Rockies’ struggles proceed with seventh straight loss to Dodgers

The Los Angeles Dodgers simply own the Rockies, and they make themselves quite comfy at Coors Field, too.

The Dodgers proved it again Saturday, winning 7-2 on a night when Colorado’s offense went AWOL for the seventh time in nine games this season, and when Dodgers first baseman Cody Bellinger continued his blazing start.

To escape another defeat, the Rockies (3-6) needed to either solve budding Dodgers ace Walker Buehler or get an ace-like performance from Jon Gray. They got neither.

“There are still games to win, but it’s frustrating, because we’ve been having bad at-bats lately,” star third baseman Nolan Arenado said. “It’s not good. There are a lot of games left, but it’s just frustrating when you see the way we are losing. It’s just not very competitive.”

And so the Rockies lost to the boys from Los Angeles for the seven consecutive time, a string that includes the 5-2 loss in Game 163 last season that gave the Dodgers their sixth consecutive National League West title. For the record, the Dodgers are now 110-99 at Coors Field; perhaps a reason why so many blue-clad fans show up screaming “Let’s Go Dodgers!”

Buehler, on a limited pitch count, baffled the Rockies for five innings, giving up one run on three hits. Colorado’s offense briefly woke up from its early-season slumber in the fourth inning with a loud, two-out, solo home run by David Dahl into the second deck above right field. Dahl’s second homer of the season came on Buehler’s 1-2, 96.2 mph fastball and traveled 445 feet. Dahl, batting .353, has homered in eight of his last nine games at Coors Field.

“We saw (maturity) from David last season when there was a stretch in the second when he was one of our bigger contributors,” manager Bud Black said. “It’s in there, with David, so that’s why we felt very strong going into this year about him being a major cog in our lineup  — from the get-go.”

The Rockies staged a miniature comeback in the eighth, sparked by a leadoff single to left by Josh Fuentes — Arenado’s cousin — who got singled in his first big-league at-bat. Fuentes came around to score on Dahl’s single, but the rally died with two men on base when Arenado popped out and Ian Desmond stuck out.

The Rockies are now batting .207 as a team and have been outscored 42-25 this season. Desmond went 0-for-4 and struck out twice, his average dropping to .100. He also misplayed Alex Verdugo’s RBI triple in L.A.’s two-run ninth.

Speaking about Colorado’s struggling offense, Black offered this: “We have to ride through this storm right here. The guys who we feel are our best hitters are at the top of the lineup, with Charlie (Blackmon) and Nolan and Trevor (Story) and David (Dahl).

“We are without (Ryan McMahon) and (Daniel) Murphy, two (injured) guys we projected to be in our lineup. But I think the whole group, not just the bottom of the order, but the other  guys … everybody has to contribute. And that can be done, we just have to do it.”

The Dodgers, winners of four straight, are sizzling at the plate, batting .302. Verdugo’s solo home run off Gray leading off the seventh extended the Dodgers’ lead to 5-1 and gave them 22 home runs in nine games. It also marked the 14th consecutive game in which Gray has allowed at least one home run, the longest streak in franchise history.

Gray worked hard in the offseason to make himself into the type of pitcher who would rise to big moments such as Saturday night’s when the Rockies needed a “stopper.” He failed to come through, giving up five runs on eight hits in six-plus innings.

Gray went to his curveball early because he didn’t have his “best command” of his fastball and slider and had to grind through his outing.

“I feel like we worked through the first four or five innings pretty well, with everything, but I’m disappointed with that last inning,” said Gray, now 0-2 with a 5.68 ERA.

Gray said he’s close to being where he needs to be, but added, “I’m still frustrated. There were a few pitches that came out of my hand that I wasn’t really happy about, and the homer was one of them. I just tried to grind as hard as I could today, I just didn’t have it.”

The Dodgers broke through for two runs in the fourth. Gray plunked leadoff hitter Justin Turner and Bellinger ripped a double into the right-field corner. Los Angeles cashed in with an RBI single by A.J. Pollock and a sacrifice fly by Max Muncy.

Bellinger played a key role in the Dodgers’ two-run sixth as well, ripping an RBI triple off the left-field wall and then scoring on A.J. Pollock’s sacrifice fly. Bellinger is batting .425 and has a major-league leading 17 RBIs.

Gray got off to a less than auspicious start, giving up seeing-eye singles to Corey Seager and Justin Turner, but he got Bellinger to ground into a double play, a moment that led to three fist pumps from Gray as he departed the mound. That tuned out to be his high-water mark of the evening.

Matt Mooney, Crimson Raiders D clamps down 61-51 over Michigan St

MINNEAPOLIS — For those who thought Texas Tech only plays defense, it’s time to meet Matt Mooney.

While the Red Raiders were locking down Michigan State on one end, the graduate transfer shooting guard was raining in 3s on the other, lifting Tech one win away from the title Saturday night with a 61-51 victory over the Spartans in the Final Four.

Mooney matched his season-high with 22 points, including three 3-pointers over the span of 3 minutes to give Texas Tech a 13-point lead midway through the second half that, under these circumstances, was too much to overcome.

Mooney’s first two shots in the stretch capped a 5-for-5 hot streak by Texas Tech that stood as the game’s only true blast of offense.

The rest of the game was a defensive slog, filled with air balls, blocked shots and clogged-up passing lanes. It was, to put it Texas Tech’s way, perfectly ugly.

The Red Raiders (31-6) move onto Monday’s final to face Virginia, a 63-62 winner over Auburn in the earlier game.

Michigan State (32-7) leaves coach Tom Izzo’s eighth Final Four with its seventh loss — the 2000 title is still the only time the Spartans have taken it all the way under their veteran coach.

But they did not go away easily.

After Mooney put them down by a baker’s dozen midway through the half, the Spartans trimmed it to 3. Matt McQuaid had a wide-open look from the corner — one of the very few on this night — to tie with 1:50 left, but the ball rimmed out and the Red Raiders pulled away.

Jarrett Culver (10 points, five boards) made one free throw on the next trip down, then Norense Odiase swiped the ball from MSU’s Xavier Tillman — one of Tech’s four steals on the night — and the Red Raiders worked the ball to Culver, who made his only 3 to push the lead to 58-51 and start the celebration.

The defense that led the nation in efficiency and held teams to under 37% shooting — second best in the county — held Michigan State to 31.9% from the floor.

Most tellingly, it stymied Big Ten player of the year Cassius Winston. Yes, he led the Spartans with 16 points, but it came on 4-for-16 shooting, and he didn’t score his first second-half points until more than 10 minutes had elapsed — long after Mooney put this game out of reach.

VIDEO: NOTRE DAME HOOPS COACH SHAKES DOWN THE THUNDER

Nothing is more perishable – and forgettable – than sporting events.

No matter how important sports media tries to make a game, competition or athlete out to be, history teaches us that it won’t be long before no one can remember the teams and/persons involved, let alone details of what actually went on.

The only exception to the above is when an event of societal significance takes place immediately before, during or after a sporting event takes place.

The best example of such an exception that we can immediately think of is the 1968 medal stand-protest by Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the Olympic Games in Mexico City.

Another such exception took place in Tampa yesterday.

In a year-or-three, we won’t remember the outcome of the 2018-2019 Notre Dame basketball season, which culminates this weekend at the Final Four in Tampa, Florida.

But we will remember the remarks Notre Dame basketball head coach Muffett McGraw made yesterday because history teaches us that to forget the details of such indispensable sentiment is to pave our own road to irrelevancy. 

The following are remarks made by University of Notre Dame head basketball coach Muffet McGraw in Tampa, Florida, on April 5, 2019.

“Did you know that the Equal Rights Amendment was introduced in 1967 and it still hasn’t passed?

“We need 38 states to agree that discrimination on the basis of sex is unconstitutional.

“We’ve had a record number of women running for office and winning and still we have 23 percent of the House and 25 percent of the Senate.

“I’m getting tired of the novelty of the first female governor of this state, the first female African-American mayor of this city.

“When is it going to become the norm instead of the exception?

“How are these young women looking up and seeing someone that looks like them, preparing them for the future?

“We don’t have enough female role models.

“We don’t have enough visible women leaders.

“We don’t have enough women in power.

“Men run the world.

“Men have the power.

“Men make the decisions.

“It’s always the man that is the stronger one.

“When these girls are coming out, who are they looking up to, to tell them that’s not the way it has to be?

“Where better to do that than in sports?

“All these millions of girls that play sports across the country, we’re teaching them great things about life skills, but wouldn’t it be great if we could teach them to watch how women lead?

“This is a path for you to take to get to the point where in this country we have 50 percent of women in power.

“We have right now less than 5 percent of CEOs of Fortune 500 companies.

“When you look at men’s basketball, 99 percent of the jobs go to men; why shouldn’t 100 or 99 percent of the jobs in women’s basketball go to women?

“Maybe it’s because we only have 10 percent women athletic directors in Division I.

“People hire people who look like them.

“That’s the problem.”

The post VIDEO: NOTRE DAME HOOPS COACH SHAKES DOWN THE THUNDER appeared first on Sports by Brooks.

MLL Reacquires Media Broadcast Rights, Drops three Groups, Seeks New House owners

Major League Lacrosse wants brand exposure and economic growth for the 2019 MLL season and beyond through the execution of strategic plans centered on expanding into calculated markets. The newest good news is the MLL reacquired their media rights back and voted in the ‘one team, one owner’ structure. The bad news is contraction of the league as part of a broader plan to restructure into Eastern and Western conferences also happened today. This resulted in devastating news for the dedicated lax communities that supported the Florida Launch, Ohio Machine and Charlotte Hounds, and no, this is not an April Fool’s joke. Six teams remain, the Atlanta Blaze, Boston Cannons, Chesapeake Bayhawks, Dallas Rattlers, Denver Outlaws, and New York Lizards. The Hounds are looking to return for the 2021 season under new ownership. The Sports Techie community blog spoke again with MLL Commissioner, Alexander “Sandy” Brown, about the evolving state of the league. The new Premier Lacrosse League (PLL) stepped up the professional field lacrosse business stakes and the MLL is responding accordingly.

Strategic Markets

MLL was founded in 2001 thus their strategic plans are actually 19-years in the making. Sandy is the new Commish coming on board one year ago, the first change in MLL leadership in 14-years. As a result, the league went through a rebrand, added more initiatives, drafted in Charlotte, and got their media rights back from Lacrosse United Marketing all in less than 12-months’ time.

Next up is a planned expansion into strategic markets. MLL is going to establish Eastern and Western Conferences. Traditionally, the league is heavily leveraged towards an East coast tilt. The long-time concentration of MLL business in the N.E. is migrating to where double digit growth in lacrosse is currently happening, explained Sandy, in the Sun Belt, Pacific Northwest, California and Minnesota.

New teams and ownership for expansion is set for the 2020 season.
I asked if expanding to Seattle was a possibility. The Commish answered, “We are open for business!”

The Hounds are returning to play after American Legion Memorial Stadium is finished in 2021.

Media Rights

Reacquiring all the linear, digital and social broadcast media rights in order to air MLL games allows them to solicit several broadcast options resulting in broader distribution benefiting fans, players and league sponsors alike.

Sponsors are not affected by the developments. Alexander says sponsors support what the MLL are trying to do resulting in a broader canvas for activations. He spoke to several sponsors today and everything is in good standing because their partners understand the reasoning behind these newest strategic moves.

League Rebrand and Initiatives

  • Development of robust digital team and infrastructure. Continued investment and development in digital.
  • 51 percent increase in each team’s salary cap,
  • Added players to game-day rosters.
  • Extended schedule from May 31 through September.
  • Developing a full calendar of tent-pole events such as the All-Star Game, Championship Game and Draft. Sandy told me the recent draft was the best one in the history of league, some 550 attendees enjoyed the live event hosted at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
  • Introducing a cutting-edge statistical platform. Sandy discussed how the software development is coming along nicely. This sports tech offers multiple benefits to the MLL pertaining to data and the resulting push of metrics to players, broadcasters, fans and sponsors.
  • Developing grassroots initiatives that will improve the league’s community programming. Sandy said the goal is to try and touch fans at a young age, in the 10-20 age group. They have an existing program in a number of communities in place for clinics and other innovative activations together with the players.

Digital Assets

Requiring digital, liner and social media rights is a big step towards sustainability as a business.

Hiring Tom Johnson on the social media team was a game changer said Sandy. He previously worked at ESPN and Baseball American. “Social media has been off the charts since he was hired,” said the Commish.

MLL digital and social following compared to the TLN, LSN, PLL and NLL is much larger, according to Sandy. Their loyal fan base is engaging with the new MLL created content resulting in a sticky environment sponsors like.

Website: majorleaguelacrosse.com

Instagram: instagram.com/majorleaguelax

Twitter: twitter.com/MLL_Lacrosse

Major League Lacrosse Continues Strategic Plan.

Sports Techie, some of the business development by the MLL are truly innovative while other moves are long overdue like the one team, one owner rule. Sandy explained how this rule gives the MLL the opportunity to get a new ownership structure for voting while providing more opportunities for new ownership.

With media rights back under one roof, this marks a critical, historical time in MLL history because linear, digital and social broadcast media are the biggest sources of league revenue.

Last time Sandy and I spoke they had games schedule for ESPN2 and Lax Network but as today, he said, “we are looking at everything right now, all conversations in hand.”

The PLL is together with Comcast which is NBC Sports. This leaves Disney/ESPN, Fox Sports, CBS Sports, and Turner Sports here in Atlanta, as possible broadcast partners with larger distribution. The new DAZN US, a live and on-demand Company, might also make sense.

Best wishes to all those affiliated with the Ohio Machine, Florida Launch and Charlotte Hounds franchises.

Lacrosse is booming across the country but like the economy, there are signs it is slowing down making MLL strategic plans the ones to beat.

See ya later sportstechie in Seattle, Atlanta and around the world!

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Your Morning Dump… The place Celtics followers are lastly having enjoyable

Every morning, we compile the links of the day and dump them here… highlighting the big story line. Because there’s nothing quite as satisfying as a good morning dump.

The question, then, is what you believe – the sharp, physical Celtics team that handed a big loss to their likely first-round opponent on hostile hardwood Friday night, or the group responsible for a season’s worth of dumpster fires.

The first group appears to be on the floor right now, after Friday night’s 117-97 win over Indiana. They lead the Pacers by a game in the chase for the Eastern Conference’s fourth playoff seed and, above all, homecourt advantage in the first round.

The Celtics won the tiebreaker, finishing with a 3-1 season series edge, and going back to last Friday’s win in Boston, seem to play this team better with each successive chance. Indiana, minus the surgically shelved Victor Oladipo, didn’t have the necessary firepower Friday night.

The Celtics, on the other hand, hit a somewhat overdue flow, including Gordon Hayward’s 21 points off the bench to go along with another 22 from Jayson Tatum and 17 from Kyrie Irving. Overall six Celtics broke into double figures.

Herald: Celtics score huge win against Pacers, edge closer to No. 4 seed

Of course, those numbers came without Kyrie Irving or Gordon Hayward around due to injuries. They’re both back this season and playing some of their best basketball right now.

Still, how well they play won’t affect Tatum’s impact, particularly when he is being as aggressive, as we saw on Friday night against the Pacers.

Tatum seemed eager to attack each and every matchup that was in his favor, beating players to the rim with his dribble-drive game. And when they tried to take that away, he made them pay with his 3-point shot.

NBC Sports Boston: ‘Playoff Jay’ on display in Celtics’ blowout of Pacers

The biggest development for the Celtics over the last week? Before the last month or so, every positive Gordon Hayward assessment has been couched with some form of qualifier. Over the last month, however, Hayward has just been good, no qualifiers necessary. He’s getting to the line consistently, getting to the rim even more, scoring with AND without screens (the latter was rare earlier in the season) and finding teammates when he collapses the defense. Hayward is making a strong case for extended minutes in the postseason, and — more importantly — he appears to be adding the missing ingredient nobody could quite point out for the Celtics this season.

MassLive: Gordon Hayward’s perfect shooting night leads Boston Celtics to 117-97 blowout over Indiana Pacers

Are we having fun yet? It seems that, yes, we finally are.

Celtics fans have been saying for weeks now – because we had no choice – that the regular season wouldn’t matter if the Cs could turn it on in the postseason. Now, suddenly, there’s reason for optimism.

We all know the preseason consensus was that this Celtics squad would win 60+ games and steamroll the East. Obviously, it didn’t work out that way. Not even close. And the way they failed – home losses to Phoenix and New York, huge blown leads to the two L.A. teams in consecutive games at home, to name a few examples – had everyone canceling their memberships in the Terry Rozier-Mook Morris Fan Club.

But in the past week, the Celtics won four out of five, beating Miami and Indiana twice apiece, with the last two coming on the road in fairly dominant fashion. What could have been a disaster – if they had failed to show up, or had allowed any big comebacks – instead became a possible turning point in the inconsistent, frustrating season.

Perhaps the main reason for the newfound optimism is Hayward’s emergence. Over the past two weeks, Gordo off the bench has averaged 16.4 points on 58.8% shooting. In Miami on Wednesday, he scored 25, went to the line 13 times, and added 8 boards and 5 assists. In Indiana last night, he made 9-9 FGs and 3-3 FTs on his way to 21 points.

What other East team has a sixth man like that?

And if Jayson Tatum is aggressive enough to get off 19 shots, like he did last night, that will be a great sign that the Celtics are attacking on offense – a sure recipe for playoff success.

The playoff seedings are also lining up properly.

One more win will give the Celts the fourth seed, along with home court in the first round against now-faltering Indiana. The Celts would then almost certainly play the Bucks in the second round. Milwaukee may be the top team in the league, but Boston matches up better with them than Toronto. Also, the Celtics have lost eight straight in the Raptors’ arena, six of them by double digits. It’s a good place to avoid.

Next weekend we will start to find out if these Celtics can find redemption in the playoffs. If they do, we’ll really have fun.

Related –

NBC Sports Boston: Stars, Studs and Duds: Tatum and Hayward too much for Pacers |  Gordon Hayward has historic night in Celtics win over Pacers |  Have Celtics (finally) turned the corner to become an elite team? |  Highlights of the Celtics’ 117-97 victory over the Pacers |  Celtics’ Terry Rozier leaves Pacers game early with illness |  That’s 1,000 3-pointers for the Celtics as they extend franchise record

MassLive: Gordon Hayward’s surge makes Boston Celtics’ recent success feel sustainable for a change | Tom Westerholm |  Boston Celtics vs. Indiana Pacers: Home-court advantage could be decided by Friday’s game (unless 76ers slip) |  Aron Baynes injury: Boston Celtics big man told Brad Stevens ankle was fine, but ’he’s lied on several occasions’ |  Gordon Hayward is back, a statement made, and 10 things we learned from Boston Celtics vs. Indiana Pacers

Herald: Gordon Hayward has perfect night in Celtics victory

Globe: Jaylen Brown sits out Friday’s game but back feeling better

Boston Sports Journal: BSJ Game Report: Celtics 117, Pacers 97 – Beatdown essentially locks up No. 4 seed

ESPN: For Celtics, big win over Pacers could be sign of things to come

The Athletic: Gordon Hayward is regaining his All-Star form, and that could make the Celtics very dangerous in the playoffs

Indy Star: Tale of two teams: One underachiever, one overachiever; but Pacers’ feel-good story has its limits

On Page 2: Awesome Al

Whether he’s directing traffic from the elbow, engineering a dribble hand-off, pushing the ball in transition, drawing a double-team in the post, dragging his man to the corner, scurrying through myriad pick-and-roll coverages, or (he really does this!) darting off an unexpected pindown to launch an open three, Horford prevails as a cure-all balm who streamlines Boston’s attack in limitless ways. His game, in other words, is Whac-A-Mole, and the Celtics would untether themselves from anything close to championship contention if he wasn’t there.

As untrustworthy as Boston has looked since the all-star break, they still own a top-10 offense and the best defense in the league when Horford is in the game. When he sits, the Celtics lose their compass and get outscored by 13.2 points per 100 possessions.

According to Cleaning the Glass, only the Milwaukee Bucks and Warriors outscore teams at a higher rate than the version of the Celtics with Horford on the floor. If you strictly measure his impact on half-court offense, the Celtics are 10 points per 100 possessions better with him in the game, an effect that puts Horford among the likes of Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, and Paul George.

SB Nation: Al Horford is still the Celtics’ savior

It’s simple: Al Horford gets it done. Good to see a piece about the many ways that’s true. This should be required reading for all the Boston media loudmouths who criticize Horford without understanding his true value. Or as this Celtics fan put it:

And, finally… A Celtic who was a trailblazer

Basketball pioneer Chuck Cooper, the first African-American drafted in NBA history, will be announced as an inductee into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on Saturday in Minneapolis, a source told ESPN’s The Undefeated.

Cooper was selected to the Hall of Fame by the special direct-elect Early African-American Pioneers Committee.

The former Duquesne University star was drafted by the Boston Celtics 13th overall on April 25, 1950.

[…]

Cooper endured strong racial prejudices on and off the court that rivaled what Hall of Famer and Celtics legend Bill Russell experienced in Boston.

While with the Celtics, Cooper often had to stay at a different hotel or eat in different restaurants than his teammates because he was black. The Pittsburgh native once slept on the train instead of in the team hotel in North Carolina. Then-Celtics coach Red Auerbach once said Cooper “had to go through hell” as an NBA player. Hall of Famer and former Celtics great Bob Cousy once cried in an interview while reflecting on what Cooper went through.

ESPN: Source: Pioneer Cooper picked for Hall of Fame

Well-deserved honor for the man who was the NBA’s Jackie Robinson. Cooper played four seasons for the Celtics. He passed away in 1984.

The Rest of the Links:

Bleacher Report: Celtics Legend Paul Pierce Says He Was Better Than Dwyane Wade: ‘That’s Easy’

Yahoo: Paul Pierce says he was better than Dwyane Wade, would have ‘five or six’ rings with LeBron and Bosh

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.

Why This NBA Rookie Class Could Be The Greatest Of The Century

As we approach the end of the NBA’s regular season, awards conversations are all the rage. As usual, the two most talked-about races are for Most Valuable Player and Rookie of the Year. Whether it’s “Get Up” or The Jump, Sports Illustrated or CBS or NBA TV, or even NBA players themselves, everyone’s got an opinion on who should take home the hardware at the end of the season.

The Rookie of the Year debate, at this point, pretty much boils down to the Mavericks’ Luka Doncic, who stormed out of the gate and grabbed onto front-runner status fairly quickly, and the Hawks’ Trae Young, who started off terribly but has been shining during the season’s second half.

But lost among this debate is this: The entire 2018 NBA rookie class — or at least the top five picks — deserves an award. Collectively, they are having the best debut season of any group of top five picks in more than 25 years.

Doncic (pick No. 3) is carrying averages of 21.2 points, 7.7 rebounds and 5.9 assists per game while acting as the primary facilitator and scoring option in Dallas. He is only the second rookie in NBA history to average at least 20, 7, and 5 in those categories, and the other is Oscar Robertson, who did so during the 1960-61 season.

The man whom Doncic was traded for on draft night,3 Young, has been nearly as productive, albeit less consistent, in his debut season for Atlanta. Young’s season-long numbers of 19.0 points, 3.7 rebounds and 8.1 assists per game are strong.4 Those numbers, though, are dragged down by his poor start to the year. Since the All-Star break, he’s averaging 25.0 points, 4.6 rebounds and 9.2 assists a night, with shooting numbers that are far better than those he was posting earlier in the season as he struggled to adjust to the NBA game.

Two of the first five picks in a given draft looking this good, this early, would be impressive on its own; but Doncic and Young are not alone in their shining debuts. The other three players selected in the top five — the Suns’ DeAndre Ayton (No. 1), the Kings’ Marvin Bagley III (No. 2) and the Grizzlies’ Jaren Jackson Jr. (No. 4) — have each been pretty damned good this year too.

Ayton has been a monster offensive force for Phoenix from Day 1, and he is already one of the league’s best post scorers and offensive rebounders. Among rotation players averaging at least 2 post-ups per game, per NBA.com, Ayton’s 1.03 points per play on post-ups ranks third, behind only Joel Embiid and LaMarcus Aldridge. Ayton’s offensive rebound rate, meanwhile, ranks 22nd among the 263 players who have qualified for the minutes per game leaderboard. And he’s been improving on defense throughout the season.

Bagley is averaging 14.8 points and 7.4 rebounds per game off the bench for the surprisingly frisky Kings. And he’s been even better since returning from a five-game, injury-related absence in early March, posting 18.5 points and 8.2 rebounds a night with an improved shooting line. He has a diverse, varied face-up game and is working to stretch his jumper, and given his athleticism and quick feet, his defense could eventually come around as well.

Memphis shut down Jackson in late-February due to a quad injury, but before his season ended he averaged 13.8 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.3 combined steals and blocks in just 26 minutes a night. He did all that despite being, at 19 years old, the second-youngest player in the league.5 Jackson also knocked down 35.9 percent of his threes and carried an above-average usage rate and true shooting percentage, which is wildly impressive for a player whose primary contributions were expected to come on the defensive end of the floor.

So how does this season’s top five stack up against past classes? The chart below plots the collective win shares and win shares per 48 minutes for the top five picks in each draft class from 1979 through 2018 (otherwise known as the three-point era) during their respective debut seasons. Note that only players who played during the season immediately following that year’s draft are counted in this analysis; because we’re looking at the top five picks as a class, if a player did not debut with the rest of his class, it doesn’t make much sense to count him along with the others. For example, Ben Simmons was the No. 1 overall pick in 2016, but he did not play during the 2016-17 season, so he counts for 0 minutes and 0 win shares toward the total of that draft class. Simmons was excellent as a rookie once he did step on the floor, but it also would not make sense to group him with the 2017 draft class, because he was not drafted in 2017. Likewise, the same logic applies to Simmons’s Sixers teammate Joel Embiid, who was drafted in 2014 but did not debut until two years later.6

As you can see, the 2018 class fares extremely well in both win shares — which represent Basketball-Reference.com’s attempt to divvy up credit for team wins to the individual players on the team — and win shares per 48 minutes. The 21.1 win shares collectively accumulated by Ayton, Bagley, Doncic, Jackson and Young ranks eighth among the last 40 draft classes during their respective debut seasons, while their win shares per 48 average of 0.102 makes this class one of just six to exceed 0.100 win shares per 48.

One of those six classes (2009) saw only three players actually take the floor during their debut season, thanks to an injury that knocked Blake Griffin out for the year and Ricky Rubio’s contract with Barcelona that kept him in Spain for two years before he arrived stateside. Hasheem Thabeet, James Harden and Tyreke Evans saw varying degrees of success during their respective rookie years and ended up posting a collective average of 0.108 win shares per 48 minutes, but they also combined for only 11.9 total win shares, far fewer than the other five classes that stand out in this analysis, each of which exceeded 20 total win shares.

It’s worth noting, then, who was actually taken in the top five in those five NBA drafts (1984, 1979, 1982 and 1992). It’s also worth noting that just a single class between 1992 and 2018 saw its top five post a win shares per 48 average better than 0.100, meaning it’s been nearly a generation since we saw an actual top five class debut with a performance as good as the one we’re seeing from the most recent draft class.

The top-five picks in the 2018 draft are in HOF company

The five NBA draft classes with the highest win shares per 48 minutes

Draft pick
Year1st2nd3rd4th5thWS per 48 min
1984OlajuwonBowieJordanPerkinsBarkley0.174
1979JohnsonGreenwoodCartwrightKelserMoncrief0.137
1982WorthyCummingsWilkinsGarnettThompson0.129
1992O’NealMourningLaettnerJacksonEllis0.118
2018AytonBagley IIIDoncicJackson Jr.Young0.102

Hall of Fame inductees in bold

Source: Basketball-Reference.com

Among the 20 players selected in the top five of those four drafts, eight are currently in the Basketball Hall of Fame. Another four — Bill Cartwright, Sidney Moncrief, Terry Cummings and Christian Laettner — made at least one All-Star team during their career. And six more became long-term rotation players. Only Greg Kelser and Bill Garnett failed to pan out at all, as they wound up out of the league entirely within a few seasons.

That’s an incredible hit rate of solid NBA players, and bodes well for what we should expect from Ayton, Bagley, Doncic, Jackson and Young in the future. It’s obviously far too early to predict that any of these players will be enshrined in Springfield one day, but the future certainly appears bright, and it seems likely that the 2018 draft class will be remembered as one of the best in quite some time.

Check out our latest NBA predictions.

Hooping within the 21st Century: The Correct Solution to Shoot a Basketball

By Jackie Moon

It has long been believed that the proper way to shoot a basketball is a shot with as much arc as possible, allowing the ball to “see” as much of the hoop as possible before descending into it. This theory came into the popular eye only a few years after Sir Isaac Newton invented physics, as well as the 1-3-1 zone defense, revolutionizing a game that would not be invented for another two hundred years.

But since then, we split the atom, we discovered quantum mechanics, and we have caught a fleeting glimpse of James Harden’s quadruple stepback. With the tools we have now, shooting in basketball is due for another upgrade. With the arced method of shooting, even the slightest error in shot leads to the ball bouncing off the rim and into the hands of the opposing team. Harden’s Rockets know this inefficiency well (see: 2018 Western Conference Finals, Game 7). While basketball players spend hours perfecting their form to allow for the cleanest entry into the hoop as possible, there exists an easier way to optimize scoring and increase shooting efficiency.

Consider the following scenario: the Warriors inbound the ball to Steph Curry, down by two with five seconds remaining in the game. He slows down as he approaches the three-point arc, faced with a tough decision. He can pass the ball for an easy, game-tying layup, he could shoot a moonshot three-pointer, or he can throw the ball at the backboard so hard that it pops and falls into the basket. The standard basketball is 4.73 inches in radius at 7.5 Psi. In Measurement of the mechanical properties of the handball, volleyball, and basketball using DIC method: a combination of experimental, constitutive, and viscoelastic models, Kirimi et al (2015) calculate the maximum stress of a basketball and analyze how a basketball is deformed when external pressures are applied.

The maximum stress a basketball can take is 8.85 Psi and the elasticity modulus is 591.25×10^3 kPa, meaning it takes 591.25×10^3 Newtons of force to change the basketball’s volume one cubic meter. In order for the basketball to reach 8.85 Psi, Boyle’s Law says that it would require a change in volume of 71.98 in3. Using the information given to us, and performing the deformation calculations, the basketball would need to be launched at a speed of 275 mph, a modest speed for any professional basketball player.

Once the basketball is popped, due to conservation of mass, it flattens out, going from a sphere to a deflated shell of leather that is about three inches thick (pictured below). This new form of the basketball is 140.6 in2 in surface area and about 7 inches in radius, looking like a large pancake. The distance between the backboard and the rim is six inches, so the larger, less bouncy basketball will flop into the hoop, as the majority of its mass will be over the hoop due to the slight impulse provided by the backboard.

deflated

If Curry steps up, absolutely hurls that basketball at the backboard at 275 mph, it’s game over, Warriors win.

If you have any questions for Jackie about this article, please feel free to reach out to him at jackiemoon@aprilfools.edu

Your Morning Dump… The place there's rather a lot driving on these playoffs.

Every morning, we compile the links of the day and dump them here… highlighting the big storyline. Because there’s nothing quite as satisfying as a good morning dump.

The interesting thing from the Celtics’ perspective is that Irving is seen as something of a package deal with Anthony Davis. If Irving stays, the Celtics could shoot up to the top of the Davis sweepstakes in New Orleans due to their appealing collection of young talent and draft assets. The Celtics might be more willing to part with their prized youngsters if they can flaunt an Irving-Davis partnership and rule the East.

NBC Sports

That’s Tom Haberstroh with a decidedly conventional take on the Celtics’ off-season priorities.

First off, I think it’s hardly a given that an Irving-Davis partnership would ‘rule the East.’ Depending on the assets that New Orleans would expect from Boston, the Celtics might not be appreciably better with Davis.

One could argue that the Celtics have too much talent and too few minutes, and that there would be ‘addition by subtraction’ if the team had to include multiple rotation players in a deal for Davis. However, it’s unlikely that the players that the Celtics would have to part with for Davis would improve the rotation.

Lets take the wing position for example–the Celtics have Hayward, Morris, Brown and Tatum. From the Celtics’ standpoint, the one guy they would be most willing to part with–Morris–is the one player that the Pelicans would have the least interest in. Add in the fact that the Pelicans would likely require both Brown and Tatum, and a position that was perhaps too deep is suddenly rather shallow: The team only has Hayward and 2019 free agent Marcus Morris.

Having taken Haberstroh to task for trotting out a hackneyed view of the Celtics’ interest in the Anthony Davis sweepstakes, I think he makes a very important point elsewhere in the article:

Danny Ainge is not one to prioritize emotional sentiment over cold rationality. Ask Isaiah Thomas. If Ainge feels like the team is better off without Kyrie Irving, they’ll have a Plan B in place to move on from the All-Star, should Irving leave as a free agent this summer.

Irving hasn’t been the most galvanizing leader. Some outsiders believe that his lukewarm approval rating in the locker room might give the Celtics some pause before handing over a long-term max deal. Said one league executive of Irving: “You’re offering that guy back on a humongous deal? That’ll be interesting to see.”

The notion that the Celtics would let Kyrie Irving walk is an interesting one–and one that would undoubtedly please a few of the team’s crankier fans. Frankly, I don’t think that’s the direction that the Celtics will take if they have a disappointing post-season run. Kyrie is a 24 carat, steel belted, proven, demonstrated, when-the-chips-are-down, when-it’s-all-on-the-line guy. You might win a championship without a guy like Kyrie–but you’ll never be a dynasty.

If Kyrie’s instincts as a regular season team-leader aren’t the best, I’d expect the Celtics to pursue some unconventional angle to lighten that load on Irving. Maybe they make Marcus Smart the team captain? I don’t know. All I know is that if being a team leader isn’t part of the Kyrie Irving skill set, the team likely values enough of his other skills that they’ll work around that shortcoming.

However, if the Celtics disappoint in this playoff run, it’s hard to imagine that there won’t be changes.

Ainge blew up a team that unexpectedly made the ECF in 2017 because he (rightly, in my perspective) knew that team could not win a championship. The team he put together for the long haul, however, has been an almost unqualified disappointment. If they figure something out in the playoffs, then great. If they don’t, well, I don’t think the team is going to go all-in on Davis, but they could very well let Rozier walk and trade a smaller portion of their assets for a more experienced starter.

On the other hand, if the Celtics’ postseason is as frustrating as the regular season has been, the whole league will likely be expecting Ainge to make a move, thus making it rather difficult for a guy whose best moves have been wholly unexpected to maneuver. If everyone expects Ainge to blow up this team, he may end up standing pat, simply because that’s preferable to trading away players and getting less in return than he would have obtained if he had more leverage.

I hope the Celtics’ disappointing play stops when the regular season ends. But at the same time, this is a very young team, and as the full saying goes:

Experience is the best teacher, for the fool who will know no other

One way or another, this team needs to learn some hard lessons. Ideally, it won’t require getting bounced in the first or second round, but if that’s how they have to learn, well, I guess that’s how they’ll have to learn.

Page 2: Where Danny doesn’t regret the Perk trade

“I second-guess things, but that’s not one of them,” he said. “And here’s why: Perkins was hurt. People keep forgetting that. Perkins had a torn ACL. He wasn’t healthy, he wanted a contract extension, (and) we were not going to pay him the money just because of the payroll we had.

“And after we traded him, he ended up getting surgery again. So, he wasn’t going to help us then. Nenad Kristic was actually better than Perk at that moment in time because of his health, but then he got hurt.”

Ainge makes a fair point: Perkins was never the same after tearing his ACL in Game 6 of the 2010 NBA Finals, and his production dipped further in Oklahoma City from 10.1 points per game in Boston to 5.1 points per game the following season. The C’s also couldn’t have foreseen Green’s heart issues.

NBC Sports

Earlier, on Tuesday, I got my chronology wrong–the playoff series in which Dwyane Wade wrecked Rondo’s elbow happened in 2011, not 2012, when the Heat went on to lose to the Dallas Mavericks.

We tend to forget how well the Celtics played without Perk in that 2011 season. The Celtics were 33-10 before Perk suited up for the first time.

The team finished the season 56-26, and swept the Knicks out of the first round.

In the cliched ‘Perk was a glue guy and the Celtics were the Big Three’ take, Ainge sabotaged the team’s chance at winning titles in both 2011 and 2012 by trading Perk.

The reality is, in my opinion, rather different.

As with the 80s ‘Big Three’, talk of this most recent ‘Big Three’ overlooks just how important the point guards on both teams were. Talking about “Bird, Parish and McHale” without mentioning DJ is playing false to history, and ignoring just how essential Rondo was to the team’s success in 2010-2012 in order to yammer on about “Pierce, Garnett and Allen” is similarly dishonest.

The Celtics’ 2011 team went in the crapper in the second round of the playoffs, when Wade decided that, since he was falling down anyway, he might as well grab the closest Celtic player and take him down with him.

And in 2012? Well, one of the reasons the Celtics traded for Jeff Green was because the team had zero bench scoring–and if you look at the last few games of the 2012 ECF, you’ll notice that the team had almost no bench scoring, as a then much younger Heat team simply wore out the Celtics’ starters. A healthy Jeff Green (or a healthy Avery Bradley) contributing from the bench makes that series look very very different.

A healthy Kendrick Perkins clogging the middle does nothing to help the Celtics beat the Heat in either 2011 or 2012. Undo the Perk trade, and you get the same results in both seasons: The Celtics lose to the Heat in 2011 because Rondo’s hobbled and in 2012 because they have no bench scoring.

The rest of the links:

MassLive: Danny Ainge does not regret the Kendrick Perkins trade: ‘We were not going to pay him’ | Boston Celtics’ NBA 2K team CLTX Gaming enters league’s second season with renewed chemistry

NBC Sports: Stevens an expert in playoff ball in Indiana