The Sumo Matchup Centuries In The Making

The highest-ranked sumo wrestlers like Hakuho wear the yokozuna rope during dohyo-iri (the ring-entering ceremony). Tim Foley Raiden, on the other hand, was well above average in height, weight and BMI. At 6-foot-6, he was just about 6 inches taller than his typical opponent, and his 373-pound weight gave him an 80-pound advantage. But there’s an important factor here: Relatively speaking, Raiden isn’t that much bigger than Hakuho. Raiden was about an inch and a half taller and 25 to 35 pounds heavier. Hakuho, by virtue of being less massive than many opponents, is especially strong and/or skilled for his size. In other words, because of the size difference across eras, Hakuho has the advantages of a smaller, more agile fighter without the disadvantage of being that much smaller than Raiden.Note that this is a minor variation from the standard “people get better over time” argument, because it applies relative to their era. It’s not only that Hakuho has been as dominant as he has been in a likely tougher era, but also that his dominance is a product of qualities (strength/speed/skill) that also would be likely to advantage him against Raiden. This painting of sumo wrestlers by Utagawa Kuniteru II, shown in full on the lower right, is from 1867. In the closeup views at left and top right, Raiden, who is without a yokozuna rope, is pictured among several of the top-ranked wrestlers. A quarter-millennium of Sumo evolutionHakuho vs. Raiden isn’t a story of a sport that has stayed the same for hundreds of years, allowing us to make clean, crisp comparisons between the two champions. But it isn’t a story of a sport changing every couple of years either.Although there have been significant structural changes — like the setting of tournaments at 15 matches long, the introduction of tiebreakers, and the treatment of yokozuna as an official rather than ceremonial rank — the sport is always fundamentally about knocking the other guy down or getting him to step out of the ring first. Many trends happen over decades or centuries, caused by whims of history that can be hard to pick up in a data set.But some simple metrics — like wrestler height and weight — can tell a pretty interesting story. And to understand how Raiden and Hakuho match up with each other, it helps to understand how they compare physically to their eras. Fish scales of greatnessThere is perhaps no more intricate ritual among sports fans than debating the relative merits of greats across eras.Over time, athletes get stronger, faster and better-trained, and benefit from accumulated institutional knowledge. NFL kickers, for example, have been getting better at a nearly constant rate for 80-plus years. So we have meta-debates about whether athletes should get more credit for dominating the competition in an earlier, top-heavy era or for excelling in a mature sport with a broader talent pool. For example, who’s the more impressive outlier, Dan Marino or Peyton Manning?If we want to imagine athletes from different times competing, do we assume they would have enjoyed all the advantages and disadvantages of the comparison era, or do we focus on strict time-traveling scenarios? And, crucially, in time-traveling scenarios, are you bringing present-day athletes into the past, or are you snatching past legends and bringing them to the present?From what we know about his career, Raiden won more often than Hakuho on a bout-by-bout basis. Yet though Raiden’s career was longer in years, it was short on matches. Here’s every Makuuchi division sumo career for comparison: The average height of sumo wrestlers appears to have declined between the mid-1700s and late 1800s but has been rising fairly steadily since.9Yes, according to the data, there was a wrestler in the late 1700s who was (allegedly) 7-foot-4. He was an ozeki named Shakagatake and had several (winning) appearances in the 1770s before dying at age 26. There is art depicting him as a giant.In the latter half of the 20th century, this upward trend has been aided by the arrival of non-Japanese wrestlers, who have tended to be tall. Note the non-red dots on the charts; they tend to be well above the overall trend.For BMI, we see a similar rise for all rikishi, but with a clear divergence between the tall and heavy Americans and the tall but relatively slender Mongolians.The American (green) wrestlers, all from Hawaii and of Pacific island ancestry, have tended to be huge — both tall and hefty for their height — and had a pretty good run for a while between 1989 and 2002. Konishiki won a few tournaments and then yokozuna Akebono and Musashimaru solidly contended for top honors (becoming the first two non-Japanese yokozuna in the process).But the Mongolians — who have had four yokozuna — tend to be less hefty than their Japanese counterparts, defying the trend of the past 50 years.Compared with the other top-level sumo wrestlers who have been active during his career, Hakuho, at 6 foot 4, is about 3 inches taller than average, but his top tournament weight (in our data) of 340 pounds is 5 pounds lighter than average (putting his BMI well below par). Before Hakuho (born in 1985), before Taiho (born in 1940), before Hitachiyama (born in 1874), before Jinmaku (born in 1829), before the United States of America (born in 1776), there was Raiden.A legend of Japan’s Edo period, Raiden set a standard for greatness in the sport that would last hundreds of years. With centuries separating the two legends’ careers, Raiden vs. Hakuho may be one of the most time-bending sports comparisons imaginable.Fortunately, we have data.The visual history of sumoAs far back as the 18th century, a banzuke listing each wrestler’s rank in the hierarchy of professional sumo has been made before each honbasho (official tournament), often with elaborate detail. Some have visual guides to the various wrestlers and act as a kind of program to the events; others resemble intricate box scores. These collectibles have preserved vital information about which wrestlers were involved in each tournament, including their shikona (ring names), ranks (seedings) and hometowns.Banzuke are the backbone of sumo stats-keeping; other information such as tournament and match results that are gathered from historical newspapers or books all tie back to them. Alexander Nitschke (a German sports data nerd) has a website called Sumo Reference where he has combined banzuke information with other sources of tournament data — including by hand-parsing thousands of lower-division match results for years — to make the most comprehensive sumo data set on the internet. It includes tournament results for most contestants going back to 1761 and individual match results for bouts back to mid-1909. He has let us use that database for this article.Below is a chart that outlines the entire recorded history of Makuuchi division (top-level) professional sumo, from the 1761 Fuyu (winter) Basho through the now-infamous 2016 Haru (spring) Basho. The shikiri (pre-match ritual) takes several minutes. The wrestlers clap to attract the attention of the gods, lift their hands to show they are unarmed, stomp the ground to scare away demons and throw salt in the ring to purify it. They repeatedly crouch as if about to start the match and then stand up after a few moments of glaring at each other. When they are finally ready, they creep toward their starting stance.There is no bell. The match starts with a tachi-ai (initial charge), which generally happens the instant the opponents are set.Harumafuji lunged from his crouch, low, exploding toward Hakuho in an effort to take control of the bout early. Instead, he caught a quick palm to the face — and then air. His momentum carried him clear out of the other side of the ring, like he’d tried to bull-rush a ghost.The match had lasted one second.Kisenosato scowled and walked out of the ring area. Commentators didn’t quite know what to say; one of the English announcers let out a long “hmmmmm.” The crowd booed its champion.This is not normally how a match of this scale plays out. Side-stepping an opponent’s charge is legal but considered beneath the dignity of top sumotori. The move is known derisively as a henka (変化), which translates to “change” or “changing,” while connoting the root “strange” (変). That it would be used by an all-time great in one of the most consequential matches of his career was strange indeed.With all Hakuho has accomplished, his greatness is unquestionable, but his legacy is an enigma. It is already beyond being measured by wins and losses, or even by yusho (tournament wins) or sansho (special prizes), so incidents like this now take on particular importance. But judging him by heel turns would be reductive. The best way to measure Hakuho’s legacy is to pit it against legend.Enter thunder and lightning. Hakuho has won 36 grand tournaments, more than any other professional sumo wrestler in history. TIM FOLEY Tegata are collectible autographs featuring a wrestler’s name and handprint. The one on the left is allegedly Raiden’s; on the right is Hakuho’s. These are not necessarily to scale. Raiden’s hands are said to have been 9.4 inches from palm to tip. Hakuho and fellow sumo wrestlers train. Tim Foley Tournaments grew in size, length and quantity throughout the 1900s, and in 1958, sumo adopted the current structure of six grand tournaments per year (one every two months), with 15 matches each. Both Raiden and Hakuho are clearly the top wrestlers in their given eras, but how good are they relative to how good we expect top wrestlers in their eras to be?For this chart, I’ve plotted historical win percentages for wrestlers ranked ozeki or higher, with the number of years they competed at those ranks represented by bubble sizes: Note that Japan’s share of champions will improve by at least a tick in 2016, while Mongolia’s will decline, after the country’s three-year stretch of winning all the tournaments.Mongolia has had all this success with only a small fraction of the sport’s wrestlers — around a quarter of those in the top (Makuuchi) division and less than 5 percent of those who compete overall. This likely is because the Nihon Sumo Kyokai (the sport’s governing body) limits each stable to one non-Japanese wrestler, so the standards for foreign prospects are extremely high.This carries some likely implications:Most obviously, the non-Japanese pool of sumo talent is likely growing faster than the number of slots for non-Japanese talent. This probably advantages Hakuho’s strength of competition in our matchup because it implies that he could be the best of a much bigger talent pool than sumo wrestlers of the past. It also implies that while the non-Japanese wrestlers make the talent pool stronger than it was, limited roster slots for them keep it weaker than it could be.On the other hand, the sumo talent from Japan may be declining. Sumo requires major physical (putting on weight) and time (years of non-stop training) commitments. Sumotori lead rigid and structured lifestyles year-round, the potential for fame and fortune isn’t that great, and Japan has an advanced economy that may afford better opportunities to athletic Japanese youth.But even a relatively weak Japan today could be stronger than a relatively strong Japan more than 200 years ago. The population of Japan is now about five times the size of what it was when Raiden was active, making the pool of potential sumotori that much richer.10Moreover, the talent pool back then may have been even smaller relative to today’s than the population numbers suggest, as the vast majority of sumo wrestlers used to come from just the Hokkaido prefecture. Hakuho — born Monkhbatyn Davaajargal and given the shikona Hakuho Sho — is the son of a six-time Mongolian wrestling champion and Olympic silver medalist in freestyle wrestling. Despite his pedigree, Hakuho was an undersized sumo prospect — weighing only 137 pounds when he started training at age 15 — and almost went unrecruited. Although he would eventually reach 6-foot-4 and competes at around 330-340 pounds today, he is lighter and thinner than the majority of his opponents. Taller, heavier wrestlers win (a little) more often — hence sumo wrestlers tend to be, well, big. But the relationship between size and success isn’t nearly as strong as you might think, and it gets weaker if you control for division and era.7In a regression to win percentage per tournament using height and body mass index (we use BMI instead of weight because height and weight are highly correlated) as variables, the r-squared produced is around .05 (meaning, roughly, that about 5 percent of the variance in tournament results can be explained by the height and weight of each wrestler alone), which, again, weakens as you control for division and era. However, the sample sizes are large enough to pick up meaningful trends.For this chart, I’ve compared the relative importance of height and weight for predicting top-division wrestlers’ win-loss rate in a given tournament. Values above 2 are roughly “significant” for a given five-year period.8I ran regressions for each year over a rolling five-year period and recorded the t-value (strength of stat divided by standard error) for “height” and “BMI.” Snatch Hakuho from his peak, shove him into your DeLorean and send him into any point in the past — including the 1790s — and he will almost certainly be a favorite to stay in the ring, on his feet, against any human or human-like god-giant that he runs into. We know this.But considering his unprecedented domination of his competition, his broad skill set and, yes, even his controversial willingness to push boundaries in pursuit of victory, he can likely match any sumotori legend for legend as well. Also, each bubble is colored to show how many “wins above replacement ozeki” (WAROZ) each wrestler would be expected to win over the course of their career, based on their win percentage relative to their era and projecting as if they’d wrestled 90 bouts per year as healthy wrestlers do today. By this metric, Hakuho leads all with 182 WAROZ (and counting), with second-place going to Tachiyama (who had 115 wins and eight ties in 128 bouts between 1909 and 1918) at 175. Raiden finishes eighth with 143 WAROZ.Here we can see that top ozeki winning a huge percentage of their matches seems to have been almost expected hundreds of years ago. This is consistent with a number of things we know about sumo tournaments back then: With less focus on “winning,” they were a bit more like exhibitions. And we know that opponents were sometimes literally picked out of the crowd.11This is how Raiden’s mentor, Tanikaze, got his start. Hakuho, however, competes in an environment in which losses for top-level wrestlers are considerably more common than they were in Raiden’s time, but he has maintained an extremely high win percentage nonetheless.Behold the henkaYokozuna face a lot of pressure to retire the instant they start to decline. It’s considered dishonorable to hold the rank of yokozuna and not be among the best in the sport.12When a maegashira (the fifth-highest rank in sumo) beats a yokozuna, it is called a kinboshi (“gold star”) and earns the maegashira a special bonus payment — which they receive every tournament for the rest of their career. So a yokozuna sticking around past their prime is literally costly to the sumo association. So although we’ve made the argument that Hakuho might have an advantage over Raiden in both prowess and résumé, recent events raise a third, more fraught point of comparison: legacy.After Hakuho’s win by henka at the Haru basho, Mark Buckton of The Japan Times — a former amateur sumo wrestler who has covered professional sumo for 18 years — called for the White Peng’s exit. Addressing Hakuho directly, he writes:At its lowest ebb, following the hazing death of Tokitaizan and former yokozuna Asashoryu feigning injury the only yokozuna worth his salt in both performances on the dohyo and behavior off it was yourself.True, you are still the best there is in a mawashi.And that is how you should be remembered.Not as a man who resorts to a final day henka against a fellow yokozuna, on his way to yusho No. 36.Go now and you go in true Japanese fashion, falling on your sword for that Day 15 performance so unworthy of your name.In a phone interview, Buckton said that he thought Hakuho’s henka was disgraceful and that he was confident most Japanese sumo fans felt the same way. He said he believes the move was akin to an act of desperation — Hakuho sees his skills slipping and is resorting to dirty tactics in a last-ditch effort to stay on top of a sport that isn’t merely competitive exhibition but has its roots as a martial art in Shinto.That’s fair enough. But for cold-blooded empiricists obsessed with win-maximization, this may all seem strange. If henka aren’t banned, not using them is just bad game theory, right?Unfortunately, henka are hard to analyze with data. They aren’t considered a winning move themselves, and only winning moves are recorded. Hakuho’s win was scored as a tsukiotoshi (“thrust down”). What even constitutes a henka is not clear-cut — particularly in instances in which they fail.However, what little evidence we have suggests that they work. Lon Howard of Sumo Fan Magazine attempted to crowd-source some henka data by having readers nominate matches that contained possible henka and then asking the readership to vote on whether they actually were. Overall, the possible henka led to victory 63 percent of the time; among a subset of moves that voters were certain were henka,13Attempts with agreement and 10 or more votes. that figure rises to 92 percent.Although that data isn’t conclusive, it makes sense. If you’re playing rock-paper-scissors and your opponent does nothing but throw rock for 250 years, throwing paper may be very effective.Stigma-based policing of the sport’s standards is defensible. Normalizing the henka might fundamentally change the sport’s dynamics too much, but outlawing it may create a havoc of gray areas. But such a defense should anticipate that sternly discouraging the move may not prevent its selective employment by a wily rikishi with a New England Patriots-style commitment to winning.In a tear-soaked post-match interview, Hakuho appeared to express regret for the tournament ending the way it did. But he did not clarify his side-step’s strategic underpinnings, such as whether it was planned, or a response to something he saw while the wrestlers were getting set, or a reflexive reaction to Harumafuji’s charge itself.But regardless of premeditation, consider the story told on the faces of the competitors: See more: A History Of Sumo, an interactive graphic by FiveThirtyEight showing centuries of sumo wrestlers, and The Sea of Crises, a 2014 Grantland article on sumo and Japanese culture.CORRECTION (May 13, 5:30 p.m.): An earlier version of this article included a photograph that was incorrectly described as portraying Hakuho. It has been replaced with the correct photo. Before around 1900, height and weight had a fairly tenuous relationship with winning. It has gotten stronger in the past century, but size advantages have never been much of a guarantee of success. For a modern example: In the 1980s and 90s, Konishiki — an ozeki who topped 600 pounds — often faced off against Wakanohana, a future yokozuna who was an inch or so shorter and more than 300 pounds lighter. Konishiki went 2-8 against him.Sumo styles can broadly be broken down into two types: Oshi-sumo, or “thrusting” style, and Yotsu-sumo, or “grappling” style. The former is about brute force and pushing your opponent out of the ring; the latter is more about forcing your opponent to the ground or using their momentum against them.As one might expect because of their sizes, Raiden preferred the Oshi-sumo style, and Hakuho the Yotsu. The trade-off for height and weight is pretty basic: Being big makes a wrestler harder to move, but less agile; being small can make it easier for a wrestler to maneuver but leaves him vulnerable.In the 20th century, there appears to have been a period in which larger-than-average wrestlers were more successful than they had been in the past (or are today), at a time in which the average wrestler was growing larger than ever.In this chart, I’ve plotted the height and BMI for each of the top-division wrestlers for each tournament, colored by country of origin: The growing international talent poolIf a hypothetical tale of the tape across a couple of centuries is a little too abstract for you, consider that the dramatic shift in the balance of power in sumo’s demographics that has been taking place of late also has implications for our matchup.Before 1972, no non-Japanese wrestler had ever won a basho. The first was Takamiyama, a Hawaiian sekiwake (the third rank, behind yokozuna and ozeki) who otherwise had a relatively undistinguished career as a sumotori. But he then founded the Azumazeki stable — one of the regimented groups of wrestlers who live and train together and to which all active rikishi belong. There he recruited and trained Chad Rowan — a former high school basketball all-star from Hawaii — who took the shikona Akebono, became the first non-Japanese yokozuna and won 11 Emperor’s Cups.Today, international wrestlers have taken over the sport. In January 2016, then-31-year-old Japanese ozeki Kotoshogiku won his first tournament. This might have been an unremarkable event, except that it was the first tournament won by any Japanese wrestler since January of 2006. Of the 58 tournaments in between, 56 were won by Mongolians; the other two were won by a Bulgarian (Kotooshu) and an Estonian (Baruto).Here’s how this has played out since 1970: Hakuho trains in 2014. Raiden’s career — like Hakuho’s — didn’t pass without controversy. It’s said that on account of Raiden’s dominance, some of his favored techniques were at least temporarily banned from the sport. And for reasons that appear to be lost to history, he was never awarded the title yokozuna. The Yokozuna Stone at the Tomioka Hachiman Shrine — home of the first professional sumo tournament — has the names of every yokozuna inscribed on it, plus one: the “peerless rikishi”6Rikishi, 力士 (literal: “powerful man”), means professional sumo wrestler. Raiden.This is the burden of Hakuho’s dominance: He is no longer competing with his peers; he’s competing with the peerless. Although the discipline of sumo wrestling may have existed in various forms for well over a millennium, it isn’t the sport stuck in time that it is sometimes made out to be. It has experienced controversy throughout its history. In the 17th century, the unseemly practice of samurai wrestling each other for money was banned, only to be brought back with official sanction and standardized rules.The first known professional tournament was held in 1684, and the first sumo organizations began issuing written rankings in the mid-1700s — just in time to document the rise of sumo’s most legendary figure.Raiden was born Seki Tarokichi in 1767 — about 100 years before the Edo period ended — and competed under the shikona of Raiden Tameemon. Raiden is a combination of “thunder” (雷) and “lightning” (電) and translates roughly to “thunderbolt.” Mentored by the first non-posthumous yokozuna, Tanikaze, Raiden was a legend trained by a legend. He went undefeated in 24 out of the 35 tournaments he entered, and despite a much shorter tournament structure that had no method for breaking ties, Raiden finished with the most wins outright in 17 tournaments and tied for the most wins in 11 more. As there were no official tournament winners until 1909, none of these are considered official “yusho” or tournament wins, but no one would top 28 tournaments (officially or unofficially) for more than 150 years.The Thunderbolt was an absolute monster among men — 6-foot-6 and 373 pounds — large enough to physically overpower opponents of the day. His top-division win-loss record of 254-10 (96 percent) is easily the best in recorded sumo history.5If you adjust for draws, which have essentially vanished from the sport these days, Raiden’s effective win percentage drops to 93. But the gap between him and his closest competition grows, with no other wrestlers reaching 90 percent. Hakuho has won 85 percent of his upper-division matches, leading modern-era wrestlers. Explore 250 years of sumo data The final match of the 2016 Haru Basho — one of six professional sumo tournaments held each year — was a day-15 championship-deciding showdown between the sport’s top yokozuna.1Yokozuna, 横綱 (literal: “horizontal rope”), means “grand champion.” Named after the decorative rope that yokozuna wear during their ring-entering ceremony. Officially recognized as the highest rank in 1909. Hakuho, the White Peng,2Hakuho (白鵬) translates literally to “White Peng.” Peng is a mythological Chinese bird described in Zhuangzi as being so large that “his wings are like clouds draped across the heavens.” the dominant force in sumo over the past decade, was 13-1 in the tournament and hadn’t lost since his opening match.If he could beat rival Harumafuji — himself a winner of seven Grand Tournament championships — Hakuho would win a record 36th Emperor’s Cup, about the equivalent of a 24th major in tennis or golf.3Since 1926, the winner of each honbasho (official tournament) has received the Emperor’s Cup. There have been six honbasho per year since 1958. If he lost, he would have to wrestle again (almost immediately) in a tiebreaker against 13-2 ozeki4Ozeki, 大関 (literal: “great barrier”), means “champion” and is presently the highest rank besides yokozuna. (Before 1909, yokozona was a ceremonial title and ozeki was the highest rank.) Kisenosato, who was waiting ringside. Hakuho and Harumafuji one second after the start of their bout in March. Kyodo The basic style and structure of banzuke have gone unchanged for hundreds of years. The one on the left, from 1796, lists Raiden as the top-ranked ozeki in the West division. On the right is a banzuke from 2012 that lists Hakuho as the top-ranked yokozuna in the East. Raiden Tameemon. read more

NFLPA Head DeMaurice Smith Blasts The NFL For Use

The head of the NFL Players Association blasted the NFL for the current labor impasse with officials and declined to rule out a players strike out of safety concerns.In a recent interview with Sports Illustrated, Executive Director DeMaurice Smith called the league’s lockout of officials “absurd,” adding that the NFLPA reserved “the right to seek any relief that we believe is appropriate” if it is found that the use of replacement officials endangers the welfare of the players.“The NFL has chosen to prevent the very officials that they have trained, championed and cultivated for decades to be on the field to protect players and – by their own admission – further our goal of enhanced safety,” he said.“That is absurd on its face.”The war of words over the use of replacement officials comes as the start of the NFL’s regular season looms closer. Despite Commissioner Roger Goodell’s vocal support, the replacements have been heavily criticized in the preseason. Smith criticized the league for the impasse, saying it was prioritizing financial concerns over player safety.He added that concerns over the use of the replacement officials have risen throughout the preseason, leaving players to question the current safety of the game.“We’ve been very public in saying that we believe on a scale of 1-10, the use of replacement referees in the preseason is a 12,” Smith said. “That goes up to a 16 now that you’re entering into the regular season.“Obviously, the game is going to speed up, the demand on the referee increases, the physical strain on our players increases exponentially, and you’re facing a situation where the league has made an affirmative decision to remove the people we consider to be the first responders to safety on the field. It’s rather obvious that the only people on the field who are not competing, who remain objective to enforce the rules, to ensure that players remain safe, are the referees.”Smith closed the interview by saying that the issue of chronic pain among players and its treatment may be a bigger future issue for the league than concussions. read more

Young Detroit Chess Team Wins Big at National Tournament

University Prep Middle and Elementary School Chess Team (Photo by K. Shabu)Detroit’s University Prep Elementary and Middle School chess teams are flying high after winning big at the SuperNationals VI Chess Tournament in Nashville, Tenn.Students and teachers lined the hallways and cheered Tuesday, May 16, when the team returned with first-place titles in the K6 Under 1,400 and the K8 Under 750 sections of the tournament, making them among the best in the nation.“We are extremely proud of our UPSM elementary and middle school chess teams,” said Mark Ornstein, CEO of University Prep Schools. “These amazing students are a shining example of what is possible with hard work and a passion for the game of chess.”In addition to winning as a team, sixth-grader Cameron Rector scored a trophy in the individual K8 Under 750 section, giving him bragging rights as the best chess player in the nation in that designation.“It’s been really exciting for me,” Rector said. “My parents bought me a new phone [after winning].”Tournament official Russell Harwood (left) and Cameron Rector (Photo by K. Shabu)After losing so many of their top players from last year, Coach Kevin Fite never thought at the beginning of this year that the team would bring home the gold.“Our kids set their goals and worked very hard to achieve them,” Fite said. “As the tournament approached, I felt better about our chances of possibly winning. We ended up winning two national championship titles.”The young champions haven’t let the win go to their heads, though. After celebrating at a party thrown by the school, Cameron, for one, said he’s back to his everyday routine — school, chess and baseball practices, then some video-game playing.Sa’Nya Burton, Photo by K. Shabu“As coach, my job is to keep them humble and to continue to improve on areas where we need extra work,” Fite said. “There’s always room for improvement, so I look forward to continuing this next year by keeping our kids together, working hard and staying modest.”The win isn’t the end for Cameron, who said he hopes to make it to the world championship someday and bring home another trophy. His plan: Take his time and keep practicing. read more

During Slow Offseasons The Brewers Keep Finding Deals

As the free agency landscape changes, some teams seem to be looking for openings to give them an edge. Grandal has been the Brewers’ only guaranteed free-agent signing so far,3They have also reportedly agreed to a split deal with pitcher Jake Petricka, meaning that the contract would depend on whether he makes the big-league club. but it’s a significant addition in their quest to repeat as National League Central champs.Sara Ziegler contributed research. The Milwaukee Brewers took advantage of an ice-cold hot-stove season last winter to become the rare team to win in the offseason and in the regular season. By agreeing Wednesday night with free-agent catcher Yasmani Grandal on a one-year, $18.25 million deal, the Brewers again took advantage of an opportunity to find tremendous value. As most teams zig in another slow offseason, the Brewers, again, zag.While Grandal didn’t have a great postseason with the Dodgers last fall, he was one of the best players available on the free-agent market. According to the Baseball Prospectus version of wins above replacement, which includes a catcher’s pitch-framing ability, Grandal was the 14th most valuable position player in baseball last season (5.0 WAR) and the eighth most valuable player per plate appearance (5.8 WAR per 600 plate appearances) among qualified hitters.That was not a fluke.In terms of total value, Grandal was the No. 1 position player by WAR per plate appearance in 2016 (8.7 WAR per 600 plate appearances), and he ranked seventh in 2017. Over the past four seasons, he was worth 21.2 total WAR. That’s star-level production. He turned 30 in November, so he’s not ancient in baseball terms. But despite all this going for him, Grandal settled for a one-year deal.The switch-hitter offers rare power and patience at the catcher position. Over the past four seasons, his walk rate of 12.8 percent ranks 19th among all MLB batters. His .453 slugging mark ranks third among all qualified catchers, and his 116 weighted runs created plus, a measure of offensive ability that adjusts for park and run-scoring environments,1100 is league average. trails only Gary Sanchez and Buster Posey.Not only is Grandal’s offense rare at his position, but his ability to frame pitches — to get more borderline pitches called favorably — gives him tremendous value at the plate and behind it.Grandal led all catchers in framing runs last season (15.7 runs saved above average). He ranked fourth in 2017 and second in 2016. Even as catchers as a group have improved their ability to receive or frame pitches, raising the floor of the skill, Grandal has maintained his edge. By runs saved, framing is more valuable than blocking balls in the dirt, an area in which Grandal is not as adept.Consider the following visual evidence of Grandal’s magic behind the plate last season. As a Clayton Kershaw slider darted slightly outside the strike zone, Grandal’s glove moved it back to within the confines of the zone. A pitch that should have been called a ball then appeared to be a strike.Grandal managed to softly absorb this high-and-away Kershaw fastball and make it appear to finish as a strike. It’s a subtle but valuable skill.Grandal was attached to a qualifying offer, meaning that the team signing him would have to surrender draft-pick compensation. As a revenue-sharing recipient, the Brewers will surrender their third-highest pick in the draft. The qualifying offer slightly diminished Grandal’s value, but qualifying offers are far from the only — and far from the greatest — issue conspiring against free agents. Even after last winter’s lack of free-agent activity, Grandal likely expected that he would be able to do much better than the deal he got. He not only turned down the Los Angeles Dodgers’ qualifying offer earlier in the offseason, but he also reportedly rejected a four-year, $60 million offer from the New York Mets.Instead, Grandal becomes the latest free agent to receive far fewer dollars and years than he had initially sought.The average salary in baseball declined last year for just the fourth time in the past 50 years and the first time since 2004, according to the Associated Press.Through Wednesday, the 73rd day of this offseason, 10.2 percent of available free agents2Our pool of available free agents includes any player with major league experience who was granted free agency or released in October and November of each season. That excludes players signed internationally or those waived by a club before the season ended or later in the offseason. had signed for a total of $856.2 million, according to a FiveThirtyEight analysis of data from The Baseball Cube. While that’s an improvement over the same point of last offseason, when only 6.5 percent of free agents had signed for $550.5 million, the total dollars spent to date are still down from 2016-17 ($1.017 billion through Day 73), 2015-16 ($1.697 billion), 2014-15 ($1.308 billion) and 2013-14 ($1.452 billion).And the share of free agents signed is trending above the past two offseasons, but it’s still trailing the previous three: read more

Quarterbacks shine through cloudy skies as Gray defeats Scarlet in Spring Game

The last time Ohio State took the field at The Horseshoe, a Rose Bowl berth was on the line.Much less was at stake Saturday when the Gray team defeated the Scarlet team 17-14 in the annual Spring Game.Taurian Washington accounted for both of the Gray team’s touchdowns, as quarterback Kenny Guiton connected with the receiver on a 45-yard game-winning strike with 55 seconds remaining.“I just had to go to my moneymaker,” Guiton said about hooking up with Washington. “He got me first half, so I thought if I tried him a few times in the second half, he was going to come through again and he did.”The Scarlet team had one final chance at tying the game, but Devin Barclay’s 56-yard field goal attempt fell short.Both offenses showed sparks early and late, with little in between.After the Scarlet team failed to move the chains on its first drive, Guiton found Washington for a 28-yard score on the Gray team’s opening possession. Quarterback Terrelle Pryor answered right back with a swift, four-play drive that resulted in a 12-yard touchdown to Dane Sanzenbacher to even the score at 7-7.That score held until the fourth quarter, when freshman Drew Basil kicked a 47-yard field goal to put the Gray team ahead.Joe Bauserman, in relief of Pryor, marched the Scarlet team down the field with a 70-yard drive. Running back Bo DeLande capped off the series with a 4-yard touchdown, propelling the Scarlet team to a 14-10 advantage.Pryor only played the first quarter as he continues his recovery from February knee surgery. After a sluggish start, he finished 8-for-12 for 108 yards and a touchdown.“You have to play the hand that’s dealt to you and he knew that he wasn’t going to play much,” coach Jim Tressel said. “He knew that he couldn’t go live on the run part of it. He focused on what he could do, which was work on his footwork, coverage recognition, decision-making and so forth. I thought he did a pretty fair job.”While the OSU spotlight typically shines on Pryor, Guiton stole it away for the afternoon.The Houston, Texas, native completed 11 of 21 passes for 167 yards and two touchdowns while making his case for the No. 2 quarterback job. His main competition, Bauserman, finished just 6-for-15 for 75 yards and tossed a pair of interceptions.[Guiton] “looked awesome,” lineman Jack Mewhort said. “He’s a great quarterback. I watched his high school film before he even came here and knew he would be amazing on the field someday. I don’t think anyone gave him enough credit and he proved himself out there today.”Guiton, who didn’t see the field as a freshman, shrugged off the battle to back up Pryor.“There are no hard feelings between me and Joe,” he said. “We know it’s just competition and nothing personal.”On the Gray team’s final possession, Guiton took a helmet to the knee. After being attended to, he walked off the field and said after the game that the pain he initially felt had subsided.Tressel said he is pleased with the depth that the healthy competition at quarterback provides.“Under the gun, we tried to get those two to throw it as many times as they could,” Tressel said. “If you go back and look at each of those performances, [you’ll] see that they each did some good things.“We really felt going into the last week of spring practice that we weren’t sure as if our depth had progressed as much as we’d like it to. … You need to have a deep team to have a chance at the championship.”Last season, more than 95,000 fans flocked to Ohio Stadium on a sweltering April afternoon to watch the scrimmage. But with gray skies and intermittent drizzle, only 65,223 people showed up to watch the team’s final tune-up until the summer.OSU opens the 2010 regular season with a Thursday night matchup against Marshall, the team’s first midweek night game since 1997. read more

Thad Matta likely to receive 300K raise

Thad Matta will likely be receiving a raise. Ohio State Athletic Director Gene Smith announced Monday that the Ohio State basketball coach’s salary will increase to $3.2 million per year from about $2.9 million per year, pending a Board of Trustees vote. Matta’s contract still goes until July 2019. “We all know Thad’s done a marvelous job since he’s been our coach here of our basketball program,” Smith said in a press conference Monday. Smith said that when he arrived at OSU in 2005, one of his goals was to help make OSU into a program that consistently competes for championships. Matta has done just that. In his ninth year at OSU, Matta has compiled a 234-69 record, has appeared in two Final Fours and won five Big Ten titles. The contract also includes “more stringent requirements for compliance,” an academic bonus based on his team’s performance, a car stipend, and increased flight hours on a private jet during the summer for recruiting, according to a release from the university. Matta said the added responsibilities are not concerning. “All the things in there are the things that I live by,” Matta said. OSU, 13-4 this season, is set to take on Iowa Tuesday night. read more

5 things to look for against the Cincinnati Bearcats

Freshman running back Curtis Samuel (4) celebrates with redshirt-freshman tight end Marcus Baugh during a game against Kent State on Sept. 13 at Ohio Stadium. OSU won, 66-0.Credit: Mark Batke / Photo editorOhio State is set to return from its bye week to take on the Cincinnati Bearcats on Saturday evening at Ohio Stadium.After coming off of back-to-back wins to start their season, the Bearcats enter Columbus at 2-0, boasting the ninth-best pass game in the country. They are led by Notre Dame-transfer Gunner Kiel, who has tossed 10 scores in the opening two games.The Lantern sports editors have compiled a list of the five things you should watch for as the Buckeyes and Bearcats prepare for the second night game in Ohio Stadium this season.1. Can the Buckeyes slow down Gunner Kiel?The Buckeye defense ranked 112 out of 125 teams in the FBS last season in pass defense and, in contrast, the Bearcats currently boast a top-10 pass offense.Bearcat quarterback Gunner Kiel is averaging 344.5 yards per game through the air, and has tossed 10 touchdown passes to seven different receivers.Fortunately for the Buckeyes, while their secondary might still be working out the kinks, their defensive line seems to be in rare form. Although they are without star junior defensive end Noah Spence for the foreseeable future after he failed a second drug test, the “Silver Bullets” should be able to take care of business if the secondary can keep Cincinnati in check.2. Did the bye week help OSU prepare?The Buckeyes said they prepared all offseason for Navy and came out rather sluggish, before ultimately defeating the Midshipmen, 34-17.They have now had a bye week to prepare for the Bearcats, however, they don’t have much to go off of.Cincinnati has played just two games so far this season, both of which were the first college game action for Kiel, who is arguably the Bearcats’ biggest offensive threat. In those two games, Kiel has accumulated 689 yards passing, throwing just two interceptions.On the other hand, the Buckeye offense has now had time to get extra reps to the plethora of young talent that has seen playing time this year.Players like redshirt-freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett and freshman running back Curtis Samuel, among others, can only benefit from the extra time in the film room, and in the huddle going against the Buckeye defense in practice.3. Can Barrett build on his record-setting day?When Barrett exited the Buckeyes’ 66-0 win against Kent State, he had already etched his name in the school record books.Not only did he throw for 312 yards — making him the first official 300-yard passer for OSU since Troy Smith in 2006 — but he also tied former quarterback Kenny Guiton’s school record for touchdown passes in a game with six.While the numbers themselves point toward an other-worldly performance, Barrett certainly still has room to improve. He’s only three games into his collegiate career, and has had less than a month as the No. 1 quarterback on the roster before he made his first start.It’s been said in the past and it will be said again: Barrett will never be the same player as injured senior quarterback Braxton Miller. But that he can still perform and lead OSU to big wins in big moments.He led a comeback charge against Navy that resulted in a 34-17 season-opening win, then keyed a furious comeback against Virginia Tech that fell short. That loss — despite him throwing three interceptions — can’t be blamed on Barrett’s arm, especially because he spent the majority of the second half on the Ohio Stadium turf.If Barrett can build off his performance against the Golden Flashes, he could become a go-to player instead of a question mark on offense.4. How will Cincinnati respond to the loss of one of its own?Redshirt-freshman running back Chamoda Kennedy-Palmore died Thursday afternoon, two days before the Bearcats’ game against OSU.Forget where he came in on the depth chart: losing a teammate, friend and — as teams are often as close as a family — brother is one of the worst things a group of student-athletes could possibly experience. For some, it could be so overwhelming that it could be difficult to play the game, while for others it could be extra motivation to perform in his honor.OSU released a statement Thursday evening saying it will observe a moment of silence to honor Kennedy-Palmore before the game.From there, it won’t be quite normal, but the game will go on as one could expect.5. Jalin Marshall, the (Insert Position Here)-backRedshirt-freshman H-back Jalin Marshall might be more comfortable in Barrett’s shoes than his own.The Middletown, Ohio, product played quarterback in high school and was initially recruited as a signal caller. In fact, he said Wednesday that his first collegiate scholarship offer was from Cincinnati, which wanted him to play quarterback.Of course Marshall has made the adjustment to playing in the wide receiver-running back hybrid roll for OSU, but he has still lined up under center in practice. He said there is a package the coaching staff put in place that would give him the snap, and the Buckeye faithful might get a chance to see that in action for the first time against the Bearcats.OSU and Cincinnati are scheduled to kick off at 6 p.m. on Saturday at Ohio Stadium. read more

Ohio State offense led by a normal guy in JT Barrett

Redshirt-freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett (16) carries the ball during a game against Kent State on Sept. 13 at Ohio Stadium. OSU won, 66-0, as Barrett tied a school record with six touchdown passes.Credit: Mark Batke / Photo editorPlaying quarterback at Ohio State can come with a spotlight that’s too big for some people.But for redshirt-freshman J.T. Barrett, being in the limelight is not something he is paying attention to.“I don’t really have too much time to think about that. I just try to get better each week, make sure I have my guys ready as far as the offense ready to play,” Barrett said Wednesday. “Make sure everybody knows what is happening and doing what they are supposed to do.”The offense seems to be clicking with Barrett at the helm, as the Buckeyes currently rank 18th overall in rushing yards and 35th in passing yards. To compare, OSU ranked fifth in the nation in rushing last year, but Barrett has the Scarlet and Gray sitting 55 spots higher from a 90th-ranked passing offense a year ago.These numbers are coming with six starters on offense who are either freshmen or sophomores.Despite the youth on offense, Barrett said he is not shocked with the success he and the Buckeye offense are having.“It goes all into what we do as far as our coaches and our organization just developing young guys,” Barrett said. “Coming in, we would have Sunday practice where the young guys stay after and just developing each other.”OSU coach Urban Meyer said as one of the younger guys, Barrett has come a long way from the wide-eyed rookie who took his first collegiate snaps Aug. 30. against Navy.“He is fine now, (but) first game he had the typical Alex Smith look. Alex was the same way,” Meyer said referring to the current Kansas City Chiefs quarterback.Smith, who threw for just 136 yards in his first career start under Meyer at Utah, ended up leading the Utes to a 9-1 record as a starter that season and earned second team all-Mountain West Conference honors.Barrett said his seemingly calm demeanor on the field is because of preparation during the week.“It is probably the things we go through in practice. Our preparation in things, in any situation as a quarterback you have to be calm and under control and know what is going on,” he said. “Have that awareness about yourself.”The awareness is something that has paid off, Meyer said, as he added he knows Barrett is not the explosive quarterback the Buckeyes are used to having. “(Senior quarterback) Braxton (Miller) gave us the ‘wow’ factor and would take one at any time. You saw a couple times last year 60 yards, 70 yards,” Meyer said Monday. “I know J.T. That’s not really his game. He’s a ‘move the chain’ quarterback. That’s fine.”When Miller went down, Barrett said it didn’t really hit him at first that he was going to be taking the snaps for the Scarlet and Gray. “First off, it was one of those things like, ‘Man, one of our brothers went down,’” Barrett said. “Shortly after that, in practice it was like, well, me and (redshirt-sophomore quarterback) Cardale (Jones) are going at it.”Now that he has gone from third-string to starter, Barrett said things are not quite the same anymore. “Life has definitely changed. When first day of classes, teacher calls your name to see if you’re here and everyone turns their head and looks back like ‘J.T.’s in class?’” Barrett said. “(I’ll be) on campus walking to class and they will be like, ‘Hey J.T., what’s up?’ and I will be like, ‘What’s up man?’ So it is different. I try to talk to them and be like, ‘Man, I’m just a normal person just playing quarterback at Ohio State.’ I am not anybody special, don’t try to be a celebrity, I am a normal guy.”The normal guy and the Buckeyes are scheduled to take on Rutgers on Saturday at Ohio Stadium. Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m. read more

Football Greg Schianos future in doubt following Urban Meyers retirement

LOS ANGELES — When defensive coordinator Greg Schiano came to Ohio State in 2016, he didn’t come because of the reputation of the program.After coaching his sons at Berkeley Preparatory School in Tampa, Florida in the years following his brief stint in the NFL as head coach of the Buccaneers, Schiano didn’t plan on returning as a college or professional coach for at least a few more years.Urban Meyer changed that.“I came to Ohio State to coach for Urban Meyer, and I didn’t know a ton about Ohio State, but I knew a ton about Urban Meyer.” Schiano said. “I was coaching high school football and doing TV. And my plan was to do it until my sons graduated and then get back to college or pro coaching, whatever it was. Then Urban called, and, as persuasive as he is, I ended up at Ohio State.”Following three seasons working together, Meyer and Schiano will share the sideline one more time during the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1 before Meyer moves to an assistant athletic director position and Ryan Day takes over as head coach.Schiano’s future now appears uncertain, though the defensive coordinator said he won’t be concerned about it until after the upcoming matchup against Washington.“I don’t worry about that,” Schiano said. “I’m excited about the future of Ohio State. We’re going to see where that all — after the game is when we’re going to deal with all that stuff. So I’m not overly concerned with any of it.”But Schiano never sounded confident in his return to a program he said he loves, always prefacing a positive with a cloud of uncertainty surrounding his future.After being a head coach for 13 seasons combined at the college and professional level, Schiano seemed reflective about his three seasons as defensive coordinator more than someone ready to come back for a fourth time.“I love being here. My family loves being here,” Schiano said. “But anytime there’s a coaching change, whether it’s internal or not, coaches have to — a head coach has to select the staff that he feels gives the team the best chance to win, and whatever coach Day decides to do, certainly his prerogative.”In his three seasons at Ohio State, Schiano has ranked in the top 10 twice for total defense, finishing No. 6 in his debut season and No. 9 in 2017. This season, Schiano’s defense sits at No. 67, and has allowed 38 plays of more than 30 yards through 13 games.Schiano said he and Day have discussed his future once Day becomes head coach, but that Day has “so much on his plate” at the moment, he doesn’t want to add to it.“I think Ohio State is in great position,” Schiano said. “Coach Meyer has developed a tremendous culture, and coach Day I know will put his stamp on it. But the makings of a long-term success are in place.”As much as Schiano loves being at Ohio State, the school itself is not what made him take the job in the first place, and it’s not what takes precedence after three years as defensive coordinator. That’s Meyer.“He comes before Ohio State and before everything. He’s a very dear friend,” Schiano said. “I have a longstanding relationship with Urban. I just want what’s best for him.”For now, Schiano is focused on the Rose Bowl. He is focused on the final game Meyer has as Ohio State’s head coach.Schiano is focused on giving one of his best friends, the guy who he took the job at Ohio State for, a victory in his send-off.But when looking past Jan. 1, the future of Ohio State’s defensive coordinator seems anything but certain. read more

Baseball Ohio State edges out Hawaii for fourth straight win

Ohio State senior Nate Romans (7) swings at home plate in the Buckeyes’ home opener against the Lipscomb Bison on March 15, 2019 at Bill Davis Stadium. Credit: Sal Marandino | For The LanternHome runs and relief pitching helped Ohio State to its fourth straight win. Ohio State (12-10) defeated Hawaii (9-13) 6-5 Friday to extend its win streak. The power of junior right fielder Dominic Canzone set the tone for the Buckeyes, while the steady pitching of freshman pitcher Bayden Root secured the game. “I really liked the competitiveness of our at bats and where we are offensively right now,” Ohio State head coach Greg Beals said. Canzone had three hits, including his fifth and sixth home runs of the season, and three runs in the game.“My teammates have had my back all year. Struggled a little bit at first, but starting to get in the groove again,” Canzone said. “It’s a lot easier when there are guys hitting all over the place.”Root provided more than three innings of solid relief pitching for the Buckeyes, finishing the game with three strikeouts and no runs allowed, earning his second win of the season. “I started to feel really, really good. Got in a really good rhythm. Had a good tempo. I was very comfortable out there,” Root said. To lead off the bottom of the first inning for the Buckeyes, Canzone blasted a home run over the centerfield wall to open up the scoring.On the first pitch of the bottom of the third inning, Canzone continued his success, hitting his second home run of the game over the right field wall to move the score to 2-0. After sophomore center fielder opened the fourth inning with a single, senior designated hitter Kobie Foppe delivered a deep single to second base that brought him in, making the score 3-0. The Rainbow Warriors cracked the scoreboard in the fifth inning with a one-out single by freshman center fielder Scotty Scott. Calicdan was able to hit a ball to centerfield to score the runner from third, and a fielding error from Dingler allowed the runner at first to score and tie the game at three. After a walk and wild pitch, runners were on second and third with one out. A sacrifice fly ball from senior third baseman Ethan Lopez gave the Rainbow Warriors the 4-3 lead. Smith would finish the game with four runs allowed and three strikeouts in 4 2/3 innings pitched. “He was cruising there through the first four innings,” Beals said. “In that fifth inning, he just kind of wore down a little bit.” With one out in the bottom of the fifth inning, a high fly ball from Cherry was carried by the wind over the right field wall to even up the game, giving him his fifth home run of the season. “I got a decent barrel on it,” Cherry said. “Just a little bit underneath but had some decent backspin, and obviously a little help from the wind.” Further damage was prevented, as Duarte recorded the final out by way of a diving catch made on a line drive hit down the middle.  The defense was able to make big plays all game, according to Root.. “When you got guys like that behind you picking it, it just gives you so much confidence as a pitcher,” Root said. Canzone was able to continue his red-hot game with a double ripped to the right field wall. Redshirt junior second baseman Matt Carpenter was able to send a bunt down the right field line to put runners on the corners with no outs in the bottom of the seventh. A wild pitch allowed Carpenter to move over to second. With one out, junior first baseman Conner Pohl was able to hit a sacrifice fly ball to left field to allow Canzone to score and give Ohio State a 5-4 lead. Freshman shortstop Zach Dezenzo was able to deliver a two-out single that brought Carpenter in from second base, extending the lead to two runs after seven innings.Scott was able to open up the final inning for Hawaii with a single up the middle. A walk the following at bat put two runners on with no outs. A sacrifice bunt moved the runners over, and a groundout by Lopez allowed a run to score. With the score at 6-5 and two outs, Pfennig was able to strikeout the final batter and strand the tying run at third. This was Pfennig’s first save of the season. Ohio State will play game three against Hawaii at 3:05 p.m. Saturday at Bill Davis Stadium. read more