Monthly Archives: March 2018

2018 March Madness Predictions

2018 March Madness PredictionsIn-game win probabilities and chances of advancing, updating live.How this works | ESPN coverageMenWomenMarch 14 (Play-in)March 15 (Play-in)March 16 (1st Round)March 17 (1st Round)March 18 (2nd Round)March 19 (2nd Round)March 23 (Sweet 16)March 24 (Sweet 16)March 25 (Elite Eight)March 26 (Elite Eight)April 1 (Final Four)April 3 (Championship)

6:40 pm EDT | truTV SCORE WIN PROB
M. St. Mary’s16 56%
New Orleans16 44%
9:10 pm EDT | truTV SCORE WIN PROB
Wake Forest11 52%
Kansas State11 48%

Round-by-round probabilitiesBracketTableHover to see each team’s path to the championship.EASTMIDWESTWESTSOUTH1ST ROUND1ST ROUND2ND ROUND2ND ROUNDSWEET 16SWEET 16ELITE EIGHTELITE EIGHTFINAL FOURFINAL FOURCHAMPIONSHIPNew Orleans 16M. St. Mary’s 1656%Kansas State 11Wake Forest 1152%NC Central 16UC-Davis 1663%Providence 11USC 1158%17%CHANCE OFWINNINGTOURNAMENT21%38%56%81%98%Kansas 1NCCU/UCD 16Miami 8Michigan St. 9Iowa State 5Nevada 12Purdue 4Vermont 13Creighton 6Rhode Island 11Oregon 3Iona 14Michigan 7Okla. State 10Louisville 2Jax. State 1530%UNC 1TXSO 16Arkansas 8Seton Hall 9Minnesota 5Mid. Tenn. 12Butler 4Winthrop 1347%Cincinnati 6KSU/WAKE 11UCLA 3Kent St. 1468%Dayton 7Wichita St. 1097%Kentucky 2N. Kentucky 1527%46%63%80%99%1 Villanova16 UNO/MSM8 Wisconsin9 Virginia Tech5 Virginia12 UNC-Wilm.4 Florida13 E. Tenn. St.6 SMU11 PROV/USC3 Baylor14 NM State7 S. Carolina10 Marquette2 Duke15 Troy41%60%84%98%1 Gonzaga16 S. Dakota St.8 N’western9 Vanderbilt5 Notre Dame12 Princeton4 W. Virginia13 Bucknell6 Maryland11 Xavier3 Florida State14 FGCU7 St. Mary’s10 VCU2 Arizona15 N. DakotaForecastCurrentPre-tournamentMarch 14 (Play-in)March 15 (Play-in)March 16 (1st Round)March 17 (1st Round)March 18 (2nd Round)March 19 (2nd Round)March 23 (Sweet 16)March 24 (Sweet 16)March 25 (Elite Eight)March 26 (Elite Eight)April 1 (Final Four)

Originally published March 11. Download forecast data.

By Jay Boice and Nate Silver


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The Phillies Rebuilt Like The Cubs And Astros. Can They Win Like Them?

For years as general manager of the Phillies, Ruben Amaro Jr. tried everything possible to avoid dismantling the championship core that he and his predecessorsFormer GMs Pat Gillick and Ed Wade, who in the 2000s had one of the best runs of scouting, drafting and developing prospects by any eventual champion ever.

‘>1 had built in Philadelphia. It was an irrational cause: Some smart observers had seen Philly’s troubles coming even as the team was winning 102 games in 2011, and by 2013, it was difficult for anybody to deny the Phillies’ need to rebuild. Yet, Amaro still did. “People think we’re going to blow up this team,” he told that June. “We’re never going to be in the position of blowing up. There’s no blowing up.”

Despite his efforts to stave off the inevitable, Amaro was fired in 2015, and the teardown commenced in earnest. But his hesitation to change course showed how awkward the decision can be to strategically steer a franchise onto a different path. Fast forward to now, and the Phillies are at the other end of the cycle, with current GM Matt Klentak facing a similar dilemma in the opposite direction: How to shift from rebuilding back to actually winning some ballgames? Just like the decision to start a rebuild in the first place, the timing on trying to contend again can be difficult to get exactly right.

Certainly, the Phillies have been busy executing their own version of the multi-year renovation projects that yielded World Series wins for both the Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros over the past two seasons. In a little more than a half-decade, Philadelphia has gone from breaking 100 wins to racking up nearly 100 losses per year. The team has slashed payroll from nearly $200 million to well under $100 million and has gone from one of MLB’s oldest rosters to its youngest — replenishing its minor-league talent base along the way.

In that sense, it was a textbook rebuild. Over the past few years, Philly’s farm system has already turned out plenty of quality players, from rookie home-run machine Rhys Hoskins to World Series-winning reliever Ken GilesWho was traded to Houston for Vince Velasquez in late 2015.

‘>2 and breakout starter Aaron Nola. Still more prospects are coming through the pipeline this season, including touted shortstop J.P. Crawford and four other members of Baseball America’s Top 100 prospects list.

If the hallmarks of a franchise overhaul are cost-cutting and building up organizational talent, few teams have ever done it so thoroughly as the Phillies of recent vintage. To measure the magnitude of team restoration projects, I calculated a running total of what I’m calling “rebuild points” for each club since 1988.I picked that year because it basically marked the beginning of the modern era of MLB economics, after the collusion cases of the mid-1980s were resolved and free-agent salaries took off.

‘>3 A team gets a rebuild point if it finishes .500 or worse in a season in which it does any of the following: gets younger as a team,Based on the average age of its hitters (weighted by plate appearances) and pitchers (weighted by innings).

“>4 improves its ranking in Baseball America’s farm system rankings or reduces its payroll. Teams can get multiple rebuild points in the same season if they do more than one of the above.

Clearly, this isn’t the only way to measure the depth of a team’s rebuilding effort. But according to this metric, only five teams since 1988 have racked up 11 or more rebuild points in any five-season spanDiscarding overlapping five-year periods that had fewer rebuild points.

“>5 — and one of those is the recent Phillies:

Baseball’s most extreme five-year rebuilds

MLB teams that accrued the most ‘rebuild points’ (for reducing a team’s average age, improving its farm system or cutting its payroll), for five-year spans since 1988

Years in which team …*
Team Years Avg. Record Got Younger Improved Farm Cut Payroll Rebuild Pts
Houston Astros 2010-14 .380 4 4 4 12
Philadelphia Phillies 2013-17 .427 3 4 4 11
Chicago White Sox 2013-17 .441 3 4 4 11
Chicago Cubs 2010-14 .427 3 4 4 11
Tampa Bay Devil Rays 2001-05 .392 4 3 4 11
Colorado Rockies 2012-16 .428 3 3 4 10
Seattle Mariners 2010-14 .446 3 3 4 10
Baltimore Orioles 2000-04 .436 4 2 4 10
San Diego Padres 1999-03 .443 4 3 3 10
Philadelphia Phillies 1995-99 .449 3 3 4 10
Detroit Tigers 1994-98 .416 3 4 3 10
Pittsburgh Pirates 1993-97 .454 3 3 4 10
California Angels 1992-96 .454 3 3 4 10

* For years when the team had a .500 record or worse
Overlapping five-year segments were excluded

Sources: FanGraphs,

It’s not a bad list to be on. The Astros of 2010-14 are at the top, and they used their time at the bottom to build a champion. As did the 2010-14 Cubs. Also on the list are the Tampa Bay (née Devil) Rays, who built the pennant-winner that lost to Philly in the 2008 World Series. And while the book isn’t written on the current White Sox, they’ve zoomed up the farm-system rankings in recent years and could be positioned for success in the next decade, with top prospects such as Eloy Jimenez leading the way.

It didn’t take too long for the historical teams with 11 or more rebuild points in particular to get very, very good again: Within three seasons, they won 60 percent of their games on average, good for 97 wins over a full schedule. But in their first season after the rebuild period — the equivalent of Philadelphia’s 2018 season — that number was still just 50 percent, or 81 wins per 162 games.Granted, that was up from 43 percent during the final year of the five-year rebuild, so the teams were already making strong progress.

“>6 In other words, even among a group that was eventually successful, the turnaround wasn’t instant. And yet the Phillies have spent this offseason loading up on older players as though they were a few key pieces away from contention: They signed ex-Indians first baseman Carlos Santana (who turns 32 this season), snagged a couple of free-agent relievers in their 30s — Tommy Hunter (31) and Pat Neshek (37) — and are rumored to be kicking the tires on former Cubs starter Jake Arrieta (32).

Even after those moves, most statistical projections call for Philly to finish with something like 75 to 80 wins this year, which would put it on the outside of contention for the wild card (much less the division crown). It’s not beyond the realm of possibility for a rising team in that range to take analysts by surprise — hello, Minnesota! — but it doesn’t happen often. Add in how exceptionally top-heavy MLB is projected to be this season, and you could argue that the Phillies would have been better served by biding their time and building from within for at least one more season.

That said, even the most masterful rebuilding projects have their limits. Research shows that the relationship between a team’s farm system and its future record is nowhere near as reliable as we sometimes like to think it is — and that it certainly isn’t as strong as the tie between a team’s payroll and its ability to add production on the open market. There’s also an argument for the necessity of franchise culture-building with veterans like Santana — bringing in players from successful teams may help install a winning attitude for locker rooms whose youngsters have only ever known losing. And then there’s the fact that the Phillies are in a position to start spending a lot of money again: They finally got out from under the final salary commitments of the previous regime and are flush with cable-TV contract cash. It was only a matter of time before Philadelphia started to flex its financial muscle again.

That part of the equation can start yielding big benefits in a hurry. To measure the interplay between a team’s budget and its backlog of prospects, I built a regression model that works within the framework of this farm-system analysis by economist and MLB consultant Matt Swartz. In essence, it uses a team’s payroll and its recent prospect rankings from Baseball America to predict how many games it will win, via production from two sources: younger players who haven’t yet reached free agency and veterans who are signed on the open market. Although smart front offices have realized that the former group is a lot more cost-effective than the latter, once a team has a few good farm classes stored away, spending on the latter group can be a powerful way to really shift back into a contending gear.

According to my model, a team in Philadelphia’s current situation could ramp up its spending within five years to match the Phillies’ payrolls during their late 2000s/early 2010s heydayPhiladelphia payrolls were about 40 percent higher than the MLB average from the 2004 season through the 2014 season, peaking at 81 percent above average in 2011.

“>7 and expect to hit about 92 wins by 2022 even if it gradually allows its farm system to slip into the league’s bottom five within five years. By contrast, a comparable team that takes a slower approach, keeping its farm system strongGenerally staying among the Top 10 farm systems throughout.

“>8 but spending more modestlyNever going more than 20 percent above league average on payroll.

“>9 wouldn’t even crack 86 wins after five years. Why? Because after banking those good prospect classes (which the Phillies have already done), there are more diminishing returns on maintaining a solid farm system than there are on spending sheer amounts of money at the major-league level.

In other words, developing a strong base of young talent is a good way for budding dynasties to start, but it’s what happens next that truly determines a franchise’s fate. Klentak and the Phillies have gone through the first stage of that process, overhauling the organization in just about as dramatic a way as any modern team has. Now they’re just starting the second stage — and with Philadelphia linked to speculation about next winter’s big-name free agents (namely, Bryce Harper and Manny Machado), this could only be the beginning. Although no rebuilding plan is ever foolproof, don’t be surprised if Philadelphia’s version puts them in the same conversation with the Cubs and Astros before long.

Beside The Points For Thursday, March 8, 2018

Things That Caught My Eye

An out-of-line interview question

LSU running back Derrius Guice said that a representative of an NFL team asked him if he was gay during an interview at the NFL combine. This is not the first time that an NFL team has gotten in hot water over inappropriate and prohibited questions about potential draft stars’ sexuality, and the NFL Players Association wants the team in question prohibited from attending the combine. [The Washington Post]

Neymar edges out Messi

Neymar has an expected goals and assists rate of 1.18 per 90 minutes, which is the best performance in that stat in any of the top European soccer leagues right now, just beating out even Lionel Messi. Right now, comparing Neymar’s season to any other player besides Messi isn’t really possible; there are only ten player-seasons since 2010 where players had more than 0.9 expected goals plus expected assists per 90 minutes, and more than five progressive passes and runs per 90. Angel Di Maria’s 2015-16 is one of them, Neymar’s is another, and Messi accounts for the other eight. [FiveThirtyEight]

Try out our interactive, Which World Cup Team Should You Root For?

Damian Lillard taking Portland to the postseason

Damien Lillard is creating 101 points for every 100 chances running the pick-and-roll. He’s hitting 103 points per 100 chances on drives. Portland certainly has a defense, but it’s also not an obvious one — they don’t force many turnovers or limit free throws or block all that many shots. Yet, they rank seventh in defensive rating this season. [FiveThirtyEight]

Stallings out in Pittsburgh

Basketball coach Kevin Stallings is out at Pittsburgh after just two seasons. His record: 24-41. The Panthers were 0-19 in ACC games, and I’m not a particularly adamant college basketball fan but even I know it’s vastly preferable not to lose every single one of those. [ESPN]

POLL: Florida bad

An NHL players’ association poll asked the league’s players to weigh in on coaching, the point system, their colleagues and who they’d want on their side if they needed to win a game. More importantly, the survey identified the Florida Panthers as having the worst ice in the NHL — 16.8 percent of respondents said the Panthers have the worst rink. [ESPN]

Big Number

659.5 miles

That’s how far away New York City, where the Big Ten Conference plays its conference tournament, is from Knox, Indiana, the town that is actually the geographic center of the conference. Realistically, Knox’s neighbor Chicago, only 65 miles from the geographic center, would be a better call than Madison Square Garden. Indeed, the ACC’s tournament in Brooklyn and the Big East’s call of New York is also a bit off too. [FiveThirtyEight]

Leaks from Slack:


LSU RB: At combine I was asked ‘do I like men’

I am amazed that teams haven’t been reprimanded for these kinds of garbage questions

This has been going on for years
and they continue to get away with it

Miami GM sorry for Bryant prostitute query

Falcons asked Ohio State CB Eli Apple if he likes men

idk how it works exactly in the context of a collectively bargained process like the NFL, but many combine interview questions appear to violate fair hiring laws

(the combine itself is probably also sketchy, although again idk how that was bargained with the union)


Oh, and don’t forget
KHL is acting shady

The Ridiculousness Of Conference Tournament Locations, In 6 Maps


To someone who doesn’t follow men’s college hoops, a cursory glance at the location of the conference tournaments might suggest that New York City is the nexus of the basketball universe. Last week, Madison Square Garden played host to the Big Ten, a conference primarily made up of schools in the Midwest.Aside from Rutgers, which the conference added almost solely to get a toehold vaguely near New York.

‘>1 The Big East is now playing its tournament on that same floor, as it always does. And across the river, the ACC is simultaneously playing its championship in Brooklyn’s Barclays Center.

But in reality, of course, NYC is a far cry from a college-basketball hub.With all due respect to FiveThirtyEight favorite St. John’s.

‘>2 Rather, this is a symptom of conference tournament locations that increasingly range from the dubious to the downright illogical.

To judge just how out-of-whack some of these tournament venues have gotten, we first computed the geographical center of each of the six major conferences,By which we mean, the Power Five and the Big East.

‘>3 based on the locations of the member schools’ campuses. We then compared each conference’s geographical centerTechnically speaking, we calculated the centroid of each conference by finding the shape that covered all of its schools, while keeping its area as small as possible, and then determining the center of that shape.

“>4 with where its tournament is being played. The Big 12, for example, is playing its conference tournament in Kansas City, which is at least in the same state (Missouri) as its geographic center, near Gentryville, MO. The total distance between the two? Just under 200 miles as the crow flies. That’s the closest any of the six tournament sites is to its conference’s geographic center. And it’s a far cry from the nearly 700 miles that separated the tournament site of the Big Ten and the middle of where its teams, you know, actually are.

Below are the tournament sites, ranked by the smallest distance between them and their conference’s geographic center. As a bonus, we also computed suggested tournament sites for each conference based on raw distance — essentially, the closest city to the conference’s geographic center that either contains an NBA arena or has a population of at least 300,000 people.

Remind me … where does our conference play again?

Distance from the municipalities closest to the geographic centers of the top six men’s college basketball conferences to their 2018 conference tournament locations and to FiveThirtyEight’s suggested* locations

Conf. geo. Center actual tourney location distance from center
Big 12 Gentryville, MO Kansas City, MO 196.1 mi
Pac-12 Cherry Creek, NV Las Vegas, NV 257.8
SEC Hatley, MS St. Louis, MO 336.2
ACC Reidsville, NC Brooklyn, NY 428.3
Big East Melmore, OH New York, NY 476.9
Big Ten Knox, IN New York, NY 659.5
Conf. geo. Center suggested tourney location distance from center
Big 12 Gentryville, MO Memphis, TN 175.3 mi
Pac-12 Cherry Creek, NV Salt Lake City, UT 168.6
SEC Hatley, MS Memphis, TN 123.1
Big East Melmore, OH Columbus, OH 73.7
ACC Reidsville, NC Raleigh, NC 73.2
Big Ten Knox, IN Chicago, IL 65.4

*Suggested tournament location is the closest city to the conference’s geographic center that either hosts an NBA team or has a population of at least 300,000.

Based on data from the NCAA and Simple Maps U.S. Cities database

In fairness, the Big Ten’s tournament isn’t always in New York. From 1998 through 2016, it was played in either Chicago — which is actually our suggested site — or Indianapolis, which is a reasonable 108 miles away from the conference’s center. It was only last year, when the tournament was held in Washington, D.C. — a whopping 533 miles away — that the Big Ten began branching out into seriously unnatural locales. After this year’s dalliance with the Big Apple (which meant the tournament took place a week earlier than usual so that MSG could also accommodate the Big East tourney), the Big Ten will be returning to its more familiar digs of Chicago and Indianapolis for the next few years.

Some of these aberrant tournament locations are also being driven by the changing shapes of the conferences themselves. Here are the schools in the conferences we’re looking at whose locations tug on the geographic centers the most:

Which schools warp their conference’s shape the most?

Biggest distances between campus locations and geographic center of schools’ respective conferences for top six men’s college basketball conferences

Conf. School Location Geo. Center Distance
1 ACC Miami Coral Gables, FL Reidsville, NC 735.6 mi
2 Big 12 West Virginia Morgantown, WV Gentryville, MO 699.1
3 Big East Creighton Omaha, NE Melmore, OH 670.3
4 Pac-12 Washington Seattle, WA Cherry Creek, NV 648.6
5 Big Ten Rutgers New Brunswick, NJ Knox, IN 637.9
6 ACC Boston College Chestnut Hill, MA Reidsville, NC 613.2
7 Big East Providence Providence, RI Melmore, OH 608.1
8 Big 12 Texas Tech Lubbock, TX Gentryville, MO 581.7
9 Pac-12 Arizona Tucson, AZ Cherry Creek, NV 574.7
10 Big 12 Texas Austin, TX Gentryville, MO 550.9
11 Pac-12 Oregon State Corvallis, OR Cherry Creek, NV 535.7
12 Big Ten Maryland College Park, MD Knox, IN 535.6
13 Big Ten Nebraska Lincoln, NE Knox, IN 524.9
14 SEC Texas A&M College Station, TX Hatley, MS 516.7
15 ACC Notre Dame South Bend, IN Reidsville, NC 509.9

Based on data from the NCAA and Simple Maps U.S. Cities database

Surprisingly, the presence of a team from Nebraska (Creighton) in a conference whose name contains the word “East” is somehow not the strangest location for a school relative to its conference’s center. No, that honor belongs to the University of Miami, which is over 735 miles from the ACC’s geographic center in Reidsville, North Carolina. (Miami joined the ACC in 2004.) Almost as strange is West Virginia’s membership in the Big 12, which really stretches the conference’s eastern boundary — and of course, Creighton remains a downright odd choice for the Big East.

Because of late-comers like the Bluejays, the current Big East’s geographic center sits almost 500 miles away from its longtime conference-tournament site of Madison Square Garden. But New York used to be a much better fit with the original Big East, whose geographic center lay in Pardeesville, Pennsylvania — about 85 miles northwest of Philadelphia and a mere 105 miles away from New York City. When its teams were compressed into a much smaller region in the Northeast, there was a reason the old Big East tourney was the stuff of legends and why it made sense for MSG to play host to the proceedings.

These days, we’re treated instead to odd venues like the ACC tournament being held in Brooklyn (what?) instead of North Carolina and the SEC playing in St. Louis (where the only remotely close SEC team is Missouri). It’s just another reminder that in modern college sports’ conference roulette, money dominates any shreds of tradition, geography or common sense.

CORRECTION (March 7, 2018, 5:50 p.m.): A previous version of this article used incorrect coordinates for the location of Boston College. The maps, tables and text have been updated. The corrected coordinates changed the geographic center of the ACC to Reidsville, North Carolina, and the suggested conference tournament location to Raleigh, North Carolina.

How Things Could Go Wrong For Republicans In Mississippi’s New Senate Race

On Monday afternoon, Sen. Thad Cochran, the first Republican in over a century to win a statewide race in Mississippi and the longest-serving member currently in Congress, announced he would resign from office on April 1. The news wasn’t unexpected — Cochran’s worsening health began stirring up rumors of resignation as early as last year — but it still throws a wrench into the 2018 midterm elections, and in particular, the U.S. Senate map.

That’s because Cochran’s seat wasn’t scheduled to be up for election until 2020, so we’re looking at another special Senate election in the Deep South. As you might recall, Democrats have had some success with those recently. Like Alabama, a Mississippi special election will be a steep uphill climb for Democrats, but like Alabama, the seat could fall into their hands under the right circumstances. Several things would need to go right for Democrats to snag Cochran’s seat — perhaps a bad Republican candidate and a bad Republican political environment — but the 2018 Senate map offers the party such slim pickings that even a reach like Mississippi opening up counts as a meaningful shift.

Here’s how everything will play out. Under Mississippi law, Republican Gov. Phil Bryant will appoint a new senator to take over for Cochran until a special election is held this November (concurrently with the regularly scheduled midterm elections). There is a catch, though: Special elections in Mississippi are nonpartisan; that is, party affiliations aren’t printed on the ballot, and — instead of party-specific primaries — all candidates will run in one free-for-all of a race. If no one gets a majority of the vote in the first round, the top two finishers will face off in a runoff election.Similar to Louisiana’s “jungle primary” system or the setup used last year in the special election for Georgia’s 6th Congressional District. However, both of those states let candidates run with their party affiliations noted on the ballot.


The nonpartisan setup has the potential to help Democrats, because Mississippi is two things: Very Republican and very inelastic, meaning it has very few persuadable voters and doesn’t swing much from one election to the next. Most voters in Mississippi reliably vote for either Republicans or Democrats. Under normal circumstances, that makes it extremely difficult for any Democrat to claw his or her way to 50 percent of the vote, but in a campaign without party labels (or at least where they aren’t front and center), the lead weight that is a “D” next to one’s name is partially lifted.

And Democrats have a couple of candidates on their bench who could credibly run a centrist campaign. Attorney General Jim Hood is the last Democrat to be elected statewide in Mississippi, and he has won all four of his attorney-general campaigns by at least 10 percentage points (and that was with the “D” next to his name — although it was also in state, not federal, elections). Hood says he’s interested in running for governor, but that election won’t occur until 2019, leaving his 2018 schedule fairly open. Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley (apparently Elvis’s second cousin) was national Democrats’ top choice to run against Republican Sen. Roger Wicker for Mississippi’s other U.S. Senate seat (which was already scheduled to be on the 2018 ballot), but he turned them down in January. Maybe he’ll feel differently about running for a seat without a powerful incumbent.

As for who might run for Republicans, keep an eye on whomever Bryant appoints to the seat. Republicans reportedly want Bryant to appoint someone who will run in (and win) the special election, not just a caretaker. The term-limited Bryant has rebuffed advances from President Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to appoint himself. Instead, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann are rumored to be the frontrunners for the appointment. (However, Reeves is also reportedly interested in running for governor.)

The elephant in the room is Chris McDaniel, and not just because he’s a Republican. The deeply conservative state senator mounted a tea-party-flavored primary challenge against Cochran in 2014 and only barely lost, 51 to 49 percent. This year, he’s trying again, running against Wicker in the GOP primary. As of Monday night, McDaniel was saying that he intended to continue his campaign against Wicker rather than switch to Cochran’s open seat, but he also told Mississippi Today’s Adam Ganucheau that “you never want to foreclose options in politics.” Legally, there’s nothing stopping McDaniel from dropping out of the Wicker race and joining the open-seat field.

If McDaniel ran, and especially if a runoff election pitted him against a strong Democrat like Hood or Presley, you would see Democrats start to get excited about their chances in Mississippi. McDaniel has a long history of controversial statements: He has blamed hip-hop for gun violence, said movies should have more Muslim villains, spoken before pro-Confederate organizations, and dismissed Women’s Marchers as “unhappy liberal women.” More than one commentator has compared him to Roy Moore, the similarly inflammatory conservative who famously blew December’s special U.S. Senate election in Alabama for the GOP.

McDaniel is no Moore — the latter’s allegations of underage sexual misconduct set him in a class of his own — but Mississippi is also no Alabama. Whereas Trump won Alabama by 28 percentage points, he won Mississippi by only 18 points. In 2012, Mitt Romney defeated then-President Obama in Alabama by 22 points but only took Mississippi by 12. The Democratic Party’s floor in Mississippi is much higher than in Alabama — every Democratic presidential candidate since Al Gore has won 40 percent of the vote or more — thanks in large part to the largest African-American population (in terms of percentage) of any state (38 percent). All else being equal, we would expect Democrats to have an easier time winning Mississippi than Alabama.

The last time a pollster asked Mississippi voters to choose between McDaniel and a Democrat, the Democrat wasn’t too far behind. Granted, we only have a couple of polls, and they’re old (from the 2014 cycle), but that was also a much more Republican-friendly political environment than the current one.

Make no mistake: Mississippi is still a very red state, and its inelasticity means any Democrat will have to work twice as hard to persuade the few gettable voters available while still turning out the state’s sizable Democratic base. But Cochran’s seat becomes only the ninth Republican-held Senate seat to be on the ballot in 2018, most of them on dark red turf. Democrats must pick up at least two of them (and not lose any of their own) to take a Senate majority. Mississippi is a long shot, but it’s one more shot than Democrats had on Sunday.

The Last 60 Years Of Oscar Nominations In One Chart

John Williams — the composer behind “Star Wars,” “Jaws,” “Jurassic Park” and almost any other movie theme that you can hum to yourself from memory — received his 51st Oscar nomination this year. Think about that. Williams has two Academy Award nominations for every year Timothée Chalamet (nominated for best actor for “Call Me by Your Name”) has been alive — and then some.

Over the past 60 years, Williams has more Oscar nominations than anyone else. In second place: the country of France, with 35 nominations in the best foreign language film category.Why the academy gives the award for best foreign language film to countries rather than producers is beyond me.

“>1 As you can see in the chart below — which looks at the ratio of nominations to unique nominees in each Academy Award category on the ballot this yearCategories that changed names in the past 50 years — but not what they were honoring — are included under their current labels.

“>2 — those two categories are among the least diverse in terms of giving new faces a shot at Oscar gold. Nominations for best documentary, on the other hand, have gone to a wide array of people.

Why Did It Take So Long For The Oscars To Nominate A Female Cinematographer?

At the second Academy Awards, in 1930, Josephine Lovett and Bess Meredith each received nominations for writing — the first women nominated for nonacting Oscars. It would be a few more years — the seventh Academy Awards in 1935 — until a woman was nominated for film editing (Anne Bauchens for her work on “Cleopatra”).

Eventually women were recognized in other categories too, including art direction (1941), music scoring (1945) and costume design (1948). In 1973, at the 46th Academy Awards, Julia Phillips became the first woman to be nominated for producing a best picture nominee, “The Sting.”And she won it too.

“>1 A few years later, in 1976, Lina Wertmüller became the first woman nominated for best director. Women were first nominated in the 1980s and 1990s in new categories for makeup (1982) and sound editing (1984) and old categories like visual effects (1986) and sound (1995).

But before this year, cinematography held out — the last category with zero women among the nominees.Obviously, that’s excluding best actor and best supporting actor.

“>2 According to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences database, 238 people received nominations in cinematography for their work on 638 different films from the first through 89th Oscars. And not a single one of them was a woman.

That changed this year. Rachel Morrison, who was nominated for her work on “Mudbound” — and whom popular audiences around the world are now meeting thanks to the blockbuster “Black Panther” — has broken the last glass ceiling at the Oscars.

That achievement is massive, but what on earth is wrong with cinematography that it took so long?

The first part of the answer is easy, and we already have it: Hollywood’s gender parity behind the camera is even worse than in front of the camera. In December, a team of us at FiveThirtyEight wanted to find a new way to evaluate how diverse and inclusive movies are on gender and race — a “Bechdel Test” for the next generation — so we reached out to professionals and creators who work in the movie business to ask what they thought audiences should be looking for in films. We graded films across a whole suite of metrics — how female characters were treated or developed, how supporting casts were built, how the extras and crowds were framed, how films portrayed black women and Latinas. But no metric made Hollywood look worse than the gender composition of behind-the-scenes and on-set crew.

Here’s the test from Jen White, a director of photography:

We found that not a single one of the top 50 grossing films of 2016 had a crew that was at least 50 percent female. Not a single one had a crew that was even 30 percent female or more. And only 23 out of the 50 films could even claim to have one woman in each department as well as one female department head. It was a disaster.

So just by involving a behind-the-camera position, cinematography is drawing from an overwhelmingly male pool.

Still, women broke through in other academy categories that feature behind-the-camera work. Just how male is cinematography that it took so long? To answer that, let’s look at the cinematographers as well as the camera and lighting crews on the top 50 grossing films at the domestic box office — according to The Numbers — for each of the past 10 years (2008 through 2017).I pulled full cast and crew data from IMDb, then specifically grabbed the names for the cinematographer and everyone in the camera and electrical department.

“>3 I classified important cinematography-related positions — more on that in a second — and used to estimate the gender of every first name in the data set, plus the probability that’s estimate is correct.

We can use this to get an estimate for how male camera departments are. The answer is extremely male.

There were 40,314 people credited in the camera and lighting departments of the 500 films in our data set. Of those, 36,604 (91 percent) had a first name that was more likely male than female and 34,263 (85 percent) had a first name that was male 90 percent of the time or more. If we strictly sum the probabilities that a given individual is male based on first name — so “Jack” would count for 0.99, “Jamie” would be 0.53, “Rebecca” as 0.0 and so on — we would estimate that just fewer than 36,600 people in the set were men, or 91 percent.

That gives us 85 percent male at our most conservative estimate and around 91 percent looking at our two more probabilistic estimates. That would make professional cinematography and its related fields more male than barbers, civil engineers, police officers, taxi drivers and clergy, according to Department of Labor statistics. This also means that the upper echelon of cinematography, major commercial studio movies, is more male than, say, the statistics we have from the Department of Labor that claim a broader world of “television, video and motion picture camera operators and editors” — while probably a government-determined subset of the field — which in 2016 was 78.6 percent male.

What’s shocking about this is that while film schools and cinematography programs are by no means balanced, they’re nowhere near as bad as 85 to 91 percent male.

I pulled the number of graduate student completions in cinematography-related fields at the top five film schoolsAs laid out by The Hollywood Reporter.

“>4 based on the data that schools are obligated to report annually to the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System at the Department of Education. There were 7,068 people who graduated from a master’s-level program in cinematography, film, cinema and video studies from 2001 to 2016; 2,957 of them, or 42 percent, were reported as women.

Clearly one doesn’t need a master’s degree from a top film school to be a grip on a movie, but it’s not like there aren’t women capable or interested in working in these jobs. And the number of women behind the camera is seemingly diminishing through a career arc — if women are dropping from something like two-fifths of film grads to one-fifth of the U.S. camera workforce to a 10th of the department on major movies, we’d like to know why.

Well, maybe it has to do with the fact that 97 percent of the people in camera and lighting department leadership positions on those top movies were men.

Generally the department is divided into three groups overseen by the director of photography: the camera department, which does all things related to the camera; the electrics department, which handles lighting and anything that needs to be plugged in; and the grip department, the contingent that handles anything that’s not plugged in, like tripods or cranes or dollies or what have you.

The director of photography works with all of these groups but has immediate subordinates who run and staff each individual contingent: the 1st assistant camera and “A” camera operators for the cameras, the gafferLiterally means “godfather,” and the gender-neutral form is something like chief lighting technician.

‘>5 oversees the electrics, and the key grip oversees the grips. Each of those people have direct reports of their own; other camera operators and “best boys” and other department heads, like rigging. They’re important positions that assist people who report to the D.P.

With Jen White’s guidance, I divided camera credits into four general buckets; “tier 1” for the department head, the director of photography; “tier 2” for people who report directly to the D.P.; “tier 3” for people with important jobs that report to tier 2 personnel; and then everybody else, your day-rate or B-unit or miscellaneous grips and crew or lighting techs and camera assistants. There were 5,652 people in tiers 1, 2 and 3, a manageable enough figure to eliminate uncertainty by individually researching the gender of anyone with an ambiguous first name where we were less than 95 percent sure of their gender.

Of the 498 film department heads on those 500 movies,Why not 500 department heads? Animated movies often don’t have D.P.s, and some movies have more than one.

“>6 an estimated 477 of them were male, so 96 percent. Of the 2,261 gaffers, key grips, 1st assistants, and “a” camera operators, an estimated 2,187 were men, or 97 percent. And of the 2,893 best boys, “b” and other camera operators, rigging gaffers and what have you, an estimated 2,818 were men, or 97 percent.

Meanwhile, the “everyone else” bucket of 34,662 jobs — where 1,126 people remained of unknown gender — was (depending on the method of estimation) 88 to 90 percent male.

This is about as prototypical of a pipeline problem as you can get. In a gig-based job market like the ones for film crews, people who control the hiring power control who works. The people who have the power to hire and fire are, with few exceptions, primarily male. The people that they hire for big projects are overwhelmingly male. The pool of people who were able to find any work as camera operators was quite male. This is despite the fact that the contingent of people who graduate in cinematography from the best programs in the country are only slightly male.

Of course it took 90 years for a woman to get a nomination for cinematography. The cards are stacked against an entire gender behind the camera.

Beside The Points For Thursday, March 1, 2018

Things That Caught My Eye

We put some baseballs in an X-Ray

Are the balls juiced? Are material changes to the ball an influence on the spike in home runs analysts have found? Commissioner Manfred says that the balls have not changed, but a number of studies from journalistic outfits, this one included, seem to counter that idea. ESPN took the next logical step and did a CT scan on eight MLB balls. The finding? It surely looks like the core of the balls are less dense compared to the control balls from several years ago. Indeed, a layer of pink rubber in the core of the balls was 40 percent less dense in the dinger-era balls than the 2014-2015 era balls. [FiveThirtyEight]

Lundqvist deserved better

The New York Rangers made 11 of the 12 postseasons since the 2004-05 lockout, have won the sixth-most points, and failed to win a Stanley Cup. In the past week the Rangers have had a fire sale, all despite numbers that bear out goalie Henrik Lundqvist carrying much of the load for the team. [FiveThirtyEight]

Try out our interactive, Which World Cup Team Should You Root For?

The second week is the only reason the U.S. is not ashamed of its Olympics.

The United States got 12.9 fewer medals in Pyeongchang than our very simple medal model would have projected them getting, underscoring a deeply unfortunate games for a typical Winter powerhouse. Most of that underperformance was in week one, though, with week two serving as a clawback toward the mean from what could have been an even worse games. [FiveThirtyEight]

Philly is experimenting

First-year Phillies manager Gabe Kapler appears to be experimenting with defensive shifts in the outfield. Essentially, two players swapped corner outfield positions when a switch hitter made it to the plate batting lefty. While the infield defensive shift is rather common, an outfield defensive swap is something new and compelling. [Fangraphs]

North America 2026 in jeopardy

While a combined bid from the United States, Canada and Mexico to host the 2026 FIFA World Cup seemed a likely prize after the U.S.’s 2022 bid lost to Qatar in a tainted-by-corruption 2010 vote, that bid appears to be in modest jeopardy. Sources indicated that some voters are unsure if the U.S. can be considered a friendly place for foreigners, and that a rival bid from Morocco may be gaining steam. [ESPN]

MLBPA files grievances

The MLB players association filed a grievance agains the Oakland Athletics, Miami Marlins, Pittsburgh Pirates and Tampa Bay Rays, alleging that the teams aren’t spending money they have to commit toward on-field product in the offseason. [CBS Sports]

Big Number

19.6 percent

That’s the probability that the Phoenix Suns get the top pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. There are seven teams that are virtual locks to make the top 10 draft positions at this point in the season. The Sacramento Kings have a 16.8 percent chance of getting the No. 1 pick, followed by Atlanta with a 14.2 percent chance, Memphis with a 10.8 percent chance and Orlando with a 9.3 percent chance. [ESPN]

Leaks from Slack:


The Next Big Thing in Defense?


the angels should do this in ohtani games just to further f— with positional changes on pencil and paper scorecards


Oh, and don’t forget
This guy can swing it

Henrik Lundqvist Deserves Better Than The Rangers

In the 12 full seasons since the 2004-05 lockout wiped out an entire NHL season, the New York Rangers have have been among the league’s most consistently successful franchises. With rock-steady goaltending from Henrik Lundqvist, they’ve qualified for the playoffs 11 times, amassed the league’s sixth-most points, won a Presidents’ Trophy and reached the Stanley Cup Final. But Lundqvist and the Rangers haven’t accomplished the one thing that really matters: They haven’t won a Cup. It’s an almost-dynasty that never quite materialized — and now it appears to be over.

In the past week, the Rangers have traded leading goal-scorer Michael Grabner to New Jersey, dealt star winger Rick Nash to the Boston Bruins and shipped top defenseman (and team captain) Ryan McDonagh to the Tampa Bay Lightning.It’s the second time in four years that the Rangers have traded their captain to Tampa Bay.

‘>1 The fire sale suggests that Rangers GM Jeff Gorton thinks his club doesn’t have much of a chance to make the playoffs this spring — they’re currently basement-dwellers in the Metropolitan Division and sit 9 points out of the last wild-card spot in the East, so he’s probably right. It must be a hard pill to swallow for fans of the Broadway Blueshirts.

Longtime Rangers fans aren’t unaccustomed to spending the spring without playoff hockey. After all, the team failed to qualify in each of the seven seasons leading up to the lockout. The post-lockout Rangers actually were unusually consistent for a franchise that has had its ups and downs over the years. Indeed, this recent 12-year stretch is the third-best (non-overlapping)So, excluding 12-year stretches that contained a common season with ones above it on the list.

“>2 one in Rangers history according to win percentage, trailing only 1968-79 and 1931-42.

Much of the blame for this year’s drop-off may be pinned on Lundqvist, who is having the second-worst season of his career based on quality start percentage. In the past, Lundqvist has taken a lot of the heat for his team’s near-misses and postseason underachievement. But the real issue that has kept the Rangers from getting over the hump is not their star goaltender, but that they were never able to build a winning core around him.

Most of the other successful post-lockout teams share a common thread: Their top skaters (in terms of goals versus threshold, Tom Awad’s all-in-one metric for estimating a player’s value over a replacement-level scrub at the same positionHistorical GVT is available here; we estimated this season’s numbers by re-scaling Point Shares, a similar system that updates in-season at

‘>3) all played together for long stretches. Chicago has Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith; Pittsburgh has Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang; Boston has Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron; San Jose has Joe Thornton and Marc-Edouard Vlasic. The top skaters for the Rangers since the lockout, on the other hand, are McDonagh and Derek Stepan — two players who no longer call Madison Square Garden home.

And even though the Rangers have had their share of good scorers since the lockout, none have seemed to stick around for very long. After three full seasons with the team, during which he scored 290 points, Jaromir Jagr packed his skates and headed to Siberia. Then came Marian Gaborik, who scored 229 points in 255 games as a Ranger starting in 2009 but who was — you guessed it — dealt to the Columbus Blue Jackets at the 2013 trade deadline. Finally, there was the year-and-change stint that future Hall of Famer Martin St. Louis spent in New York, which ended with his retirement from the sport.

Lundqvist has been carrying the load

Among the teams with the most total points, the best goalie, forward and defenseman on each, based on goals versus threshold, 2005-06 through 2017-18*

Team Top Goalie GVT Top Fwd GVT Top Def GVT
1 Sharks Niemi 62.4 Thornton 191.2 Vlasic 100.9
2 Red Wings Howard 77.9 Datsyuk 182.2 Lidstrom 128.0
3 Penguins Fleury 134.9 Crosby 247.6 Letang 108.4
4 Ducks Hiller 76.2 Getzlaf 168.5 Niedermayer 61.7
5 Capitals Holtby 94.5 Ovechkin 256.3 Green 93.9
6 Predators Rinne 144.1 Erat 64.7 Weber 128.9
7 Rangers Lundqvist 272.2 Stepan 81.5 McDonagh 79.5
8 Bruins Thomas 158.4 Bergeron 145.8 Chara 138.4
9 Blackhawks Crawford 103.0 Kane 180.1 Keith 149.2
10 Stars Lehtonen 43.5 Benn 126.1 Daley 65.6

* Through Monday’s games

Sources: Hockey Abstract,

All the while, New York has relied on Lundqvist to carry an incredible workload between the pipes to fuel its successful run. Since the lockout, King Henrik has easily been the NHL’s most valuable goaltender according to GVT, beating out second-ranked Roberto Luongo by 35 total goals of value (or about one full, stellar season’s worth). Lundqvist has started a league-high 664 games (including at least 70 in three separate seasons) and faced a league-high 22,635 shots. Among the top post-lockout teams we list above, none was remotely close to being powered by one player — much less one goalie — as the Rangers were by Lundqvist.

But even though good goaltending is crucial for postseason runs, a good goalie alone does not constitute a core. Indeed, two of the three teams that have won multiple Stanley Cups since the lockout have done so with different goalies minding the space between the pipes: Pittsburgh counted first on Marc-Andre Fleury and later on Matt Murray, while Chicago won cups with Antti Niemi and Corey Crawford. But again, each of those teams had something the Rangers lacked: a group of linchpin forwards and defensemen who played significant minutes together.

The Rangers aren’t the only top post-lockout team that has underachieved — the dearth of cups for the Capitals and the Sharks, each of whom has won at least one Presidents’ Trophy since the lockout, springs immediately to mind. None of this is comforting to Rangers fans, however. Their team’s last Stanley Cup triumph came in 1994. Before then, you’d have to travel back to World War II to catch the last time a Ranger drank from Lord Stanley’s favorite mug. The time that has elapsed since includes an immense amount of regular-season success — especially from 1966-67 to 1991-92, when New York managed to qualify for the playoffs 23 times in 26 tries. But playoff hockey is only really fun when you don’t lose — and the Rangers have done a lot of losing in the playoffs over the decades.

And so it looks as though the futility will endure for Rangers fans. The halcyon days of Mark Messier and Brian Leetch are distant memories (and only YouTube clips for Rangers fans of a certain age); it looks like Madison Square Garden will be empty this spring. Perhaps the most maddening part of all of this is that Lundqvist, a world-beating goalie with a penchant for finely tailored suits, will more likely finish his career amid a rebuild than by lifting the Stanley Cup. Hank deserves better — but then again, he did even while the Rangers were winning.

Neil Paine contributed research.