Charles Barkley went the weekend without insulting Black people, which, at the rate he set in the last month, was an accomplishment. It’s also ironic that the former NBA star has been on so many media outlets firing off his right wing nonsense because he said last week: “I don’t like talking about race issues anymore to the media.” But he talked … and talked … and … in the process, has a portfolio of comments that offend many Black people.A Joke, But Was He Really Joking?“I can be bought. If they paid me enough, I’d work for the Klan.” Black People“We all have bad characters in our groups. Black is not always right, and white is not always wrong. We as Black people, we have a lot of crooks. We can’t just wait until something like (the Michael Brown shooting) happens. We have to look at ourselves in the mirror. There is a reason that they racially profile us in the way they do. Sometimes it is wrong, and sometimes it is right.”
1990NOR17.17.518.518.8-0.3 The Bengals entered this year as playoff contenders with a retooled offense that was considered one of the fastest units in the NFL. But two games into the season, they’ve kicked three field goals. And that’s it, that’s all the points the team has scored. Cincinnati’s inability to score a touchdown in its first two games (both losses) has led to the quick dismissal of offensive coordinator Ken Zampese in his 15th season with the team.It may not sound like that big a deal to be held without a touchdown for the first two games of the season, but going back to 1970, this has only happened 15 times prior to 2017. Another eight teams registered only a return touchdown, failing to score with their offense.The 23 teams that got left at the starting gate should not give Bengals fans much confidence in this year’s unit. These offenses would go on to average 17 points per game for the remainder of the season. If you include the two clunkers each team had in Weeks 1 and 2, the group finished the season with a paltry 15.6 points per game. When compared to their previous season’s scoring output, teams — not counting the 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who were an expansion team and so did not have a previous season — declined by an average of three points. 1970NOR12.31.514.122.2-8.1 2001WAS16.01.518.117.6+0.5 1977BUF11.43.012.817.5-4.7 2016LAR14.04.515.417.5-2.1 1977TAM7.43.08.18.9-0.8 1985PHI17.93.020.017.4+2.6 2001SEA20.06.022.021.1+0.9 2006TAM13.21.514.918.8-3.9 1982KAN19.614.021.221.4-0.2 1985BUF12.56.013.415.6-2.2 YEARTEAMFULL YEARGAMES 1-2REST OF YEARPRIOR YEARDIFF 2006OAK10.53.011.618.1-6.5 1990PIT18.311.519.316.6+2.7 1988CLE19.04.521.126.0-4.9 2004TAM18.88.020.318.8+1.5 1975NOR11.81.513.511.9+1.6 1978BAL14.90.017.021.1-4.1 AVERAGE POINTS PER GAME Excluding the 1976 Tampa Bay team, which was in its first year as a franchiseSource: Pro-Football-Reference.com 1997IND19.68.021.319.8+1.5 1996TAM13.84.515.114.9+0.2 2000DET19.214.519.920.1-0.2 1973OAK22.914.024.426.1-1.7 1974PHI17.38.018.922.1-3.3 Teams that started like the Bengals didn’t rebound wellHow the 22 past teams that didn’t score an offensive touchdown in Weeks 1 and 2 fared over the rest of the season, compared to the season prior All is not lost here for the Bengals. Eight of those teams that didn’t score an offensive touchdown in their first two games actually went on to score more on average in their remaining games than they did in the previous year. But all of these gains were modest, in many cases less than a point. The biggest rebounders were the 1990 Pittsburgh Steelers, who averaged 16.6 points in 1989, failed to score an offensive TD in Weeks 1 and 2, and then averaged 19.3 points for the rest of the year. The news is less rosy when you look at three most recent examples: The 2016 L.A. Rams, the 2006 Oakland Raiders and the 2006 Tampa Bay Bucs. The inauspicious starts for these three were a dark omen for what was to come. The trio combined to go 10-38.The hope of modest gains isn’t much for Bengals fans to cling to. This team was expecting its offense, which ranked 24th in the NFL last year, to get much better — not to plateau or fall off a cliff. Since history tells us to expect that teams in the Bengals’ position will score an average of three fewer points per game than they did in the previous season, and Cincinnati scored 20.3 points per game last year, we’d expect the team to post about 17 points per game in 2017. In the 16-game era,1Not counting 1982 and 1987 seasons, which were shortened by strikes. teams that average between 16 and 18 points per game are 871-1,635-6 for a .348 winning percentage that translates to between five and six projected wins this year for the Bengals.Of course, the Bengals could have just run into hot defenses in their first two games, against the Baltimore Ravens and Houston Texans. But even the great 1985 Bears gave up 22 offensive touchdowns that season, or 1.4 per game. Getting shut out from paydirt in two straight games is epic futility no matter who you’re facing. Cincinnati might pin Week 2’s offensive fiasco on the fact that is was playing a Thursday night game on short rest, but that likely had no effect given that in games through Week 2 since 2014, teams have actually averaged more points per game on Thursdays (23.3) than in the season as a whole (22.6).Some expressed worries that the Bengals’ attack would suffer after the team let 35-year-old Pro Bowl tackle Andrew Whitworth leave for the Rams in free agency, but the Bengals attempted to compensate for the loss by picking up even more skill players in the draft. Owner Mike Brown and head coach Marvin Lewis selected world-class sprinter John Ross to be a game-changing deep threat with the ninth overall pick. And in the second round, the club added 226-pound running back Joe Mixon, who ran a 4.5 40-yard-dash at his Pro Day.And those players were added to a mix that already included three-time Pro Bowl quarterback Andy Dalton, perennial Pro Bowl wideout A.J. Green and one of the league’s most efficient scorers in tight end Tyler Eifert, who since 2000 has the third most touchdowns per catch (minimum 20 touchdowns) among tight ends. The team has 11 offensive players who are home-grown first- or second-round draft picks.All of which makes the offense’s ineptitude even more perplexing. Which explains why the team took drastic measures: This is the first time in the Bengals’ 50-year history, all of which has been spent under the guidance of the Brown family, that an offensive coordinator has been fired during the season.But the bigger issue may be Dalton, who currently ranks last in the NFL in QBR with a rating of just 10. The league average QBR through Week 2 is 49; last year, Dalton’s was 52.3. There have even been rumblings about benching Dalton, including from a former NFL Executive of the Year.Either way, Cincy has no excuses this week — at least, that is, no excuses for not scoring a touchdown. The Bengals are in Green Bay facing a Packer defense that ranks 25th in yards allowed per play through Week 2 after finishing 28th in 2016.But perhaps the Bengals can look to one of their NFC counterparts for offensive inspiration. The Bengals were the 24th team to go through their first two games without scoring an offensive TD, but the 25th team, this year’s San Francisco 49ers, joined the club just a few days later. After a fortnight of grim, incompetent offense, Brian Hoyer and the Niners exploded for five touchdowns and 39 points in Thursday night’s loss to the Rams.Then again, when it’s only Week 3 and you are already trying to emulate the feats of the Niners, something has gone terribly wrong.
Two days after Thanksgiving, the Miami Hurricanes closed out another mediocre regular season with what the Miami Herald called a “dismal downer” of a game. They never led Pitt in the 35-23 defeat, and many UM faithful streamed out of Sun Life Stadium with almost an entire quarter left to play. Miami will appear in a postseason game this month because it has a just technically bowl-eligible 6-6 record (and it’s a well-known university). But the Duck Commander Independence Bowl in Shreveport, Louisiana, is not exactly a destination befitting a program that was once college football royalty.Cycles of boom and bust, however, are nothing new in Coral Gables. This Saturday, ESPN is airing “The U Part 2,” a “30 for 30” by director Billy Corben that follows up on his 2009 documentary about the Hurricanes’ dominant, lawless football program of the 1980s. The sequel explores the process that rebuilt the scandal-ridden team into what would become, statistically, the most talented — if not quite the most dominant — team in college football history.Before the Hurricanes came back from the brink, they were as low as they are now. Miami’s mid-to-late 1990s deterioration reached its nadir at the end of 1997, the program’s first losing season in 18 years. When the final whistle blew on that campaign, Miami had a +3.8 Elo rating,1According to an Elo-like modification of ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI) developed by FiveThirtyEight’s editor in chief, Nate Silver. which means Miami would have been favored by just 3.8 points against an average FBS team on a neutral field. To use 2014 teams as a comparison, Miami was the equivalent of this year’s Colorado State or Navy teams — a far cry from their dominant squads of the 1980s and early 1990s. (Although this year’s team is even worse, with a rating of +2.0.)This is what happens when a program transgresses enough NCAA rules to deserve its own documentary. During the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Hurricanes’ violations ranged from a pay-for-play scandal to a UM academic adviser helping players defraud the federal government of Pell Grant money. When the NCAA was finished handing down its penalties, the Hurricanes had been banned from the postseason for a year and stripped of 31 scholarships from 1995 to 1997.For college football teams, scholarships are currency. There’s a clear relationship between a team’s recruiting success and its on-field performance, and in the wake of the sanctions, Miami was unable to recruit as effectively as it had during the early 1990s.2Although it bears mentioning that, even in a relatively “down” recruiting year like 1996, the Hurricanes still hauled in four of the nation’s 100 best recruits.But under Butch Davis, the Hurricanes had figured out how to rebuild. From creative accounting to get around the scholarship limits — Davis persuaded wide receiver Santana Moss (among others) to run track on scholarship for UM while walking onto the football team — to rummaging through the recruiting bin for undervalued prospects, Davis amassed a talent collection better than college football has ever seen before or since. If we judge the players by where they were drafted in the NFL, tally the expected future approximate value for players picked in that slot, add it up for each school by each historical draft class, and assign a weighted sum of the previous four years to each college team-season,3The weights, in this case, are 4-3-2-1, derived from what combination best predicts a team’s FPI rating for the season in question. So, for instance, Miami players accumulated 103 points of AV in the 2002 draft, 86 points in the 2003 draft, 115 points in the 2004 draft and 46 points in the 2005 draft. That means the weighted sum for the 2001 Hurricanes squad is 4 times 103, plus 3 times 86, plus 2 times 115, plus 46 — which equals 946 points, the highest total any college team posted since the first NFL/AFL common draft in 1967. the Miami teams built by Davis and eventually coached by his successor, Larry Coker, are in a universe unto themselves.The single most talented college roster of the past 48 years, according to this measure, was the fabled 2001 Miami Hurricanes, who went 12-0 and won the BCS title while posting one of the best point differentials (+395) of any national champion. Davis-built Miami teams in 2000 and 2002 also rank third and fourth, respectively.The Hurricanes turned their unprecedented collection of talent into a one-loss 2000 team (which media-poll voters thought should have played undefeated Oklahoma for the national championship instead of Florida State, whom Miami had beaten earlier in the season); a historically dominant, unbeaten national champion in 2001; and a 2002 squad whose sole loss came in double overtime of the BCS title game.“You could have taken that 2001 [Hurricanes] team and put them in the NFL,” former Hurricanes safety Antrel Rolle told Corben, “and without a doubt they would have made the playoffs.”It’s probably the closest such a sentiment has ever come to actually being true. Then again, as stacked as the Davis/Coker Hurricanes were in terms of skilled athletes, and as impressive as their 34-game winning streak4Which stretched between Sept. 23, 2000, and Jan. 3, 2003. was, it’s difficult to argue they would have torn up the pros when they barely cracked the top 10 in terms of the highest modified FPI ratings by college teams in the past three decades.Under Davis, the Hurricanes’ Elo rating peaked at +24.3 after they beat Florida, the AP Poll’s No. 7, 37-20 in the 2001 Sugar Bowl — Davis’s last game as UM’s coach before leaving for the NFL’s Cleveland Browns. After Coker took the reins, Miami’s rating would grow to +29.0 after thumping Nebraska 37-14 in the 2002 Rose Bowl, and crested at +30.2 before the 2003 Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State.That mark represents the 10th-highest rating achieved by any team since 1982, but it trails entries from some of college football’s other most celebrated dynasties — including the 1990s Nebraska Cornhuskers, the 2000s USC Trojans, the 2008 Florida Gators, the 2012 Alabama Crimson Tide and even the 1988 Miami Hurricanes.There’s also the tricky matter of how the Hurricanes’ second golden era ended, marred by yet another scandal. While the program was ultimately assessed lighter penalties than it had received in the mid-1990s, in some ways that was due as much to the NCAA’s botched investigation as it was an absolution of Miami’s violations.And now the Hurricanes are back in the muck. But if there’s good news for Miami, Corben’s documentary underscores just how volatile this program has been over the past three decades. Of the top 18 FBS programs (by Elo rating) since 1982, Miami has by far the widest distribution of end-of-year Elo ratings.5In stats parlance, it has the largest standard deviation — 9.5 Elo points.In other words, the team tends to seesaw between greatness and mediocrity. And while life at “The U” has its peaks and valleys, if the story of Corben’s second Miami film is any indication, the next Hurricane dynasty might be just around the corner, no matter how bad things seem in the present.
The other day, several of us in the FiveThirtyEight office were musing about the New York Yankees’ chances in 2015. Certainly the Yankees are no longer the dominant powerhouse they were in the late 1990s and early 2000s, nor are they even the outrageously expensive (but championship-starved) juggernaut of the mid-to-late 2000s.1They’re still spending in excess of $200 million on payroll, but that no longer ranks No. 1 in baseball, nor is it anywhere near as far from average as their payroll was at its 2005 peak. Fangraphs’ projections — which, like all preseason predictions, come with a lot of uncertainty — see the Yankees as a slightly above-average team this season, and their 84-78 record last year fit that description as well.But another interesting note about the 2015 Yankees is that their position-player corps figures to be one of the most improved in the American League, according to the projected wins above replacement (WAR) listed on Fangraphs’ depth charts. And the biggest position at which they got better? Shortstop — former home of future Hall of Famer Derek Jeter.We slagged on Jeter a bit last season for all the attention paid to his yearlong retirement tour despite his plainly awful numbers. The truth is that, according to WAR at least, the Yankees had the least-productive shortstop situation in all of baseball last year, so even a shortstop depth chart headlined by Didi Gregorius was bound to be one of the game’s most improved in 2015. And, sure enough, no team is projected to gain more WAR at shortstop this season than the Yankees, mostly because Jeter retired.Here’s an accounting of the Yankees’ projected gains and losses at each position, along with those of every other team going into the 2015 season:Of course, some teams improved even more at other positions than the Yankees did at shortstop. The St. Louis Cardinals, for instance, picked up WAR superstar Jason Heyward to man right field, a position that had been filled poorly by Allen Craig and the late Oscar Taveras in 2014. That change projects to be worth a net improvement of about 7 WAR for St. Louis this season (including 4.6 from Heyward himself, plus the additional bonus of getting rid of -1.8 WAR from Craig and Taveras).The following table represents a more specific breakdown of the Yankees’ shortstops, the Cardinals’ right fielders and the 28 other positional situations that are projected to improve the most in 20152Note that, in some cases, a team can show great improvement despite the same player being projected as the primary starter in both 2015 as in 2014. This could be due to a number of reasons, including the player having improved projected rate statistics (whether because of age-related improvement or regression to the mean after an out-of-character bad season) or even more projected playing time in 2015.:
CARMELO looks at a player’s closest historical comparables to get a sense of how he will develop going forward, and it doesn’t see Thompson being anything more than an average player over the next few years.For instance, Thompson’s wins above replacement (WAR) projection over the next five years (9.1 WAR) ranks 114th among NBA players for whom we have a projection. At the league’s going rate per win (which adjusts for the coming salary-cap spike), that amount of WAR is worth a mere $36.1 million, a far (far!) cry from the $80 million that Cleveland offered — and Thompson rejected — for the same span of seasons. CARMELO also thinks Thompson’s next three years will be worth only $23.4 million, less than half of the $53 million he was seeking for the same term.With practically no leverage, Thompson will probably return to the Cavs sooner rather than later, and at a lower price than he’d previously been offered. But according to CARMELO, any cost higher than about $7.5 million per season will be too much for his services. Thompson isn’t a bad player, but he is a deeply average one — and was never worth even half the maximum contract he was seeking this summer.Read more:NBA player projections2015-16 NBA Previews After losing the NBA Finals in June, the Cleveland Cavaliers had to quickly turn their attention away from the court and toward their bank account. LeBron James was a free agent! (He re-signed with Cleveland for two years and $47 million.) Ditto Kevin Love! (He re-upped for five years and $110 million.) Not to mention Iman Shumpert, J.R. Smith, James Jones and finals folk hero Matthew Dellavedova, all of whom were brought back by the Cavs over the summer.But amid all the returnees was a glaring absence: power forward Tristan Thompson.Thompson, who made a name for himself during the Cavs’ playoff run with a solid performance in place of the injured Love, has turned down Cleveland’s contract offers all year long. He reportedly declined a four-year, $52 million extension in January and an offer of five years and $80 million this summer, supposedly because he wanted the league maximum of five years and $94 million. (He would later reportedly request — and be denied — a three-year, $53 million deal.) And despite threats that he’d accept Cleveland’s one-year qualifying offer of $6.8 million in order to become an unrestricted free agent next summer, Thompson eventually turned that down, too. Now Thompson is officially holding out, refusing to play until he gets a new contract.1On Thursday, collective bargaining agreement expert Larry Coon said he suspects that the Cavs have pulled their $80 million offer, further reducing Thompson’s options.You can appreciate Thompson’s dilemma. He became a free agent the summer before huge increases will reshape the NBA’s salary cap and maximum salary, thanks to the league’s gargantuan new TV contract. If Thompson takes the Cavs’ offers now, he’ll potentially be leaving a lot of money on the table, compared with what his peers will make starting next year. His holdout is the last resort in an attempt to inject what little leverage he can into his current situation.But all this talk kind of ignores the elephant in the room when it comes to Thompson: He isn’t all that good. Or at least, that’s the opinion of CARMELO, our new player-projection system.
Los Angeles Dodgers+1.12– But how can a player — or a whole team — develop high spin rates? Some players have high fastball spin rates innately, and others don’t — changing grip on a breaking ball can change spin rate, but it’s difficult to throw a fastball differently. Unlike velocity, which can be trained, a pitcher’s fastball spin ratio is thought to be extremely difficult to alter naturally.The unnatural solution is for a pitcher to apply a foreign substance. In May, Cleveland Indians pitcher Trevor Bauer drew the ire of the Houston Astros when he addressed the subject of sticky substances and their effect on performance.“There is a problem in baseball right now that has to do with sticky substances and spin rates,” Bauer said. “We know how it affects spin rate and we know how spin rate affects outcomes and pitches and movements that have a big difference in a game, a season and each individual player’s career.”“The people who choose not to do it are at a competitive disadvantage.” Chicago White Sox-0.80– Cleveland Indians+0.34– Major league rules state that no pitcher may apply “a foreign substance of any kind to the ball,” but the rule is rarely invoked — you’ll often see MLB pitchers tugging at their caps or touching their nonthrowing arms on the mound. When the rule is enforced, the offense is usually egregious — like in 2014 when Yankee Michael Pineda was ejected and ultimately suspended for putting pine tar on his neck and then on the baseball.We reached out to the MLB Commissioner’s Office last week, but it declined to comment on whether the league is investigating high spin rates.Opposing teams can ask umpires to check for substances, but that’s a rare occurrence. Indians manager Terry Francona actually apologized to Hinch in May for the spin-talk controversy on social media.“You’ve never seen me go out and challenge anybody because, if I feel like somebody is trying to grip the ball, I’m glad,” Francona said. A firmer grip might increase spin, but it also might prevent a pitcher from beaning a batter. “Yeah, they might make a better pitch, but there would not be a worse feeling than, as a hitter, knowing that this guy might let this one fly … What happens sometimes is when guys do stuff blatantly, it puts everybody in a tough spot, because it’s a rule, but he’s just trying to hold the ball.”Baseball has a long history of living with some common forms of rule-bending, such as sign stealing, scuffing baseballs and neighborhood plays. Even Bauer agrees that enforcing the rule isn’t the answer.“Allow it. I don’t see that there’s a way to enforce it,” he said in May. “So pick a substance that’s sticky … and just put it on the back of the mound.”MLB might have its own solution down the road: a tackier ball that is in development. The Indians were among the teams that tested the new ball this spring.“ I just hope that at some point, maybe we can morph into that,” Francona said, “because I think maybe it could be really helpful.”Of course even a tacky ball could always be tackier. Players and teams will probably always be looking for an edge, particularly now that they can quantify the power of spin.Check out our latest MLB predictions. Pittsburgh Pirates+0.54– New York Yankees+1.47– Seattle Mariners+0.46– San Diego Padres+0.33– * 2018 data through Sept. 20Source: Baseball savant Boston Red Sox+0.63– Houston Astros+0.90– When a thrown ball departs from a straight path, it’s because the speed of its spin creates a pressure differential. The ball moves toward the direction of lower pressure. In baseball, this phenomenon — known as the Magnus Effect — combines with the orientation of the ball’s spin axis to force a curveball to break downward and a slider to move more laterally. More spin equals more movement. The Magnus Effect forces a four-seam fastball in another direction: up.Just about every four-seam fastball is thrown in a similar manner, with the index and middle fingers of the throwing hand last making contact with the ball. Bauer, who’s known for taking a scientific approach to pitching, explained that to increase spin on four-seam fastballs, the pitcher’s fingers must maintain contact longer to form a more acute tangential angle with the ball. Bauer believes this is largely an innate trait — unless a sticky substance helps the fingers adhere to the ball for a fraction of second longer.University of Illinois physics professor Alan Nathan, an MLB consultant, agreed with Bauer’s theory.“It’s probably pretty hard to change that [fastball spin] ratio for an individual,” Nathan said of naturally changing spin rate. “I can see that you could do it for a curveball because a curveball involves some technique whereas a fastball is pure power. There is no finesse.”It seems like Bauer tried to prove his point with an on-field experiment. During the season, Bauer ranked 164th out of 495 pitches in average spin rate at 2,322 rpms. But in one inning of an April 30 start in Texas, Bauer’s average spin rate surged while his velocity remained steady. He came close to hitting 2,700 rpm with a fastball — more than 300 rpms above his average. Philadelphia Phillies-0.17– Minnesota Twins+0.28– Arizona Diamondbacks+0.55– St. Louis Cardinals+0.52– Miami Marlins-0.16– Tampa Bay Rays-0.17– Baltimore Orioles-0.14– San Francisco Giants-0.08– Atlanta Braves+0.22– Kansas City Royals-0.40– Detroit Tigers+0.22– Chicago Cubs+0.32– Colorado Rockies+0.53– Washington Nationals-0.06– New York Mets+0.78– Milwaukee Brewers+0.84– Oakland Athletics-0.62– Los Angeles Angels+0.37– Which MLB teams are prizing spin?MLB teams by change in average rate of four-seam fastball revolutions per minute/miles per hour between 2015 and 2018* When baseball welcomed the new Statcast technology to every major league stadium in 2015, the system’s Doppler radar began tracking an underlying pitching skill: spin rate. Teams and players were suddenly armed with new data to study and optimize. They were able to quantify long-held beliefs about pitch characteristics, like “late life” and “rise,” and challenge established practices, like always keeping the ball down as a pitcher.As batters have adjusted their swings lower to crush the sinking fastball, more and more pitchers have sought to go up in the zone, above uppercut swing planes, with elevated fastballs. In every year of Statcast pitch tracking, the average height of four-seam fastballs upon reaching the plate has increased. And adding spin to the four-seam fastball is what makes it a bat-missing weapon. The teams that harness those high-spin pitches seem to have an advantage in getting to October: The Houston Astros, New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers and Cleveland Indians are the top four teams in spin rate on four-seam fastballs, and the Boston Red Sox are ninth.Leaguewide batting averages offer a snapshot into the importance of spin. When pitchers threw fastballs between 93 and 94 mph with an average spin range of 2,240 to 2,300 revolutions per minute, hitters posted a .279 average this season. But against the same velocity range with an increased spin of 2,540 to 2,600 rpms, batting average declines to .255. The more spin a fastball has, the more it appears to rise and resist gravity, and that creates more swings and misses, as demonstrated by Jeff Zimmerman of FanGraphs. Cincinnati Reds-0.99– Texas Rangers+0.88– TEAMChange in average Fastball RPM/MPH, 2015-18 Teams can acquire known high-spin pitchers, but whether individual teams and players can improve their spin ratios is another question. If a team or individual can learn how to alter fastball spin naturally, they would have a major competitive advantage. (Driveline Baseball’s Kyle Boddy wrote on Twitter earlier this year that one way to increase fastball spin without substance would be to throw a hybrid four-seam/cut fastball.)Eno Sarris found for The Athletic that pitchers joining the Astros have enjoyed small spin gains on average, but not every pitcher has made gains. FanGraphs found that the Blue Jays, Yankees, Rockies, Tigers and Astros added the most spin to new arrivals, often modest gains.Gerrit Cole of the Astros and Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers are elite pitchers who have made significant gains in spin. Only Jorge De La Rosa had a greater year-to-year Bauer Unit improvement on his fastball (+2.31 rpm/mph) than Cole (+2.01 rpm/mph), according to a FiveThirtyEight analysis of Statcast data through Sept. 20. Since 2015, Kershaw has added the most spin relative to velocity. His spin rate has increased from 2,217 rpms on average in 2015 to 2,388 this season despite his average fastball velocity falling from 94.2 mph in 2015 to 90.7 this season. That helped Kershaw rank fourth in vertical fastball movement among starters, or average rise, with 10.9 inches this season.Cole has always had one of the top fastball velocities in the game. The pitch averaged 96.6 mph for him this season1Through Sept. 20. after he posted a 95.9 mph mark last season. But his average spin increased from 2,164 rpms last season to 2,374 this season. Cole ranks 34th in rise (9.7 inches vertical inches) among 176 starting pitchers to have thrown 200 fastballs this season and ninth in whiffs per swing (29.3 percent). Cole ranked 127th in vertical rise on his fastball last season (8.8 inches) and 37th in whiffs per swing (21.6 percent), among 189 qualified pitchers.In May, Cole told me that he learned to release the ball differently after working with Verlander, changing the pitch’s spin axis by looking for “true rotation and hop” and “staying behind the ball better.” Cole said the Astros also worked with him on pitch usage and location.Astros manager A.J.Hinch said in a radio interview that Cole is throwing fewer two-seamers, a lower-spin pitch that is sometimes mislabeled by Statcast, and that Cole has made “subtle tweaks.” Cole did record several high-spin fastballs in Pittsburgh that seemed to be outliers, so baseball blogger Saul Forman suggested that the Astros might have simply identified an untapped skill. Cole finished this season fifth in baseball in pitching wins above replacement.Statcast technology is imperfect. Hinch is right in saying that Statcast doesn’t label every pitch correctly. And its Doppler radar doesn’t read spin axis,2Rapsodo tracking technology does that. which means that Statcast does not differentiate between transverse spin — which is sensitive to Magnus Effect — and gyrospin, which is not. Transverse spin is front spin (for a curveball or slider) or backspin (for a fastball) that rotates around an axis that is perpendicular to direction of motion. Gyrospin is like that of a bullet or football thrown in a spiral. A gyrospin axis is in line with the direction of motion. Most pitches have an element of each type of spin. Still, of all pitches, the four-seam fastball has the most consistent spin axis, Nathan said, so it should be most accurate to evaluate via Statcast. Bauer was asked after the game if he had used a foreign substance in that inning, and he said simply, “No comment.” He did acknowledge testing different substances in the lab at Driveline Baseball in Kent, Washington, where he trains and researches in the offseason.“I’ve melted down Firm Grip and Coca-Cola and pine tar together,” Bauer told reporters in May. “I’ve tested a lot of stuff. At 70 mph, when we were doing the tests, spin rates jumped between 300-400 rpm while using various different sticky substances. The effect is slightly less pronounced at higher velocities … but still between 200–300 rpm increase.”Driveline Baseball has tried to make it easier to measure spin rate. It released a metric in November 2016 called “Bauer Units,” a measure for spin divided by velocity. That allows us to look across teams and isolate which players might be generating spin more than others. And some of the most analytically driven teams seemed to valued spin more as soon as Statcast began measuring.Raw spin rate generally increases with velocity, but it’s the spin-to-velocity (rpm-to-mph) ratio that is so crucial to determining pitch movement. For instance, a high-velocity fastball with just average spin will not have as great of a rise effect as a lower-velocity, higher-spin fastball will. The ideal fastball is high-spin, high-velocity, like that of Justin Verlander. The Astros ace ranks second in baseball in vertical movement of his fastball, at 11.2 inches, with an average velocity of 95 mph. His fastball generates 29.4 percent whiffs per swing, seventh in baseball. It’s that rpm-to-mph ratio that is considered difficult to improve in fastballs by those who, like Bauer, have experimented in lab settings.In recent seasons, the Astros added spin outliers in Verlander and Ryan Pressley, who rank fifth and 10th in raw fastball spin rate and fifth and 16th in Bauer Units. (Bauer ranks 162nd out of 348 pitchers in Bauer Units.) The Yankees acquired Aroldis Chapman and Sonny Gray. The Dodgers made a significant investment, three years and $48 million, in elite spin-rate artist Rich Hill after the 2016 season despite his lengthy history of injury and inconsistency.The Dodgers, Astros and Yankees rank first, third and fourth in Bauer Units this season. And since 2015, those same three teams lead in Bauer Units added, suggesting that they better prize and/or teach the skill. All three teams declined interview requests on how they evaluate and develop spin. Toronto Blue Jays+0.07–
Heading into the 2012 season, Ohio State’s ban from the Big Ten Football Championship Game didn’t seem so bad. Coming off its first losing season since 1988, turning around to win the conference title in one season seemed like a very tough task in a conference with four other teams ranked ahead of the Buckeyes. However, three of those four teams have already lost one game just two weeks into the college football season. Now, the Big Ten looks very winnable for the Buckeyes - except for the fact that they are still ineligible to win. The Big Ten’s top-ranked team in the preseason, Michigan, which was ranked No. 8 in the preseason Associated Press top 25 poll, has gotten off to a very rough start. Michigan was blown out by a score of 41-14 in its season-opening game against Alabama, and struggled to a 31-25 victory over Air Force last Saturday. While Michigan at least won its game last week, two other Big Ten favorites were not so lucky, losing road games to Pac-12 Conference opponents. Wisconsin suffered a 10-7 defeat in a close game at Oregon State, while Nebraska lost 36-30 at UCLA. The Big Ten’s stature among major conferences has taken several hits over the first two weeks, but the Buckeyes are off to a 2-0 start, and have risen to No. 12 in the AP top 25. Only one Big Ten team, No. 10-ranked Michigan State, still stands ahead of OSU in that poll. Michigan, Wisconsin and Nebraska all still have teams strong enough to regroup and win the Big Ten, but behind Michigan State, the conference already looks wide open. Now, what could have been a blessing in disguise for the Buckeyes in gearing up for a more realistic championship run in 2013 instead seems like a missed opportunity. This is especially true because of how weak the Leaders Division looks. There are only four teams in the Leaders Division eligible to play in the conference championship game, as Penn State, which does not look like it would have factored in anyway after a 0-2 start, is also ineligible, while in its first season of a four-year postseason ban. That leaves Wisconsin, Purdue, Illinois and Indiana as the only four teams that could represent the Leaders Division in the conference’s championship game on Dec. 1 in Indianapolis. Wisconsin came into the season as the overwhelming favorite, but its loss follows a struggle to a 26-21 win in its season-opener against Northern Iowa. Among the other three teams, only Indiana stands at 2-0 thus far, and although it has already won one more game than it did in all of 2011, both wins have come against teams that did not play in the Football Bowl Subdivision last season. Unless Wisconsin has a drastic turnaround from its first two games of the season, the Leaders Division has set up perfectly for OSU to finish first. The Buckeyes can still earn a trophy and the distinction of being Leaders Division champions, but that hardly matters in the big picture of the situation, because when December rolls around, they still will not be representing the division in the conference title game. Buckeyes coaches and players are unlikely to admit it, but it has to sting to see a window of opportunity opening wide for them to play for their conference’s biggest title, but be barred from capitalizing upon that opportunity. Instead, it appears increasingly likely that the winner of the Leaders Division will be in for a defeat at the hands of Michigan State, or whichever team finishes atop the Big Ten’s Legends Division, when the championship game comes around.
The Indiana men’s basketball team’s Sunday win at Michigan clinched the outright Big Ten regular-season championship. By virtue of that result, Ohio State was denied a share of the title as well as almost $80,000 in bonuses paid to its four coaches. OSU coach Thad Matta would have received $20,000 for a share of the league’s regular-season title on top of his base salary of $3.2 million, as well as an additional year added on to his current contract, according to OSU athletics spokesman Dan Wallenberg. Matta’s contract expires in July 2019. The three OSU assistants – Dave Dickerson, Chris Jent and Jeff Boals – missed out on a combined $58,334. Each of Matta’s assistants would have received “supplemental compensation in the amount of one month’s salary” had OSU won a share of the Big Ten title, Wallenberg told The Lantern in a Monday email. For Dickerson, the team’s associate head coach and highest-paid assistant, a Big Ten title would have resulted an additional $21,667. Jent and Boals would have received $20,000 and $16,667, respectively. OSU, which defeated Illinois, 68-55, Sunday afternoon to improve to 23-7 overall and 13-5 in the Big Ten, needed a Michigan win to claim a share of the regular season title for the fourth consecutive year. The Wolverines, which led by as many as five points during the final minute of play against the Hoosiers, collapsed down the stretch before eventually losing, 72-71, in Ann Arbor, Mich., hours after the Buckeyes defeated the Illini. Wallenberg did not immediately respond to The Lantern‘s Monday afternoon request for information regarding whether these or other bonuses would be awarded if OSU wins this weekend’s Big Ten Tournament. Matta, who is in his ninth year at OSU, has led the Buckeyes to two Final Fours and five Big Ten titles. He and the Buckeyes will chase their third Big Ten Tournament title in four seasons when the team, seeded No. 2, begins play Friday against the winner of Purdue-Nebraska. OSU’s game against either the Boilermakers or Cornhuskers is scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. at the United Center in Chicago.
Location: East Lansing, Michigan 2017 Record: 10-3 (7-2 Big Ten) Head Coach: Mark Dantonio 2018 Record: 2-1 (1-0 Big Ten) All-Time Record vs OSU: 15-31What has happened thus far in 2018: The Michigan State Spartans took a surprising loss in the second game of the season as the Herm Edwards-led Arizona State Sun Devils knocked off the then-No. 15 ranked Spartans with a field goal during the expiring seconds of regulation to secure the 16-13 victory. Michigan State bounced back versus Indiana in Week 3 with a 35-21 victory. Impact Player: Senior running back L.J. Scott is the most experienced player on the roster, but a slow start mixed with an ankle injury has limited his production thus far in 2018. Scott is a three-time letter winner with the Spartans and is a physical downfield runner with the capability of making an impact in the red zone against the Buckeyes. Strengths: Creativity has helped Michigan State win its two games this season. Trick plays against Indiana were the decisive plays that allowed Michigan State to pull away with the victory against the Hoosiers last week. Quarterback Brian Lewerke made a quick pitch in the red zone to make a seven-point lead into a 14-point lead, which lasted for good. Lewerke also hauled in his first career reception during the game in a unique sequence of play calls that caught the Hoosiers off guard. Weaknesses: Sloppy play has dug the Spartans into some holes this season that has made its path to victory harder than it needs to be. Lewerke has again been plagued by interceptions with four already this season after seven last year, and the offense has looked stagnant at times, such as in the loss to Arizona State. Michigan State also committed nine penalties in its opener against Utah State, flaws that it was able to make up for in Week 1. But those flaws could come back to bite them later in the season.