Category Archives: Sports

2013 March Madness: College Costs-Style

While college basketball fans scramble to finish their office pool brackets and aim for wads of money via [insert any major sports website here], one site has taken a decidedly different approach to filling out their 2013 NCAA bracket.

Using the latest stats and figures from Peterson’s and Collegedata.com, Abe Sauer broke down the 2013 NCAA Men’s Tournament field by highest annual college tuition and crowned 11th-seeded Bucknell as the 2013 NCAA Champion with a whopping annual tuition of $45,132!

While tuition is certainly an important determinant in choosing a college, looking at the average net price (what you pay after grants and scholarships are subtracted from the college or university’s cost of attendance) might be a more interesting way of looking at the field. Plus, net price only accounts for financial aid you do NOT have to pay back, so student loans are not part of this equation.

Using the Department of Education’s College Scorecard developed by the College Affordability and Transparency Center and a nifty NCAA Bracket template from Google, here’s what the 2013 NCAA Men’s Tournament field based on estimated Annual Net Price would look like:

Midwest Bracket

West Bracket

East Bracket

South Bracket

Final Four

Based on estimated Annual Net Price, Saint Louis ran away with the championship, costing its students a mind-boggling $32,430 AFTER grants and scholarships have been subtracted from the annual cost of attendance. (If you’re wondering, Bucknell didn’t even make it out of the first round! That’s a bit misleading though, since Bucknell still has the third-highest Annual Net Price in the East behind Butler and Marquette, who rank above Bucknell by only about $300.)

In terms of actual basketball, Saint Louis may actually have a more realistic shot as a No. 4 seed than the 11th-seeded Bucknell to win the actual NCAA championship, if history proves correct. No No. 11 seed has ever won the championship or even made it to the championship game. On the other hand, only one No. 4 seed has ever won the championship (Arizona in 1997).

In all seriousness, though, skyrocketing college costs are no laughing matter. Given that these numbers show how much students must pay (read: borrow) AFTER they’ve exhausted scholarships and grants, there’s already a great need to boost student financial aid and implement more student-friendly policies. If perhaps more schools followed New Mexico State’s lead (estimated annual net price: $2,344), we might actually be able to curb the growing student debt bubble a bit.

Until then, happy March Madness!

Hat tip to @mollywaldron for the original story.

The deadball era, the steroids era, and the Benedict XVI era

Pope Benedictus XVI
Pope Benedictus XVI. (Courtesy of Wikipedia.)

Dan Connolly at The Baltimore Sun posted a list of home run kings during each period of papal reign:

Baseball historian/statistician Bill Arnold passed this tidbit my way. And I had to share it with you. It combines Catholicism and baseball. And includes Baltimore’s greatest son.

In honor of the Roman Catholic Church naming Francis I its new pope Wednesday, Arnold put together a list of all-time, home-run leaders under each of the 11 popes since Major League Baseball was officially formed.

I’m not kidding.

Baltimore-born Babe Ruth is the only player to have sole possession of homer crowns under two popes (Hank Aaron had to share one). And, appropriately, the last player to win the “Pope Homer Crown” was a Cardinal and then an Angel: Albert Pujols (during Benedict XVI’s reign.)

By the way, Arnold points out that, numbers-wise, it’s easier to be selected to be pope (66 percent of the electorate) than a baseball Hall of Famer (75 percent).

(Follow the link above to see the full list.)

Here’s to the Pope Francis era being a less scandalous one for both Major League Baseball and the Catholic Church.

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Freedom of speech, except for the press

ESPN sports columnist Bill Simmons (a.k.a. “Sports Guy”) was suspended from Twitter for disparaging the network in regard to the above video:

ESPN has suspended superstar columnist Bill Simmons from Twitter after he criticized the network’s controversial First Take show, according to a Deadspin report.

On First Take last week, NFL player Richard Sherman eviscerated host Skip Bayless in an extended exchange that quickly went viral online. Bayless has long antagonized sports fans for what many see as convoluted rants and unnecessary criticism of athletes intended to generate controversy more than provide actual value to viewers. Sherman was widely celebrated for standing up to Bayless and dressing the host down.

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What is the strongest division in Major League Baseball in 2013?

I’ll admit it: I’m procrastinating again. But what of it?

So here’s what I’ve done. I took the game logs for the 2012 season and removed all intra-divisional matches. So out of the 2,430 games played last season, this left 1,358 games — all of them played between teams from different divisions.

Then I totaled up the collective wins for all teams within each division — again, excluding games played against each other — and came up with winning percentages for each of the six divisions. Here’s how it panned out:

AL West: 237-183 (.564)

AL East: 240-210 (.533)

NL East: 236-214 (.524)

NL West: 221-229 (.491)

NL Central: 225-271 (.454)

AL Central: 199-251 (.442)

I have yet to look into these figures on a historical continuum, but I’m guessing it’s a rarity for the AL East (traditionally thought of as the toughest division in baseball, at least for some time now) to be knocked off its perch at the top.

Anyone have a better way of measuring division strength? I’ve seen some articles written over the past few years that count all postseason series won (or even participated in) by teams from the various divisions. But since postseason success is partially determined by how a team performs within its own division, I’m not convinced that counting postseason series is the best way to measure division strength — especially given baseball’s disproportionately intra-division game schedules. Team performances against division rivals should be discounted from evaluations of overall division strength.

Unless I’m missing something?

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The topsy-turvy American League East

The topsy-turvy American League East.
Over the past 15 years, the American League East has become decreasingly predictable. Above: win totals from 1998 to 2012 by team.

Matthew Leach, writing for MLB.com, notes the recently emerging unpredictability of the American League East:

The division that set the standard for sameness is virtually unrecognizable these days.

Just a decade ago, the American League East race was the most predictable competition in sports. From 1998 through 2003, the five East teams finished in exactly the same order, every single year. Six straight seasons with the Yankees on top, the (Devil) Rays on the bottom, and the Red Sox, Blue Jays and Orioles in order in between. It was baseball’s version of a caste system…

As the 2013 campaign approaches, though, that predictability is gone. Last year offered a taste, but this year might bring full-on chaos. And that’s great news — unless you’re a Yankees fan.

All five teams could finish in different positions than they did a year ago. Every club in the division has reason to think it can finish first. Every team in the division has reason to fear a flop. You want wide-open? You’ve got it.

Chris Lund, who wrote about this same phenomenon last December for The Hardball Times, was on the same page:

The Yankees and Red Sox both appear to be very expensive, mortal teams. The Tampa Bay Rays have several question marks on their roster. The Toronto Blue Jays have completely overhauled their roster, though how it will play out on the field remains to be seen. The Baltimore Orioles have stood pat thus far after a dream season one year ago.

The AL East seems as wide open as ever. Five teams are roughly capable of competing with one another, though many would score the Rays, Jays and Yankees as the favorites to come away with the division crown. Yet, with so much parity in the “toughest division in sports”, there has never been more reason to feel that the AL East has wandered into vulnerability.

The graph above tells the story. The biggest season-over-season improvement for any one team in the AL East over that 15-year period was that of the Tampa Bay Rays from 2007 to 2008. Not only did they improve from 66 to 97 wins — an astounding 31-win jump — but they literally changed their name as well. (In 2007, they were the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. The next year they became the Tampa Bay Rays.)

As for the single biggest drop, that dubious distinction belongs to my beloved Boston Red Sox, whose collapse this past year — 69 wins, versus 90 in 2011 — was really just a continuation of the disaster begun in September 2011.

Zooming out to include all Major League Baseball teams, I’ve analyzed every year-over-year win differential since 1996/1997. (Although the current divisional format began in 1994, both that season and the subsequent one were shortened by the infamous strike.) The largest change in win total from one year to the next took place from 1997 to 1998, when the Florida Marlins’ record plummeted from 92-70 in their sophomore year to 54-108 the next season. Going in the other direction, the 1999 Arizona Diamondbacks improved on their 1998 total by 35 wins, jumping from an abysmal 65-97 record in their inaugural year to 100-62 in the followup.

The 2007/2008 jump of 31 wins for the Tampa Bay (Devil) Rays is second only to that leap by the Diamondbacks, going all the way back to 1996/1997 (a period that encompasses 506 entire team-seasons). Conversely, it provides me only a modicum of relief to note that the 2012 Red Sox’ 21-win dip is only bad enough to tie for 16th-worst year-over-year decline in that period — along with the 2002 Chicago Cubs (2001: 88-74; 2002: 67-95) and 2012 Philadelphia Phillies (2011: 102-60; 2012: 81-81).

Let’s just say I’m looking forward to putting all of this behind us for 2013. Oh, and go Red Sox.

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Baseball Prospectus figure of the day

From Baseball Prospectus 2013, page 53:

[The 2012 Boston Red Sox] missed 1,587 man-games to injury, second most of any team since 2007, as far back as our data goes. We estimate those injuries cost Boston 7.9 WARP [Wins Above Replacement Player], the most in baseball by 1.4.

Over at the web site, guest writer John Paschal takes a crack at why baseball players get injured so often, and in such bizarre fashion:

So, given the fact that objective math provides only an incomplete answer, we must turn to the subtle art of subjective guessing, with each of us hazarding a sound hypothesis as to why baseball players seem to suffer a disproportionate number of very odd mishaps—the sort that saw former infielder Chris Brown miss time because he “slept on (his) eye funny” and former infielder Geoff Blum land on the DL with an elbow injury he sustained while putting on a shirt. And let’s not forget the time All-Star Ron Gant, just a week after signing the largest single-season contract in history, broke a leg in an off-season motorcycle accident, or the day All-Star Larry Walker separated his shoulder while fishing.

“I’d say the reason baseball players injure themselves in weird ways is because they (a) have a lot of free time; and (b) they have a lot of money,” posits baseball writer Craig Calcaterra, of the NBC Sports website Hardball Talk, in an emailed response. “This allows them to fill that free time with all manner of fun and, occasionally, dangerous activities. Helping things along is that, as elite athletes, they have never had a particularly hard time doing things most people can’t do. I have this feeling a lot of them think they’re going to be immediately and effortlessly successful in other pursuits as well. Which, unfortunately, isn’t always the case.”

John Thorn, the Official Historian of Major League Baseball, is considerably more succinct.

“Randomness,” he writes.

Yes, it’s that time of year: I’m geeking out about baseball again.

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