The Biggest Surprises From The First Week Of The NBA Playoffs

sara.ziegler (Sara Ziegler, assistant sports editor): We’ve had almost one full week of games in the NBA playoffs, and trends are emerging. Golden State took a 31-point third-quarter lead over the Clippers on Thursday night … and didn’t lose! So after a few early surprises, things seem to be getting back to what we expected.

One series not playing out according to seeding is San Antonio-Denver. The No. 7 Spurs beat the No. 2 Nuggets 118-108 on Thursday to take a 2-1 lead in the series. This comes as a surprise to the FiveThirtyEight NBA Predictions model, which had Denver as an 88 percent favorite to move on. The Nuggets are still favored, but just 60-40. Are you guys surprised by how this series is going?

chris.herring (Chris Herring, senior staff writer): Not all that much, no. I think I picked Denver out of respect for the season it had. But this was the one team basically everybody had questions about coming in.

I had the series going seven games, with Denver winning. It could easily be 3-0 Spurs right now.

tchow (Tony Chow, video producer): I am surprised, but I don’t think we really should be. It’s the Spurs being the Spurs again.

natesilver (Nate Silver, editor in chief): Our model doesn’t like San Antonio very much, so given their regular-season performance and home-court advantage — and Denver has a big home-court advantage — the Nuggets were pretty clear favorites. But it didn’t really like the Nuggets all that much either. They aren’t a great playoff team because their depth doesn’t really help them in the playoffs, the topline talent is not all that good, and they don’t have much playoff experience.

So I’m surprised that we had them as high as 88 percent, frankly! But not surprised that the Spurs are ahead in the series.

chris.herring: On Denver’s home-court advantage: The Nuggets haven’t beaten the Spurs in San Antonio in 14 tries now.

tchow: I am surprised because at one point in the season, our model gave the Spurs just a 4 percent chance of even making the postseason. We had a story a while back that talked about how they started turning it around (better defense, better bench production), but they were still underdogs going into this series, in my opinion.

sara.ziegler: Yeah, I had sort of counted the Spurs out a long time ago.

Let that be a lesson to me: Never count out Pop.

The experience factor really seems to be hurting the Nuggets so far. (And our model took 3 points away from them for their lack of playoff experience.)

chris.herring: Nuggets coach Mike Malone has talked about the experience factor a pretty decent amount in the past week

His young starting point guard, Jamal Murray, began Game 2 going 0-for-8. Malone was asked if he gave thought to pulling him because of Murray’s performance. He said no, in part because he needed to show his young players that he believed in them, and that he’s with them, win or lose. Murray responded by hitting 8-of-9 in the final quarter to bring the Nuggets all the way back for a dramatic win.

The win probably saved their season for the time being. But it speaks to the volatility of having such a young/young-minded club.

tchow: Murray wasn’t much better in Game 3 — just 6 points and two assists. I’m not trying to pin Denver’s failing’s this postseason all on Murray, though. All the Nuggets starters were pretty terrible in Game 3.

chris.herring: It’s a pretty big contrast between the teams.

While we’re talking about the growing pains for a young team, it’s worth pointing out that the Spurs are being led in part by youngster Derrick White, whose defense is his calling card. I think this is his first real exposure to a national audience, but he’s been playing really well for months.

tchow: White’s Game 3 performance was kind of a reminder for a lot of people who don’t watch the Spurs that he existed.

sara.ziegler: LOL

chris.herring: White’s experience has been different because of all the injuries they’ve had. But White and Dejounte Murray are going to be an annoyingly good backcourt once the team is healthy again next season. AND there’s Bryn Forbes, too.

natesilver: The whole Nuggets backcourt feels like it’s way short of championship caliber. It needs an anchor. There are lots of useful pieces you could rotate around that anchor, like Murray and Gary Harris, but without that anchor, it doesn’t quite come together.

chris.herring: It’s tough: They have a fantastic, sure-handed backup in Monte Morris, who led the NBA in assist/turnover ratio.

sara.ziegler: MORE MONTE MORRIS

Cyclones, represent!

chris.herring: He may not win a game for you. But he’s extremely unlikely to ever lose one for you, which you could argue Murray either occasionally does, or comes close to doing. Again: These are the growing pains for a young team sometimes.

sara.ziegler: On to another team that has seemed shaky at times this postseason: the Philadelphia 76ers. But they seem to have recovered from their upset in Game 1 — they’ve beaten the Nets convincingly twice in a row now. What looked different for them in Games 2 and 3?

tchow: Ben. Simmons.

natesilver: Sen. Bimmons.

chris.herring: Yeah, that sounds about right. Whether it was Jared Dudley that got in his head, or just him recognizing that he had to be more aggressive, Simmons has been a completely different player since Game 1.

tchow: Simmons had a -21 plus/minus in Game 1. Game 2 he was +23, and then +11 in Game 3 with a 31 point performance on 85 percent shooting.

chris.herring: I hate to say this, because maybe it’s premature, but I was beginning to think that the Nets could steal this series if things broke right for them.

tchow: I think a lot of people thought that, Chris. The Nets are legit and play really hard.

chris.herring: The Nets stole home-court advantage in Game 1. Were basically even at halftime of Game 2. And then get a gift rolled out on a platter for them, with Joel Embiid sitting out of a Game 3 played in their home arena, in front of a fan base that hasn’t hosted a playoff game in four years.

Thursday was their chance. And I think with the loss now, that might be about it.

natesilver: I’m in the Ben-Simmons-is-underrated camp. Yeah, he doesn’t really have a jumpshot. But he does pretty much everything else well. And there have been a lot of players throughout NBA history who have survived or even thrived without jump shots — Giannis Antetokounmpo basically does that now. The advanced stats like Simmons.

tchow: I think it’s very different for a player like Giannis to not have a jump shot than Simmons.

chris.herring: While we’re on the issue of Simmons, I think we learned that Embiid not being there might have been a help for him

For all the wonderful things Embiid does, he plays at a plodding pace.

Someone like Simmons thrives in an up-tempo environment because of his inability to shoot.

tchow: Sara, I found the hot take for next week’s Hot Takedown episode: FiveThirtyEight’s Chris Herring says Sixers are better without Joel Embiid.

sara.ziegler: LOLOLOL

Yes!

chris.herring: They might be in this series! Well, probably not: Greg Monroe was rough.

If they had more depth, they might be.

natesilver: That’s the thing about Philly. Look how bad their bench is:

Everyone’s like, “Why are these four stars such awkward fits together” — and I’ll admit that they’re a little awkward, but with a half-decent bench, it’s an entirely different team.

chris.herring: I don’t think it’s a terrible bench. And the truth is, you can stagger when you have that many stars.

But the spots in which it’s terrible … yeah.

tchow: Sixers’ bench: Who? Who? Who? The big guy. Who? and Who?

sara.ziegler: 🤣

chris.herring: That’s their issue, I think. I’m not sure Boban Marjanovic would work against every team. But he’s their backup big.

natesilver: I saw Boban at the United Airlines lounge at Newark Airport one time. He was very big and tall and sitting in a giant lounge chair and still looked very big and tall.

chris.herring: I tweeted last night that I’m pretty sure he dunked last night with one foot still on the ground.

Anyway: I want to talk more about how disappointed I am in Brooklyn

tchow: Are you just disappointed in their central A/C system at Barclays, Chris?

chris.herring: Well, that too.

sara.ziegler: Are you disappointed that their slogan is “We go hard,” and then they didn’t?

chris.herring: They did go hard!

It’s not a question of effort with them. It never is. But I think what Nate alluded to is exactly the issue here. The Sixers’ bench isn’t great/may be bad. And the Nets’ second-best player is their bench.

natesilver: Yeah, Brooklyn’s not totally unlike Denver. Excellent depth, no playoff experience, frontline talent is meh.

tchow: Nate, they’re both small-market teams. I get it. (Queens represent!)

sara.ziegler: OMG

Tony trying to start a borough war here.

chris.herring: You generally see Brooklyn go on these massive runs in the second quarter of these games. But then after halftime, the game gets broken open, and Kenny Atkinson — who I really, really like — waits too long to call a timeout!

The Sixers went on a 21-2 (!!!!) run in Game 2 before Atkinson called for timeout. It took a 1-point deficit and expanded it to a 20-point lead for the Sixers. And then the game was over.

tchow: Maybe Atkinson is from the Phil Jackson school of letting the players figure it out on their own.

natesilver: What was the atmosphere like at Barclay’s, Chris? I think it’s one of the coolest venues in sports from an architectural/amenities standpoint, but every time I’ve gone, the fans are sort of half-hearted.

chris.herring: Last night was amazing to start the game. But I think they were sort of stunned to see the team run out of steam.

And as Tony said: I was freezing.

sara.ziegler: Well, it is a hockey rink, too.

chris.herring: So maybe the have to have the ice ready? But good lord.

My phone turned off at one point because of how cold it was.

sara.ziegler: Wow

That’s cold.

chris.herring: The atmosphere was really great. It’s good to have the playoffs in Brooklyn again. And hopefully Manhattan at some point in the next couple years. (side-eyes Knicks)

natesilver: Knicks fans should be rooting against Boston and against Golden State, right?

chris.herring: I’ve heard the same stuff everyone else has about Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving coming to the Knicks. As much as I hear it, I just have to see it to believe that it’ll actually happen.

natesilver: I think KD could leave either after a championship or a flameout. But Kyrie — yeah, he’s already flip-flopped enough that I think Knicks fans want the Celtics out by Round 2.

chris.herring: I think I’m just too conditioned to believe that nothing overwhelmingly good can happen for/with the Knicks unless there’s an enormous downside that comes with it.

sara.ziegler: LOL

natesilver: My current scenario is that they get Kyrie and also draft Ja Morant and somehow that turns into a disaster.

sara.ziegler: Speaking of Kyrie, the Celtics are making quick work of the Pacers. Indiana doesn’t seem to have quite enough offense so far to hang with Boston.

chris.herring: 😔

tchow: I’m actually interesting to read Chris’s thoughts on this series. I remember A LOT of people were down on Boston going into the playoffs.

chris.herring: Yeah. I had some hope that this could be an interesting series.

But I also was tasked with writing an Indiana-based primer for the ESPN side ahead of this series. When I got to the “Why Indiana can win section,” I sat and stared at my screen for like an hour.

So this actually doesn’t surprise me all that much.

They simply don’t have enough offense. Or ingenuity.

natesilver: I haven’t watched much of that series; pretty much my only recollection was seeing a score that was like 76-59 in the fourth quarter of Game 1 and thinking I needed to update my contact lens prescription, but nope, that was the actual score.

chris.herring: They basically hand the ball off to Bojan Bogdanovic and say, “Do something.” Kind of like a kid who does a magic trick, but is still holding the quarter in his hand, in plain sight, for everyone to see.

tchow: Has Boston done anything to change people’s minds about their chances though?

chris.herring: No. They’re merely beating a flawed, weakened team, IMO.

tchow: That’s what I figured about Boston. The real test, if they do end up beating the Pacers, will probably come against Milwaukee.

chris.herring: In fairness to Nate McMillan and the Pacers, this was always going to be an uphill battle, because they’re playing without Victor Oladipo. It was a great accomplishment to go 21-21 this season without their star player after going 0-7 without him last season.

sara.ziegler: Yeah, they don’t really have anything to feel embarrassed about.

chris.herring: I really like Indiana, and have a soft spot for Little-Engine-That-Could sort of teams. But they need some reinvention.

They could use more firepower. But they need better schemes.

natesilver: I feel like the whole first round could use more firepower. Between inexperienced teams, teams with injury problems, teams without any star talent … it feels a little bit like spring training or something.

tchow: I agree, but it has been more interesting than I imagined.

chris.herring: A little.

sara.ziegler: Let’s talk about the other interesting series in the East: No. 2 Toronto has had its hands full with No. 7 Orlando. The Magic took the first game, but the Raptors stormed back in Game 2. The teams will face off Friday night in Orlando. Do we think the Magic have a realistic shot in this series?

natesilver: Mayyyyyybe?

chris.herring: It depends on what you define as “a shot.” I think they can get another game, potentially. I don’t think they will win the series. The Raptors responded in Game 2 the way you hoped a top-flight team would.

sara.ziegler: But the Magic are underrated, Chris!

I heard you say so.

chris.herring: Oh, they are. And not enough people know that.

But I don’t think that I ever conflated them being underrated with the notion that they should somehow beat the Raptors in a series.

tchow: Kyle Lowry responded in Game 2 the way you hoped. Chris wrote about Lowry’s Game 1 woes before, but he responded in a big way.

natesilver: Orlando is a weird-ass team, and they played very well in the second half of the season.

If you’re looking for an upset pick, I’d rather pick a weird team than a normal one.

chris.herring: If they had played competitively in Game 2, sure.

Or had a matchup they could readily exploit.

sara.ziegler: The Raptors had a 98 percent chance to win this series before the playoffs start, and now they’re all the way down to 93 percent. So things are still looking pretty good for them.

In the last series in the East, the Bucks had a little trouble with Detroit before pulling away in Game 2. But the most interesting thing to me about that game was Blake Griffin picking up his second technical foul of the series.

Blake Griffin, you’ll recall, has not actually played yet in this series.

tchow: Bucks in four. I think we can move on?

sara.ziegler: LOL

chris.herring: Yeah. That’s literally the only thing I find interesting about this series. That, and finding out how far away from the basket Giannis can dunk from.

tchow: The NBA tweet highlights of Giannis dunks have been the only saving grace of this series.

chris.herring: If and when the NBA move the first round back to a best-of-five, they’re going to use this series as evidence as why. (edited)

natesilver: I think there needs to be a mercy rule where you can concede your playoff series and get like three Lottery Balls or whatever.

sara.ziegler: OK, let’s move back to the West. The Trail Blazers are off to a great start, up 2-0 against the Thunder. Our model is surprised at this series — it had given the Thunder a 77-23 edge. Are you guys surprised?

chris.herring: Yes. I’m surprised. Maybe stupid, too.

natesilver: I mean, if Paul George isn’t himself, our model is gonna screw that series up.

tchow: He’s hurt!

chris.herring: I feel like a contrarian now, but I don’t even think he’s shoulder is the problem anymore. He shot the ball semi-decently last game.

Russ is shooting like he’s the one injured.

tchow: Our model can’t predict that Russell Westbrook will shoot 35 percent and 10 percent from 3-point range in this series.

chris.herring: EXACTLY

What I will say is that I don’t have a lot of faith in OKC if it’s simply relying on the notion that its shooting will improve.

They are shooting 16 PERCENT from three in this series.

Which, while God awful, is only a slight regression for them!

natesilver: That whole quadrant of the bracket — OKC, Portland, San Antonio, Denver — seems incredibly weak to me.

chris.herring: If OKC had a team full of sharpshooters, I could understand having more confidence.

But Russ still defends Damian Lillard as if he’s surprised that Dame can/will pull up from 35 feet.

The guy needs to be treated as if he’s Steph at this point

tchow: I don’t want to take anything away from Portland. Yes, they lost Jusuf Nurkic, but CJ and Dame have been awesome this series.

chris.herring: I came in thinking that this might be a sweep or a 4-1 series in favor of OKC. Simply thought that not having Nurkic would hurt against someone like Steven Adams. I thought CJ McCollum would struggle to find a rhythm (he’s coming off an injury and wasn’t good vs. OKC during the season). We watched Dame log 35 a night against the Thunder during the season and still get swept 4-0 during the regular season.

tchow: CJ has been 🔥

chris.herring: I didn’t think they had a great chance in this series. They had lost 10 playoff games in a row. With the exception of perimeter shooting, I thought just about everything else would be in OKC’s favor. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

tchow: If Dame wasn’t in Portland, would he still be this underrated? It feels like this is a storyline every season.

sara.ziegler: That’s a good question.

How many people regularly see him play?

tchow: Basketball nerds: “Look at Damian Lillard!”

Basketball fans: “Who this?”

chris.herring: I guess we have to define underrated.

natesilver: He was All-NBA First Team last season, no?

But, yeah, Portland has to be one of the least-watched teams in the league, or at least by people not in the Pacific Time Zone.

chris.herring: Even if you know who he is, and how great he is, I think you could objectively look at this series — and what the Blazers have done the last two years in the playoffs (0-8) — and say OKC should have been favored.

tchow: For OKC to take Game 3, they need to ____________.

And don’t say something like “play better” (looks at Nate).

sara.ziegler: SHOOT BETTER

chris.herring: … shoot better than my 4-year-old nephew does from outside of 23 feet.

natesilver: I’d say they need to play better basketball.

sara.ziegler: In the other non-Warriors series out West, the Rockets are handling the Jazz easily so far, setting up a showdown with Golden State in the second round. This has played out about as expected, right?

chris.herring: I had higher hopes for Jazz-Rockets. Am impressed with how dominant Houston has looked, but thought Utah would play better than this. Their defensive scheme has looked downright nonsensical to me

tchow: If Chris has a soft spot for Indiana, I think I have a soft spot for Utah. I love this team and wanted more out of them this series.

sara.ziegler: Utah is a very likable team.

natesilver: I didn’t expect Houston to dismantle Utah quite so thoroughly.

In fact, I think that’s the story of the first round so far. It’s a highly consequential story because the Rockets are absolutely good enough to give the Warriors a series.

chris.herring: The disappointment I feel with Utah is equivalent to how excited I am for the second round, with Warriors-Rockets.

That will seemingly be the Western Conference finals, just a round early.

natesilver: It would be quite something if the Rockets actually need fewer games to dispatch Utah than Golden State needs with the Clippers.

chris.herring: Seriously.

tchow: The Jazz just seem like a team that’s so close to figuring it out. Maybe not to a point where you think they can beat Golden State, but they’re so good in the regular season. I don’t know what happens to them in the playoffs.

chris.herring: Yeah, I sort of agree in theory, Tony.

But I think what I’ve learned is that I have to be leery of a team that relies on such a young player to be its leading scorer.

natesilver: Maybe you just need more isolation scoring in the playoffs? Or more scoring, period?

chris.herring: I remember a stat from last year: Donovan Mitchell was the first rookie to lead a playoff team in regular-season scoring since Carmelo Anthony.

I think there’s a reason we don’t see it happen much. And I think it’s even more problematic for a team built like that to have all sorts of horrible defensive breakdowns, because at that point, you know they have no shot at keeping up in a shootout against one of the best scorers in modern history.

If Quin Snyder rolls out the exact same defensive scheme that he did in Games 1 and 2, this series will end in a sweep.

natesilver: Is Mitchell … a little bit like Carmelo Anthony in that he’s taking too many shots? I mean, I guess he has to take a lot of shots with that lineup. But Utah really needs another player who can create his own shot.

tchow: What if you played a player like Royce O’Neale more? He’s +1.8 on defense (according to our model), and it looks like they do a bit better defensively with him on the floor.

chris.herring: He’s another example of what Nate is talking about, though: A guy that isn’t likely to create his own shot.

This is a team that will need to take a long, hard look at itself this summer despite how well it’s played during the second half of these last two seasons.

tchow: One obvious fix would be to get rid of Grayson Allen.

KIDDING!!!

natesilver: I also think Utah benefits from being a bit unorthodox. Rubio is an unorthodox point guard. They’re defense-first. They can play at a slow pace, although they picked up their pace a lot this year. They’re well-coached. So there’s an advantage from game-planning in the regular season. But Daryl Morey and the Rockets are going to study the hell out of the Jazz and know how to counter.

chris.herring: Some of these teams are built to play really, really well in the regular season. And there’s incredible value in that, for seeding purposes, etc.

But the inability to change your playing style when you’re forced to is often fatal this time of year.

sara.ziegler: Finally, Golden State seemed like Golden State in Game 3 of their series against the Clippers. So that panic appears to be over?

chris.herring: Hell, they seemed like Golden State in Game 2 to me!

It was just a massive collapse at the end of Game 2.

sara.ziegler: LOL

chris.herring: I actually pointed out yesterday that the game played out exactly the same way for a long while:

natesilver: Our model thought the DeMarcus Cousins injury was a pretty big deal. Although I think it overrated how effective Cousins had been this season.

sara.ziegler: All season, Cousins has been more about potential in our model.

But the Warriors didn’t need him early in the season, obviously.

tchow: I have nothing much to say about this series, but I do want to point readers to this interview KD gave before Game 3.

natesilver: It’s not that they’re going to lose to the Clippers, but I do just have to wonder about a team’s mentality when they can blow a 30-point lead.

chris.herring: NBC analyst Tom Haberstroh pointed out that Steph was only averaging 19.9 points per 36 minutes this season with Boogie on the court, and that he essentially morphed into Malcolm Brogdon.

Averaged 31.4 points per 36 minutes without DeMarcus on the floor.

sara.ziegler: Wow

natesilver: I mean, part of that might be that Steph was being deferential in an effort to get Cousins feeling like himself again.

chris.herring: EXACTLY

Which … there isn’t time to do that in the playoffs.

tchow: Definitely. I think Steph went through a similar dip when KD joined too.

chris.herring: The last thing you want is Steph playing nice when you need him to be Steph.

natesilver: It does just seem kind of impossible when you have to shut down Steph AND KD and Klay. Even if the rest of the team kind of sucks.

chris.herring: I tend to think this helps them for now, but the Rockets series was one of the overarching reasons they signed Cousins — to make it so Houston couldn’t switch as much as they did on them last year

natesilver: Yeah. So in some ways, we’re back to last year’s series, which was as even as it gets. The Rockets lately are playing as well as last year. And the Warriors without Cousins are basically last year’s team.

sara.ziegler: After this matchup, will we even want to finish out the playoffs??

natesilver: Well, the Western Conference finals are likely to be an anti-climax.

tchow: LOL. Yes! I for one am very interested to see who comes out of the East to play against Warriors/Rockets.

Check out our latest NBA predictions.

Politics Podcast: The Fallout From The Mueller Report Has Just Begun

FiveThirtyEight

 

The U.S. Department of Justice released a redacted version of the full Mueller report Thursday. On this episode of the FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast, the crew reacts to special counsel Robert Mueller’s findings that the Trump campaign did not criminally conspire with Russia to interfere in the 2016 election. The report came to no conclusion about the criminality of President Trump’s actions during the investigation.

Also, the FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast is recording a live podcast in Houston on May 8. Find more information and tickets here.

You can listen to the episode by clicking the “play” button in the audio player above or by downloading it in iTunes, the ESPN app or your favorite podcast platform. If you are new to podcasts, learn how to listen.

The FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast publishes Monday evenings, with additional episodes throughout the week. Help new listeners discover the show by leaving us a rating and review on iTunes. Have a comment, question or suggestion for “good polling vs. bad polling”? Get in touch by email, on Twitter or in the comments.

How The Warriors Blew A 31-Point Lead

We could talk all day long about the everlasting debate over competitive balance in the NBA, but perhaps the biggest challenge the Golden State Warriors pose for many die-hard NBA fans is the issue of sleep.

Because they play on the West Coast, the two-time defending champions are often playing late at night, leaving East Coasters and even Midwesterners with a choice of whether to stay up and watch the action or to get some shut eye before work the next morning. Some play it by ear and call it a night only if and when Golden State builds a commanding, early second-half lead.

This was basically the scenario on Monday night: The Warriors went up by 31, 94-63, at home on the No. 8 seed Los Angeles Clippers, the biggest first-round underdogs in 30 years, midway through the third quarter.1 Yet those who cut off their TV at that point, or before, missed out on the biggest comeback — or collapse, depending on how you view it — in NBA playoff history.

The Clippers poured in 85 second-half points en route to an improbable 135-131 win, knotting the best-of-seven at one game apiece as the series heads to Los Angeles later this week.

There’s no need to concoct an over-complicated explanation for the comeback. While there wasn’t an immediate effect, Stephen Curry’s fourth foul prompted coach Steve Kerr to sit the scorching sharpshooter (who had 22 points and was 6-of-9 from the field) for an eight-and-a-half-minute stretch during the third quarter, until there were 13 seconds left in the period. By that point, the Warriors’ lead (still 17 points) had already been cut by almost half. And Curry’s magic had largely faded once he was subbed back in: Upon returning, he shot just 2-of-9 the rest of the way.

Fellow star Kevin Durant was efficient as a scorer but turned the ball over four separate times during that third quarter alone. He would finish with a team-high nine giveaways, and the club — whose problematic turnovers we’ve detailed here before — had 22 turnovers on the night. (It marked the second game in a row that Golden State has had more than 20.) Durant again got frustrated with Clippers irritant Patrick Beverley, who stands about 10 inches shorter, never stops giving everything he has and seems to effectively get into the All-Star’s head.

Lastly, the Warrior defense allowed Lou Williams, the Clippers’ top scorer, to get rolling and simply couldn’t find a way to stop him late. From the point that L.A.’s deficit peaked at 31 points, Williams, the likely Sixth Man of the Year, shot 11-of-17 for 26 points while also dishing out seven assists over the final 19 minutes of the game. He even grabbed a pair of his own misses and put them each back for valuable buckets.2

“We stopped playing, and got kind of disconnected, in that mid-third quarter,” Kerr told reporters of the turnaround. “We lost our defensive edge.”

It’s been tempting not to even bother writing about the key factors in this series, largely because of how enormous an underdog the Clippers are. But one thing the Warriors would have wanted to avoid going in was this: Don’t allow Los Angeles to stay in the game late. The win marked the third time this season alone that the Clippers had come back from 25 or more down on the road to win,3 and they were the NBA’s most efficient team in late-game, clutch scenarios during the regular season. With the score separated by 5 points or fewer in the final five minutes of play, L.A. outscored opponents by a league-high 17.7 points per 100 possessions.

The clutch shooting of Williams will stand out, but he was far from alone. The Clippers shot 8-of-14 from deep as a team in the second half. Montrezl Harrell, Williams’s high-flying pick-and-roll partner, shot 5-of-5 for 17 points after L.A. fell behind by 31. Beverley made a key play, picking Curry’s pocket as he brought the ball up the court early in the fourth, as if to say that the Clippers weren’t simply going to lie down, despite the Warriors still holding a double-digit lead.

And in what’s marked a sea change under coach Doc Rivers, a couple of the team’s youngsters — a contingent that just a few years ago never would have gotten an opportunity to show what they can do — pulled off arguably the biggest play of the game. Williams got a screen at the top of the key from rookie Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who then short-rolled before hitting fellow rookie Landry Shamet on the wing for the go-ahead triple.

Still, the stunning comeback likely doesn’t figure to change all that much concerning this series, given the massive gap in talent. Yes, the Warriors lost center DeMarcus Cousins to what may be another significant injury, something that could throw them out of rhythm now that the playoffs are underway. Their chances of winning the NBA title — while still better than anyone else’s — are down significantly as a result.4 But the reality is that the Warriors still have a number of other All-Stars to lean on, while the Clippers have none.

It may end up being nothing more than a single, historic comeback in what amounts to a five-game series victory for Golden State. But even if that’s all, the outcome may have been enough to prompt some sleepy fans to catch the final quarter the next time they’re weighing whether to get that extra half-hour of rest.

Check out our latest NBA predictions.

IFTTT Loses Gmail Service

IFTTT Loses Gmail Service

Much of the info in this post is from an article on engadget.  I became aware of the situation as I was working to build an IFTTT applet that would change my office lights to red if a website went down and I got an email about it from Uptime Robot.  That applet can probably still be made but just not using Gmail anymore as a trigger.

From Endadget:

Google’s push to tighten third-party API access is already going to cost the world Google+, but a change that more of you might notice is coming to IFTTT. The service sent out emails alerting users that their “recipe” scripts involving Gmail triggers and an action that could create a draft will go away as of March 31st. According to Google, the shift is a result of the Project Strobe sweep it announced last October.

IFTTT said it worked with Google to keep the integration that will support triggers to Send an email, or to Send Yourself an email, but the API lockdown that’s coming would’ve required too much work to change its services. Otherwise, integrations with Google will still be the same, but anyone relying heavily on the automated scripts may want to double check things before they get a surprise in a few days.

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Ultimate SEO”Ultimate SEO”

What’s Behind MLB’s Bizarre Spike In Contract Extensions?

On Feb. 13, 25-year-old ace Aaron Nola agreed to a four-year contract extension with the Phillies. A day later, 26-year-old Max Kepler and 25-year-old Jorge Polanco agreed to five-year extensions with the Twins. The following day, Yankees ace Luis Severino, who turned 25 a few days later, signed a pact with the Yankees. The deals marked the beginning of a historic spree of extensions.

From mid-February through Thursday, 27 players had agreed to extensions worth a total of 132 years and $2.045 billion, according to data from the MLBTradeRumors.com extension database analyzed by FiveThirtyEight. There has never been a flurry of activity like this: March represented the most dollars ($1.126 billion) and years (58) awarded in contract extensions in a one-month period that we’ve seen.

While veteran stars including Nolan Arenado, Chris Sale and Mike Trout all signed massive extensions this spring, players with little major league experience made up the majority of the deals. Fourteen of the players — including reigning NL Rookie of the Year Ronald Acuna, who signed a $100 million extension last week, and fellow Brave Ozzie Albies, who signed a much-discussed extension Thursday — were so early in their careers that they were not yet eligible for salary arbitration, which generally requires a player to accrue three years of major league experience before becoming eligible to negotiate for significant raises. Eight others were at least a year shy of six years of service time, the amount required to become a free agent. In 2019 to date, players signing extensions have forfeited 51 combined arbitration-eligible seasons and 69 future free-agent years. The deals also include club options covering 25 seasons.

Buying out the arbitration and free agency years of younger stars for the purpose of controlling and reducing payroll costs was a practice pioneered in the early 1990s by John Hart, then general manager of the Cleveland Indians, who watched great Pittsburgh Pirates teams broken up prematurely because of escalating player costs. While extensions had since become common practice, the activity had slowed in recent seasons as young stars like Bryce Harper and Manny Machado seemed intent on hitting the open market as soon as possible.

So what’s behind the extension surge this spring? Why are MLB teams intent on avoiding arbitration and locking up young stars? It may be because arbitration wasn’t working to begin with — at least from the perspective of the teams.

Under arbitration, a player and a team each puts forth a salary amount to a panel of arbitrators, who then must decide on one of the two figures. In the past two offseasons, players have totaled more wins than losses in arbitration cases against the owners — the first time that’s happened in back-to-back years since 1989-90. Through 2015, owners had won 58 percent of all arbitration cases, according to Forbes.

This winter, Gerrit Cole ($13.5 million) and Trevor Bauer ($13 million) were among the six players to win their cases against their clubs. Arenado and the Rockies avoided a hearing, which is common practice, by signing a one-year, $26 million deal — a record for a player eligible for arbitration.

“We’re going to be seeing $20 [million] and $30 million salaries regularly in arbitration,” one agent told us. “They [MLB teams] are going to try and push back on that. How do you do it? You pull those guys out of the system.

“Every time the teams see a seam in the defense, they exploit the shit out of it and they are really good at it,” the agent said. “They are capitalizing on good players they have been watching through the draft, through the minor leagues, and who are represented largely by unqualified or under-qualified agents. The teams have scouting reports on agents the very same way they have on opposing hitters and pitchers. They have heat maps. They know our tendencies, they know who will go to arbitration, who won’t, whose business is failing and they need to vest their fees.”

The agent noted that teams look at arbitration as an important battleground and have scores of analysts that compile data for these cases. By taking players out of the arbitration system, the teams not only cap earning potential for those players, but they also reduce salary comps for other players. Agent Scott Boras described the MLB’s aggressive approach with young players and extensions this spring as “snuff contracts” — or an attempt to snuff out future markets.

Greg Dreyfuss, an associate general counsel for the union and the MLBPA’s director of analytics and baseball operations, also sees a link between the wave of extensions and players’ recent arbitration wins. The union and players have closed the data gap between clubs in making their cases. Dreyfuss says agents and players are educated on the market. While MLB payrolls remain stagnant, the records for largest arbitration salaries have been set in the past two years. The average salary of an arbitration-eligible player in 2011 was $2.73 million; that increased to $3.97 million this year, a 45 percent jump, according to analysis of MLBTradeRumors.com data.

The total dollars and players in the arbitration system has jumped from $393.6 million and 144 players in 2011 to $789.6 million spread among 199 players this last offseason, growth in part due to the game trending younger — meaning that there will be more 20-somethings entering arbitration.

“Nine of the 10 largest one-year contracts in the history of salary arbitration have come in the past two years, and overall, arbitration salaries have kept pace with the rise in industry revenue over a 10-year period,” Dreyfuss told FiveThirtyEight. “Recently a lot of really good players in that process have stood up and said, ‘No, I’m not just going to take what you give me,’ and they’ve fought for what they consider a fair salary. So, I do think there’s some correlation between players succeeding in arbitration and clubs wanting to take players out of that process.”

While spending efficiently is always a goal for teams, how these clubs have handled free agency in recent winters may be a motivating factor in some players’ decision-making. Even Trout, the game’s best player, expressed reservations about entering the open market when he signed a record extension (which is also a bargain for the Angels) this spring.

“I kind of saw what Bryce and Manny went through and it drew a red flag for me,” Trout said. “I talked to Manny and Bryce. It was a tough couple months in the offseason. They put it perspective in my mind.”

Not all extensions are club-friendly. Drefyuss notes that there have also been a number of veteran players who have agreed to extensions that will pay them lucratively into their mid-30s.

“Players agree to extensions for a variety of valid reasons, and there are any number of factors involved in their decisions,” he said

One key decision a player must make when considering an extension is how much financial upside to concede for the sake of job and financial security. In dealing with future risk, teams face less downside than individual players do. While a team can absorb a poor contract, a player is one injury or decline in performance away from having his career trajectory significantly altered.

Acuna and Albies look like future superstars, yet they signed deals that could potentially cost them nine figures in future earnings. White Sox top prospect Eloy Jimenez signed a six-year deal with two club options before he ever took a major league at-bat, limiting his financial upside. Those are the types of club-friendly deals that some on the players’ side have criticized. There is also an argument that individual players ought to consider not just themselves but their peers and future major leaguers when considering a long-term deal — and that they should wait until they are at least arbitration-eligible.

“If guys aren’t going through the system, if all the young [stars] are signing before they get there, then we are not going to have those posts to hold on to,” the agent said of salary comps. “I don’t think this is teams trying to screw with the free agent market. They are trying to take the best young players out of the arbitration system.”

Toronto outfielder Randal Grichuk, 27, said the Blue Jays began negotiating with him last month during spring training in the midst of the extension spree. He eventually signed a five-year, $52 million extension.

“The way I looked at it was taking guaranteed money, setting my family up for life, it’s hard to turn down,” Grichuk said. “If I leave a few dollars on the table now, I’m going to just be finishing my 31 season [after his deal expires] going into free agency. If I produce well, I’m going to be young enough to make some more. And if I’m not able to, whether due to injuries, failures, anything happens, I’m still set for life.”

Grichuk was into his arbitration years when he signed his extension, but he didn’t take issue with young stars like Acuna opting for financial security earlier along in the process.

“He could have probably waited and got more, but it’s tough to talk negatively about a guy who just got $100 million and is set for life,” Grichuk said. “What’s the difference between $100 [million] and $200 [million]? His kids’ kids’ kids won’t have to work? … I think it’s one of those things where his life changes completely.”

Neil Paine contributed research

The Lightning’s Historic Dominance Won’t Matter Without A Cup

The Stanley Cup playoffs begin today, with the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Tampa Bay Lighting entering as heavy betting favorites. And for good reason: Their regular season resume is impeccable. They earned 128 points by winning 62 games, placing them in a tie with the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings for the most regular-season wins in league history.

En route to all those wins, the Bolts led the NHL in goals scored, powerplay goals scored, shooting percentage and penalty kill percentage1 and finished third in save percentage. Nikita Kucherov became the first player in more than a decade to register 120 or more points, and Steven Stamkos had the most productive season of his already immensely productive career.

Tampa is a balanced juggernaut, and every other team should be very afraid of it.

With all that said, it must be noted that regular-season dominance hardly guarantees postseason glory in the NHL. Of the 13 teams that have won the Presidents’ Trophy since the lockout of 2004-05, just two have gone on to lift the Stanley Cup. And of the 10 regular-season winners to earn 120 or more regular-season points in league history, just four have gone on to win professional hockey’s ultimate prize.2

Still, NHL favorites3 haven’t had it all that bad since the lockout, especially when compared with the other three major North American men’s leagues. Only NBA favorites have had better championship odds going into the playoffs over the past 13 years.

Hockey favorites don’t have it too bad

For each of the four major North American men’s leagues, playoff field size and average pre-playoff title probability* for favorites, 2006-2018

League Playoff Teams per Year Favorite’s Average Championship Probability
National Basketball Association 16 36.1%
National Hockey League 16 23.5
Major League Baseball 8/10 21.4
National Football League 12 18.7

* Based on a logit regression between per-game scoring differential and championships won for each league.

Source: Sports-Reference.com

While it might not be as inevitable as, say, the Golden State Warriors winning the NBA title in 2018 (or 2017 or 2015), Tampa’s regular-season dominance suggests that it’s poised to continue this trend. The Bolts scored 103 more goals than they conceded during the regular season; the next best mark was set by the Calgary Flames, who posted a +62 goal differential. The gulf between best and second-best is immense, and it underscores Tampa’s historic regular-season greatness. And indeed, Tampa may be the NHL’s best team since the lockout.

Hockey-Reference.com’s Simple Rating System (SRS), which estimates the strength of every team in the NHL,4 reiterates just how special this Bolts group is. From 2005-06 to 2017-18, just three teams finished the regular season with an SRS better than 1, and no team eclipsed 1.2. The most recent team to do so — the 2012-13 Chicago Blackhawks — won the Stanley Cup. Tampa finished the 2018-19 regular season with an SRS of 1.21. All signs are pointing to late-spring celebrations on the Gulf Coast.

Tampa’s only real concern at the moment is the health of Victor Hedman, the reigning Norris Trophy winner for the top defenseman. The Swede missed Tampa’s final three games with an “upper-body injury.” Hedman has a history of concussions, and “upper-body injury” is often NHL front-office code for concussion. The slick-skating defenseman is Tampa’s fourth-highest scorer, its power-play quarterback and the leader of a rearguard partially responsible for that gaudy goal differential. The Bolts can probably survive a first-round tilt against a slightly better-than-average Blue Jackets team without Hedman, but things might not be as easy against subsequent teams.

If there’s a cautionary tale for this iteration of the Bolts, it’s that Red Wings team from 1995-96: Detroit earned the second-most regular-season points in NHL history and boasted two of the league’s best offensive players (Sergei Fedorov and Steve Yzerman) and the league’s reigning Norris Trophy winner (Paul Coffey) and yet failed to advance beyond the Western Conference finals. In the NHL, history is written between April and June, not October and April. Tampa is on top of the hockey world at the moment. But that world could change significantly in a matter of weeks.

Yes, Parity Was Real This Season. But Baylor Still Dominated.

Before the national championship game tipped off on Sunday, things seemed to be going according to plan for Baylor and Notre Dame. Two No. 1 seeds — and two of the three teams to be ranked No. 1 during the regular season — would face off, with one seeking to cap a dominant, one-loss season, and the other aiming for its second title in as many years.

Once the game began, though, practically nothing went according to plan for either team.

Baylor raced out to a 15-5 lead and led by as many as 17 in the first half and 12 at halftime. The Bears dominated, getting contributions from inside (12 first-half points from center Kalani Brown) and out (5-5 shooting in the first quarter from point guard Chloe Jackson). It was the bad kind of déjà vu for Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw, whose Fighting Irish needed a 15-point comeback — the largest ever in an NCAA championship game — to take home the trophy last season.

But in the second half, it was Mulkey’s team that had the bad kind of déjà vu. A year after then-senior Kristy Wallace tore her ACL in Baylor’s regular-season finale, the Bears lost Big 12 defensive player of the year Lauren Cox to a knee injury in the third quarter. Notre Dame promptly came all the way back to tie the game at 74 with 5:18 left in the fourth quarter and even briefly took a 77-76 lead with a little more than three minutes left.

Baylor ultimately pulled out an 82-81 victory behind big contributions from the game’s most outstanding player in Jackson (26 points, five assists), Brown (20 points, 13 rebounds) and freshman reserve NaLyssa Smith (14 points, six rebounds). Notre Dame looked unstoppable at one point in the fourth quarter, with Marina Mabrey canning three 3-pointers in just over two minutes, but came undone at the free-throw line late, with two crucial misses in the final minute.

In the end, when the confetti fell from the rafters to signal the end of the 2018-19 women’s college basketball season, everything was more or less as expected. The No. 1 overall seed hoisted the trophy, emerging out of a field that saw all of the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds advance to the Elite Eight and the two teams that had the best odds of winning a title at the outset make it to the championship game. Yet parity was rightfully the buzzword of this season: Teams like Oregon and NC State had historic years; mid-major Rice cracked the top-25 rankings for the first time, and Gonzaga hit its highest ranking in program history at No. 12; and mighty UConn was not a No. 1 seed for the first time since 2006. In the Final Four, the combined margin of victory (including the championship) was 11 points — the smallest such margin in women’s NCAA Tournament history, according to ESPN’s Stats & Information Group.

Paradoxically, the 2019 national champions both rejected that parity and exemplified it.

Baylor dominated its schedule from start to finish, posting a 37-1 record and finishing the season on a 29-game win streak.. The Bears claimed their ninth-straight regular-season conference title and won the Big 12 tournament for the ninth time in 11 years. The 6-foot-7 Brown and the 6-foot-4 Cox had All-America-caliber seasons, combining to average nearly 29 points and 17 rebounds per game. Behind their two interior leaders, Baylor led the country in blocks per game, assists per game, rebounding rate and opponent field-goal percentage.

But as much as they dominated, Baylor also embodied the growth of the game, defeating UConn in the regular season and Notre Dame in the championship game. This is the first time that a team has beaten both the Huskies and the Fighting Irish, two of the sport’s premier programs over the past decade-plus, in the same season since Baylor did it in 2012-13. The program has now won three national championships and made four Final Fours since 2005 while reaching the Elite Eight in eight of the past 10 seasons. By anyone’s definition, Baylor should be considered in the upper echelon of programs, on par with UConn and Notre Dame.

Mulkey has built her program into a powerhouse in part by recruiting well, but also by developing players and putting them in position to succeed. She signed three top-5 recruiting classes in the past four years, according to ESPN, including the nation’s No. 1 class in 2018. Yet she still found herself without an experienced option at point guard entering this season. She settled on an unorthodox solution, moving graduate transfer Jackson to point guard and teaching her the nuances of the position throughout the year. On Sunday night, Jackson proved that her coach made the right decision, committing just one turnover all game and scoring Baylor’s final 4 points.

In the end, Baylor claimed the 2019 national title by the slimmest of margins,1 simultaneously proving that parity is real in the women’s game and ensuring that the Bears will be regarded as one of this decade’s elite programs. They will rebuild again in the offseason, as they lose Brown and Jackson off of this year’s team. But don’t be surprised if Baylor produces the good kind of déjà vu in seasons to come, as Mulkey has built the Bears into a perennial contender and a team that can compete with anyone — UConn and Notre Dame included.

Check out our latest March Madness predictions.

Willians Astudillo Is A Baseball Enigma

Willians Astudillo was already something of a cult hero before he made this year’s opening day roster of the Minnesota Twins. He earned a video shoutout on MLB.com shortly after his major league debut last year when his first-to-home sprint left him gasping. And ESPN tweeted that he “may have broken every single one of baseball’s unwritten rules” after he kneeled in the batter’s box to watch a winter ball home run. (The kneel was “a natural reaction,” Astudillo told us. “I thought it was going to be foul.”)

But there’s another thing that makes the 27-year-old rookie nicknamed La Tortuga is perhaps the most interesting man in baseball: his bat. No one in pro baseball hits quite like he does.

Among all major league hitters in history to record at least 100 plate appearances, Astudillo ranks first in batting average (.382). While he looks something like Bartolo Colon, he’s hitting like Ty Cobb.

With the Twins and Diamondbacks Triple-A teams in 2018 and 2017, Astudillo posted the lowest strikeout rate each season among all Double-A and Triple-A batters with at least 100 plate appearances. In the farm systems of the Braves and Phillies in 2016 and 2015, he had the lowest K-rates in all of the minors. Across his entire minor league career, he struck out just 81 times in 2,461 plate appearances (3.3 percent). With velocity and strikeouts at record levels across the majors, it’s never been more difficult to make contact with a pitch. But in an age when walks and on-base percentage are prized, Astudillo has shown little interest in watching pitches go by. He walked on just 85 occasions (a 3.5 percent walk rate) across nine seasons in the minors.1

In his brief major league career, he’s striking out at a 2.8 percent rate. Two players have had lower K rates for a season since 1989: Tony Gwynn (1995) and Felix Fermin (1993 and 1995).

Astudillo has always hit. So why did it take him 10 years to make the major leagues? It’s probably that the sport didn’t know what to do with him. No one has looked, or hit, quite like the 5-foot-9, 225-pound catcher/utility man.

The Twins’ scouts were perplexed by Astudillo, said Derek Falvey, the chief baseball officer for Minnesota.

“They weren’t necessarily projecting the power or the on-base skill because of the lack of walks,” Falvey said. “I’d say [the scouts’ grade on his bat] was probably fringe-average, in that range, toward average. It wasn’t anything that stood out.”

He was such an outlier that Minnesota’s own projection system struggled to find comps when the Twins were scouring minor league free agents after the 2017 season.2

“He’s an interesting guy because he’s not someone projection systems would easily pick out,” Falvey said. “It’s a simple reason: Projection systems are based upon history. Take a random player, like Jonathan Schoop. You know what his track record was through the minor leagues. If you have a similar batted-ball profile, strikeout rate, swing-and-miss rate, all those things, there’s a chance you might become someone like him over time. That’s the way projection systems are built. They look at history to then look at the future.

“Willians is kind of his own breed.”

Astudillo is interesting for another reason, too: He’s getting better.


Astudillo’s grandfather and father were obsessed with baseball. His father had played professionally in Venezuela. Astudillo remembers a drill in which his father would kneel a few feet away and flick corn kernels toward him in their backyard in the coastal city of Barcelona, Venezuela. Astudillo’s objective was to hit the knuckling projectiles with a broomstick. He thinks his rare contact ability is part nature and part nurture.

“I think it’s just who I’ve been since the beginning, practicing with my dad and my grandfather. That close nucleus back home, just practicing,” Astudillo told FiveThirtyEight through an interpreter. “It’s something that I have. I don’t know how to explain it exactly.”

But low-strikeout, high-contact hitters are increasingly interesting for another reason beyond their scarcity: They’ve shown a knack for developing power.

The average launch angle has increased every year since Statcast began measuring balls in play in 2015, from 10.1 degrees in 2015 to 11.7 degrees last season and to what would be a record rate of 13.2 degrees as it stands early this season. (Astudillo’s average launch angle was 12.2 degrees last season.) That trend suggests that more hitters are trying to hit balls above infield shifts and out of the ballpark.

Hitters with excellent contact rates but unlikely power-hitting builds — like Jose Ramirez, Jose Altuve, Justin Turner, Mookie Betts and Francisco Lindor — have become sluggers in recent seasons. As more batters are adjusting their swing planes, elite contact hitters have made the greatest offensive gains — measured in one way by isolated power, or slugging percentage minus batting average.

Astudillo has also gained power in recent years without having to sacrifice his contact ability. No projection system or scout saw that coming. Falvey, who had worked in the Cleveland front office before taking the Twins job, noted that Ramirez was also a high-contact hitter before he had an unlikely power breakout.

“Did anyone see Jose Ramirez turning into that kind of power hitter?” he said. “If anyone tells you they believed that at the outset — I worked there — I can tell you that’s not true. We did believe he had some interesting profile traits. Same thing with Willians.”

While Astudillo was limited to 128 Triple-A plate appearances with the Diamondbacks in 2017, his isolated power jumped to a career-best .217, up from .065 the previous year. His previous best ISO mark had been .101. (The MLB average ISO was .161 in 2018.) With the Twins last year, he followed up with a .192 ISO mark in 307 plate appearances in Triple-A and a .161 mark in 97 plate appearances with the major league club.

His power has been present early this season, too. Within his first three major league swings of 2019 on Sunday, he doubled twice. In his second start Wednesday, Astudillo went 3-for-5 with another double.

“I think it’s the experience from playing more often,” Astudillo said of his power surge. “Yes, I made contact (early in my career), but it was mostly weak contact. I was swinging at pitches a little out of the zone. Now I am not swinging at those pitches. I am being more selective.”

Astudillo ranks 35th in the frequency of swinging at pitches out of the zone among major league hitters to have recorded at least 100 plate appearances since last season, and he ranks 17th in swing percentage. But Falvey noted that Astudillo doesn’t dramatically expand his zone and offer at pitches far outside the strike zone.

“It’s not like he’s trying to chase balls over his head or out of the strike zone,” Falvey said. “He just constantly attacks strikes. He has a unique ability that when he attacks a strike, he usually doesn’t miss.”

Baseball Savant

When Astudillo goes outside the zone, he’s not going that far out of the zone. And when he swings — either in or out of the zone — he doesn’t miss. Astudillo leads baseball in contact rate (91.9 percent) and out-of-zone contact rate (83.3) among batters with at least 100 plate appearances since last season. That’s well above the MLB averages for both last season, with contact rate at 76.9 percent and out-of-zone contact at 60.1 percent.


While Astudillo’s bat is fascinating, it’s not the reason the Twins signed him in November 2017 to a minor league contract with an invite to spring training. They were intrigued by his glove.

During their organizational meetings last spring, Twins officials went through the scouting reports on players in their camp. As they looked at Astudillo, they thought he could play second, third, left field and catcher — important versatility in a sport that increasingly requires roster flexibility. A Twins evaluator in the room then spoke up.

“‘He can play center, too, just ask him,’” Falvey recalled.

The club officials were amused. Center field didn’t seem like a natural fit for the stout player. But Astudillo showed them the proof: video of himself robbing a home run in a 2014 Venezuelan winter league playoff game.

Months later, after several Twins went down with heat exhaustion during a game on a sweltering afternoon last June, Astudillo trotted out to center field in Wrigley Field. He became the first player 5-foot-9 or shorter weighing more than 220 pounds to play center in a major league baseball game, according to Baseball-Reference.com.

But even given his versatility, the Twins thought he was best suited to play catcher, according to Falvey. Astudillo rated as an above-average pitch framer throughout his minor league career, according to Baseball Prospectus defensive metrics — and pitch framing has been a focus of Falvey’s since he took the reins of the Twins after the 2016 season.

While the Twins initially brought in Astudillo for his interesting glove, it’s his bat that will ultimately determine how much he plays and whether he’s a short-lived curiosity or becomes a useful major leaguer.

Even the Twins admit that they didn’t see this player emerging. But as is so often the case with Astudillo, what you expect is not what you get.

Check out our latest MLB predictions.

Significant Digits For Wednesday, April 3, 2019

You’re reading Significant Digits, a daily digest of the numbers tucked inside the news.


3 weeks

Last week, President Trump threatened to close the U.S.-Mexico border this week “if Mexico doesn’t immediately stop ALL illegal immigration coming into the United States.” Were that to happen, the U.S. would run out of avocados in three weeks, according to the CEO of the world’s largest avocado-growing and -distributing company. Forty percent or more of the U.S.’s imported fruits and vegetables are grown in Mexico. [The Guardian]


$18.2 million raised

Bernie Sanders raised a whopping $18.2 million in the first six weeks of his presidential campaign, a stat that “cements his status as one of the top fund-raisers in the sprawling Democratic field,” according to The New York Times. The money came via 900,000 contributions from 525,000 individual donors, according to Sanders’s campaign manager. [The New York Times]


Up roughly 15 percent

The price of Bitcoin (remember it?) surged some 15 percent on Tuesday, to about $4,800 — a four-month high. And in a bit of analysis that roughly dovetails with my overall understanding of cryptocurrency, “the reason for the sudden price jump wasn’t immediately clear,” CNBC reported. [CNBC]


Final 4 teams

And then there were four. The Baylor Lady Bears, Notre Dame Fighting Irish, UConn Huskies and Oregon Ducks are the sole survivors of the 2019 NCAA women’s basketball tournament. According to our predictions, their chances of winning the championship on April 7 are 58 percent, 23 percent, 15 percent and 5 percent, respectively. [FiveThirtyEight]


387 reported cases of measles

There have been 387 reported cases of measles — a very contagious and very preventable disease — in the U.S. this year, already surpassing the 372 cases reported during all of 2018, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Measles killed some 90,000 people worldwide in 2016. The San Francisco Chronicle reports that American doctors were heretofore so unfamiliar with seeing the disease, which was declared nonexistent in the country in 2000, in person that they have been reviewing photos of the measles rash “to refresh their memories.” [San Francisco Chronicle]


20 percent off

Amazon, owner of Whole Foods, is cutting prices at its grocer for the third time in two years, and the company reports that customers will see an average savings of 20 percent on some items. Nevertheless, last month a Morgan Stanley analyst found that Whole Foods’s prices had risen for three months straight and were 15 percent above its rivals’. [CNN]


Love digits? Find even more in FiveThirtyEight’s book of math and logic puzzles, “The Riddler.”

If you see a significant digit in the wild, please send it to @ollie.


Queer Kentucky Site Aims To Give Voice

A site lead by activist in Louisville, KY has endeavored to provide a greater voice to that regions LGBTQ community. Queer Kentucky offers original content and statewide updates.

Below is from their site about the vision they have for their community.

Queer Kentucky Site Aims To Give Voice
Queer Kentucky’s logo

We have created a platform for Queer people from all around our great bluegrass state to share experience, ideas, philosophies, emotions, and more. Our voices may sometimes be unfortunate, cheerful, inappropriate and sometimes down-right bizarre, but we are alive to tell them. Our photos might be simplistic and not high-fashion, but it is US that is in them. This stage is set for all people under our Queer umbrella. This stage is ours.

Stay tuned for updates, apparel, events…and most importantly, more voices. We hope our platform grows. The fact that it’s even up and running makes us giddy. Please contact us for feedback, ideas, hopes and dreams. Of course no subject is taboo.

From metro streets, to Appalachian trails, these are our voices.

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11 Senators Want To Know Why The CDC’s Gun Injury Estimates Are Unreliable

Eleven senators have sent a letter to the head of the Department of Health and Human Services, demanding answers to a series of questions about the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s nonfatal firearm injury estimates. The inquiry relies on the findings of an investigation by The Trace, a nonprofit news organization covering gun violence in America,1 and FiveThirtyEight, and is led by Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey.

The Trace and FiveThirtyEight first reported last year that the CDC’s 2016 gun injury estimate was so uncertain the agency classified it as “unstable and potentially unreliable.” Since then, the agency’s data, which in 2017 was derived from a sample of just 60 hospitals, has become even more unreliable. The CDC’s gun violence estimates are widely cited in academic articles.

“Given that the CDC is not currently conducting gun violence research,” the letter reads, “the very least the agency can do is to ensure that its gun injury numbers are accurate.”

The letter asks HHS Secretary Alex Azar to explain the CDC’s methods for tracking nonfatal firearm injuries, the cause of its increasingly unreliable estimates, and whether the agency has undertaken any actions to improve the quality of its data. The senators also ask whether the Dickey Amendment — a piece of 1996 legislation that bars the CDC from using its funding to “advocate or promote gun control” — has played any role in the agency’s continued reliance on a data source that’s ill-suited for producing firearm injury estimates.

“We as lawmakers, as every American citizen, should be able to follow and understand the latest trends on firearms injuries without the concern of coming across ‘unstable and potentially unreliable’ data,” Menendez told The Trace in an email.

The CDC has previously acknowledged its estimates have a high degree of uncertainty. “CDC continues to look into various ways to strengthen the estimates for nonfatal firearm injuries,” said spokesperson Courtney Lenard in an email.

Researchers interviewed by The Trace and FiveThirtyEight believe the CDC’s estimates are too flawed to use. Guohua Li, editor-in-chief of the medical journal Injury Epidemiology and director of Columbia University’s Center for Injury Epidemiology and Prevention, said the estimates could be improved by drawing upon a larger and more reliable source of data, such as another database administered by HHS.

Menendez makes reference to this proposed solution in the letter, writing, “There appears to be no rational reason that the CDC and HHS use different databases.”

The letter was also signed by Democratic Sens. Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, Mazie Hirono, Richard Blumenthal, Amy Klobuchar, Kamala Harris, Tina Smith, Chris Murphy and Chris Van Hollen and independent Angus King. The letter asks Azar to respond by April 20.

Politics Podcast: Can Statistics Solve Gerrymandering?

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The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments on the constitutionality of partisan gerrymandering on Tuesday. The court is again considering whether lawmakers are allowed to draw district lines meant to dramatically benefit one party over another and — if not — how the courts should judge when lawmakers go too far.

In this episode of the FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast, mathematician Moon Duchin explains a statistical method for determining when maps become too partisan. On Tuesday, the justices discussed her proposed method, but we’ll have to wait to see whether they were convinced that it’s a potential solution.

This episode is part of our FiveThirtyEight On The Road series, which is brought to you by WeWork. You can listen to the episode by clicking the “play” button in the audio player above or by downloading it in iTunes, the ESPN app or your favorite podcast platform. If you are new to podcasts, learn how to listen.

The FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast publishes Monday evenings, with additional episodes throughout the week. Help new listeners discover the show by leaving us a rating and review on iTunes. Have a comment, question or suggestion for “good polling vs. bad polling”? Get in touch by email, on Twitter or in the comments.

Beto O’Rourke Didn’t Get Much Of A Kickoff Bump, But He’s Not Alone

The presidential rollout parade continues! Since I last wrote about candidates’ polling bumps after they declared their presidential campaigns, Beto O’Rourke has joined the 2020 Democratic primary field, and we’ve gotten full data for a couple of other candidates. But it turns out that none of their entries into the race really caused a bump in their poll numbers, according to one set of polls.

As I did three weeks ago, I used Morning Consult’s weekly national poll of likely Democratic primary voters1 to gauge how much of a splash each presidential candidate’s kickoff made among the public. The chart below shows how O’Rourke’s, John Hickenlooper’s and Jay Inslee’s polling numbers changed after their campaigns launched; six other candidates who announced before March are also included. We’ve excluded candidates whom Morning Consult doesn’t ask about,2 those who declared too early for us to have polling data both before and after their announcements3 and those who haven’t officially declared they’re running.4

O’Rourke had an … interesting campaign launch that has generated some mixed signals. On the bright side for him, he raised more than $6 million in the first 24 hours after announcing his candidacy — a sum that topped all other contenders, even small-donor darling Bernie Sanders. But O’Rourke’s bump in the Morning Consult poll was decidedly meh: He went from 7 percent in the poll the week before his March 14 announcement to 8 percent in the poll the week after. Other polls, however, showed larger gains for O’Rourke. He rose by 2 percentage points in CNN’s polling and by 7 points in Emerson College’s polling (although CNN’s pre-announcement poll was taken in December and Emerson’s in February, so there was plenty of time for other events to affect his standing as well). Overall, it appears as though O’Rourke has gotten a smaller bump than Sanders and Kamala Harris, but larger than that of other candidates. However, a pair of The Economist/YouGov polls — one each taken before and after his kickoff — had disappointing news: O’Rourke’s net favorability rating (favorable rating minus unfavorable rating) among Democrats fell from +45 points before his announcement to +40 after it, although the changes were within the margin of error. That could reflect the fact that even though O’Rourke got lots of cable-news coverage in the days after his launch, some of it was unflattering.

Inslee and Hickenlooper also underwhelmed. Inslee, the governor of Washington, had been polling at 0 percent before his March 1 announcement, and he inched up to 1 percent the week after he declared. But Hickenlooper, a former governor of Colorado, saw no change — he polled at 1 percent both before and after his March 4 campaign kickoff. One silver lining for Hickenlooper is that Morning Consult found an uptick in the number of people who could form an opinion of him: The week before his announcement, 20 percent of respondents had either a positive or negative opinion of Hickenlooper; the week after, 26 percent did.

And some bad news for all three candidates: As you can see from the chart, candidates’ polling bumps tend to dissipate after their kickoffs, so they’ll need to garner attention some other way to prove that they have staying power in the race.

Derek Shan contributed research.

Check out all the polls we’ve been collecting ahead of the 2020 elections.

Emergency Politics Podcast: Mueller Has Filed His Report

Special counsel Robert Mueller has concluded his investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and submitted his report to Attorney General Bill Barr. In this emergency installment of the FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast, legal reporter Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux discusses what we can expect to learn in the coming days.

You can listen to the episode by clicking the “play” button in the audio player above or by downloading it in iTunes, the ESPN app or your favorite podcast platform. If you are new to podcasts, learn how to listen.

The FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast publishes Monday evenings, with additional episodes throughout the week. Help new listeners discover the show by leaving us a rating and review on iTunes. Have a comment, question or suggestion for “good polling vs. bad polling”? Get in touch by email, on Twitter or in the comments.