It’s a refrain almost as common as “Merry Christmas” this time of year: There are too many bowl games. While hardcore college football fans don’t mind watching, say, the Miami Beach Bowl on a Monday afternoon a full 10 days before the traditional bowlfest of New Year’s Day (guilty!), there’s also the sense that the bloated bowl season has taken away much of the meaning that used to be associated with playing in college football’s postseason.How much expansion has there been? This season will see a record 39 bowl games played, from the Popeyes Bahamas Bowl to the College Football Playoff National Championship. Compare that to 1968, when there were 11 bowls, or even 1984, when there were 18 — a total that would remain more or less static for more than a decade. But in the late 1990s (perhaps not coincidentally, when the Bowl Championship Series began), the bowl field began expanding rapidly, reaching 20 games in 1997, 25 in 2000 and 32 in 2006.In the chart below you can see the proliferation of the bowl field since 1982, the year cable television money and the departure of the Ivy League from Division I-A ushered in college football’s truly modern era:Some of the bloat is associated with an increase in the number of Division I-A (now known as the Football Bowl Subdivision, or FBS) football teams, to 128 this season from 113 in 1982. (A chunk of these new additions have come in just the past few seasons, as part of what FiveThirtyEight contributor David Goldenberg calls a “recent trend of universities starting football programs from scratch with the plan to get to Division I as soon as possible, and reap the PR and financial benefits that come with a major football program.”)But the growth of the FBS only explains a small portion of the bowl explosion. Even as a percentage of all FBS schools, almost twice as many teams will go bowling this season as did in 1996:Economically, there are pros and cons to the inflated bowl field. And these games do matter football-wise, especially to a certain subset of mid-major programs looking for exposure any way they can find it. But, as a natural byproduct of expansion, the caliber of teams in bowls has plummeted over the past three decades.Using an Elo-like estimated version of ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI) pre-bowl ratings, here is the progression of the average, worst, and 25th-percentile teams in the bowl field for each season since 1982:The average rating for bowl-bound teams is barely lower now than it was in 1982, and the fact that it crested in 1996 — right before the bowl boom — suggests that there were enough good teams to support some type of expansion in the late 1990s. (Why this change took place is up for debate, though it could point to the origins of today’s ongoing trend of reduced parity between college football’s haves and have-nots.)However, the trend lines describing the dregs of the bowl field (the minimum and 25th-percentile ratings) show how much the bar for bowl entry has been lowered since that time. Bad teams occasionally made their way into bowls before 1997, but that’s now commonplace, particularly since the number of bowl entrants has grown by 39 percent since 2005.Monday’s Miami Beach Bowl thriller, between Memphis and Brigham Young, showed that less prestigious bowl games can still provide excitement for fans that bother to tune in. But it’s also fair to question whether we really need to see FPI No. 95 South Alabama and No. 97 Bowling Green (both considered to be in excess of 8 points per game worse than an average FBS team) face off in the Raycom Media Camellia Bowl — as happened on Saturday. Like so much in college football, the bowls are an as yet incomplete experiment in where to find a happy medium between tradition, money-making and the role of academic institutions in the world of high-profile sports.
Maame Biney (1) falls as she reacts after winning women’s 500-meter A final race during the U.S. Olympic short track speedskating trials Saturday, Dec. 16, 2017, in Kearns, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)KEARNS, Utah (AP) — Maame Biney became the first Black woman to qualify for a U.S. Olympic speedskating team with a pair of victories in the 500 meters.The 17-year-old native of Ghana cruised to victory in the first 500 final at the short track trials on Saturday, beating Olympians Lana Gehring, Jessica Kooreman and Katherine Reutter-Adamek.“I can’t believe it, aww geez,” she said after squealing with joy. “It’s a really good feeling, but it has to set in first because it takes me a while. I’m like, ‘Holy cow.’”Before the second final, her father sitting in the stands held up a sign reading: “Kick some hiney Biney.”She sure did.Biney set a blistering pace in taking an early lead that widened as the wild and wooly race went on. She crossed the finish line on the hockey-sized rink and began clapping and then pumping her arms so hard she lost her balance and fell.She went down laughing all the way.“When I realized that I made the Olympic team, I started cheering like crazy and then I made my epic fall,” she said.Biney will be the second black speedskater on a U.S. Olympic team. Shani Davis was 19 when he qualified for the short track team in 2002. He later switched to long track and won four medals, including two golds.Now 35, Davis will try to make the long track team at its trials next month.On the men’s side, J.R. Celski qualified for his third Olympic team despite a crash in the early rounds of the men’s 500. He rebounded to win the C final, finishing well ahead of the other three skaters.“I really couldn’t get control of myself after the first fall,” he said. “I fell into the pads a little awkward, kind of hurt myself a bit but fortunately my trainer and I took care of it.”In the second final, Celski finished second to John-Henry Krueger, who qualified for his second individual event in South Korea. He made the team Friday by winning the 1,500.“Last night I made sure not to get too excited and try to keep my composure,” Krueger said. “My goal was to keep a steady speed but to keep my track tight and make sure no one could pass.”Joining Krueger and Celski on the men’s team is 21-year-old Olympic rookie Aaron Tran, who won the first 500 and finished last among four in the second final.Tran attended the same middle and high schools six years apart from Celski in their hometown of Federal Way, Washington.“He’s a great role model, a great leader,” said Tran, who first met Celski when he came to their middle school for an assembly.Lana Gehring, already on the Olympic team in the 1,500, finished second in the first 500 and last among four in the second final.The men’s and women’s 1,000 will be contested Sunday at the Utah Olympic Oval.Thomas Hong, who was born in South Korea, and Ryan Pivirotto still have shots to make the men’s team, which will be comprised of five skaters.Former Olympians Kooreman and Reutter-Adamek, along with Kristen Santos, remain in contention for the women’s team, which only has three spots available.
2004-09+0.58–+1.34–+0.24–+0.73– Tiger’s back … for real this timeStrokes gained per round (relative to PGA Tour average) for Tiger Woods on each type of shot, across his career and during his win at the 2018 Tour Championship Resurgent narrative aside, it wasn’t unfathomable that one of the greatest golfers ever won another event. Woods has put together breathtaking performances throughout this season, indicating that the ability to capture tournaments hasn’t left him just yet. The guy played in 18 official events and finished in the top 10 seven times. Moreover, he’s been dominant in the southeast, where he’s won more than one-fifth of the tournaments he’s played in that region over his career.2It helps that Augusta, Georgia, is in the Southeast. To those who would define his latest victory as a flash in the pan, consider that Woods holds top-40 marks this year in strokes gained tee to green, strokes gained around the green, strokes gained on shots approaching the green, strokes gained with the putter and total strokes gained. Only six players on tour are scoring better, on average.Tiger will never be the same player he once was; no conditioning or late-night runs to the driving range will return Woods to those prime years. But he’s jumped more than 50 spots in the Official World Golf Rankings in 10 weeks for a reason. And there’s a reason why odds are beginning to tilt in his favor, why he will represent the country at this week’s Ryder Cup.Everyone loves a comeback. Event/SeasonOff TeeApproachAround GreenPutting 2018+0.45–+0.94–+0.37–+0.30– * Woods failed to qualify for official PGA Tour leaderboards for any years in these stretches. He also failed to qualify in 2008.The strokes gained statistic isolates the effect of each shot by measuring how much it adds to or subtracts from a player’s expected score on a given hole.Source: PGA Tour Tour Champ.+0.48–+0.29–+0.32–+1.28– 2012-13+0.22–+1.37–+0.22–+0.38– The feeling of inevitability Sunday was surprising. As Tiger Woods was decimating the small field at the Tour Championship to claim his 80th professional victory, ending a five-year winless drought, it felt simultaneously foregone and captivating.The 42-year-old with the fused spine held off the best players in the world in the prime of their careers, doing what so many said he couldn’t. After four back surgeries, four knee surgeries and off-the-course problems that chipped away at his reputation, Woods completed what could be called the greatest comeback in the history of sport. “I just can’t believe I pulled this off,” an emotional Woods said. “It’s been tough. It’s been not so easy the last couple of years.”Woods entered Sunday with a three-stroke lead, having torn up the course at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta during a Saturday round 65. By strokes gained, a metric that measures each shot a player takes based on how much it reduces his expected score on a given hole relative to the field average, Woods gained 4.07 total strokes on the field and 2.97 strokes with the putter on Saturday alone. For his career, he had taken a 54-hole lead of at least three strokes 23 times. He had never squandered it. That streak continued.Seemingly everything in his arsenal came together at exactly the same time.The putter that failed him so spectacularly at the Dell Technologies Championship was there. So too was the driver that couldn’t find a single fairway on the front nine of the PGA Open final round.During Woods’s heyday, he dominated the tee box, ranking inside the top 45 in strokes gained off the tee each season for which he qualified from 20041The first season the data is available. to 2012, including three top–10 stints. That hasn’t been the case this season. Woods entered the weekend ranked outside the top 100 in strokes gained off the tee and total driving efficiency. But at the Tour Championship, only five players gained more strokes off the tee than Woods’s 0.48. 2010-11*-0.23–+0.65–-0.09–+0.06– Woods cut his teeth with clutch play on the green, and he ranked no lower than 32nd in strokes gained with the putter in each season for which he qualified from 2004 to 2012, including four top–10 stints. This season, however, inconsistencies on the green led to club changes four times. But at the Tour Championship, Woods, who was walking in putts with gusto, gained the second-most strokes on the field with the putter (1.28). 2014-17*-0.44–+0.22–-0.49–+0.24–
Over the past few years, the NFL has been haunted by the early deaths of some former players whose brains showed signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy. CTE is a neurodegenerative disease characterized by memory loss, mood disorders, dementia and other brain-related problems. But how prevalent is CTE, and how likely are players to develop it? Those remain unanswered questions, despite ongoing attempts to answer them.A paper published last year in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that among 111 brains from NFL players donated to a brain bank created to study the long-term effects of repetitive head trauma, 110 had CTE. Sounds bad. But as alarming as those numbers seem, they really can’t tell us much about the actual risk of CTE among football players, nor can they reveal how common the condition is among people who’ve played the game. If you wanted to know the true prevalence of CTE among NFL players, you’d have to check the entire population of NFL players for CTE. That’s impossible because right now, CTE can be definitively diagnosed only by looking at the brain post-mortem. And the the brains that were examined for the JAMA study didn’t end up in the brain bank by chance — they were donated, for the most part, because the deceased’s next of kin suspected he might have had CTE.So the statistical quandary remained: how to get a sense of the prevalence of CTE in the NFL? An analysis published last month in the journal Neurology tried to get around the problem of sample bias with what amounts to a thought experiment. Epidemiologists Zachary Binney1Binney co-wrote a story about the NFL draft for FiveThirtyEight in 2016. and Kathleen Bachynski took what we know — that 99 percent of the NFL brains in the brain bank had CTE — and then tried to figure out what that could mean about the prevalence of CTE among the entire group of 1,142 former NFL players who died during the eight-year time frame during which the brain bank collected its samples (February 2008 to May 2016).2The researchers used data from Pro-Football-Reference.com to determine the total number of deaths.The estimates vary depending on how completist you think the brain bank’s collection was. If you assumed that half of the brains from NFL players with CTE who died during the study period ended up in the brain bank, that would mean the prevalence of CTE in the broader group of deceased players was 19.3 percent, according to Binney and Bachynski’s calculations.3Here’s the math: If 110 cases is half of the total cases among people who died, the full number of cases is 220, and 220 is 19.3 percent of 1,142, the total number of people who died. On the other hand, if 90 percent of the brains with CTE were sent to the bank, the prevalence of CTE would be 10.7 percent. “I’m reasonably confident that it’s somewhere north of 10 percent, and I would not at all be surprised — and indeed it’s my best guess right now — that the prevalence is probably more in the 20 to 30 percent range,” Binney said.But even if that’s correct and as many as 1 in 3 NFL players who were in the league at the same time as the players whose brains ended up in the JAMA study had CTE, that doesn’t mean that those numbers also apply to the current pool of players, said Bhramar Mukherjee, a biostatistician and epidemiologist at the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health. “The probability of developing CTE could be changing over time, because the protective gear and the style of play is changing over time.”And Binney and Bachynski’s numbers are still just “back of the napkin” estimates that should be taken with a grain of salt, said statistician Donna Stroup, a consultant on study design and statistical methods in Atlanta. The Neurology paper is a “contribution that’s helpful,” but it doesn’t tell us a lot about the true prevalence of CTE, she said. It’s just a guess.And it’s a guess based on ways of diagnosing CTE that are still evolving as researchers work to understand the condition. The study of CTE is relatively new, and researchers are continuing to work out some of the condition’s most basic details. So far, there’s no telltale symptom of CTE in a living person, and the diagnosis of CTE in brain samples is still subject to some debate. In a written response to the JAMA study, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine researcher Scott Zuckerman and some colleagues criticized the criteria used to diagnose CTE as potentially too lax. The study of the correlation between abnormal-looking features seen in brain samples and specific neurological symptoms is “in its infancy,” the researchers wrote. And if the original JAMA study overestimated the number of CTE cases, the prevalence ranges that the Neurology analysis calculated are overestimates too.“The uncertainty is still very large,” said Jesse Mez, a professor of neurology at Boston University and lead author of the JAMA study. His group recently secured funding for a study that will look for CTE in brains collected from the general population. But Mez said that to really understand the prevalence of CTE among NFL players, what’s needed are longitudinal studies that follow players throughout their careers.In the meantime, Mez and a working group of other researchers are holding a consensus meeting this spring to continue discussing criteria for the condition’s diagnosis. The long-term goal is to find biomarkers and other diagnostic tools that can be used to recognize CTE in living people. “We definitely have a sense that it’s the repetitiveness — the hits over and over and over again — that matters,” Mez said. But researchers are still a long way from being able to pinpoint exactly how CTE develops and how many players might be affected.
During the 2013-14 regular season, the Los Angeles Kings were the NHL’s fifth-lowest scoring team, notching just 2.4 goals for every 60 minutes they were on the ice. On paper, no team headed into the postseason with as anemic an offense. Yet fast forward a month and a half and Los Angeles is on the verge of closing out the Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference Finals partly because the Kings’ offense is sizzling. They put together a five-goal barrage in Game 4 against Chicago, and Los Angeles’ 3.3 goals per 60 minute mark leads all teams in scoring during the postseason.How did the Kings’ offense suddenly become so potent? During the regular season, LA converted their shots into goals at a paltry 7.6 percent rate, which tied the Vancouver Canucks for the second-worst shooting percentage in the entire NHL. In the playoffs, though, they’ve upped their conversion rate to 11.3 percent (including 14.5 percent against the Blackhawks), which ranks second among playoff teams. Since they’re not shooting more often (to the contrary — they’re actually averaging 1.6 fewer shots per 60 minutes in the playoffs than during the regular season), the Kings’ goal-scoring increase can be traced to the huge uptick in shooting accuracy.The Kings’ increased shooting percentage hasn’t been driven by facing a particularly easy set of goaltenders. Weighted by the number of shots they had against each opponent, Los Angeles’ playoff foes have had a composite save percentage of .913 during the regular season, which is slightly higher than the overall league average of .911 — certainly nothing that would explain a 3.7-percentage-point leap in shooting percentage. Nor has it been fueled by more time on the power play, where shooting percentages are higher: during the postseason, LA spent about 28 fewer seconds per game with a man advantage than they did in the regular season.One other place to look is where the Kings’ goals have been coming from. For example, during the regular season, LA’s shooting percentage was well below the NHL average on shots from the high slot, the space between the two face-off circles and above the hash marks. And in their Game 1 loss to Chicago, the Kings attempted three shots from that area, missing all three. But ever since, they’ve scored three goals on eight shots (a shooting percentage of 37.5) from a zone of the ice where they usually turn only 6.7 percent of their shots into goals. Since goals are such rare events, even a shift like that on just one section of the ice can lead to a big overall increase in scoring.Likewise, the late-season addition of Marian Gaborik, who leads LA in shots during the playoffs, and whose lifetime shooting percentage of 12.9 percent is well above the league average over his career, explains part of the team’s scoring burst. But it bears mentioning that while shot quality — and converting those chances into goals — makes a big difference in retrospect, it’s hard to tell how much is luck and how much is skill.In other words, the biggest reason the Kings’ offense has caught fire in the postseason may simply be good fortune, with some regression to the mean thrown in for good measure. Los Angeles wasn’t ever as bad at shooting as their regular-season percentage suggested (they were in the middle of the pack the season before), nor are they as good as their postseason run would indicate. The truth lies somewhere in between, and as we’ve seen before with hockey stats, it’s a truth mixed in with a lot of noise.
This year’s NHL trade deadline saw quite a few transactions — 74 veteran players switched teams in the month leading up to (and including) the March 2 moratorium — and some of the moves could shift the league’s balance of power with the playoffs a little more than a month away.In anticipation of Monday’s cutoff, we listed about 35 likely trade candidates and their possession metrics, to get a sense of who the advanced statistics would favor if any of them were dealt. But now that all the deals have been cut, how highly do the numbers regard the big names moved at the deadline?It totally depends on which numbers you look at. Conventional stats — such as goals, assists and plus-minus, as synthesized into point shares above replacement (PSAR) — favor players like newly acquired Detroit winger Erik Cole. Cole bounced back from a pair of down seasons to average a goal every three or so games with a +4 rating (on a Dallas team that’s -11 overall) before being traded. That performance was enough to lead all deadline acquisitions in 2014-15 PSAR. But as we’ve learned, the NHL’s #EnhancedStats movement emphasizes more than traditional counting statistics.Advanced metrics such as Corsi and Fenwick (ahem, “shot attempts” and “unblocked shot attempts”) started a trend in player evaluation of focusing on his ability to improve his team’s puck-possession rate while on the ice. If possession is a reliable path to team success, the reasoning goes, you want to stock your roster with players most associated with strong team possession rates when they’re in the game.Now, Stephen Burtch’s Delta Corsi (dCorsi) and Domenic Galamini’s Usage-Adjusted Corsi have pushed attempts to isolate a skater’s effect on his team’s possession rate even further. The relatively new twist provided by those stats? Attempting to account for player-usage factors — such as position played, teammate and opponent quality, zone starts and even faceoff winning percentages in dCorsi’s case — on a player’s possession rate in addition to looking at on-ice versus off-ice differences.In the past, you’d have to eyeball a player’s workload and usage as a means of context for, say, his relative Corsi. But these new stats attempt to bake those contextual factors into a single number by comparing a player’s actual possession rate to what we’d expect of an average NHL player at his position if placed in the same situations.1This is similar in theory to the way researchers have sometimes attempted to measure individual fielding in baseball, under which a defender’s actual plays made in the field are compared with expected play counts based on balls in play sent in his direction.You might think there’d be a decent amount of crossover between conventional numbers and these new possession-based advanced stats, but the correlation is practically nonexistent. Rescaling PSAR against an average baseline to make an apples-to-apples comparison, I found essentially no relationship with Burtch’s dCorsi Impact (which gives players more credit for maintaining strong possession rates relative to average in greater amounts of ice time) this season:Take Cole again. Despite his solid counting stats and a very good point share tally, Dallas’s possession rate when Cole was on the ice was actually lower than what would be expected from an average player in the same situations with the same teammates and opponents. Or take FiveThirtyEight favorite Jaromir Jagr, whose relatively down conventional stats belie a player still capable of driving play with the proverbial skills that don’t show up in the box score.They’re not alone among the bigger-name deadline acquisitions. Much was made when the Arizona Coyotes shipped away center Antoine Vermette and defenseman Keith Yandle. Both players were solid PSAR contributors for Arizona this season but also ranked among the least valuable dCorsi players at their respective positions.Meanwhile, Zbynek Michalek, another former Coyote, boasted extremely unimpressive counting numbers (8 points and a -6 rating in 53 games) even by the standards of his position but ranks as one of the best defensemen in hockey according to dCorsi Impact.In case it wasn’t clear by now, all this goes to show that it’s nearly impossible to guess whether a player is a possession star or scrub based on his conventional numbers. As is the case with most of these new-school-versus-old-school metric battles to recently crop up across almost all sports, a player’s true value probably lies somewhere in between. But in hockey, that fact just underscores how little we still know about who’s helping and hurting their teams.
A few names come to mind when pondering the surefire Hall of Famers playing baseball today. Adrian Beltre, who recently broke the 3,000-hit barrier, is one, as is Mike Trout, despite his youth. But there’s another all-time great who is toiling away on one of the worst teams in MLB: San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey. The Giants’ record might make Posey easy to overlook, but his combination of hitting and defense makes him almost a lock to one day join the Hall. In fact, despite being only 30 years old, Posey might already have a Hall of Fame résumé if he retired today.It’s difficult to forecast whether any given catcher will find his way to Cooperstown. Only 18 backstops have made the Hall, and some did so in part because of accomplishments after their playing careers (as managers or executives).1For example, Rick Ferrell is listed by Baseball-Reference.com as having been inducted as a player, but he produced only 29.8 wins above replacement in his career (34th on the all-time list of catchers). However, Ferrell won two championships as an executive before his induction, which probably helped his Hall-of-Fame case. Perhaps because of the strain of constant crouching and the beatings they receive behind the plate, catchers are notoriously quick to decline, and historically great performers can become merely ordinary in the space of a few years.But Posey is special. In a nine-year career, he’s already amassed 37.5 wins above replacement (WAR),2According to Baseball Reference.com. which puts him 25th on the all-time list among backstops. If we look at how productive all catchers have been through age 303That is, up to and including a player’s age-30 season as defined by Baseball-Reference. — Posey’s current age — he looks even better, ranking 11th all-time in WAR.According to Jay Jaffe’s JAWS, a rough guide to measuring a player’s Hall-of-Fame qualifications,4JAWS (the “Jaffe WAR Score system”) determines Hall-worthiness by comparing an average of a player’s career WAR and his WAR in his seven best seasons with the typical mark for a Hall member at his position. Posey would have a decent chance to make the Hall even if he never played another game. I looked at the top 500 catchers’ JAWS scores and used them to calculate the probability that they would one day be inducted into the Hall.5I used a logistic regression model, with JAWS score as a predictor and Hall of Fame induction as the outcome. I excluded catchers who made the Hall as managers but not as players. Posey’s JAWS score is 36.8 — already only a little below the catcher average of 43.9. (Coincidentally, Posey’s current JAWS score is identical to the end-of-career score of stalwart backstop Ernie Lombardi, who made the Hall of Fame.) Based on this analysis, Posey would have about a 29 percent chance of getting to Cooperstown if he retired today — and as we’ll see below, those numbers probably understate Posey’s contributions.Why is Posey’s résumé so strong? It starts with his impressive numbers at the plate. Since 2009, Posey’s first season in MLB, he has the 17th-highest Weighted Runs Created Plus in baseball, and he’s the only full-time catcher in the top 50. Posey has power, to which his 128 home runs (in one of MLB’s least hitter-friendly ballparks) can attest. He also has patience, with a career walk rate of 9.6 percent, well above the MLB average of 8.1 percent.But Posey is much more than just a catcher who hits well. In addition to his power and discipline, Posey has been one of the best defensive catchers in baseball during his career — thanks to his particular knack for pitch framing.Catcher framing is the art of receiving a pitch so that an umpire is more likely to call it a strike. Before the debut of pitch-tracking technology such as PITCHf/x and Statcast, the idea of framing as a skill was unproven, but now it can be measured. And as Hall-of-Fame voters increasingly understand and recognize the importance of framing, catchers like Posey will probably benefit.Baseball Prospectus rates Posey as the seventh-best framer since 1988,6That’s the first year for which those statistics can be calculated. so he’s among the cream of the crop. And because framing isn’t factored into most versions of wins above replacement, Posey is somewhat underrated even by newfangled Hall-of-Fame yardsticks like JAWS.Baseball Prospectus’s version of WAR incorporates the number of runs a catcher saves via framing (which the version from FanGraphs does not, and the version from Baseball-Reference accounts for in a much smaller way).7The Baseball-Reference metric for catcher defense has a much smaller range of framing values than Baseball Prospectus’s does. For instance, it assigns Posey only 54 runs of value from his defense over the course of his career, while BP puts the value from Posey’s framing alone at nearly double that (104 runs). Unsurprisingly, Posey’s value under that measure is higher, shooting up to 49.8 WAR. If we recalculate his JAWS score using Prospectus’s version of WAR, then, Posey is already good enough to have an 85 percent chance of making the Hall, according to my calculations. Now, Posey’s framing value this year has been minimal, so it’s possible that he’s losing his touch (he wouldn’t be the only older catcher to forget how to frame a pitch). But even if you assume that he will be a league-average framer going forward, Posey’s JAWS could end up high enough to practically guarantee a Hall of Fame induction.8This is based on a series of career simulations described later in the article.In some ways, comparing Posey with the historic greats of yesteryear in this manner isn’t fair. We don’t know what kind of framer Johnny Bench was, for example, and it’s possible that his already-tremendous WAR total would just get more inflated if we did. But we do know that it’s rare for a catcher to have both offensive ability and framing skills. (The few catchers better than Posey defensively tend to be specialists like Jose Molina and Brad Ausmus.) Conversely, there are a lot of catchers who are not great framers but nonetheless have long careers because they excel at the plate. So it’s likely that at least some of the catchers ahead of Posey on the all-time list would see their total value decline if we could measure their framing ability.Add it all up, and Posey has likely already had a Hall-of-Fame career. And his playing days probably won’t end anytime soon — the average catcher who had 20 or more WAR through age 30 ended up playing another six and a half seasons. So Posey has plenty of years to improve upon his already impressive career. To get a sense of how Posey might end up finishing his run, I asked the folks at Out of the Park Baseball — a baseball simulation engine — to game out the rest of his career. Out of the Park came back with four simulations of Posey’s future. And according to each, the hypothetical Busters fared very well. In each simulation, Posey earned an end-of-career JAWS score of greater than 51, which would give him at least a 90 percent chance of making the Hall, according to my calculations. With an average of about 2,000 hits, 400 doubles and 250 home runs, Posey’s milestones weren’t overly impressive, so he didn’t make the Hall on the first ballot in the simulations — it usually took three to four years for him to get in — but he was eventually inducted in each universe that was played out. That sounds pretty similar to what will happen in our universe, too.Posey is one of the few catchers in history who can do it all. He can hit and frame, and he even provides extra value by blocking errant pitches and throwing out runners. When you combine his offensive and defensive skills, Posey might just be the most underappreciated Hall of Famer playing today.CORRECTION (Aug. 24, 10:02 a.m.): An earlier version of this article incorrectly said that Baseball-Reference.com’s version of wins above replacement does not incorporate the number of runs saved via catcher framing. It does, although Baseball-Reference’s method assigns less value to framing than Baseball Prospectus’s version of WAR does.
OSU sophomore forward Jae’Sean Tate (1) looks to make a pass during a game against Northern Illinois on Dec. 16 at the Schottenstein Center. OSU won 64-57.Credit: Samantha Hollingshead | Photo EditorWithout a single graduating senior, the Ohio State men’s basketball program has still managed to undergo its fair share of roster turnover since the season ended.Shortly after losing to Florida in the second round of the NIT, a trio of freshmen Buckeyes announced their intentions to transfer: forward Mickey Mitchell, guard A.J. Harris and center Daniel Giddens. Another freshman, guard Austin Grandstaff, transferred to Oklahoma in December, leaving OSU with one remaining player from its 2015 class in guard JaQuan Lyle.Despite the departures, coach Thad Matta welcomes back the main core of last season’s team with forwards Marc Loving, Jae’Sean Tate and Keita Bates-Diop joined by Lyle and guard Kam Williams. Center Trevor Thompson entered his name into the NBA draft, but given that he did not hire an agent and is not expected to be selected, he’ll likely return to school.Even though OSU should return its top six scorers, much of the depth it had last season is gone. Combined, the three most recent transfers only averaged 8.6 points, 7.4 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game, but each logged valuable minutes off the bench as role players.On a squad that didn’t have much of a presence in the post, Giddens was the team’s leading shot blocker (1.5 per game) and was widely praised for the energy he brought to the floor.Harris was one of only five OSU players to play in all 35 games and served as the backup point guard to Lyle, even cracking the starting lineup in four games in the middle of the season. Without him, there are some serious questions of depth at guard.Finally, Mitchell started the last seven games of the season after Tate was lost due to a left shoulder injury. He struggled to put the ball in the basket, but the former four-star recruit provided versatility with his passing and rebounding.How will Matta and the Buckeyes go about replacing what was lost?To help in the frontcourt, the program has a duo of incoming freshmen from Ohio.Derek Funderburk, originally from Lakewood, Ohio, is the highest-rated recruit in OSU’s 2016 class. At 6-foot-9, the center is ranked as the 10th-best player at his position and No. 69 overall in the 2016 class, according to 247Sports. He spent his senior season with Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham, Virginia.Micah Potter, a native of Mentor, Ohio, should also log valuable minutes. Standing at 6-foot-10, he’s ranked as the No. 30 center in the country. He played his final high school season at Montverde Academy in Florida.Both big men are noted for being able to stretch the floor, to score from down low and 3-point range, which should provide more viable offensive threats to come off the Scarlet and Gray bench along with Williams. For a team that struggled to get consistent scoring from any post player other than Tate last season, they will be welcomed additions to the OSU squad.Some potential help on the perimeter is also on the way for Matta and company.Small forward Andre Wesson committed to OSU in mid-April after helping lead Westerville South High School to the Ohio Division I state championship in his senior season. Wesson’s dad, Keith, played for OSU from 1983 to 1987, and his brother, Kaleb, is a 2017 commit for OSU. With solid outside-shooting ability, he should provide a backup to Loving and Bates-Diop.In another recent addition, the Buckeyes got a commitment from junior-college transfer C.J. Jackson. In his freshman season at Eastern Florida State College, the guard averaged 16.9 points, 4.9 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game, while shooting 45 percent from three. Touted as a combo guard, Jackson can handle the ball as well as shoot it and will give OSU some much-needed depth in the backcourt behind Lyle and Williams.OSU will have a solid foundation of experienced players heading into next season. The only issue will be what the program gets from its bench, which was a problem area in the 2015-16 campaign. Teams are able to succeed with six-man rotations, but the margin of error is slim. Having depth is crucial if injuries strike or a key player gets into foul trouble.With the four newcomers, Matta seems to have found that depth, in spite of what was unexpectedly lost after the season.
Eight Buckeyes will have one of the most important days of their football lives Friday when their talents are showcased for NFL scouts and executives at Ohio State’s Pro Day. Running back Brandon Saine, wide receiver Dane Sanzenbacher, guard Justin Boren, linebackers Ross Homan and Brian Rolle and defensive backs Chimdi Chekwa, Devon Torrence and Jermale Hines will be going through drills and interviews at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center similar to what they experienced at the NFL Scouting Combine two weeks ago. The players will be working out amid coach Jim Tressel’s recent suspension by the school for allegedly failing to report e-mails from attorney and former Buckeye football player Christopher Cicero, indicating players gave football memorabilia to Eddie Rife, the owner of Fine Line Ink Tattoos. The failure to report the e-mails is in violation of both his contract with OSU and NCAA Bylaw 10.1. The university conducted a self-report on the infractions, and is awaiting the results of a report from the NCAA. OSU notified the NCAA of Tressel’s violation Feb. 3 after becoming aware of the Jan. 13 violation. Defensive lineman Cameron Heyward, once regarded as a first-round pick, will not participate because he’s rehabbing an elbow injury he suffered in the Sugar Bowl win against Arkansas. He received Tommy John surgery in mid-January. Heyward has been working out at the Woody Hayes center with the Buckeyes, supporting his former teammates while undergoing treatment. “I can’t remember a time we haven’t had representation from all 32 (NFL) teams,” said Eric Lichter, OSU’s director of football performance, at Monday morning’s practice. “We’ve got a pretty good group. … We had a lot of combine invites this year, so I’d imagine we’ll have a pretty good showing.” Chekwa is coming off a strong combine, in which he ran a 40-yard dash in an impressive 4.4 seconds. Homan’s bench press highlighted his workouts in Indianapolis. He put up 225 pounds 32 times — tops for any linebacker. Pro Day workouts begin at 10 a.m.
College football coaches have their play-calling and decision-making skills frequently scrutinized, but first-year Ohio State football head coach Luke Fickell’s decision to stick with junior running back and kick returner Jordan Hall, despite two fumbles, factored heavily into the Buckeyes’ 33-29 win Saturday against then-No.12 Wisconsin. With OSU trailing, 7-3, Hall fumbled a Badgers’ punt as he bent over and braced for a collision with another player in the second quarter. Hall scrambled to recover the ball on the Buckeyes’ 8-yard line. “He caught (that punt) inside the 10,” Fickell said after the game. “I’m not saying those are things we designed up.” Momentum shifted as play continued, and the Buckeyes took a 10-7 lead early in the second half. Hall added to the lead at the 9:26 mark with a two-yard touchdown run. But Hall’s adventurous night as punt returner wasn’t over. A second punt-return fumble by Hall was recovered by Wisconsin redshirt senior defensive back Andrew Lukasko, and led to a 1-yard touchdown run junior back Montee Ball that sliced OSU’s deficit to 17-14. Hall said he was anxious to make a play. “The drops I had, that’s not usual for me,” Hall said. “I’ll be making sure that doesn’t happen again.” Fickell stuck with Hall for the remainder of the game, though, and it paid off. OSU stretched its lead to 26-14 before Badgers’ senior quarterback Russell Wilson connected with sophomore wide receiver Jared Abbrederis for two touchdowns, the second of which gave Wisconsin a 29-26 lead with 1:18 remaining in the fourth quarter. Senior center Michael Brewster said his first thought after the Badgers retook the lead was that OSU would need a good return on the ensuing kickoff. “We have got to get a good return to help us out,” Brewster said. “At least get in field goal range, at worst.” Hall agreed. “On the return, I knew I just had to make a play to help our offense out,” he said. Hall collected Wisconsin sophomore Alec Lerner’s kick and returned it 42 yards to OSU’s 48-yard line. “After (Hall) got that big return, I knew we would get at least three points,” sophomore receiver Corey “Philly” Brown said of Hall’s return. Just four plays later, freshman quarterback Braxton Miller heaved a 40-yard pass to fellow freshman and receiver Devin Smith who waited in the end zone to collect the pass. The rest is history. Fickell said he wanted the ball in Hall’s hands. “Just because (Hall) makes a mistake here or there, he doesn’t make them often,” Fickell said. “We’re going to stick with him.” Hall said the win was big for OSU, (5-3, 2-2) which improved its position in the Big Ten Leaders Division standings. “It (the win) will give us more confidence,” Hall said. “It’s up to us. Time to get back to work.” OSU returns to work Saturday against Indiana at noon in Ohio Stadium.