Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Justin Blackmon was suspended on Tuesday for the first four games of the 2013 season after his second violation of the NFL’s substance-abuse policy.It is unclear what substance Blackmon tested positive for, but this is his second violation in less than a year since he was drafted last April.His first violation came when he was arrested during a traffic stop in Stillwater, Okla., after a breath test allegedly revealed that his blood alcohol level was three times the legal limit. His arrest landed him in the NFL’s substance-abuse program.“It’s very disappointing,” general manager Dave Caldwell said during a conference call with reporters. “We understand that this isn’t all going to be an upward trend and we’re going to have setbacks. To be honest with you, things like this are frustrating because it’s an avoidable situation. That’s what’s real concerning and frustrating.”What’s more frustrating is that Blackmon will not be paid for the four-week suspension. And more importantly, his suspension may have triggered harsher repercussions in his contract that can void future guarantees.The Jaguars can cut him without having to pay out $10 million that remains on a four-year, $18.5 million contract, according to ESPN.com.“I’ve made a mistake and I have no excuse,” Blackmon said in a statement on Tuesday. “… I have chosen to be accountable for my poor decision, and I sincerely apologize to my teammates, coaches, the front office and Jaguars fans for the impact of my mistake on the team.”Caldwell acknowledged that the Jaguars organization is willing to help and support Blackmon, but there is only so much the team can do to help players under the new collective bargaining agreement.“At some point in time, these players have to help themselves and take care of themselves,” Caldwell said.Blackmon, who caught 64 passes for 865 yards and five touchdowns as a rookie, will not be allowed to practice or play during the suspension. However, he will be allowed to attend meetings and enter the facility. Blackmon will be eligible to return on Sept. 30.
Ben with his clipboard at a tryout. Umpire Dean Poteet with Stompers mascot Rawhide on opening day. Mindful that each passing day might remove someone we want from the market, I bypass coaches who don’t call back and contact some players directly, gambling that they won’t be bad guys. But ballplayers aren’t award-winning communicators, either: Unlike a lot of people in our profession, they aren’t constantly connected to email, and they aren’t notified when someone sends them a tweet. Whenever possible, I call a player’s parents, banking on the fact that if his mother is like mine, he’ll know no peace until he replies.The more players I have trouble tracking down, the more I expand the search, and the longer my short list looks. I form attachments to strangers in our spreadsheet almost instantly: All it takes is a name, a stat line, and a head shot, and I’m mentally penciling a player into our lineup and announcing his name over the public-address system. If you’ve played fantasy baseball, or even rooted for a real team that’s one upgrade away from a well-rounded roster, you know the feeling of fixating on a particular player: refreshing MLB rumor sites until a deal is done or off the table, or sending several permutations of the same trade to a leaguemate and hoping that one of them will land your white whale. This is the same impulse, turned up to 11. I’m perplexed by the players who aren’t curious or courteous enough to respond, but the close calls are especially agonizing.Take Andrew Kelley, a 2014 graduate of Grinnell College, a Division III school known for its “rigorous academics and tradition of social responsibility.” (I see nothing about its undervalued athletes, but maybe that means we’re ahead of the curve.) Kelley, who’s fourth on our pitcher list, is listed at 5-foot-7, which is a concern given the sport’s prevailing preference for skyscraping pitchers. But everyone on our list is bound to have some physical flaw. And hey, he was 5-foot-6 as a junior — maybe he’s a late bloomer with 5-foot-8 in his future.In 48 innings, mostly in relief, Kelley struck out 48 batters and walked only 4. His LinkedIn account says he’s had a full-time job as an “Integration Engineer” since a few months after his final semester, but I dig up his email and message him anyway, just to make sure. His response, which arrives in under an hour, mentions small samples, machine learning, predictive statistics, a previous internship with an expert on the physics of baseball whose articles I’ve edited at Baseball Prospectus, and the fact that he possesses a “pretty good knuckleball.” He can’t quit his job to play baseball, but he feels bad about it. “It would have been awesome to have been able to play this summer and chat about all sorts of statistics,” he says. I come close to shedding tears. This feels like finding out that your biggest college crush, who met someone else and settled down soon after school, would have wanted to date you if you’d only asked her out sooner. Alas, Andrew is too smart and well compensated to be a baseball player. He’s in a better place, and it’s time to let go.Andrew Kelley isn’t the only one who gets away. He’s not even the only engineer: Our best shortstop option, with the improbable porn-star name Billy Steel, has just joined Northrop Grumman. Then there’s George Asmus, a standout pitcher at Sonoma State with hometown-hero potential. Unfortunately for us, he’s happy in his current role at Triple-A — as in, the American Automobile Association. There’s also Arismendy Nuñez, a well-intentioned but indecisive senior starter at Old Westbury, who strings me along over multiple calls (including a conference call on which Theo makes a passionate appeal) before breaking up with me by text. He says something about family obligations, but odds are he’s just not that into us.And then there’s the unicorn, the spreadsheet player who has great stuff. His name is T.J. Fussell, and he’s a 6-foot-4, 220-pound right-hander who pitched for Western Carolina, a Division I school. Fussell had a high ERA, but he struck out 81 batters in 64 1/3 innings, and we suspect he got somewhat unlucky. I contact his coach, Bobby Moranda, who gives Fussell as enthusiastic an endorsement as I’ve heard so far. “He is the best!!!” Moranda writes. “He was up to 94-95 with a plus breaker and change. Really should have been drafted!!!” It’s rare enough for us to see any velocity numbers that start with nine, so even after levying the 2-3 mph exaggeration tax, I’m still salivating.“I’m kind of in a peculiar situation,” Fussell says when I call. He explains that while he “hasn’t left [his] love of baseball behind,” he has enlisted in the U.S. Air Force. The good news is that he doesn’t have to head to basic training until August 25. The bad news arrives a second later: “I’m supposed to be getting married at the end of May.” And there’s even worse news than that: “We had a cruise planned right at the start of June, and it’s for seven days.” He sounds a little uncertain: Supposed to be? Had a cruise planned? Is the call of the mound so strong that he’d think about being a runaway groom? He says he’ll talk to his fiancée and let me know. The next day, he does: Shockingly, she’s pretty attached to the whole “honeymoon” thing. There goes my four-pitch flamethrower.Fortunately for the Stompers (and my sanity), we don’t always strike out. Our first “yes” comes from Kristian Gayday. (“He’ll be popular on LGBT night,” Theo says.) Gayday, an Indiana native, played shortstop in his final season last spring at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, a Division I school where he’s still working as a student assistant. Our spreadsheet says he was the best D1 hitter among 2014 fourth-year players. Not the best D1 hitter among undrafted fourth-year players; the best D1 hitter, period. (In fairness, most true prospects get drafted after their junior year.) He hit .358/.472/.653 with 12 home runs in 166 at-bats, and Long’s adjustments hardly hurt him. And unlike a lot of our targets, he’s 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds, blessed with a prototypical baseball body.Granted, Gayday’s senior season was the exception: In his first three years, he didn’t hit for power, never slugging above .327. But it still doesn’t make sense that a strapping player with his senior stats and a modicum of defensive ability didn’t get drafted. Before talking to him, I email his college coach, Bobby Pierce. I ask him the questions that the spreadsheet can’t answer. Why the huge improvement in his senior year? Is he a good guy? Can he play defense? (A big blind spot for us: College fielding locations aren’t tracked, so Long’s method evaluates only offense.) They’re all ways of reframing the indelicate question at the root of all our inquiries: “What’s the catch?”Coach Pierce sets my mind at ease. More than that, he makes me excited, as if we’re party to a secret no one else knows. He tells me that Gayday’s newfound fourth-year “spray approach allowed him to really handle the breaking ball/off-speed really well,” and that he hit at least half of his homers — more than he’d hit anywhere in his first three seasons combined — to the opposite field. That change in approach gives us a plausible explanation for the extreme uptick in production.Even more encouragingly, Pierce says that Gayday was drawing interest from scouts and advisers until he suffered “severe lower back issues” for six weeks at midseason, playing one day at 50 percent, resting the next day, and pinch-hitting the day after that. “This middle part of the season was when all our local guys came to see him play, and they either saw him play at 50% with below avg draftable tools/skill/performance/ etc, or they didn’t even get to see him play,” Pierce writes. But by the end of the season — after his back had blown his chances — he’d recovered and gone deep in each of his last three weekend series.Despite Gayday’s breakout, the Mastodons went 19-34, and for them that was a good year. “We’re a small Div I that gets little respect and scouts never come to see us play,” Coach Pierce writes. “We haven’t been very good and I do understand that scouts are very busy and they can’t afford to waste a weekend afternoon on us, but Kristian was plenty good enough to be a 20-30 round guy. If he stayed healthy, he would definitely be in organized baseball.” Pierce also reports that Gayday would fit in fine in the clubhouse.On the phone, Kristian tells me that his back feels fine. I ask about his plans for the summer. “I was just gonna go to a couple tryouts,” he says. “And if nothing happened, I was just gonna call it quits.” In my eagerness to sign him, I tell him we’ll pay for a one-way plane trip, which I’m supposed to use as a bargaining chip in exchange for a lower salary. My unauthorized largesse works: Kristian consults with his family and commits to sign the contract as soon as Theo sends him a copy. I can’t believe our luck: We’ve signed one of our top targets, and he doesn’t even look like a runt. It seems as if we’ve stolen a march on the majors, using stats to take the long view on a player whom others might have missed because of an ill-timed injury.Sam seems content once we get Kristian to commit — at least we have something to show for our spreadsheet — but the taste of one transaction makes me hungry for more. I turn my attention to pitchers, tag-teaming with Theo on a series of deal-sealing conference calls. Jeff Conley is a skinny, 6-foot-2 lefty out of Alderson Broaddus University, a Division II school in West Virginia so obscure that most scouts haven’t heard of it. In eleven starts and six appearances out of the pen, the southpaw recorded a 1.96 ERA with 89 strikeouts and only 15 walks in 78 innings. Moreover, he recorded those stats while also playing outfield for 49 games, batting .345 with 21 walks and 11 hit by pitches against only 22 strikeouts, which helped him post a .446 OBP. His left arm was also an asset in the outfield, where he racked up 17 assists. Conley hit only 3 homers, so his adjusted offense isn’t good enough for him to appear on our batter spreadsheet, but even if he’s only an emergency outfield option, we’re happy to have the flexibility, given our restrictive roster size. Mr. Conley, come on down.We also recruit Sean Conroy, a 6-foot-1 right-handed pitcher from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, an engineering school in upstate New York. In 259 career innings at RPI, Conroy struck out 223, walked 49, and allowed only 4 homers, posting sub-2.00 ERAs in his last three seasons and going the distance in more than a third of his starts. He’s also interested in evaluating clubhouse chemistry, an obsession of ours. A psychology major, he’s working on a thesis entitled “How Perception of Teammates’ Ability Affects Personal Ability,” and we envision him as a like-minded mole on the inside who can be our eyes and ears while advising us on avoiding missteps. We also envision him as an effective arm.“I’m a sidearm pitcher,” he says. “Just recently I’ve added an over-the-top curveball for an out pitch, which is working pretty well for me.” He tells me how he dropped down in his senior year of high school, and how he’s alternated his arm angle ever since to maximize his deception. “The slider would be the pitch I throw most often, like more than 50 percent of the time,” he adds. No wonder the guy didn’t get drafted: He uses an atypical repertoire from an unorthodox angle, and according to his coach he tops out at about 85. All of the oddities that make him undraftable endear him to us.And then, of course, there’s Paul Hvozdovic, our on-paper ace and shining spreadsheet star. (The first “v” is silent.) When he signs with us shortly before spring training, I pump my fist, just like Jonah Hill in the “Moneyball” movie when he gets the approval to trade for Ricardo Rincon. I haven’t met Hvozdovic — haven’t watched him, haven’t even talked to him. There’s no way I should be this excited about someone I know so little about. But any hidden doubts that might be buried within me will have to talk to the hand, because the limbic system ain’t listening.People who write about prospects often speak disparagingly about “Google scouts,” wannabe evaluators who “scout the stat line” instead of seeing players in person or talking to experts who have. Sam and I are guilty of these sins — not because we wouldn’t welcome the input of a seasoned on-site observer, but because we have no time, no travel budget, no scouting staff, and next to no video. Stats are our specialty, but they’re also our only resort.Gayday, Conley, Conroy, Hvozdovic. At this point, they’re names and numbers, not fully fledged personalities. But they’re our names and numbers. Thanks to us, they’ve got golden tickets to spring training. And thanks to them, we won’t feel ashamed to show up. The official Sonoma Stompers team photo. By Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller Ben Lindbergh discusses his summer with the Stompers on our podcast What’s The Point. This is an excerpt from “The Only Rule Is It Has to Work: Our Wild Experiment Building a New Kind of Baseball Team” by Ben Lindbergh, a writer for FiveThirtyEight, and Sam Miller, the editor in chief of Baseball Prospectus. (The book was published this week by Henry Holt and Co.) In the summer of 2015, Lindbergh and Miller took over the baseball operations department of an independent-league team in California, the Sonoma Stompers, putting their sabermetric beliefs to the test with actual professional players. As spring training approached, they compensated for their lack of connections, tight budget and even tighter time frame by using statistics to scour the country for overlooked talent.As proud as we are of our Baptista heist, Sam and I still want to prove that we can find players who wouldn’t have been blips on the Stompers’ screen without us. What we want is a source of talent that the other teams in the Pacific Association aren’t already mining: a good, old-fashioned market inefficiency, like the one the Oakland A’s exploited in the “Moneyball” era when they targeted players with high on-base percentages, or the one the Tampa Bay Rays leveraged years later, when they realized that their opponents’ emphasis on power bats made it easier to sign players with good gloves at a discount. The problem is that inefficiencies like these are increasingly difficult to find.What sets us apart from our competitors in the Pacific Association, and theoretically gives us an edge, isn’t our meager budget, our nonexistent network of contacts in the indy-league grapevine, or our untested scouting skills. It’s our ability to find the significance in statistics, either on our own or through our relationships with the leading lights of the sabermetric community, who can crunch numbers in extremely sophisticated ways. We could search for wrongly released players by sifting through last season’s stats from the minors and upper-level indy leagues, but that method wouldn’t be the best use of our time. Players who’ve had any recent success at higher levels won’t want to sign with us until they’ve exhausted all their other options, which might mean waiting until midseason. For now, we need to aim lower. Baseball has a caste system, and at our level we’re trafficking in Untouchables. The manager’s office in the Stompers’ clubhouse at the end of the season. Every rating Chris sends is based on a smaller sample than we’d like — in many cases, a four-year player’s entire college career comprises fewer innings or plate appearances than a big leaguer records in a single season — but it’s the best we can do. It’s clear that we’re not the first people to look at a list like this. Scanning the top of our leaderboard of undrafted players, we see a number of players who were signed as free agents after the 2014 draft and spent the summer playing for organizations that are known as early adopters of amateur analytics, among them the Cardinals, Astros, and Yankees. This is discouraging in one sense — the college carcass is picked even cleaner than we thought — but encouraging in another: Most of the undrafted free agents played well at minor league levels that are comparable in quality to the Pacific Association. We might be on the right track.Armed with the names we wanted, our job shifts from ranking to recruiting. Sam and I spend a few hours combing through Google results, YouTube videos, and social-media sites for information on the players with the most impressive stats. At the end of this process, we’ve created another spreadsheet full of players whose coaches we want to call. (Spreadsheet creation is becoming a theme.) Separately, we practice our sales pitches. In our fantasy leagues, it takes us one click to add an available player from the waiver wire, and no one is allowed to turn us down. In reality, we’ll have to talk to human beings and try to persuade them to travel to a place they’ve probably never been, to play for a team that they almost certainly haven’t heard of, for a salary that we’re embarrassed to say out loud. Aspiring pro athletes expect to lead nomadic lives, but this still isn’t the easiest sell.No matter how persuasive we are as speakers, there’s only one aspect of our project that makes this PR campaign possible: We have the power to make these people professional athletes, with all the cultural cachet and appeal to the opposite sex that this occupation confers. With a few words, spoken like a sacrament, we can give a few young men a line on their résumé that they’ll never remove, an answer to “What do you do?” that makes people perk up. The Stompers are the mangiest mutt of a team imaginable, but a pro team nonetheless. And ballplayers miss being ballplayers: Even two years after graduation, every player’s Facebook photo and Twitter bio is a callback to his college career.As we work our way down our short lists like political candidates calling potential donors, it becomes clear that college coaches — at least the ones we’re trying to reach — aren’t great at returning calls. I consider trying to catch their attention by claiming to be with a big league team, then decide that misrepresenting myself might not be the best way to persuade players to sign with the Stompers. Pitchers have a weird trick, too. “I think there’s going to be a place for some junkball pitchers, guys that scouts wouldn’t touch because their fastball velocity is too low, but they did still strike out guys using a variety of off-speed stuff,” Chris says. “Some of those guys are going to do quite well at that level of competition. Put it this way: They did well in college. If your level of competition is at the level of good D1, for example, there’s still room for junkball pitching.”College stats are difficult to work with, which explains why, until very recently, major league teams all but ignored them when compiling their predraft rankings. College players face dramatically different levels of competition depending on whether they’re in Division I, II, or III, and even within each division there are significant variations from conference to conference. “An average D1 school is going to beat an average D2 baseball team about 70 percent of the time,” Chris says. “It’s not like 98 percent or anything. There’s a bit of luck, and the spread isn’t that huge.” Still, the gap between divisions and schools is large enough that one can get into trouble trying to go on gut feel or surface stats.On top of the interdivisional differences, there’s enormous variability from game to game: Some hitters beat up on bad weekday pitching that would pale in comparison to the Pacific Association’s, but look overmatched against stronger weekend starters. There’s also unevenness in climate, ballpark dimensions, and playing surfaces. Before players can be compared on an even footing, we have to take into account the diversity in environments that makes raw stats at certain schools far less impressive than the same stats would be elsewhere.To do his draft work, Chris built a repository of college statistics by “scraping” information from school websites and parsing it into a database-friendly form. By comparing players’ production at each park with their production elsewhere, he can isolate the statistical impact of every home field. And by comparing players’ performance against each opponent with their performance in all other games, he can also assess the impact of each school’s strength of schedule. Apply the appropriate adjustments to each player’s actual stats, and the result is a ranking of every player’s production on the same scale, independent of division and environment. With the confounding effects of location and competition neutralized, we can compare Division III hitters in good pitchers’ parks to Division I hitters in bandboxes, based purely on their play. This should save us from signing a “slugger” who posted gaudy stats against guys throwing garbage in the college equivalent of Coors Field.“The starting point would be, you really want to identify the best of the seniors that did not get drafted, and also didn’t return to college,” Chris says. He says he’ll send us his adjustments for every school, along with the real prize, rankings of every fourth-year college player from 2013 and 2014. This is our favorite phone call ever.Listening to Chris, Sam and I realize, much to our relief, that we’ve found an organizing principle for our Stompers star search. Chris’s stats will make the world seem smaller and more manageable, transforming a confusing array of unknown names and unverified claims into objective rankings like the ones we’re used to. We’ll operate under the theory that a player capable of posting elite stats in college could hold his own in the Pacific Association, one of the lowest rungs on the professional ladder. And if the stats insist that someone can play, we won’t rule him out based on body type, facial structure, or fastball speed. We’re the Ellis Island of the indy leagues. Give us your small, your soft-throwing, your huddled middle infielders yearning to play for (almost) free. Embed Code More: Apple Podcasts | ESPN App | RSS | Embed Although Chris promises results soon, it takes him some time to deliver. That’s understandable — we aren’t paying him, and plenty of others are — but as the days stretch into weeks, I start torturing myself by checking his Twitter feed a few times a day to see what else he’s working on. He’s a sports polymath (emphasis on the math), and he’s on an NCAA volleyball analytics kick. Thanks to a little light stalking, I learn a lot about the best volleyball schools, but Sam and I are no closer to building a baseball team. I send emails asking for updates at what I deem to be socially acceptable intervals. Finally, one of them works. The long-awaited rankings arrive.Chris cautions me that “99.9 percent of the talent is sucked away in the draft,” but I can almost hear the heavenly choir as my cursor hovers over the file. That remaining 0.1 percent could be the key to the Stompers’ season. I open the list of all players, create another spreadsheet of players who did get drafted, and filter the latter from the former, leaving only the undrafted guys. (When our story gets made into a movie, the spreadsheet-opening montage will make for an exciting scene.) There are hundreds of rows, each of them containing a name, a school, a division, a position, an at-bats or innings total, and a few columns of hitting or pitching stats, both raw and adjusted. Each player receives an “Index” score, based on adjusted on-base percentage and slugging percentage for hitters and those same stats allowed for pitchers (Column R).After additional begging by me, Chris also sends us estimates of each catcher’s “framing” skill — his ability to catch pitches in a way that makes umpires more likely to call strikes — based on the percentage of taken pitches that are called strikes when he’s behind the plate versus the percentage of taken pitches called strikes when the same pitchers are throwing to different catchers. On the phone, Chris suggests that we “find some senior guy who’s the best framer in all of the NCAA but wasn’t drafted. That would be an interesting guy to invite to a camp.”He’s reading my mind. “If you could find one who’s left-handed, he might have to get a restraining order against Ben,” Sam says. The majors haven’t seen a left-hander who played catcher as his primary position since before the birth of the American League, and no left-handed catcher has caught even an inning since 1989. The anti-lefty bias seems based more on superstition than sense, with explanations usually citing theoretical impediments (can’t throw to third; trouble applying tags) that don’t stand up to scrutiny. Chris agrees. “I think the bias against left-handed-throwing catchers is pretty stupid,” he says. He’s my statistical spirit animal. There’s only one level of competition that combines a decent statistical record with players who’d probably be happy to hear from us: college. Every June, the thirty major league teams cull the best college talent in the forty-round amateur draft, leaving only the undesirables behind. But MLB scouting directors work with the far future in mind: Although they know that only a tiny percentage of their selections will work out, every player drafted — aside from a few nepotism picks — has a backer who believes he has some shot, however remote, at developing into a big leaguer. We aren’t worried about long-term potential; we care only about what players can do this summer. And because our incentives aren’t aligned with those of the big league teams that went back for fortieths from this buffet before we were seated, we might unearth a few “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” types: guys who can get outs, or avoid making them, right now, regardless of whether they have the physical tools that allow teams to dream. Drafting college players instead of riskier high school stars was one of the hallmarks of the “Moneyball” A’s, but Oakland owed much of its success to the type of amateur talents who never get near an indy-league team unless their careers take several wrong turns. If the A’s were “a collection of misfit toys,” as Michael Lewis wrote, then we’ll be building a team out of toys that got recalled because they were choke hazards.Nothing about baseball is as easy as it seems, and finding our statistical standouts isn’t as simple as sorting an official NCAA leaderboard. I email an acquaintance named Chris Long, who worked as the San Diego Padres’ senior quantitative analyst from 2004 to 2013 and has since consulted for other major league teams. Chris, who had no professional background in baseball when he was hired and occasionally clashed with traditional evaluators, was one of the first quants allowed in a draft room alongside scouts and grizzled special assistants, and his numbers-based evaluations helped dictate the Padres’ decisions.To our relief, Chris loves what we’re doing and agrees to help just for fun, even though he charges big league teams sums in the five figures for the same service. “Performance in college has a fairly strong predictive value to how [players] perform in the minors,” Chris tells us when Sam and I call to learn at his knee. Better yet, he says, some teams are still overlooking that link. “Probably starting in the late ’90s, every year it got a little bit better,” he explains. “It’s still not great. Even the Chicago Cubs, for example, have a very traditional scouting department in terms of how they approach the draft. It’s not like they don’t look at performance numbers at all, but they’re not analytically evaluating the performances of the players and then combining it in some sophisticated way with their scouting evaluations.“You’re looking for guys that you want to perform immediately,” Chris continues, echoing our thoughts. “That actually gives you more freedom, because you can go for guys that have flaws. High strikeouts, but also hit home runs, for example. Those guys tend not to do as well as prospects, but they’re certainly going to make contributions to the team. Or the scout’s least-favorite player, the short, gritty [batter] that gets hit by a ton of pitches and has a strike zone the size of a postage stamp — those guys are going to be perfect for your team.” His voice, normally low-pitched and nasal, takes on the bright timbre of an infomercial. “Win your independent league with this one weird trick!”
Stats through July 10.Machado and Realmuto are both listed among MLB Trade Rumors’ top 10 2018 trade targets.Source: FanGraphs, MLB Trade Rumors M. Ramirez2008Red SoxDodgers141✓ X. Nady2008PiratesYankees142✓ R. Henderson1993AthleticsBlue Jays182 In essence, Machado switching teams is as a big a deal as the A’s trading Mark McGwire at the 1997 deadline. (That one worked out pretty well for the Cardinals, too, with one major caveat.) Machado might not be the best fit for every contender, with questions about his defense at short and his reported unwillingness to switch positions in order to fit better with a potential trade suitor.2Maybe that stance makes sense in the free agent market, since shortstop is considered a premium defensive position. Then again, shortstops don’t seem to be paid more than other positions. But in terms of raw hitting, Machado is making the most of his walk year, and his bat could make a real difference for a top-shelf team looking for that extra edge in October — regardless of whether that team is willing to re-sign him for an increasingly exorbitant price this winter.Check out our latest MLB predictions. J.D. Martinez2017TigersD-Backs160 Machado is one of the modern era’s best hitting trade targetsBest pre-trade weighted runs created plus (wRC+) for players who were traded at the deadline, 1975-2018 S. Hairston2009PadresAthletics143 B. Bonilla1995MetsOrioles154✓ M. McGwire1997AthleticsCardinals156✓ K. Phelps1988MarinersYankees170✓ M. Teixeira2008BravesAngels136 H. Baines1989White SoxRangers157✓ C. Beltran2011MetsGiants150 J. Guillen2003RedsAthletics159 G. Parra2015BrewersOrioles138 It’s been a truly miserable summer for baseball in Baltimore. Not only do the Orioles currently have MLB’s worst record, but according to the FiveThirtyEight projections, they are also on pace to lose a staggering 111 games this season. That’s so bad, it would put them in the same company as such notably putrid clubs as the 2003 Tigers (119 losses), 2013 Astros and 2004 Diamondbacks (111 losses apiece). Not even Buck Showalter’s magical managerial touch could save the Orioles from their wretched fate. (Not that they necessarily want to be saved.)Amid such horrors, there has been one bright spot in the form of shortstop Manny Machado. Through Wednesday’s games, Machado has 23 home runs (sixth most in the American League) with a .314/.383/.573 slash line. That helps make him the AL’s seventh-best hitter so far this season according to weighted runs created plus (wRC+), which measures run production relative to the league on a per-plate appearance basis. Not only is it a massive improvement over the disappointing stats Machado put up a year ago, but it represents the best hitting season of his entire career to date.Machado picked a great time to put up career numbers, since he’s set to be a free agent after the season. And it’s good for the Orioles, too, though they’ll miss their star player. When Machado is inevitably traded before the July 31 deadline, he’ll command plenty in return, even if he’s just a three-month rental for a World Series contender.But it’s tough to say Machado isn’t worth the ransom — he’s having one of the best seasons by a trade-deadline target in modern history. Going back to the dawn of the free-agent era in 1975, here is how Machado compares to the top performances by batters who were traded at the deadline,1We also included Marlins’ catcher J.T. Realmuto, whom MLB Trade Rumors has listed among the players most likely to be dealt at this year’s deadline in addition to Machado. in terms of their wRC+ for the team doing the trading: C. Floyd2002MarlinsExpos147 O. Gamble1979RangersYankees160✓ J.T. Realmuto2018Marlins?149? F. McGriff2001Devil RaysCubs139✓ G. Berroa1997AthleticsOrioles145 M. Machado2018Orioles?155? PlayerYearTraded fromToPre-Trade wRC+Stayed w/ Acquiring Team? S. Pearce2016RaysOrioles147
Underneath the pads, helmets and skates, the Ohio State women’s hockey team might not look the way you expect them to. “Everybody sees us and they think, ‘You guys can’t be hockey players,’” said junior forward Ally Tarr. “They expect us to be really big or something like that and we’re not big at all. We get (called) dancers and gymnastics (gymnasts) when we travel … which is really funny.” After a strong start to the season, racking up a 16-10-2 and 11-9-2 conference record, the team is hoping to continue its success. “We are hoping it will continue through playoffs,” Tarr said. Coach Nate Handrahan said that the variety of personalities on the 23-person team has been a definite advantage for the team. “They are a great group of girls,” Handrahan said. “Lots of great personalities, lots of great kids, and I think that one of the things we are trying to make sure is that we are continuing to cultivate people.” Although this season has had its share of triumphs, the road to success has not always been an easy one for the Buckeyes, who dropped out of the USA Today top 10 poll on Jan. 29. OSU has lost three of their most recent six games, including one in last weekend’s split series against Bemidji State. “We are struggling a little bit but we try to see the positive and have fun out there,” said junior defenseman Annie Svedin. Handrahan said life on the ice can be particularly rigorous and “physically and mentally taxing.” “Our practices range from 45 minutes to an hour and 20 minutes high tempo to try to get ourselves prepared so that our players who need to be feeling confident, they can score on anybody or stop the puck on anybody,” Handrahan said. In between practices, studying and trying to have a social life, the team does manage to find some time for fun on the ice, Handrahan said. “Lots of days we are on the ice and music is blaring,” Handrahan said. “They like to laugh, they like to sing and they want to enjoy one another.” Some of the players said there are also a lot of shenanigans that go on, sometimes starting on the ice and ending at team dinners. “There are constant pranks and jokes going on,” Tarr said. “There’s a lot of pranksters on the team, so we like to keep it fresh and fun.” When it comes to game time though, the Buckeyes feel that they are often times in the shadow of other higher-attendance sports on campus. “A lot of people don’t even know women’s hockey exists here,” said Svedin. “They might really like the game so give it a chance.” OSU is slated to face Minnesota Friday at the OSU Ice Rink at 7:07 p.m.
Ohio State wide receivers coach Zach Smith talks to junior wide receiver Eric Glover-Williams prior to fall camp on Aug. 5. Credit: Colin Hass-Hill | Sports Editor.Ohio State wide receiver Eric Glover-Williams is no longer a member of the Buckeyes, as first reported by Austin Ward and Ryan Ginn of Land of 10. An Ohio State spokesperson confirmed the report. No reason has been provided as to why the junior is no longer with the team. Ohio State sources confirm that Eric Glover-Williams is no longer part of the program. No official reason has been given for departure.— Austin Ward (@AWardSports) September 2, 2017The Canton, Ohio, native was a safety prior to this season, but made the transition to wide receiver during the spring. He appeared in all 13 games last season on special teams and recorded seven tackles.Glover-Williams came to Ohio State as a four-star cornerback in the 2015 class and was ranked the No. 101 prospect in the nation, 12th best at the position and fourth best in the state by 247Sports Composite Rankings.
Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett prepares for a play in the first half of Ohio State’s game against Indiana on Aug. 31. Credit: Jack Westerheide | Photo EditorAfter playing just his first game as a true freshman, Ohio State running back J.K. Dobbins was honored as the Big Ten Freshman of the Week and quarterback J.T. Barrett was selected as the conference’s co-Offensive Player of the Week. The Dobbins- and Barrett-led Buckeyes offense helped defeated Indiana 49-21 Thursday evening in the season opener.Dobbins rushed 29 times for 181 yards, the most by any Ohio State freshman in his debut. The La Grange, Texas, running back was just the sixth Buckeye true freshman to start the season opener in program history. He had more rushing attempts and picked up more yards on the ground in the game than Mike Weber, last season’s starting running back, had in any game during the 2016 season. Though Barrett struggled in the first half, he finished with completing 20-of-35 passes for 304 yards and throwing three touchdowns. The redshirt senior also picked up 61 yards on the ground, rushing for a single touchdown. During Ohio State’s first drive, Barrett set the record for most total offensive yards. He holds the record with 9,211 yards.Penn State running back Saquon Barkley was also honored as Big Ten co-Offensive Player of the Week for his performance in the Nittany Lions’ win against Akron. Barkley rushed for 172 yards and two touchdowns and added three catches for 54 yards.
Ohio State head women’s volleyball coach Geoff Carlston looks on after his team surrendered a point during their match with Purdue on Friday, Oct. 27 at St. John Arena in Columbus, Ohio. Purdue won the match 3-0. Credit: Jeff Helfrich | Lantern ReporterThe Ohio State women’s volleyball team (14-15, 7-11 Big Ten) dropped its second match this weekend to Iowa in three straight sets. With Saturday’s victory, Iowa (18-13, 7-11 Big Ten) completed the home-and-home matchup with two wins against the Buckeyes. Ohio State head coach Geoff Carlston was notably disappointed in his team, particularly in their serving game, which he believed was one of the worst in the season. “We just had so many hitting errors, offensively we didn’t have any rhythm tonight,” Carlston said. “Probably the most disappointing loss of the season.”Senior outside hitter Ashley Wenz also acknowledged the multiple serving errors made by the Buckeyes and took some responsibility for how the game played out.“I need to be a little more on my game in general, just really helping Becca get through. [She’s a] freshman setter, it’s really new to her so just being someone that can make her feel stable,” Wenz said.The Buckeyes and the Hawkeyes were both eager for a win as they battled it out in the first set with 17 ties. Although Ohio State played a tight game with 15 kills and 25 digs, Iowa came out on top with two consecutive kills and won the set 25-23. Iowa started the second set on a 4-0 run, but it wasn’t long before the set turned into another point-for-point game, this time with eight lead changes. Senior outside hitter Luisa Schirmer helped her team with eight kills, but the Hawkeyes came back with 11 blocks and took the set 25-23. Both teams began the third set with yet another tight game, but the Buckeyes began to fall behind. With Iowa leading 18-12, Ohio State called a timeout. Iowa’s .344 attacking percentage and four blocks were enough to wear out the Buckeyes as Iowa won the third and final set 25-18.Carlston was hoping to see the most improvement in the third set. But the Buckeyes appeared to regress.“We weren’t putting a lot of pace on the ball and so they were in system. In-between [sets] two and three we said, ‘Let’s put some more pace on the ball,’ and we missed a ton of serves. It’s our gym, there’s no excuses,” Carlston said.Freshman defensive specialist Hannah Gruensfelder had a successful evening with a match-best 19 digs. Sophomores middle blocker Madison Smeathers and outside hitter Bia Franklin were responsible for six kills each, while Becca Mauer contributed 35 assists. The Buckeyes will have a chance to bounce back 7 p.m. Wednesday against Maryland in College Park, Maryland.
The OSU men’s volleyball team pose with their second consecutive national title trophy alongside James DeSantis, nine-year-old super fan. Credit: Sheridan Hendrix | Oller ReporterMuch like many of the other teams across Ohio State athletics, the No. 5 men’s volleyball team (5-2) has a history of excellence. After all, the Buckeyes are back-to-back national champions. But this year, Ohio State has dropped two early-season matches, one against No. 6 BYU on Jan. 13 and one to No. 2 UCLA on Jan. 20. After its second loss in five games into the season, the Buckeyes’ chances of winning the conference and qualifying for the NCAA championships seemed unfavorable. Head coach Pete Hanson said after his team’s loss to UCLA this season will not be a repeat their 2017 season.“We’re not going to go 32-2, you know? Let’s put that to bed right now. We’re going to lose some more matches this year just because of who we are. We’re different than we were last year,” Hanson said on Jan. 25. “It’s not about what your record is when you get to the tournament. It’s, ‘Can you win three or four matches in a row, the last three or four matches of the season and become a national champion?’”Ohio State faced challengers Saint Francis and No. 9 Penn State on Jan. 25 and Sunday, respectively, sweeping both teams 3-0. The Buckeyes claimed their first top-15 win against Penn State. Though his team has a top-15 win and is sitting at 5-2, Hanson said Tuesday the 2018 team has yet to reach its full potential, though it’s not too far off. He said the new group of starters are still working to learn to play together and trust one another, a process that takes more than a few weeks.“You have to begin to develop that trust with a teammate in terms of, in a certain situation, what are the expectations for the guy next to you or the guy two spots away from you, and for the last three years we had that same group of guys together,” Hanson said. Redshirt junior middle blocker Blake Leeson added to Hanson’s sentiment, saying much of the team’s improvement will come from adjusting to having four new starters and learning each other’s style of play. “Once you figure out how everyone functions and how they play, you can start balancing them out and complementing each other’s strengths and helping to boost each other’s weaknesses,” Leeson said. “I think that we’re not even close to the top of the bell curve.” Though they have not yet reached their full potential, the Buckeyes are winning matches. Hanson said challenging their opponent’s offense so Ohio State can be the aggressors of the match is something they do well. “If you’re going to ask an opposing coach, ‘hey, what does Ohio State bring to the table?’” he said. “I think they’re going to tell you that we’re going to serve the ball very aggressively, we’re going to try to put their offense under a lot of pressure and create opportunities to score with our block and with our transition defense.”While one of Ohio State’s strengths might be the offense, Hanson said its defense is the biggest step it can take as a group to take control of the game and score more points. Hanson said looking forward, the top three teams he anticipates playing are Lewis University, Loyola University and Ball State. Because all three schools are in the MIVA conference with Ohio State, winning the matches is imperative for the prospects for the conference playoffs to be held at St. John Arena.Ohio State travels to Charleston, West Virginia, for a matchup against Charleston at 7 p.m. Friday.
The Sun reported that the assailants made off with the footballer’s £25,000 Rolex.A Met Police spokesman said: “One of the suspects threatened the victim with a knife before stealing his watch. The victim was not injured.”At this early stage, officers are investigating whether the suspects intentionally collided with the victim’s car.”West Ham manager Slaven Bilic described Carroll as “very brave” after the player was allegedly targeted as he drove his Mercedes G-Wagon back to his home in Essex from the club’s Rush Green training ground.Jack O’Brien, 22, of Ivyhouse Road, Dagenham, east London, is due to appear in court charged with a string of offences, including attempted robbery in connection with Mr Carroll. Want the best of The Telegraph direct to your email and WhatsApp? Sign up to our free twice-daily Front Page newsletter and new audio briefings. A Premier League footballer was robbed at knifepoint when thieves rammed his car just four days after suspected gunmen allegedly threatened Andy Carroll.AFC Bournemouth midfielder Jordon Ibe, 20, had his watch stolen after his car was struck in Surrey Quays, south-east London, it has emerged.The attack came after West Ham United striker Carroll, 27, was the victim of an alleged attempted robbery as he drove home from a training session on Nov 2.Scotland Yard said detectives were investigating the attack on Ibe, which took place near Surrey Quays Underground station at about 1.45pm on Nov 6. The attack follows an alleged attempted robbery on West Ham United striker Andy CarrollCredit:Vid Ponikvar/Reuters