A good deal of FiveThirtyEight’s NFL coverage this season will use Elo ratings, a simple system that estimates each team’s skill level using only the final scores and locations of each game. As we’ve done in the past few years, we’re using those Elo ratings to calculate NFL predictions that include win probabilities and point spreads for every game in this season’s NFL schedule, as well as continually updating team rankings.How do our Elo ratings work? FiveThirtyEight editor-in-chief Nate Silver wrote a detailed FAQ about the formula a few years ago, and almost all of it still applies. Teams gain and lose ground based on the final score of each game and how unexpected the result was in the eyes of the pregame ratings. Under Elo, teams pick up where they left off: The initial team ratings for 2017 are by definition the same as last season’s end-of-year ratings, only more compressed because of regression toward the mean. (Specifically, we regress each team’s rating to the mean by one-third, with the league average team clocking in slightly above 1500.)This means that going into Week 1, the Atlanta Falcons and New England Patriots are again the NFL’s highest-rated teams, albeit with lower Elo ratings than when they faced off last season in Houston for Super Bowl LI. Why? Like other well-designed predictive rating systems, including ESPN’s Football Power Index, Elo is appropriately cautious early in the season; a team must prove itself to warrant a very high or very low rating. Combine that with the luck inherent in the NFL — the best teams don’t always win — and even the Patriots have just an 18 percent chance of winning the Super Bowl. That forecast is actually quite high by Elo standards; indeed, it’s the highest preseason Super Bowl win probability we’ve had since we began publishing these numbers. But at the same time, 18 percent will seem conservative to the NFL fans who assume the Patriots have a 95.5 percent chance of winning the Super Bowl until Tom Brady retires or Bill Belichick resigns.It’s important to note that Elo does not reflect injuries or personnel changes, which helps explain why the forecast for the New York Jets, who spent the summer getting rid of all their players with talent, may seem rosy. We currently have the Jets with a 17 percent chance of making the playoffs; that is very optimistic compared with the long-shot odds that a Las Vegas sportsbook is giving the Jets to win the Super Bowl (1,000-to-1!). Don’t get too excited, Jets fans: Their Elo rating will catch up with them in no time if they are as bad as billed.
Cousins is elite with two tight endsTop NFL quarterbacks with two tight ends on the field, according to yards per attempt, 2015-17 1Kirk CousinsWSH1772562,62110.24 7Sam BradfordPHI/MIN1361851,5968.63 15Tom BradyNE3124693,7878.07 10Andy DaltonCIN1732632,1848.30 2Matthew StaffordDET1121651,5469.37 14Peyton ManningDEN45705708.14 6Jay CutlerCHI/MIA1261781,5608.76 13Marcus MariotaTEN2423642,9798.18 8Jameis WinstonTB1943252,7988.61 But some of the teams vying for Cousins’s services don’t have even one tight end who is a receiving threat. Of the teams that are reportedly after Cousins in the free-agent negotiation period that begins Monday — the Broncos, Cardinals, Jets and Vikings — Minnesota seems best positioned to take advantage of Cousins’s talents. The Vikings have a Pro-Bowl tight end in Kyle Rudolph and last season used the two-TE more than the league average (19.2 percent of pass plays, compared with 18.2 for the league). Minnesota lost their offensive coordinator, Pat Shurmur, but replacement John DeFilippo comes from the Eagles, who ranked third in the league in share of pass plays that came with a two-TE set (24.6 percent).The most notable free-agent tight end this offseason is quite familiar with DeFilippo’s offense and could be a great Cousins complement. Trey Burton of the Eagles is one of the league’s best athletes at the position, registering a best-in-class 40-yard dash, three-cone drill and 20-yard shuttle time in his draft year of 2014. Last year, in the two games that starter Zach Ertz missed, Burton scored three touchdowns.Burton is expected to command top dollar based on how well he projects as a receiver. So pairing him and Cousins would require ample cap room this year and beyond. But he’s not the only free agent available. Others include Jimmy Graham, 31, who led the position with 10 touchdowns last season, and Tyler Eifert, 27, who had 13 scoring grabs in 2015, his last healthy season.Here’s the thing about these tight ends, though: There’s a case to be made that every team should load up on the position and try to use two tight ends more frequently. Overall, from the start of the 2015 season through 2017, quarterbacks averaged 0.64 more yards per attempt with two TEs than they did otherwise (7.76 vs. 7.12). This suggests a two-TE strategy might be worth a look — even for teams that aren’t paying a quarterback $30 million a year. 11Drew BreesNO2513633,0028.27 9Case KeenumLAR/MIN1422131,7758.33 Source: ESPN Stats & Information Group 4Carson PalmerARI1742762,4318.81 12Russell WilsonSEA1892842,3328.21 3Matt RyanATL1712492,2288.95 playerTeamComp.AttemptsPass. Yds.Yd/Att Total Kirk Cousins is in a class by himself when it comes to maximizing salary at the quarterback position. The signal-caller is on the eve of signing a deal with what could be the highest average annual price tag in NFL history. Few people — including the former general manager in Washington, where Cousins played for the past six seasons — think he will ever play up to his lofty contract. But no matter who signs the free agent, Cousins’s new team would be silly not to also sign a brand-new tight end. Otherwise, the huge amount of money being spent on Cousins — the Vikings have reportedly offered roughly $90 million over three years — will be going to waste.Cousins’s recent performance in Washington offers his next employer a clear blueprint for turning him into a truly great player: employ fewer wide receivers and more tight ends. For the three-season period from 2015 through 2017, Cousins was the most efficient quarterback in football when two tight ends were on the field, according to ESPN Stats & Information Group. During that time, Cousins threw 256 passes with exactly two tight ends in the formation and averaged 10.24 yards per attempt. That’s nearly a yard better than the second-best quarterback with two tight ends, Matthew Stafford of the Detroit Lions (9.37), although Stafford attempted nearly 100 fewer passes. And Cousins beats the NFL quarterback average of 7.76 yards per attempt with two tight ends on the field by nearly 2.5 yards.Cousins is far less effective in more traditional formations. He averaged nearly three fewer passing yards (7.37) when not equipped with two tight ends in the formation. If you were to prorate Cousins’s two-TE production over a full season, he easily tops Hall-of-Famer Kurt Warner’s record for most yards per attempt in a single season since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger. Without them, he’s 2017 Josh McCown. 5Ryan FitzpatrickNYJ/TB58877668.80
It’s hard to find historical comparisons for Luck’s retirementBest quarterbacks through their age-29 season (according to Approximate Value) who didn’t play again after age 29, 1960-2018 Even in a sport where early retirements are all the rage in recent seasons, this one shocked the NFL world. On Saturday night, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck had informed the team he was retiring because he was “mentally worn down”: 5David Woodley1980-8558533711.2 8Joey Harrington2002-078176336.9 32John Hadl1962-69112827815.2 2Cam Newton2011-1812312212216.0 3Fran Tarkenton1961-6912611912116.3 19Randall Cunningham1985-9297858616.2 5Brett Favre1991-9811310910916.0 1Peyton Manning1998-0512812813316.6 30Bert Jones1973-8083777916.4 17Steve McNair1995-02103958814.8 29John Elway1983-89100987912.9 RankQuarterbackSeasonsGamesStartsTotal AVPer 16 Starts 8Russell Wilson2012-17969610016.7 2Andrew Luck2012-1886867914.7 13Ken Anderson1971-78104968914.8 6Matt Ryan2008-1411011010114.7 15Joe Namath1965-7291858916.8 9Tim Couch1999-036259328.7 21Joe Flacco2008-141121128311.9 Luck’s career was off to an all-time great startBest quarterbacks through their age-29 season according to Approximate Value, 1960-2018 And that number might be understating Luck’s value. Because he missed so many games, he averaged 14.7 AV per 16 starts through age 29, the 19th-most of anyone on the list above, and more than contemporaries like Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger and Brady.Luck shined in other metrics as well. As ProFootballFocus noted after the news of Luck’s retirement, he was a fixture atop their player grades, which try to measure player performance independent of teammate contributions. (Last season, he ranked third in the NFL behind Brees and Patrick Mahomes.) According to ESPN’s Total Quarterback Rating, Luck ranked fifth last season; for their part, Football Outsiders ranked him seventh in total value.We’ve seen stars at other positions, like wide receiver Calvin Johnson (who retired after his age-30 season) and tight end Rob Gronkowski (age 29) walk away from the NFL in their primes. But it is exceedingly rare for a quarterback of Luck’s caliber to leave the game before age 30. If we limit our ranking above to quarterbacks who never played another game after their age-29 season, Luck has the second-most career AV, coming in ahead of former 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick — whose exile from the NFL was not by choice — and trailing only ex-Cardinals starter Neil Lomax: 7Vince Young2006-1160503611.5 35Andy Dalton2011-1693937312.6 12Daunte Culpepper1999-0685849117.3 Seasonal age is as of Dec. 31 of the season in question.Source: Pro-Football-Reference.com 7Matthew Stafford2009-1712512510012.8 16Steve Grogan1975-8299928815.3 26Bob Griese1967-7494908014.2 Seasonal age is as of Dec. 31 of the season in question.Source: Pro-Football-Reference.com 23Jim Zorn1976-8294928114.1 RankQuarterbackSeasonsGamesStartsTotal AVPer 16 Starts 24Troy Aikman1989-9598988013.1 (And here we were thinking that Antonio Brown was the NFL superstar most likely to retire abruptly this preseason…)Luck, who won’t turn 30 until September, had already compiled one of the greatest-ever starts to a quarterback career. The No. 1 overall pick from the 2012 draft picked up the reins from the recently departed Peyton Manning in Indianapolis and immediately led the Colts to the playoffs in his first three seasons, reaching the AFC Championship in the 2014 season. But injuries soon disrupted his storybook narrative. He missed more than half of the 2015 season with a string of injuries and all of 2017 after undergoing shoulder surgery. Prior to Saturday’s announcement, he had sat out all of preseason due to a lingering leg injury.When he was on the field, though, the numbers spoke for themselves. Through his age-29 season,1All ages in this story will use Pro-Football-Reference.com’s convention of measuring a player’s “seasonal age” as of Dec. 31 of a season. Luck already had the 84th-most yards, 68th-most touchdowns and 95th-most Approximate Value (AV)2Pro-Football-Reference’s rough way of synthesizing a player’s cumulative value into a single number. of any passer in NFL history. Just looking at seasons before age 30, Luck had about the same AV as John Elway, Joe Montana and Tom Brady: 18Aaron Rodgers2005-1285788818.1 4Dan Marino1983-9011911711415.6 25Tom Brady2000-0696948013.6 28Joe Montana1979-85103798016.2 27Donovan McNabb1999-0594888014.5 3Colin Kaepernick2011-1669584913.5 14Boomer Esiason1984-90101938915.3 6Pat Haden1976-8165553610.5 1Neil Lomax1981-881081018213.0 9Drew Brees2001-081071069514.3 22Neil Lomax1981-881081018213.0 4Josh Freeman2009-1562614110.8 20Philip Rivers2004-1084808416.8 10Ben Roethlisberger2004-111141139513.5 34Terry Bradshaw1970-7797877313.4 11Drew Bledsoe1993-011241239111.8 Unlike Kaepernick, who probably still could play if given the chance (hello, Colts?), Lomax was forced to retire young because of an arthritic hip. He’s not a player many remember nowadays, but he was a Pro Bowler twice, and he led the NFL in passing yards in 1987. Beyond him, Luck and Kaepernick, it’s hard to find any other comparable examples of good QBs who never played a down in their 30s. That’s a big part of what makes Luck’s abrupt decision to walk away from the game on the eve of the 2019 season so surprising.Now the Colts will have to move on without one of the best quarterbacks in the league. With Luck — and his +208 QB rating (relative to a replacement-level undrafted rookie) in our new quarterback-adjusted Elo rating system — we had the Colts rated as the ninth-best team in the NFL, with a 1564 rating (which roughly equates to 9.2 wins per 16 games against a typical schedule). Now they’ll be left with Jacoby Brissett, whose Elo value over replacement is +108.3Also worth noting: the Colts went 4-11 with Brissett starting instead of Luck in 2017. That drop-off leaves the Colts rated with a 1479 Elo, which ranks only 21st in the league and carries an expectation of 7.5 wins against an average schedule.But Luck ultimately made his decision, which he called the hardest of his life, because he had lost his love for the game. “I haven’t been able to live the life I want to live,” he said Saturday night. “It’s taken the joy out of this game … the only way forward for me is to remove myself from football.” The result is a huge loss — for the Colts, but also for a league that will be missing one of the most promising young quarterbacks to ever play the game. 10Steve Fuller1979-8690423212.2 31Andrew Luck2012-1886867914.7 33Dan Fouts1973-8096897413.3
Ethan Swan’s database of NBA players’ tattoos is the most complete such record I’m aware of, but it’s not the only one. (Swan, whom I wrote about Friday, gave us permission to publish his data on GitHub; you can see it here.)The Sports Geeks have collected some information, but their page on NBA tattoos is out of date; many players currently in the league aren’t listed. The Tumblr Basketball Player Tattoos aggregates photos — including some really striking ones — but it hasn’t been updated in almost a year. (Let me know if you’ve seen other data sets.)Harvey Pollack, the 92-year-old director of statistical information for the Philadelphia 76ers, produces the only list I’ve seen that approaches the completeness of Swan’s. (My colleague Carl Bialik, who conducted the data analysis in the Swan piece, profiled Pollack last month.) Each year, Pollack dedicates a page of the Sixers’ printed statistical guide to tattoo data. The only one I could find that he put online was from 2010, the year before Swan got started.Unlike Swan, who simply Googles “NBA tattoo” and follows players on Twitter, Pollack and his staff get their information firsthand. They log the tattoos they see on visiting players and quiz team trainers about body art that may lurk beneath the players’ uniforms.But looking guys over as they dribble by doesn’t seem to be as effective as Googling. Swan counted 230 tattooed players in 2010-11, while Pollack found 198. The next year, they both came up with 237. Last year, Swan’s total was 250 and Pollack’s was just 157. (Pollack hasn’t released his total for this year.)So whom, specifically, did Pollack miss in 2012-13? Let’s take the Atlanta Hawks as an example. He counted tattoos on six Hawks but missed them on five others — John Jenkins, Shelvin Mack, Johan Petro, Mike Scott and Louis Williams. The design on Jenkins’s chest may have been hard to see through his jersey, but it should have been easy to see the tattoo on Mack’s arm — especially since he briefly played for the Sixers that season.
Hot Takedown More: Apple Podcasts | ESPN App | RSS | Embed Welcome to this week’s episode of “Hot Takedown,” our podcast where the hot sports takes of the week meet the numbers that prove them right or tear them down. On this week’s show (May 19, 2015), we look at the matchups in the NBA’s conference finals, whether the Houston Rockets are winning with analytics and why the Clippers collapsed. Nate Silver discusses why the New York Rangers continue to win so many close NHL games. And we ponder whether baseball needs even more statistical analysis as MLB embraces Statcast. Plus, our Significant Digit of the week on Chelsea’s oft-disciplined Cesc Fabregas.Stream the episode by clicking the play button, or subscribe using one of the podcast clients we’ve linked to above.Below are some links to what we discuss in this week’s show:The Clippers’ win probability during Game 6 against the Rockets peaked at 98 percent.Stephen Curry is unguardable.Lebron James is dominant in the conference finals.The future of MLB stats and video tracking.Analyst vs. Statcast, who should you trust?Nate Silver on postseason goaltending and the Rangers’ ability to win close game after close game.Significant Digit: 14 points. In a game in which Chelsea clinched the Premier League title, Cesc Fabregas also pulled into a tie for the most discipline points among all players. If you’re a fan of our podcasts, be sure to subscribe on Apple Podcasts and leave a rating/review. That helps spread the word to other listeners. And get in touch by email, on Twitter or in the comments. Tell us what you think, send us hot takes to discuss and tell us why we’re wrong. Embed Code
In a press conference on Sunday, the New York Yankees announced that Alex Rodriguez would play his final major league game on Friday, against the Tampa Bay Rays, before taking on an advisory role with the club. With that game, one of the greatest — and most complicated — careers in baseball history will come to a close.Certainly, Rodriguez had reached the end of the productive phase of his career this season. One year after a surprising renaissance campaign, Rodriguez is on pace for the worst full-season OPS and fewest wins above replacement (WAR) of his career. Despite ranking among baseball’s highest-paid players, he’s struck out 4.6 times for every walk, is barely hitting over the Mendoza Line and can’t play any position other than designated hitter anymore. As a team, the Yankees are having their worst season since 1992. It was time for Rodriguez to go.But A-Rod in his heyday was a different story. In fact, A-Rod before his prime was better than almost anybody in baseball history. In 1996, at the ripe old age of 20, Rodriguez produced 9.4 WAR — which is still tied for the 87th-best season in MLB history and was, at the time, easily the most WAR produced in one season at that age.1It would be surpassed later by Mike Trout, who happens to be on track for G.O.A.T. status. From there, A-Rod would pile on seven more seasons of 8 or more WAR, and he’d make a strong case for having the best career of any player who ever spent the majority of his prime years at shortstop.Of course, the other prominent player on that — apparently shirt-optional — Mount Rushmore of young shortstops was Derek Jeter, Rodriguez’s longtime frenemy, rival, comparison-point and, eventually, teammate. Jeter had the rings — four by age 26, to be exact — but A-Rod had the numbers. Through 2003, the season before he joined the Yankees, A-Rod had Jeter beat on career WAR (63.5 to 40.4), home runs (345 to 127), OPS (.963 to .851) and walks (559 to 513); A-Rod was also within striking distance of the more contact-oriented Jeter in batting average (.308 vs. Jeter’s .317 mark). And he was miles better than Jeter in one very important (yet misunderstood) department: defense.To the naked eye, Jeter looked like a great defensive shortstop (he’d eventually win five Gold Gloves at the position), but according to the numbers he was the worst. From his 1995 debut until 2003, Jeter cost the Yankees 11.4 runs (i.e., more than one full win) per year compared to an average-fielding shortstop; by contrast, Rodriguez saved his teams 2 runs a year. When Jeter and Rodriguez joined forces, A-Rod deferred and moved from shortstop to third base, but all evidence said it should have been the other way around. The Yankees’ subsequent defensive numbers — they had the majors’ worst shortstop defense from 2004 until Jeter’s retirement in 2014 — agreed.Together, though, Rodriguez and Jeter would win boatloads of games, plus a World Series in 2009. Numbers from his final week pending, A-Rod would end up compiling 696 home runs — fourth-most ever — and he’s currently 12th all-time in WAR. (He even ranks eighth among Yankees!) Judging from the statistics alone, Rodriguez should be concluding his career as one of the greatest handful of position players in baseball history.But things are never so easy with A-Rod.For instance, Rodriguez’s tremendous on-field value was mitigated by the fact that no player made more money over his career. He broke the all-time record for the largest contract in professional sports history twice, surpassed only when Giancarlo Stanton inked a 13-year, $325 million deal before the 2015 season. Like most star players, Rodriguez still earned every cent he was paid and then some; using the common dollars per WAR framework, the value of A-Rod’s career wins sums to about $109 million more than he was paid.2According to Baseball-Reference.com, A-Rod was paid roughly $399 million through 2016, and he recorded about 115 WAR (averaging together the Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs versions). At an average cost of about $4.3 million per WAR, tacking on the $6 million a minimum-salary player would have made in the same number of years and zeroing out seasons where he had negative value, A-Rod’s wins were worth approximately $508 million. But in the minds of many fans, A-Rod personified the ever-upward climb of MLB salaries at a time when the cost of attending a ballgame had never been higher.A-Rod’s massive compensation was a particular point of frustration for Yankee fans, given that the team’s frequency of championships during his tenure (one title in 13 seasons) pales in comparison to what it had been before he arrived (one title every 3.9 seasons). Rodriguez’s postseason numbers aren’t bad — he had an .822 career OPS, pretty good considering the elevated competition of playoff pitching — but unlike Jeter, who raised his lifetime OPS from .817 in the regular season to .838 in the playoffs, Rodriguez’s .930 regular-season OPS suggested the wasted potential for so many more postseason heroics.And then there are the performance-enhancing drugs. Rodriguez copped to using steroids during the height of the PED era, in the early 2000s, around when he signed his first record-breaking contract, then admitted to better hitting through chemistry again in conjunction with the Biogenesis scandal. Like with his disgraced peer Barry Bonds, A-Rod’s pre-juicing numbers suggest he had the talent to make the Hall of Fame without chemical assistance. But as a confessed two-time offender, Rodriguez’s numbers will always be tainted for countless baseball fans. That’s why his Hall of Fame chances, ironclad without the PED factor, are next to nonexistent in reality.So when Rodriguez leaves baseball on Friday, he’ll go down as one of the greatest talents in the game’s history, and one of its most impressive statistical performers. But by the same token, his more lasting legacy might be as one of its most discredited players. In the end, we’ll probably be left trying to grapple with A-Rod’s impact on the game for decades to come.
* With a career grand slam on the line (i.e., after winning the other three majors, but not counting any cuts made after a slam was collected). Nine of Snead’s cuts at the U.S. Open were made before 1958.Source: ESPN Rory McIlroyThe Masters3 PLAYERMISSING MAJORCUTS MADE*SUCCESS? Tiger WoodsBritish Open1✓ Phil MickelsonU.S. Open2 Raymond FloydBritish Open7 Winning that last major is hard, especially when it’s the PGAGolf’s career grand slam candidates since 1958 Tom WatsonPGA Championship17 When modern-era golfers have needed either the U.S. or British Open to cap off the slam, they’ve had at least some success — three wins against 35 cuts made after winning his first three majors.3This includes the nine pre-1958 cuts Snead made at the U.S. Open after he’d picked up the other three majors; we grandfathered him into the data because he also made 10 cuts at the U.S. Open after the modern era began. And the two players who’ve needed only the Masters as their coup de grace, Lee Trevino and Rory McIlroy, are only oh-for-16 in terms of wins versus cuts made. But between Palmer and Watson, slam-seekers are winless in their 38 cuts at the PGA, a record of futility Spieth will try to chip away at.Watson got close at the PGA before the career grand slam was on the line — he finished in a tie for second at Oakmont Country Club in 1978, though he hadn’t yet won the U.S. Open at that stage of his career. He’d get his first chance at the career slam in the summer of 1982 at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Oklahoma — and he put forth a solid effort, finishing in a tie for ninth on the leaderboard. But in his subsequent 23 starts at the PGA Championship, Watson would never get closer than fifth.Palmer, meanwhile, got his first shot at career-slam glory at the 1964 PGA Championship in Columbus, Ohio. He hit it well all week but ended up three strokes back of winner Bobby Nichols, in a tie for second with Nicklaus. It was a tough pill to swallow for sure, but Palmer would get many more whacks at his slam; Nichols would never win another major.But the PGA disappointments kept piling up. At the 1968 PGA Championship in San Antonio, Texas, Palmer entered Sunday two strokes back of leader Frank Beard and saw an opening when Beard blew up in the final round. But 48-year-old (!) Julius Boros played a little better, edging Palmer by a single stroke with a final-round 69.Palmer’s window was closing, but ’68 wouldn’t be his last near-miss. That would come at the 1970 PGA Championship — also played at Southern Hills — where he, for the third time in seven seasons, finished in a tie for second. That meant one of the greatest golfers ever came within a few shots of reaching the sport’s zenith on three separate occasions, only to fall short because of a bad chip here or a poor read there.Now Jordan Spieth — a 24 year-old who celebrated his first birthday two weeks before Palmer was cut from the final PGA Championship in which he appeared — has a chance to do what Palmer couldn’t.Spieth’s path won’t be easy, though — he’ll have to contend with McIlroy, a two-time PGA Championship winner who holds the course record at Quail Hollow4He shot 61 there at the 2015 Wells Fargo Championship. and who — oh, by the way — is also just one major shy of the career grand slam. (He only needs to check off a Masters victory.) Spieth may be golf’s wunderkind du jour, but it wasn’t long ago that McIlroy was the player everyone believed might challenge Jack and Tiger for GOAT status. And despite Spieth’s bid to make history this weekend, McIlroy is the tournament favorite.So it should be a fun duel: Spieth and McIlroy are two of the best golfers in the world and have been for a while. For the 2017 PGA season, Spieth ranks first in strokes gained approaching the green, fourth in total strokes gained on average, seventh in strokes gained from tee to green, 18th in strokes gained around the green, and 47th in strokes gained from putting. (Strokes gained is a statistic that measures how golfers pick up and lose strokes compared to the rest of the field. Spieth leading the PGA tour in strokes gained approaching the green means that, because his approach shots are so good, he is improving his score at a better clip than anyone else in the field. It also confirms what everyone is saying: Spieth is an excellent iron player.)What about McIlroy? He’s battled injury for much of the season, but when he has played, he’s been good. McIlroy hasn’t made enough starts in 2017 for his stats to qualify for the PGA leaderboards, but let’s have a look at them anyway. If he were ranked against the rest of the tour, McIlroy would be first in strokes gained from tee to green and in strokes gained off the tee. And McIlroy’s total strokes gained average would rank third on the tour. His play around and on the green hasn’t been great — he would be tied for 79th in strokes gained around the green and rank 96th in strokes gained from putting, if qualified — but then again, McIlroy’s strength has never been his putter. He’s a tee-to-green kind of player, and that part of his game is firing on all cylinders entering the PGA Championship. The field — and especially Spieth — should be very afraid.Whatever the outcome this Sunday, golf fans should be feeling pretty lucky right now — it’s possible Spieth and McIlroy could both achieve career grand slams by trading wins in the next two majors. But there are no guarantees in golf, especially when it comes to checking off the career slam at the PGA — just ask Palmer and Watson. Lee TrevinoThe Masters13 Gary PlayerU.S. Open3✓ Jack NicklausBritish Open3✓ Arnold PalmerPGA Championship21 Winning three of the four major championships in men’s professional golf is no easy feat. Only 18 golfers have ever done it,1And as we’ll see in the table below, only 11 have had a chance to cap off the career slam after 1958, when the PGA Championship switched to stroke play and thus began what’s generally regarded as the modern era of major championships. and of those, only five — Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Ben Hogan, Gary Player and Gene Sarazen — have gone on to win the fourth and complete the career grand slam.2The tournaments that constitute a grand slam have changed over the years, so we’re only considering the definition in use since 1958: The Masters, U.S. Open, British Open and PGA Championship.One of the 13 golfers stuck on three majors (poor guy, I know) is Jordan Spieth, who joined the club with his win at the British Open in July. And luckily for Spieth, the last major he needs to check off is the PGA Championship, which begins Thursday at the Quail Hollow Club in North Carolina. If Spieth wins, he’ll become the group’s sixth member — and the youngest at the time of his accession. Spieth is OK at golf, gang.But although the PGA is often regarded as the game’s weakest major, even the greatest golfers can get hung up trying to add it to their collection. Of the seven modern-era golfers who weren’t able to secure that elusive fourth major (not counting Spieth, who still has much of his career in front of him), two counted the PGA Championship as their white whale. One of those golfers was some guy named Arnold Palmer, and the other was Tom Watson — owners of 15 total majors between them. But for all their many accomplishments, the duo were never able to capture the Wanamaker Trophy. Sam SneadU.S. Open19
With three NBA championships over the past four seasons, the Golden State Warriors are a bona fide dynasty. Regardless of how you feel about its 2016 acquisition of Kevin Durant, which lifted an already historic team to an entirely new level of dominance, Golden State has done something special: Only seven NBA teams1Among four different franchises. have ever pulled off the three-rings-in-four-years trick. Even for the most talented roster ever, that’s not an easy thing to accomplish.The league’s history is, in many ways, defined by its dynasties in a manner that other sports aren’t, and the Warriors are nothing if not the defining team of our current era. But where do they rank in comparison with those other dynastic teams from years past? Although there’s no definitively correct answer, it’s still fun to argue. So we thought we’d fact-check Golden State’s case using our Elo ratings, which are designed to measure a team’s inherent strength at any given moment.Let’s start with the best runs of four consecutive seasons according to the method we favor for judging historical Elo seasons: a blend2Using the harmonic mean. of a team’s final, peak and full-season-average ratings.3For the latter two categories, we exclude the first 20 games of the season, to give a team the chance to stabilize during the season in question. To ensure that a team rated highly every year, I took the harmonic mean of its blended rating from each of the four seasons. Here are the all-time rankings, excluding any duplicates from the same franchise over the same span of years: The Warriors are Elo’s most impressive NBA dynastyHighest multiyear blended Elo rating relative to expectation for a championship-caliber team for NBA franchises that won at least three titles in a span of 10 or fewer years, 1948-2018 San Antonio Spurs2013-1611736 Golden State Warriors2015-1831789 Golden State Warriors2015-183 of 41789+188 Detroit Pistons1987-9021695 A “championship-caliber” team starts out with an Elo of 1600, and dynasties are measured against what we’d project that team’s multiyear blended Elo to be after a given number of years.For franchises that made the list multiple times in a given time period, only their highest-rated stretch during the span was included.Source: Basketball-Reference.com Chicago Bulls1991-9431717 Miami Heat2005-143 of 101596+39 Los Angeles Lakers1998-043 of 71684+112 According to Elo, the Warriors of the past few years have snapped off what is easily the best stretch of four consecutive seasons any NBA team has ever had. By that standard, then, they absolutely belong in the conversation of the league’s greatest dynasties. But of course, they’ve also only had four dynasty-level seasons to speak of. As hard as it is to remember what things were like before the Warriors started dominating, Golden State’s reign has been brief in dynasty terms.So how should we measure the Warriors’ four-year stretch against, say, the Chicago Bulls’ pair of three-peats in the 1990s or the Boston Celtics’ ridiculous championship monopoly of the 1960s?To help put various dynastic runs on equal footing, I began with a thought experiment: How easily would a generic championship-caliber team be able to match a given multiyear run from NBA history? The most difficult-to-replicate stretches are, by definition, the most impressive ones — and in my conception, make for the best dynasties — because a normal contending team is so unlikely to pull them off.As a way of quantifying this, I assigned our generic team a preseason Elo rating of 1600, aka the average preseason Elo for NBA champs since 1948. I then ran a series of regressions to determine what we’d expect its average blended Elo over the next given stretch of seasons to be and compared every possible stretch of seasons in each franchise’s history to those expected ratings. I isolated things down to NBA teams that won at least three championships in a span of 10 or fewer years and tossed out overlapping runs from the same franchise that didn’t prove to be more impressive than other, higher-ranking ones. The dynastic runs we’re left with are the most successful — i.e., the most difficult to replicate — out of all possible multiyear periods in NBA history.As you can see in the table below, the most impressive period for one team might last only three years, while another’s could span an entire decade. For example, the current Warriors’ best period came over the 2015 to 2018 period, because their four-year mark of 1789 was 188 points higher than what we’d expect our generic contender’s average blended Elo over the next four seasons to be. Another example: The San Antonio Spurs’ best run came over 10 seasons, from 1998-99 to 2007-08,4Yes, 2008 is included despite San Antonio’s burst of championships (which started in 1999) temporarily being put on hold after 2007. Our method thinks extending their Elo run into a very good 10th season was more impressive than if we simply look at things after their 2007 championship season. during which time they had a blended Elo rating of 1702 — 145 points better than we’d expect that generic championship-caliber team to do over a 10-season period. Some franchises, like the Bulls, are listed twice in rapid succession, because they had multiple short runs that were highly impressive and didn’t overlap.Here’s Elo’s ranking of all-time NBA dynasties: Utah Jazz1995-9801702 * Using the harmonic mean.Source: Basketball-Reference.com TeamSeasonsChampionshipsBlended Elovs. Exp. Los Angeles Lakers2000-0331703 Philadelphia 76ers1980-8311698 Boston Celtics1980-873 of 81696+130 Chicago Bulls1996-983 of 31793+181 Chicago Bulls1991-933 of 31746+134 Miami Heat2011-1421702 Elo’s best four-year runsHighest average* blended Elo across four consecutive seasons for NBA franchises, 1948-18 Los Angeles Lakers1982-914 of 101685+128 Chicago Bulls1995-9831745 TeamSeasonsTitles4-Year Blended Elo San Antonio Spurs1999-084 of 101702+145 Boston Celtics1984-8721716 Milwaukee Bucks1971-7411701 Los Angeles Lakers2008-1121706 Boston Celtics1959-678 of 91676+115 Oklahoma City Thunder2011-1401692 Minneapolis Lakers1949-545 of 61651+72 Los Angeles Lakers1985-8831715 San Antonio Spurs2003-0621719 Even compared with other dynasties, the current Warriors and Michael Jordan’s second Bulls three-peat stand out. Our method says that it is slightly more difficult for a typical championship contender to replicate Golden State’s four-year run than Chicago’s three-year stretch, but that’s just splitting hairs. Either dynasty could be considered the GOAT, which is truly a testament to the impressiveness of what the Warriors are currently doing.A few notes on the rest of the list: The Spurs dynasty is difficult to pin down — we once coined the term “Grover Cleveland” (instead of the often overused D-word) for teams like San Antonio that won multiple championships but never consecutively5Cleveland was famously the only president in history to serve multiple non-consecutive terms. — but this approach considers their most difficult-to-duplicate period to be that aforementioned decade from 1999 to 2008. It also considers the Shaq-and-Kobe Lakers’ best run to be the seven seasons from 1997-98 to 2003-04, which includes (but is not limited to) the 1999-2000 through 2001-02 three-peat that most fans consider to be their dynastic peak.The Russell-era Celtics strike me as surprisingly low on the list, perhaps as a consequence of only examining 10-year windows of time at a maximum (the Celtics won 11 rings in 13 seasons, from 1957 to 1969). But Elo also has never been all that high on those Boston teams, with only one — the 1965 version — even cracking the top 50 for single seasons. In some ways, those Celtics were a very early prototype for today’s superteams who pace themselves through the regular season and then peak during the playoffs: Boston won 60-plus games in only two of their 11 championship seasons during that span and won a pair of titles with fewer than 50 regular-season wins.6Granted, in schedules shorter than today’s 82-game slate. However conducive that was to winning championships, it didn’t help earn the Celtics many Elo brownie points.Finally, Dwyane Wade’s Miami Heat also qualify for this list, although they’re not necessarily a “dynasty” that many people think of when perusing the annals of NBA history. Between Wade’s Finals MVP turn in 2006 and the two rings they tacked on after LeBron James and Chris Bosh joined the team in 2010 — plus a number of solid seasons in between7Avert your eyes from 2008! — the Heat could be considered a dynasty if you squint hard enough. If so, however, it also makes sense for them to be stashed away at the very bottom of the rankings here.But back to the Warriors. Elo already considers them to be on par with the greatest dynasties the game has ever seen, and as my colleague Chris Herring wrote over the weekend, they also seem poised to keep their core together longer than most. Although the end does come sooner for these types of teams than we tend to think while we’re in the middle of their dominance, Golden State now has a chance to build on what it’s already accomplished and solidify itself as the clear No. 1 choice among the NBA’s all-time dynasties. Let’s see if they can take advantage of the opportunity.
Sophomore defensive end Noah Spence (8) breaks up a pass during a game against Indiana Nov. 23. OSU won, 42-14. Credit: Shelby Lum / Photo editorInitially reported to have been suspended for the use of a dietary supplement, Ohio State sophomore defensive end Noah Spence’s three-game ban is because he tested positive for ecstasy, according to a Tuesday report by abc27 in Harrisburg, Pa.The report states Spence’s father, Greg Spence, said his son tested positive for “a small amount of ecstasy” prior to the Big Ten Championship game Dec. 7 against Michigan State.Greg Spence also said that the conference originally suspended his son for a year, according to the report, because it considers the substance to be a performance enhancing drug. He also said Noah Spence consumed the drug accidentally after taking an open drink from someone he did not know at a party.The Spence family appealed the year-long ban, and it was ultimately reduced to three games, according to the report, which stated that the NCAA considers ecstasy to be a “street drug,” which carries a lesser penalty. A second appeal was unsuccessful.An OSU spokesman said “we will have no further comment” on the situation in an email to The Lantern Tuesday.Attempts to contact Spence and his family for comment were unsuccessful Tuesday afternoon.The abc27 report also said the Spence family plans to file a lawsuit against the Big Ten.Spence led the Buckeyes with eight sacks in 2013 and finished second on the team with 14.5 tackles for loss. He figures to be a large contributor on the defensive side of the ball next season after serving his suspension.
Men’s soccer assistant coach Ian Gordona.Credit: Courtesy of OSU AthleticsThe Ohio State men’s soccer team has hired a former rival coach to try and kick start the program.The Buckeyes announced the hiring of former Michigan assistant Ian Gordona Monday, appointing him to the same position in Columbus. According to an OSU press release, he will also assume the role of recruiting director.Gordona, who spent the last two seasons at Michigan, helped guide the Wolverines to back-to-back winning seasons after a dismal 2011 season when the Wolverines finished 5-14-1 overall.Regardless of his recent affiliation with a heated rival, Gordona earned his bachelor’s degree from Ohio State in June of 2003 in history. Since then, he has coached 113 All-Americans, 66 Youth National Team players, 51 professionals and six National Players of the Year on top of four national championship teams.Gordona’s recent success has coach John Bluem excited for his return to Columbus.“We are delighted to have Ian join the staff,” Bluem said in the press release. “He is an excellent young coach, tremendous motivator and fantastic recruiter. He is a remarkable evaluator of young talent and will lead the way in our future recruiting efforts. He has incredible work ethic and will provide a strong role model for our student athletes.”Gordona is set to replace Taly Goode, who spent four seasons with the Buckeyes. Goode “left the program to move on to other opportunities,” OSU spokesman Alex Morando said in an email.According to Morando, Gordona’s salary is $47,000, while Goode’s was $40,609. Outside of football and men’s basketball, Morando said OSU does not have contracts for assistant coaches.Gordona, who was not immediately made available for comment, released the following statement in the press release.“It’s an honor and privilege to have the opportunity to be a part of The Ohio State University and the athletic department,” Gordona said. “I feel fortunate and humbled to have the opportunity to work with the men’s soccer program under the direction of coach Bluem and coach (Frank) Speth, as well as learn from the minds of the other great coaches this university has within its athletic department. My desire is to help build this program back to national prominence.”The Buckeyes finished the 2013 season with a 5-8-4 record – and won just one Big Ten game.OSU is scheduled to kick off its 2014 fall season Aug. 17 against West Virginia in an exhibition game at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium.