out, mostly because there’s likely to be some attrition ahead of it.One question is whether the Buckeyes will be ranked ahead of teams like Alabama, Oregon and Florida State if any of the three do lose this week. Those could be close calls for the committee. Not that it needs extra motivation against the Wolverines, but Ohio State might be helped by turning up with a dominant performance against Michigan instead of just getting by.No. 7. Baylor BearsOpponent: at Texas Tech on Saturday afternoon (Baylor is a 94 percent favorite)Overall chance of making playoff: 29 percentChance with a win: 31 percentChance with a win and a win against Kansas State next week: 40 percentChance with a loss: 1 percentThis is a low-stakes weekend for Baylor as compared with the rest of the top teams. The Bears are huge favorites against Texas Tech, and that probable win is already priced into their playoff odds. They have a bigger game against Kansas State next week.Unlike the six teams ahead of it, however, Baylor would be under 50 percent to make the playoff even if it wins out, according to the model.No. 8. UCLA BruinsOpponent: at Stanford on Friday afternoon (UCLA is a 69 percent favorite)Overall chance of making playoff: 13 percentChance with a win: 18 percentChance with a win and a win in Pac-12 Championship: 47 percentUCLA is about even-money to make the playoff if it wins out and has almost no chance otherwise.No. 9. Georgia BulldogsOpponent: vs. No. 16 Georgia Tech on Saturday afternoon (Georgia is an 81 percent favorite)Overall chance of making playoff: 13 percentChance with a win: 16 percentChance with a loss: 1 percentChance with a win and a Missouri loss (Georgia advances to SEC Championship): 22 percentChance with a win and win in SEC Championship: 44 percentOur model thought Georgia might be at some risk of ranking worse than No. 9 in this week’s committee standings; it played a Division I-AA opponent last week, Charleston Southern, while several of the teams ranked just behind them won against (slightly) better competition.The reaffirmation from the committee helps keep Georgia dangerous. The Bulldogs have one more hurdle than UCLA — they need Missouri to lose to make their conference title game while UCLA is in with a win. But if they make the SEC championship and win it, their odds of making the playoff will be close to even.No. 10. Michigan State SpartansOpponent: at Penn State on Saturday afternoon (Michigan State is a 78 percent favorite)Overall chance of making playoff: 1 percentChance with a win: Still about 1 percentChance with a win, if at least 3 teams ranked ahead of it lose this weekend: 3 percentChance with a win, if at least 6 teams ranked ahead of it lose this weekend: 16 percentI list this case to demonstrate that when you’re on the outside looking in, you’d rather take a high-stakes path (like the one Georgia has). As I mentioned last week, Michigan State — locked out of its conference title game and with a middling opponent this week — just can’t do enough to impress the committee to jump into the top four. Even if there’s total and utter chaos ahead of Michigan State, its best-case scenario is probably finishing at No. 5 or No. 6.No. 11. Arizona WildcatsOpponent: vs. No. 13 Arizona State on Friday afternoon (Arizona is a 64 percent favorite)Overall chance of making playoff: 2 percentChance with a win: 3 percentChance with a win and a UCLA loss (Arizona advances to Pac-12 Championship): 7 percentChance with a win and a win in Pac-12 Championship: 24 percentArizona, like Georgia, at least has a specific path to follow: It’ll need to beat Arizona State, hope UCLA loses so it can make the Pac-12 title game, then beat Oregon there, then hope that one or two teams lose ahead of it. It’s not likely. But the committee might want to find a spot for the Pac-12 champion; it seems to like the conference; the committee ranks Oregon, UCLA and Arizona higher than the AP poll has them.There are a few other teams with a snowball’s-chance-in-hell. Arizona State’s case isn’t fundamentally that different than Arizona’s. Kansas State has an outside chance to finish as the Big 12 champion — again, without the benefit or risk of playing in a championship game — and could be more attractive than the likes of Michigan State if the committee is desperate. Wisconsin could also be a two-loss conference champion if it beats both Minnesota and Ohio State. The model says there’s almost no chance Missouri will get in even with an SEC title, but if the SEC goes haywire and the committee is struggling to represent it, who knows.In any event, here is the model’s probabilistic take on how the standings might look a week from now, accounting for both the uncertainty in this weekend’s games and in how the committee will react to them.CORRECTION (Nov. 30, 11:31 a.m.): A previous version of this article incorrectly claimed that the Big 12 uses head-to-head records as a tiebreaker to determine its conference champion. It does not.
Montgomery again! He shows up twice on my lists: No. 1 under MLB’s most-improved four-seamers and also among its most-improved curveballs. As was the case with his fastball, Montgomery managed to pick up more than 3 mph on his curve, to go with almost 700 extra rpm; it now breaks just over 50 percent more than it did last season. Those two drastically improved pitches go a long way toward explaining how Montgomery’s ERA has dropped to half of what it was during his lackluster 2015 season.We tend to frame velocity changes in terms of a pitcher’s fastball, but a slower curveball can cause problems, too. The Kansas City Royals’ Yordano Ventura has maintained his four-seam heat just fine, but he’s lost about 2 mph of velocity (plus some spin) on his curveball. All else being equal, slower pitches — of all types — are less effective because they give the batter more time to react and decide whether to swing. Perhaps for that reason, Ventura’s curve has gone from his best pitch to a far more mediocre offering, just as his ERA and fielding independent pitching have ballooned.Change-ups PITCHERCHANGE/100 5Randall Delgado-0.445John Lamb+0.31 3Mike Montgomery-0.543Jordan Lyles+0.34 8Vance Worley-0.108R.A. Dickey+0.09 10Trevor May-0.2910Hector Neris+0.22 3David Phelps-0.363CC Sabathia+0.41 7Hector Santiago-0.277Chris Sale+0.34 Every major league pitcher’s career is built from the raw materials of his pitch repertoire. Whether fastball, cutter or curve, all of a hurler’s offerings have to work together to help him confuse hitters and evade bats. And with a couple of months of 2016 PITCHf/x data in the books, I wanted to find out which players’ individual pitches have improved the most relative to last year.First, I had to quantify “improvement.”1I used PitchInfo data for all the analysis in this piece, since it corrects for park effects and improves on MLB Advanced Media’s raw pitch classifications. For each pitch type I looked at — four-seam fastball, slider, curve and change-up — I built a model to predict how much the pitch’s run value depended on its velocity versus spin rate.2Specifically, I used a mixed model that factored out the effects of the batter, pitcher, catcher and count in order to home in on the value of velocity and break for each pitch type. Then I looked at all the pitchers who had thrown more than 500 pitches each in both 2015 and 2016 and calculated the change in value for each pitch type in a pitcher’s arsenal, based on how its velocity and spin changed.Most pitches stayed close to their 2015 predecessors. For instance, the correlation between 2015 and 2016 for velocity on four-seam fastballs was 0.9, and the average velocity changed by only three-quarters of a mph, so it’s rare for a pitcher to completely reinvent a pitch from year to year. But whether because of injury or even a new grip, some individual pitches did change substantially. Here are the biggest year-over-year improvements — and declines — for each pitch in 2016, starting with fastballs:Fastballs 6Jesse Hahn-0.306Dallas Keuchel+0.36 Negative run values are better — the pitcher is allowing fewer runs.Source: Pitchinfo LARGEST IMPROVEMENTSLARGEST DECLINES Negative run values are better — the pitcher is allowing fewer runs.Source: Pitchinfo 5Dillon Gee-0.355Carlos Torres+0.34 LARGEST IMPROVEMENTSLARGEST DECLINES Biggest changes in four-seam fastballs from 2015 to 2016, by change in runs per 100 pitches 2Mike Wright-0.542Madison Bumgarner+0.36 Change-ups are generally deployed less frequently than the other pitch types I’ve mentioned, but they can be particularly potent weapons against opposite-handed batters. One pitcher who seems to have discovered this is lefty Padres starter Christian Friedrich, who has traditionally struggled to retire righties. With more reliance on a newfound change-up that spins nearly twice as much as last year’s version, Friedrich has managed to lower his weighted on-base average allowed to right-handers from .409 to .274, and his overall results have improved as well (2.12 ERA, 3.36 FIP).But then there’s Kendall Graveman, who shows up on three of the lists: He has the most-improved slider, fourth-most-improved fastball and the ninth-most-improved change-up. In theory, Graveman should be using his array of better pitches to overwhelm hitters; instead, he’s sporting a poor 5.28 ERA, an even worse 5.29 FIP and a depressingly sub-replacement-level WAR. When pitchers modify their repertoires, they tend to trade speed for spin, or vice versa. But in his transition from starter to bullpen ace, Seattle Mariners thrower Mike Montgomery has managed to add both speed and spin to his four-seam fastball this year, rapidly making it one of the most fearsome offerings in MLB. Montgomery’s heater now averages 95 mph, up from 91.3 mph last year, and it spins more than 150 revolutions per minute faster, giving it more “rise” than most fastballs.Montgomery’s trip to the bullpen at age 26 revitalized his fastball, but that makes him an exception: Most pitchers see their stuff decline from year to year. Specifically, pitchers tend to surrender velocity as they age, forcing them to become craftier — or lose their jobs. Take Dallas Keuchel, last year’s American League Cy Young winner, as an example of a pitcher with a deteriorating fastball: He’s lost almost 2 mph off his four-seamer since 2015, along with 290 rpm of rotation. PITCHERCHANGE/100 Biggest changes in change-ups from 2015 to 2016, by change in runs per 100 pitches 3Colin Rea-0.193Kevin Gausman+0.13 PITCHERCHANGE/100 PITCHERCHANGE/100 4Noah Syndergaard-0.374Alexi Ogando+0.40 1Jesse Hahn-0.551Jaime Garcia+0.53 6Nathan Eovaldi-0.346Brandon Maurer+0.34 PITCHERCHANGE/100 2Vance Worley-0.532Brett Oberholtzer+0.57 9Wily Peralta-0.329Chris Hatcher+0.23 4Kendall Graveman-0.314David Price+0.41 9Doug Fister-0.239John Lamb+0.29 Negative run values are better — the pitcher is allowing fewer runs.Source: Pitchinfo 6Mike Montgomery-0.126Adam Conley+0.10 1Kendall Graveman-0.541Aaron Sanchez+0.81 5Archie Bradley-0.175Derek Holland+0.12 Negative run values are better — the pitcher is allowing fewer runs.Source: Pitchinfo PITCHERCHANGE/100 3Robbie Ray-0.383Anibal Sanchez+0.41 9Martin Perez-0.319Johnny Cueto+0.26 8Martin Perez-0.268Jacob deGrom+0.29 LARGEST IMPROVEMENTSLARGEST DECLINES Biggest changes in curveballs from 2015 to 2016, by change in runs per 100 pitches 6Taijuan Walker-0.356Mat Latos+0.29 LARGEST IMPROVEMENTSLARGEST DECLINES PITCHERCHANGE/100 2Cody Anderson-0.422Taylor Jungmann+0.41 10Andrew Cashner-0.3010David Price+0.25 10Jhoulys Chacin-0.2210Marcus Stroman+0.29 7Robbie Ray-0.347Yordano Ventura+0.26 9Kendall Graveman-0.099Madison Bumgarner+0.08 Keuchel’s ERA is up more than 3 runs this year, and although not all of that can be pinned on his sagging fastball,3A loss of 2 mph would lead us to predict that Keuchel would allow only about 0.6 more runs per nine innings, so some element of bad luck is also likely at play. it’s a concerning drop-off for a pitcher whose stuff wasn’t exactly overpowering in the first place.Sliders Biggest changes in sliders from 2015 to 2016, by change in runs per 100 pitches 8Carlos Villanueva-0.328Chad Bettis+0.26 1Christian Friedrich-0.221Justin Miller+0.19 2Alfredo Simon-0.212David Price+0.15 PITCHERCHANGE/100 4Mike Foltynewicz-0.174Colby Lewis+0.13 4Adam Morgan-0.504Jose Quintana+0.34 7Trevor Bauer-0.337Randall Delgado+0.31 7Cody Anderson-0.117John Lamb+0.10 10Scott Feldman-0.0810Shelby Miller+0.08 It doesn’t rank No. 1, but perhaps the most impressive of all slider improvements has come from the Mets’ Noah Syndergaard, given the difficulty of tacking 3.5 mph on to what was already the ninth-hardest slider in the game. Although the man they call Thor has seen his slider slow a bit since his initial April outings — its average velocity has fallen from 93 mph heat to 91 mph — it’s still the fastest in baseball, and the increase has made it borderline unhittable. 5Danny Duffy-0.305John Danks+0.39 1Mike Montgomery-0.501Mike Leake+0.56 8Jose Alvarez-0.338Justin Verlander+0.26 Not bad for a pitch he threw only 2 percent of the time a year ago!Syndergaard gained all of that velocity at the cost of some spin on his slider, giving it slightly less horizontal movement.4Among sliders, the correlation between changes in velocity and spin rate was a statistically significant -0.34. Even more so than with the fastball, the trade-off between a slider’s speed and spin rate is a delicate balance that can make or break its effectiveness.Curveballs A former prospect, Graveman hasn’t converted his stuff into measurably good results, joining the long list of pitchers whose raw ability doesn’t translate into dominance on the mound.That’s why every hurler is more than just the sum of his pitches. Individual offerings play off each other in unexpected — and still inexplicable — ways. A pitcher’s stuff can be fantastic, but without command and control, the results will be poor. Factors such as deception and sequencing still resist most sabermetric analysis, and so a significant part of how pitching works remains unknown. In other words, we can measure what makes a pitch great, but it’s much more difficult to figure out what makes a pitcher excel.
The Ohio State men’s basketball team took a page out of the football team’s playbook and got off to what many would consider a slow start Monday, but it didn’t matter as the Buckeyes eventually cruised to a 85-50 victory at the Schottenstein Center. Coach Thad Matta wasn’t satisfied with the team’s original effort, but said he was pleased with the improvement as the game went on. “I’m not exactly sold we got off to the start we particularly wanted,” Matta said. “I had to get on some guys in a timeout in the first half and I thought we really responded from that.” OSU struggled to find their offensive rhythm early in the game. Defensively the Buckeyes were turning the Ospreys over at a high rate, but struggled shooting the ball, especially from 3-point range. With 10:36 in the first half, OSU had forced 7 turnovers, but was just 2-of-8 from the 3-point line and the Buckeyes had a 15-12 lead. “We didn’t come out with no juice,” sophomore forward Jared Sullinger said. “No energy. No intensity. We kind of came out there expecting to win. “Obviously it showed in the first half.” The Ospreys hung around for much of the half, but OSU started to abandon the outside shot and worked the ball inside to Sullinger and sophomore forward Deshaun Thomas. The strategy worked. OSU went on a quick 10-2 run to take a 34-21 lead and the outcome was never again in doubt. “Coach always say we get good shots when we get it inside,” Thomas said. “When we throw it to (Sullinger) and me our percentages are up. It was one of our goals.” The Buckeyes took a 45-26 lead into the half with Sullinger and Thomas leading the way with 16 and 13 points respectively. But Thomas and Sullinger took a back seat to sophomore guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. early in the second half. Smith, who already got the crowd going with a high-flying dunk in the first half, stole the ball, sprinted into the open court, and dumped the ball off to a trailing senior guard William Buford at the last second, who finished with a one-handed jam. The next possession, Smith caught the ball on the left wing, pump-faked his man, drove to the baseline and dunked right over a UNF player. Both plays came in transition, an area Smith feels he excels. “I think I’m a pretty fast guy,” Smith said. “Anytime I get a steal or if I get a rebound, I feel I can usually if not create for myself, create for my teammates.” Smith finished with seven points and five rebounds and five assists. Overall the Buckeyes had three players score in double figures. Sullinger was the high-point man with 27 points and 13 rebounds. He now has over 700 points in his career. Thomas finished with 16 points and six rebounds. Buford added 13 points, five rebounds and four assists. The win came despite OSU shooting just 24 percent from behind the arc and 47 percent from the field. The Buckeye defense seemed to make up for the below-average shooting. The team forced 23 turnovers as the Ospreys shot 39 percent from the field and 24 percent from the 3-point line. UNF coach Matthew Driscoll said it’s OSU’s defense that separates them from most teams in the nation. “(The Buckeyes) really, really have a chance to make that next step to get back to the Final Four because of their defense,” Driscoll said. “They’re a much better defensive team than you guys give them credit for.” OSU’s record improved to 4-0 on the year. The Buckeyes next play the Virginia Military Institute Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the Schottenstein Center.
Playing Saturday’s Spring Game in Cincinnati might have been unfamiliar territory for many of Ohio State’s football players, but not for sophomore defensive end Adolphus Washington, a product of Cincinnati’s Taft High School. Although the Gray team lost 31-14 to the Scarlet team during the contest at Paul Brown Stadium, the home of the NFL’s Cincinnati Bengals, Washington had a breakout performance. As a starting defensive end on the Gray defense, with a lineup that included the majority of the Buckeyes’ first-team defensive players, Washington led all players in the game with four sacks. “I just went out there and played football,” Washington said. “I just did what my coaches told me to do, and it just happened I got four sacks.” Washington was not the only sophomore defensive end to get to the quarterback often Saturday. Starting opposite Washington, Noah Spence had three sacks. As rotational players last season, Washington had three sacks over the course of the season while Spence had one. This season, though, the Buckeyes are relying upon Washington and Spence to step up as starters. OSU is replacing its entire starting defensive line from last season, including defensive ends John Simon and Nathan Williams, who combined for 11 sacks over the course of last season. While both players surpassed their sack totals from last season and accounted for more than half of the combined total of last year’s starters, the numbers might need to be taken with a grain of salt. Both Scarlet team quarterbacks, junior Braxton Miller and redshirt senior Kenny Guiton, were wearing black no-contact jerseys in the game, meaning the opposing rushers only had to touch them to record a sack. That’s also not accounting for the escape ability Miller and Guiton have to break free from contact and run away from pass-rushers with their athleticism. “You’re not allowed to finish any of those sacks, so you never know how that’s going to go with a kid like Braxton ’cause he’s so elusive, but I thought Adolphus was in the backfield an awful lot,” said cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs. Nonetheless, coach Urban Meyer expressed confidence in both Washington and Spence following Saturday’s contest. “Adolphus Washington has really raised his level of play … he’s a starter at Ohio State,” Meyer said. “We saw him today just have his way with our offensive line. “I am very pleased with Noah Spence,” Meyer added. Although Miller’s black jersey didn’t stop Spence from laying a big hit on the quarterback in one practice earlier this spring, the quarterback did not have to worry about getting hit by either Spence or Washington on Saturday, as Meyer warned the team Wednesday that he would “carry a baseball bat” to prevent it from happening again. Miller did, however, get a first-hand look at the sophomore pass-rushers coming after him. “Noah Spence and Adolphus, they work hard,” Miller said. “They have to fill big shoes from the guys who left last year … we just got to keep working with the two tackles.” With redshirt senior left tackle Jack Mewhort held out of the lineup for precautionary reasons, sophomore Taylor Decker started at left tackle for the Scarlet offense while redshirt sophomore Chase Farris started on the right side. They were on the wrong end of the dominance by Spence and Washington, with both players giving up multiple sacks. Decker and Farris are currently competing to start at right tackle this fall. Following Saturday’s game, Meyer expressed concern with the progress of that competition, calling the right tackle position the Buckeyes’ “one glaring weakness” on offense. “We have a legitimate concern about who that player (right tackle) is,” Meyer said. “Unless we get that fixed, there goes the best offense in the Big Ten. You can’t play with four linemen. One of those young players has got to step up, and they haven’t this spring.” One of five Buckeyes from the Cincinnati area, Washington was not the only Buckeye to stand out in front of a hometown crowd. Starting senior left guard Andrew Norwell played on the Scarlet offensive line, while sophomore safety Kevin Niehoff made an interception coming out of the end zone late in the fourth quarter. Washington said it was a “real good experience” to play in the city he grew up in. “I’m glad we was able to come here and play our Spring Game instead of going up to Cleveland,” Washington said. “I finally get a chance to play in front of the people that don’t get to make it to Columbus or wherever else we’re playing.” The Buckeyes’ day in Cincinnati also included a pregame talk from Bengals coach Marvin Lewis. Two members of the OSU coaching staff, Meyer and Coombs, are from Cincinnati as well. Coombs said Washington is a “born and raised Cincinnati product” who has the potential to be a “real special player for a long time.” “Adolphus is a great kid … a phenomenal athlete, has gained a lot of good power, muscle mass and he plays really hard out there on the field,” Coombs said. “His pass rush is really good, but I tell you what, Adolphus is carrying over a 3.0 (grade point average at OSU) too. So for a kid like that to be out there in a college environment and to have come from where he is from … you couldn’t be more proud of a kid than Adolphus Washington.”
Former Ohio State tennis player Blaz Rola hits the ball in a match against Spain’s Pablo Andujar June 23 at Wimbledon in Wimbledon, England. Rola won, 6-3, 6-1, 6-4.Credit: Courtesy of OSU AthleticsA midweek clash of tennis titleholders saw a former Buckeye get international exposure playing in all-white instead of scarlet and gray.The gentlemen’s singles draw of the Wimbledon Championships produced a second-round matchup between Ohio State product Blaz Rola and the Grand Slam tournament’s defending champion, Great Britain’s Andy Murray.Murray won the match, 6-1, 6-1, 6-0, Wednesday morning.Rola, who became OSU’s first-ever NCAA singles champion in 2013, has since moved on to the professional circuit and faced the third-seeded Murray at the All England Club in London.Rola, representing his native Slovenia, is currently ranked No. 92 worldwide in the ATP Rankings and competing in his first Wimbledon tournament. He took on the fifth-ranked player in Murray, who looks to continue the defense of his 2013 Wimbledon title. He was the first British champion since Fred Perry won it all in 1936.No. 80 Pablo Andujar of Spain fell to Rola in straight sets, 6-3, 6-1, 6-4, in the first round Monday, while Murray dispatched No. 105 David Goffin of Belgium, 6-1, 6-4, 7-5, the same day.Rola said in an OSU press release Monday that his “motivation was off the charts” upon seeing the draw that gave him a chance to play against Murray.“It feels great to have this opportunity. I don’t think an up-and-coming tennis player could have asked for a better matchup. I’m facing probably the greatest sportsman in Britain in one of the greatest venues,” Rola said.OSU men’s tennis coach Ty Tucker had good things to say about his former star player.“It’s great he has been able to accomplish his goals this year, reaching the Top 100 and play in Grand Slams,” Tucker said in the press release. “Sooner or later, Blaz Rola will be a guy that makes the Round of 16 at a Grand Slam tournament.”Rola had 35 winners in his match against Andujar and managed to snag six break points en route to victory. Rola also won 80 percent of his first-serve points and 92 percent of points in which he came to the net.Murray, no stranger to the big stage, is a disciplined player who commits very few unforced errors — he had only 10 against Goffin. The Belgian outplayed Murray at the net as he won 22 of 34 net points while Murray won nine of 15.To succeed Wednesday, Rola may have needed to focus on making Murray move in so that he can work on beating him from the baseline with strong groundstrokes and placement.Continuing to create break opportunities also figured to be key for Rola in gaining a foothold in this tournament. But defense could have presented chances for him, too, as Murray has only won 41 percent and 31 percent of return points in his two previous matches, respectively.In addition to his collegiate singles accolades, Rola also enjoyed a successful doubles career at OSU.Rola and his partner, Chase Buchanan, accomplished an unprecedented sweep of the three major college tennis tournaments during the 2011 to 2012 season when they won an NCAA title to go alongside their wins at both the ITA All-American Championships and the USTA/ITA National Indoor Championships.However, despite having risen to an ATP ranking of No. 222 as a pro doubles player, Rola entered only the men’s singles event at Wimbledon.
The Ohio State men’s lacrosse team huddles before its 8-7 win over University of Massachusetts on Feb. 18. Credit: Courtesy of OSU AthleticsThe No. 18 Ohio State men’s lacrosse team didn’t just make a statement against No. 1 Denver; it annihilated the top team in the nation.Freshman forward Tre LeClaire led the Buckeyes (8-0) with five goals as they demolished the Pioneers, 16-7, at Ohio Stadium. LeClaire is the the team’s overall leading scorer and making a case for national freshman of the year.OSU coach Nick Myers said he saw the potential in LeClaire on the recruiting trail, and it’s not a surprise the way he is playing in his first season in Columbus.“He’s working hard and he’s a humble kid, but he’s in a position where he knows he has to shoot the ball when his hands are free,” Myers said. “And I thought he did a nice job of that today.”Senior attack Eric Fannell and senior midfielder Johnny Pearson each had a hat trick.OSU redshirt senior goaltender Tom Carey was excellent in net, saving 11-of-17 shots on goal. Carey made his first save within seconds of the first faceoff by deflecting Denver junior midfielder Trevor Baptiste’s first shot of the game. After that, the Buckeyes pounced with three quick goals in the first period.LeClaire opened the scoring for OSU, but following a goal from Denver’s senior midfielder Tyler Pace, the Buckeyes exploded on offense, refusing to let up.With 11:50 remaining in the first period, Pearson took the 2-1 lead. Then, ten seconds later, Fannell scored a goal. Pearson scored his second of the day with 4:26 remaining in the first. Before the end of the quarter, senior midfielder J.T. Blubaugh put another on the board for an early 5-1 lead.In the second quarter the Buckeyes continued to shutdown the Pioneers’ offense. LeClaire scored twice and junior attack Colin Chell scored once, giving OSU a stunning 8-1 lead at the half.To open the third quarter, the Buckeyes put two more on the more to cap 10 unanswered goals and an insurmountable 11-1 lead.Myers said he told the team to keep going at the Pioneers and not to let up.“I told the team at halftime to stay aggressive,” he said. “We need to play another 30 minutes of Buckeye lacrosse and — versus a team like Denver — we have been in that position before and we can’t let up.”Fannell scored twice in the quarter with assists from freshman midfielder Ryan Terefenko and Chell.With 2:32 left in the third quarter, the Pioneers finally got on the board again when Connor Cannizzaro scored, but LeClaire answered emphatically with his fifth of the day and second in the quarter, giving OSU a 12-2 lead after three.In the fourth, Denver outscored OSU 5-4, but little did that matter.Terefenko, Blubaugh, Pearson and senior attack Austin Shanks all scored in the quarter, suppressing any chance of a comeback.Sophomore attack Austin French, junior midfielder Sean Mayle, freshman attack Ethan Walker, sophomore midfielder Colin Rutan and junior attack Colton McCaffrey all scored for the Pioneers in the quarter.Fannell said this victory should grant OSU more respect than it had been receiving.“We know as a team that we’re good and (if) people aren’t going to give us recognition, then we’re going to keep running it down teams’ throats,” he said.Next week OSU will travel to South Bend, Indiana, to play No. 2 Notre Dame in an attempt to extend their undefeated season and beat another top program.
OSU then-redshirt junior quarterback J.T. Barrett (16) high-fives Buckeye fans after a 62-3 victory against Maryland on Nov. 12. Credit: Alexa Mavrogianis | Photo EditorIn 2014, Ohio State then-redshirt freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett helped propel the Buckeyes into the first ever College Football Playoff. Now, in 2017, Barrett will be leading the charge for OSU one last time, with extra backing from the Buckeye faithful on campus.Barrett has been named The Lantern’s Best Athlete by voters, an award which went to current Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott. It marks the second-straight year a member of the football team has been named as the university’s best athlete.After tossing 24 touchdowns and rushing for another nine, Barrett was a key cog in the offensive machine for OSU. Flashing both his legs and his arm, the Texas native compiled 3,400 total yards.Barrett received lots of criticism for the passing game woes, but managed to command an offensive unit that averaged 39.4 points and 459.2 yards per game. Next year, the redshirt senior will benefit from the presence of former NFL coach Ryan Day, who is now the team’s co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.“He’s a grown man,” Day said. “He’s like a professional when he shows up every day. From when I got here until now, I can see the best thing he does is play the game.”OSU also brought in Kevin Wilson to help recharge the offense. The former Indiana head coach, who had to strategize against Barrett on multiple occasions, called him “the best quarterback in college football” after OSU’s 38-17 win last year.“He’s one of the best players, he’s one of the best teammates,” Wilson said. “I’m not in their locker room, I’m sure he’s a phenomenal leader.”Runner-up: Kyle Snyder
The Ohio State Women’s Basketball team fell to Rutgers 66-56 at the Schottenstein Center on March 3. Photos by Casey Cascaldo Ohio State freshman forward Dorka Juhasz reaches for the jump ball in the first half of the game against Rutgers on March 3. Ohio State lost 66-56. Credit: Casey Cascaldo | Photo Editor