Month: September 2019

Friday’s games mark the start of the quarterfinals and feature a UEFA vs. UEFA matchup in the morning followed by a CONMEBOL vs. CONMEBOL game in the afternoon. In the first match of the day, Germany has a 52.5 percent chance of defeating France and advancing to the semifinals, according to FiveThirtyEight’s World Cup predictions. In the second, however, Brazil is heavily favored to defeat Colombia (72 percent to 28 percent) and play the winner of Germany vs. France in the semifinal next week.France vs. Germany: 12 p.m. EDTBrazil vs. Colombia: 4 p.m. EDTIN BRIEFSee our World Cup predictions for the latest probabilities.IN DEPTHAll eight teams still in the tournament won their respective groups, so there are no true underdogs left. But if we go back to the beginning, Brazil and Germany both had very good chances of reaching this stage of the knockout rounds (80 percent and 68 percent) compared to Colombia and France (46 percent and 45 percent).France and Germany are old foes, having faced each other 25 times since 1930 (prior to 1990, Germany competed as West Germany). In those games France has been victorious 11 times compared to Germany’s eight. However, almost all of these games were friendlies. The last time these two teams met competitively was in the 1986 World Cup semifinals, and Germany edged France 2-0. ESPN’s Soccer Power Index rates France vs. Germany as the most evenly matched of all the quarterfinal games.Brazil vs. Colombia, on the other hand, is supposed to be anything but even. Strangely, these teams have also met 25 times, and Colombia has managed to win only twice. A Seleção have slaughtered Los Cafeteros on more than one occasion, 9-0 in 1959 and 6-2 in 1969, but this is a different Colombia team. Their last meeting with Brazil, a friendly in the U.S. in 2012, ended in a 1-1 draw.Brazil trumps Colombia in overall and offensive SPI ratings (90.6 and 3.1 to 89.4 and 2.6) but Colombia’s defense is slightly better, with an SPI rating of 0.4 average goals allowed to Brazil’s 0.5 (lower defensive scores are better). Brazil’s defense has something to worry about in James Rodriguez, this World Cup’s breakout star for Colombia, who has tallied five goals — the most of any player so far — including this beautiful chest-to-volley on the turn against Uruguay:But Brazil’s Neymar (and Argentina’s Lionel Messi and Germany’s Thomas Muller) are only one goal behind Rodriguez, so if Brazil clinches a win in this clash of the golden boys, Rodriguez may be out of the race for this year’s golden boot.OFF THE PITCHFrance and Germany are neighbors, and each has international power and its own distinct culture — berets and baguettes vs. lederhosen and bratwurst. So given the ease of travel between the countries, it’s not surprising that there’s a lot of cross-tourism. According to the French Ministry of Handicrafts, Trade and Tourism, there were about 6.3 million overnight stays in France from German tourists in 2012. Conversely, the German National Tourist Board reported that there were roughly 3.1 million, or half as many, overnight stays in Germany from French tourists in the same year. When adjusted for each country’s total population at the time, this means that about 8 percent of Germany’s 80.4 million people stayed overnight in France at least once in 2012, while about 5 percent of France’s 65.7 million people stayed overnight in Germany. They may not be the best of friends, but it looks like the old enemies have at least upgraded to a friendly rivalry — at least as far as tourism goes. — Hayley MunguiaFURTHER READINGWith the U.S. Out, Which World Cup Team Will Americans Root For?Tim Howard Lost, But He Just Had the Best Match of the World CupA Chart For Predicting Penalty-Shootout Odds in Real TimeCORRECTION (July 4, 10:57 a.m.): An earlier version of this post had the incorrect year of the last competitive meeting between France and Germany. While the two teams did face off in 1982, they also met in the 1986 World Cup semifinals. read more

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This is an excerpt from “The Only Rule Is It Has to Work: Our Wild Experiment Building a New Kind of Baseball Team” by Ben Lindbergh, a writer for FiveThirtyEight, and Sam Miller, the editor in chief of Baseball Prospectus. (The book was published this week by Henry Holt and Co.) In the summer of 2015, Lindbergh and Miller took over the baseball operations department of an independent-league team in California, the Sonoma Stompers, putting their sabermetric beliefs to the test with actual professional players. As spring training approached, they compensated for their lack of connections, tight budget and even tighter time frame by using statistics to scour the country for overlooked talent.As proud as we are of our Baptista heist, Sam and I still want to prove that we can find players who wouldn’t have been blips on the Stompers’ screen without us. What we want is a source of talent that the other teams in the Pacific Association aren’t already mining: a good, old-fashioned market inefficiency, like the one the Oakland A’s exploited in the “Moneyball” era when they targeted players with high on-base percentages, or the one the Tampa Bay Rays leveraged years later, when they realized that their opponents’ emphasis on power bats made it easier to sign players with good gloves at a discount. The problem is that inefficiencies like these are increasingly difficult to find.What sets us apart from our competitors in the Pacific Association, and theoretically gives us an edge, isn’t our meager budget, our nonexistent network of contacts in the indy-league grapevine, or our untested scouting skills. It’s our ability to find the significance in statistics, either on our own or through our relationships with the leading lights of the sabermetric community, who can crunch numbers in extremely sophisticated ways. We could search for wrongly released players by sifting through last season’s stats from the minors and upper-level indy leagues, but that method wouldn’t be the best use of our time. Players who’ve had any recent success at higher levels won’t want to sign with us until they’ve exhausted all their other options, which might mean waiting until midseason. For now, we need to aim lower. Baseball has a caste system, and at our level we’re trafficking in Untouchables. Although Chris promises results soon, it takes him some time to deliver. That’s understandable — we aren’t paying him, and plenty of others are — but as the days stretch into weeks, I start torturing myself by checking his Twitter feed a few times a day to see what else he’s working on. He’s a sports polymath (emphasis on the math), and he’s on an NCAA volleyball analytics kick. Thanks to a little light stalking, I learn a lot about the best volleyball schools, but Sam and I are no closer to building a baseball team. I send emails asking for updates at what I deem to be socially acceptable intervals. Finally, one of them works. The long-awaited rankings arrive.Chris cautions me that “99.9 percent of the talent is sucked away in the draft,” but I can almost hear the heavenly choir as my cursor hovers over the file. That remaining 0.1 percent could be the key to the Stompers’ season. I open the list of all players, create another spreadsheet of players who did get drafted, and filter the latter from the former, leaving only the undrafted guys. (When our story gets made into a movie, the spreadsheet-opening montage will make for an exciting scene.) There are hundreds of rows, each of them containing a name, a school, a division, a position, an at-bats or innings total, and a few columns of hitting or pitching stats, both raw and adjusted. Each player receives an “Index” score, based on adjusted on-base percentage and slugging percentage for hitters and those same stats allowed for pitchers (Column R).After additional begging by me, Chris also sends us estimates of each catcher’s “framing” skill — his ability to catch pitches in a way that makes umpires more likely to call strikes — based on the percentage of taken pitches that are called strikes when he’s behind the plate versus the percentage of taken pitches called strikes when the same pitchers are throwing to different catchers. On the phone, Chris suggests that we “find some senior guy who’s the best framer in all of the NCAA but wasn’t drafted. That would be an interesting guy to invite to a camp.”He’s reading my mind. “If you could find one who’s left-handed, he might have to get a restraining order against Ben,” Sam says. The majors haven’t seen a left-hander who played catcher as his primary position since before the birth of the American League, and no left-handed catcher has caught even an inning since 1989. The anti-lefty bias seems based more on superstition than sense, with explanations usually citing theoretical impediments (can’t throw to third; trouble applying tags) that don’t stand up to scrutiny. Chris agrees. “I think the bias against left-handed-throwing catchers is pretty stupid,” he says. He’s my statistical spirit animal. Embed Code By Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller The official Sonoma Stompers team photo. Pitchers have a weird trick, too. “I think there’s going to be a place for some junkball pitchers, guys that scouts wouldn’t touch because their fastball velocity is too low, but they did still strike out guys using a variety of off-speed stuff,” Chris says. “Some of those guys are going to do quite well at that level of competition. Put it this way: They did well in college. If your level of competition is at the level of good D1, for example, there’s still room for junkball pitching.”College stats are difficult to work with, which explains why, until very recently, major league teams all but ignored them when compiling their predraft rankings. College players face dramatically different levels of competition depending on whether they’re in Division I, II, or III, and even within each division there are significant variations from conference to conference. “An average D1 school is going to beat an average D2 baseball team about 70 percent of the time,” Chris says. “It’s not like 98 percent or anything. There’s a bit of luck, and the spread isn’t that huge.” Still, the gap between divisions and schools is large enough that one can get into trouble trying to go on gut feel or surface stats.On top of the interdivisional differences, there’s enormous variability from game to game: Some hitters beat up on bad weekday pitching that would pale in comparison to the Pacific Association’s, but look overmatched against stronger weekend starters. There’s also unevenness in climate, ballpark dimensions, and playing surfaces. Before players can be compared on an even footing, we have to take into account the diversity in environments that makes raw stats at certain schools far less impressive than the same stats would be elsewhere.To do his draft work, Chris built a repository of college statistics by “scraping” information from school websites and parsing it into a database-friendly form. By comparing players’ production at each park with their production elsewhere, he can isolate the statistical impact of every home field. And by comparing players’ performance against each opponent with their performance in all other games, he can also assess the impact of each school’s strength of schedule. Apply the appropriate adjustments to each player’s actual stats, and the result is a ranking of every player’s production on the same scale, independent of division and environment. With the confounding effects of location and competition neutralized, we can compare Division III hitters in good pitchers’ parks to Division I hitters in bandboxes, based purely on their play. This should save us from signing a “slugger” who posted gaudy stats against guys throwing garbage in the college equivalent of Coors Field.“The starting point would be, you really want to identify the best of the seniors that did not get drafted, and also didn’t return to college,” Chris says. He says he’ll send us his adjustments for every school, along with the real prize, rankings of every fourth-year college player from 2013 and 2014. This is our favorite phone call ever.Listening to Chris, Sam and I realize, much to our relief, that we’ve found an organizing principle for our Stompers star search. Chris’s stats will make the world seem smaller and more manageable, transforming a confusing array of unknown names and unverified claims into objective rankings like the ones we’re used to. We’ll operate under the theory that a player capable of posting elite stats in college could hold his own in the Pacific Association, one of the lowest rungs on the professional ladder. And if the stats insist that someone can play, we won’t rule him out based on body type, facial structure, or fastball speed. We’re the Ellis Island of the indy leagues. Give us your small, your soft-throwing, your huddled middle infielders yearning to play for (almost) free. More: Apple Podcasts | ESPN App | RSS | Embed Ben with his clipboard at a tryout. There’s only one level of competition that combines a decent statistical record with players who’d probably be happy to hear from us: college. Every June, the thirty major league teams cull the best college talent in the forty-round amateur draft, leaving only the undesirables behind. But MLB scouting directors work with the far future in mind: Although they know that only a tiny percentage of their selections will work out, every player drafted — aside from a few nepotism picks — has a backer who believes he has some shot, however remote, at developing into a big leaguer. We aren’t worried about long-term potential; we care only about what players can do this summer. And because our incentives aren’t aligned with those of the big league teams that went back for fortieths from this buffet before we were seated, we might unearth a few “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” types: guys who can get outs, or avoid making them, right now, regardless of whether they have the physical tools that allow teams to dream. Drafting college players instead of riskier high school stars was one of the hallmarks of the “Moneyball” A’s, but Oakland owed much of its success to the type of amateur talents who never get near an indy-league team unless their careers take several wrong turns. If the A’s were “a collection of misfit toys,” as Michael Lewis wrote, then we’ll be building a team out of toys that got recalled because they were choke hazards.Nothing about baseball is as easy as it seems, and finding our statistical standouts isn’t as simple as sorting an official NCAA leaderboard. I email an acquaintance named Chris Long, who worked as the San Diego Padres’ senior quantitative analyst from 2004 to 2013 and has since consulted for other major league teams. Chris, who had no professional background in baseball when he was hired and occasionally clashed with traditional evaluators, was one of the first quants allowed in a draft room alongside scouts and grizzled special assistants, and his numbers-based evaluations helped dictate the Padres’ decisions.To our relief, Chris loves what we’re doing and agrees to help just for fun, even though he charges big league teams sums in the five figures for the same service. “Performance in college has a fairly strong predictive value to how [players] perform in the minors,” Chris tells us when Sam and I call to learn at his knee. Better yet, he says, some teams are still overlooking that link. “Probably starting in the late ’90s, every year it got a little bit better,” he explains. “It’s still not great. Even the Chicago Cubs, for example, have a very traditional scouting department in terms of how they approach the draft. It’s not like they don’t look at performance numbers at all, but they’re not analytically evaluating the performances of the players and then combining it in some sophisticated way with their scouting evaluations.“You’re looking for guys that you want to perform immediately,” Chris continues, echoing our thoughts. “That actually gives you more freedom, because you can go for guys that have flaws. High strikeouts, but also hit home runs, for example. Those guys tend not to do as well as prospects, but they’re certainly going to make contributions to the team. Or the scout’s least-favorite player, the short, gritty [batter] that gets hit by a ton of pitches and has a strike zone the size of a postage stamp — those guys are going to be perfect for your team.” His voice, normally low-pitched and nasal, takes on the bright timbre of an infomercial. “Win your independent league with this one weird trick!” Every rating Chris sends is based on a smaller sample than we’d like — in many cases, a four-year player’s entire college career comprises fewer innings or plate appearances than a big leaguer records in a single season — but it’s the best we can do. It’s clear that we’re not the first people to look at a list like this. Scanning the top of our leaderboard of undrafted players, we see a number of players who were signed as free agents after the 2014 draft and spent the summer playing for organizations that are known as early adopters of amateur analytics, among them the Cardinals, Astros, and Yankees. This is discouraging in one sense — the college carcass is picked even cleaner than we thought — but encouraging in another: Most of the undrafted free agents played well at minor league levels that are comparable in quality to the Pacific Association. We might be on the right track.Armed with the names we wanted, our job shifts from ranking to recruiting. Sam and I spend a few hours combing through Google results, YouTube videos, and social-media sites for information on the players with the most impressive stats. At the end of this process, we’ve created another spreadsheet full of players whose coaches we want to call. (Spreadsheet creation is becoming a theme.) Separately, we practice our sales pitches. In our fantasy leagues, it takes us one click to add an available player from the waiver wire, and no one is allowed to turn us down. In reality, we’ll have to talk to human beings and try to persuade them to travel to a place they’ve probably never been, to play for a team that they almost certainly haven’t heard of, for a salary that we’re embarrassed to say out loud. Aspiring pro athletes expect to lead nomadic lives, but this still isn’t the easiest sell.No matter how persuasive we are as speakers, there’s only one aspect of our project that makes this PR campaign possible: We have the power to make these people professional athletes, with all the cultural cachet and appeal to the opposite sex that this occupation confers. With a few words, spoken like a sacrament, we can give a few young men a line on their résumé that they’ll never remove, an answer to “What do you do?” that makes people perk up. The Stompers are the mangiest mutt of a team imaginable, but a pro team nonetheless. And ballplayers miss being ballplayers: Even two years after graduation, every player’s Facebook photo and Twitter bio is a callback to his college career.As we work our way down our short lists like political candidates calling potential donors, it becomes clear that college coaches — at least the ones we’re trying to reach — aren’t great at returning calls. I consider trying to catch their attention by claiming to be with a big league team, then decide that misrepresenting myself might not be the best way to persuade players to sign with the Stompers. Ben Lindbergh discusses his summer with the Stompers on our podcast What’s The Point. The manager’s office in the Stompers’ clubhouse at the end of the season. Mindful that each passing day might remove someone we want from the market, I bypass coaches who don’t call back and contact some players directly, gambling that they won’t be bad guys. But ballplayers aren’t award-winning communicators, either: Unlike a lot of people in our profession, they aren’t constantly connected to email, and they aren’t notified when someone sends them a tweet. Whenever possible, I call a player’s parents, banking on the fact that if his mother is like mine, he’ll know no peace until he replies.The more players I have trouble tracking down, the more I expand the search, and the longer my short list looks. I form attachments to strangers in our spreadsheet almost instantly: All it takes is a name, a stat line, and a head shot, and I’m mentally penciling a player into our lineup and announcing his name over the public-address system. If you’ve played fantasy baseball, or even rooted for a real team that’s one upgrade away from a well-rounded roster, you know the feeling of fixating on a particular player: refreshing MLB rumor sites until a deal is done or off the table, or sending several permutations of the same trade to a leaguemate and hoping that one of them will land your white whale. This is the same impulse, turned up to 11. I’m perplexed by the players who aren’t curious or courteous enough to respond, but the close calls are especially agonizing.Take Andrew Kelley, a 2014 graduate of Grinnell College, a Division III school known for its “rigorous academics and tradition of social responsibility.” (I see nothing about its undervalued athletes, but maybe that means we’re ahead of the curve.) Kelley, who’s fourth on our pitcher list, is listed at 5-foot-7, which is a concern given the sport’s prevailing preference for skyscraping pitchers. But everyone on our list is bound to have some physical flaw. And hey, he was 5-foot-6 as a junior — maybe he’s a late bloomer with 5-foot-8 in his future.In 48 innings, mostly in relief, Kelley struck out 48 batters and walked only 4. His LinkedIn account says he’s had a full-time job as an “Integration Engineer” since a few months after his final semester, but I dig up his email and message him anyway, just to make sure. His response, which arrives in under an hour, mentions small samples, machine learning, predictive statistics, a previous internship with an expert on the physics of baseball whose articles I’ve edited at Baseball Prospectus, and the fact that he possesses a “pretty good knuckleball.” He can’t quit his job to play baseball, but he feels bad about it. “It would have been awesome to have been able to play this summer and chat about all sorts of statistics,” he says. I come close to shedding tears. This feels like finding out that your biggest college crush, who met someone else and settled down soon after school, would have wanted to date you if you’d only asked her out sooner. Alas, Andrew is too smart and well compensated to be a baseball player. He’s in a better place, and it’s time to let go.Andrew Kelley isn’t the only one who gets away. He’s not even the only engineer: Our best shortstop option, with the improbable porn-star name Billy Steel, has just joined Northrop Grumman. Then there’s George Asmus, a standout pitcher at Sonoma State with hometown-hero potential. Unfortunately for us, he’s happy in his current role at Triple-A — as in, the American Automobile Association. There’s also Arismendy Nuñez, a well-intentioned but indecisive senior starter at Old Westbury, who strings me along over multiple calls (including a conference call on which Theo makes a passionate appeal) before breaking up with me by text. He says something about family obligations, but odds are he’s just not that into us.And then there’s the unicorn, the spreadsheet player who has great stuff. His name is T.J. Fussell, and he’s a 6-foot-4, 220-pound right-hander who pitched for Western Carolina, a Division I school. Fussell had a high ERA, but he struck out 81 batters in 64 1/3 innings, and we suspect he got somewhat unlucky. I contact his coach, Bobby Moranda, who gives Fussell as enthusiastic an endorsement as I’ve heard so far. “He is the best!!!” Moranda writes. “He was up to 94-95 with a plus breaker and change. Really should have been drafted!!!” It’s rare enough for us to see any velocity numbers that start with nine, so even after levying the 2-3 mph exaggeration tax, I’m still salivating.“I’m kind of in a peculiar situation,” Fussell says when I call. He explains that while he “hasn’t left [his] love of baseball behind,” he has enlisted in the U.S. Air Force. The good news is that he doesn’t have to head to basic training until August 25. The bad news arrives a second later: “I’m supposed to be getting married at the end of May.” And there’s even worse news than that: “We had a cruise planned right at the start of June, and it’s for seven days.” He sounds a little uncertain: Supposed to be? Had a cruise planned? Is the call of the mound so strong that he’d think about being a runaway groom? He says he’ll talk to his fiancée and let me know. The next day, he does: Shockingly, she’s pretty attached to the whole “honeymoon” thing. There goes my four-pitch flamethrower.Fortunately for the Stompers (and my sanity), we don’t always strike out. Our first “yes” comes from Kristian Gayday. (“He’ll be popular on LGBT night,” Theo says.) Gayday, an Indiana native, played shortstop in his final season last spring at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, a Division I school where he’s still working as a student assistant. Our spreadsheet says he was the best D1 hitter among 2014 fourth-year players. Not the best D1 hitter among undrafted fourth-year players; the best D1 hitter, period. (In fairness, most true prospects get drafted after their junior year.) He hit .358/.472/.653 with 12 home runs in 166 at-bats, and Long’s adjustments hardly hurt him. And unlike a lot of our targets, he’s 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds, blessed with a prototypical baseball body.Granted, Gayday’s senior season was the exception: In his first three years, he didn’t hit for power, never slugging above .327. But it still doesn’t make sense that a strapping player with his senior stats and a modicum of defensive ability didn’t get drafted. Before talking to him, I email his college coach, Bobby Pierce. I ask him the questions that the spreadsheet can’t answer. Why the huge improvement in his senior year? Is he a good guy? Can he play defense? (A big blind spot for us: College fielding locations aren’t tracked, so Long’s method evaluates only offense.) They’re all ways of reframing the indelicate question at the root of all our inquiries: “What’s the catch?”Coach Pierce sets my mind at ease. More than that, he makes me excited, as if we’re party to a secret no one else knows. He tells me that Gayday’s newfound fourth-year “spray approach allowed him to really handle the breaking ball/off-speed really well,” and that he hit at least half of his homers — more than he’d hit anywhere in his first three seasons combined — to the opposite field. That change in approach gives us a plausible explanation for the extreme uptick in production.Even more encouragingly, Pierce says that Gayday was drawing interest from scouts and advisers until he suffered “severe lower back issues” for six weeks at midseason, playing one day at 50 percent, resting the next day, and pinch-hitting the day after that. “This middle part of the season was when all our local guys came to see him play, and they either saw him play at 50% with below avg draftable tools/skill/performance/ etc, or they didn’t even get to see him play,” Pierce writes. But by the end of the season — after his back had blown his chances — he’d recovered and gone deep in each of his last three weekend series.Despite Gayday’s breakout, the Mastodons went 19-34, and for them that was a good year. “We’re a small Div I that gets little respect and scouts never come to see us play,” Coach Pierce writes. “We haven’t been very good and I do understand that scouts are very busy and they can’t afford to waste a weekend afternoon on us, but Kristian was plenty good enough to be a 20-30 round guy. If he stayed healthy, he would definitely be in organized baseball.” Pierce also reports that Gayday would fit in fine in the clubhouse.On the phone, Kristian tells me that his back feels fine. I ask about his plans for the summer. “I was just gonna go to a couple tryouts,” he says. “And if nothing happened, I was just gonna call it quits.” In my eagerness to sign him, I tell him we’ll pay for a one-way plane trip, which I’m supposed to use as a bargaining chip in exchange for a lower salary. My unauthorized largesse works: Kristian consults with his family and commits to sign the contract as soon as Theo sends him a copy. I can’t believe our luck: We’ve signed one of our top targets, and he doesn’t even look like a runt. It seems as if we’ve stolen a march on the majors, using stats to take the long view on a player whom others might have missed because of an ill-timed injury.Sam seems content once we get Kristian to commit — at least we have something to show for our spreadsheet — but the taste of one transaction makes me hungry for more. I turn my attention to pitchers, tag-teaming with Theo on a series of deal-sealing conference calls. Jeff Conley is a skinny, 6-foot-2 lefty out of Alderson Broaddus University, a Division II school in West Virginia so obscure that most scouts haven’t heard of it. In eleven starts and six appearances out of the pen, the southpaw recorded a 1.96 ERA with 89 strikeouts and only 15 walks in 78 innings. Moreover, he recorded those stats while also playing outfield for 49 games, batting .345 with 21 walks and 11 hit by pitches against only 22 strikeouts, which helped him post a .446 OBP. His left arm was also an asset in the outfield, where he racked up 17 assists. Conley hit only 3 homers, so his adjusted offense isn’t good enough for him to appear on our batter spreadsheet, but even if he’s only an emergency outfield option, we’re happy to have the flexibility, given our restrictive roster size. Mr. Conley, come on down.We also recruit Sean Conroy, a 6-foot-1 right-handed pitcher from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, an engineering school in upstate New York. In 259 career innings at RPI, Conroy struck out 223, walked 49, and allowed only 4 homers, posting sub-2.00 ERAs in his last three seasons and going the distance in more than a third of his starts. He’s also interested in evaluating clubhouse chemistry, an obsession of ours. A psychology major, he’s working on a thesis entitled “How Perception of Teammates’ Ability Affects Personal Ability,” and we envision him as a like-minded mole on the inside who can be our eyes and ears while advising us on avoiding missteps. We also envision him as an effective arm.“I’m a sidearm pitcher,” he says. “Just recently I’ve added an over-the-top curveball for an out pitch, which is working pretty well for me.” He tells me how he dropped down in his senior year of high school, and how he’s alternated his arm angle ever since to maximize his deception. “The slider would be the pitch I throw most often, like more than 50 percent of the time,” he adds. No wonder the guy didn’t get drafted: He uses an atypical repertoire from an unorthodox angle, and according to his coach he tops out at about 85. All of the oddities that make him undraftable endear him to us.And then, of course, there’s Paul Hvozdovic, our on-paper ace and shining spreadsheet star. (The first “v” is silent.) When he signs with us shortly before spring training, I pump my fist, just like Jonah Hill in the “Moneyball” movie when he gets the approval to trade for Ricardo Rincon. I haven’t met Hvozdovic — haven’t watched him, haven’t even talked to him. There’s no way I should be this excited about someone I know so little about. But any hidden doubts that might be buried within me will have to talk to the hand, because the limbic system ain’t listening.People who write about prospects often speak disparagingly about “Google scouts,” wannabe evaluators who “scout the stat line” instead of seeing players in person or talking to experts who have. Sam and I are guilty of these sins — not because we wouldn’t welcome the input of a seasoned on-site observer, but because we have no time, no travel budget, no scouting staff, and next to no video. Stats are our specialty, but they’re also our only resort.Gayday, Conley, Conroy, Hvozdovic. At this point, they’re names and numbers, not fully fledged personalities. But they’re our names and numbers. Thanks to us, they’ve got golden tickets to spring training. And thanks to them, we won’t feel ashamed to show up. Umpire Dean Poteet with Stompers mascot Rawhide on opening day. read more

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FiveThirtyEight is is looking for a fall sports intern. The internship will be a mix of writing, research and contributing to short stories and longer features. You’ll be learning the basics of sports journalism in general and data-based sports coverage in particular.Often, this will mean working with writers and editors to find a particular stat for a particular story, but this is not a research-only internship. You’ll be expected to pitch clever, original sports stories and then deliver them. Ideally, these ideas will be informed not only by data, but also by enthusiasm for and curiosity about sports as they’re played and consumed. Interns will also be asked to stay on top of the fast-moving news cycle and quickly generate analysis that offers insight on the topics that are driving the national sports conversation.A basic knowledge of the major sports is essential, and expertise in topics outside the traditional areas of coverage is a plus. Since the internship occurs in the fall months, a general knowledge and interest in the NFL and college football is also needed. The ideal intern would have a sense of humor and be eager to think outside the box in terms of using data to cover sports in new ways.The internship is located in New York and is 10 weeks long — the approximate dates are Sept. 11 through Nov. 17. The intern can work up to 40 hours per week, but we can work around your class schedule.Interested? Please apply! Click here to submit an application and to get more details about the position. read more

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OSU freshman Emily Clark (20) during a game against Penn State on April 6 at Buckeye Field. Credit: Samantha Hollingshead | Photo EditorThe Ohio State-Michigan rivalry continued this weekend, but this time, the Wolverines came out on top. The OSU softball team (25-11-1, 9-4-1) suffered its first sweep of the year at the hands No. 2 Michigan (33-4, 11-2), with three lopsided games in Ann Arbor, Michigan.OSU junior Shelby Hursh pitched 11 innings with 10 strikeouts over the three games, taking her record to 13-5. For the Wolverines, junior Megan Betsa dominated in the circle with two complete games and 25 strikeouts.At the plate, freshman Emily Clark continued her confident approach, hitting .500, and senior Cammi Prantl hit .333 with a double in the final game, which brought her within three of tying the program’s all-time record.Game 1The Buckeyes opened their tough weekend with an equally tough loss, an 8-0 shutout in six innings.Clark went 2-for-2 and redshirt senior shortstop Maddy McIntyre went 2-for-3. The pair were the only batters to record hits, as OSU struggled against Michigan junior Megan Betsa, who struck out 13.McIntyre started the game with a single through the left side and a stolen base, but the Buckeyes left her stranded. In the bottom of the first, Michigan earned two bases after Hursh hit two batters, but she recorded two strikeouts to keep the game even.The game remained this way until the bottom of the fourth, when the Wolverines grabbed a one-run lead after junior Abby Ramirez singled to left field to bring in junior outfielder Kelly Christner, who had reached first base on a throwing error. Despite loading the bases on Clark’s single and two walks in the next inning, OSU could not tie the game.Michigan stretched its lead to four on sophomore Aidan Falk’s three-run shot to center field in the bottom of the fifth and pushed the margin to 5-0 on a deep triple by senior Kelsey Susalla in the following inning. The Wolverines continued to dominate at the plate with leadoff hits from sophomore Tera Blanco and junior Lindsay Montemarano and a walkoff single by Falk to end the game after six innings.Game 2In Saturday’s matchup, the Buckeyes were able to score their first run of the weekend, but once again were overwhelmed by the home team in a 5-1 loss.OSU left six runners stranded throughout the game, and Michigan took control of the fifth inning to score three runs with two outs. However, for the first time this season, no Buckeye struck out at the plate, which is somewhat of silver lining amid a tough three-game sweep. Both redshirt junior Alex Bayne and sophomore Taylor White went 2-for-3 with pairs of singles, and sophomore Becca Gavin earned an RBI on a single through the left side. OSU junior Lena Springer and sophomore Shelby McCombs managed to strike out only one batter and gave up seven hits.Like Friday’s game, Michigan scored first on a solo home run by Christner in the bottom of the second. The Wolverines took their lead to two on Susalla’s outfield single to bring in Romero.The Buckeyes briefly responded on Gavin’s hit but could not stop Michigan’s bats from adding three more runs to the scoreboard. Freshman Faith Canfield, on her second homer of the year, senior Sierra Lawrence and senior slugger Sierra Romero recorded big hits to maintain the Wolverines’ hold on the game.The final three innings were unsuccessful for both dugouts, especially for OSU, as its last nine batters of the game went down in order.Game 3Michigan, once again, scored first on a throwing error from behind the plate by Gavin. In the bottom of the third inning, a sacrifice fly to right field by Blanco brought in Lawrence to make the game a 2-0 battle.While OSU got runners aboard, it could not send them around the bases to score. Through the first three innings, the Buckeyes left four stranded with only one hit. White brought the Wolverines’ lead to one with a leadoff inside-the-park home run in the fourth inning, but Gavin, junior Anna Kirk and Leonard went down in order to stifle the rally.The Buckeyes took their first lead of the weekend on Prantl’s double up the middle to bring in freshman Bri Betschel and Bayne in the fifth inning. This lead did not last long, though, after Michigan’s Blanco sent a booming three-run homer over the center-field fence.Heading into the final two innings behind two runs, OSU could not jumpstart a late rally, handing Michigan a 3-0 weekend and another notch in the rivalry history.Up nextOSU is scheduled to take on the Ohio Bobcats in another midweek, intrastate doubleheader Tuesday before returning home for a series with Purdue from Friday to Sunday. The first game against the Bobcats is set to begin at 4:30 p.m. in Athens, Ohio. read more

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Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said in an interview on WBNS 10TV Monday that he had no knowledge of any improprieties that occurred during the tattoo-for-memorabilia scandal that rocked the football team in December 2010. “I’ve always been honest, I’ve always been forthright,” said Smith during the interview. “When I’ve made mistakes, I’ve shared that I made a mistake to my supervisor.” The one-on-one interview was his first since the OSU football team incurred NCAA sanctions after six players were caught selling their memorabilia for tattoos. Many OSU faithful felt that the athletic director knew more than he led on. Some even felt he threw former head coach Jim Tressel “under the bus.” “It’s hard, it’s difficult,” Smith responded, “particularly for my family, for my kids who live around this country and had to listen to different things, had to read certain things.” Smith said he stays true to remaining accountable for his actions and he stays focused on doing the right thing. “I think you get rewarded for accountability, I accept accountability, I think it’s important in life to do that,” he said. “I think you get respected because you man up, so to speak. And I do that constantly.” Smith was also asked how he felt about being booed while introducing Urban Meyer as the new head football coach during halftime of the OSU-Duke basketball game on Nov. 29. “It was painful,” he said, “to be booed by the people that you serve every day.” And what does he have to say to all those “boo-birds” who might doubt his sincerity? “I’d say ‘Call me, let’s chat,’” Smith quipped. “You can share your point of view and I’ll share mine, and we may come in the same spot. And if we don’t, let’s respect one another and move on.” read more

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Courtesy of FacebookFreshman midfielder Paige Hamilton looks for the ball during a game against New Hampshire, at Buckeye Varsity Field. OSU won, 3-2.Ohio State’s field hockey team finished the Buckeye Classic 1-1.On Friday the team was victorious against Missouri State, 5-1 and on Sunday they took on Bucknell and fell in overtime, 3-2.In Friday’s game, sophomore forward Peanut Johnson recorded her first hat trick of the season, the second time in her career she has achieved the feat.Johnson said the whole team stepped up and that contributed to the win.“We really came together as a team. I don’t think one person tried to do too much,” Johnson said. “We just kind of tried to rely on each other. I think that’s what helped a lot.”Coach Anne Wilkinson said she was impressed with many of the players’ aggressiveness and their abilities to attack the ball on both sides.“I think (senior midfielder Mona Frommhold) really did a great job of keeping the space and the shape of our defense and being able to step up and intercept,” Wilkinson said. “And (senior) Maria Swartz, she was our left back, she must have had at least 12 interceptions out of the back and she was really playing aggressive and stepping up.”Wilkinson said her players were faced with good pressure from the opponents but they were able to execute based on their fundamental skills. She also said they need to work on some more things as well.“I think our stick skills really stood out… our ability to pass the ball and distribute, but we will continue to work on our team speed,” Wilkinson said.Johnson said there are some things the team needs to improve on though.“We just need to keep making sure we keep the work rate up and off ball movement too, like if we lose it we just need to keep hustling back. I think that will win some more games for us,” Johnson said.Senior midfielder and co-captain, Arielle Cowie, said she noticed the team’s endurance was better due to all the practice they put into their fitness last week.“There wasn’t a moment I was really tired and I think we didn’t let the intensity drop,” Cowie said. “We kept the tempo upbeat and it really helped that each and every person was on the same page.”Even though the team fell in overtime again this season, senior midfield and co-captain, Nora Murer, said the squad did a great job together over the weekend.“I think we worked really hard as a team,” Murer said.The Buckeyes are scheduled to travel to Syracuse, N.Y., this weekend to play Massachusetts Saturday at 2 p.m. and Syracuse Sunday at 2 p.m. read more

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Ohio State forward Mason Jobst holds off a Wisconsin forward as he crashes into senior goaltender Matt Tomkins during a Big Ten tournament semifinal game at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit. OSU lost 2-1. Credit: Courtesy of Ric KruszynskiDETROIT — Sophomore forward Will Johnson’s goal at 1:30 in the third period lifted the No. 2 Wisconsin Badgers (20-14-1) past the No. 3 Ohio State Buckeyes (21-11-6) and into Saturday’s Big Ten final with a 2-1 victory on Friday in the first semifinal at Joe Louis Arena.The Badgers took advantage of an early two-on-one where forward Aidan Cavallini delivered a perfect pass across the crease to Johnson, who beat OSU senior goaltender Matt Tomkins.OSU sophomore forward Dakota Joshua had the lone goal for the Buckeyes on the powerplay in the second period. Tomkins finished the day with 24 saves on 26 shots.In the final period, OSU fired 11 shots on Wisconsin goaltender Jack Berry, all of which turned aside. At 4:22 in the third, Joshua deflected a pass from senior forward David Gust that was initially ruled a goal until further review indicating the puck hit the crossbar and didn’t cross the goal line.Berry had 23 saves for the Badgers. Sophomore forward Luke Kunin had the first goal for Wisconsin.“We knew it was going to be a tight game,” OSU coach Steve Rohlik said. “We knew they weren’t trying to give up much and we tried to do the same thing. We just didn’t do enough to win the game today.”The Buckeye defense was shaky early on, struggling to keep pucks out of the zone, but Tomkins held his own in net. Within in the first two minutes of the game, Wisconsin junior forward Cameron Hughes had a breakaway opportunity, but was turned away by Tomkins.OSU had its fair share of early chances, as well. Five minutes in, freshman forward Tanner Laczynski had a shot from the slot that hit off the post. Minutes later, Joshua had an attempt from the low slot and was denied by Wisconsin freshman goaltender Jack Berry.The Badgers struck first with a late first-period goal on a rebound attempt sent home by Kunin, his 22nd of the season. With OSU’s third-line defensemen on the ice, the Badgers won the faceoff and swung the puck over to the left point where freshman defenseman JD Greenway threw a shot on net. The shot caromed off Tomkins and bounced in front to Kunin’s stick, who slotted the puck in the top left corner of the net, taking the 1-0 lead into the first intermission.The OSU offense finally found its legs halfway through the second period. At 13:29, Wisconsin junior forward Ryan Wagner was called for a penalty, putting the nation’s No. 1 powerplay on the ice for the first time.After a Wisconsin clear went out of play, first-team All-Big Ten sophomore forward Mason Jobst won the faceoff and threw the puck to Joshua on the end line to the right of the net. Joshua spun around a defender and pushed the puck past Berry to tie the game at one.Following the goal, the Buckeyes had two more chances in front of the net that they couldn’t quite get a stick on. With under a minute to play, Joshua created a turnover in the offensive zone and left it for senior forward Nick Schilkey whose shot glanced off Berry’s right pad and out of play to keep the score 1-1 heading into the final frame.Tomkins made large contributions again in the second, making 14 saves. Senior forward David Gust and sophomore forward Miguel Fidler each committed a hooking penalty in the period, but Tomkins and the defense stood the test and killed off both penalties. On Fidler’s penalty, Tomkins stopped a straightaway shot from Greenway from the high right slot, then stopped two more chances off rebounds in front of the net.Ohio State senior goaltender Matt Tomkins makes one of his 24 saves in the Big Ten tournament semifinal against Wisconsin at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit. Credit: Courtesy of Ric KruszynskiThe entire game, Wisconsin stymied the Buckeye offense. OSU only had 12 shots through the first two periods for a team that averages 30 shots per game. The Badger defense prevented OSU from penetrating the offensive zone, which forced a lot of the offense to play along the boards instead of the transition game that OSU prefers to play.“They were having the same defense that we were trying to have,” Schilkey said. “I just think they did a little bit better tonight. We have to get back to pucks, help our (defense) out. At times we were trying to stretch (passes) out too much.”At 17:32 in the third period, just as OSU was ready to send on another forward and pull Tomkins, senior defenseman Josh Healey was called for a hit to the head which resulted in a game misconduct and a five-minute major. Tomkins wasn’t able to come off the ice until 16 seconds were on the clock. Junior forward Matt Weis fired a desperation shot on net, which was saved by Berry.With the loss, the Buckeyes are on the bubble of the NCAA tournament picture heading into Selection Sunday. When asked whether OSU had done enough to earn an at-large bid, Rohlik didn’t have a definitive answer.“I think that’s up to the compute to figure out, I guess,” he said. “Hopefully we have, but obviously we need a few things to go our way.” read more

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Ohio State sophomore offensive lineman Thayer Munford (75) prepares for a play in the third quarter of the game against Michigan State on Nov. 10. Ohio State won 26-6. Credit: Casey Cascaldo | Photo EditorOhio State sophomore offensive tackle Thayer Munford and junior safety Jordan Fuller will miss spring practice due to injury, as confirmed by an Ohio State spokesman.Munford was a four-star prospect out of high school and played in 13 games this past season, and has played in 25 total throughout his first two years on the offensive line with the Buckeyes.A 2017 third-team All-Big Ten member, Fuller finished the 2018 season with 81 total tackles, two fumble recoveries and an interception.There is no confirmed information about the extent of the injuries to either player.Ohio State will begin spring practice on Wednesday, with the 2019 Spring Game scheduled for April 13. read more

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first_imgIt is designed to provide repairs and maintenance for warships operating away from their home ports in the UK. Equipped with cranes, engineering workshops and power and water for ships alongside, it can be used to repair frigates, destroyers, submarines and minesweepers. The ship has also been used for monitoring shipping in the Gulf.Lord West, a former First Sea Lord, said the decision to scrap it without a replacement was an “error”.He said the ability to repair ships far from home would become particularly important once the new aircraft carriers began operating.The ship had been “extremely valuable” when he had commanded a Navy group in the Far East in the mid-1990s, he said.He said: “I had 22 ships with me, and she was invaluable. That sort of floating maintenance capacity is very, very useful.“It’s yet again a diminution of our Naval capability, particularly our of area capability. With the carriers coming along, that’s really what the Navy needs.”A Navy source said the cost of keeping the ageing ship running when it was the only one of its kind had proven too high.Both the Navy and Royal Fleet Auxilliary are also suffering from a critical shortage of sailors, particularly highly skilled technical trades, to man their ships. Naval chiefs had told the MoD last year that they needed 2,500 more sailors, but were given only a few hundred in last year’s defence review.A spokesman said: “We can confirm that the out-of-service date for RFA Diligence has been brought forward to the end of 2016.“The Royal Fleet Auxiliary continues to have a strong future and looks forward to welcoming four new tankers into the flotilla. The RFA remains integral to the Royal Navy’s deployments and global presence and an important element of the wider Naval service.” A former First Sea Lord last night said the cut was yet another “diminution” of the Royal Navy and that the service was losing an “invaluable” vessel.The sale is the latest cut to the Navy as admirals complain of a dangerous shortage of sailors, an overstretched fleet and delays in starting a ship-building programme to replace its ageing frigates.The 367ft vessel was built in 1981 as a commercial support ship for North Sea rigs, but was chartered by the then government for the Falklands War and spent the campaign repairing warships damaged by Argentine air attacks.The ship was then bought outright for the Royal Fleet Auxiliary in 1983. RFA Diligence RFA Diligence was an oil rig support ship before being bought for the NavyCredit:LA(Phot) Abbie Gadd/Crown Copyrightcenter_img Want the best of The Telegraph direct to your email and WhatsApp? Sign up to our free twice-daily  Front Page newsletter and new  audio briefings. The Navy’s only vessel for repairing damaged warships at sea will be sold off four years early because of cost-cutting, the Ministry of Defence has said.RFA Diligence, which has been repairing Royal Navy vessels since the Falklands War, had been due to continue working until the end of the decade, but will now be sold immediately.The sale comes just three years after the vessel was given a refit to extend its life to 2020, and means the ship will be lost before a replacement has been decided on.last_img read more

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