Podcast US Women March On NBA Draft Preview And Is ARod A

Embed Code Video Excerpt: How Big Is A-Rod’s Asterisk? Hot Takedown Welcome to this week’s episode of Hot Takedown, our podcast where the hot sports takes of the week meet the numbers that prove them right or tear them down. On this week’s show (June 23, 2015), we discuss the knockout stages of the women’s World Cup, preview the NBA draft and discuss Alex Rodriguez’s monster season. What do the stats say about his place in history, and how big is the asterisk? Plus, our Significant Digit of the week: Ronda Rousey’s speedy victories.Stream the episode by clicking the play button, or subscribe using one of the podcast clients we’ve linked to above.Below are some links to what we discuss on this week’s show:Allison McCann on the winners and losers of the WWC group stage.This World Cup may be proving that there’s more parity in women’s soccer than we thought.Kate Fagan’s dispatch from Edmonton, Alberta, after the U.S. women defeated Colombia.FiveThirtyEight ranks the top 50 players in the NBA draft.Nylon Calculus wonders if there’s a simpler way to evaluate rising basketball talent.FanGraphs evaluates A-Rod’s career and what to make of his recent resurgence.Significant Digit: The 1:42 differential between Ronda Rousey’s fastest win and her next opponent’s. More: Apple Podcasts | ESPN App | RSS | Embed If you’re a fan of our podcasts, be sure to subscribe on Apple Podcasts and leave a rating/review. That helps spread the word to other listeners. And get in touch by email, on Twitter or in the comments. Tell us what you think, send us hot takes to discuss and tell us why we’re wrong. read more

Dez Bryant Skips Surgery Will Play With Broken Finger

Dez Bryant intends to Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers despite a broken left index finger that a hand specialist said requires surgery.ESPN reports that the Dallas Cowboys’ medical staff will work to create a protective contraption that will protect the finger from further damage while not preventing the team’s biggest weapon from catching the ball.Apparently, though, the team is still awaiting final word from the doctor, who could determine it is mandatory for Bryant to have surgery, which would end his season, according to the network.Owner Jerry Jones said this week that the decision would be left up to Bryant as to if he wanted to play with the fracture or undergo surgery that would sideline him the remainder of the year.Bryant will be limited in practice on Thursday, according to an ESPN source, and will catch a few passes to see how he feels. During practice, he likely will wear a protective,  taped-up splint, similar to what he wore the remainder of the Dallas win at Cincinnati. After injuring the finger, Bryant returned to the game and caught an important touchdown in the Cowboys’ comeback win.The hand specialist has told Bryant and the Cowboys that a re-injury to the finger could cause permanent stiffness and would impact his ability to catch passes in the future.“One of the things that we know about Dez is that he’s a tough guy and he loves playing football,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said Wednesday morning. “He’s going to give himself and our team every chance possible to play in (Sunday’s game) and continue to play this season.“We just need to get more medical information about how to handle the situation right now, the best way to handle it for now and for the future.”In the last month, Bryant has emerged as a lethal receiver. He caught 30 passes for 438 yards with six touchdowns over that stretch and had seven touchdowns in the last five games. Bryant ranks 10th in the NFL in receiving yards (1,028) this season and is tied for third with nine touchdowns. read more

Adrian Peterson Facing Child Abuse Charges Reinstated to Vikings

Adrian Peterson, the Minnesota Vikings superstar running back who is already facing felony charges in Texas for child abuse, was accused in a separate incident involving another son who was 4 years old.This news, reported by KHOU-TV in Houston, did not prevent the Vikings from reinstating Peterson to the team Monday. But it did move hotel chain Radisson to suspend its sponsorship with the team.This newly uncovered incident — coming on the heels of Peterson’s arrest for using a “switch” to recently bruise a 4-year-old son — is more than a year old and unfounded, according to Peterson’s attorney.The TV station cited text messages that reportedly include a photo of the boy with an apparent head wound covered by bandages.Peterson was at the Vikings facilities this week and did not entertain questions from the media. But he did issue a statement that read, in part: “I want everyone to understand how sorry I feel about the hurt I have brought to my child.”I am not a perfect son. I am not a perfect husband. I am not a perfect parent, but I am, without a doubt, not a child abuser. I am someone that disciplined his child and did not intend to cause him any injury.”No one can understand the hurt that I feel for my son and for the harm I caused him. My goal is always to teach my son right from wrong and that’s what I tried to do that day.”I accept the fact that people feel very strongly about this issue and what they think about my conduct,” Peterson said. ”Regardless of what others think, however, I love my son very much and I will continue to try to become a better father and person.”The Vikings, amid speculation that they were protecting a star player, said via general manager Rick Spielman: ”I understand that this is a very difficult thing to handle. But we also feel strongly as an organization that this is disciplining a child. Whether it’s an abusive situation or not, or whether he went too far disciplining, we feel very strongly that that is the court’s decision to make, but we also understand the seriousness of abusing children as well.”Vikings owners Zygi and Mark Wilf made the decision to reinstate Peterson after consulting with Spielman and coach Mike Zimmer, and the players who were available to the media Monday lined up to support it.”We’ve just got to stick together. That’s how the best teams win games and that’s how the best teams grow as a team and (build) team chemistry,” defensive end Everson Griffen said. ”The best thing we can do right now is support the Minnesota Vikings, support the decisions that they made to reinstate Adrian Peterson and fully support Adrian.”Radisson is the first company to back away from a sponsorship deal since the league has been facing criticism over its handling of domestic violence cases. Radisson’s sponsorship includes a press banner that is behind those speaking at Vikings news conferences. The banner was behind Spielman as he discussed the team’s decision to reinstate Peterson.Peterson faces a charge of reckless or negligent injury to a child, which carries penalties of up to two years in prison and a $10,000 fine. His initial court appearance in Conroe, Texas, near Houston, was scheduled for Oct. 8. read more

World Cup Crib Notes Day 17

Sunday’s matches weren’t supposed to happen. None of the four teams playing was given even a 50 percent chance of reaching the knockout stage by ESPN’s Soccer Power Index-backed model at the start of the tournament. Now two will reach the quarterfinal and one will play a semifinal.Netherlands vs. Mexico: 12 p.m. EDTCosta Rica vs. Greece: 4 p.m. EDTIN BRIEFSee our World Cup predictions for the latest probabilities.IN DEPTHThe big favorite of the four is the Netherlands, which has a 56 percent chance of reaching the semis by beating Mexico and then the winner of Costa Rica-Greece. (This is the probability of the Netherlands beating both Mexico and the winner of the second match, weighted by the probability of either Costa Rica or Greece teams coming through.) The Dutch looked like just the third-best team in their group at the start of the tournament. Then they shocked defending champion Spain, 5-1, in their opener, and beat another top team, Chile, 2-0. That’s seven goals against two of the best defenses in the tournament. The Netherlands also beat Australia, 3-2, for a clean sweep of Group B.The Dutch have improved from a long shot to one of the favorites. Before the tournament, our model gave them a less than 1 percent chance of winning their country’s first World Cup. Now they have a 10 percent chance. That’s by far the biggest bump any country got from the knockout stage — it’s nearly twice as large as Argentina’s increase. And none of the other three teams playing Sunday has even a 1 percent chance of winning the Cup.The Netherlands has seen its chances rise partly because SPI has been updated to take into account its dominance in the group stage. Before it looked like the 10th-best team in the world; now it looks like the sixth-best. It also benefits from the weakness of the rest of its draw in the knockout stage; the Netherlands has the third-best chance of reaching the semifinals, ahead of three teams that are better. Notably, Colombia ranks third in SPI but before its game Saturday it had less than half the chance of the Dutch to reach the semis.Mexico is no gimme for the Netherlands, though. El Tri showed its mettle in drawing tournament favorite Brazil and has the world’s fourth-best defense — stronger than any the Netherlands has faced. The matchup of Mexico’s defense, led by goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa, against the formidable Dutch offense of Robin van Persie, Arjen Robben et al. should be Sunday’s most exciting.The late match won’t be the best played in the Round of 16 — featuring two of the four worst teams to make it out of their groups — but it might be the most competitive. Costa Rica has just a 57 percent chance of winning, the lowest for a favorite in the round, and has a statistical edge of just two-tenths of a goal. Because soccer stubbornly refuses to introduce fractional goals, this could be the second match of the tournament to go to added extra time.YESTERDAYBrazil advanced to the World Cup quarterfinals behind two penalty kick saves from goalkeeper Júlio César. Although Brazil continued its competitive home unbeaten streak to 61 games (including 20-0-7 against Chile), the hosts were forced to play on their heels for long stretches Saturday.Chile finished the match with more touches than Brazil (716-703), the first time Brazil has failed to lead in touches at the end of a World Cup game since the 2010 Round of 16. The opponent? Chile. In 2010, though, Brazil cruised to a 3-0 victory. Chile’s advantage in possession was built away from goal, with nearly 100 more touches in its defending half than Brazil (444-358).  When Chile threatened to get forward, Brazil was quick to commit a foul. The Brazilians committed 28 fouls, the most in this World Cup and the most by Brazil at a World Cup since 1978 against Argentina.Chile, which has been eliminated by Brazil in all four of its World Cup knockout-round appearances, could not convert when it put the ball in the box. The Chileans failed to complete a cross Saturday (0-for-18). Chile’s 18 cross attempts are the most by a team without a completion at this World Cup.Brazil sat back and turned forward quickly when gaining possession. It had more than twice as many touches in the attacking penalty area (31-14), led by Neymar’s eight. Brazil, which has eliminated its opponent in five of its last six competitive matches that have gone to penalty kicks, completed 71 percent of its passes against Chile, its third-lowest mark in at least the last 50 years at the World Cup.Fortunately for Brazil, its defense performed. Brazil held Chile to one completed pass in the attacking penalty area after halftime (none in extra time), compared with three for Brazil.— Zach Rodgers, Statistics Analyst for ESPNOFF THE PITCHWhen you think of Greece, you probably think of beaches, the Parthenon, feta cheese and Kalamata olives. But what office products and circuit breakers? According to 2012 data from the BACI International Trade Database, 41 percent of Greek exports to Costa Rica were “paper office containers,” followed by circuit breakers and panels at 22 percent. Other big exports included cutlery, candles and matches, and of course, vegetables, olive oil and wine. But trade flowing in the opposite direction probably adheres more to expectations. More than 84 percent of Costa Rican exports to Greece were bananas. The next-largest exports were miscellaneous fruit at 9 percent and coffee at 4 percent. — Hayley MunguiaFURTHER READINGWere the Billions Brazil Spent on World Cup Stadiums Worth It?Extra Time Isn’t a Crapshoot in the Knockout Round, But Penalties AreCORRECTION (9:56 a.m., June 29): This post originally stated that if the Costa Rica match went to extra time it would be the World Cup’s first match to do so. After Brazil’s match yesterday, that is incorrect. It would be the second. read more

LeBrons Cavs Are The Best Team Ever To Fire Its Coach Midseason

Frank Layden1988-89Jazz158411-6Resigned COACHSEASONTEAMELOCOACH RECORDNOTES The Cleveland Cavaliers fired head coach David Blatt on Friday, even though he guided the team to the NBA Finals last season and a 30-11 record so far this year.The NBA is a tough league. But as far as we can tell, no coach has been fired under similar circumstances before.Below, you’ll find a table of NBA coaches since the NBA-ABA merger in 1976-77 who were fired or resigned in the middle of the regular season when their teams had an Elo rating of 1550 or higher.1The table excludes interim head coaches who were dismissed after a permanent replacement was found. The league-average Elo rating is about 1500, so a rating of 1550 reflects a pretty good team; about as good as the Atlanta Hawks right now. Coaches don’t usually get fired when their teams are playing well. But Blatt’s Cavs haven’t just been good; they’ve been on the verge of great. The team’s current Elo rating is 1669, far higher than that of any other team when it fired a coach mid-season.When a coach does get fired despite a solid record, it’s usually because his team is underperforming lofty expectations. But that can’t really be said of the Cavs. Their preseason team win total at the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook was 56.5 wins; they’re actually a little ahead of that pace, currently projecting to finish the season 61-21 instead.Yes, the Cavs were embarrassed on Monday by the Warriors, 132-98. But one bad regular-season loss isn’t usually enough to doom a coach. It’s reasonable to ask whether the overt tension between Blatt and superstar LeBron James played a role because there’s not really a good precedent for something like this happening. (James was reportedly not consulted about Blatt’s firing.)Larry Brown resigned under pressure as head coach of the New Jersey Nets late in the 1982-83 season despite a 47-26 record, but that was because he’d agreed to take a job the next season at the University of Kansas. Del Harris was canned as Lakers’ head coach early in the 1998-99 season when the team had a strong 1611 Elo rating, but its record was just 6-6 at that point, below the perennially high expectations in Lakerland. Don Nelson2004-05Mavericks159742-22Resigned Larry Brown1982-83Nets159947-26Resigned under pressure Paul Westhead1981-82Lakers15727-4Fired Larry Brown1991-92Spurs158621-17Fired David Blatt2015-16Cavaliers166930-11Fired Gene Shue1977-7876ers15592-4Fired Source: Basketball-reference.com Del Harris1998-99Lakers16116-6Fired Stan Van Gundy2005-06Heat158011-10Resigned under pressure Jack McKinney1979-80Lakers155210-4Injured Danny Ainge1999-2000Suns156313-7Resigned The most abrupt NBA coaching departures read more

Have The Cubs Forgotten How To Field

Welcome to Full Count, our new(!) weekly baseball column. Have anything you want me to write about? Email or tweet me at neil.paine@fivethirtyeight.com or @Neil_Paine.Of all the elements that allowed the Chicago Cubs to erase 108 years of suffering and finally win the World Series last fall, one of the most important was the team’s stellar defense. Just how efficient were Chicago’s fielders a year ago? Relative to league average, the 2016 Cubs allowed the lowest batting average on balls in play (BABIP) of any team ever.1Over a full season; sorry, 1884 Milwaukee Brewers. As in, since the dawn of big-league ball in 1871, ever. The only team that was even comparable to these Cubs was the 1890 Columbus Solons (a franchise that appears to have folded the next year without explaining its defensive wizardry — or what a “Solon” was).2From what I can tell — which isn’t much — it was either a reference to an Athenian legislator or another town in Ohio (one that, oddly, is not near Columbus). Have the Cubs forgotten how to field? 8Carlos Beltran4241054312460.7 2016Cubs.255.298-.043 +9.7+3.8-5.9 1999Reds.262.298-.036 6Anthony RendonNationals727975.3 1906Cubs.238.272-.034 Willson ContrerasC588.4212.0+9.2+22.6+13.5 RKNAMETEAMPITCH IN ZONE, SWUNGPITCH OUTSIDE ZONE, TOOKGOOD DECISION 5Mike TroutAngels727875.3 3Freddie FreemanBraves827276.0 The all-time kings of power, speed and patience, 1871-2017 INNINGSDEF PER 1200 INNINGS* The Cubs still aren’t shifting much, but they’re good when they do 179Chris DavisOrioles546962.5 Javier Baez2B970.3215.1+15.7+5.0-10.7 PLAYERPOS2016201720162017CHANGE Kris Bryant3B1366.2288.0+9.7+2.5-7.2 1899Beaneaters.265.298-.033 7Bobby Bonds332914460477.7 10Bobby Abreu2881476400451.1 Data through May 8. Returning Cubs players only.* “Def” is FanGraphs’ defensive value over average, which includes Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) grades relative to position, as well as an adjustment for the defensive value of each position.Numbers are listed per 1,200 innings, roughly a season’s worth of playing time.Source: FanGraphs 1Joey VottoReds77%82%80.1% The most efficient defenses in MLB history, 1871-2016 With the exception of new starting catcher Willson Contreras and utilityman extraordinaire Ben Zobrist, every single holdover from the 2016 Cubs has contributed less defensively than he did a season ago. Some have gone from average to bad while others have gone from great to merely good, but there have been big declines across the board.Such an abrupt and widespread deterioration begs for an explanation, and an obvious one might be that manager Joe Maddon made a tactical change. For example, last season, just as the infield shift hit another all-time high in popularity across MLB, Maddon — famous iconoclast that he is — decided to dial back on using baseball’s favorite new-old tactic. So perhaps Maddon has changed how he’s been deploying his defense so far this year? 1890Solons.254.295-.041 201684%16%0.2580.239 Kyle SchwarberLF7.2211.0+0.0-17.1-17.1 The most and least disciplined batters of 2017 PERCENTAGE OF TIME… 6Hank Aaron7551402240483.5 1898Beaneaters.256.290-.034 1941Dodgers.245.275-.030 2001Mariners.260.292-.032 YEARNO SHIFTSHIFTNO SHIFTSHIFT And even within that group, what really set Mays apart was his defense. While Henderson was fairly mediocre with the glove, and Bonds’s once-great fielding skills eroded significantly over time, Mays is the third-best defensive outfielder ever, according to Baseball-Reference.com’s defensive WAR. (He was still a Gold Glove centerfielder in 1968, at age 37!) Because of Mays’s unparalleled skills with his bat, feet and glove, he is the only player in baseball history to record at least 120 offensive WAR and 15 defensive WAR.And he cleared both those benchmarks easily — because of course he did, he’s the greatest all-around player ever. Happy birthday, Willie, and here’s to many more.Who’s showing the most — and least — plate discipline?Three years ago, I cooked up a way to see which players were making the best decisions at the plate using FanGraphs’ wonderful “Plate Discipline” stats. Since the site lists the percentage of pitches each player faced that were and were not in the strike zone,7According to pitch-tracking data collected by Baseball Info Solutions and MLB’s Statcast system. along with the share of pitches that were or were not swung at, we can calculate how often a player is correctly identifying a pitch to swing at (because it was over the plate) or lay off (because it definitely was not).Here are the top and bottom 10 so far this year: Jason HeywardRF1200.2229.3+15.4+7.3-8.1 Data through May 9Source: FanGraphs 201783170.3000.239 5Joe Morgan2681865689524.6 Albert AlmoraCF237.0144.1+29.4-5.8-35.2 10Eric ThamesBrewers687974.8 182J.J. HardyOrioles536961.0 177Jose ReyesMets566962.5 RKPLAYERHRWALKSSTEALSPOWER-SPEED-PATIENCE* 4Alex Rodriguez6961338329574.3 2Rickey Henderson29721901406661.5 Weighted average Nope! The Cubs are still basically shifting as little as they did a year ago. And the irony is that the BABIP they’ve allowed when shifting is exactly the same as it was last season (.239). The only difference has come on plays when Chicago hasn’t shifted, where opposing hitters’ BABIP has risen from a ridiculously low .258 mark last year to essentially league average this season.(The biggest difference in pure positioning for the Cubs is that Kris Bryant now plays the shallowest third base in the game. The rest of Chicago’s infield and outfield positions play at roughly the same average depth as they did a year ago, per Statcast data.)So it’s not the configuration of Chicago’s defense that’s changed. But it wasn’t just Maddon’s contrarian strategy on shifting that was keeping batted-ball averages down last year, it was also his pitchers’ superior ability to mitigate damage on contact. My colleagues Rob Arthur and Ben Lindbergh wrote last season about how the Cubs’ hurlers were inducing particularly easy-to-field balls on contact — which, they postulated, helped Chicago come by that microscopic BABIP honestly (or at least, more honestly than other teams). And certainly the 2016 Cubs allowed some of MLB’s lowest rates of hard contact, according to both exit velocity and other classifications.But Chicago’s pitchers aren’t doing poorly in that department this season, either, even if they are yielding a few more hard-hit balls this time around.4For those curious, opposing hitters’ average launch angle has barely budged. And any changes in where they spray the ball (hitters are pulling slightly more against the Cubs this year) are minor. If the Cubs’ defensive success was all about inducing soft contact, we’d expect them to be seeing similar defensive results this season, too.More likely, the Cubs didn’t find a secret BABIP-suppressing hack last year, nor did they forget it this season. Instead, a good amount of Chicago’s defensive brilliance (and subsequent backslide) can probably be explained with the statistician’s most dreaded word: luck. For all the advances we’ve made in understanding and evaluating defense over the past couple decades, and for all the hope that Voros McCracken’s original, earth-shattering finding about pitchers — that they appear to have little control over whether balls in play become hits or outs — was flawed or incomplete, there’s a lot about defense that remains highly unpredictable and beyond the control of fielders, pitchers and managers.No matter whether we judge a team’s fielding according to a simple metric like BABIP allowed or something more advanced such as UZR or Defensive Runs Saved, defensive performance in one season only explains roughly 10 percent of the variation in the same statistic the following season.5Using data from 2003 to 2016. Although some of that year-to-year noise is due to players switching teams between seasons, it also speaks volumes about the inherent randomness of a baseball coming off a bat. That’s why even a defense as dominant as the 2016 Cubs — or perhaps especially a defense that dominant– will see a big chunk of its advantage melt away in later seasons.What does that mean for the Cubs? Even granting that last year’s defensive performance was partially the product of good luck, Chicago’s 17-17 record (which the underlying metrics say is about right for how this team has played) is disappointing relative to the amount of talent on its roster. But 34 games is a small sample in a sport where it takes nearly 70 games to reach the same level of certainty in the standings that we get after, say, 11 games in the NFL or 14 in the NBA. So Cubs fans shouldn’t overreact too much: This is still one of the best teams in the majors, and it should eventually put together a record to match. It would be unfair, however, to expect Chicago’s fielding to be as ludicrously efficient as it was a year ago. That historic defense should add to the lore of the Cubs’ curse-breaking World Series win, but that’s all it is now — history.Happy (belated) birthday, Willie MaysInstead of pointing out how terrible the San Francisco Giants are these days — they’ve lost 16 of their last 23 ballgames — I’d like to take a second to once again appreciate the excellence of their all-time greatest player, Willie Mays, who turned 86 years old on Saturday.I’ve written about this before, but Mays was probably the greatest all-around ballplayer in major league history. (The fact that he only won two career MVP awards is one of the underrated travesties of baseball history.) Mays is one of only eight players ever with more than 300 career home runs and 300 steals, and he ranks third all-time in Bill James’ power-speed number.6Which is just the harmonic mean of a player’s career steals and homers. He also walked more (both in total and on a rate basis) than any member of that 300-300 club except his godson, Barry Bonds. Those two — plus Rickey Henderson, who just missed the 300-homer club by 3 dingers — stand atop the reformulated list if we adjust James’s power-speed stat to also include walks: Addison RussellSS1262.2273.0+20.8+10.1-10.7 9Gary Sheffield5091475253454.9 MLB average72280.2970.294 8Miguel SanoTwins717875.1 Miguel MonteroC558.181.0-2.8-4.4-1.6 2Jed LowrieAthletics757876.5 BALLS IN PLAYBATTING AVERAGE ON BALLS IN PLAY Anthony Rizzo1B1337.1288.3-5.2-14.2-8.9 YEARTEAMTEAMLEAGUEDIFF. 183Javier BaezCubs715460.5 Boosted by that historic out-generating vacuum behind them, Cubs pitchers also led the majors in earned run average by the 10th-widest margin3Tied with the 1991 Dodgers. of any staff since 1901, threatening all sorts of run-prevention records along the way. They allowed 140 fewer runs than the average team, and analytics credit the fielders with something between 50 and 70 percent (depending on the estimate being used) of those saved runs. The Cubs were loaded with stars up and down their lineup, and their pitchers shined brightly when fielders weren’t required, but the importance of Chicago’s glovework was still undeniable.But the Cubs’ defensive numbers were so off-the-charts last year that they almost seemed unsustainable. And as it turns out, they probably were. This year, the Cubs are right at .500, sitting in fourth place in the NL Central — and their once-dominant defense might be to blame. Instead of allowing the lowest BABIP on the planet, they’re in the middle of the pack defensively; not coincidentally, their staff ERA is unremarkable and they’ve allowed two more runs than an average team. Simply put, Chicago’s secret fielding weapon isn’t working anymore.This raises a host of questions about the Cubs and about defensive metrics in general. Have the Cubs suddenly, collectively forgotten how to field? Are offseason defections to blame? Or did Chicago just enjoy a historic amount of luck in the field last year — luck for which their fielders received too much credit? And if so, what does that say about our ability to measure defense?It’s a lot to sort out, so let’s start with the personnel involved. Chicago’s most notable offseason move effectively saw former Padres center fielder Jon Jay slot in for Dexter Fowler, who joined the rival Cardinals. According to Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), one of the most commonly cited advanced defensive metrics, the Cubs haven’t fared well in the exchange. Although Fowler’s defensive track record hasn’t always been great, he was surprisingly solid a year ago; Jay, meanwhile, is tracking for a very poor defensive season in 2017.In combination with the retirement of expert defensive catcher and game-caller David Ross, the Jay-for-Fowler tradeoff has helped erode Chicago’s edge in the field. But a far bigger factor is the team’s returning players: 181Danny ValenciaMariners556761.7 1Barry Bonds7622558514822.2 174Carlos BeltranAstros626563.8 7George SpringerAstros767575.2 Ben ZobristUTIL1263.6214.5-1.4+9.0+10.4 BATTING AVERAGE ON BALLS IN PLAY 176Xander BogaertsRed Sox567063.1 * The harmonic mean of a player’s lifetime home runs, walks and stealsSource: FanGraphs 9Matt JoyceAthletics688174.9 Minimum 140 games played in seasonSource: FanGraphs Matt SzczurOF352.430.0+16.3+4.0-12.3 3Willie Mays6601464338581.8 Plate discipline doesn’t automatically equate to successful hitting. Corey Dickerson is swinging at everything that moves — and knocking the cover off the ball. Matt Joyce refuses to offer at a bad pitch, and he can’t buy a hit. But by and large, the hitters at the top of the discipline rankings do tend to be more productive than the ones at the bottom. And they do it mainly by avoiding swinging at junk outside the strike zone.In terms of predicting hitting effectiveness, a batter’s rate of good decisions on pitches outside the zone is about three times as important as his rate of good decisions on pitches inside the zone. In other words, it’s not the end of the world if you let a strike go by without swinging — who knows, maybe you’re waiting for your pitch. But few batters can get away with flailing at bad pitches for long. For every Dickerson or Vlad Guerrero, there’s an undisciplined hacker who let the pitcher trick him into getting himself out. 180Corey DickersonRays725562.1 Shift data is on balls in play only. MLB average includes both 2016 and 2017 seasons.Source: FanGraphs ⁝Average677169.4 1975Dodgers.245.277-.032 1939Yankees.252.284-.032 175Manuel MargotPadres596863.8 4Brandon BeltGiants727975.6 178Salvador PerezRoyals695862.5 read more

Opinion Big Ten hockeys existence a disappointment so far

Ohio State (1-7) – This team is the victim of a bad year to have the nonconference schedule that it has. In their first three weekends, the Buckeyes were challenged with top-20 opponents in Bowling Green, Miami and Providence. Coach Steve Rohlik doesn’t make excuses that he has 10 freshmen on his roster this season, but the lack of offense has been frustrating to this point, culminating in the Buckeyes’ 2-1 loss against Mercyhurst on Oct. 30. That was a game that saw OSU outshoot the Lakers 40-16. The chances have been there, they just haven’t gone in. We’ll see how the Buckeyes follow up their first win of the season, putting up a season-high five goals against Mercyhurst on Halloween.The Big Ten had great expectations when it was formed, due in part to the history and tradition of programs like Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin. It might not be this season but I still think it’s a matter of time before the conference will thrive, especially if established “Big Ten” club hockey programs like Illinois or Rutgers receive the proper funding to add teams into the mix. A few years ago, the idea of Big Ten hockey looked as good as sending out Matt Harvey in the ninth inning of Game 5 of the World Series. Now there’s a plethora of questions that have to be answered.Too soon, Mets fans? Penn State (4-2-1) – A lot of offense has been shown so far in the Nittany Lions’ early-season success. Their 4.57 goals per game is third best in the nation and their win against No. 18 Notre Dame on Oct. 17 is the nicest looking nonconference win out of any team in the Big Ten. Upcoming games against Niagara and Sacred Heart should allow the Nittany Lions to keep the goals flowing. But conference play will be a big indicator of how good this team actually is. OSU freshman forward Mason Jobst controls the puck during a game agaisnt Brock on Oct 3. OSU won 4-0. Credit: Kaley Rentz / Asst. Sports DirectorWhen Terry and Kim Pegula made their $88 million dollar gift to Penn State in 2010 to fund a new ice arena and to establish a NCAA Division I hockey program at the university, Big Ten hockey was born as well, beginning with the 2013-14 season. Year 1 of the Big Ten saw Minnesota fall in the national championship to Union College (New York), but four of the conference’s six teams finished the year ranked in the top 20 of the United States College Hockey Online poll.This led to the hype of last season, which fell far short of expectations, as an underachieving Minnesota team was the lone representative in the NCAA tournament. The Gophers were promptly dominated in the opening round, losing to in-state rival Minnesota-Duluth 4-1.This season, it hasn’t been pretty.So far the six Big Ten teams have a combined record of 15-19-6. The wins haven’t been all that impressive and some losses have come as head-scratching.Let’s run it down from top to bottom:Michigan (4-1-1) – The only ranked team according to the USCHO poll and by far the most hyped team in the conference. The No. 13 Wolverines have two tight wins against a much less talented Mercyhurst team, a win against Rensselaer, a tie with Union, a close win and a stunning loss at home against Robert Morris. A team expected to be the face of the conference has been unimpressive thus far. It still has a ton of talent, so we’ll see how they develop before conference play begins. Michigan State (2-3-1) – Not a whole lot was expected out of the Spartans this season, as their only wins have come against a bad Lake Superior State team that is currently 2-6. Offense has been the big issue here, as Michigan State is averaging just over two goals per game. It’s scored more than two goals in just two of their six games. Wisconsin (2-3-3) – This program is a mess. This is expected to be coach Mike Eaves’ last season in Madison after finishing with a jaw-dropping 4-27-5 record last year. “Hey, they’ve already won two games this year right?” Well, those two wins came against first-year Division I program Arizona State at home last weekend. The Badgers played to a draw against Northern Michigan and Ferris State, but there’s no reason to believe that success is in the near future. Minnesota (2-3) – The majority of the questions between the pipes heading into the season were about the goaltending, but not when it came to lighting the lamp. However, Minnesota has scored just one goal in its first three contests, losing to Vermont and being swept by No. 6-ranked Minnesota-Duluth. The Golden Gophers two wins have come against a bad Northeastern team two weeks ago by scores of 4-0 and 4-3. Out of the 60 Division I hockey programs, the Golden Gophers are tied for 55th in total offense and are dead last in the Big Ten, averaging measly 1.8 goals per game. Freshman netminder Eric Schierhorn already has a lot on his plate trying to replace Adam Wilcox. There is not much you can blame him for at this point. read more

Opinion Derrick Rose should take early trip down Grant Hills path

Chicago Bulls guard Derrick Rose is set to have knee surgery after tearing the meniscus in his right knee for the 2nd time.Credit: Courtesy of TNSBy age 25, Derrick Rose was a three-time NBA All-Star and one-time NBA MVP.He’d averaged at least 20.8 points three times, and was all around considered one of the top point guards and overall players in the league. Sound familiar? For NBA fans paying attention in the late 1990s and early 2000s, it should.Grant Hill was a 25-year-old small forward for the Detroit Pistons during the 1997-98 season. He was already a four-time All-Star and had averaged at least 20.2 points per game three times. Hill wasn’t just looking like a perennial All-Star, but an all-time great player in the NBA.Fast forward a few years and Hill found himself with the Orlando Magic, but played just four games during the 2000-01 season. He then played 14 games the next year and 29 the year after that, but he missed the entirety of the 2003-04 season from injury.After he had averaged 25.8 points per game in his final season in Detroit in 1999-2000, it looked like Hill would never reach his old heights. And those looks weren’t deceiving. Instead, Hill redefined his career and became a 10-15 points per game scorer for the rest of his career, while also dishing out a couple assists and picking up about five rebounds per game, something most players could never do. Hill managed to turn himself from a superstar into a role player, and didn’t quit until he was 40 years old.While the injury bug didn’t clamp down on Hill until the latter half of his 20s, Rose is already on the fast track to a what-if career. Rose missed the majority of the 2011-12 season, the entire 2012-13 season and all but 10 games last year. Now after starting 46 games in his seventh year in the NBA, Rose is set to undergo surgery for a torn meniscus in his right knee, the same injury that sidelined him in 2013.There’s no official timetable for his return just yet, but no matter if he comes back before the end of the season, sometime in the summer or any other time down the road, it’s time for Rose to rethink how he plays the game.Sure, he’s not a 6-foot-8 presence like Hill — their skill sets aren’t exactly the same by any means — but Rose can turn into the same sort of ultra-effective role player and have a better career because of it.It’s hard to think he’ll ever rediscover the full explosive ability that helped him average 25 points, 7.7 assists and 4.1 rebounds per game during his 2010-11 MVP run, but he doesn’t need to.The first thing Rose can do is improve his jump shot. Hill shot better than 30 percent from 3-point range just twice before he joined the Phoenix Suns in 2007 (if you exclude his four-game run in 2000-01). After that, he shot at least 32 percent for four straight seasons, including a high point of 44 percent during the 2009-10 season when he started 81 games for the Suns.Rose is certainly not a pure shooter now — he was shooting just 29 percent from deep this year — but off-season practice with his jumper can take a lot of stress off his knee and improve his ability to contribute in multiple ways going forward.Hill also became a lock-down defender as his career rolled on, and if Rose can rediscover even part of his old speed, he has all the physical attributes to stick with any point guard in the league.At this point, it might take a miracle for Rose to become a true superstar again, but it’s up to him to either go down as a what-if who’s out of the league before his 30th birthday, or a journeyman star who could be the glue for championship runs down the line. read more

Football Fivestar safety Jaiden Woodbey decommits from Ohio State signs with Florida

Ohio State’s top-ranked recruiting class suffered another blow on Early Signing Day after five-star safety Jaiden Woodbey decommitted from the Buckeyes and submitted his letter of intent to Florida State. Woodbey committed to Ohio State on Feb. 7, and maintained that commitment until Wednesday. He is the 27th-best prospect in the nation and second-best safety in the 2018 class, according to 247Sports Composite Rankings. The site also lists him as the No. 2 prospect in the state of California. Ohio State had depth in its recruiting class at the safety position, having added a pair of four-star prospects in Tyreke Johnson and Josh Proctor. Johnson is listed as the 41st-best prospect nationally and fifth-best at his position, while Proctor is the No. 76 prospect in the country and the No. 8 safety. read more