Most office pools — and a certain billion-dollar bracket contest — insist the NCAA Tournament still has the pleasing, symmetrical, 64-team format: Six rounds, each winnowing the field by half, for a total of 63 games, 63 losers and one winner. Fans, likewise, haven’t gotten over the habit of calling the round of 64, played out over the manic Thursday and Friday of this week, the first round.But the real first round is happening now in Dayton, Ohio, and for the fourth straight year, it really matters. In the so-called play-in games, eight teams will compete on Tuesday and Wednesday for four spots in the round of 64. And two of the winners will have a real chance at a deep tournament run — a better chance than you’d think if you’d glanced at the contenders’ resumes on Selection Sunday. Their first-round — I mean, round-of-64 — opponents could regret having to face them. And you, too, could regret filling out your bracket before the opening-round games are done: North Carolina State and the winner between Iowa and Tennessee could shake up the strong Midwest region.The play-in games aren’t just a gimmick. Like wild-card rounds in the playoffs for the NFL and MLB, they help sort the contenders from the also-rans. Teams that have to play, and win, a contest before facing their next opponent have momentum, an actual phenomenon in college basketball.1As my colleague Benjamin Morris will show in an upcoming article.Most important, play-in games provide vital data about teams’ current strength, which is hard to get from their schedules, littered as they are with non-tournament teams and results from months ago. Winning the play-in game, the most recent and important contest to date against a strong opponent, is a big indicator of a team’s ability today.The baseball playoffs have validated the potency of this combination of momentum and trial by fire. Wild-card teams that have won their first MLB playoff series have won their next series about half the time, despite facing opponents with home-field advantage and, usually, a better record. Winners in the NFL playoff wild-card round, on the other hand, have slightly underperformed expectations, winning three fewer games against rested opponents (out of 124) than would be expected based on their regular-season performance.2This finding is based on NFL playoff data provided by ESPN Stats & Information, combined with Simple Rating System scores from Pro Football Reference, and this formula for converting SRS into win probability (assuming home-field advantage is worth 2.5 points). Why are the NFL playoffs so different from baseball and basketball? Two untested hypotheses: 1) The extra week of rest matters more because the sport is so physically demanding; and 2) SRS understates the gap in quality between bye teams and wild-card winners because many top teams rest starters after clinching byes, artificially deflating their ratings. Also notable: More recently, the NFL playoffs have looked a lot more like MLB’s. Over the last nine postseasons, wild-card winners have won their next game against bye teams 15 times, compared to an expected total of 12 wins.Sorting contenders from also-rans is particularly helpful in college basketball, a sport that’s particularly hard to predict from regular-season results. Each team has played fewer than 10 percent of other Division I teams. Top teams come from more conferences in college basketball than in football, making each team’s average conference game less meaningful as a postseason preview. Many regular-season starting lineups are a mix of new players and players who have never played with them, meaning November results may predict little about March results.From 2001, when the play-in concept was introduced, through 2011, this sorting mechanism didn’t matter much, because the single game decided which team would offer itself up for ritual sacrifice in the next round. In those days, play-in games pitted two would-be No. 16 seeds against each other for a chance at a game against a No. 1 seed. Those games aren’t unwinnable, yet they were never won.Those 10 underdogs did slightly better than expected in the round of 64. Their Simple Rating System3Simple Rating System is, as its name suggests, a basic way of evaluating teams based on their schedule strength and margin of victory. score heading into the tournament, along with the SRS of their top-seeded round-of-64 opponents, suggested they should have lost those games by an average of 29 points. Instead, they lost by an average of 27 points — a layup better per blowout.Since 2011, though, the play-in round has expanded to four games, with four of the teams competing to be seeded from 11th to 14th. These teams have a lot more to play for: They aren’t going to face a top-two seed in their next game, so they have a fighting chance of winning.The NCAA’s move was both innovative and retrospective: The 1983 and 1984 tournaments — with field sizes of 52 and 53 teams, respectively — also had play-in games, then called an opening round. Winners advanced to the first round, which was then also a kind of preliminary round of its own, pitting outsider teams against each other for a chance to play the top 16 teams, which each got two byes.The back-to-the-future tournament restructuring of 2011 immediately paid dividends. Virginia Commonwealth beat the University of Southern California for an 11 seed in the Southwest region, where VCU was a 10-point underdog to Georgetown, according to pre-tournament SRS. Instead, VCU crushed Georgetown by 18 points. And that was no fluke — the Rams then routed third seed Purdue by 18 and went on to the Final Four.VCU’s run is an outlier; you’d want good odds to bet on any play-in winner reaching this year’s Final Four in Arlington, Texas. But it’s also consistent with the historical data. Since 1980,4As far back as our data set goes 61 percent of 109 teams that had to win an opening or first-round game exceeded SRS expectations in their next game, against an opponent with a bye. The data set spans the play-in games of the past 13 tournaments, plus the opening rounds and first rounds in the early 1980s, when more teams got at least one bye. And the average team outperformed its rating relative to its opponent by two points. An extra layup doesn’t matter in a blowout, but it could swing a close 5-12 matchup.The sample size here is too small to be definitive: The standard deviation of teams’ performance relative to expectations is almost 10 points. But other findings corroborate this one. For instance, the analysis so far hasn’t accounted for how play-in teams that won their next game did later on in the tournament. But many went on to make deep tournament runs. VCU was the seventh opening-round winner to get to the Final Four. The 1980 Final Four featured three teams that had to play their way into the main, 32-team bracket. And Jim Valvano’s North Carolina State championship team of 1983 was a No. 6 seed that didn’t get a first-round bye.Seven semifinalist berths is a remarkable yield from this group of teams. Treat the 32 opening-round winners who won their next game as you would any other team in that round of the tournament, and you’d expect seven of them to reach the Final Four. And yet these were no ordinary teams. Each was, after all, flawed — it was in the opening-round game for a reason. None was seeded in the top four in its region.Don’t take this as advice to write in any of this week’s play-in winners for a trip to Arlington. The most important factor in predicting winners will remain teams’ relative strength through the season. But if you’re looking for an edge in a bracket contest, you could do worse than backing a play-in winner. And if you’re a fan of a team slotted to play one, hope your team’s coaching staff has been keeping a close eye on Dayton.CORRECTION (March 19, 11:00 a.m.): An earlier version of this article said four teams would match up in two play-in games. Eight teams will play four play-in games this week in Dayton.
In his first week on the job, Atlanta Hawks general manager Danny Ferry accomplished what many cynical Hawks fans deemed virtually impossible: He traded Joe Johnson with his astronomical contract and found a taker for underachieving Marvin Williams.The deals will not become official until July 11, but Ferry has agreements in place to trade Johnson, who has $90 million remaining on a contract that was the richest in NBA history at the time, to the Brooklyn Nets for four player with expiring contracts and a conditional first-round draft pick. In a separate deal, Ferry sent Williams, the 2005 No. 2 pick overall pick in the NBA Draft, to the Utah Jazz for talented point guard Devin Harris whose contract expires after the upcoming season, too.It’s one thing to move either of those players, but for Ferry to trade both — and in his first week on the job — well, NBA fans in Atlanta might be ready to give a parade in his honor.In the Johnson deal, the Hawks get back reserve point guard Jordan Farmar, former Georgia Tech three-point specialist Anthony Morrow, someone named Johan Petro, the limited DeShawn Stevenson and young prospect Jordan Williams. Atlanta also would receive a 2013 first-round draft pick that is lottery-protected through 2016.Williams was exchanged straight up for Devin Harris, who can push Jeff Teague for the starting point guard job.Clearly, Ferry’s ambition is to create considerable space under the salary cap for next summer, when they can make a push for then-free agents like center Dwight Howard and lead guard Chris Paul.Once the trades become official — at the end of NBA’s moratorium on trades the Hawks will have dismissed as much as y $100 million in future salary commitments while taking back about $25 million.Johnson, 31, is owed nearly $90 million over the next four seasons. The six-time All-Star is considered among the best shooting guards in the Eastern Conference but has been unable to escape the shadow of his contract, especially after he had disappointing performances in the past two playoffs.Next likely to go is forward Josh Smith, who asked to be traded to a team with a stronger commitment to winning. Smith’s contract expires after next season and if he isn’t open to an extension, Ferry could be motivated to trade him instead of risk losing Smith for nothing. Ferry said recently that he plans to meet with Smith soon.
Laker Trade Rumor – Finally, after months of speculation, false rumors and wild guesses, Dwight Howard appears to be traded. The former Orlando Magic center, who has some serious reputation rebuilding to do, landed in the right place to do it: In Los Angeles with the Lakers.A blockbuster four-team deal is expected to be approved today by the NBA, a trade that bolts the Lakers right back into the championship conversation.According to ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith, who spoke to Howard Thursday, the perennial all-star center from Atlanta is ecstatic about being out of Orlando and a new member of the storied Laker franchise.Now, Los Angeles has a powerhouse lineup that includes future Hall of Famers Kobe Bryant, recently acquired point guard Steve Nash and Howard, along with forwards Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace. That starting group matches up with or is better than any in the NBA.The deal that got him there was this: the Lakers will receive Howard, the Denver Nuggets get all-star and Olympian Andre Iguodala from Philadelpha; the 76ers will receive center Andrew Bynum from the Lakers and Jason Richardson from the Magic; and Orlando acquires Arron Affalo, Al Harrington, Nikola Vucevic from Denver and one protected future first-round pick from each of the three teams. In addition, the Magic will be getting other pieces, including 76ers No. 1 draft pick Moe Harkless.Howard has been living in Los Angeles since the end of the NBA season, recovering from minor back surgery. He’s grown to “love” L.A., according to Smith. And while he intends to become a free agent after the upcoming season, the Lakers are convinced he will re-sign with them.If approved, he’d be the fourth mega-center traded to the Lakers, following Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Shaquille O’Neal. Those Hall-of-Fameers (O’Neal is a lock to be inducted) have nine NBA titles between them with the Lakers.This trade would end a saga that has damaged Howard’s reputation. He’s changed his mind more than once about wanting a trade, putting Orlando in a tough situation. Howard, after opting for another year with the Magic, turned around later and told the team of his desire to be moved, specifically to the Brooklyn Nets. However, Orlando general manager Rob Hennigan turned down several offers from Brooklyn that included center Brook Lopez and three first-round draft picks, among other compensation.Talks with the Nets went on for months, until the team just finally got exasperated and ended all discussions with Orlando. Brooklyn then re-signed Lopez, making him untradeable until January.Meanwhile, Hennigan more than once asked Howard to reconsider his stance on wanting out of Orlando. Howard refused to budge, telling Perrigan as much during a one-on-one meeting in Los Angeles last month.Finally convinced they could not get Howard to reverse his position, the Magic – led by president Alex Martins, according to ESPN and not Hennigan – gave in to Howard’s wishes. What Orlando received for the consensus best center in the NBA is far less than they could/would have received if it had made the Nets deal long ago.Meanwhile, Bynum is shipped from L.A. after finally establishing himself as a prominent big man. Philadelphia is willing to gamble that the free agent after next season will re-sign with the team.
On Sunday when Lukaku was about to take the winning penalty in his team’s 2-1 victory over Cagliari Calcio, many Cagliari fans began making monkey noises and chants, which is commonplace in European soccer. “Ladies and gentlemen it’s 2019,” he added. “Instead of going forward we’re going backwards and I think as players we need unity and make a statement on this matter to keep this game clean and enjoyable for everyone.” But in a letter that was posted on an Inter Milan’s Facebook page on Sept. 3, fans said the chanting wasn’t racist at all, just a technique used to frustrate players. “We cannot ignore this, we must fight it. We can no longer hear that [monkey chant and] be scared. We have to be courageous and fight that,” Matuidi explained. “The referee did not take the right decision. The decision he should have taken was to stop the game.” “Hi Romelu. We are really sorry you thought that what happened in Cagliari was racist,” the letter read. “You have to understand that Italy is not like many other north European countries where racism is a real problem. We understand that it could have seemed racist to you, but it is not like that.” “Many players in the last month have suffered from racial abuse. I did yesterday too,” he wrote on Sept. 2. “Football is a game to be enjoyed by everyone and we shouldn’t accept any form of discrimination that will put our game in shame. I hope the football federations all over world react strongly on all cases of discrimination.” Soccer player Romelu Lukaku was the victim of racist monkey chants during a recent game in Italy. (Photo: Alessandro Sabattini / Getty Images Sport via Getty Images) “We are a multi-ethnic fans organisation and we have always welcomed players from everywhere,” the fans added. “However, we have always used that way with other teams’ players in the past and we probably will in the future.” “In Italy we use some ways only to help our teams and to try to make our opponents nervous, not for racism but to mess them up,” the letter continued. “Please consider this attitude of Italian fans as a form of respect for the fact they are afraid of you for the goals you might score against their teams and not because they hate you or they are racist.” Series A issued a statement and said it plans to “identify, isolate and ban those ignorant individuals whose shameful actions and behaviors are completely against those values that Cagliari Calcio strongly promotes in all their initiatives.” And earlier this year Cagliari fans were blasted for giving the same treatment to Blaise Matuidi, who later talked about the incident in an interview. Afterward, Lukaku posted a letter to Instagram and said something must be done so he and other players of color don’t have to endure racist treatment on the field. Other players who’ve been subjected to racist taunts on the soccer field include Sulley Muntari of Ghana, who received a one-game suspension after he walked out of a game after monkey chants began. Romelu Lukaku, a soccer player for the Italian team Inter Milan in the Series A league, is asking soccer leagues across the globe to stand up against racist chants from fans.
“We’ll closely monitor developments,” an MLB Players Association spokesperson said to FiveThirtyEight last month. “If 30 clubs are competing for a pennant, the free-agent market for players will be robust.”But fewer teams seem interested in competing.The Seattle Mariners and Arizona Diamondbacks, 2018 contenders, are retooling. The American League Central champion Cleveland Indians have shed payroll in a weak division they can likely win without spending on free agents.And teams seem to have learned, collectively, to wait out free agents. Thirty-five free agents signed guaranteed major league deals last year between Feb. 1 and opening day,2Excluding players who signed with one team earlier in the offseason, were released and signed with another team within the February-to-April period. compared with 18 in 2017, 13 in 2016, 10 in 2015 and 13 in 2014. The longer free agents wait, the fewer dollars they’re typically awarded.Even the star free agents are having to wait.Consider that in the not-so-distant past, top players had usually signed by now. Just look at the contracts inked before Christmases past: On Dec. 1, 2015, David Price signed the richest deal ever for a starting pitcher (seven years and $217 million) with the Boston Red Sox, and he was followed three days later by Zack Greinke, who signed a six-year, $206.5 million deal with Arizona. On Dec. 10 of the previous year, Jon Lester signed a $155 million deal with the Chicago Cubs. And in 2013, Robinson Cano signed a 10-year, $240 million deal with the Seattle Mariners on Dec. 6, just three days after Jacoby Ellsbury signed a seven-year, $153 million deal with the Yankees.But the five richest contracts of last offseason were awarded after Jan. 24. And only one contract so far this offseason has topped $100 millionThere are other factors behind the slow down, said Chaim Bloom, vice president of baseball operations for the Tampa Bay Rays. His club reportedly signed pitcher Charlie Morton on Dec.12.“I’m hesitant to call something a trend before having [enough] information to really say this is a new normal — it might just be a slight shift in the timetable,” Bloom said to FiveThirtyEight last week. “There is a lot more information available. Teams increasingly like to have more and more information before making decisions. That may push some things later in the calendar. I also think — and this offseason is a good example of it — staff movement and staff [hirings] are taking up a larger chunk of offseason. … The more coaching staffs and front offices grow, the more time that is going to take [in early offseason].”Have teams learned to wait out the market?“I don’t know if it’s ideal for clubs, necessarily,” Bloom said of the slower markes. “You want to go into spring training knowing who you have.”Free agency has become more and more a battleground between teams and players. Clubs are accused of suppressing the service time of potential stars so as to control their prime years at cheaper salaries. Teams also seem to be wary of allocating a large share of their payroll to one player. Alex Rodriguez’s $275 million deal with the Yankees — signed Dec. 13, 2007 — remains the record for a free-agent contract even as MLB revenues have increased from $6 billion in 2007 to exceeding $10 billion in 2017.Regardless of whether free-agent superstars Harper and Manny Machado set contract records, they are expected to receive guaranteed dollars well into nine figures. The greater concern for the union is what another slow-to-develop market means for the middle class of free agents — which represents the vast majority of players.A slow-to-develop market forced unsigned players to create their own spring training camp last year in Bradenton, Florida. David Freese knows this trend well. After the former World Series MVP finished the 2015 season with 2.2 wins above replacement, he sought a lucrative, multiple-year contract. But he had to settle in March for a one-year, $3 million deal with the Pirates.“It was a tough situation to handle,” Freese said in 2016. “The waiting, it challenges your heart. Sitting around while guys are out playing [in spring training] … seeing games, seeing guys in the field.”Rather than test free agency this winter after the Dodgers were likely to turn down his $6 million club option, he re-signed with the club on a one-year, $4.5 million deal.Freese isn’t the only player to take that approach. Josh Donaldson — the 2015 A.L. MVP — agreed to a one-year, $23 million deal with Atlanta on Nov. 26. He was joined by 18 other free agents signing contracts for just one year, making up 67.9 percent of the 28 signings so far through Monday. That’s the greatest share of one-year contracts signed through the first 50 days of the offseason over the past six winters. (The next closest was 52 percent in 2016-17.)Some of these players may have decided to bet on themselves on shorter-term deals in the hopes of maximizing their future earning potential. Or perhaps they are responding to seeing players with hopes of signing lucrative multi-year deals last offseason, like Mike Moustakas and Neil Walker, languish on the market until spring training had started.Free agents across the game appear to be in store for another longer wait. Perhaps this is the new normal.Sara Ziegler contributed research. LAS VEGAS — The Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino was, in some ways, the most appropriate host for baseball’s winter meetings: After all, this offseason was once expected to be punctuated by announcements of record-setting, high-dollar free-agency deals. Bryce Harper, a premier free agent, is a Las Vegas native. But away from the din of the casino floor, a podium set up for press conferences in a vast ballroom was largely quiet last week. After last winter marked the slowest signing period in at least the previous 18 years, this offseason is starting even more slowly, according to a FiveThirtyEight analysis of free-agent data.Teams already seemed less interested in giving time on the field to players over the age of 30 — the time frame in which many players first become eligible for free agency. But now, early in the offseason, teams also seem increasingly less willing to spend on any free agent.Consider that through Monday, 50 days after the World Series concluded, only 5.2 percent of available free-agent players1Our pool of available free agents includes any player with major league experience who was granted free agency or released in October and November of each season. That excludes players signed internationally or those waived by a club before the season ended or later in the offseason. had signed major league deals for guaranteed money, according to a FiveThirtyEight analysis of data from The Baseball Cube. Fifty days after the end of the 2017 World Series, 5.5 percent of available free agents had signed. Two years ago that number was 9.2 percent. In the three offseasons prior to that winter — 2015-16, 2014-15 and 2013-14 — it was 9.2, 7.8 and 10.9 percent respectively.Through Monday, $442.5 million had been spent on free agents. That’s down from $469.8 million at the same point last year, which was down from $976.5 million in the winter of 2016-17, $1.401 billion in 2015-16, $1.173 billion in 2014-15 and $1.229 billion through the middle of December 2013.
Major league teams are on the clock and must decide whether they want to buy or sell — and this decision comes with perhaps more urgency than in any previous July. MLB’s annual trade deadline is one week away, and the deadline carries a new sense of finality this season, as baseball eliminated August waiver trades in favor of a single July 31 cutoff for deals. Although the early read on the market has been one of uncertainty, at the very least we should see an intriguing chess match develop between rival general managers in the leadup to next Wednesday afternoon.Granted, we don’t exactly know how those GMs will react to the compressed timeline when making deals this year. But here at FiveThirtyEight, we do have a tool to help assist with the overall deadline decision-making process: the Doyle Number. (So named for an infamous 1987 Detroit Tigers deadline trade when they shipped future Hall of Famer John Smoltz to Atlanta for pitcher Doyle Alexander.) Basically, Doyle measures the amount of future talent (i.e., total projected wins above replacement added over the next six seasons) a team should be willing to give up — in the form of prospects or other team-controlled assets — in exchange for adding an extra WAR of rental talent in 2019, with the goal of maximizing its total expected championships in both the short and long term.In other words, Doyle is all about the tradeoff between how adding talent improves a buyer’s present-day championship odds and reduces those odds in the future.1Or vice-versa, in the case of a seller. So when we say the Los Angeles Dodgers have a Doyle Number of 2.17, it means they should be willing to sacrifice 2.17 future WAR in exchange for every WAR of talent they add at the 2019 deadline. (This is a textbook definition of a buyer; the Dodgers’ Doyle Number is the highest in baseball.) Meanwhile, the lowly Tigers are clear sellers: They have a Doyle of 0.00, meaning there is literally no amount of rental talent they could add this season that would justify giving up any future WAR.2Detroit is all but mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, so any player they add for the remainder of this season would be tantamount to pouring precious resources into a hopelessly lost cause.Those are the easy cases. A team with a Doyle Number around 1.00 has a tougher choice, and would essentially be equally served by either buying or selling, depending on the particulars of a given trade. Here are the Doyle Numbers for each of 2019’s MLB teams, taking into account games played through July 22: TEAMPLAYOFFSWIN WSDOYLETEAMPLAYOFFSWIN WSDOYLE Nationals6230.92White Sox<1<10.00 Athletics0.95+5.4+2.1+0.4+0.1+1.4+4.3 Indians7041.48Padres2<10.04 Time to switch up the rosterAfter adjusting for the effect on championship odds, net equivalent wins gained if a team buys or sells 2, 5 or 8 WAR at the trade deadline for teams on the buy/sell fence Athletics4930.95Rangers<1<10.03 Red Sox3520.76Mariners<1<10.00 Braves9661.64Pirates5<10.06 ODDS FOR…ODDS FOR… When it comes to teams on the buy/sell fence, the details of their trade options are important. The Milwaukee Brewers — who have just 84 wins of talent on their roster, a 40 percent chance of making the playoffs and 2 percent World Series odds — could only get a big surplus from buying if they were to somehow land an MVP-caliber player;4Or various players whose talent adds up to 8 WAR. otherwise, they’d get a lot more out of just selling assets and reloading for the future. By contrast, the Chicago Cubs would only make sense as sellers if they blew up everything and got a massive haul of prospect value back in return. But the Oakland A’s, St. Louis Cardinals and Boston Red Sox, in addition to the Nationals, could benefit from either buying or selling, as long as they commit to a strategy.5Boston’s situation is complicated by the dire status of its farm system (see chart above), which was partially gutted to help build last year’s World Series winner. Doyle says a marginal deadline improvement is a net loss for Boston, given its low odds of making the playoffs. But the Sox don’t necessarily have the prospects to buy any bigger than that … which probably means they should just sell. So naturally, president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski has already begun the buying process. In fact, for all of these teams, some kind of activity at the deadline is better than standing pat and doing nothing.A few interesting teams are not on that list of on-the-fence clubs. The San Francisco Giants have played themselves into the larger deadline conversation in the media, thanks to a recent stretch of surprisingly good play (they’re 15-3 in July). But Doyle says holding onto rumored trade candidate Madison Bumgarner would be a big mistake. With 77 wins of underlying talent (according to Elo) and a still-slim 8 percent playoff probability, even a massive 10-WAR improvement in current talent (think trading for Mike Trout) would result in a net long-term loss of expected championships if bought at a fair price.6Ten wins of extra talent in 2019 would improve the Giants’ current championship odds by 1.0 percentage point, or 0.01 expected titles. Ten wins of extra talent spread over the next six seasons would improve the team’s expected championships by 0.029 titles. Just let the dynasty end already!Likewise, the Rangers, Philadelphia Phillies and Arizona Diamondbacks — all teams with .500 records or better — are logical candidates to make a deadline push based on traditional baseball thinking. But similar to San Francisco, Doyle sees the Rangers as a team with 75-win talent who has overachieved to its current record and, trailing three division rivals in the standings, possess less than a 1 percent chance of making the playoffs. With attractive trade assets such as Minor and fellow starter Lance Lynn potentially on the block, Texas would be well served to sell. Philadelphia and Arizona have better talent than the Rangers, but neither has much chance of winning their respective divisions, so the wild-card game appears to be each team’s ceiling. Doyle explicitly accounts for how much that fact slices into a team’s World Series odds, which helps explain why each team has a Doyle Number under 0.50. (Then again, I would have considered the Phillies a good candidate to buy a month ago, so these things can change quickly.)Whatever happens over the next week, it should be fascinating to watch teams react to the finality of this year’s deadline. Even before the new hard July 31 cutoff, deadline activity has been increasing in the past few seasons anyway, and recent history tells us the deals made now could have a significant effect in the postseason. While there aren’t as many massive rental-candidate stars on the market as last year — maybe Arizona’s Zack Greinke qualifies? — the added sense of urgency could keep things interesting, whether teams follow Doyle’s advice or not.Check out our latest MLB predictions. The Doyle Number represents how many wins of future talent a team should trade away now for one extra win of talent in 2019.Source: FanGraphs Cubs6341.34Mets4<10.03 Rays4820.75Royals<1<10.00 Brewers4020.73Marlins<1<10.00 Cubs1.34+1.0-0.2-0.3+1.0+3.7+8.4 Who are 2019′s trade-deadline buyers and sellers?Postseason chances (according to the FiveThirtyEight prediction model) and Doyle Numbers* for 2019 MLB teams Phillies3510.48Orioles<1<10.00 Diamondbacks3110.31Tigers<1<10.00 Twins9461.70Reds5<10.06 *The Doyle Number represents how many wins of future talent a team should trade away now for one extra win of talent in 2019.Playoff and World Series odds are as of July 22.Source: FanGraphs Houston and Minnesota are in particular need of pitching, in a year when the most desirable trade targets are disproportionately pitchers. So if the Astros deal for, say, Texas Rangers starter Mike Minor (whose long-term track record is that of about a 5-WAR pitcher3According to a mix of the WAR versions found at FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference. From now on, I’m going to start referring to our spin on WAR as JEFFBAGWELL — Joint Estimate Featuring FanGraphs and B-R Aggregated to Generate WAR, Equally Leveling Lists. Because everything we do here must be backronymed. per 162 games), Doyle says the Astros should be willing to part with as many as 12 wins of future talent to add Minor’s five wins to their current talent level. Each amount — five wins now or 12 over the next six seasons — is worth about 0.071 expected championships added.Not every team has such a stark split between the importance of present wins and future ones. The Washington Nationals, for instance, are one of the teams whose Doyle is currently closest to 1.00, the point of true indifference between buying and selling. They could buy 5 WAR of current talent and have it be worth the equivalent of 1.3 additional WAR in the future, so it would still make sense in terms of balancing expected championships. But they could also sell 5 WAR of current talent, and get back the equivalent of 2.3 extra future WAR if we again assume the championship odds are balanced. This is a delicate situation, although it also can give a team many options in the trade marketplace. Here are all of the 2019 teams who could either add or subtract players — in increments of either 2 WAR (a solid regular starter, per Baseball-Reference’s WAR guide), 5 WAR (an All-Star level player) or 8 WAR (an MVP-level player) of present-day talent — and still potentially create a surplus in total wins after balancing the championship odds: Yankees>99192.16Giants8<10.13 Net WINS FOR TALENT SOLDNet wins FOR TALENT BOUGHT Astros>99172.09Rockies5<10.07 Dodgers>99%26%2.17Angels5%<1%0.16 Nationals0.92+5.8+2.3+0.4+0.1+1.3+4.1 Rays0.75+9.4+4.1+1.0-0.3+0.2+2.1 Cardinals0.86+7.1+2.9+0.6+0.0+0.9+3.6 Red Sox0.76+8.8+3.8+1.0-0.3+0.2+2.1 Brewers0.73+10.1+4.4+1.1-0.3+0.1+2.1 Cardinals4430.86Blue Jays<1<10.00 One of the key lessons from Doyle is that the best candidates to buy at the deadline aren’t the ones that conventional wisdom might suggest. Instead of teams that are on the cusp of the playoffs, the most committed buyers ought to be teams whose playoff odds are already solidified — but whose World Series chances could get a big boost with a few important additions. This is a consequence of how talent relates to winning championships in baseball: Because even the best teams usually only have a 15 to 25 percent chance at the title, a mega-talented roster can still get a sizable increase in World Series odds by adding extra star power. As long as it doesn’t create too many positional logjams (and even those can be worked around), there are effectively no diminishing returns between your team’s talent and its odds of holding a parade in November.Of course, you also have to possess prospects that will convince sellers to part with veteran talent. Among the teams with the highest Doyle numbers, the best farm systems belong to the Atlanta Braves, Houston Astros, Minnesota Twins, Dodgers and — to a lesser extent — Cleveland Indians, according to FanGraphs’ estimates of total farm-system value. (The Tampa Bay Rays also have an incredible amount of prospect talent in their pipeline, though their Doyle of 0.75 suggests a slight preference toward selling, not buying, despite the team’s position in the thick of the American League wild-card race.) TeamDoyle8 WAR5 WAR2 WAR2 WAR5 WAR8 WAR
More: Apple Podcasts | ESPN App | RSS | Embed Embed Code This week, Hot Takedown brings you an episode made up entirely of Rabbit Holes.To celebrate the English Premier League kicking off this week, we discover Geoff’s solution to what are, in his opinion, terrible fantasy soccer leagues.Sara examines the unparalleled density of national champions in the WNBA, and Neil searches for long-lost NASCAR road course ringers.To wrap, we recap the record-breaking events of the 2019 X Games, debate whether esports are indeed sports and look back at extreme sports of the past.A few videos we can’t stop watching:Past street luge racesGold medal skysurfing jumpsCompetitive bungee jumpingBarefoot water ski jumping FiveThirtyEight
OSU then-freshman guard Asia Doss and then-redshirt sophomore forward Kalpana Beach make their way to the Buckeyes’ side of the court during the first half of the OSU women’s basketball game against VCU on Nov. 23. OSU won 96-86. Credit: Lantern file photoOhio State’s women’s basketball team took full advantage of its only exhibition game on Sunday, as the No. 10 Buckeyes showcased their newfound depth in a lopsided 113-61 victory over Division II school Ursuline College.In total, 13 Buckeyes played, eight of whom played at least 10 minutes. This starkly contrasts last season’s preseason game against Eckerd College in which only seven players on an injury-ravaged OSU team saw the court.“I think it’s going to be a great thing knowing we have a lot of people who can come in and give their energy,” sophomore guard and Big Ten preseason player of the year Kelsey Mitchell said.As expected, the bigger, faster Buckeyes dominated Ursuline offensively, smashing last season’s average of 81 points per game. Senior guard Ameryst Alston led OSU with 17 points, but she was just one of seven players to score double-digits.Alston also kept her teammates involved, tying Mitchell — who added 15 points herself — with eight assists. OSU racked up 26 assists, more than the 15.3 it averaged last season.Much of the Scarlet and Gray’s success came from the interior, as 6-foot-3 sophomore forward Alexa Hart, 6-foot-2 junior forward Shayla Cooper and 6-foot-6 redshirt junior center Lisa Blair took full advantage of their size. OSU scored 62 points in the paint, as the trio of Hart, Cooper and Blair scored 14, 10 and nine points, respectively.Blair also gathered 10 rebounds, with four coming on the offensive end. Hart, who started 32 of OSU’s 35 games last season, said she was glad to finally be joined by a mix of fellow post players after standing as one of the only bigs playing major minutes a season ago.“It’s kind of exciting to know that I don’t always have to kill myself out there. Just to know that there are other people who can do the same thing that I can do,” Hart said.Hart and Cooper were joined in the starting lineup with Mitchell, Alston and senior guard Cait Craft.Despite holding Ursuline to 61 points, coach Kevin McGuff and the Buckeyes said they were not satisfied with their performance. Entering the summer, OSU knew improvement on the defensive end would be necessary to reach its goals, and McGuff still saw room to get better on Sunday.“We gave up a few too many drives to the basket, and that impacts your rebounding. I didn’t think our communication was good either,” McGuff said.OSU used its speed and size advantage to outrebound Ursuline 45-40.Entering last season, McGuff implemented a full-court press defense emphasizing ball-pressure and turnovers. With more depth and a year of experience in the system under their belts, the Buckeyes took full advantage forcing 33 turnovers and scoring 46 points off them. McGuff said he was not aware of the turnovers leading to points but he was not surprised.“We have a team that, when we do turn somebody over, we have a lot of offensive weapons so we can turn those into points,” McGuff said.Seven OSU players tallied at least one steal, with Mitchell and sophomore guard Asia Doss leading the team with two apiece.Welcome backThe largest cheers from the crowd on the afternoon came when those returning from injuries entered the game, and later when they scored.Redshirt freshman guard Kianna Holland, redshirt freshman forward Chelsea Mitchell and redshirt freshman forward Makayla Waterman returned from torn ACL injuries. Redshirt junior Kalpana Beach returned after being sidelined with arthroscopic knee surgery.When Chelsea Mitchell made a 3-pointer with 1:33 remaining in the game, many of the 3,824 who remained in attendance rose to their feet and cheered.“These kids have worked so hard to get to this point,” said McGuff. “It’s really gratifying to see them take that effort onto the court and impact our team in such a positive way.”Steep uptick in competitionThe Buckeyes used the opportunity against Ursuline to play a game against a team of players in another uniform without the score or statistics truly counting. OSU had a major size, speed and depth advantage from beginning to end. Since it was an exhibition game and the end result is not a main concern, McGuff was able to try different lineups and mess with his rotation.McGuff and the Buckeyes will not enjoy that luxury when their season begins on Nov. 13.OSU opens the regular season on the road against South Carolina, which finished last season 34-3 and earned a trip to the Final Four. The game is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m.Following the South Carolina game, the Scarlet and Grey are set to host the defending national champion Connecticut Huskies, who finished last season 38-1, on Nov. 16 at the Schottenstein Center. Tipoff is slated for 5:30 p.m.
OSU freshman defensive specialist Camry Halm (14) dives for a ball during a game against Northwestern University on Sept. 28 at St. John Arena in Columbus, Ohio. Credit: Ross Tamburro | Lantern PhotographerPenn State’s Happy Valley left one team happy on Wednesday night, but it wasn’t the Buckeyes.The No. 19 Ohio State women’s volleyball team was swept 3-0 by the No. 9 Penn State Nittany Lions. OSU’s record sits at 13-8 after the loss. As for Penn State, it increased its win streak to 15 in a row and remain undefeated in conference play. OSU was able to hang with the Nittany Lions for nearly the entire match, but in the end Penn State edged out wins in each set (25-21, 25-20, 25-17). Penn State’s offense was anchored by junior middle blocker Haleigh Washington and junior outside hitter Simone Lee. The duo combined for 10 kills against OSU in first set alone. OSU had an anchor of its own though, and in the second set, it was senior middle blocker Taylor Sandbothe. She went to work trying to chip away at the Nittany-Lion lead. In total, she posted eight of her 15 kills on the night in the second set with help from fellow senior middle blocker Kylie Randall. Buckeye coach Geoff Carlston pulled his challenge card on three plays in the third set, one of which was overturned in OSU’s favor for a Penn State net violation. However, the team struggled to gain a lead against a Nittany Lion team firing on all cylinders. Sandbothe led OSU in hitting percentage with .429, followed by sophomore setter Taylor Hughes with .364. Freshman middle blocker Madison Smeathers combined for three blocks. A positive for OSU came from senior libero Valeria León whose nine digs in the game tied the OSU career digs record set by National Player of Year Stacey Gordon in 2004. She is a lone dig away from claiming the title outright. Without any hitches, she’ll reach this achievement when OSU hosts Michigan State on Saturday. Saturday’s match against the Michigan State Spartans will be OSU’s breast cancer awareness match. The first serve is set to take place at 6 p.m. at St. John Arena.
Ohio State junior guard Kelsey Mitchell pulls up for a shot in the second half against Wisconsin at the Schottenstein Center on Jan. 19. Credit: Jacob Myers | Assistant Sports EditorThe 12th-ranked Ohio State women’s basketball team (25-5, 15-1) defeated Rutgers 73-45 to clinch its 15th Big Ten title. The Buckeyes stellar defense was the driving force in capturing the program’s first title since the 2009-10 season.With Sunday’s win over the Scarlet Knights (6-23, 3-12), the Buckeyes have clinched the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten tournament.Sunday’s game was OSU’s first in their last eight games that the team failed to score at least 87 points. The Buckeyes usually rely on their offensive output to win their games, but it was stellar defensive play that allowed OSU to pull away with the win. Junior guard Kelsey Mitchell led OSU with 21 points and five assists, her 10th straight game with 20 or more points. She was followed by senior forward Shayla Cooper — a player that has stepped up since the injury to junior forward Stephanie Mavunga — with 12 points and seven rebounds. For the first few minutes of the game, OSU’s 63 percent shooting on Monday didn’t carry over, but the Buckeyes 2-2-1 press forced nine Rutgers turnovers that turned into a 15-0 run that lasted for the majority of the first quarter.OSU continued the steady offensive pace into the second quarter with consistent outside shooting. The Buckeyes shot well from deep, hitting 50 percent in the second quarter, and knocking down four shots from 3-point range. On defense, the Buckeyes continued to throw off Rutgers, switching from a man defense to a 2-3 zone, then to a 3-2 zone. Those different looks prevented Rutgers from getting into an offensive rhythm, leading to a miserable 22 percent from the field. The Buckeyes led 37-17 at halftime.At the start of the third quarter, Rutgers got the ball out quickly to avoid full-court pressure and ran the ball up the floor. The Scarlet Knights hit five consecutive shots midway through the quarter and stayed in the game with 57 percent third-quarter shooting. The Buckeyes fired back by penetrating the basket, grabbing their own points from the field, and ended the quarter maintaining a 17-point lead, 53-36.In the last quarter of play, OSU reestablished their defense and slowed down the Scarlet Knights with its full-court press. On offense, OSU outscored Rutgers 20-9 and made three 3s to keep any chance of a comeback at bay. Ohio State is set to play the winner of No. 8 seed versus the No. 9 seed on March 3 at noon. The final Big Ten standings have yet to be determined.