Negotiations to end the NHL lockout just cannot sustain any momentum.Talks broke down Wednesday afternoon and NHLPA head Donald Fehr said there was “no movement” on the major issues. Translation: It does not look good, still.Earlier, players gave management a new proposal that the union said left sides less than $40 million apart annually over a five-year contract. That’s about $180 million.Wednesday was the 67th day of the lockout. More than a quarter of the regular season already has been canceled.No date for the next bargaining session was set.After a day away from bargaining for internal discussions, union officials and nine players were at the NHL office for an hour Wednesday. There was little optimism. The NHLPA scheduled an internal players’ conference call for 5 p.m. ET Wednesday.“We did give them the proposal,” Fehr said. “They indicated they’re going to have a response to us a little later on.”Fehr added that players made a percentage-based proposal and said it reflected the economic impact the work stoppage had caused.“We have moved far more than halfway,” Fehr said. “It is about as good as we can do.”NHL commissioner Gary Bettman on Oct. 16 proposed a 50-50 split of hockey-related revenue. With guaranteed contracts likely to push the players’ share over the halfway mark originally, management wants that money to come out of future years to bring the overall percentage down to an even split over the length of an agreement.Players previously had proposed they receive a guaranteed amount of income each year.“Gary said we were $900 million or $1 billion apart,” Fehr said, referring to the gap over a five-year deal. “At the moment we are exactly $182 million apart.”The NHLPA offered to accept the NHL’s proposed 50-50 split of hockey-related revenue right from the first year of a deal, NHLPA sources told ESPN.com.However, the NHLPA proposal calls for the “make whole” provision to go up from the $211 million the NHL offered two weeks ago to $393 million, the sources said.The NHLPA’s latest proposal was the result of a major push by the moderates in the union’s membership to submit a new offer, a source told ESPNNewYork.com.Those players, the source said, stressed the importance of moving off the guaranteed player amount featured in previous proposals and moving to the NHL’s preferred percentage-based division of revenue. The move was an attempt to get the two sides “speaking the same language” so as to expedite a deal, the source said.A source confirmed to ESPNNewYork.com that the breakdown on the “make whole” payments through Years 1-4 (deferred by one year) is as follows: 2012-13: $182 million; 2013-14: $128 million; 2014-15: $72 million; 2015-16: $11 million.One interesting feature of the NHLPA’s offer is that, beginning in Year 2, the players’ share in dollars cannot be lower than the previous year. That protects the players from both the potential devaluation of the Canadian dollar and a possible decline in revenue, thereby shifting the risk onto the owners.The league has canceled 326 games through Nov. 30, plus the Jan. 1 Winter Classic between Toronto and Detroit at Ann Arbor, Mich.This is the league’s fourth work stoppage in 21 years and third lockout since 1994. The previous lockout led to the cancellation of the 1994-95 season.
After her epic win in the women’s 400 meter race during the Olympic Games Monday, Shaunae Miller revealed behind-the-scenes details of what led up to that moment.The Bahamian track-and-field Olympian took a dive to win the gold medal in the event, leaving American sprinter Allyson Felix stunned.“Things just all seemed to happen,” Miller told The Guardian. “My coaches, we went inside with a game plan and we executed it really well. About the last 40 meters or so I just got really heavy, lost all feelings, all control of my legs and next thing you know I started falling.”Miller explained she fell across the finish line after loosing her balance adding it was a common occurrence in the sport.The 22-year-old also caught wind of a few memes created in reaction to her move.“I just got a good laugh out of it,” she said.
8/31/075135-16 Fav. in a Subway Series POLL DATEYANKEESMETSMETS MARGIN 6/1/126221-41 Among New York City baseball fansSource: Quinnipiac University 4/17/064836-12 8/31/075244-8 7/18/064637-9 3/25/095633-23 Poll DateYankeesMetsMets margin The Mets do much better when baseball fans are forced to choose between the Mets and the Yankees. While the Yankees lose a statistically insignificant 1 percentage point of support on average, the Mets pick up 10 points of support. This seems to confirm the finding of a nonscientific Reddit poll from three years ago that found the Yankees were the most hated team among baseball fans. In other words, non-Yankee and non-Met fans may pick the Mets when forced to choose between the two of them, simply because they dislike the Yankees more.This year, though, the Mets beat the Yankees on the open-ended version of the question — the version in which they have always done worse. If we take this year’s result and apply the same boost the Mets typically receive in the other version of the question (where fans were forced to choose between the two teams), they would probably hold a 10-point head-to-head advantage over the Yankees. That’s pretty mind-boggling, considering the Mets were down 22 points on that type of question just three years ago.The Mets need to keep winning, however, if they want to maintain an edge over the Yankees. As I wrote about three years ago, the Mets seem to pick up fans when they win and shed them when they lose, but the same didn’t hold true for the Yankees. Now, it seems the Yankees may also gain or lose fans depending on their record. (Before this year, Quinnipiac had never polled after a season in which the Mets made the playoffs — or World Series — more recently than the Yankees.) In the chart below, I’ve plotted the difference between the percentages of Met fans and Yankee fans in New York City against the difference in how long it had been since each team had been in the playoffs.1For the sake of simplicity, I’m using the version of Quinnipiac’s question that allows baseball fans to choose any team, not just the Mets and the Yankees. However, there’s a clear correlation with either question. 4/1/055136-15 10/19/004337-6 POLL DATETEAM IN MLBIN SUBWAY SERIESDIFFTEAM IN MLBIN SUBWAY SERIESDIFF 7/26/015432-22 3/24/146127-34 Source: Quinnipiac University 8/31/075152135449 5/28/074948-1 5/28/075036-14 3/24/1459%37%-22 3/25/095655-133429 Move over, New York Yankees — there’s a new baseball boss in town. For the first time since at least 1998, Quinnipiac University has found, more New York City baseball fans liked the Mets than the Yankees. Although it was a narrow victory — 45 percent to 43 percent, well within the margin of error — it shows that winning ballgames remains the key to winning the hearts of Big Apple sports fans.The Yankees usually hold a hefty fan advantage over the Mets in New York. Over the last 20 years, the Yankees have averaged a sizable 55 percent-to-31 percent lead over their crosstown rivals. Just three years ago, the Yankees led the Mets 61 percent to 27 percent on the same question Quinnipiac asked this year. 4/1/024738-9 3/16/005235-17 The Mets are more popular when they’re pitted against the Yankees Average5138-13 FAVORITE TEAM IN MLB 3/24/146159-2273710 Indeed, the Yankee lead climbed as high as 41 points five years ago. That survey was taken after a season in which the Yankees had made the playoffs, while the Mets hadn’t appeared in the postseason in six years. Now the tables have turned: The Mets have made the playoffs two years in a row, even appearing in the World Series in 2015. Meanwhile, the Yankees didn’t make the playoffs last year and they haven’t made a World Series since 2009.Before this year, the only time the Mets ever came close to the Yankees was in May 2007. That year, 49 percent of New York City baseball fans said they’d root for the Yankees in a Subway Series against the Mets, while 48 percent said they’d root the other way. Recent results had an influence then, too — the Mets made it to the National League Championship Series (before losing to the St. Louis Cardinals) in 2006, while the Yankees were knocked out in the American League Division Series.The Mets’ triumph in this year’s poll, however, is far more impressive than when they nearly overtook the Yankees 10 years ago. You’ll notice in the table that there are two types of questions Quinnipiac has asked on this subject in the past: Sometimes they asked baseball fans who they’d root for in a World Series matchup between the Mets and the Yankees, as they did when the Mets came close to the Yankees in 2007. Other times, fans are asked who their favorite baseball team is overall. (That is, fans can choose teams besides the Mets and Yankees.) And in four surveys, Quinnipiac asked both versions of the question. Average5554-1334310 Average5531-24 7/29/115926-33 NYC baseball fans like the Mets more than the Yankees for the first time in 20 years 8/15/136223-39 Perhaps what’s most interesting about the chart is that, based on prior trends, we would have expected the Yankees to have more fans than the Mets even now. That is, in an environment where the Mets were doing slightly better than the Yankees, the pattern would have been for the Yankees to still have a larger fan base. That might mean Quinnipiac’s new poll is too friendly to the Mets — certainly a possibility, given the margin of error. It could also be the case that the Mets are receiving a “bonus” because they were in the playoffs last year and the Yankees weren’t. Again, we can’t really test that phenomenon because in every previous survey, the Yankees had been in the playoffs as recently (or far more so) than the Mets had been.Either way, it’s clear that New York City is a two-baseball-team town right now. The Mets have caught up to — or perhaps even surpassed — their older brother. Yankee fans need their team to start winning again, or they’ll have to get used to seeing a lot more Mets caps on the subway as they make their commute. YANKEES ARE FAVORITE …METS ARE FAVORITE … 7/28/986028-32 3/31/1743%45%+2 3/25/095542-13 5/28/0750%49%-136%48%12
Keep track of the chaotic NBA offseason with our Free Agency Diary. Dear NBA Diary,Time for a do-over. On Thursday morning, I wrote that the Houston Rockets would be just fine running things back with their existing core of James Harden, Chris Paul, Clint Capela and company, despite the narrative that they were falling behind in the Western Conference’s superstar arms race.Then Thursday night happened. Daryl Morey and the Rockets offered up what feels like the millionth earth-shattering transaction of the NBA summer by dealing Paul to the Thunder for Russell Westbrook. Just like that, Houston had created an entirely new star combo in Harden and Westbrook — and we needed a new breakdown of their full-strength CARMELO rating: Austin Rivers91250026+0.1-1.3-1.2 Team total PLAYERPGSGSFPFCTOTALOFF. +/-DEF. +/-TOT. +/- Deyonta Davis000145-1.7+1.0-0.7 Trevon Duval000000-2.5-1.4-3.9 James Harden82540037+7.4+0.9+8.3 PJ Tucker00325028-1.2+1.1-0.1 Isaiah Hartenstein000202-1.7+1.4-0.3 Clint Capela00022931-0.3+2.3+2.0 Gary Clark000000-1.9-0.4-2.3 Michael Frazier000000-1.6-1.3-2.9 In the short term, this deal improves what was already a surprisingly strong-looking Rockets roster. Houston’s CARMELO rating was 1693 (good for a 56-win projection and a 19 percent championship probability) before the trade; now, that rating is 1716, to go with 58 projected wins and a 25 percent chance of winning the title. Morey paid two first-round picks (and two pick swaps) to make those marginal gains, but in a 2019-20 season that looks wide-open, every little bit could make all the difference.Certainly, Westbrook (age 30) is younger than Paul (34) and projects to be better over the next few seasons, according to CARMELO’s wins above replacement metric, though he is coming off a worse season in 2018-19: Tyson Chandler00001515-2.9+2.1-0.9 Chris Chiozza000000-0.9-1.6-2.5 Russell Westbrook31500036+3.5+0.5+3.9 240+6.8+1.8+8.4 Eric Gordon03260029+1.1-1.2-0.1 CARMELO team rating:1716 Chris Clemons000000-0.7-1.0-1.7 Expected record:58-24 Whoaaaa, look at this Rockets team nowProjected full-strength regular-season depth chart for the 2019-20 Houston Rockets, based on CARMELO plus/minus ratings Gerald Green0098017-0.7-1.9-2.6 Danuel House Jr.03110014+0.0-0.4-0.5 EXPECTED MINUTES PER GAMEPLAYER RATING There are still plenty of questions about how the members of Houston’s new star pairing will coexist with each other. And the trade feels at least in part like a deal done just so the Rockets can say they made a big offseason splash on par with the West’s other heavy hitters. But it certainly further bolsters Houston’s case as the favorite in a loaded Western Conference.UPDATE (July 12, 2019, 2:40 p.m.): This diary entry has been updated to reflect the signing of Tyson Chandler. Houston’s Elo didn’t change.Check out our NBA player ratings.
Once we allocate a team’s minutes, we can estimate its projected scoring margin by summing each player’s SPM projection. The Lakers, for instance — even with James — would be projected to outscore their opponents by only 0.5 points per game. That translates to a 42-40 record, using a Pythagorean projection.Once we project a team’s win total, we can allocate its wins back to individual players: For instance, James is worth about 21 wins to the Lakers. There are a couple of highly technical points about this process, which I’ve reserved for the footnotes,10The allocation works by calculating a player’s wins above average based on his SPM projection and the Pythagorean formula, assuming that he was added to a league-average team. Since an average team would win 41 games, I also add 8.2 wins (41 wins divided by five positions) per 48 minutes played to each player so that the sum of player win totals roughly matches the team’s win projection.This produces a number that can be compared to win shares or other NBA metrics that denominate a player’s value in wins. However, the statistic should not be thought of as “wins above replacement.” Instead, it represents wins as compared to a really, really bad player who is even worse than replacement level — you might call it WAABAAB, Wins Above Anthony Bennett And Andrea Bargnani.Another complication is that the wins estimates for individual players will not exactly match the team total. This is principally because of diminishing returns for very good or very bad teams (a team can’t win more than 82 games or fewer than zero). In my system, the team win total has priority: Player win totals are adjusted to match the team figure rather than the other way around. This only has a material impact for extraordinarily strong or poor teams, however. but note that a player’s win allocation can vary slightly from team to team. (The issue is diminishing returns — a team’s win total eventually maxes out at 82 wins in the regular season. Otherwise, you’d run into problems like the 2012 U.S. Olympic roster projecting to 110 wins and negative 28 losses.)Here are some benchmarks to keep in mind: A team that played James 35 minutes a game and filled out the rest of the roster with replacement-level players would have a projected record of 33-49. And a team that had James plus 11 league-average players would have a record of 56-26.That’s why James wouldn’t give up much if he left Miami, which won 54 games last season. The rest of the Heat’s players have regressed to the point where they’re league-average without James, or perhaps slightly below average — and they probably aren’t going to get any better.Instead, the Heat project to a record of 52-30 if they re-sign James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. The projection ought to be intuitive. Miami’s record last season wasn’t all that good, and that probably wasn’t an accident: The Heat’s players were aging, and the team was a man or two short of a full rotation. Adding Josh McRoberts and Danny Granger might help a little, but will probably only offset further age-related reversion from the rest of the roster. (PSPS has a rather nice-looking projection for McRoberts, which makes up for its very pessimistic one for Bosh.)The other challenge is that the Heat have so many free agents that it’s hard to know who will remain with the club. I’m assuming that Allen, Chris Andersen, Greg Oden, Udonis Haslem and Michael Beasley will return if the Big Three do, while the other players will not. (Shane Battier is retiring, for instance.)The controversial case is point guard Mario Chalmers, whom I’ve left off the roster. Chalmers played poorly in the playoffs and the Heat would have very limited money to offer him after stretching as much as it can to re-sign the Big Three. But SPM hates the alternative point guard, Norris Cole, and it’s inherently pessimistic about what any rookie (Shabazz Napier included) will do in his first season. If you replaced Cole’s minutes with Chalmers’s, the Heat’s projection would improve to 56 wins. Still, Miami would be somewhere in the vicinity of where it was last season.What the Heat really needed was to add another star talent, especially to address its deficiency at the point. For instance, if Miami had snagged Kyle Lowry — and somehow also re-signed the Big Three — it would project to 60-plus wins.The wild-card scenario would involve the Heat retaining James but parting ways with Bosh or Wade. There are some theoretically intriguing possibilities that build a team around James, Carmelo Anthony, a league-average point guard and some complementary role players.But ultimately James would maximize his championship potential by surrounding himself with players who are underpaid relative to the basketball value they produce. Might he find them in Cleveland?Perhaps, but the Cavs’ projection is the same as the Heat’s: 52-30. The Cavaliers won only 33 games last season, so a 19-win improvement is sizable. A little bit of that comes from projected improvement from young players like Kyrie Irving — although the Cavs also have a few subtractions, like Jarrett Jack and Luol Deng.At least in Cleveland it’s possible to conjure any number of upside scenarios. Reports have linked Minnesota’s Kevin Love to the Cavs, for instance. With a number of caveats,11Metrics derived from “box score” stats may be too much in love with Love; it’s not clear whether the salaries would work out; the Cavaliers would lack a true center if they tried this. trading Andrew Wiggins and Anderson Varejao (and some draft picks) for Love would make the Cavs a 60-plus-win team with James on the roster. Or the Cavs could wait for Wiggins, Irving and Tristan Thompson to develop further.But James has a number of alternatives that could get him on a championship-caliber roster right away — and with fewer contingencies. One possibility is Dallas:The Mavs have probably gotten over James, having made an offer to Chandler Parsons instead (Parsons is a restricted free agent, so the Rockets will have the right to match). And our projections aren’t all that optimistic about them. Dirk Nowitzki is finally due for some age-reversion. Monta Ellis has never been an advanced-stats poster boy. The Mavericks might get poor point-guard play from Ray Felton, and I’m assuming the team would have to salary-dump Brendan Wright, and give up on re-signing Vince Carter and Shawn Marion, in order to clear room for James. With all those issues, they’d still project to a 55-27 record next season with James.The Knicks rate similarly:This is almost certainly not going to happen. The Knicks would have to find takers for Amar’e Stoudemire and Andrea Bargnani. Even under this miracle scenario, I’m assuming that they’d lose Iman Shumpert and Tim Hardaway, Jr., in order to facilitate salary-dump deals. I have them relying on a lot of playing time from second-round draft picks and other dubious alternatives like Lamar Odom.Even so, the Knicks project to a 56-26 record with an Anthony/James pairing and an otherwise spartan roster. Don’t take this as an indication of how awesome the Knicks are, but instead as a benchmark for how little of a draw Miami’s incumbent status really is for James. As I mentioned earlier, a team of league-average players plus James would project to a 56-26 record; Miami is about a league-average team without James, but so are the Knicks. It’s not a high bar to clear.For some further indication of this, we can look at the next three teams in lightning-round fashion; all project to a 59-23 record with James on the roster. First up, one of Grantland basketball writer Zach Lowe’s dark-horse candidates, the Phoenix Suns:Jeff Hornacek somehow got 48 wins out of a roster that was expected to lose enough to be granted a lottery pick. There’s the potential for some mean-reversion in Phoenix, but that’s much less of a concern for a young club. The Suns have a lot of underpaid players and could potentially add another piece next year in addition to James. As Lowe wrote, if James were making a decision strictly on the basis of getting the max salary on a title contender, the Suns would be an excellent option.So might another Z-Lowe favorite, the Atlanta Hawks:The starting five would be very good, depending on Al Horford’s health. There isn’t a lot of depth in Atlanta, but Miami and Cleveland don’t have much depth either.A sexier alternative would be the Chicago Bulls:It might seem surprising that the Bulls project no better than the Suns or the Hawks — not that 59 wins is anything to sneeze at. But I’m assuming that to sign James, the Bulls would have to amnesty Carlos Boozer and find a taker for Mike Dunleavy.Granted, Boozer and Dunleavy are not better than league-average players at this point in their careers. But they also aren’t total zeroes; they combined for 10 win shares last season. The win-shares baseline is too generous; but when James gets added to an already talented roster, he’s taking playing time from some semi-respectable alternatives instead of some Bargnanis.The other issue is Derrick Rose, who projects as only a league-average player. The problem is not just that Rose has played only 10 games in the past two seasons — he stunk when he did play last year. Still (since we’re indulging in so many hypotheticals) the Bulls would project to a 65-17 record if they both signed James and Rose performed at his 2011-12 level.James’s final alternative would be to create a sequel to the Big Three with either the Clippers or the Rockets. They’re terrific options if the cap mechanics work. The conventional wisdom is that LeBron James will remain in Miami or return home to Cleveland. Neither would maximize his chances of winning a championship — but Cleveland, at least, is on an upward trajectory.In Miami, James runs the risk of staying too long with a team in decline. The Heat won 54 games last year in a historically soft Eastern Conference and were dismantled by San Antonio in the NBA Finals. As if the Spurs left any doubt, a team with 54-win talent is rarely good enough to win a championship. Since the introduction of the three-point shot in 1979-80,1I exclude lockout-shortened seasons from these tallies. just one of 22 teams to finish with 54 regular-season wins has won the championship that season.I’m not cherry-picking data to make the Heat’s case look bad. We can expand the sample to include all teams that won between 52 and 56 regular-season games. There have been 102 such teams — and only three of them won the NBA title.Instead, a team’s title chances increase rapidly once it gets its win total into the high 50s — or better yet, somewhere in the 60s. A team with 55 regular-season wins will win the title about 5 percent of the time; with 60 wins, it will about 20 percent of the time, and with 65 wins, about 60 percent of the time.2These estimates are based on a logistic regression analysis.If James really wants to get to that 60-win threshold, he’d be better off exploring teams aside from his reported favorites, such as the Chicago Bulls, Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks, Phoenix Suns, Atlanta Hawks, New York Knicks, Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers. When I placed James on the roster and ran projections for those teams, all but one finished ahead of both Miami and Cleveland.To make the projections, I used a metric called Statistical Plus/Minus (SPM), which was originally developed by my colleague Neil Paine. (SPM is not quite the same thing as NBA Real Plus Minus, though the systems are related.) SPM measures a player’s value in points per game (more precisely, points per 100 possessions3There are about 100 possessions per team in a typical NBA game, so points per 100 possessions is roughly equivalent to points per game.) relative to the league average. For instance, a player with an SPM of +4 (like the Bulls’ Joakim Noah) produces a net of four extra points for his team per 100 possessions. James is in the range of +8. Negative SPMs indicate below-average players.SPM has a good track record when it comes to predicting how teams will be affected by roster changes. But I’m hoping not to get sidetracked into a debate about which is the best “all-in-one” NBA metric.4A couple of us at FiveThirtyEight are agnostic enough about the alternatives that we’re thinking about publishing a consensus metric that averages the different rating systems. In this case my choice is pragmatic: Whereas some metrics like win shares value the very best NBA players as worth 15 to 20 wins per season, others like PER estimate that they’re worth 25 to 30 wins per season. SPM, which can also be translated into win totals, comes down somewhere in the middle, and puts James in the low 20s.We also need some way to project a player’s SPM for next season, so I’m using a variant on another Neil Paine invention, the Simple Projection System. Like Neil’s system, my version uses data from the past three NBA seasons. The only variables it looks at are SPM and minutes played. But it includes a slightly more sophisticated handling of mean-reversion5Simple Projection System reverts players to the league average, whereas my variant reverts players to below the league average and is more suspicious of players who post strong SPMs in limited minutes. and player aging.6Simple Projection System is probably too conservative about adjusting for a player’s age. There’s also a separate routine to handle rookies, whom I’ve projected on the basis of their draft position and age.7Holding draft position constant, older players are more “NBA-ready” (better) in their rookie seasons, though the trend reverses itself after a few seasons. You might call my variant the Pretty Simple Projection System (PSPS).Let’s put some of that methodology to use. I’ve projected seasons for the 10 teams that, at one point or another, were rumored to have a chance at landing James. We’ll start with the worst and move toward the best. Ranking at the bottom are the Los Angeles Lakers.The system projects that the Lakers would win only 42 games even with James on the roster. The problem is that between age and injuries, Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol may be no better than average NBA players — and any scenario that would allow the Lakers to sign James would require them to absolutely gut their depth.Importantly, I’m making a few assumptions in constructing the Lakers’ hypothetical roster — and in constructing the rosters for all the teams James may join:James is the only top-tier free agent the team signs this summer, other than its own free agents. So the Lakers can re-sign Pau Gasol, for instance, if the salary numbers are at all realistic. But they can’t also sign Carmelo Anthony or someone to pair with James.Rosters must be at least vaguely plausible under the salary cap and other contractual rules. Some cases will be bigger stretches than others. (For the Lakers, both James and Gasol would probably have to accept less than they might make elsewhere.) But they’re reasonable best-case scenarios or slightly better than that. In some cases, I’ll specify players who I assume will have to be traded to clear cap room for James.James and his teammates stay in reasonably good health, but there are no medical miracles. For instance: Kobe Bryant may be relatively healthy, but he doesn’t go back to playing 40 minutes a game, 82 times a year.8The minutes-per-game figures in this article represent the total number of minutes on a player’s season divided by 82 games — as opposed to the average number of minutes in games that a player participates in. For instance, if Samuel Dalembert averages 30 minutes per game in his first 41 games with the Knicks, then sits out the remaining 41 games due to injury, his minutes would be listed at 15 per game, not 30. This is why the minutes-played figures may look conservative — I’m building in some buffer for injury. (He played in just six games last season.)Every team that gets James also gets Ray Allen for “free.” That is to say, it signs Allen for the minimum salary or in some other way that doesn’t require it to sacrifice its options. There are reports that Allen will follow James wherever he goes. Like a lot of reports in the NBA’s silly season, they may turn out to be false. But even if Allen doesn’t follow James, another veteran like Mike Miller might. Allen represents a team’s “LeBron Dividend” — the one or two championship-seeking veterans who might join James for slightly below their market rate in order to have a shot at a ring.After Allen, I assume that a team signs generic replacement-level players if it doesn’t have enough minutes to fill out its roster. This is pertinent in the case of the Lakers. Even after some heroic assumptions — Steve Nash stays healthy enough to play half the Lakers’ minutes at point guard, they give playing time to second-round pick Jordan Clarkson — the Lakers will almost certainly need to sign a number of scrappy veterans at the minimum salary. Players signed to league-minimum contracts in 2013-14 averaged about -2 points per 100 possessions. Opponents of a roster full of such players would outscore it by 10 points per game, leaving the league-minimum team with a record of 16-66.9That uses a Pythagorean projection; I use 14 as the pythagorean exponent, as Basketball-Reference.com does. This implies, incidentally, that replacement level in the NBA is not zero wins, as some other systems have it, but somewhere in the range of last year’s Philadelphia 76ers instead. A LeBronful Clips team projects at 66-16 — and the Rockets are even better, at 69-13. The Clippers’ Big Three might be slightly better than the Rockets’, but the Clips would have to gut their roster to keep all three players on board — dumping DeAndre Jordan and Jamal Crawford, and perhaps others. Still, the top-level talent might overwhelm everything else, in the fashion of the 2007-08 Celtics.The talent in Houston would run six players deep, with Chandler Parsons, Patrick Beverley and Terrence Jones aiding and abetting James, James Harden and Dwight Howard. After that, there would be almost no one on the roster — the Rockets would have to dump Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin to make room for James.There’s room for concern about how well James, Harden and Howard would mesh together — something that statistics like SPM may not capture well. But this would be a really, really good problem for Houston General Manager Daryl Morey to have. Even if the Rockets lost Parsons to Dallas as collateral damage and gave his minutes to veteran-minimum players instead, they’d project to 65 wins. Even if you subtracted five more wins for lack of team cohesion, they’d still be better positioned to win a championship than the Heat.But incumbency is a powerful advantage. James may stay in Miami or go back to Cleveland — even if some alternatives might give him a better chance of keeping up with Michael Jordan.
The Baseball Hall of Fame will announce this year’s voting results Tuesday afternoon, but clever denizens of the Web have a head start on the process. For the past few years, the analytically inclined corner of the sports world (spearheaded by Baseball Think Factory and other sites) have counted the votes from media members who announced their ballots ahead of time — a contingent that includes more than a third of all voters as of Tuesday morning. The most recent projections can be found here.Since the Baseball Hall of Fame Vote Tracker project began in 2009, the early returns have corresponded remarkably well with the voting results:There are some inconsistencies, however. For example, the subset of voters who release their ballots ahead of time tends to align more closely with progressive baseball philosophies, such as the use of advanced metrics and the acceptance of players implicated for using performance-enhancing drugs.That’s why a player such as Mike Piazza, whose legacy has been clouded by vague PED rumors, may fall short of the 75 percent vote threshold needed for induction despite the exit polling listing him near 76 percent Tuesday morning. Or why Tim Raines, who stakes a not-insignificant portion of his claim to the hall on the basis of a strong wins above replacement (WAR) tally, probably won’t exceed the 65 percent mark being predicted by the HoF Tracker.Interestingly, after controlling for WAR and steroid allegations, the voters who fail to make their preferences known ahead of time also have been biased against players whose hall case is unusually tied up in the Hall of Fame Standards metric, which measures career longevity and milestone accumulation. This means non-disclosing voters tend to weigh a player’s peak contributions more heavily than his overall body of work.But even among the known ballots, there are some interesting hints as to how the nonpublic voting will shake out. Noting a rather visually arresting bifurcation among voters, sabermetric impresario Tom Tango has suggested this clustering effect is due to voters being highly polarized on a few hot-button issues. For instance, voters who selected Barry Bonds were very likely to also select Roger Clemens; meanwhile, voting for Fred McGriff or Lee Smith was strongly associated with not putting Bonds or Clemens on a ballot.Those numbers reflect generational differences between voters that will take center stage when we compare the HoF Tracker’s predictions to the voting results.UPDATE (Jan. 6, 3:59 p.m.): On Tuesday afternoon, the Hall of Fame announced that four players had been inducted: Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz and Craig Biggio. The players with the biggest deviations between actual voting percentage and the HoF Tracker’s predictions were Curt Schilling (whose actual share was 12.3 percentage points lower than his predicted share), Mike Mussina (11 percent), Raines (9.9 percent) and Lee Smith (whose actual voting percentage was 9.4 points higher than expected). As expected, Piazza also lost too many votes once the private ballots were accounted for; his voting percentage dropped from 76.2 percent in the final pre-announcement data to 69.9 percent in the overall tally.
Welcome to Full Count, our weekly baseball column. This week, Rob Arthur is filling in for Full Count’s regular author, Neil Paine, who returns next week. Have anything you want them to write about? Tweet to Rob at @No_Little_Plans, or to Neil at @Neil_Paine.Despite consternation from the commissioner and rule changes to speed up the game, baseball has never been slower than it is right now.1At least, not in the years for which we have data on game length, going back to 1920. Even in the short time since last season, the average delay between pitches has jumped a full second. It’s all part of a decadelong trend toward more sluggish play, and there’s an alarming reason baseball’s pace problem is likely to get even worse going forward: Slowing down helps pitchers throw faster.Compared with 2007, the average MLB pitcher now holds the ball a full two seconds longer between consecutive pitches. This leisurely behavior has helped drag the average game out to a full three hours, five minutes — roughly 10 minutes longer than it was two years ago. Some have argued that the pace of the game isn’t a problem, but MLB commissioner Rob Manfred has announced that he intends to make baseball faster “for the benefit of the game and the fans.”Regardless of where you stand on the pace-of-play debate, it hasn’t always been clear why players have slowed down so dramatically. Older hitters seem to gain from waiting longer between pitches, but that doesn’t explain why opposing pitchers have cooperated in slowing down the game. Hurlers must also have something to gain by letting the clock tick.And indeed, in terms of baseball’s most valuable currency — fastball velocity — pitchers do benefit from a slower pace of delivery. I found this using a model that compared every pitch to the pitcher’s own average velocity, while normalizing for the count and number of pitches he had thrown in the game.2Specifically, I used a linear mixed model for the analysis. Data for the chart came from the 2016 season, but I also tested the impact of pace on other years, from 2013-15, and found similar results. Why are we seeing such a drastic dip? It’s possible that teams are finally starting to reap the benefits of the shift, putting fielders in spots to steal away more hits. Maybe defenses have improved in some other way, or maybe colder early-season weather has been a drag on BABIP thus far.Alternatively, players might be selling out to hit home runs more than ever before, making only glancing contact when they don’t drive the ball. Strikeout rates are higher than they’ve ever been, supporting the idea that hitters are eschewing other outcomes in order to hit long balls. Regardless of the reason, decreased BABIP (combined with more strikeouts and walks) leaves baseball with less action on the basepaths and in the field than ever before.Insane stat of the week Baseball’s injury problems aren’t getting worse this seasonFrom Cy Young contenders to All-Star left fielders (some of whom even play for teams other than the Mets!), injuries have already claimed many players’ seasons. The rash of elbow and shoulder problems has prompted concern among fans and analysts about whether injuries are taking a larger toll this year than in previous seasons.But according to injury data I assembled for an earlier article, the toll of 2017’s disabled-list members isn’t outside the norm. So far this year, the league as a whole has lost some 30 wins above replacement (WAR)6Averaging together the versions found at Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs.com. to injuries. Prorated to a full season, that would end up being about 112 WAR, which would stand as only the third-worst total of the last eight years. The worst season by far was 2013 — the height of the Tommy John epidemic — when the league lost a whopping 163 combined wins to injuries.Between Noah Syndergaard and a host of other All-Stars, we may feel beset by injury problems this season, but baseball’s health is not really trending any worse than usual — and things are much better now than they were four years ago. Because I adjusted for every pitcher’s own typical velocity, this pattern isn’t just caused by a bunch of slow-pitching, hard-throwing relievers. Instead, pitchers truly seem to gain velocity by waiting longer to deliver the ball. For every additional second they spend (up to 20 seconds), pitchers throw about .02 miles per hour harder.3After 20 seconds, the benefit of additional time between pitches begins to level off, although velocity still increases slightly even out to about 40 seconds.Such a small difference in fastball velocity might seem too insignificant to chase. But every mile per hour matters: According to a 2010 study by Mike Fast (now employed in the Houston Astros’ front office), a single tick of fastball velocity is worth 0.3 runs per nine innings for a starter, and even more (0.45 runs per mph) for relievers. With players desperate for any advantage, a 0.1- or 0.2-mile per-hour bump is certainly worth the wait. And pitchers are taking advantage — those who took longer from one year to the next tended to see their fastball velocities increase slightly compared with what you’d expect based on their age.4The correlation between annual changes in pace and velocity was 0.1, with a p-value of 0.01.Where pace matters most, though, is at the team level. If a team’s entire pitching staff took an average of 10 extra seconds, the resulting 0.2-mile per hour increase would equate to about 10 extra runs saved per season. Using the classic sabermetric rule of 10 runs per win, that’s one whole extra victory — something general managers have been willing to pay upwards of $7 million to acquire.No front office source was willing to confirm to me on the record that they knew about the connection between pace and fastball velocity. But it’s clear that some teams have been taking advantage. Comparing data I put together on the number of front office analysts working for teams with each team’s average pace, it turns out that the most analytically minded teams have also been the slowest.5After adjusting for the league average number of analysts and pace in each year, there was a significant correlation (r=.35, p<.001) between the number of analysts a team employed and its average time between pitches. For example, Tampa Bay — well known as one of the most advanced sabermetric teams in baseball — has also been among the worst dawdlers, pitching about 5 percent slower than the average team.Across baseball, the average four-seam fastball velocity has spiked a full mile per hour since 2010, and that jump has coincided with the drop in pace. Seven years ago, 55 percent of all pitches were thrown with a wait of less than 20 seconds from the previous pitch. In 2016, that’s down to 43 percent, and it will likely decline further this season. All in all, declining pace could be responsible for about 20 percent of the leaguewide increase in fastball velocity since 2010.If pace really is helping drive fastball velocities upward, then MLB’s slowdown is inevitable. Even if the payoff in fastball velocity is tiny — a tenth of a mile per hour — throwing hard is arguably the most valuable skill in baseball. Unless Manfred succeeds in adopting aggressive new measures (such as a pitch clock) to combat baseball’s pace problem, we can expect fastballs to continue getting faster while the rest of the game slows down.This year, putting the ball in play doesn’t paySo far this season, fewer batted balls are falling for hits than they have since 2003. The leaguewide batting average on balls in play has dropped to .294, 6 points off last year’s average. Here’s a plot of MLB-wide BABIP over the past 17 years:
OSU junior defensive specialist Valeria Leon (3) prepares to hit the ball during a game against Florida State on Sept. 6 at St. John Arena. OSU won 3-1. Credit: Courtesy of OSUNow that the Ohio State women’s volleyball team has made its way through the Big Ten conference teams once, the ledger is filled with only rematches for the remainder of the regular season.The first of that docket is set to come on Wednesday when No. 14 OSU (20-6, 9-5) hosts No. 16 Illinois (17-8, 8-6) at 6:30 p.m. in St. John Arena.The Buckeyes took home a four-set victory in the teams’ first matchup in Champaign, Illinois, on Oct. 10.OSU coach Geoff Carlston expects the Fighting Illini to be motivated after falling to his team earlier in the season.“I’m sure their coach is going to be using the, ‘Hey, they came into our place and beat us, we need to do the same thing here,’” Carlston said.Although the Buckeyes had success against Illinois last month, that’s not on their minds heading into the upcoming matchup. They know these late-season contests are unpredictable.“Everybody’s played each other and then you never know what’s going to happen,” senior outside hitter Katie Mitchell said. “People can have good weekends, bad weekends, change lineups, injuries — anything can happen.”The Fighting Illini have found their footing after going 4-6 to open up conference play, winning their last four games.They’re led by preseason all-Big Ten selection and redshirt senior outside hitter Jocelynn Birks, who ranks third in the conference with 4.05 kills per set. Defense, however, is what makes them tough to deal with.Illinois has been one of the better blocking teams in the Big Ten all season — currently ranking fourth in the conference with 2.71 blocks per set — but lately, it has kicked it into high gear, averaging 13 blocks per game over its last four contests.Carlston said the key to combatting the Fighting Illini’s blocking is passing and the play of his outside hitters, who need to be “smart, but aggressive” with their attacks.For the season, Illinois has been led in blocks by freshman middle blocker Ali Bastianelli (114) and junior middle blocker Katie Stadick (98), but it’s the play of junior opposite hitter Naya Crittenden that has Carlston’s attention.“Their right side, (Crittenden), is just a really formidable block right now,” Carlston said of the Oregon transfer. “She’s hard to hit around.”Crittenden has 24 blocks during her team’s winning streak — including 11 in its most recent win against Northwestern — for an average of 1.5 per set.“We know they’re a really big, physical team, so it’s kind of like the big kids against the big kids,” Mitchell said.Dealing with adversityContrary to Illinois, the Buckeyes started off conference play hot but have hit their first rough patch of the season lately, losing four of their last six matches.“The reality is, you’re going to have ebb and flow in the season and we’re grinding right now as a group,” Carlston said. “I liked how we responded (against Rutgers) and we’re going to have to continue to do that moving forward.”Part of OSU’s struggles can be tied to the loss of starting freshman setter Taylor Hughes, who has played in only two of those six games after suffering an elbow injury.The team has taken some time to adapt to new starter Emily Ruetter, but Carlston feels that his team is finally getting used to the senior’s different style of play.“Emily’s doing a great job. When you lose your setter, the new normal takes a while to get adjusted to,” Carlston said.What’s next?OSU will play its penultimate home regular season game on Saturday when it hosts rival Michigan in St. John Arena at 7 p.m. The teams met just over two weeks ago, with the Buckeyes coming out on top in a hard-fought, five-set match.
OSU sophomore outside hitter Audra Appold (9) during a game against Purdue on Oct. 16 at St. John Arena. Courtesy: OSU AthleticsAfter the women’s volleyball season opener against Texas State, senior middle blocker Taylor Sandbothe posted 999 career kills – just one swing away from a milestone few players are able to reach.It would not be until the ninth point of the first set against a scrappy North Texas team that she would be able to celebrate her personal feat. In addition to Sandbothe’s own achievement, she also posted 19 kills and assisted with three blocks to help push the Buckeyes to two, early straight-set victories in the North Texas Challenge tournament on Friday. In addition, she was the overall kill leader with 26 in the Buckeyes’ bout against Texas A&M on Saturday.Her efforts were combined with the swinging power of fellow senior middle blocker Kylie Randall. She shined in the first two matches, attacking at a .750 efficiency against Texas State and .538 versus North Texas.Overall 14 players saw the floor this weekend, including the six Buckeye freshmen – holding true to the “tribe” mantra they created at the beginning of the season. OSU reigned supreme at the tournament and clinched their first win over a ranked opponent this season during their match against Texas A&M.Texas StateThe Buckeyes had no trouble with the Texas State Bobcats, holding them to under 20 points in each set. Texas State only saw two leads in the entire match, which were quickly taken back by OSU. The Scarlet and Gray held Texas State to a mere .088 team total attacking percentage, which was no match for the powerful .413 number the Buckeyes put up. OSU also served eight aces, three of which came from the hand of sophomore setter Taylor Hughes. North TexasThe Mean Green went tooth-and-nail with the Buckeyes, with the lead changing hands 12 times and coming to a stalemate on 30 occasions. Even as North Texas moved within closer range, they were shut down in three sets: 25-23, 25-17 and 25-19. Two Buckeye “tribe” members grabbed double-digit digs during the match: 13 by junior outside hitter, Luisa Schirmer and 10 by senior libero, Valeria León. Texas A&MThe third match pitted No. 15 OSU against the No. 16 Texas A&M Aggies and proved to be the biggest challenge of the weekend for the Buckeyes. The teams came into the match without a loss on either side, and it would take a back-and-forth, five-set battle to see who would still be on a winning streak. Texas A&M out-swung OSU 14 kills to 10 in the first set winning it 25-21. The tone changed in the second set as the Buckeyes jumped out to an early 5-0 lead. However, A&M did not give up easily and was able to play back to a 12-10 advantage before OSU called a timeout. The lead changed multiple times before an attack error by A&M’s Emily Hardesty gave the Buckeyes their first game point opportunity. It was a missed opportunity though, and play went into the 30’s before a kill by OSU’s Randall secured the second set win. In the third set, OSU held a five-point lead before the Aggies took control at 21-20, and did not look back. At the end of the set, the Buckeyes were only hitting .179 as a team compared to over .300 by Texas A&M. OSU needed a set win to stay alive, and win is exactly what they did, leading almost the entire fourth set. A&M tried to use a timeout to slow the momentum of OSU’s Sandbothe, but she was able to come right out with another kill. The Buckeye “tribe” then used their collective efforts to score the 25-18, much-needed victory, evening the match score 2-2.The Buckeyes took the lead early in the fifth and final set and were able to remain calm even when the Aggies’ Jazzmin Babers had a kill to make the score 14-13. A collective block from Hughes and Randall ended the match. OSU came out on top with a 3-0 record at the conclusion of the tournament. Hughes led the team with 13 digs and 44 assists while sophomore outside hitter Audra Appold contributed 13 kills.The Buckeyes will have a week to rest up before they face LIU Brooklyn at Nationwide Arena on Sept. 2.
Though conference standings provide a benchmark for regional supremacy and bragging rights, when it comes to the NCAA Tournament there’s far more at stake for teams who top the nation’s polls. Undoubtedly, the Ohio State men’s basketball squad is one of those teams. As the country’s No. 1 team, coach Thad Matta’s crew is priming itself for a run at the National Championship. To set themselves up for the most favorable path to the Final Four, the Buckeyes will need to keep winning games to solidify their position as the No. 1 overall seed. “They’re playing better than anybody, except maybe Texas,” said Jerry Palm of CBS Sports. “Nobody’s beaten them yet, so I think you have to go with Ohio State (as the top team).” Being the only undefeated team in college basketball, OSU sits atop The Associated Press‘ Top 25 poll after a unanimous vote this week. Kansas (20-1), Texas (18-3) and Pittsburgh (20-2) round out the top four in the poll, but Palm isn’t convinced it’s those three teams that will earn the three remaining No. 1 seeds. “I don’t have Kansas as a one (seed); I have Connecticut instead,” Palm said. “I’m waiting for Kansas to beat somebody before I put them as a one (seed).” Palm said Connecticut has numerous quality wins, including against then-No. 2 Michigan State, No. 9 Kentucky, No. 12 Texas and No. 7 Villanova. On the other hand, Kansas has only one win against a Top 25 team as it beat No. 14 Memphis on Dec. 7. Also on the periphery of the No. 1 seed discussion are Mountain West schools San Diego State (21-1) and Brigham Young (20-2), who hold the No. 7 and No. 8 spots in the AP poll, respectively. “I think they’re good teams,” Palm said. “I think they have to put up gaudy records to be No. 1 seeds — one or two losses at best.” Despite being behind San Diego State in the polls, Brigham Young beat the Aztecs, 71-58, on Jan. 26 behind Jimmer Fredette’s game-high 43 points. Fredette, who leads the country in scoring at 27.6 points per game, is also a top candidate to be the Naismith College Player of the Year. The two teams play each other again Feb. 26 in San Diego, a game that could end the hopes of earning a No. 1 seed for the loser. While the Buckeyes know the importance of earning a No. 1 seed for the tournament, it’s still too early in the season to hear about anything other than their focus on the next game. “We just take one game at a time,” junior guard William Buford said. “We try to get better and better day by day. We just try to worry about us, who we’re going to play next and how we’re going to beat them.” Amid last week’s flurry of Top 10 team upsets, including Pittsburgh, Duke (19-2) and Kentucky (16-5), Matta said his team couldn’t afford to waste time worrying about other teams. Matta said there are lessons to be learned from other top teams getting knocked off. “We only worry about ourselves. You’re going to have those types of games over the course of the Big Ten. Maybe it opens our guys’ eyes a little bit more and lets them know that things can happen, which is always a good thing for our guys to understand that,” Matta said. “I think these guys are smart enough to know that if we don’t come to play, if we’re not tuned into what we have to do, we’ll lose, and I think it’s as simple as that.” The team next travels to Minneapolis to play Minnesota at 2 p.m. Sunday.