On Tuesday, I put together a probabilistic breakdown of each MLB team’s prospects for the 2014 season according to the voting results of ESPN’s MLB Forecast panel. The panel, a group of over 140 baseball experts, was polled on how those experts thought each team would perform.With the voting data, we can also examine which teams caused the panel to agree (and disagree) most.I calculated the standard deviation of the individual voters’ win predictions for each team; this is basically a measure for how much agreement there was about a club. The teams with the biggest standard deviations had the widest distribution of predicted wins, meaning the Forecast panel’s opinions differed the most about how they would perform this season. The clubs with the lowest standard deviations were the teams about whom the panel agreed the most.Here are all of the teams, ordered from most divisive to least divisive: Looking at the list, a clear pattern emerges: Voters agreed the least about bottom-feeding teams and the most about good ones. The standard deviation of predicted wins was quite a bit larger for below-.500 teams from 2013 than above-.500 teams. But why?In terms of predicted change from last season, the panel was pretty even about how much improvement or decline it parceled out to teams:The standard deviation of predicted change from last season was practically identical between the above-.500 teams and below-.500 teams. This suggests that the culprit for the wide range of predictions for bad clubs could lie in last year’s records, which were unusual.Fifteen teams finished above .500 in 2013, bunched between 85 and 97 wins. Meanwhile, the spread of wins for the other 15 teams ranged from 51 (the Houston Astros) to 81 (the Arizona Diamondbacks).Perhaps voters had more trouble agreeing on predicted wins for the bottom half of the league because that half in 2013 had a strange distribution of wins.
“If you’re 6-5, 230, run a certain time, there’s like 35 guys I can compare you to that have been successful in this league. If you’re 5-11, there’s two, unless you go back to Fran Tarkenton: Doug Flutie and Russell Wilson. That’s not real good odds to me. You still might make it, but history says no. Just because you’re 5-11 doesn’t mean you can’t be successful. Johnny has magic.” — Bruce Arians, head coach of the Arizona Cardinals“I feel like I play like I’m 10 feet tall.” — Johnny ManzielAt the NFL scouting combine in February, wildly popular Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Johnny Manziel officially measured in at 71¾ inches and 207 pounds. His diminutive stature was such a hot topic prior to the 2014 NFL draft that the media couldn’t resist the puns: “Johnny Manziel Comes Up Short At NFL Combine “(CBS Cleveland); “The Long and Short of Johnny Manziel” (ESPN Cleveland); “Will Johnny Manziel Measure Up for the Browns?” (CantonRep.com).Ultimately, the Cleveland Browns selected Manziel with the 22nd pick in the first round. With several QB-starved teams near the top of the draft (including the Browns, who passed up two earlier chances to draft Manziel, first by trading out of the fourth pick and then by selecting Justin Gilbert with the eighth), most expected him to go higher.We don’t know why Manziel went where he did, but we do know that he is undersized for his position. And historically NFL teams’ approach to undersized QBs has been not to draft them — if they’re short. My research suggests this strategy is insufficiently nuanced: If height matters at all, NFL teams have already accounted for that and then some. Being too light-weight, on the other hand, appears to be a stronger predictor of performance (or lack thereof), and NFL teams seem not to have accounted for it enough.For a QB of Manziel’s height, being drafted even late in the first round is incredibly rare. From the 1967 merger through 2013, NFL teams selected 209 quarterbacks in the first three rounds of the draft, yet just five of them were 72 inches (6 feet) or shorter. Of those five, only Michael Vick (listed as 6 feet) was selected in the first round. For comparison: Since 1987, NBA teams have drafted five players 6 feet or shorter in just the first 10 picks of the first round.If we looked at those five quarterbacks alone, drafting short QBs would look like a pretty good bet. They have a combined career Approximate Value (AV)1I’m not in love with this metric — or really any QB rating metrics — but it sums well, and for testing league-wide hypotheses, virtually any reasonable metric will do. of 260 — greater than the combined AV (210) of all 12 QBs listed as 78 inches (6 feet 6 inches) and taller.This comparison is for amusement purposes only: It’s a tiny sample, and both of these groups include a number of active players with a lot of productive years ahead of them. But it hints at bigger issues with how the NFL accounts for height.Many media pre-draft scouting reports don’t distinguish between height and weight, frequently referring to a player’s “size” or “bulk” instead. But when it comes to size metrics, the NFL appears to be much more forgiving of light quarterbacks than short ones. The average weight for a 71- to 72-inch quarterback is 202 pounds, yet 27 quarterbacks this weight or below have been drafted in the first three rounds over the same time period (1967-2013), which saw only five QBs of that height taken.To examine whether this particular reluctance to draft short QBs (while being willing to draft light ones) makes any sense, I classified the broader pool of drafted quarterbacks (limiting to those selected in the top seven rounds) based on how they compared to Manziel’s weight and height. From there I compared each group’s average AV per season to see whether any of the groups performed better than the others.Looking at the right column, we see that short QBs have done slightly better on average than non-short QBs (3.0 average AV per season versus 2.4). But even with seven rounds of draft picks this number is still pretty small: Just 29 short QBs are included in this comparison (so the results are not statistically significant).But the weight columns show a stark divide between quarterbacks on either side of Manziel (2.7 average AV per season versus 1.6 overall). There’s a broader sample, too: 107 players weighed in at 207 pounds or less, compared to 311 who were heavier.Based on that, it seems that drafting a quarterback of Manziel’s weight is a more dangerous proposition than drafting one of his height. But that’s a pretty crude binary analysis. Because the NFL draft market is fairly efficient, if there were a relationship between height or weight and career potential, we’d probably expect it to be priced into each quarterback’s draft position (or whether a quarterback gets drafted at all).So let’s expand the investigation to include each quarterback’s draft position. Then, rather than splitting the players into groups, let’s look at the overall correlations between height, weight and pick2Technically these correlations use the logarithm of each player’s pick, as do all the regressions in this article. and a few different QB metrics — Approximate Value, yards per game and yards per attempt.3If you’re wondering why I’m not using more complicated efficiency metrics like Passer Rating, ESPN’s QBR, or Brian Burke’s Win Percentage Added, it’s because I think they all correspond much too strongly with the style and quality of a QB’s team and offense — at least for these purposes. If you’re making finely grained comparisons, you may be willing to accept that cost in exchange for those metrics’ higher precision, but for evaluating the long-run impacts of hundreds of QBs, I prefer to use broader measures. Mostly what I want to know is how likely these players were to have long, productive careers. (For this comparison, I’ve filtered out QBs drafted later than 2008.)That grouping of bars on the left shows us that height is at least a little correlated to Approximate Value, yards per game and yards per attempt — but it correlates much better with the QB’s draft position. Weight, on the other hand, correlates to our QB metrics much more, and, importantly, it correlates with draft position less.In other words, height appears to tell us less than weight does, and what it does tell us we’re more likely to have already known.While correlations alone don’t tell us what’s causing what, so far this is a pretty poor showing for height as a predictor of quarterback performance. But there are still a lot of possibilities, so to get a better sense of which variables are doing what work, I created regression models that use height, weight and draft pick to predict a variety of metrics, and then compared how important each variable was to each model.Those regressions produced “t-values,” basic measures of the predictive reliability of each variable.4It’s the weight you should put on the variable divided by its average error. In this case we’re looking for a minimum value of 2.0.5This is about the cutoff for “statistical significance,” meaning that the correspondence seen in the data would happen less than 5 percent of the time by chance. This is about the minimum amount of confidence you need in a variable to make using it worth your while. Not only is height not a good predictor when combined with weight and pick location, it’s a slightly negative one (though to be a statistically significant negative predictor, we’d want to see values below -2.0). This doesn’t mean that height is bad, it just means that — whatever value it may have — NFL teams are likely overvaluing it.Weight, however, is a highly significant predictor for these metrics.6As it is for most metrics to varying degrees, though it does tend to do best on per-game and per-year bases. Since draft location is included as input for this regression, this strongly suggests that NFL teams have not been sufficiently pricing weight into their selections.There are a number of possible reasons for this. My guess would be that it has something to do with the physicality of the NFL game, and that teams may become enamored with a QB’s skill or accuracy and undervalue his strength or durability. But figuring out exactly why weight is so predictive is a whole different investigation, and one which may be too complicated for the amount of data available.7This is basically the main challenge with every NFL-related problem. So instead of diving deeper, let’s simplify.The thing we really care about is whether a QB has a minimally successful career. To test this, I’ve set the “successful career” cutoff at about 32 AV, which sets apart more or less the top 100 drafted QBs since 1967.8Note that it doesn’t really matter exactly where we draw the line so much as that we draw a line at all: Anything will do for a barometer. Basically, our “successful” cutoff is going to be all the good QBs you’ve heard of, down to about the likes of Joey Harrington, Rick Mirer, Vince Young, Byron Leftwich or (going further back) Steve Spurrier. While the worst of the “successful” quarterbacks may sound pretty bad to you (Tim Couch, Browns fans?), nearly two-thirds of quarterbacks selected 22nd overall (Manziel’s draft position) will likely be even worse.We can predict the baseline likelihood of a QB being “successful” or not by using a logistic regression9A regression that predicts binary outcomes like wins/losses, good/bad, etc. with just his draft position.10In case you’re interested, the Excel formula for this is =1/(1+EXP(-(1.1536-0.40511*[logpick]))), where [logpick] is the logarithm of the QB’s draft position in base 2 (or log([pick],2)). I’ve grouped QBs by rounding their weight to the nearest 5 pounds, then calculated how many of that group should have had “successful” careers based on each of their draft positions, and then compared that to the number of them who actually did. Once that was done, I plotted how each group succeeded relative to our expectations.The red line shows how much more or less likely a QB of a given weight is to be successful than we would expect based on his draft position alone.11In Excel, this formula is: =((1/(1+EXP(-(-7.814506+0.031653*[weight]))))-0.272723209)/0.272723209. Manziel is listed as 207 pounds. From the model, we’d expect about 19 percent fewer 207-pound QBs to be successful than we would expect based on their draft position.The odds of being “successful” for a QB taken 22nd overall are approximately 34 percent. The odds of a 207-pound quarterback selected 22nd overall being successful are around 27 percent (81 percent of 34 percent). In draft-pick terms, that’s about the same as an average-weighted quarterback drafted 38th overall — a substantial but certainly not damning drop. We can make that same kind of calculation for each draft position.On the other hand, Manziel was projected to go higher in the draft. It’s possible that he was unfairly dinged for his height, but not dinged enough for his weight.If the Browns had selected Manziel with the eighth pick, my model’s size-weight adjustment (which is basically a weight adjustment, since height didn’t meet the threshold for inclusion), would make him about as likely to be successful as a No. 16 pick. That would match up pretty well with the Browns’ actual draft day decisions: to pass on Manziel with the eighth pick, but then to trade up to take him with the 22nd.
Last week, we told you the U.S. had a 1.2 percent chance of winning the World Cup. The odds of that dream have dropped by half since then, without the U.S. playing a match: Underdogs like the U.S. have come oh so close before without winning a match in the knockout stage.Argentina vs. Switzerland, 12 p.m. EDTU.S. vs. Belgium, 4 p.m. EDTIn briefSee our World Cup predictions for the latest probabilities.In depthHeading into Tuesday, the last day of the Round of 16, six group leaders have played six group runners-up in the knockout stage. Nearly every match has been close-fought and competitive. Brazil and Costa Rica needed penalty kicks to advance. Germany went to added extra time. The Dutch needed to come from behind in the final minutes. And France was locked in a scoreless battle until the final 20 minutes.Yet in every case, the group leaders won.That’s bad news for the U.S. and Switzerland, the two remaining group runners-up, for two reasons: First, if they do manage to upset Belgium and Argentina, respectively, difficult opponents await. In their half of the draw is the Netherlands, sixth in the world in ESPN’s Soccer Power Index ratings. If they somehow reach the final, one of the world’s top five teams awaits.The second reason is that by winning, all the soccer powers have demonstrated they’re even better than previously thought, making it even less likely that a solid but not elite team such as the U.S. could upset them.Add to that a tweak to our model late last week, to account for the advantage favorites have in added extra time and penalty kicks, and the U.S. team’s chances of winning the Cup have dropped to 0.6 percent, from 1.2 percent after last week’s match against Germany. Switzerland’s chances have dropped to 0.7 percent from 0.9 percent after its previous match.Winning the Cup was always a long shot for these two teams, though. Reaching the quarters would be a good result for either one. And the U.S. has the better chance. It gets Belgium, the second weakest of the eight group winners, in the late match Tuesday. The U.S. has a 41 percent chance of winning. That’s nearly double Switzerland’s 23 percent chance of upsetting Lionel Messi and Argentina.Drawing Belgium in the Round of 16 was the U.S.’s reward for making it out of one of the toughest groups. Belgium advanced to the World Cup out of one of the weakest European qualifying groups, then won the weakest World Cup group. It remains a formidable opponent and is better than the U.S., with high-priced talent on its roster, much of it familiar to English Premier League fans. But Belgium is a tier or three beneath tournament favorite Brazil. After nearly beating Portugal and nearly equalizing late against Germany, the U.S. shouldn’t fear another European opponent.Switzerland, meanwhile, will attempt to earn what would be only Europe’s third win in 10 tries against South American opponents at this World Cup. The Swiss have one of the two wins so far, over Ecuador. (The Netherlands has the other, over Chile.) Ecuador is a far cry from Argentina, though. Messi has scored on four of his seven shots on target, all with his left foot. Switzerland might need Xherdan Shaqiri, who scored a hat trick against Honduras, to live up to his stretch of a nickname, “Alpine Messi,” to have a chance.YesterdayTwo Union of European Football Associations powers stamped tickets to the quarterfinals Monday thanks to substitutes. France beat Nigeria behind the influence of Antoine Griezmann, whereas it took an André Schürrle goal to finally open the scoring in Germany’s lively 2-1 extra-time win against Algeria.Olivier Giroud started at forward for France, but the French game really started when Griezmann replaced him in the 63rd minute. Giroud had 14 attacking-third touches and didn’t create a chance during a lackluster 62 minutes, but Griezmann provided the necessary spark. He had 12 attacking-third touches in 28 minutes, including a great scoring chance with a 1-2 ball to Karim Benzema in the 70th minute. In total, the French created six chances in the first 62 minutes and five over the final 28, converting two for goals.Griezmann was the difference, though he did not officially figure in either goal. His best “shot” was an 84th-minute close-range strike that required a reaction save from Nigerian goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama. Enyeama left the tournament with a competition-best 21 saves over Nigeria’s four matches. Although it wasn’t a shot, Griezmann’s near-post run in the first minute of stoppage time produced a goal officially credited as a Joseph Yobo own goal.The Germans, meanwhile, did not lack for attacking possession throughout Monday’s match, posting a 246-90 advantage on touches in the attacking third. In the first 90 minutes, Germany completed almost four times as many passes into the attacking third as the Algerians (125-32), but it couldn’t convert a massive advantage in chances created (18-5) into a regulation winner.Two minutes into extra time, Schürrle put the Germans ahead. He actually hit the ball on his near-post run (as opposed to Griezmann), and Schürrle was credited for the goal. But the result was the same in both cases.Mesut Özil scored later in the extra time, and that proved to be the eventual game-winner, though Algeria scored before the final whistle. Abdelmoumene Djabou’s left-footed finish was the latest goal in World Cup history, but it wasn’t enough to prevent the Germans from facing France on July 4. — John Parolin, senior stats analyst, ESPNOff the pitchArgentina and Switzerland cooperate in a number of ways — investment protection, aviation, legal protection — but perhaps the most important aspect of their relationship is trade. According to data from the Observatory of Economic Complexity, Swiss exports to Argentina have increased significantly in recent years, from $187 million in 2005 to $1.06 billion in 2012, which is most likely because of an increase in bilateral trade agreements. A majority of those exports were health-related products and chemicals, at 62 percent. Watches made up 7 percent of the exports, chocolate comprised .22 percent, and milk and cheese was just .05 percent. Trade in the opposite direction has increased over time as well, but not to the same degree. Argentine exports to Switzerland totaled $121 million in 2005 and $627 million in 2012. Gold dominated at 79 percent, followed by wine, trucks/vans and bovine meat. — Hayley MunguiaFurther readingLionel Messi Is ImpossibleHas the U.S. Men’s National Team Plateaued?Stoppage Time Is Often Home-Cooked, Especially in the MLSThe Rise of the Red Devils
Cleveland Browns running back Trent Richardson practiced for the first time in nearly a month on Monday as the team prepared for Sunday’s season opener against the Philadelphia Eagles.Richardson, the third overall pick out of Alabama in April’s NFL Draft, has been sidelined since Aug. 9, when he underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left knee.Wearing a protective rubber sleeve over the knee, he looked smooth running drills during the 15-minute viewing portion of Monday’s practice and didn’t show any signs of limping, according to the Cleveland Plain-Dealer.“If he’s ready to go, he will be our starter,” coach Pat Shurmur said. “Trent looked good. He was in team. I knew he’d be out here today and he did a good job. It was his first day back in practice, so we did what we could do. Trent looked healthy running around.”Richardson is expected to play in the season opener, although his workload likely will be limited until his knee has added time to heal.Cleveland drafted him with the expectation that his impressive blend of speed and power running would provide an instant lift to a Browns offense lacking in playmakers.Richardson signed a four-year, $20.5 million contract last month that was fully guaranteed and included a signing bonus of $13.3 million.Anticipation about his presence in the backfield became even greater with the designation of quarterback Brandon Weeden as the team’s starter. The Browns desperately want a running game to alleviate some of the pressure from Weeden.Richardson underwent what the team termed “routine arthroscopic” surgery by Dr. James Andrews in Pensacola, Fla., on Aug. 9. Andrews had performed a similar procedure on Richardson on Feb. 3 to repair a torn meniscus the running back suffered in the same knee while playing for Alabama during its BCS national championship victory over LSU.Richardson rushed for 3,130 yards and 35 touchdowns for the Crimson Tide.
More: Apple Podcasts | ESPN App | RSS | Embed FiveThirtyEight Embed Code Welcome to the latest episode of Hot Takedown, FiveThirtyEight’s sports podcast. On this week’s show (Nov. 15, 2016), we chat about the Pittsburgh Steelers’ loss to the Dallas Cowboys and ask whether the correct strategy is to always go for 2 points. We then turn to college football’s many upsets from last weekend and ask whether this season is just a ceremonial procession that will eventually lead to Alabama’s being crowned champion. Finally, the World Chess Championship is happening in New York, so we call up FiveThirtyEight’s Oliver Roeder to discuss draws, the history of Elo ratings and whether computers are better than people at chess. Plus, a significant digit on cricket!Links to what we discussed:Chase Stuart says more teams are going for 2-point conversions in the NFL, and that’s as it should be.ESPN’s Kevin Seifert explains how the NFL’s new extra-point rule has changed the game.Neil Paine says last weekend’s college football upsets were some of the wildest in history.You can find FiveThirtyEight’s college football predictions here.Marc Tracy in The New York Times says this season’s Alabama team is phenomenal.Oliver Roeder breaks down the action from the World Chess Championship.Even a chess draw can be gripping, Roeder writes.Significant Digit: 246 for 20. That’s the number of Australian runs scored for the number of wickets lost in the team’s recent defeat to South Africa. It’s Australia’s worst aggregate score in a home test match since cricket’s greatest ever player, Don Bradman, made his debut in 1928.
MILWAUKEE — The NBA’s elite teams almost always have a singular, defining trait.Golden State gives opposing teams headaches due to its ridiculous outside shooting. Cleveland’s players, as LeBron James and Kyrie Irving illustrated during the Finals, can get almost any shot they want in one-on-one matchups. The San Antonio Spurs, the gold standard for team play and consistency, have long drawn praise for their lack of egos.Then there are the 18-16 Milwaukee Bucks, who, bizarre as it sounds, are quietly building a case for inclusion onto that short list of the league’s best teams.As of Thursday, Milwaukee was just two games ahead of the ninth-place Washington Wizards and far from a lock to reach the playoffs. But for most of the season the Bucks have ranked among the league’s top-10 teams in both offensive and defensive efficiency, generally a loose prerequisite for a team to be a title contender. (Sixteen of the past 20 NBA champions, including each of the past six, finished in the top-10 in both categories. By contrast, no team with that profile has missed the playoffs since the 1974-75 season, when three teams did it in an 18-team league, according to ESPN Stats & Information Group.)Unlike with the Warriors, Cavs or Spurs, the average fan might struggle to identify a particular trait about the Bucks, aside from their star player having a name that’s challenging to pronounce.But spend a little time watching the Bucks and it becomes clear that Milwaukee’s defining characteristic is its weirdness. Its roster full of interchangeable, Stretch Armstrong-types goes outside the bounds of the NBA’s traditional parameters of play at both ends.Still, Milwaukee is far from the first team to lean on its length and athleticism. “Positionless basketball” has been in vogue for a while now.In recent years, the Big Three in Miami was unusually aggressive with how it tasked Chris Bosh with defending pick-and-rolls. The Brooklyn Nets turned their 2013-14 season around (and did so under current Bucks coach Jason Kidd) after injuries forced them to downsize to a quicker small-ball lineup that could switch assignments and jump passing lanes. And of course the Warriors can make life miserable for opposing offenses and impossible for opposing defenses with their range and versatility, particularly when they opt to use their Megadeath Lineup, with Stephen Curry, Andre Iguodala, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant and Draymond Green.No one is going to mistake these Bucks with the Warriors any time soon, or with the Cavs or Spurs, for that matter. But the Bucks’ combination of uncommon youth, length and style of play makes Milwaukee uniquely equipped to deal with teams that throw more traditionally constituted opponents into disarray. In other words, teams like Golden State.The formula starts with the Bucks’ unusual youth and length at multiple positions. In Giannis Antetokounmpo (22 years old), Jabari Parker (21), Tony Snell (25) and John Henson (26), Milwaukee trots out four starters who are all 26 or under, and boast at least a 6-11 wingspan, making them one of the youngest1The Bucks are the NBA’s sixth-youngest team when you weight players’ age by minutes played, according to ESPN Stats & Information Group. and longest teams in the NBA. The Bucks use their length and athleticism to play a more aggressive, switch-heavy brand of defense than most teams.They often gamble by overloading one side of the floor and using two players to blitz a pick-and-roll ball-handler, trusting that they’ll have enough back-end quickness to snap back into position before opposing players can capitalize by finding the open man for a clean look. (Milwaukee also sends aggressive help when teams dump the ball onto the block, explaining why the Bucks own the stingiest post-up defense in basketball, according to Synergy Sports.)So many interchangeable defensive parts moving, switching and rotating in harmony has a suffocating effect on an offense. Milwaukee’s defense has forced opposing offenses to throw more passes than all but eight teams this season after leading the league in the stat the past two years, according to an analysis run by SportVU, and has pressed opposing clubs into the last four seconds of the shot clock — where offensive efficiency plummets due to rushed shots — more often than any other defense this season, per Synergy.“Against them, you have to go in understanding that it may take several extra passes or multiple paint touches” in order to find a good shot, Oklahoma City Thunder coach Billy Donovan said ahead of a recent game against Milwaukee. “What appears to be an open shot often turns out to be a contested shot.”The stat sheet seems to agree with Donovan. While the Bucks give up the fourth-most 3-point attempts per game — generally a bad sign for a defense — Milwaukee also contests 87 percent of opponents’ threes, the highest percentage in the league. As a result, it holds foes to 34.6 percent from 3-point range, tied for the NBA’s fourth-lowest mark. In other words, lots of attempts are not quite as open as they seem.“Shooting is obviously huge,” said Henson, the Bucks’ best defensive big man. “But probably the best things to counter the shooting in today’s game are interchangeability and length. And we’ve taken the idea of building around length to another level.”That’s a key trait in the NBA today. The commitment to flustering ball-handlers and ability to close out shooters help neutralize the floor spacing that teams like the Cavs and Warriors usually take advantage of.While the Bucks have targeted length as a market inefficiency, that length comes at a cost.For one, the Bucks’ lengthy, versatile athletes aren’t as gifted from long range. Last season, Milwaukee attempted the fewest threes in the league and made just 34.5 percent of them, below league average. (This is a big reason the Warriors are so special: They combine many of the same elements that make the Bucks unique with all that outside shooting.)But this season the offense has increased its number of 3-point attempts per game by a whopping 53.5 percent while also increasing its conversion rate, led in part by Parker, who’s hit 39 percent of his triples while taking more than six times as many threes per game as last season.“[Coach Kidd] told me [two years ago] that I was too reliant on my jumper and challenged me to work on my inside game first, then take what the defense was giving me on the outside,” Parker said in an interview, explaining that he and Antetokounmpo were essentially banned from taking threes when Kidd first got the job. But Parker said they’ve since been given the green light to fire away. (That inside-out mindset is an interesting one, given that Kidd himself developed into a much better shooter as his own career progressed.)In any case, Parker and the Bucks are still working through a handful of issues. The former Duke star has improved as a defender, but still gets beaten off the dribble far too frequently on the wing, leaving the team vulnerable at the rim at times. And despite the club’s ability to get out to shooters quickly, it’s not ideal that the Bucks surrender the highest number of corner threes in the league, since those shots are among the most valuable in basketball.And even after Antetokounmpo’s heroic last-second shot to beat the Knicks on Wednesday, Milwaukee’s stats in crunchtime (when the score is within 5 points in the last five minutes or overtime) are among the worst in the NBA.But things are beginning to come together. The awkward fit with scoring big Greg Monroe has been alleviated with a move to the bench, where his limited rim protection isn’t as much of a liability. After struggling to score last season, Milwaukee has found success in having Antetokounmpo bring the ball up the floor himself after grabbing a board instead of having to look for a teammate. (The Bucks rank fifth in fastbreak points, despite ranking 20th in possessions per game; impressive given that the four teams ahead of them in transition scoring — Golden State, Phoenix, Oklahoma City and Houston — rank among the top-10 in pace.)And the club could even get injured swingman Khris Middleton back toward the end of the season; potentially a big lift for the Bucks, given that he was arguably their best player at times the past few seasons.The teamwide developments, though, have been mere icing on the cake, as no one in the organization saw Antetokounmpo producing a season anywhere near this impactful so soon.His defense, particularly as an occasional rim protector, has been a revelation. Antetokounmpo, despite being a wing player, is near the top of the defensive leaderboards among players who defend at least four close-range shots per game, according to SportVU. But understandably, his offense draws the lion’s share of the attention, both because of his unconventional point-guard play and the gaudy numbers he’s posted.He currently owns career-high marks in total-shooting, rebounding, assist, block and steal percentage — and a career-low turnover percentage — all while handling the ball more and using a much greater share of Milwaukee’s possessions in his fourth season.Even with his rapid ascension in mind, it might still seem wild to consider Milwaukee among the NBA’s best. But give it time. If the young Bucks continue on their current trajectory, and their gambles on length and versatility continue paying off, the thought may not seem so far-fetched this time next year.Check out our latest NBA predictions.
If you’ve come here during a penalty shootout, scroll down for some cool charts. The next several paragraphs explain our methodology in some detail.FiveThirtyEight has some credibility staked on the performance of the Brazilian national team. It was our pretournament favorite to win the World Cup. (Many other forecasts had Brazil favored, but not as heavily as we did.) So, like the 23 Brazilians on the pitch and the 200 million watching at home, we were sweating the outcome when Brazil went to a penalty shootout with Chile on Saturday.We were curious about the Brazilians’ chances of winning at various points in the shootout. How safe were they after Brazil’s David Luiz made his first penalty and Chile’s Mauricio Pinilla missed his? How close did things get after the shootout was tied at 2-2, and how bad would it have been if Neymar had then missed for Brazil?What follows is a series of charts to provide some reasonable estimates of these probabilities. We’ll start with the case in which both teams are assumed to be equally likely to convert penalty kicks, and then explore alternatives where one team (perhaps like Brazil against Chile) might be thought to have a marginal edge.There’s a cottage industry around predicting the outcome of penalty kicks. Some theories are worth exploring. There’s some evidence, for example, that whichever team shoots first has a slight advantage. Others are probably more dubious and may rely on overinterpreting evidence from small sample sizes (see Phil Birnbaum’s cautionary note for more on this).Our goal is not to litigate those theories. Instead, we make some simple assumptions: that the outcome of one penalty kick is independent from the next one, and that a team’s chances of making a penalty is consistent with long-run averages.In the history of the World Cup, teams have made 71.5 percent of their penalty-shootout kicks. But the sample size is not huge, and the percentage has been slightly higher — closer to 75 percent — in other major international tournaments like the European Championships. So we fudge just a pinch upward and assume that the long-run rate of made penalties in the World Cup is 72.5 percent.It’s important to clarify that this percentage pertains to penalty kicks attempted during shootouts. The success rate is higher — in the range of 75 to 80 percent — for penalties attempted after a foul is called in the box in regulation play. But those cases are a little different. A team will usually designate its best penalty taker to make the one attempt instead of having to rotate through at least five players as in a shootout. (If Neymar or Lionel Messi got to make every attempt, the success rate in shootouts would rise.) Furthermore, the rebound is live in penalties attempted during regulation play; rebounds are not live during a shootout. (Even if goals scored on the rebound are not counted as penalty-kick conversions, the possibility of a rebound may affect the strategy of the kick taker and the goalkeeper.) Finally, players may be under more pressure during a shootout, and they’ll have the opportunity to alter their behavior after observing their teammates’ kicks.So to repeat: Our initial assumption is simply that each penalty kick has a 72.5 percent chance of being made. From there, calculating the probability of a team winning the shootout is fairly straightforward given any condition of the game (for instance, a team being ahead 2-1 after each team has attempted three penalties). The technique we’re applying is technically known as a Markov chain, but that makes it sound more elaborate than it is.Time for the first chart. This assumes two-evenly matched teams, which we’ll call Team A and Team B. Team A shoots first.You can follow the action by moving down one row after every penalty-kick attempt. Whenever Team A makes a penalty, move down and to the left. Whenever Team B does, move down and to the right. When there’s a miss, move straight down (don’t alter your horizontal direction). A cell tinged in blue means that Team A is favored to win the shootout, and one tinged in red means that Team B is favored instead.As an example, we’ll take the shootout in the 1994 World Cup final between Italy (the Azzurri shot first, so they are Team A, in blue) and Brazil (Team B, in red). The teams were about evenly matched, so we’ll assume that the probability was 50-50 going in. Here’s what happened next: Italy’s first kick. An errant attempt by Franco Baresi, which sails over the crossbar. Move due south on the chart. Brazil — Team B, in red — is now a 70 percent favorite.Brazil’s first kick. But Brazil’s Márcio Santos misses, too! Terrific anticipation by Italian goalkeeper Gianluca Pagliuca. Move straight down again: we’re back to 50-50.Italy’s second kick. Italy’s Demetrio Albertini makes his penalty. Move down and to the left. Italy, up 1-0, is a 58 percent favorite.Brazil’s second kick. Romário notches a kick off the left crossbar. Move down and right. We’re tied 1-1, and the probabilities are at 50-50 again.Italy’s third kick. Brazil goalkeeper Claudio Taffarel guesses the right direction — but is much too late to stop Italy’s Alberigo Evani. Move down and to the left. Italy is ahead 2-1 and has a 59 percent chance of winning.Brazil’s third kick. Brazil’s Branco equalizes. Down and to the right. Back to 50-50.Italy’s fourth kick. This was the pivotal penalty — it affected the odds more than any other kick (including Roberto Baggio’s infamous miss later on). Taffarel anticipates Daniele Massaro’s kick and makes one of the easier-looking saves you’ll see in a shootout. Move straight down. Although the score is tied 2-2, Brazil has an attempt in hand and is a 79 percent favorite to win.Brazil’s fourth kick. Dunga’s penalty is low and to the middle — and by Baresi. Brazil up 3-2. Look down and right on the chart: The team’s now 90 percent to win the shootout.Italy’s fifth kick. Italian star Baggio gets far too much on his attempt and it goes well over the crossbar. The Brazilian reserves rush the pitch to celebrate their World Cup championship. Presumably, you’re either celebrating too or throwing things at the television screen — either way, hope you saved that bottle of grappa. But, if you insist, move straight down the chart. You’ll encounter a solid block B — in this case, representing Brazil. This is an end condition: The penalty shootout is over, and Brazil has won.Here’s the chart with the Italy-Brazil results filled in:Sometimes the shootout can persist for more than five kicks per team. For example, one shootout in the 2006 Africa Cup of Nations featured 23 consecutive made penalties before Cameroon’s Samuel Eto’o finally missed to hand Ivory Coast advancement. When this occurs, follow the loop in the chart. The situation when teams are tied after five kicks is mathematically identical to the one when they’re tied after six kicks, 12 kicks, 20 kicks or any other number.On other occasions, there may be reason to think that one team starts the shootout with an advantage. Maybe it has a better goalkeeper, or its opponent is England, or you buy the theory that the team that shoots first has an edge. There’s also some evidence that the better team based on overall measures of team quality (such as Elo ratings or the Soccer Power Index) may have some minor advantage in the shootout. Shootouts are mostly random but not entirely so.Take the case in which Team A shoots first and is the better penalty-shooting team, converting 75 percent of its penalty kicks — while Team B makes 70 percent. Team A will win the shootout about 58 percent of the time. This resembles the shootout between Brazil and Chile on Saturday: Live betting odds, before the first penalty was attempted, put Brazil’s chance of winning in the range of 55 to 60 percent. Here is the chart for that occasion:We won’t give you a complete walkthrough, but Brazil’s odds rose to 83 percent after Luiz’s make and Pinilla’s miss — and then further, to 91 percent, after Marcelo put Brazil ahead 2-0. But consecutive makes by Chile and a miss by Hulk brought Brazil’s odds down to 56 percent. Neymar made Brazil’s fifth penalty, and the team’s odds recovered to 69 percent — and Brazil won when Chile’s Gonzalo Jara hit the post. Had Neymar missed instead, Chile would have been the 83 percent favorite.Finally, here’s the case where the side that shoots second — Team B — has a slight edge and makes 75 percent of its penalties to Team A’s 70 percent.Note that Team B’s advantage amounts to the equivalent of about half a kick. If Team A makes its first penalty, and Team B still has an attempt in hand, the odds go to about 50-50. But if Team A misses, Team B’s odds rise to 77 percent despite not having yet made an attempt.
In the third minute of added extra time in Tuesday’s Belgium-U.S. World Cup match, Belgium’s Kevin De Bruyne took a pass in the box, dribbled to his right and hooked the ball into the left side of the net. Finally, after 31 shots, the Belgians had broken through. Or … wait. Was it 32 shots?It depends on which Twitter account you follow. ESPN’s Stats & Information Group tweeted that Belgium had scored on its 31st shot of the day. OptaJoe, the U.K. Twitter account of the soccer stats company Opta, said it was the 32nd.At the World Cup, shots are in the eye of the beholder. At least three major soccer stats companies are logging every match, and they have yet to all agree on each team’s number of shots and shots on goal. For every one of the 58 games so far, the companies can’t quite get their stories straight. Sometimes their counts have differed by as much as two or three.Even small discrepancies like these have repercussions beyond mere trivia. Advanced analyses of the sport, such as my colleague Benjamin Morris’s magnum opus on Lionel Messi this week, rely on match loggers for shot counts and characteristics. Some teams base tactics and personnel decisions partly on stats. And the disputes are proxy battles for soccer’s more philosophical debates: If a shot is deflected in a forest of defenders, was it on target?According to World Cup organizer FIFA, it was; but according to Opta and Prozone, two of the companies that employ analysts to log every match of the tournament and provide data for media coverage, it wasn’t. That disagreement is responsible for the bulk of the numbers mismatch. Through the round of 16, FIFA’s official match stats — which are being collected by the Italian company Deltatre — included 68 percent more shots on target than Prozone’s, and 74 percent more than Opta’s.1I used Opta data compiled by TruMedia Networks, which provides stats for ESPN. Prozone emailed me their match reports and other data, which — along with match statistics posted on FIFA.com — allowed me to compile shots and shots on goal for every match so far during the World Cup. Remove blocked shots, though, and the discrepancies drop to 4 percent and 8 percent, respectively.And what about a ball crossed in the box near the goalie — does it count as a shot or a cross? In the 120th minute of the Belgium-U.S. match, DeAndre Yedlin kicked the ball well wide of goal as the U.S. hunted desperately for an equalizer. Was he trying to score, or just to cross the ball? FIFA thinks the latter, but Opta thinks the former. Short of interviewing every player immediately after every subjective touch, the statkeepers are left to guess at the intent, divining purpose in actions that may have been performed instinctively, rather than with premeditation.With 58 of the tournament’s 64 matches in the books through Friday, there have been 116 opportunities to compare the three data providers on a team’s shooting profile in a match. There have been just 14 times, or fewer than one out of eight, that all three organizations counted the same number of shots and shots on goal for a team in a match — and none for both teams in the same match.The counts appear to reflect genuine disagreement over tricky cases — touches that look like passes to some but shots to others, say. Or, a shot that hits the post or crossbar and goes out. Typically these don’t qualify as shots on target, but they can if they are deflected onto the woodwork by the goalkeeper, who then gets credit for a save. If they are blocked onto the woodwork by a player other than the goalkeeper, that’s a block. The stats, then, pivot on an arbitrary criterion: Was the player who deflected the ball a goalkeeper or did he happen to play another position?My analysis showed that, overall, the companies weren’t consistently stingy or generous in their statkeeping. No provider consistently tallied many more shots or shots on goals than another. The major philosophical divide was over (unblocked) shots on goal: Deltatre sees more than Prozone, which sees more than Opta. But that amounted to only about one additional shot on target counted in every three matches.The disputes have touched every team, to similar degrees, but teams with less active offenses tend to have higher differences among statkeepers because one uncounted shot matters more in their overall percentages. These include the U.S., England and Cameroon. Analysts attempting to study whether Cameroon threw its matches, as Der Spiegel has reported, might get subtly different results depending on which set of stats they consult. So might England manager Roy Hodgson and U.S. manager Jurgen Klinsmann as they assess how to improve their teams.Discrepancies between data providers don’t stop at shot counts. Most soccer events are subjective. Someone must decide, was that a tackle? Was that shot weak? Was that attack a dangerous one? Possession stats also differ by provider, as Slate noted last week.Shooting stats have particular relevance for one form of analysis that tries to divine a team’s true skill by gauging whether or not they’re getting lucky. It’s a technique that’s based on the theory that generating chances is the part that teams can control — converting them is based more on luck (unless you’re named Lionel Messi). Teams that convert and save a high percentage of their chances are due for a regression in their results. Change the underlying data, and any conclusions about which teams are good and which are just lucky could shift.When I spoke with Garth Lagerwey, general manager of Major League Soccer’s Real Salt Lake, in a telephone interview last week, he said data discrepancies are a prevalent problem in soccer stats at all levels, not just a World Cup anomaly. When I contacted the companies, they declined to comment or didn’t respond to a question about why their numbers differ. In other contexts, they tout the training they provide to match analysts; the consistent guidelines they enforce across analysts, competitions and time; and the oversight of experienced checkers. Some shots just might not look like shots to everyone.Other sports’ stats also require subjective judgment: errors in baseball; assists in basketball. But in baseball and basketball, the official scorer’s decision is what goes into the record book and, generally, what fuels advanced statistical analysis. In soccer, with different leagues and competitions worldwide at varying levels of stats sophistication, third parties with standardized methods report alternative numbers to the official ones. Opta and Prozone are scoring every match alongside the official scorers and releasing their numbers in real time to media organizations — hence the potential for conflicting tweets like those about Tuesday’s Belgium-U.S. match.2ESPN Stats & Info typically uses FIFA for shot counts, and Opta stats — via TruMedia — for everything else.“Shots should not be that subjective, let alone shots on goal,” Lagerwey said. On the other hand, “A lot of companies use human beings to code this stuff. It’s easy to understand how you’re going to have an error rate.”
Ohio State football’s sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller was named Big Ten offensive player of the week on Monday, and also received praise from OSU coach Urban Meyer about his play through the first three weeks of the season.While the Buckeyes’ first-year coach has been among the many praising Miller, he is not yet ready to advertise his quarterback as a contender to win the 2012 Heisman Trophy.“I will not say he’s not (a candidate to win the Heisman),” Meyer said. “I don’t believe he is now. He’s not playing well enough yet.”Meyer, though, was full of praise regarding Miller.“I have a lot of confidence in Braxton,” Meyer said. “He’s our best player right now on offense.”Miller led the Buckeyes to a 35-28 victory over California on Saturday, completing 16-of-30 passes for 249 yards and four touchdowns, while also rushing for 75 yards and another score. Miller’s plays in that game included a 55-yard touchdown run in the first quarter, and a game-winning, 72-yard touchdown pass to sophomore wide receiver Devin Smith with 3:26 left to play in the game.Miller’s recognition announced Monday marks the first time that the sophomore has earned an offensive player of the week award, but he was last year’s Big Ten Thompson-Randle El Freshman of the Year.Miller has led the Buckeyes to victories in each of the team’s first three games, and has accounted for 988 yards of total offense, which ranks ninth in the NCAA’s Football Bowl Subdivision. With 377 rushing yards, he ranks fifth nationally among all players in rushing yardage, and first among all quarterbacks.OSU offensive coordinator Tom Herman said opposing defenses have been making adjustments to account for Miller’s ability to run the ball.“I’ve seen defenses in the last three weeks that I’ve never even dreamt of in my mind to try to stop the QB from running the football,” Herman said. “Teams now are trying to get eight, nine guys in the box to be sound against him pulling the ball and running, so the variety of coverage that we see on first- and second-down is absolutely mind-boggling.”For the overall year, Miller has completed 61.5 percent of his passes for 611 yards, with seven touchdown throws and two interceptions.Herman said he has been pleased with his quarterback’s development this season.“In terms of progress, I think he’s seeing the field better, I think he communicates with me on the sideline better than maybe I had expected,” Herman said. “He’s come a long ways.”While Herman described Miller’s mental progress as a quarterback, he said there has “never been an issue with (Miller’s) upper-body mechanics.”“The ball comes out very smoothly, he’s got a quick release, he’s got a strong arm,” Herman said of Miller.Lower-body mechanics, however, remain a concern for Herman.Herman said that to improve in that area, it comes down to “tying that into his feet and making sure that his hips and his feet are aligned properly to the throw, on time, when that throw needs to be made.”OSU coaches and Big Ten voters are not the only ones praising Miller after his strong start through three games this season. Following their loss on Saturday, California’s coach and players also gave credit to Miller’s play.“Braxton is a hard guy to contain because he is so big and physical,” said California coach Jeff Tedford. “For most of the day he made great decisions and threw some great passes. When he threw that long ball down the left side of the field, it was a perfect pass. He is fast, accurate and a great athlete.”California senior cornerback Marc Anthony felt similarly.“Braxton is one of the best in the game and he came through for his team,” Anthony said. “All of our eyes were on Braxton. We wanted other players to make something happen for them.”
Redshirt senior goalie Tom Carey attempts a save against Johns Hopkins on April 9 at Ohio Stadium. Ohio State defeated Johns Hopkins 13-8. Credit: Courtesy of OSUThe No. 9 Ohio State men’s lacrosse team has faced several elite scorers this season — a trend will continue Saturday morning in Ann Arbor, Michigan.The Buckeyes will look to continue their hot streak on defense when they take on the Michigan Wolverines. While the Wolverines have struggled recently, they still possess an offensive unit capable of giving the Buckeye defense some concerns. The focal point of the concerns will be the prolific scorer, sophomore attacker Brent Noseworthy.Noseworthy has been terrorizing opposing defenses this season with a team-high 33 goals through 11 games. He is averaging three goals per game, ranking him sixth in the NCAA. Similar to the effect OSU freshman attacker Tre LeClaire has on the Buckeyes, Noseworthy brings that go-to goal scorer presence around the cage in the offensive zone.OSU has handled matchups with elite scorers successfully and contained them. Their strategy against No. 7 Penn State’s freshman attacker Mac O’Keefe limited him to just one goal. On the season, O’Keefe had been averaging 3.45 goals per game, good for second in the NCAA. While he tallied nine shots in the game, they limited his chances at getting high-quality shots.This success helps create a mantra players like junior defenseman Erik Evans love to embrace when facing challenges like this.“It’s why you come to a school like Ohio State, it’s to play the best competition possible,” he said. “When you see a guy who’s been having a great year it’s great for him, but it also gets you pumped up to shut him down.”The Buckeye’ defense has derived confidence in itself from its play on the field as it has allowed just 7.5 goals per game, the fourth lowest in the NCAA. The players credit the defensive approach to trusting their teammates and executing their roles.“We’re a good group and we have talent all around which helps take a lot of the pressure off of an individual,” Evans said. “I trust Matt Borges and Ben Randall to win their matchups. It allows me to focus more on my guy knowing I have guys behind me that I can trust to take care of their business.”While there will be considerable focus on Noseworthy, the Buckeyes will have to be cautious not to forget that he has a strong supporting cast. Senior attacker Ian King provides another weapon that OSU will not be able to overlook. With 21 goals and 19 assists on the season, King might have opportunities at the net if the Buckeyes put too much focus on Noseworthy.On the other hand, the Buckeyes are conscious to the fact that the entire Wolverine offense can strike at any time.“We just have to stay within ourselves,” said OSU sophomore defenseman Matt Borges. “It’s about playing our game and playing good off-ball defense. It’s really just focusing on our game and playing as a unit of seven.”Borges added that the defense must always stay aware of Noseworthy if Evans needs to leave his coverage to help another defender.OSU will battle the Wolverines at Michigan Stadium prior to the football team’s spring game at 10:30 a.m. It will be the first morning game of the season for the Buckeyes.