We can use this regression analysis to estimate how much this year’s first-round playoff series should affect a team’s odds for the second round. We accomplish this by computing the probability of a team winning its second-round series based on its regular-season SRS,5The calculation works by computing the probability of a team winning each game of its second-round series based on the Excel formula NORMSDIST((SRS_team-SRS_opponent+HCA)/11.3) where SRS_team is a team’s SRS, SRS_opponent is its opponent’s SRS, and HCA is home-court advantage, which takes a value of 3.2 when the team is playing at home and -3.2 for road games. Once we have an estimate of a team’s win probability for individual games, we can run through all possible sequences of wins and losses in a best-of-seven series and compute the team’s probability of winning the round. and then, alternatively, with a modified version of SRS that accounts for how many games it took to win the first round and its average margin of victory in those games.Actually … I don’t have the guts to show you those numbers. The effects are so pronounced that I don’t quite trust them; a number of other studies have documented the importance of rest to NBA teams, but they haven’t shown quite so large a magnitude. More important, if you use the same formula to compute the effect of the second round on the conference finals, for instance, or the conference finals on the NBA Finals, you don’t see anything like this. So what I’m going to show you instead are the numbers based on a toned-down version of the formula that computes the numbers-based data from all playoff rounds, and not just the first round. Perhaps there’s something unique about the first round and how a team transitions to the second round, but I’d have to be convinced. If you want to see the numbers based on that uber-aggressive version of the formula, check the footnotes.6The second-round series odds based only on the first-round regression are as follows: Washington, 65 percent likely to beat Indiana (!!); San Antonio, 60 percent against Portland; Miami, 99 percent (!) against Brooklyn; Los Angeles, 52 percent against Oklahoma City.Indiana Pacers vs. Washington WizardsOriginal SRS odds: Indiana 76 percent to win the series.Modified SRS odds: Indiana 54 percent to win the series.The formula has the Pacers going from being 3-to-1 favorites to beat Washington to about even money. This is obviously something of an extreme case of a No. 1 seed struggling and facing a No. 5 seed that played very, very well and is much better rested. I might be biased since I’ve been called a wizard, but I can buy that the series is about even given how much Indiana struggled late in the regular season.Miami Heat vs. Brooklyn NetsOriginal SRS odds: Miami 88 percent to win the series.Modified SRS odds: Miami 95 percent to win the series.Miami swept its opening-round series, while Brooklyn needed seven games to beat the Toronto Raptors. Hence, the Nets have gone from really big underdogs to really, really big underdogs.San Antonio Spurs vs. Portland Trail BlazersOriginal SRS odds: San Antonio 78 percent to win the series.Modified SRS odds: San Antonio 69 percent to win the series.San Antonio needed seven games to beat Dallas, but Portland took six to beat Houston in a very competitive series. Part of this, however, is that the Spurs had more to lose, since they were heavily favored against Dallas while Portland wasn’t against the Rockets.Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Los Angeles ClippersOriginal SRS odds: Los Angeles 51 percent to win series.Modified SRS odds: Los Angeles 52 percent to win series.SRS had this series as a toss-up before, and since both the Thunder and the Clippers took seven games to win their first-round series, nothing much has changed.The good news for the Pacers is that if these results are mostly about fatigue, they could reset the table by beating the Wizards relatively easily. The bad news is that they aren’t likely to do so: The formula gives Indiana only a 21 percent chance of beating Washington in four or five games. By contrast, it gives Miami a 33 percent chance of sweeping Brooklyn, and a 70 percent chance of winning in four or five. So the Pacers’ plodding performance is likely to catch up with them sooner or later, even if they get by Washington. A close call in the first round of the NBA playoffs doesn’t always doom a team. In 2008, the Boston Celtics, coming off a 66-16 season, needed seven games to get by an Atlanta Hawks team that had gone 37-45. But they wound up winning the NBA title.Those Celtics, however, may be more the exception than the rule. In fact, an extended first-round series is often an ominous sign for the winning team. If recent history is any guide, then this year’s Indiana Pacers, who needed seven games to defeat this year’s Hawks, may be no better than even money against the Washington Wizards, whom they begin playing Monday night.Since the NBA went to a best-of-seven first round in 2003, teams that swept their first-round series won their second-round series 76 percent of the time. Teams that needed five games to beat their first-round opponent won the next series 60 percent of the time. But those teams that needed six games to win the first round won the second round only 34 percent of the time, and those that took the full seven games did just 36 percent of the time.One may assume these results reflect selection bias: The teams that won their opening series in four or five games were presumably better, on average, than those that took longer to do so. But this is only part of the story. Suppose we look only at teams seeded No. 1 or No. 2 in their conferences. Since 2003, teams from this group that swept the first round won the second round 94 percent of the time. Those that required five games won the second around 77 percent of the time. And those that needed six games or seven games won the second round 62 percent of the time.1I’ve lumped the six- and seven-game series together in this description because the sample size is otherwise small. From 2003 to 2013, only four No. 1 or No. 2 seeds needed the full seven games to win their opening series. (These were the 2003 Detroit Pistons, the 2006 Phoenix Suns, and the 2008 and 2009 Celtics.) Three of the four (all but the 2009 Celtics) also won their second-round series. On the other hand, of the nine No. 1 and No. 2 seeds that took six games to win the first round, just five won the second round as well.Still not convinced this is a real phenomenon? We can further account for the effect of team quality by evaluating how a team performed relative to its regular-season power rating. Specifically, we can formulate a projected scoring margin for each second-round game based on each team’s SRS rating from the regular season and whether it has home-court advantage. (This is equivalent to a point spread.)2For instance, in the 2012-13 regular season, the San Antonio Spurs had an SRS rating of 6.76, while the Golden State Warriors had one of 1.32, a difference of 5.44 points. When these teams played second-round games in San Antonio last year, giving the Spurs an additional boost of 3.2 points based on the home-court advantage, this projection would have favored San Antonio by 8.64 points total.We can then average a team’s margin of victory or defeat throughout the second round and compare it to what was expected from its SRS. The advantage of this approach is that it accounts for a team’s overall strength and that of its opponent based on each team’s regular-season performance.This analysis produces some highly significant effects. On average since 2003, teams that swept their opening-round series outperformed their SRS projections by 3.0 points per game in the second round. Those that took the full seven games in the opening round did much worse than expected in the second round, by contrast, underperforming their SRS by an average of 5.7 points per game. These are enormous differences in the context of highly competitive playoff series.A more complicated version of the analysis accounts both for how many games a team took to win its opening-round series and for how well it performed relative to its SRS projections in the first round. It’s worth distinguishing these because a close call in the first round, like the one Indiana had, could lower our expectations for a team’s second-round performance for either of two reasons. First, if a team plays more games, it could be more fatigued. Second, playoff performance provides some evidence about a team’s quality under playoff conditions.3For instance, if a No. 1 seed that was favored to win each game by 10 points sweeps the opening round, but does so by winning four games at the buzzer instead, that could imply the team was overrated, even if it’s going into the second round fresh.If we put both factors into a regression analysis, where the dependent variable is a team’s performance relative to its SRS in the second round, we find that the number of games it played in the first round is by far the more important factor. In other words, the principal worry for a team that takes six or seven games to win the first round is fatigue and not necessarily poor play. In fact, the variable for a team’s margin of victory relative to its SRS in the first round is not statistically significant, although it has some interesting practical implications.4The coefficient on the first-round margin of victory variable, netsrs_rd1, is about 0.14. This implies that a team’s performance relative to its SRS in the first round of the playoffs tells us about 14 percent as much as its regular-season performance. This is a bit more than you’d expect if first-round playoff games were as important as regular-season games in predicting a team’s future performance. A team that plays 82 regular-season games will have played 5 percent and 8 percent of its overall games in the playoffs after the first round is completed, depending on how many games its opening series lasts. That the coefficient is 14 percent, rather than something in the range of 5 to 8 percent, implies that each playoff game is two or three times more important than a regular-season game in predicting a team’s future playoff course. Interestingly, this corresponds to the extra significance attached to opening-round games in the NCAA basketball tournament. However, our estimate of the coefficient is not very precise, so we should be careful of making too much of this result.
Mark Price1988-8999979562.3 Dirk Nowitzki2006-0794909560.5 Larry Bird1987-8899899860.8 Kyle Korver2014-1597th100th97th73.1% PLAYERSEASONFG%3PT%FT%TS% In the NBA, the apex of individual shooting is a 50-40-90 season — shooting 50 percent from the field, 40 percent on 3-pointers and 90 percent on free throws. Not many people can sustain that kind of accuracy from inside and out. Since the three-point line was adopted for the 1979-80 campaign, just six players (in 10 seasons overall) have hit 50-40-90 on their percentages.1For the achievement to qualify, a player needs to have made 300 field goals, 55 3-pointers and 125 free throws in one season.Kyle Korver is doing his best to become the 11th. There are a handful of players within striking distance of 50-40-90, but only Korver, the Atlanta Hawks’ All-Star shooting guard, is on pace to achieve it. Korver is operating on a different plane of existence right now — shooting 51.2 percent from the field, 52.3 percent on 3-pointers and 91.1 percent from the free-throw line. He could have the first-ever 50-50-90 season.Since the 1979-80 season, 1,184 player seasons have met the minimum benchmarks, and the overlap between their shooting percentages emphasizes just how rare the achievement is that Korver is chasing.Korver’s performance so far became more astonishing the more I looked at the numbers. If we include him in those 1,184 player seasons (he hasn’t met the minimum benchmarks but is on pace to,2But just barely for free throws. Korver is on pace to make 125 free throws, and 125 is the cut. barring injury), his percentages this season would rank in the 97th percentile in both field-goal percentage and free-throw percentage. His 3-point percentage would be the best of any player in the sample. If we compare those percentile ranks with the other 50-40-90 seasons, along with True Shooting Percentage, Korver has a legitimate claim to the greatest shooting season of all time. Reggie Miller1993-9495919663.6 But can Korver keep this up for the rest of the season? What we know about players regressing to the mean suggests probably not. But we’re more than halfway through the season, and the possible variability in his end-of-season percentages is reduced with each shot he takes. In Korver’s case, nothing’s guaranteed — yet.The chart below shows, for each season, how many percentage points Korver’s final field-goal percentage differed from the percentage he was shooting at other points in the season.3I used percentage of total shot attempts to track his progress rather than games played. Steve Nash2009-1096939961.5 Steve Nash2008-0995969961.5 Steve Nash2005-0697969863.2 Kevin Durant2012-1397909664.7 Larry Bird1986-8789989361.2 Steve Nash2007-0895999664.1 If we assume Korver will play the rest of the season, attempting field goals, free throws and 3-pointers at the same rate as he has to this point, then he has just passed the 65 percent mark. Going by the trend line, we would expect his current field-goal percentage to vary from his final mark by about 1.3 percentage points. Shooting exactly 51.2 percent from the field at this point, hitting 50 percent from the field does not seem secure.Using the same technique to look at his free-throw shooting yields a similarly murky projection.By the trend line, we would expect Korver’s current free-throw percentage to vary by as much as 2.3 percentage points from his final tally. Because he’s shooting 91.1 percent from the line, he could easily fall below the 90 percent threshold. Korver typically attempts far fewer free throws than shots from the field, this season included, and thus there is a lot more variability throughout the season.Interestingly, the mark that seems most secure — his 52.3 percent shooting on 3-pointers — could be his undoing. Here is the same chart for his 3-point percentage.It’s unlikely that Korver’s 3-point percentage would drop 12.3 percentage points, to dip below 40 percent, by the end of the year. But his field-goal shooting is highly dependent on his 3-point shooting — 72.7 percent of Korver’s shot attempts this season have been 3-pointers. He has made just 55 of his 114 shots inside of the arc — 48.2 percent. We should potentially expect more variation in his field-goal percentage than the chart above indicates. If Korver’s 3-point percentage declined by 2.3 percentage points by the end of the season, it would dip below 50 percent; his overall field-goal percentage would drop by 1.6 percentage points, also sliding below 50 percent. If Korver is going to finish the year with a field-goal percentage above 50 percent, he’ll probably need the cushion of keeping his 3-point percentage above 50 percent as well.Korver is chasing history and walking a tightrope. He has put up a half-season’s worth of shooting efficiency that can stand against anything in the record books. But if 50-40-90 is the goal, it’s not time to exhale quite yet.
Having worked for several years as the ticket taker at New York’s Cinema Village, Young Ma has seen all sorts of films come through the three-screen theater. He’s seen sparsely attended independent projects screen for one night only, and he’s seen “The Interview” draw lines around the block when Cinema Village was one of the few theaters willing to brush aside hackers’ threats and show the film. But “United Passions” left a unique impression on him. The distributors of the film about the origins of FIFA, which was reportedly made for somewhere around $27 million, booked the big theater — about 150 seats — and the film was shown four times a day for a week, starting on Friday, June 5.“To be honest with you, nobody came,” Ma said. “I don’t think people cared.” Ma’s not quite right: People came — but hardly any. The Hollywood Reporter revealed that the film made $140 in its opening weekend at Cinema Village, meaning that, on average, every screening of the film had an audience of about one paying customer.1That’s a back-of-the-napkin estimation: Cinema Village averaged $11.67 per show over the course of 12 shows. If we assume everyone paid the $12 adult ticket price, we get 0.972 tickets sold per show. I attempted to calculate interest in the film nationally, and it appears that “United Passions” packed the lowest rate of butts in the seats per screening for any film in the past 20 years.The math isn’t complicated so much as it is shrouded in blind spots. Here’s what we know: The movie made $918 — total — in its opening weekend … and maybe nothing after that. All the reporting and most of the databases2Except, strangely, Box Office Mojo, which shows it making $607. show it finishing with that figure. Most movies make 70 percent of their sales during the weekend,3Here’s how movie ticket sales break down throughout the week, according to The Numbers:Friday — 23.1 percentSaturday — 28.1 percentSunday — 18.8 percentMonday — 8 percentTuesday — 8 percentWednesday — 7.1 percentThursday — 6.8 percent which would make the real tally for “United Passions” slightly more than $1,310 if it followed that pattern.But even if we give the movie the benefit of the doubt and assume it made $1,310, it still opened in way more theaters than the other movies that grossed this little.The Numbers (tagline: “Where Data and the Movie Business Meet”) has collected the domestic gross box office of every film it could get data on for the past 20 years and adjusted the numbers for inflation. Of the 10,257 films in its list, “United Passions” comes in 10,181st. None of the 76 films that grossed less than “United Passions” opened in more than five theaters. “United Passions” screened in 10. After reaching out to some theater operators and investigating movie listings, I found that those theaters were showing the film between four and five times per day for an entire week. So if we assume that the national average was 4.5 screenings per location per day, it would mean that “United Passions” earned roughly $4.20 per showing in the U.S.4More math: 10 theaters * 4.5 showings per day * 7 days = 315 showings. $1,310/315 = $4.16. The lowest-grossing domestic release of all time, “Zyzzyx Rd,” took in about $5.10 per showing.5The film, starring Katherine Heigl, made $30 over the course of seven screenings in 2006. After adjusting for inflation, that works out to just over $5 per showing. As long as “United Passions” screened more than 3.67 times per location, on average, it was even less attended than “Zyzzyx Rd.”While most big-budget movies open to hundreds of screens, smaller films often experiment with a platform release, in which a movie tests the waters in major cities before expanding nationwide. Screen Media, the domestic distributor for “United Passions,” picked theaters that are consistent with that model, although 10 screens is a bigger rollout than most indies opt for. The business model for these types of releases varies widely, from a revenue split to a “four wall” deal in which the distributor basically rents the theater and keeps the receipts. It’s unclear what Screen Media did — after initially saying that he’d call me back, Screen Media’s vice president of business affairs, David Fannon, stopped responding to emails and calls.“I’ve never gotten so many calls about such a small movie in my career,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for Rentrak, a real-time television and movie measurment service. Although the Hollywood Reporter referenced Rentrak as the source of its box-office numbers, Dergarabedian wouldn’t confirm them without permission from Screen Media. He did point out that the movie was simultaneously released as a video on demand, which may have hurt turnout. Because Screen Media hasn’t officially approved of the release of those VOD numbers, either, we don’t know. The movie did perform better — if not well — overseas, grossing roughly $178,000, according to Dergarabedian.For many, the press’s full-pitch coverage of the extraordinarily low American box-office results was just the final helping of schadenfreude to pile onto this doomed movie and its subject, FIFA, the world governing body of soccer. The historical drama covers the evolution of the organization through the perspective of its leaders as they give earnest speeches and attempt to expand their reach for the good of the game. In the London Evening Standard, Des Kelly called the film “a sugar-coated pile of manure.” Tim Roth — who played FIFA’s now-disgraced president, Sepp Blatter, in the film — told the German newspaper Die Welt, “This is a role that will have my father turning in his grave.” The only star of the film who showed up for its screening at the Cannes Film Festival was Gerard Depardieu. Perhaps that’s because the artistic director of the film festival said that he only screened the film after Depardieu badgered him into it and that the film was never eligible for the Palme d’Or because it lacked the quality to be an official selection.Then, on May 27 — just over a week before “United Passions” was to debut in U.S. theaters — FIFA officials were indicted on federal corruption charges right before the start of the organization’s annual conference. On June 2, Blatter announced his resignation. Three days later, the movie opened.One theater owner noted the remarkable timing when discussing the film’s performance at his venue. “Anyone that has even a minor awareness could sense that something was going on,” said Greg Laemmle, president and CEO of Laemmle Theatres, which includes Los Angeles’s NoHo7, where the film was shown for a week. “But arrangements had been made months before.”Dergarabedian, however, thinks that, if anything, the news around the scandal should have helped ticket sales. “‘United Passions’ was put in an unbelievable spotlight,” he said. “There was free publicity.” But because there was no discernable marketing push surrounding the news — perhaps because FIFA itself reportedly funded more than 75 percent of the film and had no interest in further embarrassing itself — the movie wasn’t able to take advantage.The NoHo7 ended up being the top-grossing theater in America for “United Passions,” drawing in a reported $249 during its opening weekend. Laemmle chuckled and told me that he’d heard that his theater had come out on top. He said that sports films have a hard time drawing in audiences accustomed to consuming content on television but that he still felt there was a market for similar movies. “Under the right circumstances,” he said, “we’ll show something about the pioneering Rooney and Mara families in the formation of the NFL.” At the very least, it should be able to attract multiple moviegoers at a time.Walt Hickey and Hannah Fingerhut contributed reporting for this article.
Photo by The Associated Press.David Ortiz, affectionately known as “Big Papi,” etched his name and nickname deeper in Boston sports lore Wednesday, leading the Boston Red Sox to a 4-2 World Series victory over the St. Louis Cardinals.Ortiz did not even get a hit in Wednesday night’s 6-1 clincher; the Cards gave up trying to get him out, so they walked him four times, three times intentionally. But he had done enough damage in the previous five games to take the trophy.“I know I’m one of the forces for this ballgame and I like to take things personal,” he said. “And that’s been my whole career, a challenge. I wasn’t trying to be the guy, but I know I got to get something done to keep the line moving. I don’t even have to do anything (Wednesday). I guess, the rest of the team took over.”Ortiz batted .688 for the series with two home runs and five RBI in the Series. Consider that the rest of the Red Sox hit .169 with a 484 OPS and two home runs.Manager John Farrell was asked to describe Ortiz. “Well,” he said after a pause, “I’d probably rather let his bat do the talking, because it’s pretty special.”The Red Sox faithful at Fenway Park rained chants of “MVP, MVP” during each of his plate appearances Wednesday night.“He just keeps writing new chapters,” general manager Ben Cherington said. “I know great players are great, are more likely to be great in any moment but it’s hard to see him in those moments and not think that there’s something different about him. He’s locked in. We’ve seen him locked in before but to do it on this stage, and do it in so many big moments, I can’t add anything more to the legend that’s already there, but he keeps writing more chapters on his own.”Ortiz’s .760 on-base percentage and batting average were the second-highest in Series history, trailing only Billy Hatcher’s marks of .800 and .750 in 1990 for Cincinnati.“This guy’s unbelievable,” St. Louis catcher Yadler Molina said on Fox audio.
LeBron James has called out President Donald Trump for the way the way he says the commander-in-chief has used sports to break the nation apart.“What I’ve noticed over the last few months [is] he’s kinda used sport to divide us and that’s something that I can’t relate to because I know that sport was the first time I was ever was around someone white. … Sports has never been something that divides people, it’s always been something that brings people together,” James tells CNN’s Don Lemon Monday, July 30.At the 9:49 mark, Lemon asks James about how Trump has called out athletes like Steph Curry and Colin Kaepernick for refusing to visit the White House or kneeling during the national anthem. James says there are times when the president has used Black athletes as a scapegoat.“I believe he uses anything that’s popular to try to negate people from thinking about the positive things that they can actually be doing and try to just to get our minds to not be as sharp as possible right then,” James says at the 11:16 mark. “You look at Kaepernick, who was protesting something he believed in and he did in the most calm, fashion way possible. Very respectful. He did all his due diligence. He was knowledgeable about it and everyone knew why he did it.”As for the possibility of James, who has grown more political in recent years culminating with his critique earlier this year of Trump not caring about “the people”, running for office, the baller shot it down. However, when asked if he’d enter the presidential race if only Trump were an option, James gave it a second thought.“Well, in that case, I may,” he said. “If they had no one, I mean, I believe there’s some people out there, I hope. Let’s see first. Let’s see first.”But that doesn’t mean he’d be eager to have a chat with Trump face-to-face.“I would never sit across from him,” James says. “I’d sit across from Barack [Obama], though.”
Umps are getting better, and they’re also remarkably consistent. An ump who makes more accurate calls in one year will likely do the same the next; an ump who misses more calls in a given season will likely be as bad the next. Umpire accuracy is more steady than a player’s batting average or a pitcher’s ERA, and as consistent as OPS (on-base plus slugging) and wins above replacement.To see how this works, look at the performance of Lance Barksdale and Tim Welke. While they both follow the league’s general trend of increased accuracy — more about that later — they have, respectively, been one of the best and one of the worst umpires over the past seven years. The difference between Barksdale and a league average ump is about five correct calls per game; the difference between Barksdale and the league’s worst umpire is closer to 10 calls a game. On average, that’s about one judgment call per inning that a good ump is getting right and a bad ump is getting wrong. That might not sound like much, but if once every six outs a batter gets another swing after a third strike that wasn’t or a pitcher strikes a hitter out on a pitch that’s actually a ball, you can start to see the impact.Given their differences, umps develop reputations. Near the end of infielder Mark DeRosa’s 16-year career, he knew what to expect from the umpire calling balls and strikes. “You gain knowledge over the course of being in the big leagues for the course of a couple of seasons,” he said. “You understand which umpires are a little bit wider in their zone, who are a little bit more north-south, who’s going to force the pitcher to come tight.”Before games, he and his teammates would even talk about what they could expect during the game: “A comment would be passed back and forth, whether we should be pulling the trigger tonight or ‘this guy is normally a hitter’s umpire and likes to force the pitcher to come back over the plate, so let’s be a little bit more picky with what you’re going to swing at.’ ”An umpire who understands what calls he is missing is an ump who can improve. “It was amazing how my perspective of the strike zone changed when I got this technology,” Dellinger said. “I thought pitches were on the plate, until you get that data back. You see that some of those pitches were not on the plate. It wasn’t something that was done intentionally. It was just your perception of the strike zone. I was able to quickly make adjustments based on having that information, which was huge to me.”Seeing the data, however, can make fans less charitable. “They see a pitch that is out of the box, and they think, ‘Aw, he’s a bad umpire,’ ” Dellinger said. “I’m thinking, ‘You should have seen it 15 or 20 years ago.’ ”He’s right — ump accuracy has improved since 2008. But it has been on only one type of pitch: strikes.While umps call balls no differently than they did seven years ago, they’re accurately gauging strikes at much higher rates. This distinction is so large that Brian Mills, a professor of tourism, recreation and sports management at the University of Florida, cites the increasing size of the strike zone as accounting for about half of the league’s 50-point drop in OPS since 2008. In other words, steroid testing isn’t the only change responsible for MLB’s drop in offensive output. It’s also more called strikes.While the league and the umpires association have access to data showing that specific umps tend to be better at calling balls and strikes, it does not appear that they use this information to reward those who are the most accurate with choice assignments, like the All-Star Game or the postseason.2MLB declined to make specific umpires available for interviews but did let Peter Woodfork, senior vice president of baseball operations, and Randy Marsh, director of major league umpires, talk.According to Peter Woodfork, senior vice president of baseball operations, balls and strikes play a role, but don’t write Lance Barksdale’s name into your World Series scorecard just yet. “Once you meet a standard, you’re in the mix,” Woodfork said, likening the selection process to that of the NCAA tournament. Assignments are doled out using a mix of analytics and judgment: “Balls and strikes is taken into account along with field work, rules, instant replay and handling situations. Professionalism also factors into grading umpires. The plate work may carry more weight in the evaluation, but they are all important.”If plate work is important, it hasn’t shown in playoff assignments. According to numbers from BaseballSavant.com, umps who were No. 70, 71 and 76 in the accuracy rankings (out of 79) called balls and strikes in the ALCS last year, with only one of the top 10 umps receiving a league championship series or World Series spot. And this more exhaustive look at umps also finds that postseason spots do not appear to be linked to regular-season performance. “Like any other profession, you can go up and go down, but the consistency over time often helps,” Woodfork said. “We don’t ignore what you’ve done in the past, but that year carries the most weight.” If that’s true, expect our old friend Barksdale to receive a high-profile opportunity, as his 90 percent accuracy rate through July 1 is far and away the best single-season number in our data.But while decisions on postseason spots won’t come for several weeks, MLB has already had one opportunity to reward an umpire for past performance, getting to pick a home plate umpire for July’s All-Star Game. It chose Tim Welke — the same Tim Welke who has consistently had one of the league’s worst rankings since 2008. Dusty Dellinger knows how difficult it is to be an umpire. “There’s an old saying that they expect you to be perfect from day one and get better,” the former Major League Baseball official said over the phone. As the director of Minor League Baseball Umpire Development and the Minor League Baseball Umpire Training Academy, he knows how elusive perfection can be.Correctly calling 140 pitches flying 90-plus mph and breaking six inches or more is a near-impossible standard. And when mistakes are made, players and managers aren’t bashful. Jonathan Papelbon said D.J. Reyburn should “go back to Triple A” after a confrontation over balls and strikes. Joe Girardi complained about inconsistency. Larry Andersen did too after he retired, labeling the men behind the plate arrogant. You don’t have to look too hard for more examples.That’s led plenty of people to wonder when robots will come for the umps’ jobs. But lost amid those blue-sky dreams is what’s happened to the way we judge the blue behind the plate. Technology has changed how we can evaluate umps. It shows that umps are getting better, that there’s a significant gap between the best and worst, and that the best umps aren’t working the biggest games.After every game, umpires receive a report from the league office that informs them about their accuracy, their correct calls, and the ones they missed. Pitchers, hitters and fans have near-instant access to information on an umpire’s accuracy, too. The chart below shows the accuracy rates for calling balls and strikes for each ump since 2008, when MLB installed the PITCHf/x tracking system in every stadium.1The data was collected from BaseballSavant.com. Umps in the data set saw at least 3,000 pitches (called balls or strikes) in each season, with a smaller restriction (1,800 pitches) for 2015.
You’re reading Significant Digits, a daily digest of the telling numbers tucked inside the news.4-0The Chicago Cubs beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 4-0 Wednesday night in the National League wild-card game (check out our live blog for a recap), meaning that the boldest forecast in the history of forecasting or boldness is still on the table. [ESPN]10 yearsArtemisinin, a first-line treatment for malaria, just scored its developers a Nobel Prize in medicine. Problem is, malaria is a parasite and parasites are good at evolving, so parasitology experts believe artemisinin will be obsolete within five to 10 years. I am not a doctor, but I advise that if you plan on getting malaria, you should aim to do so within the next five to 10 years. [FiveThirtyEight]52 weeksThe Gates Foundation is offering its 1,382 employees a year of paid leave after the birth or adoption of a child. [The Huffington Post]40 membersApproximate strength of the “Freedom Caucus” within Congress, a group of hard-line Republicans who came out Wednesday backing Florida representative Daniel Webster for the speakership over Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy. Provided that bloc holds, McCarthy would not have enough votes to win the top spot in the House on the first ballot. [The Washington Post]90 daysFIFA’s ethics committee has voted to hand down a 90-day provisional suspension to the soccer organization’s president, Sepp Blatter. The news here is not the suspension, but the fact that FIFA actually has an ethics committee. Who is on this committee? Snidely Whiplash? Lex Luthor? Resuscitated Richard Nixon? Victor Von Doom? Is it just several bales of hay with crayon-scrawled-on-paper-plate faces stuck on them? Is this the same committee that runs sensitivity training for The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants or OSHA on the Death Star? The concept that anyone within FIFA is tasked with maintaining a sensible degree of ethical behavior is insulting to the intelligence of soccer fans. More to the point, where have they been for the past ever? [BBC]487 clientsA preliminary deal was struck earlier this week between the U.S. and 11 other pacific nations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership. A lot of negotiating on the trade pact was going on domestically, too — a Center for Responsive Politics review of lobbying disclosures over eight years found 487 different clients paid lobbyists to hit up government officials to plead their case on the TPP. [The Center for Responsive Politics]535 phone numbersPeople Magazine, typically regarded as a celebrity gossip magazine, has published the 535 phone numbers corresponding to each senator and member of Congress and has asked readers to call their representatives about how to respond to mass shootings. [The Week]$700,000The White House will spend $700,000 on standing desks, presumably due to the craven political pursuit of trends that so plagues our society. People built a civilization sitting down to work, folks — believing anything else is merely ergonomic arrogance. [Mashable]1,360,747Number of homeless students in the United States, about twice the number there were in the 2006-2007 school year. Part of this increase is due to improved data reporting: States are getting better at identifying homeless students. [FiveThirtyEight]$20 millionA state judge rejected a proposed change to the name of Paul Smith’s College to Joan Weill-Paul Smith’s College. The change was proposed after Weill offered $20 million to the upstate New York school in exchange for getting her name on the door, but Smith’s will appears to forbid it. [The New York Times]If you haven’t already, you really need to sign up for the Significant Digits newsletter — be the first to learn about the numbers behind the news.
When Jim Tressel was hired at Ohio State in 2001, he came to Columbus unproven at the Division I level of football. But 103 victories, six Big Ten championships and a national title later, few are second-guessing OSU’s decision to hire the former Youngstown State coach. Tressel will probably be the first coach to leave OSU on his own terms since Carroll Widdoes did in 1945. It also isn’t wild conjecture to say that he will likely leave the program stronger than it was when he replaced John Cooper. It’s still impossible to know when Tressel will leave. But at 57 and in his 10th season with the Buckeyes — and with a contract that expires in 2014 — it’s not too early, or difficult, to speculate on potential replacements. Once Tressel puts his sweater vests back in the closet for good, expect to see these four coaches (all of whom have ties to OSU) among several other potential candidates. Urban Meyer Urban Meyer will likely be the most sought-after candidate to replace Tressel, and with good reason. The Ashtabula, Ohio, native has won two national championships coaching the Florida Gators and is one of the strongest recruiters in the nation. A lifelong OSU fan, Meyer wore the No. 45 jersey in honor of Archie Griffin as a kid and got his first collegiate coaching job as a graduate assistant at OSU in 1986. He said he idolizes Woody Hayes and even carries a Buckeye in his pocket for good luck. Meyer is also someone who Tressel holds in high regard. “I think it is another thing for Ohio to brag about,” Tressel said in 2007 of Meyer’s Ohio connection. “We like to say Ohio is the birthplace of football and it is one of the great football states. Yes, we are proud (Meyer) is an Ohio guy.” But luring Meyer back to OSU is unlikely for several reasons. One is his health — chest pains caused by esophageal spasms nearly forced the 46-year-old Meyer into retirement last season. Even though he returned to Florida after only three months of absence, his coaching future remains questionable. Another issue with Meyer is whether his offensive scheme can work against Big Ten defenses. In theory, Meyer’s dynamic spread attack would be a welcome change from Tressel’s conservative and often predictable playcalling. But similiar offenses in the Big Ten have had trouble against the conference’s robust defenses. Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez, Illinois coach Ron Zook and former Michigan State coach John L. Smith have all tried to use spread offenses in the Big Ten, to find marginal success. It’s unclear whether Meyer would even want the OSU job if he chose to leave Florida. Although his Ohio roots run deep, his name is often linked to the Notre Dame coaching job, which he has said is his “dream job.” That might seem laughable after a comparison of recent OSU and Notre Dame football teams, but if coach Brian Kelly’s tenure with the Fighting Irish turns out to be anything like his first season with the school, Meyer might get called to Notre Dame before Tressel retires. Bo Pelini Bo Pelini is one of the rising stars in the coaching world. In only his third year with Nebraska, Pelini has brought the Cornhuskers back to relevance after years of futility. Nebraska is ranked No. 8 in the BCS standings. His teams display a power running game that, combined with an aggressive defense, seems patented for Big Ten football. His body of work has impressed Tressel. “You can see he’s done a great job of making sure that everyone understands the responsibility they have to live up to this tradition, the way that things are done in Huskerland,” Tressel told Nebraska’s Omaha World-Herald in April. “I think he’s very methodical, very prepared.” A former captain for the Buckeyes who played at OSU from 1986 to 1990, Pelini will probably hear his alma mater calling him when Tressel departs. And he’ll have to listen, even if his immediate focus is on Nebraska. “They have a great coach,” Pelini said of OSU to Cleveland’s Plain Dealer in April. “Coach Tressel will be here for a long time. They’ve got a great staff. All I worry about is what I’m doing in my current job.” Besides a likely pay increase (Tressel’s annual salary is $3.5 million, compared to Pelini’s $2.1 million), the OSU job would put him in one of the nation’s most prosperous recruiting grounds, giving him resources he doesn’t have at Nebraska. And although Pelini has revived the football culture at Nebraska, the temptation to return to his home state might be strong enough to take him from Lincoln. It remains to be seen how Nebraska’s move to the Big Ten will affect his commitment to the school. Pelini’s contract, like Tressel’s, expires in 2014. Luke Fickell Of all the assistant coaches at OSU, none has been as heavily pursued as 36-year-old Luke Fickell. A defensive lineman who started a record 50 consecutive games for OSU from 1993 to 1996, Fickell has become one of the most important assistants on Tressel’s staff, serving as the linebackers coach and co-defensive coordinator for the past six seasons. Coaching one of the most heralded defenses in the nation has given Fickell plenty of attention from other schools. In 2008, Fickell was a candidate for the head coaching job at Bowling Green and in 2009 was nearly hired at Akron, although those jobs were eventually given to older coaches. “Luke was recommended as someone I should speak with during the process, and we had a productive phone conversation,” Bowling Green athletic director Greg Christopher told The Lantern. “Luke obviously has a passion for the game.” He also turned down the chance to coach Notre Dame’s defensive line in 2009. Former Buckeye linebacker James Laurinaitis cites Fickell as one of the most influential coaches on the staff and someone who challenges his players every day in practice. “I think when Coach Tressel decides to leave that Fickell is definitely someone they’re going to have to look at,” Laurinaitis said. “He’s a great leader and he’s going to be a great head coach some day, whether he’s at Ohio State or somewhere else.” Fickell hasn’t given any indication about his immediate future, which could come into question once the season is over. “To think about someplace else wouldn’t even cross my mind,” Fickell told The Lantern. “I don’t have enough time in the day.” Darrell Hazell Another assistant coach who shouldn’t be overlooked is Darrell Hazell. As the assistant head coach and receivers coach at OSU, Hazell has made his mark by taking overlooked recruits such as Santonio Holmes, Anthony Gonzalez and Brian Hartline and molding them into solid NFL receivers. Roy Hall, a former OSU receiver playing with the Omaha Nighthawks of the UFL, said the success of OSU receivers is a testament to Hazell’s disciplined teaching methods. “Coach Hazell is extremely detail-oriented and he brings kind of a military approach to the way he does things,” Hall said. “He demands a lot of the receivers there and he has a lot of insight on the game of football.” Hazell is also one of the team’s most effective recruiters, a desired trait for anybody aspiring to be a college coach. In addition to his coaching assets, he can reach his players on a personal level, Hall said. “He’s a mentor and he gives you a lot of insight on life as well as football,” Hall said. “He’s one of those coaches that you would invite to a wedding.” Multiple requests to speak to Hazell were declined. Though his work with receivers is well-documented, his role with the rest of the offense is somewhat mysterious. Never one to hog the spotlight, Hazell usually backs away from questions about his role in play-calling and whatever other duties he might have with the offense. That humility might exclude him from pursuing a head coaching job at OSU. However, his competitive edge might someday prove otherwise. “He’s a huge competitor and he’s just a student of the game,” Hall said. “He takes on the war approach when he goes into a game. He knows about everybody on the (other team’s) defense, not just the defensive backs. He’s a winner, and having that ‘never-give-up’ mentality would make him a great coach.”
ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Braxton Miller’s name was repeatedly spelled incorrectly on the Michigan Stadium video boards during the Ohio State football team’s 40-34 loss to Michigan.For the record, it’s “Braxton,” not “Braxston.”Despite Michigan’s victory, Wolverines fans likely won’t forget Miller, or the proper spelling of his first name, after the freshman quarterback’s debut in the UM versus OSU rivalry at the Big House Saturday.Miller helped open the scoring for the Buckeyes when he found sophomore wide receiver Corey “Philly” Brown on a 54-yard touchdown pass less than three minutes into the game.That was just the opening act for Miller in a game that featured six lead changes.OSU fell behind Michigan at several points in the first half, but Miller helped OSU overcome one deficit with a 19-yard touchdown run that put the Buckeyes up, 17-16.The freshman collected 100 rushing yards on 16 carries, and averaged six yards per carry.With the Buckeyes trailing, 23-17, with 1:21 to play in the first half, Miller connected with senior receiver DeVier Posey on a 43-yard touchdown pass to retake the lead at 24-23.Miller finished the game with a career-best 235 passing yards on 14-of-25 passing.One pass that Miller didn’t connect on was a deep ball intended for Posey that was overthrown, but even that elicited complimentary remarks on Miller’s command of the offense by Posey.“That was a call that (Miller) made. I just felt that was a grown-man call that he made,” Posey said. “I was like, ‘Let’s go,’ and he just missed it by a little bit.”Miller also went toe-to-toe with Wolverines’ junior quarterback Denard Robinson, whose five touchdowns and 337 total yards of offense were just enough to upend the Buckeyes.Miller said he wasn’t focused on the matchup against Robinson.“I wasn’t paying attention to that. I was just trying to win the game,” Miller said. “I was doing my best to help my team win the game. I had fun doing it.”Despite several overthrown balls by Miller on the day, Posey said he spoke to Miller after the game and offered words of encouragement.“That’s one thing about that kid that I admire so much — at such a young age, (Miller) is such a fighter,” Posey said. “No matter what it is, he’s going to make some plays. He’s a hell of a player.”First-year Michigan head coach Brady Hoke agreed.“Miller threw the ball well,” Hoke said. “With his ability to run the dual threatness that he presents, we got distracted a little bit with our eyes.”Miller led the offense onto the field with less than two minutes to play and a final shot at victory in “The Game.”The Buckeyes’ last-ditch effort to notch a come-from-behind victory was thwarted by Michigan as a Miller pass was intercepted by Wolverines’ sophomore cornerback Courtney Avery.“I was just trying to get the job done,” Miller said.Then the celebration began as Michigan took to a victory formation and downed the ball on its ensuing possession, which brought an end to its seven-game losing streak to the Buckeyes.By the time he addressed the media after the game, Miller had already begun to focus on the 2012 season, though.“I’m just going to go watch film and fix my mistakes,” he said. “I’m just starving for next year.”OSU (6-6, 3-5) will now wait to see if it receives a bid to a postseason bowl game.
What Michigan players could pose a threat to OSU’s defense? The key to Michigan’s offense is junior quarterback Denard Robinson. Robinson is a dual-threat to run and pass the ball and has gotten better each year in the Michigan program. Robinson has passed for 1791 yards and 15 touchdowns on the year, but has also rushed for 947 yards and 14 touchdowns. Despite his success, he has shown a tendency to turn the ball over this year and has amassed 14 interceptions on the season. Ohio State head coach Luke Fickell said he’s wary of the Michigan quarterback. “He poses a lot of problems,” Fickell said. “Any defensive anytime the quarterback’s got the ability to keep plays alive, running the football, it makes you struggle a little bit on defense with some things you can do and the chances you can take.” Can freshman quarterback Braxton Miller handle the “Big House?” Playing in front of 110,000 is always a daunting task, but has to be especially intimidating to a true freshman quarterback. OSU quarterback Braxton Miller has backed down from pressure all season, but Michigan Stadium will be a different test. The last Buckeye freshman quarterback to play in the OSU-Michigan didn’t seem to have any problem — former OSU signal-called Terrelle Pryor led OSU to a 42-7 victory as a freshman in 2008. Fickell said he doesn’t think Miller will have any problems. “I think that Braxton will continue to do what he’s done,” Miller said. “He’s a competitor. And sometimes the best thing you can be as a young guy and not realize exactly the magnitude of some different things.” Will the Buckeyes be at full strength Saturday? Senior linebacker Andrew Sweat missed last week’s game against Penn State with a concussion. Sweat has been ruled out for Saturday’s game due to an elbow injury he sustained during a Wednesday practice. The only other Buckeye who’s status is uncertain is sophomore defensive back Christian Bryant. Fickell also called Bryant “questionable.” Final score prediction: OSU 20, Michigan 31 Can Ohio State continue their dominance and beat Michigan? OSU has won its last seven meetings against Michigan with the last lost coming in 2003. On average the Buckeyes have won by an average of over two touchdowns as 15.7 points per game. But this year OSU comes into Ann Arbor as the unranked underdog coming off back-to-back losses. Michigan is ranked No. 15 and is coming off consecutive victories against Illinois and Nebraska. Fickell disregarded the notion of being an underdog and said that in a rivalry like this, records don’t matter. “In a rivalry like this, a lot of those things go out of the window and records go out of the window, and a lot of things are going to be scrapped,” Fickell said. “There’s going to be unbelievable passion on both sides of the football because of what this means.” Fickell will be sure his players know the importance of the game, but the OSU defense has struggled all season against teams that can run the ball on the edge, something Michigan specializes in. Expect Robinson and the Wolverines to end OSU’s winning streak.