All posts by Elena Curtoni

Politics Podcast: What If Trump Fires Mueller?



Over the weekend, President Trump tore into special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. So the FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast crew games out what would happen if Trump actually moved to fired Mueller. The team discusses possible congressional responses, public opinion and the effect on the midterms. According to Nate Silver, it would be a “catalyzing event”:

“There are two things that had a big negative effect on Trump’s approval rating, one of which was when they began to debate the health care bill and the other of which was firing [FBI Director James] Comey. That had a 3- or 4-point downward swing, which in this era is a lot. … People who are on the fence about ‘am I sympathetic to Trump or not?’ will come off the fence if Mueller is fired, and it will be a catalyzing event.”

The team also previews Tuesday’s Democratic primary in Illinois’s 3rd Congressional District, in which centrist incumbent Daniel Lipinski is being challenged from the left by political newcomer Marie Newman.

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

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

How UMBC Did The Unthinkable — And The Inevitable

After a relatively sedate start to the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, the most shocking result in tourney history was saved for one of the last games in the round of 64. Late Friday, Maryland-Baltimore County did the unthinkable, pulling off the victory that college fans have been waiting decades to see: The Retrievers became the first No. 16 seed in the history of the men’s tournament to knock off a No. 1 when they beat Virginia 74-54.The women’s tournament beat the men to the punch by 20 years, of course, when No. 16 Harvard beat No. 1 Stanford in 1998.


(Look, we did say a No. 16 seed could beat a No. 1 this year — never mind which No. 16, and which No. 1…)

No, instead of the obvious pick, it was the obscure one. UMBC went into the game ranked 188th in Ken Pomeroy’s power ratings; Virginia ranked first. Our predictive model gave the Cavaliers a 98 percent probability of winning. Nothing about the two teams’ track records suggested that number was too high. (If anything, facing a Retrievers team that lost by 40-plus points to the likes of Albany, UVA seemed like it might be the safest No. 1 seed in the first round.)

Instead, the Cavs were on the wrong side of history.

Besides the novelty of a No. 16 beating a No. 1 seed — let alone the tournament’s No. 1 overall team — the magnitude of the upset would have been shocking in any context. According to ESPN’s Stats & Information Group, it was tied for the worst loss by an Associated Press No. 1 team to an unranked team at any point in the season, let alone the tournament.Undefeated No. 1 St. Joseph’s lost to Xavier by 20 in the 2003-04 season.

‘>2 And from a bettor’s standpoint, UMBC joined Santa Clara in 1993 and Norfolk State in 2012 — a pair of No. 15 seeds that won — as the only teams to win a game outright in the men’s tourney despite being an underdog of 20 or more points.

Virginia can place some of the blame on losing forward De’Andre Hunter right before the tournament. Sidelined with a wrist injury, Hunter was UVA’s best player on a rate basis,Excluding those with low playing time.

“>3 according to’s Win Shares per 40 minutes. The Cavs no doubt missed his efficient play at both ends of the court against the Retrievers.

But this loss cannot be pinned completely on Hunter’s absence. Against UMBC, Virginia played just about the worst game it possibly could. What had been one of the top offensive teams in the country during the regular season shot just 41 percent from the floor — including 18 percent from 3-point range (to go with a 50 percent showing from the foul line). More shockingly, the nation’s best defense looked completely lost, particularly in the game’s second half.

The Retrievers played their best possible game as well. They shot a stunning 54 percent from the field against the Cavaliers, nailing 12 of 24 attempts from beyond the arc. Going into the game, Virginia hadn’t allowed an opponent to shoot better than 50 percent from the field all season, against a schedule that consisted of many difficult opponents. Though no major-conference school could solve the UVA defense, UMBC — led by an audacious 28-point performance from electrifying guard Jairus Lyles — was the team that finally broke through. Virginia was holding opponents to 53.4 points per game, the lowest in the country. Lyles and the Retrievers got 53 in the second half alone.

In terms of blame, there’s plenty of finger-pointing left for Virginia coach Tony Bennett’s deliberately low-possession brand of basketball. The Cavs were easily the nation’s slowest team all season, and they basically never had to accelerate the pace to make a comeback push all year. As TV analyst Kenny Smith pointed out in the postgame coverage, UVA was unable to adjust once UMBC forced the Cavs to play from behind.

This topic deserves more research, but there is some evidence that slow favorites generally disappoint in March. It makes sense: Unlike underdogs, who should want more variance — and therefore fewer possessions in a game — favorites should theoretically be trying to reduce the randomness and give variance a smaller role in a game’s outcome. So it could be that Virginia-style favorites are inadvertently doing their opponents a big favor by slowing the pace down to a crawl, essentially giving away some of their talent advantage by allowing more randomness to seep into the game. (Whether this works in practice, though, is up for debate.)

Whatever the reason behind it, UMBC’s win was an upset for the ages. On the one hand, it was surprising that no 16 seed had ever beaten a No. 1 before Friday — according to our Elo model, we’d calculate the chances as 1-in-27 (or 3.7 percent) that a No. 16 wouldn’t have broken through in 134 tries. But this was also the victory that just seemed like it might never happen. Now that it has, there are no gimme games in the bracket anymore. Just when you thought it wasn’t possible, March Madness somehow got an extra dimension of madness. And it all comes courtesy of the UMBC Retrievers and their long-awaited underdog victory.

What It’s Like To Watch #MeToo When It Is You, Too

On average, more than 300,000 Americans experience rape or sexual assault each year. When the #MeToo movement makes headlines, those survivors are reading. How is that affecting people who have experienced sexual violence, to see stories similar to their own blasted across media outlets every day? Experts aren’t sure, but they’re confident that it’s having some kind of impact.

Case in point: In the last three months of 2017, calls to the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network — a national crisis hotline for people who have experienced sexual trauma — increased by 23 percent compared with the same period in the previous year. That increase is part of an apparent nationwide jump in sexual abuse victims seeking help from crisis centers. Experts believe there’s a connection between the increase and the rise of #MeToo, which was founded more than a decade ago but took off as a hashtag in October after reports of workplace abuses committed by the rich and powerful drew media attention to the stories of survivors of sexual assault and harassment.

So are more people calling the hotline now because they feel like #MeToo means they can tell their story and be believed? Or are more people calling the hotline because #MeToo reminded them of their own, personal, pain and now they’re suffering all over again? In short, we can’t say. But the clues left in the stories survivors tell and in the research that exists on the way people respond to trauma suggest that it’s probably a little of both.

In conversations with survivors of sexual assault, I learned that the impacts of #MeToo are complex, with the potential to heal or retraumatize — and sometimes both at the same time. On the one hand, being able to talk about their experiences has been healing for the survivors I spoke to — especially when they could do it in a context that allowed them to reach out to other survivors and help each other.

“There are so many people who have never told anyone” about their abuse, said Kesha Brown Booker, a rape survivor who speaks to universities, churches and other groups through the speakers’ bureau network of RAINN. But then they hear what she has to say. “I speak, and tell my story, and they feel like this person understands and gets it.”

The potential positives of seeing #MeToo stories in the media seem to line up with what experts have learned about trauma and the process of healing from post-traumatic stress disorder.

In the first few weeks after an assault, as many as 94 percent of survivors may experience symptoms of PTSD, including nightmares and flashbacks. But most of those people will slowly heal on their own. They won’t “get over it” — but they do become able to live without pain and don’t develop long-term PTSD, said Edna Foa, who is a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania and one of the leading experts on sexual assault and trauma. Even while a minority do end up with longer-term problems, Foa said, they, too, can find relief through treatment. The #MeToo movement appears to be tapping into patterns researchers have seen that predict whose symptoms will dissipate naturally over time and what it takes to help those who seek treatment.

“We think that social support is a key protective factor against the development of PTSD,” said James Hamilton, professor of psychology at the University of Alabama. It helps explain why most survivors heal naturally over time. So, hearing other survivors of sexual violence talk about their experiences on social media and watching high-profile abusers lose jobs or go to jail could be helpful. It could give survivors a sense that they are part of a community, not foundering alone in dark water. And, Foa said, knowing that it’s possible to think about, or even talk about, what happened without experiencing immobilizing emotional distress is often a first step on the road to recovery for those who struggle with PTSD long term.

But beyond personal experiences, experts know very little about how watching strangers talk about sexual assault in social or traditional media affects people — especially people who have, themselves, experienced similar traumas. Neither Foa nor any other experts I spoke with could think of any studies that looked specifically at this issue.

There is some research that is tangentially connected. For instance, a 2006 study found that crime victims who read about their own cases in the newspaper or saw coverage on TV experienced high rates of negative emotions afterward — 66 percent reported sadness, 48 percent reported fear.

Indeed, the same survivors who told me that #MeToo had been empowering for them also told me that it had been, at times, a painful and retraumatizing reminder of their experience. That was true for Booker. That was also true for Jay Wu, a survivor and communications manager for the National Center for Transgender Equality. Wu identifies as a non-binary gender and uses the pronoun “they.” “I think partly it’s just the nature of talking about things like this,” they said.

Other studies suggest that media exposure to a trauma that isn’t your own can also be stressful. A survey of more than 2,000 New Yorkers after 9/11, for example, found that people who viewed the most television had a 66 percent greater chance of experiencing PTSD-like symptoms, even though three-quarters of the respondents did not see the disaster first-hand.

It’s unlikely that media exposure alone can cause PTSD, said Blair Wisco, professor of psychology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. At the same time, she said, studies have shown that therapists, first responders and others whose jobs expose them to scenes of trauma do have an increased risk of a sort of vicarious PTSD.

It’s also the case that, positive or negative, #MeToo media coverage is likely to affect people and groups differently. The survivors I spoke with emphasized that some of how #MeToo affects people is tied up in whether those people can see the movement as working for them — or being about them at all.

Transgender people, for example, have a higher probability of experiencing sexual assault or violence than the general U.S. population. A large 2015 survey found that nearly half of all trans people had been sexually assaulted.In contrast, previous surveys that split respondents into “male” and “female” categories and were not intended to capture trans experiences found that 1 in 6 American women and 1 in 33 men had experienced rape or a rape attempt.

‘>1 But, Wu said, trans people have often been left out of #MeToo media narratives that center on cisgender women, people whose female gender identity matches the sex they were recognized as having at birth. Some trans survivors have told Wu that #MeToo presents an opportunity to get trans stories out there. But for others, Wu said, it’s just another cultural moment that ignores their existence and their pain.

And that issue — whether all survivors feel like the community #MeToo is building is really for them — could have wide-reaching consequences for mental health. Booker spoke about this concern. So did Constance, another RAINN speaker and rape survivor who asked that her last name not be used. The media narrative has focused on wealthy, professional, culturally prominent, cisgender, white women, these survivors told me.

“The actors and models coming out, they’re being heard and taken seriously, but other individuals are not,” Booker said. “If you aren’t in a particular industry or don’t have the money, you’re dismissed.” If the psychological benefits of #MeToo are centered around creating a feeling of not being alone and building an atmosphere where survivors are believed, then it’s important to know that not all of them are receiving that message.

Beside The Points For Thursday, March 15, 2018

Things That Caught My Eye

Best of the best of the best

This season’s University of Connecticut women’s basketball team was the very best of an already outstanding legacy of UConn teams. Of the five UConn teams since 2014 — all of whom were ranked #1 in adjusted offensive efficiency, adjusted defensive efficiency and adjusted net efficiency — this one stands out with the highest in every rating of all five teams. [FiveThirtyEight]

Best of the worst of the best

The Ivy League sent the University of Pennsylvania to the NCAA men’s tournament, and the team was seeded 16th up against Kansas. Now no 16-seed has ever defeated a 1-seed, and that record remains unbroken as Kansas defeated Penn 76-60. However, Penn will go down as the highest-Elo rated, best-ever No. 16. [FiveThirtyEight]

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

Ten upsets in the cards

The Localized Upset Classification model gave a 50 percent chance or higher of an upset in 10 NCAAM tournament games, eyeing Murray State, NC State, Buffalo, Loyola Chicago, San Diego St., South Dakota St., Butler, Florida St., Syracuse, and Stephen F. Austin as potential first round upset contenders. [FiveThirtyEight]

Preseason matters in a sport!

Preseason AP and coaches polls were outstanding at predicting NCAA men’s basketball games from 2002-17, with higher rated teams in those preseason polls beating lower ranked rivals 71.8 percent of the time. Contrast that with Ratings Percentage Index, which the committee uses to seed the field of 68, which correctly called the outcome only 69.1 percent of the time. [FiveThirtyEight]

Arizona and Missouri know many kinds of pain

There are 16 different seeds you can lose a round of 64 game from, and several schools appear to be gunning for at least one first-round loss from all 16 of them. Thirteen different schools have lost from six different numbered seeds, and two — Providence and Princeton — with a loss from seven different seeds. It’s Arizona and Missouri, though, that are the connoisseurs of failure. Both of them have lost from a 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, 9, and 10-seed; Arizona also lost from a 5-seed and Missouri an 11-seed. [FiveThirtyEight]

The West is going to be a crazy finale

There are seven teams in the Western conference separated by only two games, and only Houston and Golden State have guaranteed their ticket. That means that there are eight teams who could enjoy any seed between 3rd and “not appearing in this tournament,” which is quite a swing. [ESPN]

Big Number

10.24 yards per attempt

From 2015-17, the best quarterback in the NFL when there were two tight ends on the field was Kirk Cousins, previously of Washington but who recently became an extremely well paid member of the Minnesota Vikings. Minnesota may want to invest seriously at the tight end position given that Cousins got 2,621 yards on 177 completions over the 256 pass attempts thrown with two TEs playing. [FiveThirtyEight]

Leaks from Slack:



oh hm interesting


That caused our favorite to change! Nova now No. 1


Browns legend Joe Thomas announces his retirement

that’s kind of heartbreaking


Just as they might get good again, too
(and just as @walt and I were going to make our bet on Cleveland as 2020 Super Bowl champs)


i’ll still put my name on that post


Oh, and don’t forget
Capitalism is great

The GOP Should Be Freaking Out, Pennsylvania Edition



Democrat Conor Lamb appears to be the winner of Tuesday’s special U.S. House election in a district that voted for President Trump by 20 percentage points. The FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast team discusses what the results in Pennsylvania’s 18th District mean for Republicans in the 2018 midterms. Spoiler: Not great, Bob!

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

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

Politics Podcast: The Most Special Special Election Yet



The special election on Tuesday in Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District, in the western part of the state, will put Republicans to the test in a part of the country that President Trump has made central to his message. The FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast crew discusses the candidates, expectations and political environment in what looks to be a close race. The team also debates the political implications of the “Trump economy” after a positive jobs report, increased popular support for the GOP tax law and the administration’s move to levy tariffs on steel and aluminum.

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

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


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