The Houston Astros currently sit on top of the American League West with a 2.5 game lead over the Los Angeles Angels, a team paying Albert Pujols, C.J. Wilson, Jered Weaver, and the rest of the squad a combined $146.4 million. The Astros, meanwhile, will spend less than half that figure on players in 2015. Their total payroll comes in just north of $69 million, 29th out of 30 MLB teams and a remarkable $158 million less than the Los Angeles Dodgers are spending to field a team this year.The success of the Astros and the (comparatively) minuscule payrolls of other plucky small-budget teams is often cited by people trying to advance an egalitarian narrative: that the amount a team spends does not matter. In recent years, Time called the Royals the future of baseball. The New York Times went with Smaller Markets and Smarter Thinking. Baseball America wrote an article asserting, “if you look at competitive balance as the opportunity for teams to make the playoffs and legitimate runs at titles, baseball is truly in a golden era.” Sports Illustrated argued that the average payrolls of playoff teams show that money isn’t the factor it used to be and the Providence Journal offered, “money can’t buy success.” Andrew McCutchen, 2013 National League MVP, is the poster boy for what small-budget teams can accomplish, saying, “Payroll doesn’t mean everything. If that was the case, the Yankees would win every year.”That’s all heart-warming, but evidence suggests that the relationship between money and winning is as strong now as it’s been any time in the free-agency era. Check out the figure below, which shows the relationship between spending and win percentage during each of the three 10-year spans since 1985.1Salary and win percentage were standardized within each season to account for the league’s financial growth and changes in league competitiveness. Data collected from baseball-reference.com. Each team season is one dot in the figure, and the red line reflects a smoothed curve fit through the points. The smoothed curves represent the general relationship between spending and performance for each team season in each decade; aggregating all the decade’s data points shows a pattern: More money generally means more wins.The line gets steeper going from left to right, implying that in recent seasons, jumps in salary have been associated with larger gains in win percentage. Altogether, none of the 20 teams with the highest relative salaries since 1985 have finished below .500. GRAPHIC: Using data from the last 30 years, we created win-pay curves for every team in Major League Baseball. Click here to see how well your favorite team spent its money.J.C. Bradbury, an economics professor at Kennesaw State University, found that winning more increases revenue exponentially. “Going from 85 wins to 90 is worth more than 80 wins to 85,” he says. As a result, while it might cost more per win for a team that wins 90 games than 85, it makes financial sense because the revenue reward will be higher as well. This leads to a self-perpetuating cycle. Additionally, fans of teams that win frequently expect them to continue winning, and management pays more to do so. For a team like the New York Yankees, paying 10 percent more than anyone else for a second baseman who is only 5 percent better than his closest peer is worth the money (and they can afford it).But though the current narrative revolves around small-budget success stories as an argument against the importance of salaries, baseball has always had small-budget overachievers. “Just because you don’t spend money doesn’t mean you can’t win,” Bradbury says. As long as there has been baseball, there have been teams with low payrolls that have exceeded expectations in the win column.Perhaps one reason for the renewed focus on the success of small-budget teams is the importance of playoff success versus the regular season. Postseasons in American sports offer a smaller sample size than, say, soccer’s English Premier League, where the winner is determined by 38 games. In baseball, the better team (the one with the higher payroll) is less likely to prevail over the course of a short playoff series than they would be over an entire season. That, combined with the expansion of the playoffs, means it’s easier for a small-budget team to reach the World Series, as the Kansas City Royals did in 2014, losing to the San Francisco Giants in Game 7. Winning a playoff series can come down to a few factors — a couple of good pitchers and luck — that are less important during the regular season. “The formula seems to be: limp through regular season, get into playoffs, then win,” said Rodney Fort, professor of sport management in the School of Kinesiology at the University of Michigan.Fort, however, also thinks that the case for the relationship between payroll and wins is overstated. “When have we ever been satisfied that a simple relationship between one variable and another variable tells the whole story of the determination of winning?” he says. “What you really need to do is stop and think about what are all the other things: nothing about coaches, nothing about front office/GM acumen.” In Fort’s view, equating payroll and wins leaves out too many other variables.He has a point, as the relationship between salary and winning can be drastically different among different franchises. Some teams don’t get results when they spend more — the New York Mets frowny face is almost too perfect given their fortunes.For a few small-budget teams such as the Cleveland Indians and the Royals, though, there’s a strong relationship between spending and winning.As you can see in the chart of every team’s win-pay curves, spending usually helps, but incompetent spending gets a team nowhere. It’s a waste.Click here to see every team’s win-pay curves.
A 13-year-old in Illinois. A 47-year-old English woman. A 70-year-old Vegas oddsmaker. At first blush, there isn’t much linking them. But last year, all three were among the most successful March Madness prognosticators. That’s where the similarities end.With methods ranging from gut instinct to computational learning theory, these three characters demonstrate just how wide and varied the spectrum of strategies can be. But which strategy will you employ for your own bracket? Watch this video collaboration between FiveThirtyEight and Fictionless and decide for yourself.
Photo by The Associated Press.Robert Griffin III, who was fined by the Nike-sponsored NFL last season for wearing Adidas during a post-game press conference, was pinched for $10,000 by the league for wearing unauthorized apparel before Monday night’s preseason game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, a league official confirmed Thursday.A T-shirt bearing the words “Operation Patience” on it, worn before the game in which he did not play, did not conform with the NFL’s uniform rules – thus the fine, however petty.Griffin, coming off a torn ACL, practiced with and against the first team Wednesday–his first full practice since last season. Griffin took 49 snaps against the scout team defense last week.“I’m getting the team reps, and that’s what I wanted, and that’s what the team needed me to be out there doing,” said Griffin, who has yet to play in the preseason and remains in question for the team’s regular-season opener. “I feel good. I am confident coach (Mike Shanahan) easing me in has helped, and giving me the extra reps has helped now. My eyes are set on Philly.”After an examination before the Redskins played Pittsburgh, Griffin said Dr. James Andrews told him that his leg looked strong and his movement was good. Andrews’ message: Stay the course.
After Missouri’s Michael Sam revealed he is the first openly gay NFL prospect, NFL Nation and ESPN The Magazine combined to conduct an anonymous survey last week that indicated most players would have few objections to a gay teammate.Fifty-one players, almost an entire team roster, responded to four true-false questions. Although the survey showed that most players aren’t concerned with another’s sexual orientation, it also made clear the concerns that players would have with learning how to relate to an openly gay teammate.Forty-four players said a teammate’s sexual orientation didn’t matter to them, and 39 said they would be comfortable showering around a gay teammate. But 32 players said they had teammates or coaches who used homophobic slurs last season, and when asked whether an openly gay player would be comfortable in an NFL locker room, just 25 players said yes; 21 said no; while five declined to answer.One concern for players appeared to be learning how they could relate to a teammate they knew was gay, and whether they would need to behave any differently around him.According to one starting receiver, “Whoever takes [Sam in the draft] should have an open talk at the beginning of camp, where everybody can ask what he’s comfortable with, what offends him, what boundaries there should be. When it comes to race, people already know the boundaries, to a certain extent. But I don’t think football players are overly familiar with what can and can’t be said around a gay person.”Sam, who announced he is homosexual on Feb. 9, said his Missouri teammates rallied around him last season after he revealed his sexual orientation to them.“I’m telling you what: I wouldn’t have the strength to do this today if I didn’t know how much support they’d given me this past semester,” he said in the interview on ESPN.But one NFL starting tight end, who believes Sam will encounter some difficulties in the league, said: “There is a little more of a family environment in college. It was more like having brothers. In the NFL, you have friends, but it’s a more work-oriented environment. I hope guys can be professional and respect who he is and leave his personal life out of it.”Sam, who was co-SEC defensive player of the year last season, is expected to be drafted between the third and fifth rounds in May. He had 11.5 sacks and 19 tackles for loss in 2013, leading the SEC in both categories.
Serena Williams called comments by Russian Tennis Federation President Shamil Tarpischev “sexist and racist” when he referred to the No. 1 women’s player in the world and her older sister Venus as “brothers.”Williams was aghast when she learned Tarpischev, on a Russian talk show with former Olympic singles champion Elena Dementieva, interjected on a question about playing against the Williams sisters to say, “The Williams brothers … It’s scary when you really look at them.”The Women’s Tennis Association is seeking to have Tarpischev suspended for a year. He was fined $25,000.“I think the WTA did a great job of taking [the] initiative and taking immediate action to his comments,” Williams said. “I thought they were very insensitive and extremely sexist as well as racist at the same time. I thought they were in a way bullying.”Asked whether he regretted his comments, Tarpischev told The Associated Press on Saturday at the Kremlin Cup that the program on which he spoke was “a humorous show.” When asked about his ban, Tarpischev said: “I can’t comment. I don’t understand it.”In a statement released later by the Russian Tennis Federation, Tarpischev denied any “malicious intent” and said his quotes had been taken out of context.Tarpischev has been chairman of the Kremlin Cup, Russia’s only WTA event, for all of its 18 years as a women’s tour event, and is also a member of the International Olympic Committee. During the 1990s, he was the personal tennis coach to Russian president Boris Yeltsin and served as his adviser on sports matters.Russian tennis player Maria Sharapova, also in Singapore for the WTA Finals, said of Tarpischev’s comments: “I think they were very disrespectful and uncalled for, and I’m glad that many people have stood up, including the WTA. It was very inappropriate, especially in his position and all the responsibilities that he has not just in sport, but being part of the Olympic committee.”
For several years, NFL higher-ups have been a bit sour on the extra point. It slows down the game; kickers make them so often that they’re not really exciting, or even tense; and even if one is missed, it’s less “OMG, did you see that?” and more “WTF, kickers are terrible!”In preseason games, the NFL has experimented with narrowing the goal posts and/or moving back the spot of the kick on attempts. It is rumored to be considering eliminating the extra-point option entirely.That’s one way to encourage two-point conversions. But it’s not as exciting as the idea that the Indianapolis Colts are offering. This week, the Colts caused some buzz by making a crazy-sounding suggestion to the NFL’s competition committee: If a team converted its two-point attempt, it would get a shot at an additional point by attempting a 50-yard field goal.Considering that kickers now make 50-yard attempts about two-thirds of the time, this essentially means that successful two-point tries would be worth 2.66 points. That would clearly affect coaches’ strategy after a touchdown — or at least it should. Currently, a team needs to be able to convert a two-point attempt 50 percent of the time to make it a better option (barring tactical reasons) than an extra point. But in the Colts’ extra-extra-point scenario, a team would only have to convert its two-point attempt from scrimmage about 38 percent of the time.In 2014, teams made 48 percent of their attempts, which is just about in line with how they’ve done for the past decade. So under the proposed change, going for two would probably be right in most circumstances. (That’s a small sample size, though. It’s unclear exactly how good teams really are at converting two-point attempts because they are taken so rarely and teams don’t take them with equal frequency.)Even if the Colts’ rule came to be — and that’s a very unlikely prospect — the coaches wouldn’t necessarily catch on even though the math would be in their favor. Many coaches still kick field goals on fourth and goal from the 1, and that is generally a much worse mistake.But suppose for a second that the strategy did catch on. It would likely have a big ripple effect. Having a kicker who can convert from 50 yards consistently would become a lot more valuable. Also, knowing that teams could come back from nine points down on a single possession might make coaches play more aggressively in a number of different situations.The competition committee has already rejected the idea, meaning that it’s unlikely to be adopted any time soon. (It will still be offered up to the owners next week, but without the committee’s endorsement.) But that leaves room for my alternative: How about any time that a team converts a 2-pointer, it can either take the two points or take one point and try again? Then no lead would be safe.
LeBron James’s Cleveland Cavaliers might be trailing the Golden State Warriors 3-2 in the NBA Finals. The Cavs might, as their Vegas odds suggest, have a mere 12 percent chance of winning the NBA championship. But according to just about every statistical measurement available, the self-proclaimed “best player in the world” is having a series for the ages.Build a bare-bones performance metric that simply adds a player’s points, rebounds and assists and then divides by the number of games the team played,1Using team games penalizes players who missed games — you can’t add value if you don’t play. and James’s 2015 finals ranks as the best of the past 30 years.Get more complex — using, say, a points above replacement (PAR) estimator based on the single-game version of Daniel Myers’s Box Plus/Minus2Which takes into account the location and strength of opponent for each game. — and James ranks sixth among all NBA Finals participants since 1985.3Despite not ranking in the top 25 in our bare-bones metric (and so not making the chart above), Magic Johnson’s 1988 finals performance places second in PAR per team game.So at either pole of the complexity spectrum, James has been the top player of these finals. (Neil Greenberg of the Washington Post and ESPN Insider’s Kevin Pelton came to similar conclusions using a few more metrics of varying intricacy.) And from a historical perspective, output of this level usually leads to winning the NBA Finals and the NBA Finals MVP: Every player near James’s combined total of points, rebounds and assists ended up garnering MVP honors.In a vacuum, then, James’s performance has been so historically strong that it would be a shame for him not to win the award.But on the other hand, if the Warriors win the series and the MVP goes to James, it will be the first time that a member of the losing team has received the honor since 1969, when Jerry West of the Los Angeles Lakers won in spite of the Boston Celtics’ championship. And, as Pelton notes, the culture of denying MVP honors to a nonchampion has grown in the intervening years, across all sports.In the NBA alone, nine players since 1985 have been the best player in their series by PAR through five games yet failed to win the MVP after their teams lost. (To a certain extent, this also speaks to what can happen between Games 5 and 7 of a series between closely matched teams.) In 2011, Dwyane Wade — then James’s teammate on the Miami Heat — outplayed Dirk Nowitzki to a greater extent than James has outplayed presumptive Warriors MVP candidate Stephen Curry4Andre Iguodala actually leads Golden State in PAR during the series. thus far yet still lost the award to the Dallas Mavericks star. So as great as James has been, it might not be enough to justify the award if Cleveland loses the series.There’s one more angle to think about, though, when it comes to James’s 2015 finals performance. It may be that all our stats and metrics simply break down when forced to consider the unparalleled burden that James has been forced to carry on this undermanned, undertalented Cavaliers squad. James’s 41.1 percent usage rate in this series is the largest of any finalist since 1985, breaking Michael Jordan’s mark of 39.6 percent for the Chicago Bulls against the Phoenix Suns in 1993. James is also logging an incredible 45.6 minutes per game, the eighth-most of any qualified5Minimum 140 minutes played in the series. finalist since 1985.As Tom Haberstroh wrote over the weekend, James’s physical workload during these finals has been termed “unfathomable” (among other things) by sports science experts. At the limits of human endurance and on-court influence — through his shooting and passing, James was involved in 70 of Cleveland’s 91 points in Game 5 — there may be no numbers that can do justice to how irreplaceable James has been for the Cavaliers in this series.They don’t necessarily give out awards for being completely and utterly essential to your team, of course. And, as always, “value” is in the eye of the beholder. But whether the Cavs win or lose, it’s not hard to imagine this series going down as a testament to James’s singular talent, stamina and durability. And if that doesn’t constitute “value,” I’m not sure what does.
INDIANAPOLIS — The Ohio State men’s basketball team appears to be collecting championships. There’s only one left, and it’s the most elusive of them all. It’s so elusive, only one OSU men’s basketball team has won the NCAA Championship before: the 1960 team, led by coach Fred Taylor and the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, Jerry Lucas. This year’s version enters the tournament as the No. 1 overall seed. It will go on to face the winner of a play-in game between Texas-San Antonio and Alabama State on Friday in Cleveland. Lucas said he believes this team has a shot at being the second OSU team to win an NCAA Championship. “I think they have a good shot at winning,” Lucas told The Lantern. “They’re strong inside; they have good shooters; they handle the ball well and have a good perimeter game. They’re strong in every facet of the game.” Lucas warned that the road to the finals isn’t an easy one. “They’ll be ready, but what is it, six games they’re going to have to win? It’s going to be tough. If they’re not shooting well and some other team gets hot it could cause them problems,” Lucas said. “But they have all the weapons they need.” Lucas wasn’t the only alumnus who said he has faith in this squad. J.J. Sullinger, another former Buckeye basketball player and older brother of freshman forward Jared Sullinger, also weighed in on this team’s chances. “We have so many weapons. People talk all the time about how we don’t have any depth. We absolutely have depth,” J.J. said. “We have confidence in every Buckeye that goes into the game. If we play defense and rebound well, nobody’s going to beat us.” J.J. had some advice for the younger guys, including Jared and freshman forward Deshaun Thomas, who have never played in the NCAA Tournament before. “It’s back to the drawing board. It’s a new season and a different kind of commitment,” J.J. said. “It’s win or go home. They’re celebrating right now, but once you step out of the shower it’s a brand new season.” For their part, even the young Buckeyes seem to understand what’s at stake, including being the No. 1 overall seed. “It’s something special,” Sullinger said. “At the same time we still have a lot of work to do so it doesn’t stop here. … You just have to take it one game at a time and focus on your opponent.” Coach Thad Matta said he considered it an honor given the parity in college basketball. “You look across the country at all the great teams, and I give our guys a lot of credit,” coach Thad Matta said. “They’ve come ready to play for 34 games, and probably the hardest thing I think we’ve found this year was the effort that the teams give to beat you each night.” In the locker room after the game, junior guard William Buford, like Matta, acknowledged that this team would have a bull’s-eye as the No. 1 overall seed. He also said it wouldn’t bother them. “It’s no pressure for us,” Buford said. “We’re just going to go out and play how we know how to play, and play Ohio State basketball.” The last time the Buckeyes earned a No. 1 seed was in 2007, when they advanced all the way to the finals before loosing to the eventual champion Florida Gators. Buford admitted his team has some weaknesses. “Our defense, we take too many possessions off on defense. I think we need to get our offensive execution together too,” Buford said. “We’re getting good shots; we just weren’t knocking them down (this weekend).” After the Big Ten Tournament was over, and everything was said and done, senior guard Jon Diebler put everything into perspective. “We’re happy we accomplished this,” Diebler said. “We’re going to enjoy it tonight and get right back to work.”
The Columbus Blue Jackets are again at the center of controversy, but this time it has nothing to do with an upset fan base. In Wednesday’s game against the Los Angeles Kings, with the score tied, 2-2, Blue Jackets center Samuel Påhlsson was sent to the penalty box for holding at 18:54 of the third period. As the game clock wound down it appeared the game would head into overtime. But with less than a second left, Kings’ defenseman Drew Doughty put a rebound past Blue Jackets goaltender Curtis Sanford just as time expired. The officiating crew reviewed the goal to confirm that it had been scored before time expired. The ruling on the ice that the play had resulted in a goal stood, and Doughty was credited with a game-winning power-play goal at 19:59 of the third period. The controversy did not arise until after the game when the Blue Jackets reviewed the goal for themselves. Members of the Blue Jackets staff noticed a malfunction with the game clock. According to the Blue Jackets, with 1.8 seconds left, the game clock appeared to freeze for a full second. Representatives from the Blue Jackets said they felt time should have expired before Doughty scored and the game should have gone in to overtime. Blue Jackets spokesman Todd Sharrock said the organization is “disappointed with what happened.” Sharrock said the Blue Jackets have brought the matter to the attention of National Hockey League officials. Blue Jackets general manager Scott Howson opined on the matter via his blog on the team’s website. “The official results of the NHL games played last night show that the Columbus Blue Jackets lost to the Los Angeles Kings 3-2 in regulation time in Los Angeles,” Howson said in his post. “However, this was an unjust result. In reality, this game should have gone to overtime, and we will never know what the true result of the game should have been.” The NHL acknowledged that they are looking in to the incident. “The league has begun a thorough review in to the matter,” said John Dellapina, NHL spokesman. Members of the Los Angeles Kings organization did not immediately respond to The Lantern’s request for comment. The loss is the Blue Jackets’ sixth in a row, and leaves the team with 32 points through 51 games. The Blue Jackets currently reside in last place in the NHL, and fifth place in the Central Division of the Western Conference. This incident is just one of many storylines in the past week for the organization. On Jan.28, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman announced in his annual All-Star address that the Blue Jackets organization was chosen as the host for the 2013 NHL All-Star Celebration. Later that day, fans gathered outside of Nationwide Arena to protest Blue Jackets’ management. Multiple reports have confirmed that Blue Jackets’ center Jeff Carter, acquired from the Philadelphia Flyers during the offseason, is on the trading block among rumors of his unhappiness with the organization.
Regardless of what inspired John Simon’s postgame outpouring, the typically stoic, tight-lipped senior captain and defensive lineman said he still has no idea where it came from. “I can’t tell you I’m planning speeches before the game or anything like that,” he said. “It came out and, you know, I just wanted to tell them how I felt.” Perhaps thanks to Simon’s rallying cry, a reason to battle through a season with almost nothing tangible to play for might have never been more apparent. The question, which has almost become rhetorical, of “what is this team playing for” finally might have been answered, but not because of anything that happened on the field that day. After surviving California, 35-28, first-year coach Urban Meyer said Simon “opened his soul” for everyone else to see. Simon, Meyer said, was close to not suiting up against the Golden Bears. “He had a sore shoulder. They kept telling me all week, it should be fine, it should be fine; it just didn’t heal as fast as we hoped,” he said. But Simon did play, and to the tune of one tackle and one sack. After junior safety Christian Bryant’s late interception helped the Buckeyes (3-0) squeak by Cal in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter, a near-gut wrenching loss for OSU seemed to be a gut-check win for the undefeated squad. Meyer said Simon lost it behind the closed doors of the team’s locker room inside Ohio Stadium. A typically corporate-like Meyer opted to share a moment with reporters that could’ve otherwise remained unknown to anyone outside of the confines in which it happened. “Can you put a jersey up there or something that says ‘John Simon?’” Meyer asked. “Because that’s a grown ass man, excuse my language.” While Meyer chose not to divulge the particulars of what Simon had to say, redshirt sophomore cornerback Bradley Roby said the defensive lineman revealed himself. “He just pretty much let us know that he probably wasn’t even supposed to play today but he played anyways just because he loves us,” Roby said. “So it was just that we saw the real him come out and it was a crazy moment.” Meyer said Simon’s speech was a long look in the mirror. “Are we doing enough for our team? That guy – what he just did in there … am I doing enough? When I say I – as our coaching staff – are we doing enough?” Meyer asked. “Are we doing as much as he’s doing?” Playing both the interviewer and interviewee, Meyer promptly answered his own question. “No,” Meyer said. “We’ve gotta do more. Gotta do more. (That’s) gotta get you fired up.” Roby said the Buckeyes don’t want to fail each other. “It’s like we don’t want to let our teammates down when it comes down to it,” he said. “That’s how football is. It’s a teammate type of game. It’s not just one player that makes a team. It’s everybody.” That realization of that camaraderie on Saturday not only moved Roby but might have been the catalyst for Simon’s speech. “I was excited, I was just so excited for that win,” Simon said. “That was a great win for us, guys just showing that they’ll fight to the end and handle the adversity. I think we’re a scrappy team.” But after scraping by a team that lost its season-opener at home to Nevada, the Buckeyes will almost undoubtedly face questions and doubts about the legitimacy of their No. 16-ranking in the latest Associated Press top 25 poll. Saturday’s game, though, might have answered at least one question amid the others it left unresolved. What’s driving the Buckeyes through a season that will inevitably end on Nov. 24 against the University of Michigan? It could be because they “love” each other. “We all, like, love each other, so we all play,” Roby said. That means even playing through potentially debilitating injuries. “I hurt my shoulder a little bit, I came out for a few plays, but I came back because, I mean, it’s all a brotherhood,” Roby said. “That’s how we all feel about each other.” That fellowship, Meyer said, is something he’d extend to his own flesh and blood. “If we have another child I want to name him Urban John Simon Meyer or something like that,” he said, before pausing to digest what he just said. “Can’t wait for that headline,” Meyer said playfully. “But that’s how much I love that guy. I’m not ashamed to say I love him. Love that guy. Man.”