Statheads Are The Best Free Agent Bargains In Baseball

OAK3840+5.3 ARI4161+48.8 KCA3647+30.6 PHI33330.0 BOS5971+20.3 DET4044+10.0 SFN5956-5.1 MIN3546+31.4 NUMBER OF FULL-TIME SCOUTING PERSONNEL Nor is there any indication that we’re approaching a plateau. A number of teams told us they expected to add more analysts soon; we’re aware of at least 12 open positions across MLB. And because the litany of prerequisite degrees and programming languages seems to grow with each listing, it seems certain that the average analyst also has a more impressive résumé today than in the past.To the statheads went the spoilsThe biggest benefits of buying into objective analysis were probably reaped around the time “Moneyball” was published, when a lot of the low-hanging fruit was still attached to baseball’s most rigid branches. Simple lessons such as “on-base percentage matters more than batting average” still eluded many front offices, and numerous talented analysts whose work would later be exclusive to one team were still posting their insights publicly on message boards or sites such as Baseball Prospectus.Even though some of the initial rewards had already been realized by 2009, there were still significant gains to be made by semi-early adopters. To measure them, we built a model estimating how good a team was before its front-office hires, using the following factors for each team: its winning percentages over the previous three seasons, its payroll and market size and its Baseball America farm-system ranking. Using these variables, we generated an expected winning percentage for each team over the following three seasons, beginning with the two historical years for which we had analyst counts (2009 and 2012).The takeaway: It paid to invest in analytics early. Teams with at least one analyst in 2009 outperformed their expected winning percentage4As predicted by the model. by 44 percentage points over the 2012-14 period, relative to teams who didn’t — an enormous effect, equivalent to more than seven extra wins per season. That might be overstating things a bit — the precise advantage varies depending on how the analysis is structured — but over most permutations of the model we tried,5Including using different thresholds (by number of analysts) to determine a team’s analytical buy-in, and different periods of time upon which to judge a team’s on-field output. the effect was consistently stronger than two wins per season, particularly for the earliest-adopting teams, which got a head start by implementing analytics before 2009.Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that sabermetrics conferred such a first-mover advantage. As a thought experiment, let’s assume the typical modern analytics department contains five people (156 staffers leaguewide, divided by 30 teams). If the two most senior members of the department earn $100,000 a year and the remaining members make half that, the yearly price would come to $350,000. Putting aside overhead costs,6Which, admittedly, can be quite large (i.e., in the millions) for some front offices. But even with multi-million dollar overhead costs, the total price of an analytics department wouldn’t approach most free-agent player contracts of similar value. that outlay still lags behind the MLB’s minimum salary for a single player — chump change in a sport where the average franchise is valued at 10 figures.For such a relatively small expenditure on analysts, even the minimum estimate of two extra wins per year would represent a return roughly 30 times as efficient as spending the same amount on the free-agent market. (It would be like the Chicago Cubs signing outfielder Dexter Fowler not for the $13 million he’s actually making but for what it would take to pay a player who just made his big-league debut.) At that rate, there’s plenty of room for front-office inflation to continue before teams run into diminishing returns.The rich are getting smarterAlthough the big-budget Boston Red Sox were also one of the first teams to demonstrate that an analytics department could help win a World Series,7Boston may have even been the first to win with a dedicated analytics staff, though it’s also worth noting that the Oakland A’s won in 1989 with early sabermetric consulting from Eric Walker. a number of low-payroll, small-market teams — including not only the Moneyball A’s, but also the Rays, Indians, Padres and Pirates — were among the first to form quantitative departments and develop systems to house and display statistical data. It made sense: The more pressing a team’s financial imperative to stretch every dollar and wring out every win, the more likely it was to try a new approach.But that’s no longer true. Although the Rays, who rank 29th in payroll this season, continue to occupy the R&D pole position with a still expanding department of almost 20 statheads — fortunately, Tropicana Field has plenty of quiet, climate-controlled workspace to spare — baseball’s “haves” are no longer have-nots when it comes to statistical expertise. In both 2009 and 2012, teams with low-ranking payrolls tended to employ more analysts. But in 2016, the balance of analytical buy-in shifts toward big spenders, which might explain why the Rays are having a harder time separating their on-field performance from the pack.Not only are wealthy teams capable of outspending competitors for free-agent players, but they’ve also become more willing to outbid them for brains. The sport’s two heaviest hitters by payroll, the Yankees and Dodgers, are also the only teams aside from the Rays whose R&D departments have double-digit head counts.In addition to hiring a large crew of new number crunchers and programmers, the Dodgers have plundered talent from other franchises’ front offices, absorbing not only the former general managers of the Rays (Andrew Friedman), Padres (Josh Byrnes) and Blue Jays (Alex Anthopoulos), but also a former A’s assistant GM, Farhan Zaidi, who joined Oakland as an analyst because “Moneyball” made him want to work in baseball. In particular, LA’s brain trust has devoted its efforts to preserving player health, which Billy Beane has publicly labeled the sport’s most glaring inefficiency. In their quest to curtail injuries, the Dodgers have invested in both computerized systems and human know-how, as well as seeding a sports-oriented startup incubation program.Stats haven’t killed the scouting starIn the factious days after “Moneyball” was published, the book was often characterized as a prophecy of scouting’s coming extinction. That interpretation was mostly off base, but one passage did strongly imply that the competition for front-office positions was a zero-sum game. In a postscript titled “Inside Baseball’s Religious War,” which appeared in later editions, Michael Lewis wrote that “[J.P.] Ricciardi, the new [Blue Jays] GM, had done what every enlightened GM will eventually do: fire a lot of scouts, hire someone comfortable with statistical analysis … and begin to trade for value, ruthlessly.”Lewis’s postscript looks ironic in retrospect, for multiple reasons. The deputy he describes as “someone comfortable with statistical analysis” was Keith Law, who has since become ESPN’s lead prospect analyst and spends much of his time scouting players. Moreover, Ricciardi himself was fired in 2009 and replaced by Anthopoulos, who almost immediately embarked on a scout-hiring spree — and shepherded Toronto to more success than it had ever enjoyed under his predecessor.8Anthopoulos left the Blue Jays for the Dodgers after the 2015 season. Even Beane’s stat-inclined sidekick, Paul DePodesta, later became vice president of player development and scouting for the Mets before switching sports earlier this year. SEA6762-7.5 TEAM20092016%CHANGE LAD4361+41.9 It’s getting more and more crowded on baseball’s bleeding edge. As sabermetrics has expanded to swallow new disciplines and data sets,1The data generated by a single game has gone from mega- to gigabytes, with terabytes sure to follow before long. the number of quantitative analysts in MLB front offices has multiplied to keep up, producing an army of number crunchers, modelers and decision scientists who would have seemed out of place at the ballpark even a decade ago.Because we, too, are statheads at heart, we’ve mined the data and charted the proliferation of these numbers-savvy front-office staffers over time. Yes, there are more of them now than ever, and yes, they’ve had a demonstrable effect on their teams’ fortunes. But contrary to the “Moneyball”-era hand-wringing about battles between scouts and statheads, their rise hasn’t come at the expense of old-school analysis. Rather, the two main points of contention are how much the “Moneyball” mindset has spread from the game’s most frugal teams to the richest ones; and why the front-office hiring boom hasn’t helped its gender diversity.You’re gonna need a bigger budgetTo track the expansion of baseball’s R&D departments, we took three snapshots of MLB staffs by studying cached online directories and team media guides from 2016, 2012 and 2009 — the first year for which media guides are widely available from — and consulting with current and former front-office employees. We limited our sample to full-time employees (sorry, interns and consultants),2Disclosure: One of this article’s authors, Rob Arthur, works as a statistical consultant for the Toronto Blue Jays. and tried to maintain a consistent, fairly strict definition of what constitutes a quant: a “baseball operations” employee who spends a majority of his or her work hours either directing a quantitative department or doing statistical research, data processing or programming to support the team’s analytical efforts.Naturally, our task occasionally required some informed speculation. “Analytics” and “analyst” are slippery terms, particularly because most front-office employees are multitaskers who contribute to more than one department. Many teams are also guarded in how they describe (or don’t describe) their employees’ roles and responsibilities. But even with all those caveats, we’re confident that we’ve arrived at a roughly accurate accounting of MLB’s quant army.And our numbers reveal that baseball’s analytical arms race is proceeding at a pace only slightly slower than Moore’s law. Although the analytical gold rush began before the period we examined, hiring has accelerated at an almost exponential rate over the last few years. In 2009, the first season of our sample — which was several years after “Moneyball” became a best-seller — a total of 44 team employees fit our “quant” definition, and at least a third of teams had yet to assign a single full-time employee primarily to statistical work. By 2012, the number had climbed to 75, and only four teams had no quants. Four years after that, the analyst count has more than doubled again, to 156, and nowadays no team operates without some semblance of an R&D department. 3Only one of those departments — perhaps predictably, the tightfisted Miami Marlins — is still a solo act. CLE4148+17.1 ANA3448+41.2 TBA4365+51.2 COL3644+22.2 MIL3848+26.3 HOU5552-5.5 NYM5246-11.5 TOR3858+52.6 CHW3246+43.8 NYY4574+64.4 ATL3246+43.8 BAL3432-5.9 Scouting staffs are also on the rise MIA3843+13.2 WAS2847+67.9% CIN4665+41.3 STL3944+12.8 TEX3849+28.9 PIT3948+23.1 CHC5160+17.6 SDN3655+52.8 SourceS: MLB, VARIOUS TEAM MEDIA GUIDES In fact, the recent expansion of analytics staffing doesn’t seem to have squeezed out other kinds of employees. By our count, big-league teams employed 1,246 full-time scouts in the first year of our sample,9Which in most cases dates back to 2009, except for the few teams whose 2009 media guides don’t have accessible scouting sections. In those cases, we used 2010 data. across all levels and specialties — pro, amateur, advance and international. This year’s media guides list 1,539 scouts — an average increase of almost 10 per team. Only five teams employ fewer scouts than they did in 2009, and of those, four were previously among the top five scout employers. No team has downsized by more than six total scouts or 12 percent of its previous force.Although the increased ability to access information remotely may have made some advance and pro scouts redundant — or transferred their responsibilities to new, stay-at-home scouts who prep for opponents using a combination of stats and video — any modest downsizing in those areas has been more than offset by increased amateur and international coverage. For instance, the Rays — who also devote a massive head count to scouting, trailing only the Yankees and Red Sox — assign dedicated scouts to 12 countries outside the U.S., some of which haven’t historically been baseball hotbeds.10Including Curacao, Germany, the Czech Republic and Brazil, where they’re trying to build an academy. No scouting position is permanent, but our survey uncovered scant evidence to back up claims that teams are treating scouts as obsolete relics. If anything, smart teams have learned to treat scouting grades as statistical data that can improve upon purely numbers-based evaluations, making the two perspectives even more tightly intertwined.Given baseball’s burgeoning economy, it’s only logical that additional jobs for statheads haven’t come at scouts’ expense. Ever-rising broadcast rights and franchise valuations have caused revenue to skyrocket, and the profit has to go somewhere besides under owners’ mattresses. As revenue sharing, luxury taxes, and limits on amateur and international spending lower the ceiling on some forms of spending and shrink the payroll gaps between teams, the best option for a cash-flush club is to direct dollars away from the field. Beefing up front-office infrastructure makes acquiring, storing and applying information easier, and it allows teams to get more bang for the bucks they’re allowed to spend.That said, there are still places where analytics hiring has a lot of room to improve. Out of 190 analysts who appeared on our list at least once, only five were female, and only three of those women are still active. Granted, the gender imbalance in baseball ops is actually less lopsided on the R&D side than in scouting, where women are even scarcer. But high-level playing experience is far from a prerequisite in R&D roles, which tells us either that teams are having trouble attracting female applicants or that they’re overlooking the qualified candidates who do apply. As Zaidi, who has since hired one of the three active female analysts, put it last year: “If I’m going to put my geek cap on, it’s a statistical impossibility … that the best candidate for every position in baseball is a middle-aged Caucasian male.”Of course, baseball’s broadcast bubble might eventually burst, reversing the rise in revenue and forcing teams to economize. In that event, some would likely decide that stats, video and tracking systems such as Statcast and Kinetrax make scouting positions expendable, although they would probably also slash the budgets and support for their R&D staffs. Barring that type of catastrophe, though, baseball’s front-office hiring boom is unlikely to slow any time soon, since the rapid ascendance of baseball’s new school hasn’t made many teams think “out with the old.” Instead, teams have learned to synthesize information from multiple sources; even the supposedly sabermetrics-defying Kansas City Royals were aided by a talented analytics department en route to their World Series victory last season. When it comes to the search for front-office smarts, all signs still say “help wanted.”Check out our latest MLB predictions. read more

Are Rios Troubles Just An Extreme Version Of What Usually Happens To

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 Welcome to the latest episode of Hot Takedown, FiveThirtyEight’s sports podcast. This week’s show (Aug. 2, 2016) is all about previewing the 2016 Rio Olympics. We talk to Allison McCann, on location in Brazil, about Caster Semenya, the 800-meter runner challenging the gender divide in sports. Allison sticks around to give us a rundown of some of the Olympic events she’s keeping an eye on — including basketball, the men’s 100-meter and women’s soccer — as well as some of the lesser-known sports that are doing interesting things with data. Finally, Dave Zirin of The Nation joins us to talk about the politics of the Olympics and why he thinks they’re scams that lead to debt, displacement and despair. Plus, a significant digit on the medals stripped from athletes because of doping.Links to what we discuss are here:Donald McRae in The Guardian explains why Caster Semenya’s appearance at the Rio Olympics could reignite debates about sex and gender in women’s sports.Our own Kate Fagan will have a piece about Semenya on ESPNW soon.Wayne Epps Jr. in The New York Times writes about how the U.S. women’s basketball team continues to dominate.Dave Zirin writes in The Nation that the disastrous run-up to the games in Rio is just an extreme version of what usually happens when the International Olympic Committee comes to town.Zirin also says many in Brazil wish the Olympics would go away.Zirin talks about the Olympics, Rio and the intersection between sports and politics in this interview on the website Literary Hub.Bonnie D. Ford breaks down the way doping cases affect the awarding of medals.Significant Digit: 57. That’s the number of Olympic medals that have been stripped because of doping in the summer and winter games since 2000. FiveThirtyEight More: Apple Podcasts | ESPN App | RSS | Embed read more

The Biggest Loser Season 15 Episode 5 The

Next on ‘The Biggest Loser’ Season 15 Episode 5 “The Cook Off,”  last season’s kid ambassadors Biingo, Lindsay and Sunny return to the ranch and are joined by the White House Senior Policy Advisor on Nutrition, Sam Kass, for a fun cooking challenge with the contestants. Well aware that kids are often the toughest food critics, the red, white and blue teams race against the clock to prepare a nutritious and tasty dish that will be a hit with the kids – and earn the winning team members an incredible prize. Also this week, one team works out with a very special and inspiring group of women who have survived or are battling cancer. Later, it’s time for the weigh-in and saying goodbye to another contestant.See who loses an astonishing amount of weight in the all new ‘The Biggest Loser,’ which airs Tuesday 8/7c on NBC.‘The Biggest Loser’ is a reality series in which 12 contestants become roommates under the same roof and struggle to shed excess pounds by following a disciplined routine of exercise and dieting while facing the possibility of elimination. Contestants will then have to maintain their weight and shape by carefully managing their behavior outside of the controlled house atmosphere, with the winner being the one who is most physically fit across the boards. read more

The Odds That Youll Have A Perfect March Madness Bracket

Check out FiveThirtyEight’s March Madness predictions. Good news: Your odds of finishing with a perfect NCAA men’s tournament bracket are far better than last year. If you follow FiveThirtyEight’s March Madness predictions in every game, you’ll have a 1 in 1,610,543,269 chance of calling every game right.That’s barely worse than a billion-to-one against! Last year, the chances were 1 in 7,419,071,319 — almost five times worse. Why is this year’s so much easier? The 2015 men’s bracket is more top-heavy — the best teams are better, the mediocre teams are worse, and it’s not quite as hard to tell them apart.The game-by-game probabilities are below. We don’t count the four “play-in” games in Dayton, Ohio — if we did, your chances would be zero because Manhattan already lost to Hampton, the underdog according to the FiveThirtyEight model.A 1 in 1,610,543,269 chance is way better than having no chance at all. Pretty smart of that Warren Buffett guy to discontinue his billion-dollar bracket challenge. read more

Why Alabama Is Terrible On Third Down

Predictably, the Crimson Tide’s trouble comes with the pass — just not in the way you might think.Like most schools, Alabama passes more often than it runs on third down. (The national average is 59.1 percent; ’Bama throws it 56.3 percent of the time.) It’s not that quarterback Jake Coker panics in these situations. He completes 58.8 percent of his third-down throws, better than celebrated Clemson QB Deshaun Watson, who completes only 52.9 percent of his throws in the same situation. But when Watson throws, he gets a first down 42.3 percent of the time. Coker gets a first down only 30.9 percent of the time. The split is even more pronounced in third-and-long situations. Coker gets more accurate; completing 59.6 percent of his throws. Watson falls to 43.8 percent. But Watson still gets more first downs from his throws in those situations: 31.3 percent to 22.8 percent. As you might expect, this isn’t Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry’s fault. When the running back’s number is called on third down, he converts more than 50 percent of the time. He rushes mainly on short third downs, which helps keep that number high, but on all third-down carries with fewer than 10 yards to go, he converts 61.1 percent of the time. The other ’Bama running backs aren’t as impressive, converting their carries at 41.9 percent from all distances. Still, that’s higher than the national average of 40 percent — and not too far off from ’Bama rushing attacks of the past. (Clemson, meanwhile, is really, really good at running on third down, converting 49.5 percent of the time.) I call these wasted completions, though of course that’s oversimplifying things. By moving the ball down the field even a little bit, ’Bama sets itself up for a better punt, field-goal attempt or even fourth-down try. (Although as noted above, the latter doesn’t really help.) Most of the time, the receivers stay inbounds, so it also wastes time. That’s generally OK, too, because most ’Bama games turn into a slow march to drain the clock. But still, a first down is always better than a fourth down, and Alabama would be extending its drives significantly more often if the team simply ran plays that allowed receivers to catch the ball beyond the yellow line. That’s a play-calling problem, exacerbated by a personnel problem, and one that could come back to haunt the Tide in the national championship game.Of course, with Alabama’s incredibly efficient defense picking up the slack, it may not. Did you notice the team going 1-12 on third down while it was dismantling Georgia 38-10 earlier this season? Or 4-12 while squeezing the life out of Michigan State in the semifinals? If you’re a spoiled ’Bama fan (like me), you probably did. Otherwise you simply watched the Tide roll. What gives?Cautious play-calling. Without the protective blanket of Amari Cooper, the all-world receiver who bettered Alabama’s single-season receiving yards record by more than 50 percent last year, Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin has resorted to the conservative play-calling that defined his ill-fated tenure at USC. (Seriously, Google “Kiffin bubble screen” to get a taste of how the Trojan fan base felt about his play-calling when he was the head coach there.) With relatively untested Coker under center, Kiffin will all too often call for quick throws out near the sideline to receivers Calvin Ridley and ArDarius Stewart, who then proceed to get tackled before crossing the sticks. The last seven years of Alabama teams have looked a lot alike. They’ve had a dominant defense, a dominant running attack, the occasional dominant wideout and a quarterback who doesn’t screw things up. ’Bama has finished in the top 10 of the final AP poll in each of those seven seasons and on Monday will play for its fourth national title in that period. It’s been a nice little run. But this Alabama team has one major weakness that its predecessors didn’t: It sucks at converting on third down.If you watched Alabama thrash Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl, this may be about the only weakness that showed through the beating, a small consideration within the more global Brute Squad performance. Look a little closer, though, and one small crack can tell you quite a bit about this year’s Crimson Tide.Last year, Alabama converted 51.3 percent of its third downs, good for fifth among FBS schools. This year’s team converts 36.2 percent, good for 96th. There are only 128 teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision, so this is not an encouraging figure. Meanwhile, Clemson is 13th, converting 47.7 percent of its third downs. The average conversion rate for FBS teams is just less than 40 percent. Alabama faces, on average, 14 third downs each game. Last year’s team would have converted seven of them; this year’s converts only five. Considering that this year’s team is also far worse at converting on fourth down (12 of 24 compared with 10 of 13 last year), that means ’Bama’s offense is losing at least two drives a game because of this regression in third-down efficiency. read more

Football Scouting Bowling Green

Bowling Green Redshirt senior quarterback James Knapke throws a pass in a game at Doyt L. Perry Stadium. Credit: Bowling Green State UniversityThe Bowling Green State University Falcons — defending Mid-American Conference champions — will visit Ohio Stadium on Saturday for the first time since 2006, when the Ohio State Buckeyes topped the team from northwest Ohio 35-7.OSU is 4-0 all-time versus Bowling Green with its first match taking place in 1992. In 2016, Buckeye coach Urban Meyer will face, for the first time, the team that sparked his decorated coaching career.Meyer coached at Bowling Green from 2001-2002, turning a program that was 24-42 its previous six years into a team that went 17-6 in his two seasons, with one of the nation’s most dynamic offenses behind quarterback Josh Harris.“I still remember that to this day, when I think about Bowling Green, it’s one of the most tradition-rich programs in the MAC. A lot of great respect for them,” Meyer said. “I loved my time there, and a lot of great people there.”First-year coach Mike Jinks took over the Falcons program this year.Jinks has only been coaching Division-I football for the past three years as Texas Tech’s running back coach and was also appointed associate head coach in 2015.Under Jinks’ tutelage in Lubbock, Texas, the 2015 team scored 34 rushing touchdowns, which was 26 more than the 2014 squad scored on the ground.He coached former Red Raider running back Deandre Washington to first-team all-Big 12 honors in 2015. Washington rushed for 1492 yards at 6.4 yards per carry, and 14 touchdowns.Bowling Green has won two MAC titles and 26 games in the past three seasons, marking one of the most successful stretches in program history.Jinks — taking over for Dino Babers who took the head job at Syracuse — has a tough first test as a coach greeting meeting Meyer and the sixth-ranked Buckeyes in front of 100,000-plus on Saturday.However, summer workouts and fall camp were just as difficult for Jinks and his staff, who have to replace 12 starters in 2016.OffenseJinks takes over an offense that ranked fourth in the country last season, but returns only its offensive line. The Falcon offensive line is the most experienced unit in the country with 144 total starts. However, the issue lies at the skill positions.Starting at quarterback is redshirt senior James Knapke. He is replacing Matt Johnson, who threw for 4,946 and 46 touchdowns — ranking second in the country in 2015. Knapke’s task of replacing Johnson is daunting, but it’s one he has done before.When Johnson went down with a season-ending injury in 2014, Knapke led Bowling Green to a 7-1 record, an appearance in the MAC championship game and a bowl victory. However, Knapke will attempt to replicate Johnson’s monstrous passing numbers with a new group of receivers.BGSU’s top receivers last season, Roger Lewis and Gehrig Dieter, accounted for 179 receptions, 2,577 yards and 26 touchdowns. They’re both gone. Lewis is auditioning for a spot with the New York Giants and Dieter is a graduate transfer catching passes for Nick Saban at Alabama.Four of the Falcons’ five top receivers are gone from 2015. However, returning is senior Ronnie Moore, who totaled 72 receptions, 951 yards and six touchdowns last year.Starting running back Travis Greene is being replaced by Fred Coppet, who played significantly last year, totaling close to 900 yards with five scores.DefenseBGSU returns six starters on a pedestrian defense, which ranked 84th in the NCAA last year. The Falcons have its entire linebacking core back from a season ago with first-team all-MAC redshirt junior linebacker Austin Valdez and second-team all-MAC redshirt senior Trenton Green leading the way. Redshirt senior James Sanford had 127 tackles in 2015.As a secondary that ranked 79th in passing defense last year, redshirt junior Alfonso Mack anchors the last line of defense looking to improve a team-leading six interceptions last year.Senior defensive end Terrance Bush is the only returning starter up front, making defensive coordinator Perry Eliano’s first year with the Falcons an arduous one.BreakdownJinks comes from a Texas Tech program out of the Big 12 that terrorized teams on offense but struggled on defense. Under former coach Dino Babers, BGSU ran the prototypical pass-first offense.Look for Jinks and Knapke to rely on the passing game, testing the young OSU secondary. Meyer said that he’s most worried about the quick screens from the Falcon offense.“It’s going to be a real quick, fast-paced game and our job is to win that first game, so that’s kind of our focus this week,” Meyer said. “I just want to make sure we tackle those guys and get them on the ground.”Despite replacing nine starters, the OSU defense remains one of the quickest in the country, which should allow the linebackers and secondary to attack downhill on screen plays, limiting damage.OSU’s offense will face a defense that ranked eighth in the nation in interceptions in 2015, but it should operate efficiently early and often against the slower BGSU defense behind redshirt junior quarterback J.T. Barrett. The quickness of an Urban Meyer offense should put Jinks’ Falcons on its heels, leaving its only hope to outscore the Buckeyes.OSU’s defense will be counted on to make stops, but the Buckeyes should roll over the Falcons. read more

Ohio State alumnus strives for Olympic gold

Winning championships for a professional franchise in sports is often an athlete’s ultimate goal, but a select few get a chance to achieve even more.Come February, former Buckeye Ryan Kesler will attempt to win a gold medal with the U.S. men’s ice hockey team.Even though Kesler was only at Ohio State for one year, he left a mark on the program.Ohio State men’s hockey coach John Markell knows exactly what men’s basketball coach Thad Matta has had to deal with over the years.“We knew Ryan was going to be one year and done,” Markell said.Kesler earned an honorable mention for the Central Collegiate Hockey Association All-Rookie team and was awarded OSU’s George Burke Most Valuable Freshman award.Markell felt Kesler was a winner because of his passion for the game and the skills he had. After his freshman year at OSU, Kesler entered the 2003 NHL Early Entry Draft, where he was drafted 23rd overall by the Vancouver Canucks.In his first couple of seasons playing professionally, Kesler spent time moving between the Canucks and the Manitoba Moose, a lower-level AHL team associated with the Canucks.Now, however, he has cemented himself on the Canucks roster, and is one of three players to be an alternate captain on the team.The ‘08-‘09 season was by far his best. He was named the Canucks’ MVP and was a finalist for the Frank J. Selke award, given to the person who demonstrates the most skill on the defensive side of the game. Kesler lost to Pavel Datsyuk, who won the award for the second consecutive year.The thing that separated Kesler from others was his ability to play two-way hockey, Markell said. Kesler is listed as a center, but has the ability to drop back and play offense as well.On a regular basis, Kesler is assigned to shut down the opposing team’s top players.Kesler is not a household name compared to those of Sidney Crosby or Alexander Ovechkin, but Markell said teams in the league know about him.When Kesler travels with Team USA to the Winter Olympics in a month, the team will be getting a leader, Markell said.Although this is his first time being selected for the Olympic roster, this is not his first time representing the U.S. During his career, Kesler has participated on World Junior Championship teams and the Men’s World Under-18 Championship team.Kesler and the U.S. men’s hockey team will begin play Feb. 16 against Switzerland. read more

Buckeyes balance out with backtoback victories

The No. 10-ranked Ohio State men’s volleyball team recorded its second straight victory of the season when it defeated George Mason 3-1 (29-27, 25-21, 20-25, 25-17) Tuesday at St. John Arena. OSU seemed to be headed toward its second consecutive sweep until George Mason freshman John Jepson made a momentum-changing play. “That was just a tremendous play by those guys,” OSU coach Pete Hanson said. “Anytime you can make a play like that near the bleachers it completely changes the momentum of the match. They’re just tremendous on defense.” Leaping near the bench, Jepson saved what seemed to be an OSU point, and turned it into a Patriot rally, eventually allowing George Mason to win the third set. The Buckeyes nearly the opening set with a five-point lead, before righting the ship and winning, 29-27. Steven Kehoe, Shawn Sangrey and Mik Berzins combined for seven service aces in the match for the Buckeyes, compared to the Patriots’ zero. “I thought our serving was pretty good tonight,” Hanson said. “We were in and out with our defense, but our serving was good all night.” The Buckeyes did not want the momentum the Patriots had gained from Jepson’s play to carry over into the fourth set. “We knew the points they scored in the third were on ourselves for the most part,” Berzins said. “We knew we had to just go in, refocus and minimize our errors.” The Buckeyes were able to do that, winning the fourth set by eight points. OSU also made a few adjustments to the game plan during the fourth set. “We made a change and rolled our rotation,” Hanson said. “We kind of changed up the scenery in the fourth set, and that helped us.” Sangrey led the way for OSU with 19.5 points. Kevin Heine had 18.5, and Berzins added 17.5. “That was a really good win for us,” Berzins said. “(George Mason) plays the kind of volleyball we’re going to see in the future, so it was good to get a win.” After losing its first two matches of the season, OSU has balanced its record at 2-2. “We know teams just aren’t going to fall because we’re Ohio State,” Sangrey said. “We have a target on our back and we know that.” OSU will look to extend its streak when it plays against IPFW at 7 p.m. Friday in Fort Wayne, Ind. read more

Ohio State pitcher Andrew Armstrong overcomes death sentence

Four years ago, Andrew Armstrong came to Ohio State looking to be a star pitcher. He went 28-0 in his high school career and was named Class AA Player of the Year in Virginia to go along with two state championships. He was even drafted late in the MLB, in the 45th round by the Atlanta Braves. Things have not exactly turned out like Armstrong might have once envisioned, however. The redshirt junior now only comes in during the latter innings of a game to get a left-hander or two out before going back to the bullpen. But you won’t see Armstrong complaining. After a promising freshman year that included going 4-3 and having the team’s third-best ERA, Armstrong came into his second year with much excitement. But during a long tossing drill in a late winter practice, he noticed a pain in his shoulder. “There were throws where it just felt like a sharp pain in my shoulder, and I was like man, this isn’t normal,” Armstrong said. “I’ve had pain before in the past, but this was just something different, like a whole new ballgame of pain.” Armstrong pitched his whole sophomore year, but went just 2-3 in eight starts with an alarming 11.51 ERA. The injury was hindering Armstrong, but it took him until summer-league baseball after that year to find the problem. His throwing shoulder had a torn labrum, a piece of cartilage that holds the shoulder joint together. His mother, Martha Bocock, said finally finding out what was wrong was better than him continuing to struggle. “You always want the best for your child, and I knew he was very frustrated that he wasn’t doing a very good job,” Bocock said. “So I guess, in a way, I was kind of relieved there was something that perhaps could be fixed, or it would have been the end of his journey.” During that summer, Bocock said they were set up with Dr. James Andrews through a friend in the Valley League, a summer baseball league Armstrong and several of his teammates play in. Andrews is one of the best-known orthopedic surgeons in sports, and has operated on professional athletes including Brett Favre, Drew Brees, Roger Clemens and Albert Pujols. Andrews could not be reached for comment. Bocock said they were able to set up a meeting within a week, and they flew down to Birmingham, Ala., to Andrews’ office for a Monday appointment. “He took a look at the MRI, and he said: ‘I’ll see you tomorrow morning at 7 o’clock. It’s his labrum, and we’re going to go in and fix it,’” Bocock said. Even with one of the top surgeons operating on Armstrong, a full recovery from such an injury was not guaranteed. “It’s like a death sentence to pitchers,” Armstrong said. “They said the rehab is going to be rough. It’s going to be the worst six months of your life after you come out.” The recovery length for a labrum tear depends on the type of tear and the athlete. It took Armstrong more than a year to get completely back to normal. He said he could not even move his arm for the first month after surgery. “You think about throwing again, and it was just weird, I had to learn how to throw again,” Armstrong said. “It wasn’t as much frustrating as it was getting over barriers.” Those barriers made Armstrong a medical redshirt his junior season. Restricted to watching from the dugout, and unable to help the team, Armstrong struggled at times. “I got lost from baseball last year,” Armstrong said. “I mean, I cared about the team and the guys, but I didn’t matter to the team in the aspect of helping the team win. I was just there to cheer them on, and I’ve never had that role in my life.” Bocock looked at it as a learning process for her son. “I guess I look at it as maybe a chapter of his life that was building character and integrity,” Bocock said. “He would probably say, ‘Oh, that’s a crock of crap.’” After finally getting back to throwing off the mound again, Armstrong began to work with the new coaching staff at OSU, including assistant coach Mike Stafford, who works with the pitchers. Stafford said the first goal was to get Armstrong’s body and arm back into his freshman-year shape. For Armstrong, that meant learning to throw hard again. “The whole rehab with throwing and stuff was fine, but as soon I would get on the mound I was throwing like 80 mph I guess you could say,” Armstrong said. “(Stafford) was like, ‘Armstrong if you’re going to want to pitch here, you’re going to have to get it through your mind that you can throw hard.’” He eventually learned to throw hard once again, but moving him back to starter was a move the coaching staff did not want to risk. “When you’re coming back from a surgery like Andrew has, you don’t want to put too much wear and tear on the arm,” Stafford said. “So a relieving role is more conducive to coming back from arm surgery than a starting role would be, throwing 80–100 pitches every week.” The move has treated Armstrong and the team well so far this season. Armstrong leads the Big Ten in appearances and games in relief, with 24. He is holding opponents to a team-low .200 batting average, and is third in team strikeouts with 28. His teammates, such as senior outfielder Brian DeLucia, who came in with Armstrong as freshmen and plays summer league with him, are just happy to see him back again. “He’s worked his way back through a lot of trials with his arm and everything,” DeLucia said. “I give him credit because there’s a lot of guys that don’t bounce back from that injury.” Armstrong made three appearances in the team’s sweep of Michigan this weekend, which moved it into third place in the Big Ten. His part in two of those games was to get one left-handed batter out before re-exiting the game. “His role is to get left-handers out, and he’s got a good enough breaking ball and a hard enough fastball to get the guys thinking up there,” Stafford said. “It’s very hard left on left to get a good swing off of him.” Armstrong said he likes now being a reliever because he always has to be focused and can help the outcome of every game. Although Armstrong might not get the glory of being a starter, his ability as a specialist makes professional baseball a realistic goal for him. “A left-hander that throws up to 90 mph and that can spin a breaking ball definitely has a chance,” Stafford said. “If he keeps doing what he’s doing next year, he is going to get an opportunity by some club to play at the next level.” Armstrong is not worried about that right now, though. He is just glad to be pitching and helping the team win again. “The only thing I knew coming in here, especially from where I’m from, is any way you can help the team is important,” Armstrong said. “I don’t care if I was a bat boy, as long as I was helping the team do what they needed to do.” read more

Sullinger helps Ohio State escape Northwestern

Nothing has come easy for the No. 10 Ohio State men’s basketball team lately, but sophomore forward Jared Sullinger wouldn’t let his team lose a fourth game in six contests against Northwestern. Sullinger hit a shot from the right block with just less than four seconds remaining to give OSU a 75-73 victory despite a furious second-half run from the Wildcats. The Buckeyes were up by as many as 12 points in the second half, but Northwestern scored eight points in the final 2:45 of the game to tie the game at 73 with 10 seconds remaining. But Sullinger’s bucket allowed OSU to escape with a win and again gave the team control of its own destiny. A win against Michigan State Sunday would give OSU a share of the Big Ten regular season championship. Northwestern came into Wednesday’s game with a lot on the line. The Wildcats are fighting to earn their first ever trip to the NCAA Tournament and were celebrating senior night in their home arena, but the Buckeyes ultimately earned their victory inside. OSU outrebounded Northwestern, 42-16, and grabbed 18 offensive rebounds. Sullinger had scored just 17 total points in OSU’s two previous games, but had his way with the Wildcats in the paint. He scored 22 points and added 18 rebounds. Three-point shooting kept Northwestern in the game early. Despite being outrebounded, 20-3, in the first half, the Wildcats connected on seven first-half threes to keep the score at 39-29 heading into the locker room. In total, Northwestern made 13 shots from behind the arc including four from senior forward John Shurna, who finished with 22 points. His long ball with 13:44 remaining in the game cut the OSU advantage to seven, but sophomore guard Aaron Craft answered with a 3-pointer of his own to put the Buckeyes up, 54-44. Craft had four 3-pointers on the night and finished with 14 points. The Wildcats continued to claw their way back though. A pair of free throws from sophomore guard JerShon Cobb cut OSU’s lead to three and junior guard Alex Marcotullio’s 3-pointer tied the game. Northwestern never had another chance though, and its NCAA Tournament hopes remain in question. The win brings OSU’s record to 24-6 on the year and 12-5 in the conference. They travel to Michigan State Sunday for their final regular season game of the season. A win in East Lansing would move the Buckeyes into a tie with Michigan State atop the Big Ten Standings. If OSU beats Michigan State and Michigan wins its two remaining games, the Wolverines would also share the conference title. The game between the Buckeyes and the Spartans will tip off at 4 p.m. read more