Though the object of just about any sport is to outscore the opponent, teams that finish a whole season with the biggest scoring margin don’t always emerge as champions. That seeming contradiction is common in leagues that decide their champions with playoffs because weaker teams sometimes overachieve in the postseason. But it also happens now and then in the major European soccer leagues, which crown their champions based solely on regular-season results.Usually, this sort of luck evens out. The club that wins all of its one-goal matches one season will have a good chance to win its league’s title without leading in goal differential. But it will find it tough to repeat the feat: Winning a title that way is like walking a tightrope, compared to the relatively straightforward path for the team with the best goal differential.That luck, though, has almost never played out in Liverpool’s favor. Its extended run of difficulty turning positive scoring margins into trophies demonstrates that there is more to winning titles than winning the scoreboard: Scoring at the right time and protecting slim leads are also important. Then again, considering this misfortune has persisted across many different Liverpool managers and players, it may also just be the latest evidence that sports often aren’t fair.At least one of the factors behind Liverpool’s 24-year title drought must feel like hard luck to supporters of the Reds. Liverpool leads major European clubs, by a wide margin, in failing to turn scoring margins into wins — the necessary ingredient for league points and thus titles — since the debut of the English Premier League, 22 years ago. One of its top Premier League rivals, Manchester United, has led the league in points relative to expectation based on goals scored and allowed. So Liverpool received little return on investment while Man U got a windfall.This season, that all could have changed. In soccer, a win typically is worth three points in the league table, while a draw is worth one. A couple of weeks ago, with a struggling United out of the title race, the Reds won their 11th consecutive league match, over Norwich, and led that other Manchester club — Manchester City — by five points, even though Man City held the better goal differential, +54 to Liverpool’s +52. Winning a title without leading the league in goal differential would have provided plenty of catharsis for Liverpool supporters.But ahead of its season finale Sunday at home against Newcastle, Liverpool has fallen off the pace. It blew a three-goal lead to Crystal Palace on Monday in the second half. City took control of the title race with a 4-0 win against Aston Villa on Wednesday. City leads Liverpool by two points and holds an unassailable lead of 13 goals in scoring margin, which determines the league champion if two or more teams tie for the points lead.1City won the league title two years ago, over Manchester United, based on the same goal-differential tiebreaker. If clubs have the same goal differential, then total goals decides the champion, and if they tie there, too, a one-game playoff decides things. To win the title, Liverpool must now beat Newcastle and hope West Ham upsets City in Manchester.Even if Liverpool doesn’t win the title Sunday, two of Europe’s other three strongest leagues, in Italy and Spain, could be won by a club that didn’t lead the league in goal differential.It would be unusual for two or more champions in England, Italy, Spain and Germany to trail a rival in goal differential. On average since 1992-93, it’s happened in one of the four leagues each year, and just once every other year in the last decade.Across all sports, the relationship between scoring margin and winning can differ subtly. In the last few paragraphs, I’ve been comparing soccer clubs by goal differential, since that’s the stat that commonly appears in league tables. But the difference between goals scored and goals allowed is an incomplete way of assessing team performance. The club that scores 50 goals and allows none will suffer no losses, and likely will have a better record than a rival that scores 150 goals and allows 75.Those who analyze the four major U.S. pro sports leagues for the connection between scoring margin and winning percentage look to the Greek philosopher Pythagoras as their muse. His formula for C, the length of the longest side of a right triangle, or the hypotenuse, is A^2 +B^2 = C^2, where A and B are the lengths of the other two sides, respectively. As baseball-stats pioneer Bill James first found to get a good first estimate of a baseball team’s winning percentage, you can draw a right triangle where one of the two shorter sides has a length equal to the number of runs scored by the team, A; and the other of the two shorter sides has a length equal to the number of runs allowed, B. Then the team’s winning percentage will roughly be the square of the ratio between A and C.That, again, is a starting point. For baseball the best exponent to use in this formula turns out to be lower than 2, closer to 1.8. Some analysts also prefer to adjust the exponent depending on the run-scoring environment. And other sports have different exponents — basketball’s, for instance, is much higher.Soccer presents a Pythagorean challenge because about a quarter of its matches end in draws, worth one point each in the league tables. Because wins are worth three points, the most accurate Pythagorean analyses overestimate most teams’ points totals, as soccer analyst Howard Hamilton has found. I got the same result when seeking the best exponent for the last 21 complete seasons of the big four European professional leagues, using data compiled by Opta, the soccer-stats providers and analysts. The best fit,2Using Microsoft Excel’s Solver function, and seeking to minimize the root mean square error. an exponent of 1.19, overestimated the average team’s final standing by 4.6 points.Advanced analysis in soccer is younger than its cousin disciplines for other sports, and there isn’t yet a consensus about how to solve this conundrum. Hamilton derived a formula — published in a peer-reviewed journal — to account separately for the probability of wins, losses and draws. Others have calculated formulas with three separate exponents. Depending on which approach analysts use, and which years and leagues they’re studying, the results can vary a bit, though typically they’re able to predict a team’s final points total to within three to five points.I tried several of these approaches with my Opta-supplied data set, and found the best balance between complexity and accuracy was one that used two exponents: one for teams’ goals scored, and one for goals allowed.3I was seeking a formula to relate goals scored and goals allowed to points percentage — points divided by available points, which I set to the number of matches multiplied by three, though some leagues in some seasons gave two points per win. The general form was: Points percentage = (goals scored)^A/(goals scored)^B + (goals allowed)^C. Setting A, B and C equal, as one does when using the formula for other sports, creates the problem of overestimating point totals in soccer. Letting each exponent be different yielded a root mean square error — roughly speaking, the typical miss in the forecast of a team’s results — of 4.3 points. I then tried a different set of exponents for each of the four leagues, and got hardly any benefit: an overall RMSE of 4.2. Then I forced A and B to be equal to each other, since they were being applied to the same base. That also had little change (RMSE = 4.3). So I stuck with that relatively simple model: Just two exponents, the same for each league in each season. The resulting exponent for goals scored was 1.18, and for goals allowed 1.23. The model worked well for each league and each season, not overestimating or underestimating for any league’s set of teams by more than half a point on average, or for any single year by more than a point on average. The model produced an estimate for each club, for each season, of how many points it should have received given its number of goals scored and allowed. And that let me to calculate which teams consistently outperformed or underperformed their expected records.Among the 73 clubs that were in their countries’ top tier for at least 10 of the 21 seasons between 1992-93 and 2012-13, Liverpool was by far the biggest underperformer, at 3.5 points per season. No other club underperformed by even two points per season. Atlético Madrid, which is now the club most likely to win a big league this season without leading it in goal differential, is another historic underperformer, by 1.4 points per season.Even this year Atlético has been more good than lucky. Though Barcelona and Real Madrid have better goal differentials, Atlético has conceded far fewer goals. For the very best clubs, a goal allowed is costlier than a goal scored is valuable, because the surrendered goal could turn a win into a draw and cost two points.4ESPN’s Soccer Power Index, developed by FiveThirtyEight editor-in-chief Nate Silver, operates on the same principle, rating clubs that concede fewer goals — after adjusting for opponent strength — more highly than clubs with the same scoring differential but more goals conceded. For this reason, Chelsea, in third in the EPL this season in the table and in goal differential, could have expected to be ahead in the league table because it has been the stingiest in allowing goals. Based on my model, Atlético could have expected to be just ahead of Barcelona and Real Madrid based on goals.Had Liverpool been just slightly better at turning goals into wins, it might have won three league titles in the last two decades. In 1995-96, Liverpool conceded one fewer goal than league champs Manchester United over the 38-match season, while scoring three fewer. According to my formula, that should have amounted to a near-tie at the top of the table; instead, United won by 11 points. By goals scored and allowed, Liverpool also should have been neck and neck with Arsenal in 2001-02: Arsenal scored 12 more but conceded six more, as well. Yet the Gunners outgunned Liverpool by seven points in the final table. It was United, again, thwarting Liverpool’s title hopes in 2008-09: The Reds scored nine more goals than United while conceding just three more, which should have been good enough for a one-point edge in the final table. United won by four points.Many of Liverpool’s goals have come when the club least needed them, with a match’s outcome already decided. For instance, in 2001-02, Liverpool was 13-3 in matches decided by two goals or more, with a goal differential in those matches of +29. In February, Liverpool faced a hot Ipswich Town club that had won seven of eight league matches. Liverpool won, 6-0. In the season finale, they met again, and Liverpool won, 5-0. Ipswich Town lost only two other matches all season by more than two goals.Even when Liverpool has been out of the league race, it’s often had hard luck. In 1998-99, the Reds scored 22 more goals than West Ham United, while allowing four fewer. Yet somehow the Hammers finished ahead of Liverpool.Liverpool didn’t deserve any of the titles it didn’t win. Clubs know their target is points, not goal differential. Those that win the league without leading in goal differential might be better at protecting one-goal leads, or less intent on running up the score on weak opponents. It turns out that winning is about as good a predictor of future winning as are any stats based on goal differential.5A club’s point percentage for a season, in the data set, had a higher correlation to point percentage the next season (0.66) than did the first year’s goal differential per game (0.63), and about the same as the ratio of goals scored to goals allowed (0.66), while just slightly trailing the correlation between the first year’s predicted point percentage and its actual percentage the next season (0.67). That doesn’t necessarily mean that a club’s points total is the best indicator of team quality. It could be that the better a club does, the better players it attracts in the transfer market. Also this comparison omits any clubs that were relegated to a lower division for a bad Year One performance. Nonetheless, there’s no evidence here that the basic goal-differential stats do a better job of predicting future results than do past results.Even so, for the same club to have such a poor record relative to expectations over 21 years suggests a spate of bad luck. The common threads over that long a period are Liverpool’s colors and its fans. And Liverpool supporters, by now, could reasonably feel they’re due some good luck — maybe even enough for their club to overcome Man City’s strong position, and strong goal differential, to win the league.Correction (May 7, 7:38 p.m.): Manchester City beat Aston Villa, 4-0, on Wednesday and now holds a 13-goal lead on Liverpool in goal differential. An earlier version of this article misstated the score and Manchester City’s lead in goal differential.
What seemed destined to be an ongoing holdout saga between Dez Bryant and the Dallas Cowboys came to an abrupt end Wednesday when the two sides reached a deal for a five-year, $70 million contract with $32 million fully guaranteed (with up to $45 million sort of guaranteed). Right around the same time, the Broncos re-signed Demaryius Thomas for an eerily similar amount.While not quite as precedent-shattering as the $100-million-plus with $50 million(ish) guaranteed that Calvin Johnson — perhaps the premier wide receiver of our time — got in 2012, these are still staggering numbers. This isn’t receiver money, it’s quarterback money. The contract’s $14 million per year average is right around the median for starting quarterbacks, and the guaranteed money is approaching the top 10. In March, two-time Super Bowl champion Ben Roethlisberger signed a new deal with the Steelers, with $31 million guaranteed. Can this possibly be worth it?Let me preface by saying that Bryant and Thomas have elite-level production. If we look slightly beyond the headline stats such as yards and touchdowns, we can see that their teams lean on them substantially and are rewarded with good results. Below is a chart of the average yards receivers gained each time they were targeted, plotted against how often they were targeted (for all qualifying receivers from the 2014-15 season). Keep in mind that teams typically throw at their better receivers more often, but they’re also likely giving those receivers worse opportunities on average (sort of like how high-volume shooters in basketball have to take more bad shots). So the better a receiver is, the more passes he gets, but the harder it is to consistently make catches and put up big gains.In that chart, the closer a receiver is to the upper right, the better he is. You can imagine a boundary connecting DeSean Jackson and A.J. Green, and anyone falling along or close to that boundary has a strong case for being top tier. Call it the “presumptively good” zone. Thomas has one of the largest target rates, yet is well above average in yards gained per target. That’s impressive given the more-passes-means-worse-passes dynamic I mentioned earlier. Bryant’s offense ran through him a little less than Thomas’s last year, but he gained more yards on average and is in the upper tier for both.But this is where the NFL gets hard (and/or fun, depending on your perspective). In baseball, statistical production is pretty much the same as actual production — either a player has high WAR or he doesn’t. In basketball, things are a little trickier: Good stats correlate strongly with good value — that is, take away a productive and efficient player, and a team is likely worse off, but we’re still just modeling value with statistical proxies. In football, however, individual statistics pretty much don’t exist. The statistical results for players are so hopelessly entangled with each other that it is often impossible to accurately assign credit (at least at the current level of granularity).Bryant and Thomas are particularly hard to decipher: First, they’re receivers, and trying to make sense of a QB/WR pairing can be frustrating at best, futile at worst. It can take a virtually unprecedented data set to conclude anything with much certainty. That they both play with amazing quarterbacks only furthers the difficulty. Tony Romo was an award-winning MVP candidate last year and had the highest passer rating and Total QBR in football. And having Peyton Manning throw to you is pretty much steroids for receivers (possibly even affecting legacies the same way suspicion of PED usage does). But more importantly, both quarterbacks were doing fine without them:Net yards per attempt doesn’t capture everything about an offense, but it captures about as much as any other metric. Manning has seen an improvement since playing with Thomas, but of course Manning has also been playing with an entirely new team. Romo’s 2014-15 season was the best he has had in a while, but Bryant has been producing at his current level for three or four years now, and Romo has been no better in those years on average than in years previous.Which brings us back to those big contracts. In general, my reflex is to think that most huge contracts given to non-QBs are too large. In addition to worrying about injury, aging, etc., a general manager also has to worry that he might be wrong about someone because of some other factor on the team. A seemingly great player may really be only kind of good, or worse (and you may never even know).The 2015 salary cap is set at $143 million, which means the yearly salaries for Bryant and Thomas will be close to 10 percent of the cap (and their guarantees are somewhere between 22 percent and 32 percent of the cap, depending on which guarantee you use). Filling out a 53-man roster with “replacement” players already costs $30-million-plus, and a good quarterback costs another $15-20 million.1And the great quarterbacks like Manning or Romo are likely woefully underpaid. That means these teams are choosing to exhaust somewhere north of 15 percent of their available cap space for one player on one side of the ball who will be one option in the passing game.A lot has to go right to make this strategy work. Even if a GM is right, and a player actually is that good, and the player doesn’t get injured, and he performs up to standard for the length of his contract, and he has enough impact to justify the cost, a team still doesn’t contend for championships by paying players what they’re worth. It does it by paying them less than they’re worth. Here’s a blueprint: top quarterback (because top QBs are underpaid), rookie contracts, veterans that everyone else undervalues, spare parts that work well together, and coaches that can make the most of it all. Sound like any team you know?Perhaps the Broncos and Cowboys are good enough elsewhere that their best shot of winning a championship is to let a significant amount of their cap space tread water (best case) for a few years. For 2015-16, all that matters is putting the best team they can on the field. But impatience has rarely been a successful strategy in the NFL.
Miami Heat+21 The phenomenon that appears to have a chance of overtaking the Warriors’ box office supremacy is Kobe Bryant’s farewell tour with the Lakers, who are now 4-21. Bryant announced his retirement just before an eight-game Lakers road trip, and seven of those games were the biggest Lakers road draws of the year, relative to their hosts’ average ticket prices. The buyers weren’t there to watch the Lakers, but to see one of Bryant’s last visits to their town as a pro. The priciest ticket by far this season, according to StubHub, is the Lakers’ April 13 game in Los Angeles against the Utah Jazz, who are now 10-13. It’s Bryant’s last regular-season game and — barring the single unlikeliest playoff run in the history of time — his final game in the NBA as well. If public interest in squeezing the last drops of enjoyment out of Kobe’s senescence persists or even accelerates as the finality sets in, the Lakers could keep pace with the Warriors and Cavs, which is really saying quite a bit.Speaking of the Cavs, LeBron James remains a draw. Two of the 10 biggest box-office bumps for games this season have been Cavaliers road games. But the Warriors have five — four of those this month, as their win streak mounted.The excitement as the Warriors stacked win on top of win enriched ticket holders who decided to sell off their seats. SeatGeek sent us day-by-day median listed prices for each of the games the Warriors have played this season, from 60 days before tipoff to the day before. (Listed prices this time, not sale prices, because daily sales volume isn’t high enough — especially weeks before tipoff — to be a reliable gauge of market shifts.) For each date, we averaged the Warriors bump over each home team’s median ticket price for the season, for each remaining game. And we found that from opening night until days before the end of the streak, the average Warriors premium on ticket prices kept growing, until prices were being listed at more than four times the median sales price for the teams hosting the Warriors late in their just-completed road trip. Portland Trail Blazers-19 Dallas Mavericks-8 New Orleans Pelicans-9 12/12309151 Oklahoma City Thunder+19 VISITING TEAMPRICE INCREASE Denver Nuggets-30 Chicago Bulls+13 Los Angeles Clippers+10 Prices for Wednesday night’s Golden State home game against Phoenix fell steeply after the Warriors’ loss to the Bucks on Dec. 12 — though average prices on Tuesday were still $196 — or $21 more than the Warriors’ league-best average home ticket-resale price. Not bad for a team on a one-game losing streak.Read more:Stephen Curry’s Bombs Are Too Good To Be True*It’s Time To Take The Warriors’ Chances Of Going 73-9 SeriouslyStephen Curry Is The RevolutionHow The Golden State Warriors Are Breaking The NBANBA Predictions 12/8$286$141 Golden State Warriors+117% Utah Jazz-29 Atlanta Hawks-12 Brooklyn Nets-13 Toronto Raptors-24 Boston Celtics-17 12/11338137 Houston Rockets0 Charlotte Hornets-20 Detroit Pistons-21 Washington Wizards-16 Phoenix Suns-32 Minnesota Timberwolves-13 New York Knicks+1 12/13251124 The streak is over, which means Warriors ticket prices could regress to the mean — at least until late in the season, when demand could spike if Golden State’s march to 73 wins remains plausible.Average ticket-resale price for Dec. 16 Warriors game Memphis Grizzlies-23 12/15252116 Orlando Magic-29 Cleveland Cavaliers+102 12/14305121 SEATING LEVEL DATELOWERUPPER Los Angeles Lakers+90 Indiana Pacers-26 12/9274160 12/10282138 Sacramento Kings-24 Milwaukee Bucks-38 Golden State’s appeal this season is hardly a mystery. The Warriors are defending champs. Before they lost to Milwaukee on Saturday, they’d won their first 24 games, the best start for a team in a major U.S. pro-sports league ever. Stephen Curry is canning enough threes to tilt the NBA paradigm, often from 30 feet out, and drawing crowds for his warmups hours before tipoff. Several friends of mine in New York City have suggested getting together this season to watch the Warriors on TV; none has suggested we watch a Knicks or Nets broadcast. (Several people suggested that we go together to just one game: Warriors at Nets.)But while the Warriors’ magnetism is obvious, the NBA’s ticket-price standings aren’t as clear-cut as the win-loss column. According to sales data for games this season through Sunday — provided by SeatGeek at FiveThirtyEight’s request — the Warriors’ average road-game ticket-resale price of $144 trails the Cavs’ by $1 and the Lakers’ by $2. StubHub, a ticket-resale site, sent us data that also includes sales for the rest of the season’s games. That shows the Warriors ($173) trailing the Cavs by $9 but leading the Lakers by $17 in road-game ticket prices. Both data sets show that the Warriors are comfortably in first place in average home ticket prices. And they agree that Golden State’s box-office draw is way up from a few years ago.1So is its social-media following: Golden State had the league’s biggest percentage increase in Twitter followers on Nov. 30, 2015, compared with Nov. 30, 2012, according to data provided by social-media analytics company Socialbakers, and the second-biggest percentage increase in Facebook fans, after the Pacers.Merely looking at average ticket prices undersells how much of a draw the Warriors have been. They’ve made the box offices of usually sleepy arenas come to life. Of Golden State’s 15 road games, four have been against teams that rank in the bottom-five in home ticket prices on the resale market and eight have been against teams that rank in the bottom 11. Once you adjust for the teams that Golden State has visited, the Warriors have had by far the league’s biggest upward pull on road-game ticket-resale prices; ticket-resale prices for their road games are an average of 117 percent higher than the average resale price in those arenas this season. The Cavs are the next closest at 102 percent.Average ticket-price effect for road games, 2015-16 Philadelphia 76ers-28 It’s gotten a lot more expensive to watch the Warriors play basketball. Golden State fans are paying the highest prices on the ticket-resale market to attend home games this year. On the road, the Warriors are vying with LeBron James’s Cavaliers and the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant retirement tour to be the league’s biggest box-office draw on the road.That’s a big change from previous years, according to data from SeatGeek, a search engine scouring dozens of ticket-resale sites. (Resale prices move more freely than face values, which depend on teams’ more-rigid pricing rules.) Last season, the Warriors ranked third in average ticket-resale prices both at home and on the road, despite winning a league-high 67 games and playing some of the most thrilling ball in the league. Two seasons before that, a 47-win Warriors team ranked near the middle of the league in box-office mojo, selling tickets at prices around one-third of what they’re getting this year. Since the 2012-13 season, Golden State has had by far the biggest jump in home ticket-resale prices and trails only Cleveland — which went from no-LeBron to yes-LeBron during that period — in increasing its road-ticket appeal. San Antonio Spurs+16
Serena Williams lost her No. 1 ranking at the U.S. Open Thursday. (Twitter)Serena Williams was knocked off the top spot after Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic beat her at the U.S. Open. Thursday night’s match caused Williams to lose her chance at making Grand Slam title history.USA Today reported Pliskova won in a 6-2 7-6 (7-5) upset.Williams told reporters she made many mistakes after the game at Arthur Ashe Stadium.“I don’t think much went well today,” she said of losing to first-time major semifinalist Pliskova. “I made a lot of errors. I didn’t play as well as I’ve been playing.”The Guardian reported Williams went up against Simona Halep Wednesday, and though she defeated her in three sets, some wondered if the less than 22-hour turnaround caused Williams’ upset Thursday.But Williams dismissed those claims.“We play every single week,” she said. “I have been in Toronto or Montreal or Cincinnati where I play Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday. I mean, if I’m not used to playing this, and I really should think of something different. I’m not going to sit here and make an excuse because that’s not me.”A bad knee is to blame for her poor performance.Williams called her ailment “serious” and said it flared up “after the second or third round.” She declined to detail the diagnosis.“I wasn’t able to move the way I wanted to move,” Williams explained. “When you’re injured you’re thinking of other things when you should be just playing and thinking of your shots. My mind was just a little bit everywhere. But it was what it was.”“I don’t remember having seen her move so slowly ever,” her coach Patrick Mouratoglou told reporters. “As soon as she started, it was terrible.”The resulting defeat cost Williams her 23rd Grand Slam. She’ll continue to share the 22 record titles with Steffi Graff. The tennis stars will also share the 186-week record for the No. 1 world ranking. Williams will lose the top spot to Germany’s Angelique Kerber once the new rankings are revealed Sept. 12.
FILE – This 2013 file photo shows New York Jets running back Joe McKnight. (AP Photo/File)GRETNA, La. (AP) — The man convicted of manslaughter in the 2016 road rage shooting death of former NFL running back Joe McKnight was sentenced to 30 years in prison Thursday.Ronald Gasser, 56, had faced up to 40 years in prison. Defense lawyers argued that Gasser fired in self-defense when McKnight walked up to his car following a 5-mile confrontation that began on a bridge spanning the Mississippi River in New Orleans and ended with gunfire in neighboring Jefferson Parish.McKnight’s mother testified Thursday during the sentencing hearing. Jennifer McKnight left the courtroom sobbing after angrily telling Gasser: “You didn’t have to do that.”Witnesses at the trial said McKnight had been weaving in and out of traffic at high speed before the shooting. Prosecutors acknowledged to the jury that he was, in the words of Assistant District Attorney Seth Shute, “driving like a jerk.” But they argued that Gasser escalated the conflict, following him down an exit that he would not ordinarily have taken moments before the shooting.Shute acknowledged that McKnight had a hand on the open, passenger side window of Gasser’s car before he was shot. But he said physical evidence proved Gasser lied during extensive police questioning when he claimed McKnight lunged at him.McKnight had been a high school football hero at Louisiana’s John Curtis Christian School. He signed with the University of Southern California in 2006. In the NFL, he played three seasons for the New York Jets and one with the Kansas City Chiefs.Gasser was indicted on a second-degree murder charge. The jury voted 10-2 for the lesser verdict of manslaughter.Gasser did not leave the scene of the shooting and he was released for a time after being questioned. He is white and his release after the shooting of the black athlete sparked protests from some who said race was a factor.Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand, who has since retired, denied that race played any role and noted that a thorough investigation led to Gasser’s arrest and indictment. Prosecutors later recounted a painstaking investigation, including an extensive search for witnesses and physical evidence that eventually led to Gasser being charged.The case in some ways echoed another New Orleans-area road rage shooting from 2016. Former New Orleans Saints star Will Smith was gunned down in that April incident. The shooter was later convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 25 years.
FiveThirtyEight More: Apple Podcasts | ESPN App | RSS | Embed Embed Code Welcome to the latest episode of Hot Takedown, FiveThirtyEight’s sports podcast. On this week’s show (Jan. 24, 2017), we chat about last weekend’s NFL blowouts and begin to think about the Super Bowl. Next, we interview Duke’s Lexie Brown, who recently made 56 straight free throws, the sixth-longest streak in NCAA history and the new ACC record. Finally, the Philadelphia 76ers are suddenly on a hot streak. We investigate how the Sixers’ season has recently taken a winning turn and look at whether it’s too late for Philadelphia to be a playoff contender.Links to what we discussed:In case you missed it, ESPN recapped the Falcons’ 44-21 defeat of the Packers and the Patriots’ 36-17 AFC title win against the Steelers.FiveThirtyEight’s Neil Paine took a look at Matt Ryan’s incredible season and explained why it’s not a fluke.The Patriots won with less talent than usual, writes Ty Schalter.Duke’s Lexie Brown was named the ACC Player of the Week this Monday.espnW’s Mechelle Voepel reports on the NCAA committee’s early reveal of the top 16 women’s basketball teams.The Ringer’s Ben Detrick explores the Philadelphia 76ers’ surprising hot streak.Significant Digit: $4,045, the amount “The Fish Guy,” an aquatic services company, sought from Buffalo Bills linebacker Brandon Spikes in a lawsuit. The company moved Spikes’s tropical fish and aquarium to Buffalo from Rhode Island in 2014 after he joined the Bills.
Clutch Hitting: Success in the Win Probability Added “clutch” metric — which measures whether a player hits better in high-leverage situations — may follow from playing style more than mental fortitude. But whatever the reason, the voters enjoy a player who raises his game in crucial situations. A player whose clutch play added 0.45 wins per 600 PA more than another (despite equal WAR) receives a one-point boost to his BBTN 100 rating. The New York Yankees’ Jacoby Ellsbury might be the poster child here after leading baseball in clutch wins above average over the 2011-13 span; Ellsbury was rated eight points higher by BBTN than WAR suggests he should have been. All told, these results aren’t incredibly shocking. They exhibit a bias toward many of the traditional “tools” of scouting: hitting for average and power, speed, fielding and throwing. The voters’ bias isn’t conscious, but it is real. It’s indicative of all the factors that add up to our impression of a player, rather than his empirical value.Sabermetrics isn’t automatically the “correct” answer in these comparisons, but it does offer a rigorous, systematic way of valuing players. Examining where human biases conflict with the statistics is a useful way to determine where our eyes’ prejudices lie. Batting Average on Balls in Play: There are two possible explanations for the value placed by the BBTN 100 voters on BABIP. One is that the panel doesn’t seem to agree with the standard sabermetric view that much of a batter’s BABIP is driven by chance. (Remember, this isn’t to say success on balls in play is all luck, but it does take nearly two and a half years worth of plate appearances for an individual hitter’s BABIP to stabilize.) The other is that they strongly value those select batters whose playing style lends itself to a higher than normal BABIP — think speedy, ground-ball hitters like Ichiro Suzuki in his prime. With WAR held constant, a player would need a BABIP 14 points higher to see a one-point boost to his BBTN score. Two weeks ago, ESPN1FiveThirtyEight’s owner, for those unaware. released its “Baseball Tonight” (BBTN) 100, a player ranking based on votes from a panel of 40 experts. The panelists graded each of a group of 277 players on a 0-100 scale and then ranked them accordingly. For instance, Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels topped the list with a score of 98, while his most valuable player foil from recent seasons, Miguel Cabrera, came in second at 96.2Ratings are rounded throughout.It’s just one group of ratings from one group of writers, former players and ex-pats of the game. But it’s a useful proxy to understand the difference between subjective valuations and empirical ones. I was interested in seeing what these experts’ preferences tell us about how they view the game. If the BBTN panelists were ranking players, surely some of their metrics would differ from more empirical measures. This isn’t to say that the experts didn’t look at statistics at all when voting, or that most of them aren’t knowledgeable about baseball’s growing culture of numeracy. Many of them are. But purely subjective votes like this bring out the emotional decisions inherent in evaluating players. I wanted to know where those emotions led the panel when — right or wrong — they strayed from the path of pure sabermetric orthodoxy.To that end, I broke down what caused players’ BBTN scores to differ from what would have been predicted from their wins above replacement marks, an advanced metric designed to statistically measure a player’s on-field contributions in a logical, structured way. Think of this as an investigation into where sabermetrics and the “eye test” disagree.For the 149 position players who logged at least 600 plate appearances from 2011 to 2013, I adapted per-plate appearance WAR rates to the same scale as the BBTN ratings.3For qualified players, the correlation between BBTN score and WAR per 600 PAs was just 0.42. But that’s kind of the point — we’re interested in investigating what correlates with the residuals between WAR and BBTN score. For instance, a rate of 6 WAR per 600 PAs, as Jose Bautista of the Toronto Blue Jays produced, would typically lead to a BBTN score of 78 — precisely the mark the panel gave Bautista. But not every player’s BBTN score lined up so perfectly with his WAR numbers.The Texas Rangers’ Prince Fielder generated just 3.3 WAR/600, which my calculations predict would lead to a BBTN rating of 62; instead, the voters deemed Fielder worthy of a 79, one of the most divergent ratings in the data set. Meanwhile, Craig Gentry of the Oakland Athletics created 6.7 WAR/600 — normally good for a BBTN score of 82 — but was rated a 45 by the panel.These divergences are a proxy for over- and under-ratedness, where — for the purposes of this concept — a player’s accurate rating is just his WAR rate. If a player was overrated, his BBTN score would be higher than his WAR implied it should be, and the opposite for an underrated player.But not every overrated player is overrated for the same reason. To understand if the experts are snookered by certain skills more than others, I gathered a bunch of numbers (including scouting-style defensive opinions) from Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs, looking to see which were significant predictors of how much a player’s BBTN rating diverged from his WAR.Seven factors turned up as having a real effect on how a player was regarded by voters, relative to his sabermetric output. Positional Scarcity: The voters tended to judge players’ offensive numbers without regard to the position where they were produced. It’s a lot easier to find a great hitter physically capable of playing first base than it is to find the same hitter who can also play competently at shortstop, but the BBTN rankings don’t reflect that.5The position adjustment in WAR is derived from changes in fielding performance when players move between different positions. For instance, the history of players switching from shortstop to second base suggests that players gain four extra defensive runs above average per 1,350 innings with the move, implying that second base is an easier position to play than shortstop. Holding WAR constant, for every 2.1 fewer runs of positional value that a player’s position was worth, his BBTN rating increased by one point. This sits in stark contrast to the sabermetric idea of positional scarcity, which Bill James gave voice to in the 1980s and, more rigorously, was popularized by Keith Woolner in the 1990s with the development of VORP. The effect is most evident with designated hitters, whose WAR totals are limited because they provide literally no defensive value. DHs like Billy Butler of the Kansas City Royals and David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox rated 10 and 8 points higher, respectively, than WAR says they should have. Isolated Power: All else being equal, players with great power were significantly overvalued by voters. If a player somehow increased his isolated power by 11 points while keeping his overall value equal, he would have been rated one point higher by the BBTN panel. To wit: Chris Davis of the Baltimore Orioles is a fantastic power hitter (his .269 ISO since 2011 tied the Detroit Tigers’ two-time MVP Miguel Cabrera for third in our data set), but he rates as a below-average baserunner and a weak fielder at a non-premium defensive position. His three-year WAR should be equivalent to a 62 BBTN rating, but the panel gave him an 81. Contact Rate: Perhaps unsurprisingly, BBTN 100 panelists have a bias toward guys who put the bat on the ball when they swing. All else being equal, a 1.9-point increase in contact percentage leads to a player being rated one point higher in the voting. The Toronto Blue Jays’ Jose Reyes connected on 88.5 percent of swings, which coupled with a .321 BABIP to help give him a .306 batting average — and a BBTN rating of 71, seven points higher than his WAR would typically warrant. Defensive Runs Saved: Despite “Baseball Tonight’s” penchant for highlighting Web Gems, great fielders4At least, great defenders according to WAR’s fielding metric, Defensive Runs Saved. appear to be given short shrift in the ratings. Regardless of position, they were systematically underrated by the BBTN 100 panel. After controlling for other characteristics and overall WAR, a player who invests in his defense to the point where he saves 2.5 runs per 600 PAs gets dinged by one point in BBTN’s ratings. A great example is the Atlanta Braves’ Andrelton Simmons, who saved an astounding 40 runs per 1,200 innings in the field. His 7 WAR/600 suggested a BBTN score of 84; instead, the panel rated him a mere 76. Arm Strength: Sabermetrics is indifferent to the flair with which a player plays — its only concern is production. Arm strength is one of those pieces of flair most associated with raw athleticism (or “tools,” in scouting parlance) that the eyes appreciate even if the numbers are indifferent. That’s speculation, of course, but the regression is detecting some kind of real effect. It tells us that between two equally valuable players rated six points apart in arm strength, as measured by Tom Tango’s Fans Scouting Report, the more rifle-armed of the pair would score one point higher in the BBTN 100.
Oddly enough, the Wolves have a fair amount of frontcourt depth, so Gorgui Dieng could see his playing time decrease despite being one of Minnesota’s more effective players last year. He has a relatively common profile for a big man, and one that tends not to age all that well: good defender, excellent shot-blocker, but limited by his inability to create his own shots. Sometimes CARMELO comparables are eerily resonant. Shabazz Muhammad, a former high school slam-dunk champion, draws comps including Harold Miner (his No. 1 overall comparable) and Cedric Ceballos (No. 6). Both Miner and Ceballos won the NBA slam-dunk contest but were minus defenders and otherwise never quite gelled as NBA players. At 23 this season, Muhammad is far from a lost cause, but the Wolves have a lot of other projects who might be higher on their priority list. So take CARMELO’s 29-53 projected record for the Wolves with a grain of salt. It’s a rough guess. More to the point, it doesn’t matter all that much. If the Timberwolves somehow hang around the .500 mark because of surprisingly good last-gasp seasons from veterans like Kevin Garnett and Kevin Martin, it’s not going to do much beyond worsen their lottery position. This year is more about how their young players develop, instead. No player is more important to their future than Wiggins, so we’ll start our CARMELO-guided tour of the roster with him: CARMELO likes the No. 2 pick in last June’s draft, D’Angelo Russell, slightly better than No. 1 Karl-Anthony Towns. But this is nonetheless a pretty good projection for Towns. True, his top two comparables (Andrew Bennett and Greg Oden) couldn’t be more discouraging, but that conceals some favorable names (Chris Bosh, DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis) just a bit further down his list. A plus with players like Towns is that they can be average-or-better defenders almost as soon as they enter the league, even as they’re figuring out their offensive games. Although CARMELO sees high reward — coupled with high risk — for Wiggins, Rubio and Towns, it’s less convinced that Zach LaVine will ever become an above-average NBA player. As my Grantland colleague Zach Lowe explains, LaVine was simply overmatched last year, forced into playing more than 1,900 minutes as a pro after having been only a modestly effective amateur at UCLA. LaVine could turn into a league-average player like Monta Ellis — his No. 6 comparable — but even rebuilding teams like the T-Wolves will invest only so many resources in trying to develop the next Monta Ellis. The Minnesota Timberwolves are very likely to improve on their 16-66 record — and very unlikely to make the playoffs. Beyond that, almost anything is possible. If everything goes well, we could be mentioning the Wolves in the same breath as the New Orleans Pelicans in next year’s CARMELO preview: a team that’s on the verge of becoming a title contender. There really is that much upside on the roster among Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns and Ricky Rubio.But they could also be a total disaster. For now the Wolves are a collection of misfit toys, full of players who are a little too young, a little too old, a little too one-dimensional, a little too injury-prone. They also don’t mesh particularly well together, leading to trouble finding good looks on offense and disorganized, lackadaisical defense. In many respects, we created our CARMELO projection system because we were curious about players like Wiggins. On the one hand, he was a regular starter in the league at age 19, which is usually a very good sign. On the other hand, though Wiggins scored 16.9 points per game, he was one of the least efficient regulars in the NBA according to advanced statistics such as Real Plus-Minus. Our assessments of Wiggins last year ranged from decidedly pessimistic to guardedly optimistic, often sparking ire from T-Wolves fans who were sure they were watching the league’s next superstar.But that was before CARMELO! Now we have CARMELO, and it’s on the optimistic side. CARMELO thinks Andrew Wiggins has a chance to be the next … Carmelo Anthony.Anthony, Wiggins’s No. 1 comparable, is a good example of what Wiggins’s upside could look like. In Anthony’s rookie year in 2003-04, he was a high-volume but fairly low-efficiency scorer, averaging 21 points per game on 43 percent shooting. Middling scoring efficiency is one of the more forgivable flaws for a young player, however. Both shooting technique and shot selection can (and often do) improve with practice and experience, especially for a player on a young, rebuilding team whose teammates are improving alongside him. Some of CARMELO’s breakout picks this year, like Marcus Smart and Elfrid Payton, fit into exactly this category.But whereas CARMELO is enamored of Smart and Payton, it’s more tentative in its affection toward Wiggins. The reason is his defense, which cost the T-Wolves about 2 points per 100 possessions while Wiggins was on the floor last season. Wiggins’s D will likely improve, but he could wind up a lot like Anthony: very good, but between mediocre defense and average efficiency, not quite as good as his box score stats suggest. CARMELO slaps the “scrappy veteran” label on Kevin Garnett, which seems to woefully underbill his accomplishments as a 15-time All-Star. But that’s what Garnett is at this point, with his defense and rebounding skills still largely intact but no longer much durability or ability to contribute on the offensive end. His return to Minnesota as a sort of player-coach is a nice story, but he has just enough left that contending teams could eye him for frontcourt depth down the stretch.Read more:All our NBA player projectionsAll our 2015-16 NBA Previews Ricky Rubio is one of the NBA’s bigger outliers, ranking near the top or bottom of just about every statistical category: stellar passer, but turns the ball over a ton and is one of the league’s least efficient shooters. He is a good defender and is younger than you might think (25), having been drafted by the Timberwolves in 2009 when he was just 18, so he still has time to improve. Indeed, CARMELO’s projection for Rubio is fairly optimistic, relying on precedents like Jason Kidd and Rod Strickland, who developed just enough scoring touch to become cornerstone players. We’re inaugurating our NBA player projection system, CARMELO, with 2015-16 season previews for every team in the league. Check out the teams we’ve already previewed here. Learn more about CARMELO here. Kevin Martin has always been a miserable defender, so his offensive game has to be superlative for him to be a worthwhile rotation player. Instead, he’s showing signs of age, having posted his lowest true shooting percentage since his rookie season last year. Martin would have more value as a 10-minutes-per-game offensive sparkplug off the bench for a contending club than as someone who’s still logging starter’s minutes.
The No. 15 Ohio State field hockey team will square off with No. 8 Michigan State for first place in the Big Ten.The Buckeyes will head to East Lansing for their meeting with the Spartans Friday at 3 p.m.OSU is currently second in the Big Ten with a 3-1 conference record and the Spartans are alone in first with a 3-0 record. The winner will have the inside track to winning the Big Ten regular season championship and earning the number one seed for the conference tournament.Senior goalkeeper Lindsay Quintiliani and junior forward Jena Cacciatore have both stressed that winning the Big Ten is the team’s top goal this season.“We’re very confident this is our year,” said freshman forward Berta Queralt. A win over Michigan State would be a crucial step toward achieving that goal, she said.MSU holds the slight edge in the teams’ recent meetings, winning three of the last five. Both teams are riding hot streaks coming into Friday’s matchup. The Spartans are currently on a seven-game win streak, while the Buckeyes bring in a four-game win streak and have won 10 of their last 11.While the rankings seem to favor the Spartans, statistics are on the side of the Buckeyes. OSU leads the Big Ten with six shutouts this season — twice as many as the Spartans. Along with shutouts the Buckeyes are also atop the conference in goals against average with 1.38.The Buckeyes also edge out the Spartans in assists, due in large part to Queralt, who leads the Big Ten with 12.Queralt and forward Maria Briones have been named Big Ten Freshman and Offensive Player of the Week respectively. It is the second week in a row the teammates received the awards.Following Friday’s game, OSU will return home to face No. 13 Duke Sunday at 1 p.m. The game is Senior Day for the Buckeyes, as it is their final home game of the season.The Buckeyes will look to stay hot at home, where they are 8-1 this season, but a victory Sunday will be no easy feat.The Blue Devils enter the weekend with an overall record of just 8-7. However, their record is not a representation of their talent. Duke has played nine ranked opponents in their 15 games this season, including four games against the nation’s top three teams. Because of Duke’s tough schedule they have remained ranked in the top 20 all season.The Buckeyes are 2-3 this season against ranked opponents. The next two games will serve as a chance for OSU to prove it is among the nation’s elite.
Senior guard Aaron Craft (4) defends and Iowa player during a game Jan. 12 at the Schottenstein Center. OSU lost, 84-74.Credit: Shelby Lum / Photo editorNo matter how you slice it, something just seems off with the Ohio State men’s basketball team.The mystery continued against Minnesota Thursday, as the No. 11 Buckeyes fell to the Golden Gophers, 63-53, for their third straight loss.It is the first time since February 2009 that the Buckeyes have lost three straight games.OSU (15-3, 2-3) never could get anything going on the offensive end, shooting just 11-29 from the field in the first half.Despite the shooting woes, the game was tied at 29 at halftime thanks to a basket by OSU junior forward LaQuinton Ross just before the buzzer sounded. The Buckeyes were unable to take advantage of 10 turnovers by the Golden Gophers in the opening 20 minutes.The cold shooting for OSU continued early in the second half, as Minnesota (14-4, 3-2) built a lead early. The Buckeyes had five straight possessions that ended in a turnover, until Ross hit a three to cut the lead to 36-35.Minnesota extended its lead to 57-46 after a turnover by senior guard Aaron Craft led to a wide-open layup by Minnesota senior guard Austin Hollins.A free throw by junior center Amir Williams cut the lead to 10, but OSU would never get within double digits before the clock ran out as the Buckeyes could simply not find the shooting stroke.OSU shot a dismal 18-51 from the floor, and were outrebounded by the Golden Gophers, 37-25.Ross, who finished the game with a game-high 22 points, did not have much help from his teammates, as the only other Buckeye to score in double figures was junior forward Sam Thompson with 12.Up next, the Buckeyes are scheduled to travel to Nebraska (8-8, 0-4) Monday. Tipoff against the Cornhuskers is set for 7 p.m.