2016-173.4%6.4% Draymond Green’s block rate usually increases during the playoffs 2013-143.04.5 2015-163.03.8 Blocked dunks are not only difficult to accumulate, players also run the risk of becoming a potential poster. “There’s definitely a sense of urgency, but it’s also [me] not caring if I get dunked on,” Green said when asked by FiveThirtyEight about his spike in blocked dunks. “Because every time you do it, you put yourself in that position. I like the reward we can reap from getting a block. That outweighs getting dunked on. The way I see it, it’s still just two points. I try to read what the offense is trying to do and be a step early, if I can.”Green, who’s averaging just under five blocks and steals a game combined this postseason, knows his aggressive approach is inevitably going to cause some embarrassment. And that was on display in Game 4 when Utah’s Derrick Favors got the best of him on one play.Video Playerhttps://fivethirtyeight.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/draymonddunkedon.mp400:0000:0000:10Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.But more important than a few blocked dunks, the Warriors rely heavily on Green’s instincts to read the opposing team’s offense. Many times, his ball denial or ability to close out on someone like Gordon Hayward forces the opponent to look elsewhere to get a shot; a huge accomplishment in the postseason, when teams learn which role players can handle the moment versus which ones can’t.Earlier in the series, acting Warriors coach Mike Brown was asked to compare or contrast Green’s defensive ability with that of Ben and Rasheed Wallace, from the mid-2000s Detroit Pistons teams. In his response, Brown praised Green, saying he was more versatile than those two while saying that Green took a similar leadership role in terms of how much he communicated with teammates on the court.“They anchored whatever defense they were a part of, and they did a lot of things that were kind of on the fly, that they felt,” Brown said. “That’s something Draymond does. I mean, he has carte blanche. Steve [Kerr] has empowered him since day one to quarterback the defense, and he does a heck of a job in that regard.”And as long as Green keeps improvising the way he has, it will be tough for anyone to challenge the Warriors.Check out our latest NBA predictions. Block percentage is a rate estimate of how many 2-point shots a player blocks while he’s on the court.Source: Basketball-Reference.com 2012-131.83.5 SEASONREG. SEASONPLAYOFFS Much like the regular season that preceded it, this NBA postseason has been marked by some eye-popping individual performances. As he tries to reach the NBA Finals for the seventh-straight year, LeBron James has been phenomenal, even by his own ridiculous standards. Meanwhile, point guards Isaiah Thomas and John Wall have been throwing haymakers at one another for the right to face James and the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals.But perhaps no star has raised the level of his game in the postseason as much as Golden State’s Draymond Green. Yes, he was great on offense in Game 4, recording a triple-double as his team finished a sweep of the Jazz1He averaged 16 points, nearly nine rebounds and seven assists for the series.. But it was his defense — both in this series and all postseason — that made his performance as special, if not more so, as Stephen Curry’s or Kevin Durant’s.Utah scored a meager 95 points per 100 plays with Green on the floor (down from 105 points per 100 with Green on the sidelines), connecting on just 52 percent of its shots inside of five feet with Green on the court (down from a respectable 61 percent with him on the bench), according to NBA.com. But Green’s raw defensive numbers in the series weren’t the real surprise — the Defensive Player of the Year frontrunner was statistically the best interior stopper in the NBA this season2Among players who played at least 50 games and defended three or more shots per game from close range — rather it was the emphatic way in which he repeatedly shut down the Jazz at the rim.On Monday night, Utah tried and failed to score on Green at the basket, shooting just 3 of 10 from close range with him nearby. You would have thought the Jazz had learned their lesson earlier in the series: In Game 2, they tried sneaking three alley-oops past Green, including two to Rudy Gobert, a skilled big and Defensive Player of the Year candidate in his own right. In all three instances, Green snuffed out the play.Video Playerhttps://fivethirtyeight.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/alleyoop1.mp400:0000:0000:07Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.Video Playerhttps://fivethirtyeight.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/draymondswat.mp400:0000:0000:08Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.Video Playerhttps://fivethirtyeight.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/greenswat2.mp400:0000:0000:06Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.Those plays came on the heels of a series against Portland in which Green had a couple of similar rejections at the rim.Video Playerhttps://fivethirtyeight.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/greenrejection.mp400:0000:0000:10Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.Video Playerhttps://fivethirtyeight.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/greenrejection2.mp400:0000:0000:07Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.In all, he’s blocked four dunk attempts in 283 minutes this postseason, the most in the league. It’s important to remember here that blocking the dunks of 7-foot-1-inch NBA players is about as hard as it sounds. During the regular season, players were successful on better than 90 percent of their dunk attempts, according to Basketball-Reference.com. To give Green’s postseason performance even greater context, consider this: In his entire career — five seasons and 10,627 regular-season minutes — he had four such blocks, according to ESPN Stats & Information Group. 2014-152.92.5
Check out our latest soccer predictions. We write to you with elbows tucked, stroopwafels out — and a new understanding of what’s possible in soccer. Just half of the second-leg games in the Champions League’s round of 16 are complete, and already two titans of the sport are gone thanks to a youthful rebellion and instant replay. The prediction models are as surprised as the rest of us.First, to Real Madrid’s dismantling Tuesday. Coming into the second leg of its tie against Ajax, Madrid led 2-1 and had a 75 percent chance of moving on in a tournament the club has won four of the past five years. Ajax was technically better than Madrid in the first leg, and our model gave the Dutch team some respect as a result. But it’s one thing to be Madrid’s equal and another to beat it 4-1 at the Bernabeu, exposing seemingly each of Los Blancos’ flaws since they lost Cristiano Ronaldo to Juventus at the end of last season. Led by homegrown phenoms Frenkie de Jong and Matthijs de Ligt, Ajax played the platonic ideal of free-flowing soccer, pirouetting through the midfield and capitalizing on Madrid’s missing captain, Sergio Ramos, who purposely got himself booked at the end of the first leg so he could be fresh (and cardless) for the quarterfinals. Instead of living to fight another day, Ramos serves as a cautionary tale.Ajax’s win was surprising; Manchester United’s was almost inconceivable. Heading into its second leg against Paris Saint-Germain, Man U had just a 3 percent chance of moving on — and its play on Wednesday showed why. United lost the possession game 72 percent to 28 percent and trailed substantially in shots. This did not appear to be a team that could overcome a 2-0 deficit from the first leg. Yet PSG gifted Man U two goals on defensive errors and could manage only one first-half goal of its own, putting United just one goal from winning on away goals. But Man U couldn’t gain much possession, let alone break through for a goal. But then the replay gods took pity. In the 90th minute, United’s Diogo Dalot fired the ball in the general direction of PSG’s goal, and PSG’s Presnel Kimpembe leapt to block it once it had crossed into the box. His elbow came with him, and as it separated from his chest, it knocked into the ball. The referees initially called a corner but then went to video review. The (controversial) judgment changed the call to a handball. A penalty shot was awarded, and Marcus Rashford converted it for a tie-breaking third road goal. The final whistle blew a few minutes later, and Manchester United had somehow pulled off a miracle.Two other games happened, we’ve been told. Porto had its own late drama Wednesday against Roma, including another penalty awarded on video review; the Portuguese squad wasn’t favored to move on heading into the match. And on Tuesday, Tottenham finished off Borussia Dortmund as calmly as Harry Kane finishes his penalty kicks.All of this leaves some havoc in our projections, and we still have four games to go in this round. Buckle up, and please keep your elbows inside the vehicle at all times.
In football, there are constant power struggles, both on and off the field: players battling players, offenses battling defenses, the passing game battling the running game, coaches battling coaches, and new ways of thinking battling old ways of thinking. And then there are kickers. Battling no one but themselves and the goalposts, they come on the field in moments most mundane and most decisive. They take all the blame when they fail, and little of the credit when they succeed. Year in and year out, just a little bit at a time, they get better. And better. And better. Until the game is completely different, and no one even noticed that kickers were one of the main reasons why.If you’ve been reading my NFL column Skeptical Football this season, you may have noticed that I write a lot about kickers. This interest has been building for a few years as I’ve watched field goals drained from long range at an ever-increasing rate, culminating in 2013, when NFL kickers made more than 67 percent of the kicks they took from 50-plus yards, giving them a record 96 such makes. There has been a lot of speculation about how kickers suddenly became so good at the long kick, ranging from performance-enhancing drugs (there have been a few possible cases) to the kickers’ special “k-balls” to more kick-friendly stadiums.So prior to the 2014 season, I set out to try to see how recently this improvement had taken place, whether it had been gradual or sudden, and whether it was specific to very long kicks or reflected improvement in kicking accuracy as a whole.What I found fundamentally changed my understanding of the game of football.1And possibly offered insight into how competitive sports can conceal remarkable changes in human capability.The complete(ish) history of NFL kickingPro Football Reference has kicking data broken down by categories (0-19 yards, 20-29, 30-39, 40-59 and 50+ yards) back to 1961. With this we can see how field goal percentage has changed through the years for each range of distances:It doesn’t matter the distance; kicking has been on a steady upward climb. If we look back even further, we can see indicators that kicking has been on a similar trajectory for the entire history of the league.The oldest data that Pro Football Reference has available is from 1932, when the eight teams in the NFL made just six field goals (it’s unknown how many they attempted). That year, kickers missed 37 of 113 extra-point attempts, for a conversion rate of 67.3 percent. The following year, the league moved the goal posts up to the front of the end zone — which led to a whopping 36 made field goals, and a skyrocketing extra-point conversion rate of 79.3 percent. With the uprights at the front of the end zone, kickers missed only 30 of 145 extra points.For comparison, those 30 missed extra-point attempts (all with the goalposts at the front of the end zone) are more than the league’s 28 missed extra-point attempts (all coming from 10 yards further out) from 2011 to 2014 — on 4,939 attempts.In 1938-39, the first year we know the number of regular field goals attempted, NFL kickers made 93 of 235 field-goal tries (39.6 percent) to go with 347 of 422 extra points (82.2 percent). In the ’40s, teams made 40.0 percent of their field goal tries (we don’t know what distances they attempted) and 91.3 percent of their XPs. In the ’50s, those numbers rose to 48.2 percent of all field goals and 94.8 percent of XPs. The ’60s must have seemed like a golden era: Kickers made 56 percent of all field goals (breaking the 50 percent barrier for the first time) and 96.8 percent of their extra points.For comparison, since 2010, NFL kickers have made 61.9 percent of their field goal attempts — from more than 50 yards.In the 1960s, we start to get data on field goal attempts broken down by distance, allowing for the more complete picture above. In 1972, the NFL narrowed the hash marks from 18.5 yards from 40, which improved field goal percentages overall by reducing the number of attempts taken from awkward angles. And then in 1974, the league moved the goal posts to the back of the end zone — but as kick distances are recorded relative to the posts, the main effect of this move was a small (and temporary) decline in the extra-point conversion rate (which you can see in the top line of the chart above). Then we have data on the kicks’ exact distance, plus field and stadium type, after 1993.2This info is likely out there for older kicks as well, but it wasn’t in my data.So let’s combine everything we know: Extra-point attempts and distances prior to 1961, kicks by category from 1961 to 1993, the kicks’ exact distance after 1993, and the changing placement of goal posts and hash marks. Using this data, we can model the likely success of any kick.With those factors held constant, here’s a look at how good NFL kickers have been relative to their set of kicks in any given year3This is done using a binomial probit regression with all the variables, using “year taken” as a categorical variable (meaning it’s not treated like a number, so 1961, 1962 and 1963 may as well be “Joe,” “Bob” and “Nancy”). This is similar to how SRS determines how strong each team is relative to its competition.:When I showed this chart to a friend of mine who’s a philosophy Ph.D.,4Hi, Nate! he said: “It’s like the Hacker Gods got lazy and just set a constant Kicker Improvement parameter throughout the universe.” The great thing about this is that since the improvement in kicking has been almost perfectly linear, we can treat “year” as just another continuous variable, allowing us to generalize the model to any kick in any situation at any point in NFL history.Applying this year-based model to our kicking distance data, we can see just how predictable the improvement in kicking has actually been:The model may give teams too much credit in the early ’60s — an era for which we have a lot less data — but over the course of NFL history it does extremely well (it also predicts back to 1932, not shown). What’s amazing is that, while the model incorporates things like hashmark location and (more recently) field type, virtually all the work is handled by distance and year alone. Ultimately, it’s an extremely (virtually impossibly) accurate model considering how few variables it relies on.5So how accurate is this thing? To be honest, in all my years of building models, I’ve never seen anything like it. The model misses a typical year/distance group prediction by an average of just 2.5 percent. Note that a majority of those predictions involve only a couple hundred observations — at most. For comparison, the standard deviation for 250 observations of a 75 percent event is 2.7 percent. In other words, the model pretty much couldn’t have done any better even if it knew the exact probability of each kick!While there is possibly a smidge of overfitting (there usually is), the risk here is lower than usual, since the vast majority of each prediction is driven solely by year and distance. Here’s the regression output:I wish I could take credit for this, but it really just fell into place. Nerds, perk up: The z-value on “season” is 46.2! If every predictive relationship I looked for were that easy to find, life would be sweet.This isn’t just trivia, it has real-world implications, from tactical (how should you manage the clock knowing your opponent needs only moderate yardage to get into field goal range?) to organizational (maybe a good kicker is worth more than league minimum). And then there’s the big one.Fourth downIf you’re reading this site, there’s a good chance you scream at your television a lot when coaches sheepishly kick or punt instead of going for it on fourth down. This is particularly true in the “dead zone” between roughly the 25- and 40-yard lines, where punts accomplish little and field goals are supposedly too long to be good gambles.I’ve been a card-carrying member of Team Go-For-It since the ’90s. And we were right, back then. With ’90s-quality kickers, settling for field goals in the dead zone was practically criminal. As of 10 years ago — around when these should-we-go-for-it models rose to prominence — we were still right. But a lot has changed in 10 years. Field-goal kicking is now good enough that many previous calculations are outdated. Here’s a comparison between a field-goal kicking curve from 2004 vs. 2014:There’s no one universally agreed-upon system for when you should go for it on fourth down. But a very popular one is The New York Times’ 4th Down Bot, which is powered by models built by Brian Burke — founder of Advanced Football Analytics and a pioneer in the quantitative analysis of football. It calculates the expected value (either in points or win percentages) for every fourth-down play in the NFL, and tweets live results during games. Its 19,000-plus followers are treated to the bot’s particular emphasis on the many, many times coaches fail to go for it on fourth down when they should.A very helpful feature of the 4th Down Bot is that its game logs break down each fourth-down decision into its component parts. This means that we can see exactly what assumptions the bot is making about the success rate of each kick. Comparing those to my model, it looks to me like the bot’s kickers are approximately 2004-quality. (I asked Burke about this, and he agrees that the bot is probably at least a few years behind,6I don’t blame Burke or others for not updating their models based on the last few years. It’s good to be prudent and not assume that temporary shifts one way or the other will hold. Normally it is better to go with the weight of history rather than with recent trends. But in this case, the recent trends are backed by the weight of history. and says that its kicking assumptions are based on a fitted model of the most recent eight years of kicking data.7Here’s his full statement: “The bot is about 3-4 years behind the trends in FG accuracy, which have been improving at longer distances. It uses a kicking model fitted to the average of the recent 8-year period of data. AFA’s more advanced model for team clients is on the current ‘frontier’ of kick probabilities, and can be tuned for specific variables like kicker range, conditions, etc. Please keep in mind the bot is intended to be a good first-cut on the analysis and a demonstration of what is possible with real-time analytics. It’s not intended as the final analysis.”)But more importantly, these breakdowns allow us to essentially recalculate the bot’s recommendations given a different set of assumptions. And the improvement in kicking dramatically changes the calculus of whether to go for it on fourth down in the dead zone. The following table compares “Go or No” charts from the 4th Down Bot as it stands right now, versus how it would look with projected 2015 kickers8The exact values in the chart may differ slightly from the reports on the Times’ website because I had to reverse-engineer the bot’s decision-making process. But basically I’m assuming the model gets everything exactly right as far as expected value from various field locations, chances of converting a fourth-down attempt, etc., then recalculating the final expected value comparison using 2015 kickers.:Having better kickers makes a big difference, as you can see from the blue sea on the left versus the red sea on the right. (The 4th Down Bot’s complete “Go or No” table is on the Times’ website.)Getting these fourth-down calls wrong is potentially a big problem for the model. As a test case, I tried applying the 4th Down Bot’s model to a selection of the most relevant kicks from between 25 and 55 yards in 2013, then looked at what coaches actually did in those scenarios. I graded both against my kicking-adjusted results for 2013. While the updated version still concluded that coaches were too conservative (particularly on fourth-and-short), it found that coaches were (very slightly) making more correct decisions than the 4th Down Bot.The differences were small (coaches beat the bot by only a few points over the entire season), but even being just as successful as the bot would be a drastic result considering how absolutely terrible coaches’ go-for-it strategy has been for decades. In other words, maybe it’s not that NFL coaches were wrong, they were just ahead of their time!Time-traveling kickersHaving such an accurate model also allows us to see the overall impact kicking improvement has had on football. For example, we can calculate how kickers from different eras would have performed on a common set of attempts. In the following chart, we can see how many more or fewer points per game the typical team would have scored if kickers from a different era had taken its kicks (the red line is the actual points per game from field goals that year):The last time kickers were as big a part of the game as they are today, the league had to move the posts back! Since the rule change, the amount of scoring from field goals has increased by more than 2 points per game. A small part of the overall increase (the overall movement of the red line) is a result of taking more field goals, but most of it comes from the improvement in accuracy alone (the width of the “ribbon”).How does this compare to broader scoring trends? As a baseline for comparison, I’ve taken the average points scored in every NFL game since 1961, and then seen how much league scoring deviated from that at any given point in time (the “scoring anomaly”). Then I looked at how much of that anomaly was a result of kicking accuracy.9The scoring deviation on this chart is calculated relative to the average game over the period. The kicking accuracy is relative to the median kicker of the period.:Amid wild fluctuations in scoring, kicking has remained a steady, driving force.For all the talk of West Coast offenses, the invention of the pro formation, the wildcat, 5-wide sets, the rise of the pass-catching tight-end, Bill Walsh, the Greatest Show On Turf, and the general recognition that passing, passing and more passing is the best way to score in football, half the improvement in scoring in the past 50-plus years of NFL history has come solely from field-goal kickers kicking more accurately.10Side note, I’ve also looked at whether kicking improvement has been a result of kickers who are new to the league being better than older kickers, or of older kickers getting better themselves. The answer is both.The past half-century has seen an era of defensive innovation — running roughly from the mid-’60s to the mid-’70s — a chaotic scoring epoch with wild swings until the early ’90s, and then an era of offensive improvement. But the era of kickers is forever.Reuben Fischer-Baum contributed graphics.CORRECTION (Jan. 28, 2:22 p.m.): An earlier version of this article incorrectly gave the distances from which extra-point kicks were taken in 1933 and in recent years. Actual extra-point distances aren’t recorded.
5Oakland Athletics7679797577.1 EXPECTED NUMBER OF WINS RANKTEAMPECOTAFANGRAPHSDAVENPORTWESTGATEAVERAGE How forecasters view the AL West 4Los Angeles Angels7883818180.6 3Texas Rangers8483818583.1 2Seattle Mariners8583888685.4 neil (Neil Paine, FiveThirtyEight senior sportswriter): I think the AL West is a really fascinating division because the team that is probably the best in it right now (Houston) finished third last year, the third-best team (Texas) finished first, and those two teams are sandwiched around one (Seattle) that has had the hardest playoff luck possible in recent years. And we haven’t even mentioned a team (the Los Angeles Angels) that contains the potential G.O.A.T.Anyway, the projections say the Astros should be the favorites, so let’s start with them. In a weird way, was 2016 an example of the Plexiglas Principle for them? Their actual record only dropped by 2 wins from 2015, but they were down 10 Pythagorean wins in 2016 after a 22-win Pythagorean improvement the year before. Does that portend an improvement this year?ckahrl: Sadly, you don’t get to carry over any accrued, unmet expectations for wins. Hence the wisdom of shaking up that lineup as much as they did by adding Carlos Beltran, Josh Reddick and Brian McCann.rob: It was less the Plexiglas Principle — which is really just regression to the mean — and more the case of a legitimately good team snakebit by poor sequencing and Pythagorean luck.That poor luck does not in and of itself guarantee an improvement, but the talent on the team does. Most of the best players from last year are back, and they made a few additions, which together makes them, on paper, the best team in the division.ckahrl: That said, I still have questions about them …I’m reminded of an old saying that I think belongs to Bill James, that a team with five viable first-base options may not have a first baseman. Plus, can George Springer play a whole lot of center field over a full season? And as interesting as pitcher Lance McCullers should be, and as much as I like what they’re doing with pitcher Chris Devenski, is that a staff we should be entirely sold on? I see how the pieces work individually; I wonder about the aggregate.neil: Yeah, the biggest thing for them might be whether a rotation that was way down from its 2015 form — most notably Dallas Keuchel, but also Collin McHugh and Mike Fiers — can reclaim what went right two years ago.ckahrl: A lot of analysts are banking that Keuchel comes back a good ways, but I also accept the suggestion that this team needed to add a better starter than, say, Charlie Morton. But I guess that’s what the trade deadline will be for.neil: In that department, it also helps that they have the third-best farm system in the game. So they have the assets to conceivably go out and make something happen on the trade market if need be.rob: I’m a believer in the Astros’ rotation. I think last year was a bit of an aberration. FIP (fielding independent pitching) has its problems in terms of describing their performance, but it still has validity as a predictive metric. And from that standpoint, we should expect some bounce-backs from Keuchel and McHugh, at least. The 16.4 percent home runs-per-flyball rate that Keuchel managed last year wasn’t entirely his fault, even if he allowed some hard contact.ckahrl: That hard contact seems like a consistent concern, though, no? That isn’t stuff you can fix with defense.rob: That’s true, but contact management is a skill that fluctuates a lot. That goes as much for Good Keuchel — the one who allowed maybe the softest contact in the league in 2015 — as it does for Bad Keuchel. He may end up as a mediocre contact-manager, but that would still be a decided improvement.neil: It also bears mentioning that on the offensive side, Houston had the youngest lineup in baseball in 2016 — though they gave some of that up when they revamped things, like Christina mentioned. But this does seem like a very balanced, complete team now, assuming that the pitchers rebound.Bottom line — is it crazy to think the Astros are on the verge of a great season?rob: No. But I think the more likely outcome is a good season.ckahrl: If Keuchel and McHugh come back as far as they might, if the bullpen gels, if Springer is fully healthy for a season and can handle center, if Yuli Gurriel pans out in the most exciting ways, sure, they could live up to the mid-’90s win total that some of the projectors have them down for.So it isn’t exactly magical thinking. But how many teams get everything they want and hope for?rob: The 2016 Cubs say hi. ;)ckahrl: Hah, yes.neil: OK, so if you’re both a little more bearish on the ’Stros than the projections above, are you bullish on the Mariners or — gasp — the Rangers?ckahrl: Speaking of the Plexiglas Principle, it is certainly fashionable to bash the Rangers.rob: I’m the Designated Rangers Basher around here, so I have to say that they seem like an OK team. But they aren’t as good as their record from last year, and they didn’t make massive improvements. In contrast, the Mariners were good last year and ended up being crushed under the wheels of the Rangers One-Run Magic Machine.Of course, as Christina can tell you, I was wrong about the Rangers last year, while she somehow saw their impressive season coming. So you should probably listen to her.ckahrl: And sure enough, I’m not that down on them. A full year of catcher Jonathan Lucroy and starter Yu Darvish? Those are good things. It’s easy to knock Mike Napoli, but will he be worse than the .699 OPS (on-base plus slugging) the Rangers got from their first basemen last year? (No.) And don’t we expect growth from Nomar Mazara? (We should.)It’s when you get into that rotation’s depth — or the complete lack of any — that things get scary.neil: Yep, when Dillon Gee is the back-of-the-rotation reinforcement …rob: Agreed about the lack of depth, especially in view of the Rangers’ consistent injury problems. Last year, I remember a lot of people saying that they couldn’t repeat their injury woes from the year(s) before. But they ended up with the fourth-most DL days in 2016, according to Jeff Zimmerman’s DL database. The strongest predictor of future injuries is past injuries, and I expect that their depth will be tested once again.neil: And all of this compounds on itself if their true talent was closer to that 82-win Pythagorean team last year than the 95 wins they had in the standings. Your margin for error on injuries and offseason pickups goes down to nothing really quickly.ckahrl: Agreed. To give them their due, though, manager Jeff Banister handles his bullpens well, which helps milk the margins. But even so, the Rangers need to throw good money after bad — and maybe a prospect or two — to add a starting pitcher and take themselves seriously this season.neil: Meanwhile — and you touched on this Rob (plus wrote about it last year) — the Mariners can’t catch a break, it seems. Do they break that trend this season?rob: The Mariners are still squarely in that terrible zone of playoff probabilities that has so haunted them for the past 20 years. If the projections hold true, they’ll be right around 50 percent to make the playoffs, with their success contingent on things like how other teams perform and the vagaries of Pythagorean records. I’d like to say, “Yes, this is their year,” but I’ve seen enough Mariners bad luck to hedge a bit.ckahrl: Talk about a fun team taking some fun risks, though. I like the depth in the rotation and in their outfield. I like a team willing to take a chance on first baseman Dan Vogelbach. I like seeing a team valuing strong complementary pieces, like utilityman Danny Valencia.neil: And starting pitcher James Paxton is the real deal. He led all qualified AL pitchers in FIP last year.They were, though, the second-oldest team in MLB last year. Also, I wonder if Felix Hernandez is running out of steam just as the rest of the roster is finally gaining it.ckahrl: Yes, and they didn’t get a lot younger by adding thirtysomethings like Jarrod Dyson, Valencia and Carlos Ruiz. There aren’t a lot of tomorrows in their mix. And the bullpen is … well, it’s going to be interesting if the organization doesn’t have another call-up like Edwin Diaz to help contribute.rob: To make matters worse, Hisashi Iwakuma has looked cooked in spring training this year, not that such performances count for much.ckahrl: What if Yovani Gallardo is also ready to be beaten like a drum and King Felix is done? Things get ugly early. At which point, GM Jerry Dipoto can break the team up for parts with his usual manic energy.neil: I guess Mariners fans have stuck with them through the playoff drought this long — what’s another rebuilding cycle? But that’s probably overly pessimistic. There’s a universe where they win this division, or at least a wild card.rob: The wild card seems like slim consolation, given the length of their playoff drought.ckahrl: As an A’s fan, I can agree that the wild card is not much to get excited about.neil: We’ll get to the A’s really soon! But first we should talk the Angels.ckahrl: Leave the fork, we can stick it in the A’s later.neil: So … the Angels are just going to keep on wasting Mike Trout’s talent forever, aren’t they?rob: Yep. The gap in projected wins above replacement between Trout and the next best player on the team is about 5 wins. And Trout has consistently overperformed all predictions, so it may end up closer to 7. He’s ridiculous, the rest of the team is terrible, and personally I see them as closer to PECOTA’s 78-win projection than a .500 outfit.ckahrl: They’re an interesting team because they did a nice job filling huge holes by getting Danny Espinosa and Cameron Maybin for very little. Even if Garrett Richards is all the way back, I just don’t see how that staff keeps them in enough games to get them much further than .500. But at least there are potential slugfests to enjoy now.rob: I struggle to get excited about Espinosa or Maybin. I know they’ve both had good performances at times, but Steamer puts them down as below-average players this year. Or exactly the type of player who ends up playing alongside Mike Trout in a disappointing campaign.ckahrl: Improvement is relative. The kitchen linoleum might be the ceiling for those two, but it’s better than what the Angels have gotten from those lineup slots.neil: Still, it does seem like shuffling deck chairs around on the Titanic. (Ben Revere? Really?) They also have the second-worst farm system in the majors, so help is not on the way.ckahrl: The thing about Trout is … he’s still only 25 years old and signed through 2020. Is it a wasted year? Probably, even if they eke out a whopping 80 or 82 wins. Is that enough of a moral victory to help them with their payroll hangover from the Pujols/Hamilton/Wilson splurge that worked out less than well? Maybe, because I wonder if the Angels aren’t positioning themselves to be players in the stronger free-agent markets of the next couple winters.neil: Amazingly, Pujols’ contract ends after Trout’s does!rob: I do think there is reason to get excited about the long-term future of the Angels. They’ve developed their analytics department in a smart way and made some good hires. Simply hiring people isn’t enough, of course, but in a few years, I can see that paying dividends. Of course, they’ve got the Mike Scioscia problem — his inability to take direction from a GM ended the tenure of the last smart one they had.ckahrl: Well, I wouldn’t sell Angels GM Billy Eppler short. Help isn’t coming soon, but having Trout helps mask what might effectively be a necessary bottom-up rebuild for the organization in the meantime.neil: In the short term, it’s difficult to envision the Angels escaping that 80-ish win purgatory they’ve been trapped in for most of the Trout Era.ckahrl: Have to agree that’s the Angels’ lot, although I’m intrigued by what will happen when Eppler has a shot at spending some money. But with more than $70 million committed per year to Trout, Pujols and Andrelton Simmons in 2018 and beyond, he won’t have as much to spend as he’d like.neil: Finally, we’ve got Christina’s A’s bringing up the rear of the projections — with an OK win total (by their standards)? They made some additions over the offseason that might bring them toward respectability, but are they moving out of a rebuild? What are they doing exactly?ckahrl: Speaking of shuffling deck chairs …It’s brutal, simply brutal, but it’s also a return to the low-stakes, low-upsides bets like when they were going after David DeJesus.rob: I’m really not clear about Oakland’s long-term plan. I feel like the A’s have gone from Moneyball-era prophets of the analytics era to an erratic front office pursuing a series of disconnected moves without an obvious scheme for the next three to five years.ckahrl: The farm system has a few interesting position players, and starter Sean Manaea is going to be fun to watch, but it’s rough sledding in the meantime. Rajai Davis as a 36-year-old everyday center fielder will be a catastrophe for these young pitchers.neil: Just the thing for jump-starting that Sonny Gray renaissance! (If he ever can stay healthy enough to pitch.)rob: Or pitch effectively — he struggled last year in part because of some injuries.neil: Crazy how quickly he went from being one of their lone bright spots to being a non-factor.rob: On that point, the Athletics had the second-most DL days last year, behind only the Dodgers (who seemed to have purposefully built their rotation out of glass). They are likely to have problems again this year, so if their projection is off, I expect it to be overly optimistic.neil: Does Billy Beane get any residual benefit of the doubt at this point? Any hope for the next few seasons? Or is it just a matter of ownership and biding time for a new park?ckahrl: At this point, you can’t give them any residual benefit of the doubt. Results do matter, and with the coming sunset of their revenue sharing, they aren’t going to be anyone else’s charity case. I like Marcus Semien and Khris Davis, and I’d like to pretend I have faith Yonder Alonso’s nice spring means something. But I think 100 losses is way more likely than 78 wins.rob: Beane was brilliant for a long time (see Benjamin Morris’s article), but there’s a strong Red Queen dynamic in baseball analytics these days: You have to run as fast as you can just to stay in the same place. Although the A’s had a strong analytics advantage early on, they haven’t kept up with the pace of growth of analytics in the league. I don’t think they are terribly behind the state of the art in baseball now, but they are falling further and further toward the back of the pack.So I’m inclined not to give him any benefit of the doubt. Staffing is an incomplete proxy for analytics expertise, so maybe he has — or will generate — other advantages to make up for the small front office. But as Christina said, at the end of the day, it’s all about results, and they’ve had some pretty poor results recently. 1Houston Astros9391949292.4 Based on projected wins or over/under win totals. Data gathered on March 21, 2017.Sources: Baseball Prospectus, Fangraphs, Clay Davenport, Las Vegas Review-Journal In honor of the 2017 Major League Baseball season, which starts April 2, FiveThirtyEight is assembling some of our favorite baseball writers to chat about what’s ahead. Today, we focus on the American League West with ESPN.com MLB editor Christina Kahrl and FiveThirtyEight baseball columnist Rob Arthur. The transcript below has been edited.
The OSU women’s soccer team participates in ‘Carmen Ohio’ following a 3-2 win over Purdue on Oct. 8 at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium.Credit: Anbo Yao / Lantern photographerThe Ohio State women’s soccer team (7-3-3, 2-2-2) tallied its first victory since Sept. 25 on Thursday evening after the Buckeyes topped the Purdue Boilermakers 3-2. The Buckeyes were first to score when sophomore forward Sammy Edwards finished from 10 yards in the center of the box off an assist from junior forward Lindsay Agnew in just the third minute of play. OSU came out of the gates with a lot of energy, evident by the quick score. “I think we know we are in a tough spot in the standings right now, so we needed to come out this weekend and get two wins,” junior forward Nichelle Prince said. “So today was the first day of that and we just really bought it and everyone was on their game today.”OSU maintained its lead for the next 10 minutes before the Boilermakers leveled the match on sophomore midfielder/forward Erika Arkans’ shot from 10 yards out. The half continued with back and forth play with multiple opportunities for both teams to score. OSU coach Lori Walker said she was pleased with the improvements her team made to find success in Thursday’s matchup. “I’m really proud of the effort that they put in tonight, and it’s something that we’ve really been asking them to raise every single game, every day,” Walker said. “We’ve tried to make practices as enjoyable as possible the last week and a half, and I really think that it really started to show today.”Senior captain midfielder Michela Paradiso scored the Buckeyes’ next goal in the 34th minute, her second goal of the season.The Scarlet and Gray headed into halftime leading the Boilermakers 2-1, while also holding an 8-5 advantage in shots, including 5-1 on goal. While holding the edge, the Buckeyes knew at halftime that the game was far from over. “It’s a 90-minute game. Forty-five minutes we have given our heart and our soul, but we’ve got to come out and do that again,” Walker said. “We haven’t really done that; this is one of the first games I feel like we’ve put all the pieces together over the 90 minutes.”Prince played an aggressive and dominant game, which earned her effusive praise from Walker. “She has so many just special, God-given talents, and what we really try to do is encourage her to utilize them,” Walker said. “Just seeing her with a smile on her face because she’s back at her full pace, if you will, I was just really pleased with what she has been giving our team.” The Boilermakers tied the game in the 61st minute when junior forward Maddy Williams shot from 20 yards out, deflecting off the hand of OSU freshman goalkeeper Devon Kerr and into the back of the net. Prince said this was the Buckeyes’ time to show what they’re made of. “It’s hard when you’re under pressure. You can either crack or step up to the plate, and I think that’s what we did,” Prince said. “We came to play today and we weren’t afraid. We just played our game and came out really hard.”Despite giving up the tying goal, OSU did not back down. In the 67th minute, sophomore midfielder Nikki Walts netted her fourth goal of the season after she curled a shot from 25 yards inside the right post to give the Buckeyes the lead.With the lead in hand, OSU continued to bring pressure and intensity until the very end. “We challenged them and basically tried to treat this like a championship game,” Walker said. “This game really matters, not that any other game doesn’t matter, but this one was a critical one.”The Buckeyes will look to continue their winning ways on Sunday, as they are set to play host to the Maryland Terrapins at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium. Kickoff is scheduled for 1 p.m.