1-2-3 Sports! Week of December 21, 2018

 

Merry Christmas, everyone!


Another Side of Charles Barkley

1-2-3 reader Alex Denny sent us this utterly fantastic story. If you read a good story, please send it our way at 123sportslist@gmail.com or on Twitter – @123sportsdigest.

Shirley Wang described her dad with the following:

He wore striped, red polo shirts tucked into khaki shorts and got really excited about two-for-one deals. He was a commuter. He worked as a cat litter scientist in Muscatine, Iowa. In short, he was everyone’s suburban dad.

Lin Wang and Charles Barkley met in a hotel bar, and a friendship grew from there. On the surface, the most impressive detail about this story is that Charles Barkley became friends with a fan he met in a bar in Sacramento, and who earned a living as a cat litter scientist, but that’s just on the surface. In Lin Wang’s telling of this story – her favorite dinner party story (obviously) – she plays two roles: she serves as a stand-in for the reader with a healthy dose of skepticism about the true nature of the friendship, and she is the daughter who learns how proud her dad was of her from Charles Barkley.  

When Barkley’s mom died in 2015, Lin Wang flew to Leeds, Alabama and just showed up. This past June, Barkley returned the favor and showed up at Lin’s funeral in the outskirts of Iowa City.

Wang’s story is a fresh example of true friendship. Lin Wang and Barkley connected over similar upbringings, they were immensely proud of their children, and they both liked to have a good time. As Shirley Wang puts it:

It was not just a relationship with a celebrity — it shed light on the possibilities of this world. A world where someone like him could just say something cool, something charming, and befriend someone like Charles Barkley.

This is a late entry into one of my favorite stories from 2018, and it was featured on the 12/14/18 episode of the Only A Game podcast. More than worth your time. – PAL

Source: Dad’s Friendship With Charles Barkley”, Shirley Wang, WBUR (12/14/18)


Should Kyler Murray Choose the NFL or MLB?

Last year, Kyler Murray was Baker Mayfield’s backup at Oklahoma. Fast forward 12 months – he had a great baseball season and was drafted 9th overall by the A’s, receiving a $4.66M signing bonus. The A’s let him play one more year of football, and he won the starting job at Oklahoma. Then he went out and won the friggin Heisman, and is preparing to lead his team against Alabama in the college football playoff. So, it’s been a good year.

But things are about to get more complicated. Murray has a big decision. Murray had previously said he’d play baseball – hence the high draft pick and big signing bonus from the A’s. But no one expected his football season to go this well. So what should Murray do?

The general consensus is that he should play baseball. It’s better for his health, and that can’t be understated. There’s also a chance for a 20+ year career, and once you hit free agency in baseball, the money has the chance to be much better (not to mention guaranteed). But therein lies the rub.

Before Murray gets to baseball free agency, he’s in for a long and unglamorous road. As Michael Baumann puts it:

If he chooses baseball, he’ll start his professional career, if he’s lucky, with Oakland’s Low-A team in Beloit, Wisconsin. (I’ve been to Beloit, by the way. It’s more depressing than playing for the Browns.) There, Murray will play in front of crowds of hundreds, taking long bus trips in the Midwest League, until he gets promoted to High-A and does the same thing in Stockton, California, then he’ll do the same thing in Double-A in Midland, Texas. If Murray starts in Low-A and advances one minor league level per year, it’ll take him until 2022 to even get to an interesting minor league city (Triple-A Las Vegas). If Murray goes into the NFL draft, 2022 would be the last year of his rookie contract.

Then, if Murray makes the big leagues, Oakland will have the ability to pay him the major league minimum for three years, and he’ll be under team control for at least six seasons, probably seven. It’s true that baseball is far more lucrative than football for players who reach free agency. But while Samardzija did, the average big leaguer doesn’t. That goes double for draft picks, even high draft picks straight out of college. The median career bWAR for the no. 9 overall draft pick is 0.0.

Thus, Baumann argues, Murray should take the guaranteed eight-figure deal in the NFL. It makes some sense. He’s got $4.66M in the bank, but that’s going to need to last him a while. But he’s going to need that to last, because he’ll be paid less than minimum wage for the next few years in the minors, and then league minimum for a while after that. And then, as Baumann points out, there’s huge bust potential. About 50% of players drafted 9th never produce in the big leagues. Meaning they’re not getting that big free agency money.

The major flaw in Baumann’s argument is that it assumes Murray will get an eight-figure guaranteed deal in the NFL. I don’t think that’s a sure thing. He’s only 5’10, which is a perfectly normal height, but short for an NFL quarterback. He’d also need to be in the top dozen or so picks of the first round to get those eight figures guaranteed, and if he slips to even the first pick of the second round, his signing bonus will be smaller than the one he got with the A’s.

It’s hard to gauge Murray’s NFL projection right now. His baseball status undoubtedly deflates his value; still, USA Today has a 3-round mock draft and Murray is not in it. If he gets a first round grade, I would agree with Baumann’s assessment. But otherwise, baseball seems like the safer (figuratively and literally) bet. -TOB

Source: The Completely Logical, Financially Prudent Argument for Kyler Murray Choosing the NFL, Michael Baumann, The Ringer (12/19/2018)


The Committee of 101

When I think of booster clubs, I think money, private jets, and generally seedy behavior around major college sports programs. So I was happy to come across this story of Kentucky’s Committee of 101. The club is a group of old-timers that, more than anything, volunteer their time. Since the 1960s, the group, now more than 300, volunteer at basketball and football games and organize team banquets. Back in the 60s, they were a bit more involved with the recruiting until the NCAA nixed that. Adolph Rupp’s assistant at the time, Joe Hall, saw the potential advantage the 101 could give to Kentucky:

What Hall wanted most was help with recruiting. He was not shy about enlisting the Blue Coats, whether it be to feed the families of visiting players in a postgame hospitality room, call prized prospects and make a pitch, bombard their mailboxes with letter-writing campaigns or show up in force at a high school game, decked out in those not-so-subtle blue blazers — all in an effort to make it clear just how much Kentucky fans love their basketball program. Sometimes, Hall would even get a club member to drive him across the state to see a recruit so the busy coach could catch a few winks in the passenger seat.

“Joe worked extremely close with us. He’d assign it, ‘Hey, call this guy,’ ” says 81-year-old Rex Payne, a former IBM employee who did not get in on the original telegram but joined the club the next year. Like Trosper, he’s still working games at Rupp Arena more than a half-century later. His and the 101’s role is a lot different these days. “We would go to a high school game and wear all our stuff and sit in a big group so a player would look up in the stands and see all that blue and go, Wow. We went up to see Kent Benson, which didn’t turn out too well, but Joe did convince him to come down to visit Kentucky and we made a big poster for him. I’d gotten a program from his high school game and he was on the cover, so the (club) president said, ‘Take that and see if you can blow it up.’ We went to a printer here and blew it up a little bit bigger than life-size, so when he got off the plane, we were holding that up and he did quite a double-take.”

Look, it’s likely that cheating back in those days was just a little more Rockwellian than it is now, but the idea of regular fans getting involved with a team to such an extent comes off as interesting and fun, almost as fun as the story about how they got the name Committee of 101.

The club started when some UK fans over at IBM thought it would be fun to send a telegram to Rupp’s 1966 team, wishing good luck before a game. As the season went on, more and more guys wanted to add their names to the telegram, until they finally tallied an even 100 names on the telegram.

“But then one of our buddies came hollering, ‘Wait! I want on there! I want on there!’ ” the now-85-year-old Weir tells The Athletic. “That’s the whole reason we became the 101, because one more guy showed up at the last minute. Lyle wrote something like, ‘From the 101 to No. 1’ and it listed all of us. Coach Rupp must’ve really liked that, because he mentioned us on his television program the next Sunday. He says, ‘My gosh, there must’ve been a thousand names on that thing!’ It’s really what got us started, because when Coach Rupp said that on TV, we thought, We ought to make a club out of this.”

Fun read about what endears a program to its fans. These traditions, almost as much as the success of the team, keep people connected to their college teams. – PAL  

Source: It’s the People, Like the Committee of 101, That Make Rupp Arena What It Is”, Kyle Tucker, The Athletic (12/18/2018)


Old Timey Baseball Player Name of the Week

Jack Glasscock.


Video of the Week:


Tweet of the Week


PAL Song of the Week: ‘Silver and Gold’ – Burl Ives


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In the end, the greatest snowball isn’t a snowball at all. It’s fear. Merry Christmas.

-Dwight K. Schrute

1-2-3 Sports! Week of December 14, 2018


Why You Should Temper Your Excitement If Your Team Trades a Star For a Few Top Prospects

Every year, especially at the trade deadline, an out of contention team deals an expensive, star player for a few top prospects. It makes sense – if your team is going nowhere anytime soon, there’s no reason to pay a lot of money to a star player when you can can get young, cheap talent in return and give yourself a brighter future. Fans are sad to see their guy go while at the same time getting excited for a couple top prospects and what they could mean for the future.

The Ringer just kinda blew that apart. They cataloged every prospect ranked in the Top-50 by Baseball America from 1990 through 2011 and analyze that player’s total WAR (wins above replacement) over the player’s first six years in the majors (after which they become free agents). The results are a bit surprising.

In all, there were 697 players in the list. Many of them were busts: over half of them accumulated less than 6 WAR over their first six seasons. Even narrowing it down, more than one third of top-10 ranked players, failed to reach the 6 WAR threshold over their first six seasons.

But things get even worse if the player was traded: of the 697 players, 103 were traded as prospects. On average, the non-traded prospects accrued 27% more WAR than the traded prospects. 28% of the traded prospects accumulated zero or negative WAR over their first six seasons. Another 29% accumulated between zero and 6 WAR over their first six seasons. Less than three percent of the traded prospects produced 24 WAR over their first six seasons, which amounts to an All Star level player. The non-traded prospects reached that threshold more than three times as often.

Perhaps, you’re thinking, the discrepancy is because the most highly ranked prospects are not traded as often as those closer to 50th. Nope. The average ranking of the traded prospects was 27.8, and the non-traded prospects was 25.

So why the gap? The Ringer’s explanation makes sense: there’s an information gap. An organization, that has raised a prospect since they were a teenager knows much more about its players – work ethic, mental makeup, lifestyle habits – than other teams can possibly know. If a team is willing to deal a top prospect, perhaps they value that player less than outsiders do. If the Red Sox thought Yoan Moncada was a power hitting, All-Star second baseman, they might not have included him in the deal for Chris Sale. As it is, Moncada has not yet developed into a star with the White Sox. Other factors hurt the traded prospects, too. Sometimes a player who has come up in a certain system and has done well is unable to adjust to a new environment with unfamiliar coaches, philosophies, and teammates.

So what should teams do? One suggestion is that while in decades past prospects were dealt too easily, the pendulum has swung the other way and they are now overvalued:

In decades past, teams might have undervalued youth and made excessive win-now trades that discarded future considerations. But, “you can even make the argument now that it’s gone so far in the other direction,” Paternostro says, “that it’s a bit of an untapped market inefficiency: trading your best prospect, as silly as that is to say. Just because it’s the only way you can get a return of that level.”

In other words: a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. Deal your prospects, who might pan out, in order to get quality major league talent that you know will help your team win.

I do have one complaint about this analysis, though. Limiting the analysis to the first six years of the prospect’s career is odd, or perhaps expecting an average of 4 WAR per year (4 WAR is an All Star) over those 6 years is too much. Here’s a screenshot of the top 25 traded prospects by their 6 year WAR:

Aside from the top 3, none made the 24 WAR threshold, but many of them were fantastic players later. I will acknowledge, though, that of the players on that list that I think should be included as very good players, very few of them made a huge mark on the team they were traded to as prospects. For example, Adrian Gonzalez didn’t make his mark with Florida, but with San Diego; Carlos Gonzalez didn’t impact Oakland; etc. Still, it’s worth noting. -TOB

Source: Why Trading for Top Prospects Is Less of a Win Than MLB Teams Seem to Think”, Zach Kram, The Ringer (12/10/2018)

PAL: Good week for The Ringer with two great reads. Organizations don’t trade prospects they love, especially when they are years away from free agency. That much should be obvious, but it’s not, in part because we need to justify that our team got the better end of the deal. I think most fans have gone through a period when their team is in the “prospects cycle”. After a certain amount of years you get tired of being sold on the next great prospect acquired in a trade of yet another solid big leaguer before he hits free agency.


A Lesson For a New NBA Head Coach

When Fred Hoiberg was fired as the head coach for the Chicago Bulls last week, Jim Boylen was named the interim head coach. Things have not gone well! On Saturday, they lost at home to the Celtics by 56 points, a franchise record, and an NBA record for a home loss. Boylen tried to schedule a practice for the next morning, after the team had played games in back to back days Friday and Saturday. This did not go over well, and he nearly had a mutiny.

Now, as the TNT crew said this week, if you lose by 56 points, you should want to practice the next day. But Boylen tried to justify the Sunday practice by noting that he had yanked all five starters twice during the game, including three minutes into the third quarter, after which no starter re-entered the game. Players were not happy about that, either. Starter Zach LaVine noted, “It sucks to know you can help, sitting there watching the score go up and up.” Boylen’s response is classic:

Boylen downplayed his substitution pattern after the game by saying he simply felt it was best for the team. He reminded the media that he worked as an assistant for two seasons under San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich, who has “subbed five guys a ton of times and nobody says a word to him about it.”

That may be true, Jim. But let this be a lesson to you and every other neophyte coach: he’s Gregg Popovich, and you’re not. -TOB

Source: How the Bulls Narrowly Avoided a Full-Blown Mutiny in Jim Boylen’s First Week as Head Coach”, Darnell Mayberry, The Athletic (12/09/2018)


Fox Was Built On Football

December marks the 25th anniversary of FOX obtaining NFL rights, and the article below is an oral history of how that happened. I don’t knowingly care about what networks are airing what games, but this story reveals so much about the time, the role sports played on the three major networks (a promotional vehicle for other programs), and a new breed of sports franchise owners were starkly different than the old guard.

At the core of this story are two sides looking at the same thing and seeing something the opposite: CBS, NBC, and ABC saw an annual renewal of rights with old owner friends, while Rupert Murdoch and Fox saw NFL – specifically NFC football, with teams in large markets like New York, Chicago, Philly, and San Francisco – as a way to build a television network for decades to come. While many thought Murdoch overbid for the football rights, he saw the as a cheaper alternative to buying one of the old networks outright.

Added to the mix was a tough economy at the time, which led to each of the three networks being run by bottom line CEOs who spent their time watching the stock prices ebb and flow. At one point CBS as actually trying to convince the NFL to take a paycut! Murdoch was not as short sighted.

The finance people and the salespeople at the network got together and said, “OK, how much can we pay for these rights?” They did an analysis of what kind of advertising they could sell and came up with the maximum break-even number. Then Mr. Murdoch came bounding into the room and said, “What do we have to bid?” We told him. He said, “That’s not enough. The NFL doesn’t really want their games on our network. They’re just using us to bid up CBS. I’ve got to bid CBS away from the table.”

When he does a deal, Rupert’s thinking about, “What’s this going to look like 10 years out, 20 years out? Will this help me build a network?” The other guys are trying to manage financials for the next quarterly financial report.

Fox bought 4 years of NFC rights, plus one Super Bowl, for $395MM per year, which was $100MM more than CBS was willing to offer. Five years later, under new management, CBS bid $500MM for the weaker AFC package.

It’s a long read, but perhaps the best oral history I’ve read. The Ringer’s Bryan Curtis does an excellent job weaving all of the voices into this story.  – PAL

Source: The Great NFL Heist: How Fox Paid for and Changed Football Forever”, Bryan Curtis, The Ringer (12/13/18)

TOB: This was great. The thing it was missing that I was wondering about – how much did they have to invest in infrastructure? How did they know what they needed? Did they just hire all the technicians from CBS, too? I care way less about how they hired Matt Millen than how they figured out how to make it work.


Old Timey Baseball Player Name of the Week

Lil Stoner.


Video of the Week


Tweet of the Week


PAL Song of the Week: ‘Trouble Weighs a Ton’ – Dan Auerbach


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“I have never taken the high road. But I tell other people to ‘cause then there’s more room for me on the low road.”

-Tom Haverford

1-2-3 Sports! Week of December 7, 2018

Feels like yesterday, doesn’t it? 


Sports Research Rabbit Holes

You ever get into an internet rabbit hole? I found myself in one this week, and I found out something pretty interesting. I was reading this Ringer article on Markelle Fultz, who was diagnosed this week with thoracic outlet syndrome (TOC). TOC is a situation where the the gap between the collarbone and the first rib begins to shrink, usually due to repetitive motion (like pitching a baseball), thus pinching nerves and blood vessels specifically nerves and major blood vessels that pass through that gap. This happens to pitchers fairly often, recently to Matt Harvey. It’s pretty rare to happen in basketball, and Fultz hopes this explains his odd shooting mechanics over the last fifteen months.

That’s all pretty interesting, but here’s where I found my rabbit hole. The Ringer article mentioned an Astros pitcher named J.R. Richard. Richard had TOC and it caused him to suffer a stroke in 1980. He nearly died and never pitched again, and was even homeless for a while. He was only 30 when his career ended. Now, I’d like to think I’m a pretty big baseball fan, and I have a good memory when it comes to sports trivia, but I had never heard of J.R. Richard. So I looked him up.

The man was coming off back to back seasons of 300+ strikeouts (in which he finished 3rd and 4th in the Cy Young voting), and before his stroke in 1980, he was on pace to do so again. He also had an ERA+ of 174 and a FIP of 1.94, both of which are extremely excellent. As I gazed in wonder at these numbers I thought, “Wait, wasn’t Nolan Ryan on the Astros by 1980, as well?”

Oh, yes. He was. It was his first year with the team, and within a couple years they’d add Mike Scott. What a rotation that would have been.

So then I started wondering how baseball history might have changed if Richard doesn’t get TOC/have a stroke. In 1980, after he went down, they won 93 games and the NL West, but lost the deciding game of the best-of-five NLCS to the Phillies, 8-7 in extra innings. Nolan pitched Games 2 and 5. What if Richard had been there to pitch Game 4, which the Astros lost 5-3? The difference in that entire series was 1 run – the Phillies outscored the Astros 20-19. The Phillies went on to win that World Series easily, 4-2, over the Royals. Stick with me here, it’s about to get weird.

Then, in 1981, the Astros narrowly lost out on another shot. From Wikpedia:

Due to the players’ strike, which ran from June 12 to August 8, the 1981 season was split into two halves, with the first-place teams from each half in each division (or a wild card team if the same club won both halves) meeting in a best-of-five divisional playoff series. The four survivors would then move on to the two best-of-five League Championship Series. The expanded playoffs led to Game 1 of the World Series being pushed back to October 20, the latest starting date for a Fall Classic up to that time.

In the National League, the Dodgers led the National League West prior to the strike. The Houston Astros, however, won the second-half division title. The Dodgers then defeated the Astros, three games to two, in the National League Division Series before beating the Montreal Expos, three games to two, in the National League Championship Series.

The Yankees, who led the American League East in the season’s first half, took on the Milwaukee Brewers, winners of the second half division title, in the American League Division Series. New York was victorious three games to two, then went on to sweep the Oakland Athletics in the American League Championship Series.

The split-season decision was not a popular one, both among teams and their fans. The arrangement resulted in teams with the best overall record in either their division or league that year, in particular the Cincinnati Reds (the majors’ best team with 66 wins, 42 losses), being left out of the postseason along with the St. Louis Cardinals which lead the NL East with an overall record of 59-43 and a winning percentage of 0.578. Though the teams with the best record in the American League East and West did win their divisions, the Yankees finished 3rd overall in the AL East while the Kansas City Royals finished 4th overall with a losing 50-53 record

WHAT. How did I not know about this? And here’s the kicker: I suffered the same fate!

When I was in majors in Little League, for some reason our league did this exact set up each season. There was a first half winner and a second half winner and they met in a one-game league championship. I was on the Giants. My 11-year old season we had a really good team. We started the season hot, but lost a game we shouldn’t have and then lost to (I believe) the Cubs on the last day of the first half, and I believe we finished 7-2. The Cubs won the first half in a tiebreaker, as they were also 7-2. Then, in the second half, we lost to (I believe) the Rangers, finishing at 8-1, but the Rangers went undefeated in the second half at 9-0. So we were out of the playoffs even though we had the best (or maybe tied for the best?) record.

Yes, I still remember these ridiculous details 25-years later, and yes I am still bitter about it. Heck, we were outraged! I always wondered who the heck came up with that damn format, and now I know: It was MLB! I blame you, Bowie Kuhn!

And that, kids, is how an article about Markelle Fultz explained one of my biggest personal sports disappointments. -TOB
Source: “What Baseball Can Tell Us About Markelle Fultz’s Latest Diagnosis”, Michael Baumann, The Ringer (12/4/2018); From MLB To Homeless: J.R. Richard Tells His Story In ‘Still Throwing Heat’”, Bill Littlefield, WBUR.org (08/22/2015),  J.R. Richard”, “1980 Astros”, “Nolan Ryan”, “Mike ScottBaseball-Reference.com; 1980 NLCS”, “1980 World Series”, “1981 World Series”, “1981 Major League Baseball Strike”, “Bowie Kuhn”, Wikpedia.com

PAL: That’s just damn fun stuff, TOB. The rabbit hole is real. A part of me likes the season being broken up into halves like that. More teams with games that matter a bit more throughout the season.

TOB: Sure, but – the first half winners gets to take the second half easy and rest up for the playoffs. Apparently the adopted format for the 1981 season was not popular among teams and fans.


Good Traditions: Stealing Mascots

Last week I shared a story from former goalie Curtis ‘Cujo’ Joseph that felt like it was from the pages of a John Irving novel. This week, with the Army-Navy football game set for Saturday, I have mascot-stealing vignettes that could be from a Pat Conroy book.

There are college traditions that should stay in the past, but I hope the military academies over-the-top attempts to steal one another’s live mascots goes on forever. Dave Phillips runs through the history of the tradition, highlighting some of the more creative, bold, and downright insane attempts and successes.

Military historian Tom Carhart sums it up best, with a little latin in there for good measure.

“Motivated young men and women on the cusp of adulthood want a challenge. Stealing the mascot is the summum bonum. If you can capture that, there are no boundaries in life.”

Quick refresher of the mascots:

  • Air Force Academy: Falcon
  • West Point: Mule
  • Naval Academy: Goat

Here’s my favorite heist story from the article, featuring Carhart on the mission of 1965:

Dressed in black with faces darkened by burned cork, he and five other Army cadets made it through two fences topped with barbed wire. Then, with the goat in sight, they froze as a Ford station wagon pulled up near the Marines guarding its pen. Two college-age women got out of the car.

“We had planned it all with our girlfriends,” Mr. Carhart said. “They told the Marines a story about how they were lost, and they’d been stood up on a blind date. I think one of them cried. We sneaked in to the goat pen, only 25 feet behind them all, but the guards never turned around. They were looking at the girls.”

That’s the good stuff. College was fun. – PAL

Source: A Covert Coup for Cadets: Steal the Mascot”, Dave Phillips, The New York Times (12/06/2018)

TOB: But as the article notes, you better do your research before stealing a live animal:

Just last month, Aurora, a glacier-white gyrfalcon and mascot of the Air Force Academy, was abducted in the middle of the night, and nearly met a tragic end. The Army cadets who stole Aurora seem not to have known that the regal falcon is almost never caged. Even on commercial airline flights, she travels perched on a handler’s glove in the coach cabin. When the kidnappers stuffed her into a dog crate, Aurora panicked, and beat her wings frantically until they were bloody.


Lookout, Matt; Data’s Coming for the NHL

As anyone who watched the baseball playoffs this past year can attest, baseball is, now more than ever, a data-driven sport. Hell, they made a movie about baseball statistics, starring Brad Pitt. Technology and new data have already changed the game. New data is changing the way we monitor all sorts of athletic endeavors, but different sports create different challenges in gathering advantageous information about players, systems, and strategies. Whereas baseball is largely series isolated events separated by breaks in the game, basketball, soccer, and hockey are in continuous motion.

Tyler Dellow’s article is a good read because he explains how hockey, although well behind baseball in terms of data collection, is on the precipice of a new era in data, how that data will change the way teams play, the valuation of a player’s worth, and ultimately team success. The hockey version of Moneyball, or, Dellow’s would prefer the 2013-2014 Pittsburgh Pirates, hasn’t happened yet.

Here are a couple sections of his article that stuck out:

Historically, hockey leagues have tracked goals and assists. While that’s useful information, it’s not unlike runs and RBI in baseball: an attempt to hand out credit after the fact rather than tracking the building blocks of goals. Shot attempt data and expected goals models are helpful but there’s a huge issue with a lack of information about how the puck moved and where the non-shooting players were when the puck was shot. That’s the information that’s analogous to on-base percentage and slugging percentage in baseball.

And this:

Away from the ice, one of the real challenges of hockey is allocating credit or blame between players. This is particularly true when dealing with players who play with superstars – every partner Nicklas Lidstrom ever had posted great numbers – or players who are playing on particularly good or bad teams. The ability to better isolate what players are contributing away from their linemates will result in much better evaluations of players who are in unusual circumstances. This has the potential to be transformative, both in terms of player evaluation but particularly in terms of how players get paid.  

This story is on The Athletic, so you have to have the service to read. I enjoyed it, but I also think you get the picture here. My main point is this: my brother, Matt, is a big hockey fan who bemoaned the state of baseball after watching the playoffs this year and the Twins firing of Paul Molitor, which was in part due to him not completely buying into data-driven approach to the game. I understand is displeasure, but make no mistake, Matt – the data wave is coming for hockey next. – PAL

Source: The Next Generation of Data Will Drastically Change Our Perception of Players and How Organizations Operate”, Tyler Dellow, The Athletic (12/05/2018)

TOB: I am curious why the NHL has elected to go with radio chips instead


What’s the Matter With Kids These Days?

What is going on in college basketball? Why, back in my day Duke was the school for annoying, obnoxious dorks who fit the personality of their coach, Mike Krzyzewski – players like Christian Laettner, Steve Wojciechowski, JJ Reddick, Cherokee Parks, Jay Williams. Austin Rivers. Grayson Allen. The Plumlees. Ugh, even thinking of those guys is annoying. Duke was made for guys like that, and guys like that were made for Duke. It was a nice system – seasons pass and times change, but you could always count on a reliable sports-hate for Duke.

So what the heck is going on lately? This week, the #2 high school player in the country, Vernon Carey, committed to Duke. He seems cool and very good. The team is currently led by three freshman projected to go first, second, and fourth in next June’s NBA Draft – Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett, and Cam Reddish. They are awesome. This comes off the heels of recent Duke players like Jayson Tatum, Justise Winslow, Brandon Ingram, Harry Giles, and Marvin Bagley.

Those guys are all cool and good and they had no business playing for Duke. They should have gone to Kansas, or Michigan, or Kentucky, or UCLA. When did the system break down? Has my generation failed to explain to the next one just how much Duke sucks? Apparently so.

As Vernon Carey said this week, the reason he chose Duke was Coach K. When did this flip? I pondered this for a bit, and I now blame Jerry Colangelo, who selected Coach K to coach Team USA since 2005. Coach K won three Olympic gold medals, led by guys like LeBron, Carmelo, Chris Paul, and Kevin Durant. Suddenly, playing for Coach K is cool and that is terrible.Thanks a lot, Jerry. -TOB

Source: Duke Lands a Recruiting Coup and a Critical Need for 2019 in Five-Star Vernon Carey Jr.”, Jeremy Woo, Sports Illustrated (12/06/2018)

PAL: I still remember standing in my parents basement watching Laettner hit that shot over Kentucky. My future brother-in-law and his college buddies were in town for a U2 concert at the Metrodome (how early 90s is that setup?), and we all hate watched that team. To hate Duke was an unspoken agreement. Interesting point on the impact of USA basketball, which leads me to a theory.

Alphas and guys who think they are really cool don’t want other really cool guys around them. They don’t like being challenged. Let’s say Cool Guy 1 is the best surfer in his little group of friends, then one day a new cool guy (Cool Guy 2) paddles out with them, and CG2 is a better surfer than CG1. CG1 hates that. CG1 doesn’t want CG2 around when he and his buddies surf; rather, CG1 wants the old surfer who’s been on this break for 30 years passing on locals-only advice and gnarly stories from decades of sessions and sets.

Cool Guys want to be around successful, cool people, but that success and coolness cannot be seen as more of the moment, equal or greater than their own. They aren’t looking for a co-pilot. They want the wise old, sneaky funny guy in the barbershop with real stories. They want a bass player, not a lead guitarist. Someone that is exceptional, but more than fine with being beside the spotlight. Coach K is crazy successful, but he’s not cool relative to LeBron, Kyrie, Carmelo, etc…or cool relative to anyone. He’s tough – people bring up he played for Bobby Knight at West Point seemingly every damn broadcast. He’s old school. Does it the “right way”. Of course LeBron and crew love him. And if they love him, so too will the five-star recruits.


Worth a mention:

  • Per USA TodayGayle Benson, owner of the New Orleans Saints and Pelicans, wrote a check for $93K to pay off all of the layaway at a WalMart in New Orleans. It was first reported as an anonymous customer, but the Saints confirmed the anonymous donor was Benson. A real Danson move if you ask me…

  • SI’s Jack Dickey On the passing of President George H.W. Bush, his life as a sportsman, and the parallels between sports and politics: “The early obituaries were divided as to whether Bush had carried those values with him into Congress, the CIA, the Vice Presidency, the White House and his post-Presidency, or whether, out of political expediency, he had checked them at the door. Historians and the American public will have months and years to ponder, among other questions, whether his grace in defeat in 1992 at all mitigated the ruthlessness he displayed in victory in 1988. For all we celebrate about the character-building powers of sports, their cruelest lesson—winning matters most—can stick, too.”

Video of the Week: 


Tweet of the Week


PAL Song of the Week: Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings – “Rumors”


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-Larry ‘Lar’ David