I was barely 13 years old during WrestleMania VI on April 1, 1990, and just about at the height of my pro-wrestling fandom. I watched every televised event and read wrestling magazines, and I had been to a live event at the Blaisdell Arena in Honolulu. I even watched unofficial wrestling-analysis shows that aired in the middle of the night. I was delirious.My favorite wrestler was Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake, who took on “Mr. Perfect,” who had yet to lose in a televised head-to-head matchup. Brutus won. “Mr. Perfect,” a.k.a. Curt Hennig, had finally lost.Hennig died in 2003 at age 44.Of course, the main event at WrestleMania VI was the “Ultimate Challenge,” in which The Ultimate Warrior defeated Hulk Hogan to unify the Intercontinental Championship and the WWF Championship for the first — and so far only — time ever (the WWF changed its name to the WWE in 2002).The Ultimate Warrior, James Hellwig, died two weeks ago at age 54.Here are a few other pieces of information about WrestleMania VI:One match — Earthquake’s defeat of Hercules — featured two wrestlers who are now both dead.It was Andre the Giant’s last major televised match; he died in 1993 at age 46.Dusty Rhodes, who won his first wrestling title in 1968, is 68. His tag-team partner, Sapphire, his opponents “Macho Man” Randy Savage and the Sensational Queen Sherri, and his surprise manager, Miss Elizabeth (who was in a “feud” with Macho Man, her real-life husband), died in 1996, 2011, 2007 and 2003, respectively.Just five of 14 matches featured wrestlers who are all alive today.Here’s the card with all of the televised matches for the night. I’ve marked the ones who are dead in red; it’s one-third of the wrestlers who appeared (12 of 36, plus Miss Elizabeth).For all the dramatized bloodshed of professional wrestling, the card for WrestleMania VI certainly looks like a bloodbath. Is there anything fishy about pro wrestling, or are my intuitions about what percentage of young 1990s athletes should be alive 25 years later just way off?Let’s look at some data.I collected biographical information (including date of birth and date of death, if applicable) from the Internet Wrestling Database on all WWF wrestlers who are/would be younger than 60 in 2014, and who had at least 20 pay-per-view appearances between WrestleMania I in 1985 and the time the WWF was forced to change its name by the World Wildlife Fund in 2002 — for 203 in all.I then calculated each wrestler’s chances of dying between the ages of 25 (roughly around when his or her career may have started) and however old he or she is/would be in 2014, using actuarial tables from the Social Security Administration. Because health technology has improved significantly, I used a 1990 actuarial table to cover years before 2000, a 2000 table to cover years 2000 to 2009, and a 2010 table to cover 2010 to the present.I then broke them down by age groups and compared each group’s death rate with its expected death rate:We can also calculate the probability of so many wrestlers dying in each age group and overall by chance (using binom.dist), and it comes out like so:Note: I calculated each wrestler’s odds individually, but the probabilities in the last column of this table are based on the average probability for each group (which gets us extremely close, though technically it could be calculated precisely).I don’t want to speculate as to the cause of this phenomenon, though a number of theories in varying shades of sinister spring to mind. But it saddens me to think that my 13-year old self was so thoroughly entertained by watching ghosts. Rest in peace.
Jerry Brown had consumed well below the Texas legal limit of alcohol when he died last month in a car driven by Dallas Cowboys teammate Josh Brent, according to an autopsy report.Neither Brown, a practice squad player, not Brent, the team’s starting defensive tackle, wore seat belts in the one-car accident on December 8. Brown’s blood-alcohol content was determined to be 0.0056 – nowhere near the limit of 0.08.Meanwhile, Brent’s blood-alcohol content was 0.18, which is more than twice the legal limit at the time of the accident. He has been charged with intoxication manslaughter and freed on $100,000 bond.The Dallas County Medical Examiner’s Office reported in its autopsy Thursday that Brown died of head and neck trauma when their vehicle overturned. He had a dislocated neck and a severely bruised spine. Brent apparently was unharmed and was seen pulling his friend from the wreckage when police arrived.Brent, who has been emotionally distraught since the accident, according to his lawyers, has received support from Brown’s family and even attended a memorial service for the deceased player at the behest of Brown’s mother.The Cowboys have supported Brent and encouraged him to attend a game last month. He was on the sideline for more than half of Dallas’ comeback victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers two weeks after the accident. When he learned his presence there caused somewhat of a commotion, Brent left the stadium. Coach Jason Garrett and owner Jerry Jones said they were unaware that Brent would be present at the game.A few days later, the team and league forbade him from attending any more Cowboys games.
Only teams with a playoff swing of at least 2 percentage points based on the game outcome shown Only teams with a playoff swing of at least 2 percentage points based on the game outcome shown Only teams with a playoff swing of at least 2 percentage points based on the game outcome shown With three weeks left in the NFL season, 11 playoff spots are open. That means that most of the remaining 48 games — save some stinkers like 49ers-Rams — will make some impact on the postseason. What are this week’s biggest games?For the last month, we’ve been using the model behind our 2016 NFL predictions to calculate how much each team’s playoff chances “swing” depending on the outcome of each game. For example, we currently give the Green Bay Packers a 31 percent chance of making the playoffs. If they beat Chicago this week, we project those chances will increase to 40 percent (independent of other games). If they lose, their chances drop to 11 percent.1Our NFL predictions are based on 100,000 simulations of the rest of the season and are updated after every game ends. In the simulations in which Green Bay beats Chicago, they make the playoffs 40 percent of the time. In simulations where they lose, they make the playoffs 11 percent of the time. But it’s unlikely that Green Bay’s playoff probabilities will be exactly 40 percent or exactly 11 percent at the end of Week 15, because the team’s chances depend on the outcome of several games, not just their own. The Packers’ current chances are much closer to 40 percent than to 11 percent because they are much more likely to beat the Bears (69 percent) than lose to them (31 percent). That’s a 29 percentage point swing! By doing this same math for every matchup and factoring in how each team’s resulting record will affect others’ playoff odds, we can find out which games are the most impactful.But “most impactful” only tells part of the story. Let’s say you’re a Green Bay fan, or a fan of any other team on the playoff bubble. Which set of outcomes would help the most this week? To help answer this question, we’ve updated our predictions page to allow you to pick the outcomes of every game for Weeks 15 through 17, so you can see how each matchup affects every team’s probabilities. In the “best case” scenario I could find for the Packers, they’d beat the Bears, but also Dallas would beat Tampa Bay, San Francisco would beat Atlanta, the New York Giants would beat Detroit, Indianapolis would beat Minnesota, and Carolina would beat Washington.With these six outcomes, Green Bay’s playoff chances rise to 58 percent. Go create your own scenarios! The five biggest games of Week 15 are below. Detroit84987127– Tennessee2425232– AFFECTED TEAMCURRENTIF NE WINSIF DEN WINSSWING Washington4649445– Minnesota1922174– Minnesota1923176– Buffalo24—4– Baltimore27322110– Atlanta9193894– Atlanta9189912– 1. Detroit (9-4) vs. N.Y. Giants (9-4) — 93 total ‘swing’ points Indianapolis3142– Denver54%33%78%44– We’re down to one wild card slot in the AFC. While neither Oakland nor Kansas City has officially clinched the postseason, we currently give both teams a greater than 99 percent chance, and only one of them (probably the Chiefs) will make it in as the AFC West champion. Denver is still clinging to that second wild card spot, but their loss to the Titans in Week 14 set their chances back. They’ll now face a brutal end-of-season schedule, facing New England, Kansas City and Oakland. 4. Carolina (5-8) vs. Washington (7-5-1) — 88 total ‘swing’ points 2. New England (11-2) vs. Denver (8-5) — 90 total ‘swing’ points CHANCE OF MAKING PLAYOFFS CHANCE OF MAKING PLAYOFFS Green Bay3127347– Tampa Bay54%85%42%43– N.Y. Giants7570778– 5. Tennessee (7-6) vs. Kansas City (10-3) — 72 total ‘swing’ points Atlanta9192893– Green Bay3135287– CHANCE OF MAKING PLAYOFFS Detroit8482853– AFFECTED TEAMCURRENTIF TB WINSIF DAL WINSSWING Miami27361521– Only teams with a playoff swing of at least 2 percentage points based on the game outcome shown 3. Tampa Bay (8-5) vs. Dallas (11-2) — 88 total ‘swing’ points Tampa Bay5457516– The Buccaneers have won five straight and control their own playoff destiny. Dallas is guaranteed a postseason slot, but if you choose an outcome to this game on our new NFL predictions page you’ll see that a win improves their chance of a first-round bye to 99 percent, and a loss drops them to 80 percent. This makes a huge impact on their Super Bowl probabilities, so the Cowboys — who are at risk of dipping into a quarterback controversy — have quite a bit to play for here. Only teams with a playoff swing of at least 2 percentage points based on the game outcome shown N.Y. Giants75%54%93%39– CHANCE OF MAKING PLAYOFFS AFFECTED TEAMCURRENTIF TEN WINSIF KC WINSSWING Houston75537926– Washington46375013– CHANCE OF MAKING PLAYOFFS The Lions had their eighth fourth-quarter/overtime comeback of the season on Sunday, and now somehow find themselves in contention for a first-round bye. But Detroit’s remarkable season has come against a pretty weak schedule, and they’ll have to wrap up the year against the Giants, Cowboys and Packers. The winner of this game would be nearly assured of a playoff spot, but the loser will be in decent shape. Green Bay, which is in the hunt for the NFC North, is rooting for the Giants. Tampa Bay, Washington, Atlanta and (somewhat surprisingly) Minnesota would prefer a Detroit win to improve their wild card standing. AFFECTED TEAMCURRENTIF DET WINSIF NYG WINSSWING Detroit8486824– Tennessee24%53%19%34– The Panthers’ playoff chances are more or less nil, but they have the opportunity to play spoiler three games in a row against Washington, Atlanta and Tampa Bay.2You may have noticed that Tampa Bay-Dallas and Carolina-Washington both have a “swing” total of 88 points. That number is rounded, but we use a little more precision when we determine the rankings, and Tampa Bay-Dallas is the (very slightly) more impactful game. Washington would miss the playoffs if the season ended today and would fall to having just a 1-in-5 chance of making them with a loss here. Washington46%22%64%43– Denver5452542– Pittsburgh8991874– N.Y. Giants75827012– Tampa Bay5458508– Green Bay31243310– Minnesota1914217– AFFECTED TEAMCURRENTIF CAR WINSIF WAS WINSSWING The Titans also control their own destiny! Wins against the Chiefs, Jaguars and Texans in the final three weeks will leave the Titans with a 10-6 record and an AFC South title. And yet, we give them just a 24 percent chance of making the playoffs. One reason for this is that this week’s matchup in Kansas City, where the Titans will be major underdogs by any measure. But it’s also possible that our ratings are understating the Titans’ overall strength. Elo carries over from season to season, and while most teams have shaken whatever effect 2015 had on their rating, Tennessee started in such a huge hole — their 2015 end-of-season rating was 1272 — that we’re still rating them as a significantly below-average team. A win in Kansas City would send their Elo, and their playoff chances, skyrocketing.CORRECTION (Dec. 15, 2:13 p.m.): A previous version of this article misstated the best-case scenario for the Packers in Week 15. In that scenario, the best outcome for Green Bay would be the Giants beating the Lions, not the other way around.Check out our latest NFL predictions.
Austria42410-5.35.915.9 10South Korea4823.4+11.4 17Slovakia1320.3+3.3 CountryGoldSilverBronzeTotalvs. Exp.REMAININGFinal Sources: Sports-Reference.com, International Olympic Committee Kazakhstan010.30.2+1.2 Austria410-5.35.9+15.9 Sources: Sports-Reference.com, International Olympic Committee That shortfall is easily the worst gap for any country that has won at least one medal in Pyeongchang — and the U.S. doesn’t have a lot of time left to turn things around.Lindsey Vonn, a favorite in the women’s downhill skiing race, and both the women’s and men’s hockey teams have a chance to provide the U.S. with some measure of redemption. And if all else fails, there are still a few more snowboarding events on the schedule. But even if the Americans pick up the pace and play to their historical form for the rest of the games, our formula puts their total medal count at 26, which would barely clear Team USA’s uneven performance at the 2006 Olympics in Torino, Italy.And considering what we’ve seen in Pyeongchang so far, 14 more medals seems like a stretch. Through Tuesday’s action, 67 percent of this year’s medals have been awarded, meaning that the U.S. is technically on pace (based simply on how many they’ve won to this point this games) for about 18 medals total. That would be the fewest that U.S. athletes have earned in a winter games since they nabbed 13 at the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, Japan.No matter how you slice the numbers, this continues to be a highly disappointing showing for the U.S. in South Korea. 6United States53412-10.814.026.0 7Olympic athletes from Russia03811-1.95.316.3 6United States512-10.814+26.0 20Spain0220+2.0 China07-0.63.9+10.9 Ukraine1001+0.00.21.2 Italy2248+0.43.311.3 Finland0033-18.104.22.168 5France54413+2.74.417.4 12Sweden470.24.7+11.7 Belarus1102-0.91.03.0 16Great Britain1034+22.214.171.124 Australia0213+0.61.24.2 Slovenia01-1.20.8+1.8 20Spain0022+2.00.02.0 Who’s ahead of pace — or falling behind — in Pyeongchang?Actual and expected medal counts by country in the 2018 Winter Olympics 17Slovakia1203+2.00.33.3 Latvia01-0.50.2+1.2 Kazakhstan0011+0.30.21.2 23Liechtenstein0110+1.0 10South Korea4228+2.03.411.4 3Canada85619+2.711.930.9 4Netherlands65314+4.35.419.4 2Germany117523-2.99.432.4 Switzerland27-1.25.7+12.7 5France5132.74.4+17.4 1Norway11299.38.1+37.1 2Germany1123-2.99.4+32.4 Italy280.43.3+11.3 Poland1012-126.96.36.199 Latvia0011-0.50.21.2 Australia030.61.2+4.2 8Japan25310+4.91.811.8 It’s now clear that the United States is destined for a very subpar Winter Olympics. With just 12 total medals in the games so far, the Americans are currently sitting sixth in the medal count — a whopping 17 medals behind Norway, the overall leader.According to the simple medal tracker we introduced over the weekend, the U.S.’s tally is 10.8 fewer than we’d expect at this point in the Olympics. (Our analysis is based on how countries have done historically in the various Olympic sports.) CountryGoldTotalvs. Exp.REMAININGFinal Who’s ahead of pace — or falling behind — in Pyeongchang?Actual and expected medal counts by country in the 2018 Winter Olympics 3Canada8192.711.9+30.9 4Netherlands6144.35.4+19.4 16Great Britain142.40.9+4.9 Slovenia0101-188.8.131.52 12Sweden4307+0.24.711.7 Belarus12-0.91+3.0 Expected Medals 8Japan2104.91.8+11.8 Finland03-2.93.5+6.5 China0527-0.63.910.9 23Liechtenstein0011+1.00.01.0 Poland12-1.10.7+2.7 1Norway1110829+184.108.40.206 7Olympic athletes from Russia011-1.95.3+16.3 Ukraine1100.2+1.2 Switzerland2417-1.25.712.7 15Czech Republic1236+2.32.08.0 Expected Medals 15Czech Republic162.32+8.0
Earlier this month, Major League Baseball said it was considering a rule change to require pitchers to face at least three batters per appearance — or finish an inning — as part of a series of initiatives to improve the pace of play. I don’t hate this; I’ve always been a fan of relief pitchers working longer outings. But I think the MLB proposal misses the real problem.The issue isn’t really with relievers who face just one hitter at a time. In fact, LOOGYs — Left-handed One-Out Guys — are already fading in popularity as teams realize that if a pitcher isn’t good enough to face multiple hitters in a row, he may not belong in the bullpen pecking order at all.Instead, the problem concerns teams that use a parade of relievers who enter the game from the sixth inning onward and throw the hell out of the ball, knowing they’ll probably max out at one inning at a time. (The Yankee bullpen is a prime example.) You might call these pitchers OMGs: One-inning Max-effort Guys. They can be incredibly, game-changingly effective, but they aren’t necessarily all that skilled.In fact, the whole problem is that OMGs are a renewable resource, with no real constraints on supply. Teams can take failed starters with two decent pitches and, after some weeding out, turn them into OMGs who will strike out 25 or 30 percent of the batters they face, provided they only have to throw one inning every second or third day. It also yields rosters that are grossly imbalanced relative to the amount of value that these relievers generate. According to FanGraphs, relief pitchers accounted for only about 9 percent of the value (in wins above replacement) that all position players and pitchers created last year. And yet, they occupy about 25 percent of roster slots.And to a larger degree than you probably realize, these OMGs bear responsibility for the ever-increasing rate of strikeouts in baseball — something that was easier to shrug off until MLB attendance started to decline.More relievers means more strikeoutsStrikeouts have been increasing for more or less the entirety of baseball history. Here’s the trajectory from 19081I’m using 1908 as the cutoff because that’s the earliest season for which Baseball-Reference.com has data on the number of pitchers used per game, which we’re comparing the strikeout rate against. up until last year — when, for the first time, more plate appearances ended with strikeouts than with base hits. As starterAs reliever That looks a lot like the previous graph showing the strikeout rate — the correlation is 0.96 — including a dip in both pitchers used and strikeouts at the end of the Deadball Era in the late 1910s and again at the end of the Second Deadball Era in the early 1970s, and then an especially steep acceleration in both strikeouts and pitchers used over the past few years.It’s not just a coincidence that relief pitcher usage and strikeout rate are correlated in this way. When you take a starter and use him in relief — especially in a short stint that typically lasts only an inning or so — his strikeout rate will be usually be higher, and sometimes a lot higher. You can also expect him to throw harder and to use a more dangerous repertoire consisting of more fastballs and sliders.Here’s the tale of the tape. Using data from FanGraphs, I looked at all pitchers who worked both as starters and relievers between 2016 and 2018, providing for a direct, head-to-head comparison of how the pitchers performed in each role. These pitchers’ strikeout rates were about 12 percent higher when they came on in relief than when they started. They also threw about a mile per hour harder in relief.4In my analysis, observations are weighted by the lesser of the number of batters a pitcher faced as a starter or as a reliever. For example, a pitcher who threw to 500 batters as a starter and 200 batters as a reliever would receive a weight of 200. Pitchers who averaged fewer than 15 batters faced per start, i.e. who served as “openers” or tandem starters, are excluded from the analysis. RH set-up60085 Share fastballs54.1%55.1% Games PitchedGames StartedInnings Pitched Strikeout rate18.7%20.6% Observations are weighted by the lesser of the number of batters a pitcher faced as a starter and in relief from 2016 to 2018. For example, a pitcher who threw to 500 batters as a starter and 200 batters as a reliever would receive a weight of 200. Pitchers who averaged fewer than 15 batters faced per start, i.e. who served as “openers” or tandem starters, are excluded from the analysis.Source: Fangraphs Observations are weighted by the lesser of the number of batters a pitcher faced as a starter and in relief from 2016 to 2018. For example, a pitcher who threw to 500 batters as a starter and 200 batters as a reliever would receive a weight of 200. Pitchers who averaged fewer than 15 batters faced per start, i.e. who served as “openers” or tandem starters, are excluded from the analysis.Source: Fangraphs Share sliders13.9%15.0% Five or fewer batters It’s much easier to throw an inning at a timeStatistics for MLB pitchers who worked as both starters and relievers, 2016-18, by how many batters faced per relief appearance No. 2 starter3333210 Long reliever/spot starter403100 Share fastballs53.6%54.0% There are a couple of peaks marking the end of the Deadball Era in the late 1910s and then another pitchers’ era in the mid-to-late 1960s, but overall the trend is very steady. Over this period, the correlation between the year and the strikeout rate is 0.91.One other baseball trend has been equally if not more relentless, however: As time has passed, teams have relied more and more on their bullpens. As a result, both starting pitchers and relievers have seen increasingly shorter stints. Thus, the number of pitchers per team per game has steadily increased, from 1.4 in 1908 to around 4.4 now.The correlation is stronger still if you look at the number of pitchers used relative to the number of plate appearances in a typical game.2This accounts for the fact that other things held equal, strikeouts reduce offensive output, and less offense means fewer plate appearances per game, since the team doesn’t get through the order as often. For instance, if you take the number of pitchers used per 38 plate appearances3More precisely, per 38.23 plate appearances. — over the long run, MLB teams average about 38 plate appearances per game — you get this: Share fastballs53.6%56.9% As starterAs reliever Emergency Pitchers10020 Strikeout rate18.4%20.6% Fastball velocity91.6 mph92.2 mph Fastball velocity91.5 mph92.3 mph September call-up starters5525 Share sliders12.6%13.6% Strikeout rate16.7%17.7% Total4671621,450 No. 5 starter3022150 RoleGames PitchedGames StartedInnings Pitched What a 10-man pitching staff might look like Fastball velocity91.7 mph93.6 mph Share sliders17.7%19.4% Fastball velocity91.6 mph92.5 mph Those are meaningful gains, but the really big differences come when you use pitchers in short stints that are roughly one inning long. In the next table, I’ve assigned the pitchers who worked both as starters and relievers into three groups: first, those who averaged five or fewer batters faced per relief appearance (these are guys who usually threw just one inning at a time — the OMGs); second, those who averaged more than five but fewer than eight batters faced (a mix of one-inning and multi-inning appearances); and third, those who averaged eight or more batters faced (mostly multi-inning appearances). Position players could still pitch, but they wouldn’t be allowed to pitch to a greater number of batters than the number of plate appearances they’d recorded so far on the season as hitters. A backup catcher with 100 plate appearances could face up to 100 batters as a pitcher, for instance (which works out to roughly 20 or 25 innings). With this rule, teams could use position players to pitch on an emergency basis basically whenever they wanted, but they couldn’t designate pitchers as position players just to circumvent the 10-pitcher requirement. Brooks Kieschnick types would need to have their innings and plate appearances monitored carefully.8Or teams could designate their Kieschnicks as pitchers; nothing in what I’m proposing would prevent a team’s 10 pitchers from being used at other positions.After the roster expanded to 40 players in September, minor league call-ups who were not on the 10-pitcher list could start games, subject to a requirement that they threw at least 60 pitches or five innings or — a mercy rule — gave up at least five runs. They could not appear in relief, however.Relief pitchers, especially the OMGs, aren’t going to like this, so the restrictions could be phased in over several years. For instance, you could start with a 12-pitcher limit beginning in 2020, then ratchet it down to 11 pitchers in 2022 and 10 pitchers in 2024 as teams adapted to the new requirements.As you can see, the goal here is to be fairly strict: While we want to provide for a bit of flexibility, we mostly want to force teams to stick to the 10 players they designate as pitchers as much as possible. For that matter, we’d probably also want to tighten rules surrounding the injured list and minor-league call-ups, which teams regularly use and abuse to add de facto roster slots — but that’s not a part of this proposal per se.Toward a new equilibriumSo how would teams use their pitching staffs under these rules? That’s anyone’s guess, and part of the fun would be in seeing the different strategies that teams adopted. But my guess is that the average team would do something like this to fill the roughly 1,450 innings that major league teams pitch in each regular season: Share fastballs55.6%55.8% Ace starter3434230 As starterAs reliever As starterAs reliever No. 3 starter3333195 Position players5010 LH set-up70075 Starters supercharge their K rate when working in reliefStatistics for MLB pitchers who worked as both starters and relievers, 2016-18 RoleGames PitchedGames StartedInnings Pitched Closer60080 Between five and eight batters Share sliders13.4%13.9% Strikeout rate19.9%23.9% The first group — the OMGs — got a massive, 20 percent boost to their strikeout rate as relievers. They also gained about 2 mph worth of fastball velocity. And they were able to throw fastballs or sliders — the pitches that seem to be at the core of increasing K rates — 76 percent of the time in relief as compared with 71 percent of the time as starters.Conversely, the third group — the long relievers who routinely worked multi-inning stints — got only a 6 percent gain in their strikeout rates relative to the ones they had as starters, and they added only 0.6 mph to their fastballs.LOOGYs aren’t really the problemThe MLB proposal would effectively kill off the LOOGY, along with its much rarer companion, the ROOGY. So it’s worth asking: If relief pitchers are especially effective when they’re limited to only one inning of work, does it follow that they do even better when limited to just one or two hitters? That is to say, could MLB’s proposal to require that pitchers face at least three batters cause an especially large reduction in strikeout rates?The answer is: not really. If you further break down our sample of pitchers and look at those who threw very short stints in relief,5Those who averaged fewer than four batters faced per relief appearance between 2016 and 2018. they actually had fewer strikeouts than those who averaged around an inning per appearance.6Four or five batters faced. A lot of this is selection bias: Guys who are brought in to face only one or two hitters at a time are usually mediocre pitchers with big platoon splits. Left-handers who became LOOGYs are generally worse as starting pitchers than the rest of the sample; indeed, they’re quite a bit better in relief than in their starting roles. Nonetheless, they’re not all that effective in relief — much less effective than the OMGs — and because they throw so few innings, they don’t affect the bottom line that much in terms of baseball’s strikeout rate. Durable middle reliever55090 Eight or more batters No. 4 starter3232180 This strategy envisions that starting pitchers would throw 6.0 innings per start, up from 5.4 innings per start in 2018 but a bit less than the 6.2 innings per start that pitchers averaged in the 1980s. Relievers would average around 1.6 innings per appearance, meanwhile — considerably up from 2018 (1.1 inning per appearance) and about the same as in the 1980s.Overall, this plan would entail using 2.9 pitchers per team per game, which is close to where baseball was in the late 1980s. But we could balance out the workload more effectively than teams did back then. As you can see in the table, we could get the necessary innings from a 10-man staff without having to ask starters to throw 270 or 280 innings, as ace starters sometimes did in the 1980s, and without having to ask closers to throw 140 innings a year, as sometimes happened too. Starters would have to work through the third time in the order a bit more often, but there would still be plenty of room for discretion on the part of the manager.The most consequential change would be that we’d cut down on the number of OMG innings. There would still be plenty of them, to be sure. But if you went overboard, it would come with a lot of trade-offs. If a team tried to employ five relievers who each worked 70 appearances of one inning each, for instance, its five starters would have to average about 6.5 innings per start, so they’d be working through the third time in the lineup a lot more often.And if you did want to use a pitcher to face only one or two batters, you could still do it, but it would be more costly still — with a 10-man pitching staff, someone else is always going to have to pick up the slack.This would also relieve (pun somewhat intended) the monotony of the OMGs. We wouldn’t be removing any spots from the 25-man roster. (In fact, we’d essentially be adding one for the Emergency Pitcher.) But we’d be requiring at least 15 of them to be used on position players. Pinch runners, pinch hitters, platoon players, defensive replacements and third catchers — all of whom have become endangered species as teams use every marginal roster slot on an OMG — would begin to roam the baseball field freely again.I’m reluctant to estimate the overall amount by which my rule change would reduce strikeouts or improve pace of play. That’s because baseball strategy is a dynamic system, and our goal is to change teams’ overall attitudes toward pitcher usage. Pitching to contact might become more common again, for instance, as starters would need to throw longer outings. Keep in mind that if starters are only expected to work through the order two or two-and-a-half times, tossing perhaps five or six innings, they can also throw at relatively high effort. So we wouldn’t just be reducing strikeouts by exchanging some OMGs for multi-inning relievers; starters would also have to pace themselves more, too.But if relief-pitcher usage has as close a relationship with strikeout rates as I think it does, the net effects could be substantial. This rule would essentially roll relief-pitcher usage back to what it was in the late 1980s or early 1990s and could bring strikeouts back toward what they were back then too, when pitchers struck out about 15 percent of the batters they faced instead of the 22 percent they do now.That’s probably too optimistic; at least some of the increase in strikeout rate undoubtedly has to do with pitchers being bigger and stronger and throwing harder than ever before.9Then again, hitters are probably also better than ever before. But some kind of intervention is needed. The OMG-dominated equilibrium of today may be ruthlessly efficient, but it isn’t making for an aesthetically or strategically rewarding form of baseball. And because LOOGYs are fading in popularity, they don’t necessarily contribute all that much to slowing down the game. Of the roughly 16,000 pitching changes in 2018, only about 5,000 occured in the middle of the inning, according to data provided to FiveThirtyEight by David Smith of Retrosheet. These midinning changes are indeed time-consuming — adding about 3 minutes and 15 seconds worth of game time, Smith estimates. (Pitching changes between innings add only about 15 seconds, by contrast.) But they aren’t all that common.How to bring balance back to bullpensThere’s a better idea than the MLB minimum batters proposal, one that would also speed up the game but that would yield more interesting strategy and — most importantly, from my point of view — cut down on the number of strikeouts, perhaps substantially. The core of my proposal is simple: Each team should be limited to carrying 10 pitchers on its 25-man active roster, plus an Emergency Pitcher.Like it? Hate it? Well, let me give you some of the details first:What’s an Emergency Pitcher? He’s a pitcher who could be signed either on a game-by-game basis — in the way that emergency goalies are used in the NHL — or for any length of time up to a full season. The Emergency Pitcher couldn’t be a member of a team’s 40-man roster, although — just for fun — he could be a member of a team’s coaching staff.7Maybe Bartolo Colon could play into his 60s as an Emergency Pitcher/pitching coach. Emergency Pitchers could enter the game only under certain circumstances:If the starting pitcher left the game because of injury;If one team led by at least 10 runs;If it were the 11th inning or later; orIf it were the second game of a doubleheader.
The first pick of this year’s NFL Draft, Jadeveon Clowney, is a defensive end, and his selection marks the first time since 2006 that a defensive player was taken No. 1 overall. But does that mean teams put more emphasis on defensive prospects as a whole this year? And while we’re at it, how much did they invest in each position?We can begin to answer these questions by looking at how many Jimmy Johnson draft-value-chart points teams devoted to each position (3,000 points for the top pick, 2,600 for the second, etc.). “The Chart,” as it’s affectionately known in NFL circles, isn’t a very good gauge of the relative value of each draft spot, but that’s mainly because NFL general managers tend to overvalue the right to pick early. Research on draft-day trades has shown The Chart does a great job of describing how valuable teams perceive each slot to be, which is a more relevant shade of meaning for our questions anyway.As it turns out, while Clowney and the 3,000 draft points the Houston Texans spent on him were a feather in the cap for defense, teams spent the majority of their draft points on the other side of the ball this year. Specifically, they used 52.9 percent of points on players listed at offensive positions, 47.1 percent on defenders and 0.03 percent (21.1 draft points) on punters and kickers.How do those proportions compare to other drafts? Well, last year, the numbers were flipped: 52.2 percent of draft points were devoted to defense, 47.6 to offense and 0.2 percent to specialists. The long-term tendency, though, is somewhere in between. Over the last 10 years’ worth of drafts, the average NFL team spent 50.3 percent of its draft points on offense, 49.3 on defense and 0.3 percent on special teamers. Here’s what that looks like graphically:Positionally, you might think this was a big year for defensive linemen, given Clowney’s top billing. But overall, defensive linemen received only 17.7 percent of all draft points, 3 percent below the position’s overall 2004 to 2014 average of 20.7 percent. (Meanwhile, their counterparts on the offensive line were up 3.4 percentage points to 20.5 percent.) Quarterbacks were also down 1.8 percent compared to their long-term average, and running backs had a 3.9 percent shortfall. The big winners of this year’s draft, then, appear to be pass-catchers: Teams spent 3.5 percent more on wide receivers and 1.3 percent more on tight ends than those positions’ usual distribution.Here’s the summary of the percentage of draft points spent on each position over the last 10 years of drafts:These long-term percentages can also give us an idea of how general managers tend to value positions relative to one another, but we need to adjust for how many players in each position are typically on the field at any given time — something we can do thanks to Pro Football Focus’s snap counts. Armed with that data, I computed an “index” of how important teams seem to consider a given position (given the amount of draft investment in it) relative to the average player on the same side of the ball.Teams spent 15.2 percent of their points on running backs over the past decade, despite running backs only making up, on average, 1.3 of the 11 offensive players (11.8 percent) on the field for any given snap. Running backs have an index of 128, then — meaning teams used 28 percent more draft points on them than we’d expect.This metric is far from perfect — the draft is a fundamentally forward-looking endeavor, while the snap counts are retrospective and track an entirely different set of players — but it provides a good reference point when comparing this year’s draft to the long-term valuation of each position.
See more NBA predictions NBA Things That Caught My EyeDarkest timeline!The Philadelphia Eagles will play the New England Patriots in Super Bowl 52, and New England is the slight favorite: Our Elo model gives them a 58 percent chance of winning the game and Tom Brady winning a sixth ring. The Patriots had an 18 percent chance of winning the Super Bowl at the start of the season, a figure which rose to 31 percent by the start of the playoffs. [FiveThirtyEight, ESPN]Guilty monster hears impact statementsLarry Nassar, who pleaded guilty to multiple counts of criminal sexual conduct and federal child pornography charges related to his capacity as the U.S. Gymnastics team doctor, has heard pre-sentencing from over 100 of his victims speaking out about the impact his molestation had on their lives. Still, with other topics dominating headlines, major cable networks haven’t been devoting time to the explosive story of the serial molester who worked inside the U.S. Gymnastics team for years. [Media Matters]Vikings doomed by a strength, againPrior to the Minnesota Vikings game against Philadelphia, Kyle Wagner wrote that the Vikings had historically always been doomed by that which was their perceived strength. Incidentally, the all-time third down defense which allowed third downs to be converted to first downs only 25.2 percent of the time — league best since 1991 — choked in the match against Philly, with the Eagles converting 10 of 14 thirds into firsts. [FiveThirtyEight]Try out our interactive, Which World Cup Team Should You Root For?A massive “neutral” contingent at the Olympics this yearRussia was banned from the Pyeongchang games, but Olympic Athletes from Russia were not, though they will compete under a neutral banner. An IOC panel has excluded 111 of 500 Russian athletes put forward, but of the 389 remaining competitors the neutral squad could be up to 200 Olympians, which is only a few less than the 214 who competed for Russia at Sochi. [Inside The Games]Surely Foles will also be perfect in the Super Bowl, of course.In the second half of his win against national sweethearts the Minnesota Vikings, Nick Foles had a perfect passer rating of 158.3 and a perfect QBR of 99.9. Certainly he can replicate that feat reliably to pull off the win against New England in two weeks. [Bill Barnwell]Make sure to try your hand at our fun NFL game: Can you beat the FiveThirtyEight predictions?Big Number29,993That’s how many points LeBron James has scored in his career, and with only seven points to go until 30,000 and a game against the Spurs Tuesday, he’s nearly a lock to become the fastest NBA player to score 30,000. LeBron has scored 10 or more points in his past 836 games, so I’d say it’s likelier than not, you know? [ESPN]Leaks from Slack, Sunday Night: sara.zieglerLOL, Vikings.gfoster:Super Bowl 52 may go down as the worst ever.tchow:Amazinggfoster:Line? Pats -8.5?neil:-5.5colleen:hahaha no one is going to like this super bowlPredictions NFL All newsletters See more NFL predictions Oh, and don’t forgetScrew the Empire State Building have just a little pride you citywide embarrassment. We’re launching a sports newsletter. 🏆 Join the squad. Subscribe
1. How will quarterback Terrelle Pryor be used, and how effective will he be?The better question might be, will he have an opportunity to?Pryor fought through an ankle injury for the majority of the second half of the season, and coach Jim Tressel compensated for his hampered mobility by calling more rushing plays. Pryor attempted 17 passes in each of Ohio State’s last three games, victories over Penn State, Iowa and Michigan. In those contests, the Bucks ran the ball 49, 51 and 53 times, respectively.Now, Pryor revealed that he has been suffering through a torn ligament in his knee, though both he and Tressel have firmly maintained that the injury won’t limit him Friday.“He’s very healthy,” Tressel told the media Thursday. “He can move around very, very well.”Centering on the ground game certainly benefitted the Buckeye offense, however. The team rushed for at least 225 yards in each of its last five contests, all wins. Pryor, who threw just four interceptions during his freshman campaign, tossed nine in the first eight games this season.But ever since the Bucks reverted to a run-heavy attack, Pryor has committed just one turnover in four contests.Pryor has apparently cleaned up his mechanics after a sloppy start to the season, with help from a dependable rushing attack. Whether or not he will be asked to carry more of the offensive burden lies within Tressel’s trust of his progressing quarterback.2. Can the Buckeyes slow down an up-tempo Oregon offense?The Ducks posted 37.7 points per game during the regular season, even after being limited to eight points in a season-opening loss at Boise State.While the Buckeyes tend to methodically inch toward the end zone, the Ducks rarely waste any time putting points on the board.In its 47-20 victory over USC on Oct. 31, Oregon recorded three drives covering 80 or more yards. Each series resulted in a touchdown, and each lasted fewer than three minutes.When the Ducks piled up 42 points in a Nov. 7 loss to Stanford, they continuously struck immediately. Oregon scored a touchdown at the end of a 93-yard drive that lasted just one minute and 16 seconds. The Ducks scored five touchdowns following that lengthy drive, the five drives lasting eight seconds, two minutes and 43 seconds, one minute and 46 seconds, two minutes and 43 seconds and 52 seconds, respectively. That’s six touchdowns in eight minutes and 59 seconds. In the longest of the six drives, which persisted for two minutes and 43 seconds, the Ducks squeezed in 12 plays.Clearly, the Oregon offense moves rapidly and effectively.Still, Tressel believes that if necessary, Oregon could sustain a lengthy drive just as successfully.“All you have to do is go back to their last game [against Oregon State], and they needed to keep the ball for five or six minutes,” Tressel said. “They can possess the ball if they’d like. And in that case, the game ended where I don’t think Oregon State got another chance with the ball.” 3. Will Ohio State suffer from the absences of Ray Small, Duron Carter and Rob Rose?“We are definitely going to miss them,” receiver DeVier Posey said. “But we still have a game. I love those guys to death, I miss them on the trip, but we still have to play.”The trio were suspended for the Rose Bowly. Small and Carter, the team’s No. 3 and No. 4 receivers, respectively, during the regular season, only combined for 28 catches. In their place, Lamaar Thomas and Taurian Washington, both frustrated about their lack of playing time, will see the field.“They got an opportunity now and they’ll show up,” Pryor said about his new set of weapons on offense. “They’ll catch the ball.”Along the defensive line, the Buckeyes have plenty of bodies to rotate in to replace Rose’s production. Defensive tackle Dexter Larimore will return from a knee injury, and defensive coordinator Jim Heacock can substitute a number of players at the end position, where Rose typically lines up.“We got [Defensive lineman] Garrett [Goebel] stepping up and Johnny [John Simon] is playing a little end,” senior defensive end Lawrence Wilson said. “We got guys stepping up and filling in [Rose’s] place. We should be fine at the end spot.”
Fans expecting a show from the Ohio State baseball team would have to wait for the post-game fireworks as the Buckeyes were helpless against the Iowa Hawkeyes in a 7-0 loss Friday night at Bill Davis Stadium. With senior ace Drew Rucinski on the mound, OSU (22-23, 10-9) looked to build momentum after their win over No. 19 ranked Oklahoma State against the Hawkeyes (19-27, 8-11). Instead, Hawkeyes put on a clinic as they dominated the Buckeyes at the plate and on the mound. They had 11 hits, several of which weren’t hit very hard but found a place in the outfield anyway. “It seemed like it was a ‘hit it where we ain’t’ situation tonight for them,” coach Greg Beals said. “We didn’t have enough going on tonight to win the ball game. It just was one of those nights.” Iowa attacked OSU systematically from the plate, with timely and consistent hitting as they increased their lead throughout the game. The real star of the game was Iowa starter Jared Hippen. The lefty mystified the OSU lineup with an array of off-speed pitches, scattering three hits and striking out five for the complete game shutout. His circle-change kept the Buckeyes guessing. “He’s throwing that soft stuff and as a hitter you just want to whack at it,” freshman outfielder Tim Wetzel said. “It was like whiffle-ball.” “You have to give him credit, he did a good job of mixing speeds on us,” Beals said. “We didn’t stay patient and had we capitalized on the fastballs, it might have been a different story.” Senior outfielder Brian DeLucia described his frustration facing Hippen. “He had a lot of junk,” DeLucia said. “I credit this game to bad defensive at-bats and slow stuff we weren’t used to facing.” The series resumes Saturday at 3:05 p.m. at Bill Davis Stadium between OSU and Iowa. Missed Chances OSU did have chances to generate runs in lieu of Hippen’s performance, but didn’t come through on those chances. They were 0-for-8 at the plate with runners in scoring position. “We had our chances tonight,” Beals said. “When you get those opportunities to drive runs you have to put those balls in play. Rucinski Comes Up Short Rucinski lost his first Big Ten game of the season Friday night. He was previously 3-0 with a 2.54 ERA in conference play. “I thought he pitched the ball pretty good tonight,” Beals said. “Iowa’s a scrappy team that got their hits when they needed them tonight.”
Sophomore guard Ameryst Alston sets up for a free throw during a game against Penn State Feb. 23 at the Schottenstein Center. OSU won, 71-62.Credit: Ritika Shah / Asst. photo editorThe Ohio State women’s basketball team came into Indianapolis having never lost a first round game in the Big Ten tournament.That trend continued with an impressive 86-77 victory against the No. 9 seed Northwestern Wildcats (15-15, 5-11) Thursday.The Buckeyes (16-17, 5-11) were once again led by first team All-Big Ten sophomore guard Ameryst Alston, who poured in a game-high 30 points. It was the fourth time she has reached the 30-point mark this season and the second time she has done so against the Wildcats — the other being during a 71-62 victory Feb. 23.OSU coach Kevin McGuff, whose career record improved to 18-7 in conference tournaments, had plenty of praise to give his star guard.“She is a really special player and a great kid and she was just so aggressive,” McGuff said in a post-game interview with the Big Ten Network’s Shelley Tills. “She is really hard to contain off the dribble and got to the rim all night.”Alston, who scored 20 of her 30 points in the second half, said it wasn’t just her doing.“I have to thank my teammates for that,” Alston said to the Big Ten Network’s Katie Witham on her 30-point performance. “They gave me the ball at the right times and the right places.”OSU also received two double-double performances from senior center Darryce Moore and senior forward Martina Ellerbe. Moore, despite fouling out, finished one point shy of her career-high as she recorded 19 points and 10 rebounds. Ellerbe tallied a career-high in rebounds, pulling down 13 boards to go along with 16 points.“Our players stayed relentless,” McGuff said. “We were really aggressive, especially in the second half.”The Buckeyes jumped out to an early lead before the Wildcats ended the first half on a 16-0 run to take a 39-35 lead into the half, culminated by a buzzer-beating 3-point shot by freshman forward Nia Coffey.Northwestern coach Jim McKeown said at the half he was happy with the way his team was playing.“We played better defense, we got out and ran and got better shots,” McKeown said.The Wildcats had four players score in double-figures, including 17 from Coffey, who also grabbed 11 rebounds. Sophomore guard Maggie Lyon recorded a team-high 23 points, on 6-18 shooting for the Wildcats in the loss.The Buckeyes will now turn their attention to the No. 1-seeded and regular season Big Ten conference champion Penn State Nittany Lions (22-6, 13-3) who defeated OSU in both regular season meetings — outscoring the Buckeyes 140-96 in the two games combined.Although OSU has not had success against the Nittany Lions this season, McGuff said his team will be ready to go Friday afternoon.“I am happy we won this one but we are going to quickly turn the page to Penn State,” McGuff said. “They have a great team, they are very well-coached, so we will have to be on our A-game tomorrow, but we are going to show up ready to play.”In order to pull the upset against Penn State, Alston said the Buckeyes will need to come out with the same intensity they had against the Wildcats.“We are going to take the energy from this game and take it to the next game,” Alston said. “We have to win the boards and that is what happened today, getting second chance shots.”“We don’t want to go home.”The Buckeyes and Nittany Lions are scheduled for a noon tipoff Friday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.