The 2016 Texas Rangers are making history. Their 30-8 record in one-run games gives them a .789 winning percentage that, if it holds up, would set a record for the best winning percentage in one-run games since 1901. But the Rangers have a not-so-slight problem that could haunt them in the playoffs: performance in one-run games is almost entirely — though not exclusively — a matter of good timing and luck, not skill.By all accounts, the Rangers are a decent team. Their run differential is +9, and sophisticated projection models such as FanGraphs’ (which looks at talent alone, not their record so far) would call for them to win 84 games over the course of a full season. Their excellent record in one-run games has helped put them over the top, though. They’ll probably finish with more than 90 wins and the AL West crown, despite the rival Houston Astros posting a much better run differential.Performance in one-run games is notoriously variable. But one argument for the Rangers’ ability to sustain their record-setting mark might be a lights-out bullpen. Closer Sam Dyson has 30 saves, so perhaps the Rangers’ relief corps has earned more of those one-run wins than most teams with a similar record would deserve.To test this theory, I looked at the relationship between a team’s bullpen performance and its record in one-run games, going back to 1988.1That year was chosen because it is the beginning of the current era of baseball. I used data gathered through Aug. 27, after which the Rangers won two more one-run games. I summed up FanGraphs’ wins above replacement for each team’s bullpen, and then plotted it against the team’s winning percentage in one-run contests.2I also tried the same analysis with Baseball Prospectus’ version of wins above replacement and got similar results. The chart above contains two extreme outliers: the 2016 Texas Rangers and the 2012 Baltimore Orioles, the only two teams in recent history with a better than .750 winning percentage in one-run games. In isolation, both performances were extremely unlikely to happen by chance (less than 1-in-10,000 odds), though given the huge sample of seasons we have so far — 2,452 team-seasons in MLB’s history — you’d expect such a thing to happen eventually.One-run performance is messy, but it isn’t all luck. The correlation between a team’s bullpen strength and its one-run winning percentage is significant but fairly weak, highlighting the role of randomness in these situations.3The r value is .28. Just as any given plate appearance can produce almost any imaginable outcome, a game that hinges on only a single run is mostly up to chance.That said, a good bullpen elevates the probability of holding a one-run lead. Add up that edge over the course of a season, and each win above replacement from the bullpen is worth about one extra point to a team’s winning percentage in one-run games. A five-win bullpen upgrade, which could take a team from roughly the bottom 10 percent of MLB bullpens to the top 10 percent, would net an extra five points of winning percentage. Over an average number of one-run games (46 per season), that’s equivalent to 2.3 more wins. If you total up that improved bullpen’s contribution in one-run games and their estimated contribution over the rest of the season (3.6 wins4If there are 46 one-run games per season, that leaves 116 other games, or 71.6 percent of the season. 71.6 percent of their five wins is 3.6 wins.), that five additional bullpen WAR ends up buying you about 5.9 wins in on-field results.55 WAR of bullpen talent can buy 5.9 wins for a team because of the high-leverage situations in which relievers are deployed, where talent is able to be converted to wins at a greater rate. This fact may help to explain why relievers seem to be overvalued by front offices relative to the sabermetric consensus.But all of this assumes a top-notch bullpen anyway. And, surprisingly, the Rangers’ bullpen hasn’t been exceptional — or even good — this year. Although the 2012 Orioles’ relievers produced more than six wins of value, the Rangers’ pen has a paltry 1.1 WAR between them. Based on that alone, we’d expect their record in one-run games to fall below .500.Anchored by closer Sam Dyson and Matt Bush, the top of the Rangers’ bullpen has been fine. But that duo has been dragged down by poor outings from other relievers such as Tom Wilhelmsen and Cesar Ramos.Of course, Wilhelmsen and Ramos are typically used in low-leverage situations, only appearing in one-run games as a last resort. So I also looked to see whether I could explain one-run performance better by focusing on the top relievers in a given bullpen. But counting only the top three or top five relievers didn’t improve the model after controlling for the total WAR of the bullpen. Neither did looking at exceptionally unbalanced bullpens, i.e. those whose top relievers produced much more WAR than their teammates. That doesn’t necessarily rule out the possibility that WAR fails to account for something special that the Rangers’ bullpen might be doing to win one-run games, but league-wide data doesn’t provide much support for that notion.If the Rangers can’t attribute their one-run success to the greatness of their bullpen, to what do they owe it? The answer is timing. The Rangers have played much better when the game is on the line, as measured by FanGraphs’ Clutch score. Their bullpen ranks eighth in the league in Clutch score, but even more impressively, their offense ranks first.6Their starting pitchers are more average, ranking 13th in baseball. Combine these two performances and you have a team that saves and scores runs better than any other when it counts.But unfortunately for the Rangers, performance in the clutch is not a stable indicator of success. We need look no further than the 2016 Phillies for proof: Philly dominated the league in one-run games for the first two months of the year, rolling out to a 14-3 record in those contests through May 20th, which would have shattered the all-time mark if it had continued. It didn’t. By the end of the first half, the Phillies’ one-run record was down to 20-9 (which still would have been put them in the top 25 all-time); now they’re at a pedestrian 25-17 for the year, which drops them below the 200th position on the all-time list.The lesson here is that a team’s record in one-run games tends to regress to the mean. The Rangers are more than 90 percent likely to make the playoffs, but they won’t be able to count on this kind of luck in tight contests when they get there.
There was a time, not that long ago, when Adrian Peterson was considered the best running back in the NFL. Now, he’s known the player who disciplined his young son with a tree switch.Hopefully, through all the turmoil, court appearances and heaps of bad publicity, Peterson has become a better father, one who, first of all, takes a more active role in his children’s lives and, second, figures another way to exact punishment.He says he has. After a judge overturned his suspension last week, a victory he desperately needed after so many losses—of his team, his income for the season and his reputation—Peterson issued a statement that, hopefully, spoke to his mindset.“I was pleased to learn about [U.S. District] Judge [David] Doty’s decision,” the statement said. “It is a positive step in protecting players’ rights and preserving due process for all players.”Doty ruled Thursday that NFL arbitrator Harold Henderson exceeded his authority in suspending Peterson. Doty ordered the case back to arbitration.That was important to Peterson as he tries to find a team; it appears there is some animosity between player and the Minnesota Vikings, where Peterson performed brilliantly. But the heart of his position came in the second half of the statement, which read:“As I prepare for my return to football, I am still focused on my family and continue to work to become a better father every day.”We can only believe Peterson is sincere. It will be virtually impossible to quantify if he learned something about fatherhood through this fiasco. But if he has any scruples whatsoever, he has probably overdosed on fatherly advice from friends and strangers alike.He has endured the repercussions of his violent reaction to his child, from the NFL and the public. It’s time for Peterson, who turns 30 in three weeks, to get back to football.But no one is sure when the legal part of this will be over. The NFL, which said it disagreed with Doty’s ruling and will appeal it, put Peterson on the commissioner’s exempt list, making him ineligible to play or participate in team activities until his legal proceedings have run their course. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell had suspended Peterson until at least April 15.“Judge Doty’s order did not contain any determinations concerning the fairness of the appeals process under the CBA [collective bargaining agreement], including the commissioner’s longstanding authority to appoint a designee to act as hearing officer,” the NFL’s statement said.The time to judge him as a father has expired. Peterson has suffered enough and should be allowed to once again don an NFL uniform.
Pitching has always been about throwing a baseball really hard — there’s a reason so much of the game’s mythology grew around how quickly hurlers like Walter “Big Train” Johnson and Bob Feller could get the ball from the mound to home plate. But for those who lack overwhelming stuff, there’s another core aspect to pitching: the art of throwing strikes and tricking batters into getting themselves out. Velocity makes a pitcher’s life easier, of course, but plenty of greats from history have thrived on guile instead of a dominating fastball.The craft of finesse pitching, however, might be a dying one in today’s game. A few, such as Arizona’s Zack Greinke and the Cubs’ Kyle Hendricks, have managed to remain effective with a slow fastball and pinpoint control. But the number of star pitchers following that formula has dwindled in recent seasons, in conjunction with the ever-increasing velocity of the average pitch across Major League Baseball. Just a decade ago, we saw Jamie Moyer gutting out complete-game shutouts with an 81-mile-per-hour fastball at age 47 (!) — but are the Moyers of 2019 now getting squeezed out of the sport?Moyer, the southpaw formerly of the Phillies and Mariners (among other teams), was plainly a special pitcher no matter how you measure him. He won only 34 games by his 30th birthday yet still managed to finish with 269 total victories before retiring in 2012 at the age of 49. But Moyer also exemplified a very particular kind of hurler: the prototypical “crafty lefty” who gets by on smarts and makes the best of less-than-stellar velocity readings. In 2002, the earliest year of pitch-speed data at FanGraphs, Moyer — then a youthful 39 — averaged just 82.8 miles per hour on his fastball. (He and Tim Hudson were the only non-knuckleballers with an average fastball under 83.) It was a radar reading that only went down with the passage of time.Back then, though, 11 percent of qualified starters clocked in under 85 mph on average, and 70 percent threw under 90 mph. Moyer even had Hall of Fame company at the bottom of the velocity list, including the likes of Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine. But things changed by the mid-to-late 2000s, when Moyer was perennially the only qualified starter anywhere near the low 80s. In 2010, roughly 1 percent of qualified starters averaged under 85 mph, and only 29 percent were even averaging under 90 mph. Today, nobody averages below 85 mph — Hendricks is baseball’s softest-tossing qualified starter at 86.7 mph — while 16 percent of starters are above 95 mph on their average fastball: After Moyer’s retirement, the reigning kings of slow-pitch became Jered Weaver of the Angels and Mark Buehrle of the White Sox and Blue Jays. Buehrle especially belongs squarely among the crafty lefty lineage, alongside Moyer and Glavine; however, he retired after the 2015 season. Over the past two years, in particular, we’ve seen a distinct lack of outlier starters at the bottom of the velocity rankings, the place where the craftiest of pitchers once lurked.To call a pitcher “crafty” is a kind of backhanded compliment. After all, if a guy has overwhelming velocity or electric stuff, we would just talk about that as an explanation for him getting hitters out. (Strikeouts may be fascist, but they are also impressive.) However, Moyer, Buehrle, Hudson and — especially — Maddux and Glavine worked the formula out to perfection. In fact, the 1990s were a heyday of sorts for finesse pitchers, with perfect games from Kenny Rogers and David Wells to go with regular All-Star appearances from the likes of Andy Ashby, Brad Radke and Charles Nagy. None were big strikeout artists, but all were very good pitchers nonetheless thanks to a combination of sharp control, smart situational pitching and keeping the ball in the ballpark.Yet as baseball’s overall velocity bar has raised and preventing home runs has become more difficult, there’s evidence the control-and-command approach has progressively lost its effectiveness. While breaking pitches such as sliders and curves are moving more sharply than ever, it’s not the crafty junkballers of yore who are benefiting most from it.Bill James once broke pitchers into equally sized “power,” “finesse” and “neutral” groups based on their rates of strikeouts plus walks per inning (theorizing that high-velocity pitchers get lots of strikeouts and walks — think Nolan Ryan — while our crafty group doesn’t record much of either). If we do that for qualified starters each season since 1950, we can see the balance of leaguewide pitching wins above replacement1Averaging together the values from FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference.com. has tilted strongly in favor of power pitchers since the early 1970s: Aside from briefly closing the gap a few times over that span — specifically in the mid-1980s and the late 1990s, aka the Moyer and Maddux eras — the finesse pitchers have consistently lost ground value-wise to the hard throwers. The 2017 and 2018 seasons were the first two since 1950 in which the net gap in WAR share between power- and finesse-type starters was at least 18 percentage points in consecutive years. Of the 20 most valuable starters of 2018 by WAR, only one (Miles Mikolas of the Cardinals) was classified as a finesse pitcher; the other 19 were all either power (12) or neutral (7) pitcher types.What accounts for the trend? For one thing, balls in play are at an all-time low, setting a new MLB record for the fewest per game in each of the past five seasons. (We’re down to just 24 balls in play per contest in 2019 so far.) Although most pitchers have little to no control over hits allowed on balls in play during a given season, there are legitimate differences in skill that emerge over entire careers. And part of the crafty-pitcher archetype involves inducing a disproportionate amount of weak contact that fielders can more readily turn into outs.“I didn’t really have swing-and-miss stuff,” Maddux told Dan Patrick in an interview this year. “I wasn’t really worried about giving up singles, but I did what I could to keep the ball in front of the outfielders, not walk anybody and make them get three singles to score.”When there are fewer balls put in play to be had, that formula has less of an effect.There’s also the matter of teams turning to increasingly younger pitchers in recent seasons. Since just about every indicator of power pitching — from pure velocity to strikeouts — is strongly correlated with possessing a younger arm, it makes sense that as young pitchers account for a larger share of the value across MLB, so too will a larger share of WAR be associated specifically with power pitchers (and a smaller share associated with finesse pitchers). Which direction does the causation run? It isn’t totally clear, but it doesn’t especially matter. Whether teams are prizing youth or velocity, it’s squeezing out pitchers who lack either (or both) attributes.“If you look at pitching these days, everything is max effort,” Moyer told the Orange County Register in January. “Look at the younger generations — high school, college, minor leagues, everybody’s trying to light up a radar gun, throw 100 mph. Our bodies aren’t made to perform in this game as a pitcher at max effort.”Although Bartolo Colon, who pitched last season at age 45 as another exemplar of craft triumphing over stuff, the game is generally trending against pitchers like him and Moyer, in many ways.With all of this, it’s fair to wonder whether it would even be possible to dominate with an arsenal resembling, say, Maddux’s, in the modern game. The two-seamer, Maddux’s bewildering weapon of choice, has fallen quickly out of favor in the last decade or so, and a peak-era fastball that barely scraped 90 would rank among the slowest in the league today. Maddux’s specialty, changing speeds, can still be as disruptive as any tactic (just ask Cincinnati ace Luis Castillo). But it’s telling that Maddux himself recognizes what worked in his era might not be as effective now.“I was taught to throw strikes and get hitters out in the strike zone,” Maddux told Patrick. “And now, pitching has kind of turned the other way, where they try to get hitters out outside of the strike zone. I don’t know if I would have adapted to that or not. I’d like to think I could, but who knows what would have happened?”Perhaps the craft of pitching is making something of a comeback this season, with more finesse-oriented pitchers such as Greinke, Hyun-Jin Ryu of the Dodgers and Masahiro Tanaka of the Yankees off to great starts already. Certainly, there always will be a place for pitchers who can transcend the radar gun with intelligence and skill. But just the same, the obsessive quest for velocity in today’s game will probably continue to squeeze out the soft-tossing finesse archetype of yesteryear. Sadly, that means it will be harder than ever for crafty, Moyer-esque pitchers to carve out a place in baseball.Check out our latest MLB predictions.
The Houston Astros fired manager Bo Porter on Monday, bringing an end to his two-season tenure with the club.The move would seem to be an easy call, judging from the Astros’ record under Porter. Among those with at least 300 career games managed, only seven managers in the history of Major League Baseball had a lifetime winning percentage worse than Porter’s .367 mark. But Porter also took over during the worst four-season stretch in the Astros’ history. (His predecessor, Brad Mills, also has the 14th-worst career record of any manager with 300-plus games.) The team won fewer than 60 games in each of the two seasons before Porter arrived in Houston, hitting its nadir with 51 wins in Porter’s first year. But Porter’s Astros were greatly improved this season and are on pace to win about 70 games.There’s evidence that coaches and managers are fired not on the basis of absolute performance — rather, their employment depends on whether they beat expectations. And by that standard, Porter did a pretty great job this season. Putting aside that much of a manager’s perceived ability to coax good or bad years out of his players is little more than random variation, a 70-win campaign from this Astros team was fairly unexpected.Before the season, FiveThirtyEight presented projected wins for every MLB team, according to ESPN’s forecasting panel, which uses the wisdom of crowds to make predictions. On average, the panel expected the Astros to win 62.6 games, which was a number in line with sources such as Las Vegas’s over/under win totals. Traditionally, such forecasts have had a standard error of about nine wins in either direction, so the Astros would have only had about a 21 percent chance of winning 70 or more games this year. They essentially had a season in the 79th percentile of all possible expected outcomes, which ranks sixth in all of baseball.There are, of course, other factors that can determine a manager’s continued employment beyond outperforming expectations. ESPN’s David Schoenfield suggests that Porter was always just a placeholder during the Astros’ prolonged rebuilding process, destined to be cast aside when the team was ready to move out of MLB’s basement. (There have also been reports of philosophical differences between Porter and the team’s front office.) But if he is to be judged on what the Astros accomplished this year — both relative to preseason expectations and where the franchise had been over the previous three seasons — Porter should have been commended, not fired.CORRECTION (Sept. 2, 12:24 p.m.): A previous version of this article listed the projected wins for every team based on regressed winning percentages but didn’t take into account “banked” wins that teams had already earned.
“Now that I’m older … I really do think I’m the greatest receiver to ever play this game.” — Randy Moss, before the Super Bowl in 2013.When Randy Moss proclaimed that he was the greatest receiver ever, he was wearing the same-color uniform as Jerry Rice. Rice, the consensus Greatest Receiver Of All Time™, did not have Moss’s up-and-down career. He was not marred by frequent controversy, nor periods where, by his own admission, he didn’t go all-out on every play. He was Jerry Rice, the guy who finished ahead of Moss1And Terrell Owens. in the all-time list of receiving yards and atop the receiving touchdowns list, too, well ahead of Moss.But there’s one widely known football expert who makes an excellent case for Moss: Randy Moss.Here’s the rest of what he had to say in that infamous press conference:I don’t think numbers stand …  has been a down year for me statistically.  was a down year, and Oakland [in 2006] was a down year. I don’t really live on numbers. I really live on impact and what you’re able to do on that field.Moss — despite leading the league with 17 receiving touchdowns as a rookie, holding the all-time single-season receiving TD record (with 23), and posting 10 or more touchdowns in a season nine times in his career — was saying we should ignore his stats. He wanted us, the commentariat, to take stock of some kind of intangible “impact” he had.OK then. In conjunction with ESPN’s new “30 for 30” documentary, “Rand University,” let’s do it.2As it turns out, we both have some experience with this question.Moss may be even more right than he knows. Not necessarily about being “the greatest” — that kind of claim depends too much upon subjective interpretations of greatness to be attackable empirically — but if we put aside his receiving numbers and just measure his impact on the game, Moss is pretty much boss.Moreover — in part by virtue of his many controversies — Moss may have created one the greatest (and most important) data sets in the history of football.If there’s one thing we know about Randy Moss, it’s that he makes QBs look good, going all the way back to 1997, when Moss and Chad Pennington led the nation in touchdown catches (26) and passes (42) for Marshall. Here’s a quick recap of Moss’s NFL career, from the perspective of his quarterbacks:In his first two years in the NFL, Moss helped Randall Cunningham and Jeff George — both on journeymen’s stints in Minnesota after being relegated to bench duty at their previous clubs — have the best years of their careers.From 2000 to 2004 Moss helped make Daunte Culpepper an All Pro. After Moss’s departure, Culpepper struggled to stay a starter in the NFL, ultimately playing five more years for four different teams, with a combined record of 5-22.In 2005, Moss went to Oakland, where he underperformed for a round-robin of QBs.Then, in 2007, he helped Tom Brady break the all-time passing TD record for New England (at the time, such gaudy passing stats were uncharacteristic for Brady).In 2009 he helped Matt Cassel guide New England to a surprising 11-5 record (and Cassel’s best season to-date) with Brady injured.In 2010, Bill Belichick dumped Moss in a shocking move, after which — despite briefly teaming up with Brett Favre — Moss bounced around on his way out of football, seemingly for good.In 2012, he returned to play for the San Francisco 49ers, where he was relegated largely to role-playing and decoy duty. Whether Moss is at all responsible or not, it’s worth noting that Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick both had their best statistical seasons with Moss in the rotation that year.If you’re keeping score at home, that’s somewhere between (inarguably) five and (arguably) seven quarterbacks who have all had career years with Moss on the field with them. And indeed, the “Moss effect” is backed up by numbers. Across a whole slew of different statistics, the QBs Moss has worked with have been better with him than without him. The eight QBs with whom Moss has played at least eight games have averaged 48 more yards per game, seen their completion and touchdown percentages rise by an average of 3.7 percentage points and 1.6 percentage points, respectively, ultimately averaging nearly a full yard per pass attempt more in the games with him than without him. One yard per attempt may not sound like much, but that’s about the difference between Peyton Manning (7.7 YPA) and Neil O’Donnell (6.7 YPA).For most players, this type of analysis generally involves a relatively small number of games for comparison, and other factors can come into play one way or another. The number of variables in football are so great, and the degrees of freedom so few, that we could never compute, say, Adjusted Plus/Minus for players. (This is why disentangling quarterback statistics from those of their supporting casts — especially receivers — is so difficult.) But one way to gain perspective on Moss’s With-Or-Without-You (WOWY) effect is to look at his effect on how efficiently his teams passed the ball — after controlling for how good his quarterbacks were without him — and compare that to the numbers for other receivers in history.3We can do this by tracking the changes to a quarterback’s Adjusted Net Yards Per Attempt (ANY/A) relative to league average, after accounting for QB aging effects, when he played with a given receiver compared to when he was throwing to different receivers. Only two receivers in NFL history other than Moss4Among pass-catchers with 5,000 career True Receiving Yards, a statistic that attempts to adjust a player’s raw receiving yards for era and team passing proclivity, with bonuses for receptions and touchdowns. were associated with a larger uptick in passing efficiency from their quarterbacks — former Denver Broncos teammates Ed McCaffrey and Rod Smith.McCaffrey and Smith were the primary late-career targets for Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway, whose lifetime numbers took a strange arc. As a young QB, Elway enjoyed an elite reputation despite surprisingly pedestrian passing efficiency; only later did he post the quality of statistics we’d normally associate with a passer of his prominence. Smith and McCaffrey were both present for those improved seasons, which boosted their WOWY scores even further because of the advanced age at which Elway produced them.But in terms of individual influence, it’s tricky to disentangle McCaffrey and Smith from each other — and that’s before considering the effect Broncos head coach Mike Shanahan and running back Terrell Davis5Who was so vital to Denver that he was named the NFL’s Offensive Player of the Year in both 1996 and 1998. had on Elway’s rehabilitated numbers. Despite the Denver duo’s great WOWY numbers, we still can’t pinpoint which element made the biggest difference to Elway’s statistical upgrade.Moss’s case as a difference-maker is much easier to argue, because his observed effect held up over such a large number of situations, and with many different QBs. Let’s look at YPA difference and touchdown percentage difference for all wide receivers who have played at least eight games with at least three different quarterbacks6The QB also must have played at least eight games without the receiver (but that condition is much more easily met).:The bubble sizes correspond to the number of QBs each receiver worked with. The purple is Moss, and the only player “in his neighborhood” with a similar number of QBs is Harold Jackson, who played from the late ’60s to the early ’80s. Jerry Rice also put up impressive numbers with eight quarterbacks (though his career had a lengthy denouement), but his average “impact” was roughly half Moss’s on both axes.Moreover, Moss’s impact was remarkably consistent. Here’s a quick summary of the WOWY difference for each of the eight QBs Moss played with for at least eight games:It’s possible that some other receiver actually had just as much or more of an impact as Moss, but didn’t have the right combination of good fortune/bad habits to prove himself in such a variety of circumstances. It’s possible. But for any given receiver (even some of the greats), the truth is lost in the informational black hole that is NFL statistical entanglement. At least with Moss, there’s no doubt about his effect — or at least less doubt than with just about anyone else.This is why, ultimately, the sample size is what takes Moss from being a garden-variety outlier to a historically important outlier. It’s great to know that Moss is pretty damn good, but even knowing how good a receiver is (with any degree of certainty) is itself a valuable commodity.When told of the aforementioned comments by Moss, Jerry Rice quipped: “I impacted the game by winning Super Bowls.”While that also sounds like bravado, maybe Rice is more right than he knows, too. If Rice was as good a receiver as we’re pretty sure Moss was, it’s possible San Francisco’s Super Bowls were won in large part by Rice. Joe Montana had 7.6 yards per attempt for his career in San Francisco. If Rice were responsible for 1 YPA of that, Montana’s underlying value might be less Greatest Of All Time and more Rex Grossman (career YPA 6.6).7Note, Montana had 6.9 YPA in Kansas City.But Moss’s greatest contribution may be how his career informs our broader understanding of football: If one man’s ability to run deep and jump high can affect the game so drastically, then the right combination of components, mismatches, or strategies may break the game open at any time. Moss’s career gives us a glimpse at football dynamics that we can usually only speculate about, and it shows us that the game may be even more fascinating and harder to understand than we originally thought.
TeamQuick timeouts Source: ESPN Stats & Information Group Philadelphia 76ers18 Chicago Bulls17 Video Playerhttps://fivethirtyeight.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/pop_new.mp400:0000:0000:54Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.“You want the clean version or the unedited version of what he’s telling us?” a smiling Green asked me after a recent practice. “In a nutshell, when he calls us over that quickly, it’s to say: ‘Wake up — get your head out of your butt. This is a big game. You can’t fall asleep on defense and fail to execute on the very first play of the game.’ He uses language that’s a little stronger than that, but if he has to call timeout that early, it’s pretty much to chew you out for not really being in the game mentally yet.”Popovich, the longest-tenured coach in American professional sports, has never been shy about burning an early timeout to get his point across. In fact, the Spurs have called 50 percent more timeouts during the first two minutes of games than the next closest team over the past 10 regular seasons, according to analysts Vincent Johnson and Ken Woolums of ESPN Stats & Info. Popovich has called an NBA-high five timeouts within the first two minutes of a game this season — an eye-popping number given that more than a third of the teams in the league haven’t used even one such timeout — and is currently on pace to call more than he ever has in a single season.3As of Monday morning, the Spurs had 12 games left in their season. Dallas Mavericks20 Golden State Warriors18 No other team is closeMost total timeouts within the first two minutes of a game, 2009-18 In a way, the numbers highlight the degree to which this has been an unusually trying year for a Spurs club that’s widely considered the gold standard for consistency in pro sports. San Antonio has reached the playoffs in 20 consecutive seasons — a span in which it won five NBA titles — largely because of its unparalleled injury prevention and perhaps also its ability to enjoy peace and quiet from the drama that threatens so many other franchises.But that hasn’t been the case this year — particularly with injuries. It’s no coincidence that San Antonio, after a rough 6-11 patch over the past 17 games, finds itself in an unfamiliar battle for one of the West’s last playoff spots.4As of Monday morning, FiveThirtyEight’s NBA projection model gave the Spurs — who are on a three-game win streak — a 78 percent probability of reaching the postseason, a vastly improved position from just a week earlier, when the model gave them a 54 percent chance. All this while being unsure of when and whether franchise cornerstone and two-time Defensive Player of the Year Kawhi Leonard will come back from a troubling quad injury that’s kept him out nearly the entire season.“If you have different lineups every night and different players, it’s going to be more challenging,” said Popovich, whose team still boasts the third-best defense in the NBA this season. “But you know, quit your crying and just play. And that’s what we’ve done. No one’s crying. No one’s making any excuses. Everybody has problems they have to overcome with their teams.“With us, it’s been the injuries. And it’s very disappointing because we wanted to pick up where we left off last year after 61 wins and going to the conference finals. We had really high hopes. Even without Tony and Kawhi to start, we did very well. Then we kind of hit a wall.”Popovich attributes some of that stagnation to “running out of fuel,” a nod to the less-experienced players he’s had to lean on more than he expected to heading into the season.The surplus of youngsters — and the challenging nature of the season — may explain why Pop has been so quick to call timeouts this season compared with others. Aside from having a military-like focus on the details, he has seemingly felt more of a need to point out veteran players’ miscues so they aren’t repeated by reserves who could someday replace them as the team’s leaders.“He expects us, as veterans who’ve been here long enough, to know these things. To lead more, and to do more,” Green said. “Our leash is exactly the same as everyone else’s. Maybe even shorter. So it’s on us to get those (younger) guys in gear as well. The timeouts are kind of designed to say, ‘If these (starters) can fall in line and take the criticism, you better fall in line, too.’”Popovich said there was no true rhyme or reason to the nature of his timeout calls, other than something looking out of place. “It’s just by the seat of my pants,” he told me. “If I see something that’s particularly egregious based on what our game plan was supposed to be, then I try to do something to get them focused a little bit quicker. It mostly depends on the level of execution deficit, I suppose.”5In fairness to Popovich, while the timeout against the Cavs might have seemed a tad quick, it is unusual for a team to hit a three in the game’s first 10 seconds. Crowder’s three against the Spurs is the only such play in the NBA this season, per Basketball-Reference.com’s Play Index.Popovich’s dedication to precision and his highly choreographed style haven’t always gone over perfectly with his players, of course. Creative playmakers Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, both of whom figure to reach the Hall of Fame someday, have said it took time for them to adjust to Popovich.But the 69-year-old has never been shy about deviating from established coaching norms — sometimes in ways that aren’t immediately recognizable. In the past, Popovich would call timeouts a minute or two ahead of first-quarter commercial breaks that were scheduled to happen anyway — a practice that allowed him to sit his starters and buy them a little bit of extra rest. He’d then bring those players back much earlier in the second quarter than most opponents would, often allowing the Spurs to dominate second periods as a result. (Something easier to recognize: He isn’t afraid to sub all five of his starters out at once if he’s unhappy with effort or execution.)Popovich also doesn’t hesitate to let his players do some of the coaching from time to time. He allowed Parker to walk into the coaches’ huddle during a timeout, then sent Parker to relay the plan to his teammates on the bench — an occurrence that wouldn’t have been that unusual had it not been during the NBA Finals.6Popovich also gives his players quizzes about current events and world history in hopes of having them connect with one another better. SAN ANTONIO — The game against the Cleveland Cavaliers had tipped off only 10 seconds earlier, but as soon as Jae Crowder’s 3-pointer fell through the basket, San Antonio guard Danny Green knew what was coming. The Spurs hadn’t even run an offensive play yet, but as soon as he crossed half-court, Green began walking toward the bench, knowing that his coach would call a timeout.To most watching that nationally televised game in January, the stoppage 14 seconds in seemed out of place. It marked the quickest timeout in an NBA game in almost three years,1Interestingly, Cleveland was the last team to call a timeout this quickly. In March 2015, during a matchup with the Brooklyn Nets, the David Blatt-led Cavs called a timeout just 11 seconds after the game started, according to ESPN’s Stats & Information Group. according to ESPN’s Stats & Information Group. But to Green, it was nothing new. He’s come to expect this sort of thing from Gregg Popovich, who’s called more abrupt timeouts than anyone in recent years — in some cases to shout at Green specifically.2The Spurs’ timeout in January marked the fastest Popovich has called for time in the 21 full seasons he’s been on the job. Prior to this one, you’d have to go back to the 2011-12 season, in which he called a timeout 18 seconds into the action to yank DeJuan Blair, who committed a bad defensive foul after being out of position. San Antonio Spurs30 Popovich’s tinkering this season may have been for naught if Leonard doesn’t return. The Spurs have begun to look like a car that had just enough gas to get home but then had to make a run to the store while still on fumes. Similar to last season, Leonard was the difference between San Antonio potentially contending in the playoffs and simply being another solid NBA team.But regardless of whether the Spurs make the playoffs, one thing is clear: Popovich will always get his points about precision across to his players — even if it means calling a timeout 14 seconds into a game to do so.Check out our latest NBA predictions.
OSU senior center Ben McClurg (12) attempts a shot during a game against University of Notre Dame on Nov. 1 at McCorkle Aquatic Pavilion. OSU lost 7-10. Credit: Muyao Shen / Assistant Photo Editor
OSU players celebrate after a goal during a game against Michigan on April 16 at Ohio Stadium. Credit: Samantha Hollingshead | Photo Editor“Back to business” might be the best way to describe the Ohio State men’s lacrosse team’s mentality.The Buckeyes (6-7, 1-2) are set to take on No. 5 Maryland (10-2, 3-0) on Sunday, the team’s first game since ending its six-game losing streak on Saturday against Michigan in the annual Showdown in the Shoe.“It (had) been so long since we’ve won, and to have that feeling again was great,” said senior midfielder and co-captain Kacy Kapinos. “We had guys in the locker room saying, ‘Dang this is what it feels like to win again.’”However, with the matchup against the fifth-ranked Terrapins on the horizon and still standing on the outside looking in when it comes to the Big Ten tournament, OSU coach Nick Myers said his team is focused on what’s ahead.“When you get to this point in the year, every game is crucial. We understand the importance of these next two games, and, of course, to qualify for our league tournament,” he said. “But I think the focus still needs to be put on playing Buckeye lacrosse and the execution and efforts to get the result that you want.”Kapinos added that the team is viewing it as a must-win.“Going down to Byrd Stadium will be a great fight, and we’ve definitely got to get this W,” he said.After losing two its first three games, Maryland comes into the game on a nine-game winning streak, including a 10-5 triumph over No. 7 Navy on Tuesday.The Terrapins are 5-0 at home this season. However, Myers said his team is focusing on the matchup and not the venue.“We don’t look too much into the numbers in terms of what their records are. We just know that they’re a great team,” Myers said. “We just got to be really clean and execute our game plan.”Kapinos echoed his coach’s words, stressing the need for the Buckeyes to not be intimidated by the opponent.“We have to be smart with the ball, time our slides well and make sure that we’re … possessing the ball and not afraid to play,” he said.Reliance on seniorsSenior attacker Carter Brown was named Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week after scoring two goals and adding two assists in Saturday’s win over Michigan.Senior attacker Ryan Hunter made plays for the Buckeyes on offense, and senior defensemen Robby Haus and Chris Mahoney anchored a defense that only allowed seven goals on the day.Myers said the veteran leadership his seniors provide are essential as the season comes to a close.“I think any time you’re making a run at the end of the year and you’re coming down the home stretch, your seniors really set the tone,” Myers said.The experience of these seniors could certainly help with the team’s confidence on Sunday. OSU defeated then-No. 6 Maryland last season in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals — a game that was at College Park, Maryland.Emergence of offenseAfter failing to score double-digit goals in six straight games, the Buckeyes have posted two consecutive contests above the 10-goal mark.Myers, however, said there is still a lot of room for improvement for his 44th-ranked offense.“We’ve got to finish the ball better than we have,” Myers said. “We still think we haven’t shot the ball the way we’re capable of. So those are going to be important pieces.”The offense will have to continue to step up as it faces a tough Maryland defense on Sunday.The Terrapins’ defense ranks 10th in the nation, only allowing 7.75 goals per game. Additionally, Maryland senior goalie Kyle Bernlohr is 20th in the nation with a save percentage of 54.4 percent.Kapinos said the gameplan Myers and assistant coach Brad Ross have put together will help the offense to be successful on Sunday.“As long as (the offense) can execute the gameplan and make the fundamental plays, as far as putting the ball in each other’s sticks, throwing their hands when a double comes and making the smart plays, I feel like that’s when they’ll be successful,” Kapinos said.What’s nextThe Scarlet and Gray are scheduled to finish their regular season next week when they take on Rutgers on April 30. The game is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m.
The Clippers have the opportunity to give him all the time he needs as their pitching staff has been very strong in 2010.The Clippers’ pitchers lead the International League with 385 strikeouts. The pitching staff has a 3.97 combined ERA and has led the team to a 32-19 record.It is unclear whether White will continue to be a starting pitcher or whether he will move to the bullpen for the Clippers and Indians.The Clippers bullpen has been outstanding. Frank Herrmann has not allowed a run in his last 25 innings pitched. Jess Todd has converted 21 straight save attempts. Josh Judy, Vinnie Pestano and Joe Smith have shown promise and kept the Clippers bullpen among the best in the International League.Sarbaugh said that he hadn’t had a chance to watch White pitch this year. As the Clippers manager, he doesn’t get the time to evaluate talent at the other levels quite as often as he would like.“I keep an eye out and look at stats and all of that, but it’s hard to get a good feel,” Sarbaugh said. “You really have to be there to see how it plays out.” The Cleveland Indians’ first pick in the 2009 Major League Baseball draft, Alex White, has recently made the move to the Class AA Akron Aeros and could be making his way to the Class AAA Columbus Clippers before long.White, a 6-foot-3-inch, 200-pound right-handed pitcher was the 15th overall pick in the 2009 draft.While White hasn’t had the media hype this season that minor league pitchers Stephen Strasburg and Aroldis Chapman have, his physical talent is comparable.White has a fastball that reaches into the mid-90s, and uses a slider and splitter as his off-speed pitches.After a spectacular high school career, White was selected in the 14th round of the 2006 draft by the Los Angeles Dodgers, but decided to play college baseball at the University of North Carolina instead.As a sophomore in 2008, he had a 13-3 record with a 2.83 ERA and 113 strikeouts while earning the ACC Pitcher of the Year award. White was also named third-team All-America by Baseball America and Collegiate Baseball. Baseball America also had White ranked as the No. 2 draft-eligible prospect in the country.In his first start for the Akron Aeros, White pitched seven innings to collect his first win in Class AA baseball. He let up two runs on five hits while striking out two hitters.While the Clippers may be excited about the possibilities of the young talent, they plan on giving him time to work his way through the farm system.“He needs to make that progression and go through each step,” Clippers Manager Mike Sarbaugh said. “He’s going to be on a time table, when everybody feels he’s ready and when he feels he’s ready, he’ll make the move.”
At 6-foot-2, 185 pounds, Ohio State freshman goalkeeper Greg Dutton is rarely overshadowed physically by opposing players. As the men’s lacrosse season has progressed, Dutton’s play between the posts has also been tough to overshadow. The All-American goalkeeper out of Calvert Hall College High School in Baltimore has burst onto the college lacrosse scene, garnering two Rookie of the Week awards in the Eastern College Athletic Conference, playing a significant role in the Buckeyes’ No. 17 ranking. The freshman got his first start against Mercer in the second game of the season, which was played inside the Woody Hayes Athletic Center. The experience is one Dutton recalls vividly. “It was pretty nerve-racking,” he said. “It was packed in there with everyone close to the field, but it was just a great atmosphere to play in.” Despite his nerves, Dutton surrendered just two goals in a 20-2 Buckeye blowout. Since his first start, Dutton says, he has settled down and grown into his role on the team, as he continually looks to improve his game. “I need to keep working on my leadership,” he said. “As a freshman, you’re just trying to learn your role but I need to keep earning the respect of my teammates.” Coach Nick Myers said the pieces are in place for Dutton to progress in his role as a leader. Aside from Dutton’s frame, Myers said leadership was one thing that stood out to him while recruiting Dutton in high school. “He started as a sophomore in arguably the best (lacrosse) conference in the country,” Myers said. “He had great voice in the cage and he was just a great leader.” Though Dutton’s play speaks loudly, he has a low-key demeanor off the field. OSU senior captain Bryce Woodson said he barely noticed Dutton at first. “I didn’t really notice him until he stepped on the field because he’s kind of a quiet guy,” Woodson said. “But his play and the way he carries himself really speaks to his character.” That does not, however, mean Dutton is estranged from his teammates. “He’s gained more confidence in himself and became more comfortable around the guys,” Woodson said. “He’s opened up more but he’s still the same, strong player he was when he got here.” The transition from life in Maryland to life in Ohio, albeit a challenge at first, is one that Dutton said he has savored. Listing the large campus lifestyle as a primary reason for attending OSU, Dutton says he has adjusted. Striking a balance between academics and athletics, Dutton also has managed to see his family on a fairly regular basis and says he is now settling into a solid routine. Though lacrosse is a household sport in Maryland, Dutton says the Columbus area stacks up well, and there has not been a major gap in enthusiasm from lacrosse followers. One aspect of Buckeye culture does puzzle Dutton, though. “A bunch of guys see me and just think of the whole ‘bro’ thing, and I think that is an odd phenomenon right now,” Dutton said, laughing, as he pointed to his blond mop top. “I’ve had a lot of comments like that because of my long hair, but I’m just a normal guy.” Trying to stay “normal” as the laurels continue to pile up might seem like a challenge, but Dutton remains humble. Of all the accomplishments he has racked up, the one that sticks out for him is concrete and simple. “My greatest accomplishment,” he said, “is just getting the opportunity to play at Ohio State.”