The NFL released its 2014 schedule Wednesday night, confirming the dates and locations of all 256 matchups (and ending your chance to enter the St. Louis Rams’ schedule-guessing contest, even though you had no chance of winning). With the slate solidified, you can probably expect to see more of the standard strength-of-schedule analysis that averages the 2013 winning percentages of a team’s opponents. Unfortunately, those numbers aren’t especially useful, because they assume each team will be exactly as good in 2014 as it was in 2013; in reality, NFL teams vary quite a bit from season to season, and our ability to predict which ones will and won’t be good in a given year is extremely limited.For example, going into the 2013 season, the Detroit Lions were expected to have the league’s second-hardest schedule based on the 2012 records of their opponents. So, what ended up happening? According to the strength-of-schedule component of Pro-Football-Reference’s Simple Rating System, Detroit actually had the league’s easiest slate of opponents last season.In cases like this, a better tactic is to make regressive predictions. We can use a regression formula to predict each team’s 2014 Simple Rating from its ratings over the previous two seasons, while building in plenty of regression to the mean to reflect our limited knowledge. If we base each team’s projected 2014 strength of schedule on these regressive predictions (while also taking into account a 2.5-point home-field advantage depending on where the game is being played), we arrive at the following projected schedule strengths for 2014:The biggest differences between our projected SOS numbers and the NFL’s official rankings center around a handful of teams in the AFC East and NFC South. The AFC East’s record was better in 2013 than it had been in 2012 — despite posting a poorer point differential — while the NFC South had a better record in 2012 than in 2013 (mainly because the Atlanta Falcons’ record declined so much in 2013).Because the regression is looking at two years’ worth of data (albeit weighing results from 2013 about 2½ times as strongly as those from 2012), it expects Atlanta to be roughly an average team in 2014 — not the 4-12 team it’s perceived to be by the NFL’s official SOS metric — which feeds most heavily into the SOS ratings of Atlanta’s divisional foes in Carolina, Tampa Bay and New Orleans.Meanwhile, the two-year regression is skeptical about the AFC East having as good a record in 2014 as it did in 2013. It’s not so much about the AFC East’s improved out-of-division win-loss record in 2013 (it was 22-18 outside the division in 2013, only a modest improvement over its 19-21 record in 2012), but more about the way the division’s records didn’t match up with its teams’ point differentials. According to Football Outsiders, AFC East teams’ actual wins exceeded their pythagorean wins by 3.9 victories in 2013, including 2.6 for the New York Jets alone. Research has shown that such overachievement is rarely sustainable, so our regression method would be expecting a decline for the Jets (and the division as a whole) in 2014.Such a regression-based system is far from perfect; for example, it doesn’t even know about which players changed teams in the offseason between 2013 and 2014. (But even methods that try to account for such wrinkles do a relatively poor job of prediction compared with simple metrics like our regression.) In other words, the above SOS rankings are going to be wrong — but they’re almost certain to be a more accurate gauge of each team’s schedule difficulty in 2014 than the official rankings that only tap into last year’s records.
“A lot of times with those big-depth breaking balls, those sliders that sweep across the front of the zone, they go in and out of the zone,” Garver said. “They are very hard to catch. You have to learn how to catch them properly. I wanted to get underneath the ball when I’m receiving it.”The most conspicuous change Swanson suggested Garver make was employing a variety of one-knee, Tony Peña-style stances, which had gone out of fashion in the professional game. Going lower, Swanson reasoned, would help a catcher get more favorable calls on lower pitches. “We didn’t invent the one-knee setup,” he said. “But those were traditionally done with nobody on base and less than two strikes.”When runners are on base, catchers are taught to go to what Swanson calls a “secondary” stance, sitting higher to position themselves better for throwing out a runner or blocking a ball in the dirt. What Swanson proposed was going to a knee on all counts, even if it adversely affected the ability to throw or block balls.“Only a fraction of the time does the ball actually land in the dirt. Only a fraction of the time does a runner actually try to steal,” Swanson said. “Catchers across the league perform worse … with runners on base. We’ve tried to flip it upside-down.”Since the value of framing is tied to compelling borderline pitches to be called as strikes, FiveThirtyEight examined available Statcast data on called strikes and balls on the edge of the strike zone and the zones just off the plate. The data shows that catchers do receive less favorable calls when runners are on base. That was true of the Twins, too, until this year, when the one-knee stance came to Minnesota.The Twins rank 12th in the majors in pitch framing this season, and Garver is up to 23rd out of 110 catchers. He has used his new stance to better “absorb” borderline pitches, and his frequency of called strikes caught has become more concentrated in the lower zone. As he returned home to New Mexico last winter, Mitch Garver knew he had to be better. In 2018, Garver ranked 110th out of 117 qualifying catchers in fielding runs above average. As a catcher, that meant he struggled mightily with pitch framing18.6 runs saved below average. As measured by Baseball Prospectus, framing is a component of fielding runs above average for catchers. — the skill of a catcher to receive borderline pitches in a way that allows them to get favorable called strikes.Garver turned 28 in January. He had been only a league-average hitter at the plate and a liability behind it. He knew that if he couldn’t receive the ball better, his career would be in jeopardy. He had heard that a coach hired the previous season was working miracles with the Twins’ minor league catchers. So Garver called Tanner Swanson and invited him to Albuquerque.“It’s the only reason I’m still catching,” Garver told FiveThirtyEight. “Really.”The Twins have surprised MLB with their offense this year, with a record five batters — including Garver — hitting 30 home runs as the team broke the single-season home run record in August.2Though the Yankees have overtaken the home run lead. Minnesota is the only major league team with four position players among the top 35 qualifiers in year-to-year gains of wins above replacement. Among those Twins, Garver is the most improved, and he’s the seventh-most-improved player in all of baseball.But Garver’s improvement with his glove has been just as dramatic as his work with his bat. This season, Garver has been worth 4.4 fielding runs above average, achieving the fifth-greatest improvement in the metric.3Among catchers with at least 200 plate appearances in both 2018 and 2019. Per plate appearance, his performance in wins above replacement, which includes framing value, ranks as the eighth-best mark in baseball.The growth with his glove is where Swanson comes in. Swanson never played catcher in college, nor had he coached professionally when he joined the Twins organization in late 2017. But he spent six years working with college catchers at the University of Washington and Santa Clara University, and he attracted the attention of Jeremy Zoll, the Twins’ director of minor league operations, after a presentation Swanson gave at a catching coaching clinic.“I kind of had a clean slate to look at it objectively. I didn’t carry all these biases — ‘Well, this is how I used to do it. This is how I was taught,’” Swanson said. “I think a lot of times as coaches, we have these drill packages that we’ve compiled and we don’t truly understand the ‘why’ or question whether a particular drill leads to improvement.”Since the late 2000s, when analysts first quantified the value of pitch framing, more teams have started to prize catchers who can get more favorable calls for their pitchers. After all, every pitch matters: The difference in batting average on a 2-1 count and a 1-2 count is 178 points this season. Teams began paying for the skill. In 2016, the Twins were graded as the fifth-worst framing team in baseball. One of Derek Falvey’s first acquisitions after being hired as GM late in 2016 was signing pitch-framer extraordinaire Jason Castro. But Swanson believed that framing was not only an innate gift — it could be taught.Swanson employed drills using weighted balls, implements typically reserved for pitchers, to help Twins catchers improve their hand speed and movement patterns. “You’re dealing with timing and getting the ball from point A to B. The faster we can do that the more deceptive we are,” Swanson said. “I don’t want to say fool umpires but [rather] to influence them to call borderline pitches as strikes. That’s their primary job.”Going into this season, Garver graded as a poor receiver on balls in the lower part of the strike zone and below. Swanson said that’s a problem in today’s game, with record rates of breaking balls and changeups — pitches that typically either cross low in the zone or below it. “[Garver] deserves the credit. His desire to improve didn’t stop once he got to the big leagues,” Swanson said. After all, Swanson notes, “He called me.”Check out our latest MLB predictions.
Former Manchester City midfielder Yaya Toure insists he would rather be in Liverpool’s position than City’s as both clubs battle for the Premier League title.Liverpool are currently top of the Premier League, seven points clear of City who play Wolverhampton Wanderers on Monday night.“To be honest, I’d rather be in the position of Liverpool,” Toure said, as quoted by Manchester Evening News.“But as I know the mentality of my teammates, my previous teammates, I think they’re going to try to do everything to just say: ‘You know what, I need to finish with this thing’.”“Because the Premier League, as you’re winning, the second one is always difficult and I think that’s what Pep is trying to work on now.”Premier League Betting: Match-day 5 Stuart Heath – September 14, 2019 Going into the Premier League’s match-day five with a gap already beginning to form at the top of the league. We will take a…“He’s got to try to work hard and try not to leave any space to Liverpool to go for that because if City drop a point or maybe lost a point, it’s going to be very, very difficult to catch them. Because they already play two games already. Let’s see, let’s see. I hope City’s going to go and do a great job today.”Speaking about the mentality of the City dressing room, Toure said:“I think today is going to push them up, they will try to do the best game they can do. Of course, tonight is going to be tough as Wolves have been playing and they beat Tottenham away. I think City need to get close to Liverpool as they are looking very scary this year.”
A life offering us scope. What We Have, What Is Taken From Us Of the three items listed above, two are innate to us: We are born with vital powers. Unless we’ve been seriously damaged, these are already ours. We may develop them or allow them to atrophy, but they are inside of us and not directly assailable by anyone else. One of the great errors of freedom people (myself included) is that we’ve sometimes based our arguments on less-than-optimal grounds. What I mean is that we argued for freedom on political or legal grounds. And while those arguments were generally accurate and valid, it was a relatively poor line of argument. Our arguments on economic grounds were somewhat better, but they still missed the largest and clearest areas of human experience. A stronger strain of argument, in my opinion, involves happiness. Defining Happiness Happiness, of course, is a subjective thing. A new car might make one person very happy but be a burden to another (or to that same person at a different stage of life). Furthermore, happiness is very often temporary. People think they’ll be happy if they win the lottery, but that rush of happiness lasts only a short time, then fades away. Lottery winners are happier than other people for a few weeks, then they return to normal – or worse. The same goes for similar cases. Long-term happiness is what we would be wisest to pursue. But this type of happiness – which we generally think of as satisfaction – requires things of us. In particular, it requires good choices, the courage to make them, and good information to base them upon. The best definition of the long-term happiness I know is a paraphrase of Aristotle. It goes like this: What makes us happy is the exercise of vital powers along lines of excellence in a life affording us scope. Let’s break that down. Three things are required for us to be happy for the long haul, all of which must be present together: Vital powers. Exercise along lines of excellence. Exercise along lines of excellence is something that we can do and should do. This depends upon us and our choices. We control this ourselves. A life offering them scope is where the problem lies. Our lives have been massively restricted, and that directly restricts our happiness. That’s such an important thought that I’d like to restate it: Restrictions of human action are direct restrictions of human happiness. And please forget knee-jerk reactions like, “We have to restrict criminals!” That’s a non-issue, and, more importantly, it’s a brain hack. Go ahead and restrict your criminals, but don’t restrict me with them. There is no sane reason restraints upon criminals have to be applied to everyone else at the same time. No one has any moral right to restrain you, unless and until you harm others. Other Restraints There are plenty of natural obstacles in our world that limit a man or woman’s scope. We require food, shelter, sleep, clothing, mates, and so on. And that’s precisely why we must be unrestrained in all other ways. We need to employ our talents to overcome these problems… then, hopefully, to expand our horizons. The more restrained we remain, the more impoverished and unhappy we remain. To restrict peaceful humans is to directly restrain their happiness. It also directly restrains their talent, and that impoverishes the future, including billions of humans yet unborn. It is among the worst crimes imaginable, yet it is presented to us as an essential. Our happiness is being stolen from us daily, and the justifications for this crime – if ever we examine them – are quickly seen as mere fear and inertia. It’s time that we started playing a different game. Paul Rosenberg FreemansPerspective.com
There are a lot of folks who get pretty angry when you suggest that a near-50% drop in the price of oil might be a negative in the short term. They look at you like you’re dumb. They talk about the massive benefit to consumers, the synthetic “tax cut” that everyone’s getting, what it’s going to do to consumption, etc. All of this is true. But if you take a major commodity and slice it in half in the span of a month or two, there are going to be major consequences. When I say that the commodities markets haven’t seen anything like this since 1980 when gold went haywire, I mean it. And you don’t put gold in your gas tank. Sure, there have been some minor calamities, like when cotton went parabolic a few years ago, but crude oil is perhaps the world’s most important commodity when you take into account both its economic and geopolitical significance. People go to war over the stuff. Routinely. And with oil falling from $105 to $57 in just six months, it might happen again. We’ll get to that in a second. But for perspective, when people look at this move in oil 10 years from now, they’re going to call it the “Crash of ‘14.” That’s my prediction. A move of this magnitude in a short amount of time is a crash. When stocks went down 19% in a week in 2008, that was also a crash. What’s the definition of a crash? I say any move over six standard deviations. For comparison, the Crash of ‘87 was 25 standard deviations—a move so uncommon, so statistically rare, that it wasn’t supposed to happen in a length of time greater than the age of the universe. I haven’t done the math on oil yet, but if it’s not six standard deviations, it’s close. * * * * As you probably know by now, the move in oil has been more of a supply story than a demand story. We were drilling holes all over the planet in search of it. My wife works in the Turkana Basin, on the border of northwest Kenya and Ethiopia, which is one of the most remote spots in the world. They were drilling for it there, too. That’s what happens when oil gets to $140 a barrel. People are incentivized to look for it. It takes time to explore and produce the stuff. It takes years for wells to finally come online and for supply to hit the market. There are still projects that may never be completed, like Vaca Muerta in Argentina, that Yacimientos Petrolíferos Fiscales (YPF) is developing in conjunction with Chevron. The poor Argentinians—screwed again. And like we’ve been seeing in the mining industry, once a company has brought production online, it’s difficult to take it offline. It’s hard to start it back up again, to get all the permits, to hire everyone back. So people will continue to produce at uneconomic levels for a long time, hoping that the price will come back, while simultaneously ensuring that it won’t for a long time. So back to my earlier point—is it bullish or bearish for the US? It’s not a hard question to answer. People are making it hard. 20 years ago, it would have been unequivocally bullish. Now, maybe not. We produce slightly more oil than we consume. There will be winners and losers, which is being reflected in the stock market. For some countries, it’s unequivocally bearish, especially for adversaries like Venezuela, Iran, and Russia. But also for allies, like Canada, which is probably in the most precarious economic position of any country in the world. The takeaway is: an oil crash makes the world less stable. * * * * I am a decent economic historian, but kind of a crappy political historian. People keep telling me scary stories about Russia—how Russia today closely resembles Germany in the 1930s. How Putin is in the midst of a full-blown currency crisis. How the West is (perhaps foolishly) applying sanctions. How the threat of annexation of Russia’s smaller neighbors could be higher than we think. How the willingness of the West to challenge it would be very low. All because the price of a commodity crashed. Russia is very much a petrostate. There are others. Norway has been enjoying a phenomenally high standard of living for years, with some of the highest incomes and the strongest currency in the world on a purchasing-power parity basis. A lot of that had to do with a very successful and well-managed state-owned oil industry, and one of the largest sovereign wealth funds to boot. If you’ve seen a chart of Norwegian krone (NOK) vs. the Swedish krona (SEK) recently, you know that oil’s plummet has been a game-changer. I was in Memphis last week visiting some folks. I found myself in a conference room with some very seasoned commodity traders… veterans of the floor, some going back to the ‘70s. Let me tell you something: if you ever find yourself talking to a 40-year veteran of the commodities markets, you should listen to what he has to say. Anyone who can last that long trading futures is pretty smart. Funny thing is, I’ve been around long enough that now I am one of the old traders! But I’m not a commodities guy by training. I’m one of those slicked-back-hair moneychanger guys who is never going to get to heaven. But I always learn a lot when I go to Memphis—which, by the way, is the third-biggest futures trading city after Chicago and New York. There are quite a few large trading firms that specialize in grains, meats, and cotton. Memphis is a big deal, and probably the best-kept secret in the financial world. So I asked about what it was like to trade live cattle during the BSE (mad cow) outbreak about 10 years ago. “How about limit down for an entire week?” they said. Small traders went under. Cattle ranchers went under, guys who lifted their hedges at exactly the wrong time. It was downright ugly. That was bad. But what’s happening to oil is a million times worse. I fear oil. But I don’t fear oil because oil will make the stock market go down—which it will. I fear oil because there are going to be second- and third-order political effects that we cannot even conceive of right now. Take Venezuela—my prediction is that Venezuela will descend into anarchy and hyperinflation—a failed state. This has consequences for the entire region, but especially Colombia. Take Venezuela and multiply it by 100, and you get a sense of the magnitude of the problem that we’re facing. * * * * Old traders know: price moves like this do not happen in a vacuum. There’s a chain reaction that extends out for years. So in situations like this, I do what an old trader does: I reduce risk. I cut back my exposure to things that gain from stability, and I increase my exposure to things that gain from volatility. Nobody has a playbook for this, because nobody saw it coming. But a leveraged long position with no cash is probably a bad idea right now.