FiveThirtyEight’s delegation made the pilgrimage to this year’s Sloan conference, a kind of mecca for anyone who’s obsessed with sports, data and retelling how they first felt when they read “Moneyball.” We updated all of Friday and Saturday from Boston, where Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred and our own Nate Silver roamed the halls. Read on for highlights from the weekend. CORRECTION (Feb 28, 9:47 a.m.): A previous version of this article misstated the ages of Sam Hafetz and Jonah White. Saturday, Feb. 28 4:05 p.m. Friday, Feb 27, 2:20 p.m.The panel: “Basketball Analytics: Push the Tempo”The panelists: Shane Battier, Mike Zarren, Sue Bird, Mike D’Antoni, Pablo TorreAre basketball teams now so saturated with data and analytics that it’s hard to use them for a competitive advantage?Mike Zarren, assistant general manager for the Boston Celtics, raised an interesting point about what qualifies as analytics in an analytics age. “If I know how well a player slept last night, is that analytics?” The breadth of topics discussed — injuries, biometrics, pace, traditional positions, rest, incentives, shot selection, team chemistry — reveal what a truly broad spectrum of questions and answers fall under the umbrella of basketball analytics. However the field is defined, it all serves the same master: talent. Shane Battier, the poster boy for the adoption of analytic ideas at the player level, summed up the mission perfectly: “It’s about creating space to allow talent to do what they do.”Zarren returned to a well-worn focus at this conference — communication of insights — and defended that arena as the place where a competitive advantage still exists: “You have to use it, it has to affect the decisions you make. I don’t think there is a saturation of that yet.” — Ian Levy Friday, Feb 27, 11:55 a.m.Daryl Morey has been as instrumental to the rise of the Sloan conference as he has been to the rise of the Houston Rockets. Morey, the general manager of the Rockets, has steered the team to third place in the Western conference — behind MVP-candidate James Harden, whom he acquired in a now-legendary 2012 trade — and helped start the Sloan conference in 2007. At Sloan on Friday, I boxed him out to ask a few questions about advanced basketball analytics, specifically player-tracking data from companies like STATS’ SportVU technology. While he can’t divulge the details of the Rockets’ private statistics, Morey’s remarks about the publicly available numbers are especially insightful because the Rockets are one of the most stats-savvy teams — not just in the NBA, but in all of sports. — Andrew FlowersAudio Playerhttps://fivethirtyeight.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/flowers_morey.mp300:0000:0000:00Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume. Friday, Feb 27, 12:21 p.m.The Panel: “Valuing Franchises: How Sports Teams Break the DCF”The Panelists: Lyle Ayes, Aswath Damodaran, Joe McNulty, Randy Vataha, Abe Madkour (moderator)The recent sales of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Clippers for over $2 billion have opened up a new paradigm in sports franchise valuations. As shocking as the price of those transactions may have been, the mood at this Sloan panel was buoyant. In fact, panelists seemed to be most worried about prices getting so high that billionaires would be priced out of the market. As Lyle Ayes, managing director of the investment bank Evercore’s sports advisory practice said, “how many people can pay $4 billion for an asset?”Panelists thought the seemingly inexorable rise in franchise valuations was driven by the increasing value of media and content rights. Aswath Damodaran, an NYU professor who focuses on valuation (and FiveThirtyEight contributor), commented that across the entertainment industry, owning content is becoming king. Ayes cited the NBA’s massive new TV deal as evidence of this trend. He noted that advertisers put a large premium on live content like sports because viewers are relatively captive during the event. Interestingly, none of the panel members thought that a team’s performance had a large impact on valuation. The most important factor, according to the panel, was metro area population and GDP. The New York Knicks can command significantly more from their local TV rights for bad basketball than the San Antonio Spurs can command for good.Despite the increase in the real earnings of teams as media deals improve, panelists (with the exception of Ayes), broadly agreed that sports franchises still do not make sense as actual businesses. While they are relatively low-risk and uncorrelated with other potential investments, almost any analysis of the current cash flows — or lack thereof — will not find them to be great investments. As Damodaran noted, the supply of franchises is relatively fixed, while demand has been growing. The panelists did not see this dynamic changing any time soon. — John Ezekowitz Saturday, Feb. 28, 11:20 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 28, 9:50 a.m.There are bold-faced names headlining the ninth annual Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, sure. But for academics like myself the real action is in the research paper contest, where academics and researchers are hoping to create the kinds of insights that the bold-faced names one day treat as gospel. For these researchers, Sloan marks the culmination of what can be more than a year’s worth of work. The stakes are high: top prize is $20,000, with second place worth $10,000. For some of the PhD students submitting papers, that may equal their annual salary.But until now, the mechanics of how this contest is judged have largely been cloudy (see an overview of the 2015 contest here, or my personal experience submitting a paper to the 2014 contest here). On Friday, conference co-lead Paul Campbell helped clarify how Sloan makes its picks. “We try to be consistent about what we solicit,” said Campbell. “We kind of have our perspective on the validity of the method, and making sure that the academic and mathematical rigor is there. Also, do the results make sense?”The 2015 research paper contest began back in September, when Campbell and this year’s judging committee, comprised of various MIT student organizers and academic advisers, received 189 abstracts. Of that total, 68 were invited to turn in a formal paper for submission in mid-December. Paper submissions were placed into one of four tracks: basketball, baseball, other sports or the business of sport. The top two submitted papers from each track were given the opportunity to present at this year’s conference. In addition, 11 papers were given a poster in the halls of the convention center.Each of the eight finalists were allotted a 20-minute presentation on Friday. The judging committee identified the top presentation in each of the four categories based on a 50-50 split of the presentation itself and the originating paper.“We have an idea of what the best analytically rigorous paper is, but we want to see if it is presented well. It’s an equal weighting with [the presentation] and the paper,” said Campbell. The four papers still in the running for the top prize, are:Baseball: Who is Responsible for a Called Strike? by Joe Rosales and Scott SprattBasketball: Counterpoints: Advanced Defensive Metrics for NBA Basketball by Alexander Franks, Andrew Miller, Luke Bornn and Kirk GoldsberryOther Sports: Assessing the productivity of NHL players using in-game win probabilities by Stephen PettigrewBusiness of Sports: Diamonds on the Line: Profits Through Investment Gaming by Clayton Graham.Those four finalists are given an additional 10 minutes with which to make their case, this time in front of a larger and more general audience, including Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey and FiveThirtyEight’s own Nate Silver.Those judges, according to Campbell, are asked to judge by something different than the last committee. “Which of these [papers] seems like the most applicable or potentially transformative within the industry?” $20,000 rides on the answer. — Mike Lopez Saturday, Feb. 28, 1:00 p.m.The session: “Analytics of the Tommy John Injury Epidemic”The speaker: Glenn FleisigWe’re in the midst of an epidemic of elbow injuries among major league pitchers. Twenty-five percent of current MLB pitchers have had an ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction (“Tommy John surgery”) and 15 percent of minor league pitchers have undergone the procedure. Over the last decade, the problem has trickled down to high school and little league players. In 1990, none of the baseball players coming to the Andrews Sports Medicine & Orthopaedic Center clinic Tommy John surgery were kids. Today, one third of them are high school age or younger, said Fleisig, the research director at the American Sports Medicine Institute.What’s to blame for the epidemic of torn elbow ligaments? Are more players getting hurt? Or are we just better at diagnosing these injuries? Are doctors more willing to do the procedure? Or are patients more eager to have it?The answer, said Fleisig, is all of the above. Some players assume they should go in for surgery at the first sign of elbow pain, just “to get it over,” but that’s the wrong attitude. Best case scenario, the surgery can return a player to the career trajectory he was on before he got injured, but it won’t improve performance and not every player makes it back to play, Fleisig said.About 80 percent of major league players who get Tommy John surgeries make it back to the mound, but only two thirds of those who undergo the procedure make it back and stay there.Most elbow ligament injuries occur due to overuse. During the middle part of the pitch when the elbow is held upright at a right angle, the joint experiences severe torque. “It’s like holding a string with five 12-pound bowling balls,” Fleisig said. (That’s why doping raises the risk of an elbow injury — “If you’re on the juice you’re making your muscles too strong for your tendons and ligaments to handle.”)There’s a common notion that curveballs are dangerous, but the research doesn’t bear that out, Fleisig said. “We expected the curveball to have more torque than the fastball, but it turns out it has less.”Four things determine which players get injured — biomechanics, how much a player pitches, training and recovery. “It’s not one of these things or the other, it’s all of them,” Fleisig said.Wear and tear on the elbow is one of the most important factors, and when Fleisig’s group followed a group of 500 kids over a ten-year period, they found that pitching more than 100 competitive innings more than tripled the risk of needing a Tommy John surgery. Likewise, more than 80 pitches per game quadrupled the risk of injury, and kids who pitched when fatigued had 36 times the risk of having surgery.In an effort to cut the rates of elbow injuries among young pitchers, Fleisig and his colleagues have teamed with Major League Baseball to create Pitch Smart, age-appropriate guidelines to avoid injury. Suggestions include limits on the number of pitches thrown and not pitching when fatigued. “The best computer we have is right here,” Fleisig told me, pointing to his head. — Christie Aschwanden Friday, Feb. 27, 6:10 p.m.Walking into a conference at Sloan today I walked by yet another guy in a sports coat — and then did a double take, because this guy’s blazer sleeves were rolled up…and he was a 13 year-old. There are some teenagers running around Sloan but none looked younger than Sam Hafetz and his friends, Manu Hurskovitz, 14, and Jonah White, 14. After calling their parents for permission (hi, Mr. Hurskovitz!), I dragged them to our podcast table. There, Jody Avirgan asked what brought them to Sloan (it’s their second year attending), why they love sports analytics, and what they’d do if they became GMs of the Celtics. — Chadwick MatlinAudio Playerhttps://fivethirtyeight.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/kidsatsloan.mp300:0000:0000:00Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.Friday, Feb. 27, 4:43 p.m.The panel: “Commissioner’s Perspective: Growing Soccer with Don Garber”The panelists: Don Garber, Grant WahlMLB and MLS share two letters and the pickle of how to balance tradition and innovation. Baseball’s struggle comes from within, as Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred showed earlier Friday. Major League Soccer isn’t as conflicted about changing rules and trying new technologies, MLS Commissioner Don Garber said. Its burden, unlike MLB’s, is its peripheral place in a global game.Garber said he wanted goal-line review technology, extra time put on scoreboards (instead of only a ref with a “Timex that probably cost 20 bucks” knowing how much time remains) and a whole lot more. “If I were king, we would have instant replay, we would have cameras on our players, we would be putting them on goalposts.” He’d put a microphone on the field. Players would wear GoPro cameras. He watched hockey players wear GoPros at the NHL All-Star Game and thought it was cool.But Garber can’t have all those things. Other sports’ U.S. pro leagues just need to get the owners to agree, but MLS needs the approval of IFAB, the International Football Association Board — or, as Garber called it, the International Federation of Somebody Who Has Something To Do With the Rules That’s Not Me. Garber’s message to IFAB: “Let us be the Guinea pigs.” He worries that the world’s most popular sport could lose its lead “just because of our structure. We should be able to use the power of our influence to lead.” — Carl Bialik Friday, Feb 27, 4:35 p.m.At last year’s Sloan conference, Dean Oliver was our ESPN colleague, leading analytics at the Stats & Info Group. This year, he’s here as the Sacramento Kings’ director of player personnel and analytics. I spotted him Friday huddled with a few of his peers from other NBA franchises. Oliver has been in the sports analytics business for three decades, and has seen it grow from a field wrestling with a lack of data to one with more data than it knows what to do with. He spoke with me about the similarities in working for teams and working for sports media, and about what it takes for a franchise to succeed at using analytics. — Carl Bialik Saturday, Feb. 28, 1:46 p.m.The panel: “Beating the Shift: Baseball Analytics in the Age of Big Data”The panelists: Sandy Alderson, Dan Brooks, Dave Cameron, Ben Lindbergh, Jonah KeriSloan’s flagship baseball panel largely focused on teams’ reactions to sabermetric findings. Alderson, the general manager of the New York Mets, spoke about the proliferation of defensive shifts, and how it has led to changes in the way certain players are valued — specifically right-handed power hitters.Along the same lines, no discussion of baseball analytics would be complete without some mention of strike zone analysis and catcher pitch-framing metrics. Despite the volume of research on the subject in recent years, the consensus of the group was that the market may still not be properly valuing catchers who “steal” strikes on the edge of the strike zone at a higher rate than their peers. Then again, part of that may relate to a theory that pitch-framing is a taught skill. (We’d have liked to hear more thoughts about how umpires doing better at calling an accurate strike zone has led to baseball’s aforementioned drop in run-scoring.)Finally, Keri asked the panel their thoughts about wins above replacement (WAR). The panel agreed WAR was a valuable framework, even if its individual parts can always stand to be improved. For his part, Alderson confirmed that teams use at least some version of it, even with its imperfections, because the idea of creating a cumulative statistic is appealing. — Harry Enten and Neil Paine Friday, Feb 27, 10:40 a.m.The panel: “Innovators and Adopters”The panelists: Shane Battier, Michael Lewis, Daryl Morey, Jeff Van Gundy and Jackie MacMullanPity Carmelo Anthony and Kobe Bryant. Out for the season with injuries after performances well below their high standards, they’re now punching bags in Boston, at least according to the first session of the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference on Friday.The other panelists treated the retired Battier more or less as Lewis depicted him in a New York Times Magazine article in 2009: the platonic ideal of the intelligent NBA player, one who incorporates insights from advanced statistical analysis to optimize his game for team success. (Battier initially resisted that framing, saying “it was about winning,” before eventually letting on that yeah, he was a pretty smart player.) LeBron James, with whom Battier won two titles in Miami, was the more typical player, open to occasional tastes of analytics-based tips.Anthony and Bryant, though, were depicted as the anti-Battiers, in a question by moderator MacMullan (who, like Battier, works for ESPN, which owns this website and sponsors Sloan). MacMullan noted their selfishness and focus on scoring over other ways of contributing to their teams. (To which my boss, Nate Silver, would respond that Anthony’s shooting makes his teammates better.) Battier made clear how much he relished having those two stars as foils, learning their tendencies so that he could neutralize their strengths when playing defense. MacMullan pointed out that Battier blocked more of their shots than any other player’s. Anthony also topped the Battier leaderboards for balls stolen and offensive fouls drawn. And the pair led another personal leaderboard Battier innovated: They gave him the most “looks of disdain” when they found out he’d be guarding them. — Carl Bialik Sunday, March 1 12:17 a.m.After what conference co-organizer Jessica Gelman said was a “heated discussion,” voters for the top research paper at Sloan reached a split decision and split the $30,000 prize pool between two papers. The winners:Who is Responsible for a Called Strike? by Joe Rosales and Scott SprattCounterpoints: Advanced Defensive Metrics for NBA Basketball by Alexander Franks, Andrew Miller, Luke Bornn and Kirk GoldsberryRosales and Spratt, both of Baseball Info Solutions, presented work suggesting that pitch framing, which has traditionally rewarded most of the credit to catchers alone, is actually a function of three independent participants: the catcher, pitcher, and umpire.Franks, Miller, Bornn, and Goldsberry — all members of Harvard’s XY Hoops group — used player tracking data to quantify individual defensive play in the NBA. The academic version of this group’s paper has been accepted at the statistics journal Annals of Applied Statistics.The groups behind the winning papers each received $15,000 for their efforts. Additionally, Bornn and Goldsberry, along with co-authors Alex D’Amour and Dan Cervone, received the conference’s top poster prize of $1,000 for “Move or Die: How Ball Movement Creates Open Shots in the NBA.” — Mike Lopez Saturday, Feb. 28 3:15 p.m.Will sports betting inevitably become legal in the U.S.? It sure seems like it.Momentum behind legalization has grown since NBA Commissioner Adam Silver wrote an Op-Ed in the New York Times in November 2014 explicitly endorsing legal sports gambling. The facade of professional sports leagues that oppose sports betting is beginning to crack. And it’s clear why: money.Silver estimated the market for illegal sports wagering is currently $400 billion per year, though it’s likely that figure is inflated. But even lower-end estimates of around $80 billion still represent a huge market. Sports betting is already enormous in Europe, Australia and many other regions. State governments want in because of the potential revenues.Professional sports leagues are intrigued because they see gambling interest as a ratings driver, much like fantasy sports have been. (And, coincidentally, daily fantasy sports sites – with cash prizes – bear an eerie resemblance to gambling anyway.) Gambling is already inherently analytical; but the appetite of stats-savvy fans for geeky coverage about odds is growing. Jeff Ma, a contributor to ESPN’s new sports-betting site, Chalk – said gambling analytics would meet the demand from those with a “high-brow” interest.But there are major risks to legalization. The revelations that former NBA referee Tim Donaghy owed gambling debts and bet on games he officiated was a reminder of the long, scandalous history of how gambling can challenge the integrity of sports. Here, too, analytics can help. Ryan Rodenberg, a professor at Florida State University, suggested statistical scrutiny of betting markets would combat fraud and fixing. Several private European firms already specialize in such analytics.The panelists were asked that if they had to bet on legalization sweeping the country, when it would happen. The lines offered by the panelists ranged from 2-to-10 years. Dan Spillane, the Assistant General Counsel for the NBA, didn’t offer a timeline, however. He just said “years, not months.” — Andrew Flowers Friday, Feb 27, 3:28 p.m.The panel: “Commissioner’s Perspective: 1 on 1 with Rob Manfred”The panelists: Brian Kenny, Rob ManfredRob Manfred has a long history with Major League Baseball. And Major League Baseball has long tried to avoid letting its history weigh it down. In a wide-ranging interview at Sloan on Friday, one month into his tenure as league commissioner, Manfred sounded like a man trying to make sense of how to reform a game without hollowing it out.A few days ago, Manfred said that there was a universe in which baseball could shave eight games off its regular-season schedule “sometime down the road.” A reduction in the current 162-game schedule could make the sport’s playoff timing a little more flexible, and might increase fan interest in each game. At Sloan, Manfred said he chose the 154-game mark because it would take the majors “back to a number that’s already in our record books.” Could he see MLB going even lower, to 150? No, because then “you’re going to go have a record book with 150, 154, 162 …” Only in baseball, a sport hallowed enough to get the Ken Burns treatment, could the record book be more important than the ledger. Integrity is paramount. (Or as Manfred, who has worked for the league for nearly two decades, put it when talking about whether to reform gambling laws around sports betting: “Integrity, it’s Rule One.”)Yet this is a commissioner who clearly wants to find ways to change the game. Manfred has introduced rules to speed the pace of play, and said Friday he’s very happy with the replay system MLB added last year. He said that in the future — “past Rob Manfred” — the league could have a team outside North America, and before that, maybe even one in Mexico. Now that would be historic. — Chadwick Matlin
On television, Stuart Scott represented Black people’s creativity, soul, mind, humor, style and overall culture. That’s part of the legacy he leaves behind as an ESPN personality—a quick-witted, clever, smart and engaging broadcaster who made you smile as you watched sports highlights, using everything from pop culture to street slang to get across the point in an entertaining way. Not everyone can do that. Only a few can, in fact. Scott might have been the best at it. Here are 10 of his on-air catch phrases that made you smile.“You Ain’t Gotta Go Home, But You Gotta Get The Heck Outta Here”Anyone who has partied at a nightclub has heard the deejay, near the end of the event, use that expression. No one heard it on television until Scott used it to describe a buzzer beater or strike out in baseball.“See, what had happened was. . . “Hilarious. Ever try to awkwardly explain to someone an error in that way? Sure, you have. Scott came with it when a player made a particularly glaring mistake. The humor of it lightened the magnitude of the miscue.
Near the end of last season, Cincinnati Enquirer writer Paul Daugherty penned a column about Reds first baseman Joey Votto. It was not kind.You can extol the virtues of the almighty walk all you like. You can tell me how wonderful it is that Votto makes fewer outs than anyone. I understand all that, and it is all good. Especially if you’re leading off or batting 2nd. If you are batting 3rd, your responsibilities are different. Seventy-three RBI with Choo ahead of you all year is substandard. All numbers aside, Votto doesn’t pass the eyeball test this summer. There have been times when he simply looks disengaged.This might seem like stinging criticism, particularly the part where Daugherty jumps from Votto’s RBI total to accusing the Reds star of checking out. Thing is, select members of Cincinnati’s baseball media corps often bash Votto for being too passive — especially when he comes up with runners on base. Marty Brennaman, the radio voice of the Reds for the past 40 years, seems to do it all the time. That September 2013 column wasn’t remotely the only time Daugherty called out Votto. The idea of Votto as this submissive hitter who keeps his bat on his shoulder during RBI opportunities has become so widespread that even the Cardinals announcers brought it up when the Reds visited St. Louis last month. And as far as the eyeball test goes, well, it’s tough to watch Votto do something like this (on a 2-1 count, no less), and not shake your head a little:That mid-at-bat stroll aside, is the narrative true? Is Votto hurting his team by turning into a wallflower when he gets chances to drive in runs? Or is this just another case of blaming a team’s best player for its failures?Votto defenders, and Votto himself, argue that indiscriminately swinging at more pitches would hurt more than it would help. Votto’s elite batting puts him at or near the top of the league in walk rate every year. It also helps him avoid making weak contact on pitches out of the strike zone; since his 2008 rookie season, no qualified hitter has been better at getting on base (and thus not making outs) than Votto has.So rather than pointing to simple walk rate or swing rate, we turned to ESPN’s TruMedia system for context. It slices and dices stats in countless ways, to the point where we can see how often Votto swings at pitches in the strike zone with runners in scoring position. That way, we can focus on the situations most conducive to knocking in runs and eliminate pitches out of the zone, which you’d want hitters to pass up anyway.We came up with three ways to dissect this stat. First, we can see how often Votto swings at strikes when at bat with runners in scoring position, and whether he’s doing it more or less now than he has in the past. We can also compare Votto’s swing rate in those situations with those of other elite hitters. TruMedia data goes back to 2009, and Votto ranks third in the majors since ’09 in weighted runs created plus,1Also known as wRC+, this stat tallies all the walks, singles, doubles, triples, homers, outs and other outcomes compiled by a hitter — minus context-dependent stats like RBI — then adjusts for park effects and the era in which a player plays and boils it down to one number. A score of 100 is average for a major league hitter, which means Votto’s 162 wRC+ since 2009 pegs him at 62 percent better than average. so comparing Votto to the rest of the top five in that stat over the past half-decade makes sense. Finally, we can see how often Votto swings in these spots relative to league average.The chart below tells the tale.At first glance, yes, Votto has become much less aggressive with runners in scoring position over the past five-plus seasons. In 2009, his second full season in the big leagues, Votto swung at 78.2 percent of the pitches he saw in the strike zone with RISP, ranking him 10th among 155 qualified batters, just slightly behind the grip-it-and-rip-it approach of RBI-machine Miguel Cabrera. Votto’s number dipped slightly to 76.2 percent in 2010, still ranking among the league’s leaders. In 2011, that number fell precipitously to 69.6 percent, just a smidgen above league average. In 2012, it took another big tumble, with Votto’s swing rate plunging to 62.4 percent — No. 121 in the majors if he’d had enough at-bats to qualify for the batting title. Last year, he rebounded to 69.8 percent, once again a tick above league average. So far this season, the bottom has dropped out, with Votto swinging at just 57.7 percent of pitches in the strike zone with runners in scoring position, ranking him 171st among 187 qualified hitters. Those last 16 guys probably batted with their eyes closed.Now let’s compare Votto to other elite hitters. Placing him side by side with those other top-five wRC+ guys — Cabrera, Mike Trout, Ryan Braun and Jose Bautista — nets surprising results. While Cabrera and Braun rank among baseball’s most aggressive hitters when they get pitches with runners in scoring position, Trout and Bautista have been far more passive … more so even than Votto, before this year.Let’s run one more chart. Same hitters, same runners in scoring position situations, still using pitches in the strike zone, only this time we’ll look at fastballs only, since in theory you’d expect hitters to be more aggressive against heaters than, say, darting sliders or diving change-ups.Same pattern, but check out Votto’s free fall this season. On fastballs in the strike zone with RISP, he’s swung an incredibly low 50 percent of the time, ranking 182 out of 187 batters.So what’s going on here?Leaving RBI aside, Votto’s power numbers have shrunk a lot over the past couple of years. Since his 37-homer MVP season in 2010, Votto has hit 29, 14 and 24 bombs, with just four so far this year. Using isolated power, a stat that gives a better read of a player’s pop than slugging average since it focuses only on extra-base hits, we see that Votto posted a career-low .186 IP mark last year, ranking a less-than-elite 44th among 140 qualified batters. He’s down to .169 IP this year, just the 72nd-best mark in the majors. If a hitter feels he can do less damage when he swings, he’s probably going to swing less often. Votto is one of the brainiest, most self-aware players in the game, so it’s no surprise to see him swinging less often than he has in the past, both with runners in scoring position and the rest of the time.It’s hard to tell how aggressive Votto might be in the future, given what the numbers tell us. Go back and peruse those charts again. The two biggest drops in his swing rate (with runners in scoring position or otherwise) — and the only two times in his career that he’s been more passive than league average in RBI situations — have come in 2012 and this year.In 2012, Votto suffered a painful knee injury, one that sapped his power dramatically until it knocked him out of the lineup for 50 games; of course he’s going to swing less often when he’s both playing in pain and not hitting the ball as hard when he makes contact. As for this year, it’s May 9. Votto has seen only 52 pitches in the strike zone with runners in scoring position, and just 36 of those were fastballs. We should probably wait until we have a larger sample of at-bats before we break out Tom Smykowski’s mat.So yes, Daugherty’s belief that Votto has become more passive passes not only the eyeball test, but also the hard evidence test. Still, Votto doesn’t deserve this much criticism. We’re talking about a player who’s on track to reach base more than 40 percent of the time for the sixth straight season. He’s an excellent defender at first. An infield popup for him is like a Halley’s Comet sighting for the rest of us. And while he might be swinging less often than he used to, even that trend might prove to be much less pronounced than it looks right now.Joey Votto remains one of the best all-around players on the planet, whether or not he ever makes the ghost of Hack Wilson sweat.
TBA4365+51.2 DET4044+10.0 It’s getting more and more crowded on baseball’s bleeding edge. As sabermetrics has expanded to swallow new disciplines and data sets,1The data generated by a single game has gone from mega- to gigabytes, with terabytes sure to follow before long. the number of quantitative analysts in MLB front offices has multiplied to keep up, producing an army of number crunchers, modelers and decision scientists who would have seemed out of place at the ballpark even a decade ago.Because we, too, are statheads at heart, we’ve mined the data and charted the proliferation of these numbers-savvy front-office staffers over time. Yes, there are more of them now than ever, and yes, they’ve had a demonstrable effect on their teams’ fortunes. But contrary to the “Moneyball”-era hand-wringing about battles between scouts and statheads, their rise hasn’t come at the expense of old-school analysis. Rather, the two main points of contention are how much the “Moneyball” mindset has spread from the game’s most frugal teams to the richest ones; and why the front-office hiring boom hasn’t helped its gender diversity.You’re gonna need a bigger budgetTo track the expansion of baseball’s R&D departments, we took three snapshots of MLB staffs by studying cached online directories and team media guides from 2016, 2012 and 2009 — the first year for which media guides are widely available from MLBpressbox.com — and consulting with current and former front-office employees. We limited our sample to full-time employees (sorry, interns and consultants),2Disclosure: One of this article’s authors, Rob Arthur, works as a statistical consultant for the Toronto Blue Jays. and tried to maintain a consistent, fairly strict definition of what constitutes a quant: a “baseball operations” employee who spends a majority of his or her work hours either directing a quantitative department or doing statistical research, data processing or programming to support the team’s analytical efforts.Naturally, our task occasionally required some informed speculation. “Analytics” and “analyst” are slippery terms, particularly because most front-office employees are multitaskers who contribute to more than one department. Many teams are also guarded in how they describe (or don’t describe) their employees’ roles and responsibilities. But even with all those caveats, we’re confident that we’ve arrived at a roughly accurate accounting of MLB’s quant army.And our numbers reveal that baseball’s analytical arms race is proceeding at a pace only slightly slower than Moore’s law. Although the analytical gold rush began before the period we examined, hiring has accelerated at an almost exponential rate over the last few years. In 2009, the first season of our sample — which was several years after “Moneyball” became a best-seller — a total of 44 team employees fit our “quant” definition, and at least a third of teams had yet to assign a single full-time employee primarily to statistical work. By 2012, the number had climbed to 75, and only four teams had no quants. Four years after that, the analyst count has more than doubled again, to 156, and nowadays no team operates without some semblance of an R&D department. 3Only one of those departments — perhaps predictably, the tightfisted Miami Marlins — is still a solo act. MIL3848+26.3 ATL3246+43.8 KCA3647+30.6 SDN3655+52.8 TOR3858+52.6 WAS2847+67.9% ARI4161+48.8 CIN4665+41.3 TEX3849+28.9 NUMBER OF FULL-TIME SCOUTING PERSONNEL MIN3546+31.4 LAD4361+41.9 OAK3840+5.3 CLE4148+17.1 SourceS: MLB, VARIOUS TEAM MEDIA GUIDES SEA6762-7.5 Nor is there any indication that we’re approaching a plateau. A number of teams told us they expected to add more analysts soon; we’re aware of at least 12 open positions across MLB. And because the litany of prerequisite degrees and programming languages seems to grow with each listing, it seems certain that the average analyst also has a more impressive résumé today than in the past.To the statheads went the spoilsThe biggest benefits of buying into objective analysis were probably reaped around the time “Moneyball” was published, when a lot of the low-hanging fruit was still attached to baseball’s most rigid branches. Simple lessons such as “on-base percentage matters more than batting average” still eluded many front offices, and numerous talented analysts whose work would later be exclusive to one team were still posting their insights publicly on message boards or sites such as Baseball Prospectus.Even though some of the initial rewards had already been realized by 2009, there were still significant gains to be made by semi-early adopters. To measure them, we built a model estimating how good a team was before its front-office hires, using the following factors for each team: its winning percentages over the previous three seasons, its payroll and market size and its Baseball America farm-system ranking. Using these variables, we generated an expected winning percentage for each team over the following three seasons, beginning with the two historical years for which we had analyst counts (2009 and 2012).The takeaway: It paid to invest in analytics early. Teams with at least one analyst in 2009 outperformed their expected winning percentage4As predicted by the model. by 44 percentage points over the 2012-14 period, relative to teams who didn’t — an enormous effect, equivalent to more than seven extra wins per season. That might be overstating things a bit — the precise advantage varies depending on how the analysis is structured — but over most permutations of the model we tried,5Including using different thresholds (by number of analysts) to determine a team’s analytical buy-in, and different periods of time upon which to judge a team’s on-field output. the effect was consistently stronger than two wins per season, particularly for the earliest-adopting teams, which got a head start by implementing analytics before 2009.Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that sabermetrics conferred such a first-mover advantage. As a thought experiment, let’s assume the typical modern analytics department contains five people (156 staffers leaguewide, divided by 30 teams). If the two most senior members of the department earn $100,000 a year and the remaining members make half that, the yearly price would come to $350,000. Putting aside overhead costs,6Which, admittedly, can be quite large (i.e., in the millions) for some front offices. But even with multi-million dollar overhead costs, the total price of an analytics department wouldn’t approach most free-agent player contracts of similar value. that outlay still lags behind the MLB’s minimum salary for a single player — chump change in a sport where the average franchise is valued at 10 figures.For such a relatively small expenditure on analysts, even the minimum estimate of two extra wins per year would represent a return roughly 30 times as efficient as spending the same amount on the free-agent market. (It would be like the Chicago Cubs signing outfielder Dexter Fowler not for the $13 million he’s actually making but for what it would take to pay a player who just made his big-league debut.) At that rate, there’s plenty of room for front-office inflation to continue before teams run into diminishing returns.The rich are getting smarterAlthough the big-budget Boston Red Sox were also one of the first teams to demonstrate that an analytics department could help win a World Series,7Boston may have even been the first to win with a dedicated analytics staff, though it’s also worth noting that the Oakland A’s won in 1989 with early sabermetric consulting from Eric Walker. a number of low-payroll, small-market teams — including not only the Moneyball A’s, but also the Rays, Indians, Padres and Pirates — were among the first to form quantitative departments and develop systems to house and display statistical data. It made sense: The more pressing a team’s financial imperative to stretch every dollar and wring out every win, the more likely it was to try a new approach.But that’s no longer true. Although the Rays, who rank 29th in payroll this season, continue to occupy the R&D pole position with a still expanding department of almost 20 statheads — fortunately, Tropicana Field has plenty of quiet, climate-controlled workspace to spare — baseball’s “haves” are no longer have-nots when it comes to statistical expertise. In both 2009 and 2012, teams with low-ranking payrolls tended to employ more analysts. But in 2016, the balance of analytical buy-in shifts toward big spenders, which might explain why the Rays are having a harder time separating their on-field performance from the pack.Not only are wealthy teams capable of outspending competitors for free-agent players, but they’ve also become more willing to outbid them for brains. The sport’s two heaviest hitters by payroll, the Yankees and Dodgers, are also the only teams aside from the Rays whose R&D departments have double-digit head counts.In addition to hiring a large crew of new number crunchers and programmers, the Dodgers have plundered talent from other franchises’ front offices, absorbing not only the former general managers of the Rays (Andrew Friedman), Padres (Josh Byrnes) and Blue Jays (Alex Anthopoulos), but also a former A’s assistant GM, Farhan Zaidi, who joined Oakland as an analyst because “Moneyball” made him want to work in baseball. In particular, LA’s brain trust has devoted its efforts to preserving player health, which Billy Beane has publicly labeled the sport’s most glaring inefficiency. In their quest to curtail injuries, the Dodgers have invested in both computerized systems and human know-how, as well as seeding a sports-oriented startup incubation program.Stats haven’t killed the scouting starIn the factious days after “Moneyball” was published, the book was often characterized as a prophecy of scouting’s coming extinction. That interpretation was mostly off base, but one passage did strongly imply that the competition for front-office positions was a zero-sum game. In a postscript titled “Inside Baseball’s Religious War,” which appeared in later editions, Michael Lewis wrote that “[J.P.] Ricciardi, the new [Blue Jays] GM, had done what every enlightened GM will eventually do: fire a lot of scouts, hire someone comfortable with statistical analysis … and begin to trade for value, ruthlessly.”Lewis’s postscript looks ironic in retrospect, for multiple reasons. The deputy he describes as “someone comfortable with statistical analysis” was Keith Law, who has since become ESPN’s lead prospect analyst and spends much of his time scouting players. Moreover, Ricciardi himself was fired in 2009 and replaced by Anthopoulos, who almost immediately embarked on a scout-hiring spree — and shepherded Toronto to more success than it had ever enjoyed under his predecessor.8Anthopoulos left the Blue Jays for the Dodgers after the 2015 season. Even Beane’s stat-inclined sidekick, Paul DePodesta, later became vice president of player development and scouting for the Mets before switching sports earlier this year. BAL3432-5.9 STL3944+12.8 CHC5160+17.6 NYM5246-11.5 PHI33330.0 CHW3246+43.8 TEAM20092016%CHANGE BOS5971+20.3 NYY4574+64.4 HOU5552-5.5 SFN5956-5.1 COL3644+22.2 ANA3448+41.2 PIT3948+23.1 MIA3843+13.2 Scouting staffs are also on the rise In fact, the recent expansion of analytics staffing doesn’t seem to have squeezed out other kinds of employees. By our count, big-league teams employed 1,246 full-time scouts in the first year of our sample,9Which in most cases dates back to 2009, except for the few teams whose 2009 media guides don’t have accessible scouting sections. In those cases, we used 2010 data. across all levels and specialties — pro, amateur, advance and international. This year’s media guides list 1,539 scouts — an average increase of almost 10 per team. Only five teams employ fewer scouts than they did in 2009, and of those, four were previously among the top five scout employers. No team has downsized by more than six total scouts or 12 percent of its previous force.Although the increased ability to access information remotely may have made some advance and pro scouts redundant — or transferred their responsibilities to new, stay-at-home scouts who prep for opponents using a combination of stats and video — any modest downsizing in those areas has been more than offset by increased amateur and international coverage. For instance, the Rays — who also devote a massive head count to scouting, trailing only the Yankees and Red Sox — assign dedicated scouts to 12 countries outside the U.S., some of which haven’t historically been baseball hotbeds.10Including Curacao, Germany, the Czech Republic and Brazil, where they’re trying to build an academy. No scouting position is permanent, but our survey uncovered scant evidence to back up claims that teams are treating scouts as obsolete relics. If anything, smart teams have learned to treat scouting grades as statistical data that can improve upon purely numbers-based evaluations, making the two perspectives even more tightly intertwined.Given baseball’s burgeoning economy, it’s only logical that additional jobs for statheads haven’t come at scouts’ expense. Ever-rising broadcast rights and franchise valuations have caused revenue to skyrocket, and the profit has to go somewhere besides under owners’ mattresses. As revenue sharing, luxury taxes, and limits on amateur and international spending lower the ceiling on some forms of spending and shrink the payroll gaps between teams, the best option for a cash-flush club is to direct dollars away from the field. Beefing up front-office infrastructure makes acquiring, storing and applying information easier, and it allows teams to get more bang for the bucks they’re allowed to spend.That said, there are still places where analytics hiring has a lot of room to improve. Out of 190 analysts who appeared on our list at least once, only five were female, and only three of those women are still active. Granted, the gender imbalance in baseball ops is actually less lopsided on the R&D side than in scouting, where women are even scarcer. But high-level playing experience is far from a prerequisite in R&D roles, which tells us either that teams are having trouble attracting female applicants or that they’re overlooking the qualified candidates who do apply. As Zaidi, who has since hired one of the three active female analysts, put it last year: “If I’m going to put my geek cap on, it’s a statistical impossibility … that the best candidate for every position in baseball is a middle-aged Caucasian male.”Of course, baseball’s broadcast bubble might eventually burst, reversing the rise in revenue and forcing teams to economize. In that event, some would likely decide that stats, video and tracking systems such as Statcast and Kinetrax make scouting positions expendable, although they would probably also slash the budgets and support for their R&D staffs. Barring that type of catastrophe, though, baseball’s front-office hiring boom is unlikely to slow any time soon, since the rapid ascendance of baseball’s new school hasn’t made many teams think “out with the old.” Instead, teams have learned to synthesize information from multiple sources; even the supposedly sabermetrics-defying Kansas City Royals were aided by a talented analytics department en route to their World Series victory last season. When it comes to the search for front-office smarts, all signs still say “help wanted.”Check out our latest MLB predictions.
But Leicester’s rise is especially remarkable in the modern Premier League era. A deluge of money into the league has led to increasing inequality and stratification among teams with cash to burn and those without, which makes a rise of this sort into a billion-dollar-Powerball, Donald Trump-is-the-GOP-nominee-level outlier. Even still, Leicester’s wage bill this season was relatively low. The club spent only 48.2 million pounds on wages, fourth-least in the Premier League. Manchester United has spent more money on new players in the last two years than Leicester has spent in the 132 years it’s existed.Leicester’s title is being trumpeted as “the most unlikely feat in sport history.” Unlikely? Absolutely. Leicester’s rise has been exceptional, no question, and all the more impressive in a climate where dollars, like heat, tend to rise to the top of the table. But unprecedented? No. English football, with its meritocratic system of promotion and relegation, at least makes Cinderella runs like Leicester’s possible — but there hadn’t been a ball in quite some time. Champions tend to come from the top of the previous year’s table. Until this season, every team that has won the title in the Premier League era (which began with the 1992-93 season) finished no worse than third in the Premier League the year before. Of the 70 top-tier league championships since World War II, only six were won by teams that did not finish in the top half of the division the year before. Three times, teams promoted from the second tier went on to win the top tier the next season (Tottenham in 1951, Ipswich in 1962 and Nottingham Forest in 1978). And three winners had finished in the bottom half the year before — Arsenal were 12th in 1969-70 and 13th in 1946-47, and Manchester City finished 15th in 1966-67.Last year, Leicester finished 14th out of 20. They averaged just 1.08 points per game (a win is three, a draw one, a loss zero) and were in last place as late as April. Coming into this season, there was no indication of a turnaround, and most predicted that Leicester would be relegated — demoted to the second tier of the English system.Team manager Nigel Pearson had just been fired, and the club had lost its best midfielder, Esteban Cambiasso. The likable Claudio Ranieri took charge, but he had never won a league title before, and his most recent job was a disastrous spell in charge of the Greek national team, overseeing the squad’s embarrassing losses to the Faroe Islands. Leicester had no marquee stars. The Leicester team was a blend of aging players who had spent most of their careers in the lower leagues and overseas players from lower-level foreign leagues. Famously, its leading scorer and this year’s Football Writers’ Player of the Year, Jamie Vardy, was playing non-league football just four years ago.Even family members of current Leicester players claimed greater success than the whole team. Peter Schmeichel, the father of Leicester goalie Kasper Schmeichel, had more Premier League hardware (five titles) than the entire squad combined (31-year-old Robert Huth and 43-year-old backup goalie Mark Schwarzer both won with Chelsea in minor playing roles).But something magical happened. Leicester started winning, and kept winning. This season, Leicester has been averaging 2.14 points per game. It’s the single biggest year-over-year increase for a league champ since World War II.3Three teams — Spurs in 1951, Ipswich Town in 1962 and Nottingham Forest in 1978 — won the league after being promoted from the lower tier the year before. Points in this analysis are calculated with a win worth three points and a draw one point, the system introduced in the 1981-82 season.But this amazing change in fortune really began years earlier, in the 2008-09 season, when Leicester were dwelling in the lower, far less glamorous third tier of the English football pyramid, known as League One.Since World War II, only one team — Ipswich Town, the 1962 top-flight champs — has had such a long climb over seven years to win the league title. And no team aside from Ipswich then and Leicester now has climbed two tiers so quickly before winning the title.In the chart below are the seven-year histories leading up to every top-flight English football championship since World War II. Only eight times from 1950 through 1980, and only twice from 1981 through 1995, had a team risen from a lower tier in the seven years before to claim the title. It’s been a good nine months for Leicester City Football Club. So good that on Monday the team overcame 5,000-to-1 preseason odds to clinch the Premier League title — its first. Forbes reports that the title is worth more than $100 million to the club, and it’s been nothing short of magic for the club’s fans in that otherwise “unglamorous city” in the Midlands of England.For a long time, it’s been received wisdom that no team outside of a “Big Four” — Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United in its current iteration — has any real hope of a league title. The very few exceptions only helped bolster the rule. In the mid-1990s, Blackburn Rovers, bankrolled by local steel magnate Jack Walker, were promoted from the second tier and then took the title in 1995. Since then, only two other teams outside that quartet — Newcastle United and Liverpool — have managed to finish as high as runners-up in the 20-team field.1This year’s runner-up hasn’t been determined.And upsetting the logjam at the top of the league table is only getting harder. In recent years, only five or six teams have tended to find themselves in the Premier League’s top four at season’s end. Here’s the rolling number of unique top-four teams seen in the preceding five years:2The charts, and many of the figures, in this story are based on a historical soccer data set compiled by one of this article’s authors (James), which can be found here.
Junior forward Nichelle Prince (7) dribbles with the ball during a game against Minnesota on Sept. 17. OSU lost 2-1.The Ohio State women’s soccer team (9-4-3, 4-3-2) saw its three-game unbeaten streak snapped during a pair of road games, but it was able to end the trip with a win. The Buckeyes were in Bloomington, Indiana, on Sunday afternoon, where they toppled the Indiana Hoosiers 2-1 behind senior midfielder/forward Michela Paradiso’s game-winning goal. OSU put its first point on the board in the 24th minute when Prince tossed a throw-in on the left wing to junior forward Lindsay Agnew, who launched it right past Rutgers goalkeeper Sarah Stone. The score was 1-0 heading into halftime with OSU leading 15-5 in shots, including 7-1 on goal.The Hoosiers came back from halftime with a newfound energy that sparked their one and only goal of the afternoon, a shot from senior midfielder Jessie Bujouves in the 50th minute to level the match. Paradiso’s game-winner came in the 85th minute off of an assist from Agnew that set up the Upper Arlington, Ohio, native to score from eight yards out. At the end of the game, the Buckeyes held a 22-12 advantage in shots, and 9-4 on goal. Corner kicks were tied at 5-5. Prior to Sunday’s victory, OSU was in Piscataway, New Jersey, on Thursday night for a match against Rutgers (12-2-2, 5-2-2). The Buckeyes fell to the No. 25 Scarlet Knights 2-0.Both teams played tight defense in the first half, as quality looks to score were few and far between. The Scarlet Knights, however, were able to convert one solid look in the 39th minute. Rutgers freshman defender Adora Moneme finished from 12 yards out near the center of the box after junior defender Erin Smith assisted on a ball played in from the left wing. Heading into halftime, Rutgers held a 5-4 advantage in shots. OSU struggled to generate any offense in the second half as well. The Scarlet Knights put the game out of reach when they posted their second — and final — goal of the night in the 82nd minute from sophomore forward Colby Ciarrocca, who flicked it past a pair of Buckeye defenders. The Buckeyes had a number of chances late in the game but couldn’t find the back of the net. The loss put an end to OSU’s three-match unbeaten streak, which dated back to Oct. 2.Rutgers maintained the lead of 12-7 shots and 5-3 on goal by the end of the game. OSU is set to return to Columbus to host the Penn State Nittany Lions next Saturday night. The match is slated for a 6 p.m. start time at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium.
When Gordon Hayward let go of the shot, college basketball fans jumped out of their seats. As the ball neared the basket, it felt like the end of a Hollywood movie, only without the corny music playing in the background. To the disappointment of many, except Duke fans and gamblers, Hayward’s shot clanked off the rim. Duke, the mighty No. 1 seed, won the game 61-59 and took home the National Championship. Although Butler did not win the game, the effects of this tournament run will not soon be forgotten. As many sports analysts compare this Butler basketball team to a modern-day “Hoosiers,” it is important to recognize that this is not a movie, but reality. The championship matchup featured the NCAA basketball powerhouse Duke versus the mid-major Horizon League opponent Butler. It was 2008 Olympic gold medal coach Mike Krzyzewski against 33-year-old former pharmaceutical salesman Brad Stevens. According to rivals.com, every member of Duke’s starting lineup was at least a four-star recruit. With every advantage leaning toward the Blue Devils, how did Butler only lose by two points? The truth is, Butler’s flair for the dramatic was a common tournament occurrence. The Bulldogs reached the championship because they excelled in two facets of the game. First, they played extraordinary defense. Their tenacious and gritty play helped them limit each NCAA Tournament opponent, except for Duke, to fewer than 60 points. Second, Butler was the better team under pressure. Its first test was in the second round when it inched out a two-point victory against No. 13 Murray State. The Sweet 16 didn’t get any easier as the Bulldogs faced No. 1 Syracuse. After the Orange went up by four points with 5:23 remaining, the Bulldogs kept their composure and did not allow another field goal until 35 seconds left in the game, securing a 63-59 victory. In the Elite Eight, Butler led the game most of the way until No. 2 Kansas State tied it at 54 with 3:09 remaining. Butler scored the next nine points to advance to the first Final Four appearance in school history. The Bulldogs then edged out fifth seed Michigan State 52-50 to reach the championship. Each game tested Butler’s strength. On paper, Duke should have rolled away with the victory easily, but Butler’s improbable run was fueled by heart and desire. The team would not go down without a fight. Butler’s journey to the championship game sends a message to mid-major students all across the nation. In the words of Kevin Garnett, “Anything is possibleeeee!” All jokes aside, the reverberations from this tremendous run should impact incoming high school recruits. Not only should it be easier for Butler to lure top prospects, but it might be easier for other mid-major schools to gain some legitimacy, as well. Butler was not only playing for itself, but for all the other smaller schools who could only dream to be in their position. In one of the greatest championship games ever, Butler gave mid-majors hope that they, too, can one day achieve such a goal. It is easy to assume Butler will not be overlooked by tournament time next year. Andy Katz of ESPN.com predicts Butler to be ranked preseason No. 3. The Bulldogs’ tournament run will force sports analysts to pay more attention to smaller schools. In addition, many brackets next year will inherently be filled with many more upset picks than in 2010. The small schools now have the media spotlight to shine on a national stage.
ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Urban Meyer has reportedly agreed to become Ohio State football’s next head coach, according to multiple media reports. If Luke Fickell is indeed in the waning hours of his time as OSU’s head coach as the reports suggest, he’ll have the support of his players as he leaves the position.After Saturday’s 40-34 loss to Michigan, which may have been Fickell’s last time at the helm of OSU football, the coach was visibly distraught as he fielded questions about his future with the program.“Like I said, it’s about the Ohio State-Michigan game,” Fickell said during the post-game press conference after a second-consecutive question was asked regarding his future as OSU coach. “It’s going to be about that always, and that’s the way it is.”Fickell slammed his fist against a table during the statement.Players supported Fickell after what may have been his final game as head coach.Senior wide receiver DeVier Posey, who was suspended for the first 10 game of the season after two five-game suspensions for receiving improper benefits and for being overpaid for work he did not do at a summer job, said he didn’t know what the future held for the OSU coaching staff.“Oh man, if I was on the Board of Trustees I would give you that answer, but I don’t know,” Posey said. “I love coach Fickell. He’s a great guy (and) a great coach. He’s a great leader. I can’t make that call. All I know is I love playing for the man.”Senior running back Daniel “Boom” Herron was suspended for the first six games of the regular season and said that Fickell was key to stabilizing the program as players went on and off suspension throughout the year.“I think (the team) handled it very well,” Herron said. “The team stuck together. I coach Fickell did a great job of keeping the team together. I think he’s a great coach and I think he should definitely get a chance.”Should Fickell’s time as coach end in the hours and days to come, he would be just the seventh OSU coach to serve for a period of one season and the first to do so in the modern era of Buckeyes football. Paul Bixler led the Buckeyes to a 4-3-2 record during the 1946 season and is the most recent coach to serve for one season. Other one-and-done coaches in OSU football history include Charles Hickey (1896), David Edwards (1897), Howard Jones (1910), Harry Vaughn (1911) and John Richards (1912).Fickell led the Buckeyes to a 6-6 regular season record and is tied with Jones and Richards for the most wins among one-season coaches.The Buckeyes (6-6, 3-5) now wait to see if they are invited to a postseason bowl game.
Ohio State redshirt senior quarterback J.T. Barrett (16) throws a pass in the second quarter of the 2017 Ohio State- UNLV game on Sep. 23. Ohio State won 54- 21. Credit: Jack Westerheide | Photo EditorLost among the quarterback controversy at Ohio State has been the extended success of quarterback J.T. Barrett. The fifth-year senior has posted up statistics that rank him among the program’s greatest in history. Here is a look at records he has broken and records he still has yet to set.22 – Ohio State records Barrett currently holds. As he prepares for the fifth game in his final season under center for Ohio State, Barrett holds 22 school records for either single-game, season or career statistics, with a chance to add some more to his resume before the end of the season. Touchdown passes? Barrett with 79 (second is Bobby Hoying with 57). Two-hundred-yard passing games? Barrett with 21, five more than Hoying. Average total offense per game? Barrett at 285 yards (Terrelle Pryor is second at 185.2). And just two weeks ago against Army, Barrett surpassed future NFL Hall-of-Famer and former Purdue quarterback Drew Brees for career touchdowns responsible for among Big Ten quarterbacks with his 107th touchdown. He has since moved to 30th on the all-time list with 112 touchdowns, and trails only Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield (117) among active quarterbacks.Ohio State redshirt senior quarterback J.T. Barrett (16) runs the ball in the first quarter of the 2017 OSU- Army game on Sep. 16. OSU won 38-7. Credit: Jack Westerheide | Photo Editor22 (again) – passing touchdowns until Barrett holds the Big Ten record. Brees’ record for most career passing touchdowns could be within Barrett’s reach this season. In his four seasons at Purdue, Brees completed 90 touchdown passes. With just 22 fewer than Brees, Barrett could set the record if he averages even just three touchdown passes per game over the remaining eight games in the schedule, plus any more he throws during postseason bowl games.Barrett already leads Ohio State quarterbacks by miles in this area, having thrown 79 over his career, 22 more than Pryor.201 – passing yards left until Barrett owns the program record. Heading into Saturday’s game against Rutgers, Barrett sits just 201 passing yards away from surpassing Art Schlichter for the most career passing yards at 7,547. He is also just three rushing touchdowns shy of passing Schlichter for the most by an Ohio State quarterback, with the record currently set at 35.In terms of the Big Ten quarterback records for passing yards, Barrett still has a ways to go and is unlikely to break that record. With 7,347 career passing yards, Barrett would need 4,445 this season to surpass Drew Brees’ record. The Buckeyes’ three-time captain has yet to post a season with more than 3,000 passing yards.588* – rushing yards left until Barrett holds the record for most rush yards by an Ohio State quarterback. As a dual-threat quarterback, Barrett has provided the Buckeyes with offense not just with his arm, but also with his legs. Over his career, Barrett has piled up 2,639 rushing yards on 534 total attempts. The only quarterback still ahead of Barrett in terms of rushing yards is Braxton Miller, who totalled 3,053 rushing yards in his time spent as a quarterback.The asterisk by this statistic is just to indicate that Miller rushed for 261 yards his final season in Columbus as an H-back and were not accounted into his total of 3053.Ohio State redshirt senior J.T. Barrett (16) runs the ball in the second quarter of the 2017 Ohio State- UNLV game on Sep. 23. Ohio State won 54- 21. Credit: Jack Westerheide | Photo Editor1.3 – passing efficiency shy of setting Ohio State and Big Ten record. Rate statistics and other non-counting numbers are much more challenging to predict than counting stats. Barrett currently owns a career passing efficiency of 149.8, trailing both the Big Ten and Ohio State record holder Joe Germaine, who sits at 151.0 (minimum of 700 attempts).Over his career, Barrett has only once posted a passer rating of more than 151, and it came in his first season of play. So far this season, he has a rating of 156.8 and has exceeded that 151 mark in all but one of the four games he’s played in so far. It has been an incredibly high passing efficiency mark this season and maintaining this rate could be challenging. But if the three-time captain is able to maintain this rate all season long, he should be able to exceed Germaine.3 – 300-yard passing games shy of setting the Ohio State record. Following up on another record held by Germaine, Barrett has a total of six games in which he has passed for more than 300 yards. Four of Barrett’s 300-plus passing yard games came in his redshirt freshman season. The only other two 300-yard games have come in the season opener last season against Bowling Green and then again in the opener this season against Indiana.For a team that has relied heavily on its running game over the past several seasons, Ohio State might not give Barrett the chance to reach that milestone. Though Barrett has half of his 300-plus yard games against conference opponents, two of those three came in his redshirt freshman season when he was far more invested in the passing game. Three more games is hardly a lofty total to reach, but recent history suggests it could be a challenge for Barrett to set the record.
Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett is honored on the field for Senior Day. Credit: Jack Westerheide | Photo EditorThe Ohio State home fans watched as 19 seniors took the field of Ohio Stadium for the final time Saturday as the group of players were recognized individually just before kickoff of its game against Illinois.Each senior ran out of the tunnel to receive a hug from head coach Urban Meyer and deliver flowers to his parents. Fans cheer on QB @JT_theQB4th as he takes the field one last time in Ohio Stadium. #OSUvsIllinois pic.twitter.com/oFMWsveejZ— Lantern TV (@LanternTV) November 18, 2017On the offensive side of the ball, Ohio State saw quarterbacks J.T. Barrett and Stephen Collier, center Billy Price, left tackle Jamarco Jones, tight end Marcus Baugh and wide receiver Elijaah Goins.On the defensive side of the ball, cornerbacks Trevon Forte and Cin’Quan Haney, defensive tackles Tracy Sprinkle and Michael Hill, defensive lineman Nick Seme, defensive end Tyquan Lewis, safeties Damon Webb, Clay Raterman and Erick Smith and linebackers Jackson Hayes, Zach Turnure and Chris Worley.One of the most decorated players in Ohio State football history, quarterback J.T. Barrett runs onto the field at Ohio Stadium for the final time. pic.twitter.com/sIslwCFPLD— Lantern Sports (@LanternSports) November 18, 2017