Monthly Archives: September 2019

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The U.S. Justice Department says the indictments it handed down Wednesday against soccer officials and sports-marketing executives are just the beginning of its efforts to root out corruption in the sport. A comprehensive investigation might find that the sport’s structure itself makes soccer vulnerable to corruption. FIFA disproportionately favors its smaller states, leaving the most corruptible members with outsize control over the organization.FIFA has 209 member-nations, and each one’s soccer association is equally powerful in the sport’s governing body. Every member, from China (population: 1.36 billion) to tiny Montserrat (population: 5,215), gets one vote in the FIFA Congress. That means each one gets to cast a vote in the FIFA presidential election scheduled for this Friday in Zurich. And each one — from Brazil (five men’s World Cup wins, one of the world’s best women’s teams) to, well, let’s stick to Montserrat (men’s team never ranked higher than No. 165, women’s team unranked) — will get equal say in choosing hosts of future World Cups.That wasn’t always the case. In 2010, the FIFA executive committee voted to select which countries would host the 2018 and 2022 men’s World Cup tournaments. That meant just 22 people participated in a controversial balloting that, astonishingly, awarded the 2022 tournament to Qatar, a nation with scant soccer history that doesn’t have soccer-suitable summer weather, bans same-sex sexual activity and has a poor record of worker safety and rights. (On Wednesday, Switzerland’s attorney general’s office said it had opened criminal proceedings around the selection of the 2018 and 2022 World Cup hosts.)In 2011, FIFA changed its voting rules. In future host selections, each member-association will get one vote. Multiplying the number of voters by nearly 10 should diminish the impact of any one corrupt vote.The “one member, one vote” principle could, in theory, be a way for FIFA to protect its smallest members, much as the creators of the U.S. Senate intended in giving the smallest state the same number of senators as the biggest one. “Please note that the ‘one member one vote’ system was established since the foundation of FIFA and it relates to a democratic principle,” a FIFA spokesperson said by email in response to my inquiry.In practice, this is one unequal form of democracy. While California has 66 times the population of the smallest U.S. states, there are more than 250,000 times the number of people living in China as in Montserrat.This isn’t only a theoretical problem of inequity. Soccer power in smaller nations concentrates itself in fewer officials and stakeholders. That makes the nations’ votes — votes that occur in secret FIFA ballots — more vulnerable to corruption from bribery. In the indictments Wednesday, the Justice Department alleged, among other charges, that voters took bribes in both the selection of the 2010 men’s World Cup and the 2011 FIFA presidential election. Among those indicted was Jeffrey Webb, president of the football association of the Cayman Islands (population: 58,435).But bribes aren’t the only thing that might influence those smaller nations. It’s aboveboard money, too. A small amount of funding from FIFA will go much further in a tiny island territory than in a superpower.“If the organization had a stronger reputation for integrity, this might not matter so much,” Robin Hodess, group director of advocacy and research for the anti-corruption group Transparency International, said about FIFA’s voting structure. “This is a difficult issue to solve — you want democratic organizations, but you don’t want that to be abused,” Hodess said.It didn’t help when FIFA’s president, Sepp Blatter, announced higher World Cup bonuses for member-associations last year at the same time that he was signaling his intention to seek re-election, reneging on an earlier promise not to run again. “The link between who holds the purse strings and who votes was very blatant,” Hodess said.On FIFA’s website, the organization posts specific funding information, by member, for two programs: Goal, for projects such as building new fields or association headquarters, and the Financial Assistance Program (FAP), which funds a wide range of projects. My colleague Paul Schreiber helped me pull the data for every active Goal project and for FAP payments from 2010 to 2014. I then cross-referenced the funding numbers with population and per-capita GDP figures to see whether bigger countries, or the poorer ones that we’d expect to need more funding, would get more help from FIFA.1I used World Bank 2013 population estimates where available, otherwise using 2010 population estimates from the United Nations, the latest CIA World Factbook numbers or, for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the United Kingdom’s Office for National Statistics’ 2013 population figures. For GDP per capita, I used the latest World Bank numbers, though going no further back than 2004; CIA numbers where the World Bank didn’t have any; and, for the U.K. members, the European Commission’s 2011 figures, extrapolating England’s overall number from the others. I omitted FIFA members Palestine and Tahiti because I didn’t find data for them from the above sources.Whether a member state is big or small doesn’t seem to matter — FIFA spending isn’t tied to the number of people covered by the association. There was no correlation between a member’s population2Or the log of its population; r-squared is less than 0.01 for both. and the budget of active Goal projects. And there was a slight negative correlation between FAP spending and population — partly because the populous countries of China and Nigeria got less than average.3There was almost no variation in FAP spending, so this negative correlation (with an r-squared less than 0.1) doesn’t mean much. Take, for example, the combined budget for the active Goal projects in Montserrat ($1.8 million)4We’re picking on Montserrat only because it’s the least-populous FIFA member. Sixteen members have a population under 100,000. They collectively vote with the same might of the 16 most-populous members, which have a collective population of 4.72 billion. and compare it with that of projects in China ($3 million). Or the amount of FAP funds that the West Indies island received, $2.05 million, versus the amount China received, $800,000.That’s not to say that members should necessarily get funds in proportion to their populations. The size of a country’s economy also affects its needs. But that doesn’t appear to enter into FIFA’s calculations, either. There is essentially no correlation between GDP per capita and Goal or FAP funding per capita.5The correlation is slightly positive for both, meaning the wealthier the member-nation, the more it gets per person. But it’s a vanishingly small effect (r-squared less than 0.02 for both).Funding is almost as evenly spread among FIFA members as voting power is. More than 90 percent of associations received between $1.8 million and $2.1 million from FAP between 2010 and 2014. Goal spending isn’t quite as flat, but 71 percent of members’ active projects have total budgets between $1 million and $3 million.These aren’t bribes, and this isn’t traditional corruption: They’re totally legal, publicly disclosed funding projects. It’s just that a lot of them are in tiny countries with impotent soccer federations that spend it in dubious ways enriching their officials.“It’s pure pork-barrel politics,” Bloomberg wrote in an investigation of FIFA’s finances last month. Bloomberg’s article ends by describing Blatter and other FIFA presidential candidates6Including two who have since dropped out. as they made their pitch to member-nations. Each one stressed expanding payments to member-associations — by the same amount to each member. read more

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How will your favorite NFL team do this year? See all of our predictions for the 2016 season » To go with our 2016 NFL predictions, FiveThirtyEight is previewing each division. Here, we look at the perpetual disaster that is the NFC East. At this time last year, my colleague Walt Hickey and I mocked Washington’s chances of winning the NFC East. Oops. Defying the 4 percent division odds that our Elo ratings gave them in the preseason, the Suing Snyders won their final four regular-season games to capture one of the weakest divisions in recent memory (before promptly losing by 17 points in their first playoff game). The big question for 2016 is whether the team can capitalize again on the weakness of what Elo considers the NFC’s worst division and become the East’s first repeat winner since 2004.By most accounts, Washington had a productive offseason, adding All-Pro cornerback Josh Norman and using the franchise tag to re-sign quarterback Kirk Cousins to a reasonable make-good deal. Now the team’s fortunes might hinge on whether Cousins can repeat a 2015 performance that was easily the best of his career. On the one hand, Cousins’s track record heading into last season was subpar at best. On the other, three of his four most similar passers last season were Drew Brees, Joe Montana and Jim Kelly. (The other was Jeff George.) If Cousins can prove that he belongs in the same paragraph as that trio, Washington could have a stranglehold on the East. But things are rarely so easy in this division. Elo ratings suggest that it’s the most wide open in all of football, with Washington holding by far the worst division odds (29 percent) of any division favorite in the NFL.1Also, the standard deviations of NFC East teams’ preseason Elo ratings and division winning percentages were the lowest of any division in football. At 27 percent, the Philadelphia Eagles are right behind Washington. The tumultuous reign of Chip Kelly is over — for better or for worse — and Philly regained some measure of normalcy in an offseason spent undoing many of Kelly’s personnel gaffes: GM Howie Roseman did a good job of rebuilding the franchise for the future, particularly with a recent trade that jettisoned maligned QB Sam Bradford for draft picks. But Roseman’s roster shuffling left rookie Carson Wentz as the team’s opening day starter. Without much of a safety net beneath Wentz on the depth chart, his inexperience could mean that Elo — which doesn’t directly account for personnel changes — is overrating the Eagles.If so, the New York Giants will be there to fill the void. They, too, will be operating under a new coach (for the first time since 2003). Ben McAdoo takes over a team that last year featured good special-teams play and an efficient passing offense led by Eli Manning. The 2015 Giants’ main problem was a leaky defense — third-worst in the NFL — and the team took steps in the offseason to address that flaw, though it didn’t come cheap. Manning is getting older but is still effective, so if those roster moves end up working on D, the Giants could ride a favorable schedule to their first division crown in five years.The Dallas Cowboys should also benefit from soft scheduling — Elo ranks their slate eighth-easiest in the NFL — but Tony Romo’s preseason injury might negate that edge. The Cowboys have been here before, pressing inadequate QBs into action with Romo on the sidelines. This time, they’re rolling with Dak Prescott, one of the lowest-drafted Week 1 rookie starters in NFL history. (The alternative is accomplished butt-fumbler Mark Sanchez.) And even if Dallas does somehow improve on last year’s dismal showing through the air, the team has holes on defense that were only partially addressed in the offseason. No. 4 overall draft pick Ezekiel Elliott may instantly run wild behind the Cowboys’ tremendous offensive line, but without Romo, the team may win even fewer than the seven games Elo projects for it.If we’ve learned one thing from this division in recent years, however, it’s to expect the unexpected. (Washington’s rise last season was the norm in a division that’s changed hands in each of the past 11 seasons.) The NFC East probably won’t be pretty in 2016, but it could once again be the most competitive division in the NFL.VIDEO: How one spurned Rams fan found a new team read more

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Dennis Rodman was one of the toughest and most flamboyant player in the NBA. In the ’90s, the notorious 6 foot 8 inch controversial basketball player was the No. 1 rebounder on the court. But he was just as famous for his dyed hair, piercings, tattoos and press-grabbing antics—on and off the court.Rodman sat down with Sports Illustrated at a horror convention where he was signing copies of his children’s book and disclosed some private things that you might not have known about him.Watch the video in the player above and share your thoughts in the comments below. read more

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During a Nike-sponsored event in Manila, NBA superstar Lebron James visited the Philippines for the first time. Lebron participated in an exhibition scrimmage between Gilas Pilipinas, The Philippines national basketball team. The four-time NBA most valuable player came off the bench wearing a jersey to ball with the Filipino players. James sunk a couple of deep 3’s, laid down a monster jam and assisted many other shots. But in the last moments of the game, James missed the game-tying lay-up causing his team to lose.James’ excuse for missing that point blank lay-up, his “jersey was too damn small.”“The reason I missed those last two shots is because my jersey is too damn small, so forgive me,” said James, who also thrilled the crowd by throwing signed basketballs into the stands. read more

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Lawyers for Alex Rodriguez  filed suit in U.S. District Court claiming that arbitrator Fredric Horowitz, who handed down a 162-game ban on Saturday, was biased in his ruling.The suit seeks to vacate Horowitz’s ruling, based on the arbitrator’s “manifest disregard for the law,” his “evident partiality,” and refusal “to entertain evidence that was pertinent and material to the outcome.”The complaint calls the 162-game ban “wholly unjustifiable” and alleges that Horowitz ignored the stipulation of baseball’s Joint Drug Agreement that calls for a 50-game ban for a first-time drug offense.“He ignored the clear disciplinary action of the JDA,” the complaint reads, referring to the arbitrator. “Accordingly, the arbitration award is not legitimate as it does not draw its essence from the JDA or [C]BA.”Horowitz explained in his ruling that he factored in “Rodriguez'[s] obstruction of MLB’s investigation” and “the prolonged time period … with which he used or possessed the three prohibited substances.”“While the length of the suspension may be unprecedented for a MLB player,” Horowitz wrote, “so is the misconduct he committed.”Rodriguez’s 42-page complaint names Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association as defendants and includes among its exhibits Horowitz’s written ruling on A-Rod’s appeal.In it, Rodriguez alleges the players’ union breached its “duty of fair representation” and charges MLB and the MLBPA with imposing a suspension without just cause.“It is unfortunate that Alex Rodriguez has chosen to sue the players association,” MLBPA executive director Tony Clark said in a statement. “His claim is completely without merit, and we will aggressively defend ourselves and our members from these baseless charges.”Earlier in the afternoon, U.S. District Judge William H. Pauley III cleared the way for the release of Horowitz’s decision, which was opposed by the players’ association on the grounds it could violate the confidentiality pact in baseball’s collective bargaining agreement.Pauley ruled that baseball had already violated the confidentiality agreement when Commissioner Bud Selig and COO Rob Manfred, who ran baseball’s investigation into Rodriguez’s involvement with the Biogenesis anti-aging clinic suspected of supplying ballplayers with illegal performance enhancing drugs, were interviewed on CBS-TV’s “60 Minutes” on Sunday night.“Given the intense public interest in this matter and Commissioner Selig’s disclosures last night on ’60 Minutes,’ it’s difficult to imagine that any portion of this proceeding should be under seal,” Pauley said. “Mr. Rodriguez is directed to file his unredacted complaint with the attached exhibits.”“We’re thrilled,” Jordan Siev, one of Rodriguez’s attorneys, told ESPNNewYork.com. “We want the entire record to be public. We want everyone to be able to see exactly what [Anthony] Bosch said.”Bosch, the proprietor of the now-shuttered clinic, was baseball’s key witness against Rodriguez.The complaint alleges that Horowitz denied Rodriguez and his attorneys the right to cross-examine Bosch and Selig, who opted not to testify in the appeal. The complaint also alleges that Horowitz denied Rodriguez’s attorneys the right to examine the BlackBerry devices that baseball alleges were used to transmit incriminating text messages between Rodriguez and Bosch.“These are only some of the egregious actions taken by Arbitrator Horowitz during the grievance process, each of which standing alone warrants vacatur of the arbitration award,” the complaint reads. “And together they demonstrate the inherent unfairness and pre-ordained result attendant to the arbitration process.” read more

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9Xander BogaertsBOS.53636.5 An MVP candidate can always use more team successModeled probability of a league WAR leader winning the MVP award, based on his gap over the No. 2 player in WAR and on the deficit in winning percentage between the teams of the two players 4Justin VerlanderHOU✓.645>996.8 WAR Lead-.200-.180-.150-.130-.100-.080-.050-.030 +0.5027%31%36%40%45%50%55%59% WAR through games on Sept. 4, 2019.Source: Baseball-Reference.com, FanGraphs 6Lance LynnTEX✓.486<16.8 8Marcus SemienOAK.583796.5 +2.503338424752576266 +3.003540444954596368 10George SpringerHOU.645>996.3 5Mike MinorTEX✓.486<16.8 +3.503741465156616569 The AL MVP race has a lot going onTop 10 players in the 2019 American League by wins above replacement, plus team record and playoff odds (according to the FiveThirtyEight model) RkPlayerTeamPitcher?Team WPctPlayoff OddsWAR/162 +1.503034394449535863 7Mookie BettsBOS.53636.6 3Matt ChapmanOAK.583796.9 Many of the other elite performers on this list are matching the mold Trout has fit all too often: great player, not-so-great team. Texas’s Mike Minor and Lance Lynn have each had unexpectedly outstanding seasons, but the Rangers are below .500 — and again, pitchers are usually undervalued in MVP voting anyway. Boston has two top-line candidates in defending MVP right fielder Mookie Betts and shortstop Xander Bogaerts (plus a third if you count third baseman Rafael Devers, who ranks 12th in AL WAR), but the champs have almost no chance of making the postseason. The best of the A’s duo, Chapman, is on pace to run nearly 3 full WAR behind Trout by year’s end. And Houston has hoarded enough elite individual performances to potentially dilute each player’s MVP case, leaving Bregman as just one of many Astros who could claim credit for the team’s blistering 104-win pace this season.Perhaps all of this is why Trout is such an overwhelming favorite in the betting odds for the award. As of Sept. 2, the money line on Trout winning MVP was -1000, which implies a 90.9 percent chance of taking home the hardware.5Before adjusting for the bookmakers’ “take” on each bet. (Running second in the odds, with a 12.5 percent implied probability, was actually DJ LeMahieu of the Yankees, who ranks only 14th in the league in WAR, followed by Bregman at 9.1 percent.)Seldom in the entire history of baseball would voters consider the best player on a 74-win team — even a player as great as Trout — worthy of the game’s top individual honor. But in a season when so many other top players are either also toiling on bad teams or facing vote-splitting amongst star teammates, Trout appears to be the choice regardless of whether you prefer the “best” or “most valuable” player as your MVP.Check out our latest MLB predictions. 1Mike TroutLAA.461<1%9.7 2Alex BregmanHOU.645>997.9 Mike Trout’s WAR as of Sept. 4, prorated over 162 games, was 1.9 WAR ahead of No. 2 Alex Bregman, and Bregman’s team is +.184 ahead of Trout’s in winning percentage.Source: Baseball-Reference.com, FanGraphs No sport loves parsing out the “best player” vs. “most valuable” argument in MVP debates more than baseball. Sure, the NBA hasn’t given its MVP to a player on a nonplayoff team since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1976. But the best basketball players exert so much more influence on the game than their baseball counterparts that it’s difficult to have individual success without the team coming along for the ride. For MLB players, however, we frequently see good — and even historically great — seasons on bad teams. That creates a perfect recipe for all those endless debates about what “value” really means.Will it happen again this year? Some of the ingredients are there in the American League. AL wins above replacement1Using our JEFFBAGWELL metric to combine Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs WAR figures. leader Mike Trout is tracking for 9.7 WAR (prorated to 162 team games), which would once again rank among the top 100 individual campaigns by a batter since 1901. (He’s already had three of those in his eight full MLB seasons, and he came extraordinarily close to a fourth in 2013.) But his Los Angeles Angels are, once again, lousy. Our predictions think they’ll finish 20 games out of the playoff race, with a lowly 74-88 record.But before we dig in for one more round of online MVP bickering, another factor should come into play: This year’s AL MVP landscape is weird. There’s so much else going on, Trout could very well avoid too much friction along his path to putting a third Kenesaw Mountain Landis Award on his mantle.First, how big is Trout’s edge in individual value? The gap between his WAR and that of Houston Astros third baseman Alex Bregman, who ranks second in the AL, is 1.9 wins if prorated over 162 games. (That’s basically an entire season’s worth of value from an average player!) Limiting to cases in which the top two in WAR were both position players, the only league leader since 2002 with a wider gap came in the 2012 AL, when Trout himself was 2.5 wins ahead of No. 2 Robinson Cano. (Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera famously took home the MVP instead after winning the Triple Crown.) About three-quarters of WAR leaders in the modern MVP award era2Since 1931. lead the league by a smaller margin than Trout is on pace to beat Bregman by.Historically speaking, though, Trout’s MVP case would be better served if he were on a team with a slightly better record, even if his personal stats were worse. To examine this, I built a model3Using a Lasso classification regression on data since 1995. predicting a league WAR leader’s chances of winning the MVP based on his differentials (relative to the No. 2 player) in both WAR and team winning percentage.4I also accounted for whether the player was a pitcher — which significantly downgrades MVP odds after holding WAR constant — and whether the season came since WAR hit the big time as an MVP metric in 2012, which makes a WAR leader more likely to win MVP. According to the model, Trout would have better MVP odds than he currently does — with a 1.9-WAR lead on a .461 winning-percentage team — if his WAR lead got trimmed to a half-win but his team won just three or four more ballgames: +2.003236414550556065 +1.002933374247525661 (It’s worth noting that this effect is more descriptive than causal — we don’t know how Trout, or any other player, would play on a different team alongside better teammates. But for the purposes of illustration, it’s clear that MVP voters are traditionally very responsive to players on better teams, even if they have a much smaller WAR lead than Trout currently has over Bregman.)In general, MVP voters have long tended to smile more on players with solid stats on winning teams than players with dominant numbers amidst a string of defeats. Only seven modern-era MVP winners were on teams with a losing record: Giancarlo Stanton (2017), Trout (2016), Alex Rodriguez (2003), Cal Ripken Jr. (1991), Andre Dawson (1987) and Ernie Banks (1958 and 1959). And among those, only three played for a team whose record was as bad as the current Angels’ is: Trout in 2016, Rodriguez in 2003 and Ripken in 1991. Similar to his MVP bid in 2016, another Trout win would be a rare victory for great players on bad teams — and another sign that voters are redefining the way they make that distinction between the “most valuable” and “best” players.But Trout might also get some help from just how scattershot the competition is in this year’s AL MVP race. Aside from Bregman and fellow Astros Justin Verlander and George Springer, Oakland’s Matt Chapman and Marcus Semien are the only other members of the AL’s top 10 in WAR on a team with any kind of playoff odds whatsoever. WPCT Deficit read more

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Speaking of the NBA’s likeliest regression candidates for 2015-16, CARMELO projects Kyle Korver to lose the ninth-most WAR of any player this season. Last year was a career year for Korver — unfortunately, you only get one of those. But Korver’s comp list is also littered with sharpshooters who played with grace into their late 30s. So despite the drop-off, Korver probably has at least a few more solid seasons left in his tank. Dennis Schroder was drafted on potential — perhaps specifically the potential that he’d become the next Rajon Rondo. He has the dimensions — 6-foot-1 with a deceptively long wingspan and huge hands — as well as the passing; he even borrowed the poor shooting efficiency. But Rondo was an elite defender, at least once upon a time, and that couldn’t be further from what Schroder is. Instead, Schroder seems to be at a crossroads this season: Some of his comps eventually turned into pretty good players, while others disappeared from the league completely. One of the unsung heroes of the 2014-15 Hawks was DeMarre Carroll, whose combination of shooting and defense made him one of the NBA’s best all-around wings. However, Carroll left for Toronto over the summer, and the only major newcomer brought in to replace his minutes was Tim Hardaway Jr., a poor imitation at best. Sure, Hardaway is a solid shooter who can score some, but — unlike Carroll — he’s completely lost on defense. His sub-replacement-level projection is a big reason why CARMELO thinks the Hawks will take a step backward this season. The good news: There’s a lot of blue on the left side of Paul Millsap’s player card — the dude is darned good at just about everything. The bad: Most of Millsap’s closest historical doppelgangers (save for … Julius Erving?!) declined steeply from this point in their careers onward. The latter explains why CARMELO calls for Millsap to suffer the NBA’s fifth-biggest drop in wins above replacement between 2014-15 and 2015-16. Here’s what to expect from Atlanta’s most important players in 2015-16 (you can find all of the Hawks — and every other NBA player — here): Acquired from the San Antonio Spurs in a salary dump that enabled the Spurs to sign LaMarcus Aldridge, Tiago Splitter might prove to be one of the steals of the offseason. Although he doesn’t stretch the floor with shooting like the outgoing Pero Antic did, Splitter does a bit of everything else well. He’ll put Atlanta’s backup big-man minutes to much better use than the likes of Antic, Mike Muscala or Mike Scott. With Al Horford’s abundant skill set — look at all those pretty blue dots! — you feel like the sum of his parts should be worth more than mere “good starter” status. Yet that’s Horford, who according to VORP (value over replacement player) has been a top-10 NBAer only once (in 2010-11) and at age 29 is entering the decline phase of his career. Luckily, CARMELO predicts a gentle descent; while the comparisons to Googs and Reef are concerning, hope abides in the forms of Lanier, Gasol, Parish and ’Sheed. Note: I worked for the Hawks as a statistical consultant during the 2013-14 season.How do you build on what was arguably the best season in franchise history? That’s the question facing the Atlanta Hawks on the eve of the 2015-16 season. And what a campaign to have to surpass: 60 wins, the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference and a berth in the NBA’s Final Four (albeit a brief one, ending in a sweep). Aside from the loss of swingman DeMarre Carroll, Atlanta will bring back all of its key players from a year ago, but FiveThirtyEight’s CARMELO projection system thinks it will still be difficult for the Hawks to reach last season’s heights. Our projections call for declines from practically all of the players who powered Atlanta’s unexpected rise, particularly Paul Millsap and Kyle Korver. What’s left over after the fall should still be a solid-enough team. But CARMELO projects Atlanta to go 45-37, which may not place the Hawks among the top half of Eastern Conference playoff teams, much less allow them to vie for the East’s best record again. Another option for filling Carroll’s minutes on the wing is Thabo Sefolosha, an even better defender than the man he’d be replacing (to say nothing of his massive edge over Hardaway on D). But Sefolosha doesn’t come without concern: He’s old, injury-prone — not to mention the broken leg he suffered during an off-court incident involving police last spring — and a near non-entity on offense. It’s not even clear how close to full health he’ll be when the season starts, so the Hawks could be in trouble if they’re counting on Sefolosha to replace anything more than a fraction of Carroll’s production. We’re inaugurating our NBA player projection system, CARMELO, with 2015-16 season previews for every team in the league. Check out the teams we’ve already previewed here. Learn more about CARMELO here. Yet another Hawk who enjoyed a career-best season last year (are you sensing a theme here?), Jeff Teague skipped a couple of rungs on the NBA ladder during his climb from mediocre (2013-14) to very good (2014-15). CARMELO is skeptical that the latter will stick, and while good things were yet to come for some of his top comps — notably Paul Westphal, Kevin Johnson and Mark Jackson — the majority of Teague-like historical players were on the downturn by age 27. read more

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christina: We should also remember that base stealers were 23 for 26 against Jake Arrieta, as well, so this isn’t just a Lester problem. I can see arguments that Willson Contreras might help control the damage in games that don’t feature the Lester-David Ross battery, but we’ll see.neil: Sounds like we shouldn’t be surprised if Cleveland’s baserunning makes life difficult all series for what is otherwise a scary good Chicago rotation.christina: They’ll need to try, because they only thing that’s going to take that Cubs’ defense down a notch is the friction multiple baserunners and men in motion can create. Play a static, big-inning offense where you wait around for hits, and the Cubs will find ways to kill your scoring opps. Russell-to-Baez-to-Rizzo is going to merit its own poetry.rob: The defensive skill of the Cubs infield is a major factor that stops potential base runners. It’s all too easy to get caught in a TOOTBLAN* with Javy Baez’s creativity on one side of second base and Addison Russell’s sure hands on the other. In that way, it will be strength against strength.(* Ed. note: That’s “Thrown Out On The Basepaths Like A Nincompoop,” for the uninitiated.)christina: I’m also wondering which Arrieta or Kyle Hendricks we get. That could shape the series. Take Hendricks: The Indians are the best team in baseball at killing pitches 90 mph or slower. They’re third in baseball in OPS against off-speed pitches. If anyone is going to get to Hendricks in his magical year, it might be the Indians.rob: I agree that Hendricks and Arrieta are less sure bets. Generally, a major strength of all of the Cubs pitchers is that they suppress batted ball velocity. I believe that’s a genuine skill that the Chicago rotation possesses, but it also seems like a skill that’s more variable than say, throwing 98 mph fastballs that your opponents can’t catch up to. So I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if the Cubs have a couple of disastrous starting pitching outings and get BABIP’d to death.neil: All right, let’s close this out with some official predictions. Who ya got, and in how many games?rob: I’ll take the Cubs in 6. They are the better team, and one thing we only briefly alluded to is how tired and tattered Cleveland’s rotation is. I think the Cubs will dampen Cleveland’s bullpen advantage by overworking them, and that will be enough to close the Indians out. But not easily.christina: It’s really tough, because while Cubs in 5 is probably the safest choice, there are so many things that could go wrong with that (or even just extend the series) that I’m sticking with my prediction over on ESPN.com: that the Indians find a way to win in 7. Because, how safe are the safe bets? But I’ll admit, there’s also an element of my wanting this to be an epic series, to give us something to remember beyond one of these two teams’ “curses” ending.neil: Indians in 7? Christina, I knew you were a Chicagoan, but now I see you either are not a Cubs fan, or the most quintessential Cubs fan possible.christina: Hah. Funnily enough, people mistake me for a White Sox fan, but I’m agnostic. (I’ve stuck with the team of my childhood, the A’s — hence my bitterness about Mr. Lester in 2014.) When I polled Chicagoans last week on Twitter, the second-largest group beyond the 39 percent of Chicagoans who call themselves Cubs fans who think they’ll win it all was the 31 percent who said they’re Sox fans who hope they blow it.Besides, if the Cubs win, I can claim I didn’t jinx it, right?neil: Very true, you are zigging where those not-so-covert Cubs fans we saw everywhere on Saturday night are zagging.christina: I did the double-reverse, anti-curse, non-jinx prediction. Shazam!neil: Well, I’ll split the difference and say Cubs in 7. That feels like the way this season is, and always has been, destined to end — though as we know, sometimes real baseball gets in the way of destiny, narratives and whatnot.Either way, though, it looks like one of the more entertaining on-paper World Series in recent memory. I can’t wait! VIDEO: Cleveland fooled us twice In preparation for the World Series, which starts Tuesday night, we invited ESPN MLB writer/editor Christina Kahrl and our own baseball columnist, Rob Arthur, into Slack to chat about the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians. As usual, the transcript below has been lightly edited. neil (Neil Paine, baseball editor and sportswriter): Well, we’re finally down to two teams, the Cubs and the Indians, both of whom have long championship droughts on the line. So my first question for the room is just a big-picture one: How did these teams stack up in the overall sabermetric numbers during the regular season?rob (Rob Arthur, baseball columnist): Both teams were good, but the Cubs were also great, fantastic, amazing and 10 other superlatives on top of that. In the first half of the season, they had as good a run differential as any team ever — right up there with the 1927 Yankees. They were merely dominant in the second half, but in either half Chicago was better than Cleveland: the Cubs had a +91 run differential in the second half alone, which is only 10 less than the Indians racked up all season. And, remarkably, some measures (such as cluster luck) suggest this Cubs team got unlucky.Which is not to say that the Indians were a bad regular-season team — they had the fourth-best run differential in baseball. But they also probably got a little fortunate from a cluster luck perspective, and their pitching, while solid, was also weakened due to injuries by October. So this matchup is probably a bit lopsided in favor of the Cubs, at least if we go by regular-season numbers.christina (Christina Kahrl, ESPN.com baseball writer and editor): I would think whatever metric you used, you’re going to get happy answers about the Cubs and Indians that don’t involve a stack of head-scratchy one-run outcomes or players having extraordinary seasons outside their expected range of performance. (Well, except maybe Tyler Naquin’s strikeout rate.) But across 162, these were two very good teams. Outside of the Cubs’ sporadic offensive disappearances, we’ve seen two of the best regular-season teams also play well in October. If not for injuries to the Indians’ rotation, you could have seen that these two teams belonged here months ago.There are interesting distinctions, of course. The Cubs and Indians both walk plenty, but the Indians aren’t in quite the same class when it comes to power production. But they’re both very balanced offenses, with good amounts of contact (call it BABIP or just execution on balls in play), power, patience and speed. The fun gets into the differences between how Cleveland manager Terry Francona used his bullpen to compensate when the rotation melted down, and how the Cubs churned through relief combinations before trading for Aroldis Chapman at the deadline. To some extent, both teams are where they are because of how well their answers worked out.neil: So we’re not seeing fluky teams! These two teams might legitimately be some of the very best in baseball! Seems like a departure from recent World Series history.christina: And yet — maybe it’s because I’m in Chicago — because of those injuries in the Indians’ rotation, folks are already anticipating a walkover. The last 15 years or so should perhaps suggest a little less overconfidence on this score. I can’t help but think of the 2006 or 2011 Cardinals as notable examples of underdog winners.rob: Right, and given that it’s only seven games, anything can happen.neil: Yeah, I was gonna ask because Rob mentioned that it was “a bit lopsided” — in baseball, that still doesn’t really mean either team is very likely to win over the other. At most maybe it’s 60-40, or 65-35, for the favorite?christina: Well, the Cubs should be favored, for all sorts of reasons about how awesome they are (not just because the Indians’ rotation is a shambles). And I think you’re right in terms of how far that lean should be. But I also remember “October unbeatable” Jon Lester losing a must-win game in 2014, so I tend not to believe in absolutes.rob: Yeah, and interestingly, everything from betting markets to our Elo ratings to FanGraphs’ simulations puts the probability between 60 to 70 percent for the Cubs. So that speaks again to the randomness of baseball — I think it would be hard to argue that the Cubs aren’t better than the Indians, but despite that edge they only have about a 2-in-3 chance.christina: To put it another way, this series doesn’t feel like the 1998 World Series, where there was almost no reason to watch unless you were a Yankees fan.neil: Hey! Those Padres had a pretty good seas… — ah, I can’t finish that thought. It was a rout. But this one, less so, it sounds like.Now, have we seen anything during the playoffs to make us think either team is better or worse than the yearlong numbers would indicate?rob: Yes, I think it’s fair to say that the Cleveland bullpen — and Francona’s clever use of it — gives the Indians a strong advantage that isn’t reflected in their regular-season numbers. The Cubs don’t really have anything comparable to that; although their bullpen is strong, Chapman doesn’t seem comfortable outside of the eighth or ninth innings. (Even then, he’s looked shaky at times.) I don’t think we can say with much confidence how much exactly fireman Andrew Miller is worth, in terms of series win probability. But I think he probably keeps things to closer to 60-40 than 70-30, as some outlier predictions would put it.christina: I do wonder how well the Cubs will do if the Indians get to their ’pen in the fifth, sixth or seventh innings. The Indians’ lineup has many strengths — it’s front-loaded with Carlos Santana leading off, it’s deep, and Francona isn’t afraid to use his bench. So in those middle-inning matchups, especially during games with the DH, I wouldn’t bet on Joe Maddon securing advantages as easily as he does against some NL opponents. A lot depends on whether the Indians get to the Cubs’ starters early — running up pitch counts, making them work from the stretch — and then forcing the game into the hands of relievers like Justin Grimm or Carl Edwards.neil: Speaking of the managers, this seems like it’s going to be a battle of two extremely smart, saber-savvy tacticians — perhaps the likes of which we’ve never seen before.christina: Well, let’s be fair, Howser vs. Herzog in 1985 was pretty awesome.neil: If you wanted Whiteyball, you got it with last year’s Royals. This year — well, it’s not exactly Moneyball that these two teams play, but maybe something in the same tradition at least.christina: But to your point, yes, it’s going to be a very interesting series in that regard, watching a couple of brilliant skippers with histories of putting players in a position to succeed. For those folks who say “managers don’t matter,” here are two great tacticians who are also extremely smart about how to manage people across six months, and who get the difference between managing the regular season and managing in October.rob: Yes, although Maddon’s strength seems to lie in the parts of baseball that still aren’t visible to us: chemistry, the clubhouse and getting the best performances out of players. Francona is probably good at that, too, but bullpen management is a visible manifestation of his skill, whereas the best we can do to quantify Maddon’s ability is look at how his teams consistently have positive run differentials.christina: Yeah, I wouldn’t put either over the other as far as people management. “Tito” and Maddon both deserve their reputations.neil: So, aside from the battle of managerial wits and the two bullpens, what else will you be keeping an eye on as key matchups in the series?rob: Christina mentioned above that Lester’s been incredible in the playoffs. That’s true — he’s Bumgarner-esque — but he has a critical weakness: the yips that prevent him from throwing over to first. In theory, that should make it easy to steal bases on him, but opponents have been curiously reluctant to exploit Lester’s flaw. The Dodgers tried — and failed — to do so, largely by dancing around between first and second, and Lester turned in another awesome start. But I do wonder if Francona’s tactical savvy can translate into more stolen bases and potentially weaken the Cubs’ best starter.neil: Do the Indians have base runners who might especially be able to take advantage of something like that?rob: The Indians had the third-best baserunning team in the majors, according to FanGraphs’ metrics. The Dodgers were 11th, although they had some good base stealers who just failed to convert. Jeff Sullivan posited that it’s a mental block for potential base stealers, as they are so unused to getting leads of 25 feet (or more!) that they don’t know what to do with them. That’s why I think it will mostly be a matter of Francona getting the base runners to actually take off, and not the skill of the base runners themselves. Almost any major leaguer should be able to get to second base before the throw when they have a 35-foot lead, as some of the Dodgers’ baserunners did: read more

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The best 8-start stretches of Tony Romo and Dak Prescott’s careers Dak Prescott9/11/1611/6/1630438.562.080.2 15Colt McCoy2010274+2.8+24.150.1 19947-1-01741 6Matt Leinart2006343+4.4+31.058.7 8Mike Glennon2013327+8.3+33.856.9 DATE RANGESTATS DURING 8 GAMES 10Russell Wilson2012287+5.0+27.353.4 5Matt Ryan2008273+9.9+30.961.8 Tony Romo12/6/099/26/1035333.761.177.2 13Teddy Bridgewater2014327+2.1+27.452.1 20146-2-01585 Best rookies through first 8 starts, 2006-2016 11Sam Bradford2010353+3.9+31.252.7 PLAYERYEARPLAYSAVERAGEREPLACEMENTTOTAL QBR Tony Romo9/21/1411/23/1426036.656.980.0 Source: ESPN Stats & Info Source: Pro-Football-Reference.com 4Cam Newton2011381+18.8+48.563.5 12Derek Carr2014327+1.3+26.652.6 9Andy Dalton2011306+4.8+28.455.7 Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott is sailing into uncharted territory for a rookie passer. Prescott shined again in Dallas’s 35-10 rout of the Cleveland Browns Sunday, completing 21 of 27 passes for 247 yards (9.1 per attempt), three touchdowns and zero interceptions. According to ESPN’s Total Quarterback Rating (QBR), Prescott had the NFL’s top quarterbacking performance of the week,1Pending stats from Monday night’s Seahawks-Bills tilt. the second time in nine weeks he’s claimed top honors. All told, Prescott’s first eight starts are easily the best of any rookie signal-caller since ESPN began tracking QBR in 2006: PLAYERSTARTENDPLAYSPAAPARTOTAL QBR Tony Romo11/6/1112/24/1127334.055.376.1 Tony Romo9/23/0711/18/0731042.867.082.1 1Dak Prescott2016304+38.5+62.080.2 19936-2-01734 Romo’s 2007 stretch was actually preceded by two additional excellent starts (if we included overlapping stretches, parts of ’07 would show up as three of Romo’s top four stretches), so Prescott has to keep this up for a few more games to truly match Romo’s best stretch, but through eight games, he’s right there.3It’s also worth noting that Romo’s best stretch came early in his career — his second year as starter — so Prescott’s best days could be front-loaded as well.Prescott’s no mere game manager, either. In addition to ranking highly in QBR, he also ranks highly in stats that focus more on production — meaning yards, touchdowns and first downs. According to expected points added (EPA) relative to both the league average and the replacement level, Prescott’s current eight-start run is better than all but one of Romo’s eight-game stretches — that same 2007 period mentioned above. Rather than riding his teammates’ coattails, Prescott’s play has been one of the driving forces behind a squad that ranks second in offensive EPA but only 14th in EPA on both defense and special teams. 19965-3-01662 PAA = Points above averagePAR = Points above replacementResults were filtered to remove stretches that included games contained in a higher-ranking stretch.Source: ESPN Stats & Info POINTS ABOVE… 2Andrew Luck2012399+23.3+54.467.0 YEARRECORDELO RATING Although we don’t have QBR before 2006, Prescott also has the third-highest adjusted yards per attempt of any qualified2Minimum 100 pass attempts (or about 12.5 per team game). rookie passer through his team’s first eight games since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger. He trails only Mark Rypien and Dan Marino, and although those two produced their numbers in a less passer-friendly environment than today’s NFL, they also threw less than half as many passes as Prescott has. Given all that, it’s tough to find a QB in history whose career has gotten off to a faster start than Prescott’s.Prescott has played so well, in fact, that he’s put the return of incumbent Cowboys starter Tony Romo on hold — perhaps indefinitely.As a stathead, I never bought into those silly arguments that Romo isn’t clutch, or that Dallas could never win a Super Bowl with him under center. Underneath all the hot takes he attracts, Romo has been one of his generation’s finest quarterbacks and one of the most efficient passers of all time — even after adjusting for the high-octane passing environment of the modern game. In terms of individual accomplishments, Romo has few quarterbacking peers.And yet, the case can be made that Prescott’s first eight starts have been as good as any eight (consecutive) starts Romo made in his entire career. According to QBR, Romo’s best set of eight straight starts came in 2007, between Weeks 3 and 11 of the 2007 season, when Romo posted an 82.1 mark on QBR’s 0-to-100 scale while throwing to Terrell Owens. That was the sole eight-start stretch of Romo’s career that was better than the only eight NFL starts Prescott has ever made: 7Ryan Tannehill2012289+0.5+23.158.4 19927-1-01663 14Marcus Mariota2015324+5.9+31.251.6 20167-1-01595 19957-1-01723 Speaking of which, the Cowboys are also off to one of their best starts in recent memory. This is the first time Dallas has won seven of its first eight games since 2007, and only the second time since 1995, the last time the team won the Super Bowl. And the Cowboys’ current Elo rating (our pet metric for estimating a team’s strength at a given moment) through eight weeks is the third-highest it’s been since Dallas’s dynasty days of the mid-1990s.Prescott is hardly the only Cowboy having a great season. Running back Ezekiel Elliott also leads the NFL in rushing yards, helping to power the second-best rushing attack in the league according to EPA. And, given his track record and what we know about his recovery so far, Romo would likely also be successful if he were slotted into Dallas’s lineup. (Though individual football players are often so interconnected with each other that it’s difficult to predict what will happen to the team when personnel changes.)But right now, Prescott has made just about as strong a case as possible that the Cowboys should stick with him going forward. Not only has he produced one of the best-ever first halves by a rookie QB, but he has also instantly played as well as Romo ever has. Now the only question is what he has in store for the back half of Dallas’s schedule. 19974-4-01579 20096-2-01617 3Robert Griffin III2012320+18.7+43.763.6 Best Cowboys teams through 8 games by Elo Rating, 1992-2016 20077-1-01619 read more

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OSU junior forward Christian Soldat (13) dribbles the ball during a game against Rutgers on Nov. 13 at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium. OSU won 4-0. Credit: Samantha Hollingshead | Photo EditorAfter garnering the No. 9 overall seed in the NCAA tournament and having a first-round bye, the Ohio State men’s soccer team will finally get back out on the pitch against Dayton on Sunday in the second round at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium. The Buckeyes claimed their fourth regular-season Big Ten title in program history in the final game of the regular season against Michigan. They could not add a Big Ten tournament title to their trophy case however, as the Scarlet and Gray fell to Maryland in the championship game.“Maryland gave us a really physical game that we weren’t really expecting from them after we played them the first time,” junior defender and co-captain Tyler Kidwell said.Despite OSU’s loss, the Buckeyes will be returning to the NCAA tournament for the second year in a row to try and beat Dayton for the second time this season.The Scarlet and Gray defeated the Flyers on Sept. 25 in a 2-0 game. Although the Buckeyes have already topped Dayton, OSU knows it cannot take its one win lightly.“We have a psychological advantage having beaten them already this season, but we can’t take anything for granted,” senior defender and co-captain Liam Doyle said. “It’s going to be tough because it’s tournament time. Anything could happen.”Coach John Bluem said it could be difficult to beat a team the second time around because the opposing team is coming in with a greater motivation to be better than the first time.“This is the NCAA tournament. It’s almost like a new season in a different season,” Bluem said. “I think you throw that first game out. Our guys are just looking forward to playing in the NCAA tournament again. They’re excited about it and they are ready to go.”The Buckeyes are expecting the Flyers to come out with intensity and physicality because Dayton will be seeking revenge.The Scarlet and Gray plan to focus mentally and work on their physicality heading into Sunday’s match.“NCAA tournament games are always more physical than the rest because it’s win or go home,” Kidwell said.Senior midfielder and co-captain Zach Mason echoed his teammate, but he said the team the Flyers faced in September is completely different from the one that will be stepping inside the lines on Sunday. “The season is on the line for both of us, so we’re going to come in ready to fight and win the game,” Mason said. “We did well earlier this year against them, so we’re going to know what to do. We’ve really grown since our first game, so we’re excited about our opportunity.”Dayton’s first-round victoryThe Flyers hosted Oakland in the first round of the NCAA tournament, where they defeated the Grizzlies 4-3 in penalty kicks after the game ended as a 2-2 double-overtime draw on Thursday night.Oakland scored in both the 8th and 23rd minutes of the game, giving it a 2-0 lead. However, the Flyers managed to score within the final 10 seconds of the first half, leaving the team down only one point.Dayton leveled the match in the 72nd minute, forcing the game to go into the overtimes. Neither team could convert in either overtime period, therefore moving the game to a penalty-kick shootout.Dayton came out on top in penalty kicks when Oakland could not manage to convert its final try.With the penalty-kick win, the Flyers advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history.Postseason reunionOSU goalkeeper Chris Froschauer has fortified the Buckeyes’ defense all season long, capturing the Big Ten Goalkeeper of the Year award. When the senior takes the field on Sunday, he will have a little extra motivation, as his opponent is very familiar.Froschauer spent three seasons in Dayton as the starting goalie for the Flyers before transferring to Columbus for his final collegiate campaign.“I figured if I wanted to take a chance somewhere else and do something, why not do it now,” Froschauer told The Lantern earlier in the season about the decision to transfer. “I get to play college soccer one time, so I went for it.”For the Buckeyes, Froschauer has started every game and currently leads the Big Ten in save percentage with .809, while having nine clean sheets to his credit. What’s nextThe winner between OSU and Dayton will move on to face the winner of Santa Clara and Stanford in the third round of the NCAA tournament. The game is scheduled to be played on either Nov. 28 or 29. read more

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