19Bob Griese+356439Matt Ryan+1865 1Joe Montana+20768021Mark Rypien+39538 6Troy Aikman+11564826Jeff Hostetler+33862 Why? Under the leverage-weighted scheme, playoff games are given an incredible amount of emphasis. Wild card games are worth about 26 times as much as the average regular season game; that multiplier becomes 51 for the divisional round, 102 for the conference championship games and a whopping 205 for the Super Bowl (you can read more about this math at the end of the post).Because of the extreme weighting given to playoff games, Brady loses ground to Montana, whose three best Super Bowls were each at least 47 adjusted yards of value better than any of Brady’s Super Bowls. (Montana’s worst Super Bowl was also better than three of Brady’s Super Bowls.) Warner also gets a massive boost from his Super Bowl performances in 2000 and 2009 — the latter of which ranks as the single-best passing game of the Super Bowl era after adjusting for the strength of opponent and the leverage of the game — in addition to big games at lower rungs of the playoff ladder. Adding in the postseason hurts Brady.So, is Brady the best all of time? At his regular-season peak, he might very well be. And if he has a few more great seasons, he could pass Manning on career value over average. But for now, Montana reigns supreme among Super Bowl-era QBs when playoff performance is included in the calculations.Here’s how the math works out: The average regular-season game moves a team’s chances of winning the Super Bowl by about 0.24 percentage points. That’s because every team starts out with a 1 in 32 chance of winning it all, which inevitably moves to either zero (for the 20 teams who miss the playoffs) or 1 in 12 ( for playoff teams) once all 16 games are played. Meanwhile, the Super Bowl swings each team’s chances by 50 percent — either up from 50-50 to 100 percent, or down to zero. 19Daryle Lamonica+4287939Bob Griese+19743 13Roger Staubach+530333Phil Simms+2161 4Joe Montana+795124Daryle Lamonica+3008 6Aaron Rodgers+754526Jim Kelly+2669 18Boomer Esiason+394438Mark Brunell+1935 11Ben Roethlisberger+561531Joe Namath+2371 7Fran Tarkenton+742127Carson Palmer+2620 7Brett Favre+10093527Jim McMahon+32416 13Aaron Rodgers+6203133Donovan McNabb+23794 15Roger Staubach+5680335Joe Theismann+23474 QUARTERBACKWEIGHTED VALUEQUARTERBACKWEIGHTED VALUE QUARTERBACKREG. SEASON VALUEQUARTERBACKREG. SEASON VALUE 20Dan Marino+4023640Joe Namath+19573 17Jake Delhomme+4812337Matt Hasselbeck+22607 17John Elway+430037Daunte Culpepper+1936 2Kurt Warner+14377922Phil Simms+38564 9Drew Brees+686329Jeff Garcia+2442 8Ken Anderson+712628Roman Gabriel+2564 Of course, any good ranking of quarterbacks should also give credit for performance in the playoffs, and Brady’s trump card over Manning has always been the postseason. But here’s where the twist comes in: After crediting playoff passing value over average (according to the same formula described above) with weight given to each game according to how much it changes a team’s probability of winning the Super Bowl relative to the average regular season game — a form of leverage index for the importance of football games — Brady passes Manning but is surpassed by two others: Joe Montana and our old friend Kurt Warner: 14Bart Starr+6197034Dan Fouts+23589 18Russell Wilson+4311838Randall Cunningham+20142 16Joe Flacco+5043836Erik Kramer+23353 3Tom Brady+13135523Eli Manning+38401 4Terry Bradshaw+12641024Ken Anderson+37520 14Philip Rivers+520434Bart Starr+2155 15Brett Favre+502035Troy Aikman+2071 10Dan Fouts+686330Matt Schaub+2379 8Drew Brees+8710528Doug Williams+29832 10John Elway+7059330Mark Sanchez+28016 9Steve Young+7104529Len Dawson+28991 12Ken Stabler+6337232Philip Rivers+24280 11Jim Plunkett+6547731Bernie Kosar+25207 3Dan Marino+1035423John Hadl+3094 A vast amount of column space was spent this week debating whether Tom Brady had finally ascended to No. 1 in the all-time pantheon of quarterbacking greatness. (Many of the articles argued that, yes, Brady is now the best ever.)These assessments leaned heavily on the fact that Brady is tied with Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw for the most Super Bowl victories of any quarterback. But even Patriots fans have to acknowledge that “count the rings” isn’t the most nuanced argument in the world. So, what do the numbers say about Brady’s legacy?The common narrative is that early-career Brady wasn’t a statistical monster, to the point that his playoff wins over Peyton Manning in 2003 and 2004 were held up as victories for clutch, gritty winners everywhere. But the truth is that, in addition to his gaudy record as a postseason starter, Brady was one of the league’s top five to 10 regular-season quarterbacks statistically even before his transformation into a passing efficiency god in 2007.In other words, the “clutch game manager” phase of Brady’s career was never as game manager-y as his detractors made it out to be. And ever since, he’s been as efficient a regular-season QB as any in NFL history.To measure QB performance, I used Chase Stuart’s formula for passing value, which compares a quarterback’s adjusted net yards per attempt (ANY/A) to the league average after adjusting for home-field advantage, weather effects and strength of schedule. By that metric, the late-career version of Brady owns practically every stretch of the best consecutive peak passing regular seasons in the Super Bowl era:Now, some of that is due to sheer passing volume; while shorter schedules have been prorated to 16 games, today’s passers drop back so much more often per game than their predecessors did that they have more chances to add value. Even so, Brady’s stats have risen far above those of his peers (including Manning) during the peak of his career once all the aforementioned adjustments are made.In terms of total career regular season value, however, Brady does not rank No. 1 among Super Bowl era quarterbacks — his 11,921 adjusted yards of value over average ranks second to Manning’s 13,791-yard mark: 12Tony Romo+540632Jim Hart+2303 20Len Dawson+354640Bert Jones+1852 5Steve Young+785425Donovan McNabb+2837 16Kurt Warner+434436John Brodie+1978 1Peyton Manning+1379121Trent Green+3512 5Peyton Manning+12247425Colin Kaepernick+35337 2Tom Brady+1192122Sonny Jurgensen+3145
CAR63CAR56CAR 31, CIN 21-7.3– 20024-5SD, MIA-56.9 Home teams are in bold.The scoring system is nonlinear, so readers’ average points don’t necessarily match the number of points that would be given to the average reader prediction. 201512-13DEN, PHI-66.9 The worst two-game spells in the Belichick/Brady eraThe biggest declines in Elo rating after two consecutive games for the Patriots, 2000-18 200917-18HOU, BAL-65.3 JAX71JAX77TEN 9, JAX 6-11.2– MIN78MIN90BUF 27, MIN 6-20.9– 20083-5MIASF-66.1 NE64NE75DET 26, NE 10-17.2– PICKWIN PROB.PICKWIN PROB.ResultREADERS’ NET Points Elo’s dumbest (and smartest) picks of Week 3Average difference between points won by readers and by Elo in Week 3 matchups in FiveThirtyEight’s NFL prediction game 20182-3JAX, DET-66.7 MIA68MIA60MIA 28, OAK 20-7.6– BAL68BAL59BAL 27, DEN 14-8.8– OUR PREDICTION (ELO)READERS’ PREDICTION The sky is falling in New England. The arm of Tom Brady suddenly seems every bit of 41 years old, with the future Hall of Famer unable to find receivers deep downfield as in years past. The Patriots have a losing record in the early season, and the obituaries are being written.If this feels like deja vu all over again, you’re not wrong. Brady was viewed as over the hill around this time in 2014, too. And the experts were also playing taps on the Patriots dynasty. The specific reason cited for Brady’s decline back then? An inability to throw the ball deep.Of course, we all know what happened next. The Patriots and head coach Bill Belichick responded to the panic after a 41-14 Monday night loss to the Chiefs in 2014’s Week 4 with the mantra, “We’re on to Cincinnati.” The Patriots won that game 43-17 and their next six, too, en route to winning the Super Bowl. From that week in 2014 through the end of the 2017 season, Brady was above average in both yards per attempt and Raw Quarterback Rating on deep throws.Eventually,1We assume. Brady’s NFL career and the Patriots’ dynasty actually will come to an end. Though we can’t know for sure when that will happen, we should pay attention when they struggle — even if we can’t write them off quite yet. What’s happened in the past two weeks is unusual for the Pats and warrants more than just a shrug as New England prepares to host the unbeaten Dolphins, the first of three straight games in Foxborough.The Patriots’ Elo rating sits at 1589 after their shocking 26-10 thumping at the hands of Detroit on Sunday night, which came on the heels of a 31-20 loss in Week 2 at Jacksonville. The last time New England’s number was this low was after that 2014 loss to the Chiefs. The Patriots have dropped 66.7 points since the 1656 they hit after their Week 1 victory at home against the Texans, who are still winless. That’s the fourth biggest two-week drop in Elo for the Patriots during the Belichick era.2 Since 2000. The three times the Belichick Pats experienced a bigger two-week drop carry asterisks. The biggest occurred at the end of 2015, when the Pats closed the season with two straight losses long after clinching the division. The next biggest drop happened earlier that season, after the team was 10-0 and reached its second-highest Elo mark in the past five seasons before dropping games to Denver and Philadelphia. The third biggest drop was in 2008 after Week 1 — when Brady blew out his ACL and was replaced by Matt Cassel for rest of the season.At a shocking 3-0, the Dolphins seem to be moving squarely in the opposite direction, setting up a rare opportunity for a team other than the Patriots to put a stranglehold on the AFC East. But Miami’s jump of 47.5 points over the past two weeks is just its 17th best since 2000. The Dolphins have been fortunate of late, being outgained from scrimmage by 105 yards against the Jets and 61 against the Raiders. The Dolphins’ 39 plays from scrimmage in the win over the Raiders are less than all but three teams since the 1970 merger.“Are we there yet? No,” Miami QB Ryan Tannehill said after the game. “But the patterns we’re establishing are going to take us there.”Brady will hope to get Josh Gordon on the field against Miami to rescue a passing game that’s bereft of weapons, which is allowing teams to fearlessly devote multiple defenders to tight end Rob Gronkowski. Gordon once was one of the most explosive players in NFL history. But the fact that the best hope for New England’s offense is Gordon, a player who has been suspended or injured for all but 11 games since his historic 2013 campaign, seems uncharacteristically desperate for the Patriots. Julian Edelman is set to return after Week 4 following a suspension for performance-enhancing drugs, but Edelman is 32 and coming off an ACL injury. If he can somehow return to form, his chain-moving ability will go a long way toward improving the Patriots’ 29th ranking in third down conversions (28.6 percent).But let’s not forget that the Patriots have issues on the other side of the ball, too. The defense has recorded just four sacks, has allowed an alarming 4.7 yards per rushing attempt and is 30th in third-down conversion rate allowed. Finishing near the bottom on both sides of the ball in third down efficiency would be unprecedented for the Brady-Belichick Patriots.A trademark for New England has been efficiency. In the NFL, that’s measured by converting yards into points and preventing the opponent from doing the same. This year, the Pats are middle of the pack on both offense and defense. Since 2013, they haven’t finished worse than seventh in offensive or defensive efficiency. (The offensive efficiency average across the NFL this year is 15.2 yards per point; it was 15.4 yards per point in 2017.) Red zone efficiency (13th on offense, eighth on defense), turnover differential (they’re even this year) and special teams success all play a part in boosting those numbers. These subtle strengths that have been a New England trademark are lacking thus far in 2018.The bigger problem is the lack of quality players. Some of this is their own fault, having traded Brandin Cooks to the Rams for a first-round pick. With Brady at 41 and the window to win closing, the Patriots should be the team trading first-round picks for veteran talent, not vice versa. Cooks, meanwhile, is fifth in the NFL with 336 receiving yards, or 71 more than all of Brady’s wide receivers have managed combined.In fairness to Brady, this situation is like someone took all the gadgets away from Bruce Wayne and then asked him to go out and still be Batman.But this wouldn’t be the first time that Belichick the GM was saved by Belichick the Hall of Fame coach. Perhaps struggling rookie running back Sony Michel can turn into a dangerous weapon. Brady could certainly figure out a way to build a passing game around Gronkowski and someone else. Heck, some were writing Brady off at the end of last season, only to see him post arguably his best postseason ever, with 1,132 passing yards in three games and eight TD passes with zero picks. It’s easy to imagine that when the regular season is done, the Patriots are again about to host a playoff game.FiveThirtyEight vs. the readersIn addition to our NFL Elo prediction interactive, which updates after every game to help you keep tabs on how your team stacks up, we’re also running a prediction game in which you make picks against our model (and your fellow readers). After the dust settles each week, we like to look at where Elo made its best — and worst — picks against the field. Here’s how it did in Week 3: 20025-6MIA, GB-64.1 ARI55%CHI63%CHI 16, ARI 14+14.7– LAR64LAR70LAR 35, LAC 23+2.2– SeasonWeeksLossWin2-Week Drop HOU59HOU62NYG 27, HOU 22-5.2– TB54TB52PIT 30, TB 27-0.9– Pats’ Results vs. SEA55SEA51SEA 24, DAL 13-5.2– NYJ62CLE51CLE 21, NYJ 17+11.4– 200215-16TEN, NYJ-64.0 PHI83PHI76PHI 20, IND 16-5.1– KC77KC76KC 38, SF 27-2.6– 20082-3MIANYJ-66.8 201516-17NYJ, MIA-73.0 Elo steamrolled through the week based on the losses from a pair of 1-1-1 teams from the NFC North.3Yes, the Vikings and Packers have the same record as the Browns. Let that sink in. Minnesota was a 16½-point favorite over hapless Buffalo, and our readers agreed with Vegas, giving the Vikings a win probability of 90 percent. But the Vikings found a new way to disappoint their fans, losing in “embarrassing” fashion to the Bills. Meanwhile, Green Bay went to soggy Washington and couldn’t get anything going, losing 31-17. Elo picked up 40.4 total points over the readers on just those two games — more than half of the 73.9 total points by which Elo beat a typical reader in Week 3.The readers weren’t shut out, though. They had more faith in Khalil Mack and upstart Chicago than Elo did, giving the Bears a 63 percent chance to beat the Cardinals, compared with Elo’s 55 percent. The readers also believed that Cleveland could finally win its first game since 2016, picking the Browns over the Jets. Those two games generated 26.1 total points for the readers.Congrats to reader Randy Renick, who led all identified users in points for Week 2; Renick is just behind Michel Rodriguez for the season lead. And thanks to everyone who played last week. If you didn’t play, remember that it’s not too late to get in on the game, even if you missed the first few weeks of the season. Make your picks now!Check out our latest NFL predictions. WSH57GB60WSH 31, GB 17-19.5– ATL66ATL57NO 43, ATL 37+9.3– 20026-8GB, DEN-63.8 Three-week stretches include a bye week for New England. Week 18 of 2009 was a playoff game.Source: Pro-Football-Reference.com
James Harden has become an occupational hazard for referees. Earlier this month, the Jazz were up seven on the Rockets with just over a minute to play, and Utah players were at their wit’s end with the officials. Following a signal that the Jazz had committed yet another foul, Joe Johnson threw his right hand up in disgust. Rudy Gobert shook his head in disbelief. Rodney Hood, who was charged with the foul, looked for a ref with whom he could plead. Joe Ingles had both palms out, confused as to how so little contact could prompt a call.Video Playerhttps://fivethirtyeight.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/jazz4thfoulagainstharden.mp400:0000:0000:00Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.The whistle marked the fourth time that night that Utah had been charged with fouling Harden in the act of shooting a 3-pointer. And while that might sound unbelievable, it wasn’t even the first time this season that the MVP frontrunner had drawn four shooting fouls from the arc in a game.1He also drew four shooting fouls while attempting 3-pointers during a Dec. 31 victory over the Knicks.Harden has long been great at drawing fouls no matter where he is on the court, but he has taken the art form to new heights on his 3-point attempts this season. After drawing 27 fouls while trying to shoot a triple in 2014-15 and inducing 46 such fouls last season,2According to Basketball-Reference.com’s Play Index. Harden has drawn a whopping 108 shooting fouls from distance this year with 11 games left to play. For context, consider that, outside of the Rockets, no team has garnered more than 73 of those calls.3Amazingly, if you limit Harden to just the 12 games in which he drew at least three 3-point shooting fouls, his 38 fouls drawn in those contests would outpace 21 teams’ totals for the season so far.If you subtract Harden’s numbers from the rest of the league’s, the average NBA player has drawn fouls on 1.6 percent of his 3-pointers this season, according to BigDataBall, which tracks the league’s play-by-play logs. Harden is drawing 3-point shooting fouls at a 16.7 percent clip, or more than 10 times as often. How is he so good at this? PLAYER/TEAMSHOOTING FOULS DRAWN ON 3-POINT ATTEMPTS James Harden: This season’s MVP of drawing 3-point shooting fouls Russell WestbrookOKC482224.6 Lou WilliamsHOU3925012.8 Stephen CurryGSW682223.2 Mike ConleyMEM346236.6 Isaiah ThomasBOS550224.0 “As an opponent, no, I don’t admire it,” Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony told reporters when asked about Harden’s tactics. “As a fan, [I] admire it. Because we as offensive guys, guys who like to score, always try to find tricks that can work in our favor. He found something that’s working for him. So no, as an opponent, I hate it.” (I asked a league spokesman about this issue as it relates to Harden — particularly since the NBA stopped awarding shooting fouls for a similar rip-through move years ago — but he said it’s against league policy to discuss how a particular player is officiated.)Harden isn’t oblivious to the perception that he draws more shooting fouls than he probably should. But the crafty guard makes no apologies, either, saying a defender making contact on a jump shot should merit a foul just like someone bumping a shooter near the basket would. “A foul is a foul no matter how it’s committed,” he told Time in a Q&A this season.Sometimes Harden’s strategy backfires in embarrassing fashion, as he’ll incorrectly anticipate contact and throw up a wild shot in hopes of drawing a foul that never comes.Video Playerhttps://fivethirtyeight.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/hardenflailing.mp400:0000:0000:00Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.Video Playerhttps://fivethirtyeight.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/hardenflailing4.mp400:0000:0000:00Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.But more often than not, it’s been a worthwhile gamble for Harden and the Rockets to go for the foul. That’s become even more true in the past month, since Houston traded for Lou Williams, the player who’s drawn the second-most 3-point shooting fouls in the NBA this season — trailing, of course, only Harden. I asked Houston general manager Daryl Morey about having both of the league’s top two guys in such an odd category, and he said he and others in the Rockets’ front office had noticed Williams’s unusual ability to draw contact from the perimeter, but that it wasn’t the overriding reason they made the swap with the Lakers.“We knew that both Lou and James are extremely good shooters that are hard to guard. So, going over the screen and being physical with them is one of the only ways to guard them, which causes them to get fouled more than others,” Morey said. “That said, we focused more on their overall efficiency than how people have to foul them to stop them.”Teams will do their best to stop Harden from using the trick once the postseason starts. But if last year’s playoffs are any indication, that may not work, either: Harden drew five whistles on just 42 3-point attempts. Three of those fouls came in one half, in a game against the Warriors.Neil Paine assisted with research for this story.Check out our latest NBA predictions. Nicolas BatumCHA347246.9 Harden has drawn more 3-point shooting fouls than any other NBA team PLAYERTEAM3PT ATTEMPTS3PT FOULS DRAWN3PT FOUL RATE Kemba WalkerCHA502244.8 Damian LillardPOR484255.2 Jeff TeagueIND2012210.9 Harden plays on the Rockets, who have drawn 132 total shooting fouls, including his 108. Stats are for the 2016-17 season as of March 21.Source: BigDataBall Hornets68 Trailblazers41 Goran DragicMIA248249.7 James Harden108 Lakers73 Stats as of March 21. Restricted to players who drew at least 20 fouls on 3-point attempts.Source: BigDataBall Raptors52 James HardenHOU64710816.7% The Rockets star has a couple patterns he uses to consistently get these calls. Unlike Jamal Crawford, who has drawn dozens of perimeter shooting fouls as players barrel into his legs during close-outs, Harden would seem to be the one initiating contact on many of his fouls.In particular, Harden has found a way to turn even solid, respectable defenders into victims. He generally waits until his man puts a hand up to defend, then locks arms with him and jumps to begin a shot, making the defender appear guilty. Harden basically forces perimeter defenders to play with their hands down along the 3-point line.Video Playerhttps://fivethirtyeight.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/harden4.mp400:0000:0000:00Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.Video Playerhttps://fivethirtyeight.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/harden101.mp400:0000:0000:00Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.Back on New Year’s Eve, Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek vented about this after a loss in Houston, saying it’s impossible to defend Harden given his ability to trick officials. “He grabs with his left arm, has the ball in the right hand and wraps his left arm with your hand,” said Hornacek, whose team fouled Harden from 3-point range four times4He drew all four of them in an 18-minute span during the second half. that night while Harden racked up a 53 points, 16 rebounds and 17 assists. “To me, that’s an offensive foul. But he does it fast, quick — it’s hard to see.”Video Playerhttps://fivethirtyeight.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/usethisharden16.mp400:0000:0000:00Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.The other thing Harden does well: Stop on a dime and pop jumpers just as he’s navigating around screens. That trick makes life hell for the defenders who are sprinting to go over the pick to stay with him. Harden’s world-class ability to stop abruptly means that defenders frequently can’t hit the brakes as quickly as he can, which leads to players running into him from behind, prompting 3-shot fouls. This has been especially true this season, as defenders have tried to stay on Harden’s hip more than usual5Defenses have been guarding Harden more and more closely over the past four years. Opponents have been within four feet of him for 65 percent of his shots this season, up from 51, 61 and 62 percent, respectively, during the 2013, 2014 and 2015 seasons, according to NBA.com. to prevent him from spraying the ball wherever he wants in Houston’s spacious offense. Kyle LowryTOR444306.8 Pacers51 Eric BledsoePHX309237.4
Kyle Seager182090.0 PlayerPulled HRTotal HRPulled HR % And then 2018: Mike Trout173056.7 Ryon Healy172373.9 Manny Machado182864.3 Maikel Franco192095.0 Source: Fangraphs Rhys Hoskins172568.0 Asdrubal Cabrera2020100.0 Alex Bregman182475.0 Jose Ramirez is baseball’s pull power kingMLB leaders in pulled home runs, along with the share of their total home runs that reflects Here’s Lindor’s swing density map in 2018: Edwin Encarnacion162564.0 Francisco Lindor182962.1 Mike Moustakas202290.9 Eugenio Suarez182864.3 Ramirez, Alex Bregman,5Another emerging undersized, pull-side power threat. Rosario, Carpenter and Betts rank first through fifth in total volume of air balls yanked to their pull side. Their averages on those balls are .593, .500, .600, .649 and .660, respectively. Lindor ranks 14th in volume with a .634 average.“Even though we are not big, it’s something we develop when we get to this level,” Rosario said of pull power. “I think when you feel comfortable at this level, power [develops].”In an era when so many have screamed out at the television for a player to hit the ball the other way, avoiding a defensive shift by pulling the ball — in the air — is the optimum path to offensive efficiency. It allows slap-hitting middle infielders to become MVP candidates.One reason that the Indians don’t preach about launch angle is Cleveland hitting coach Ty Van Burkleo’s philosophy that contact point largely takes care of that. While the launch angles of Lindor and Ramirez have changed dramatically since 2016, for them, it’s the byproduct of timing and leverage, of catching the ball out farther in front of the plate.“If you use the lower half correctly, and sequence the plane correctly, you don’t have to worry about launch angle,” Van Burkleo said. “Contact point is going to dictate launch angle. … If you contact the ball deeper, [the bat] plane is flatter. If you catch it out front, your plane is getting more on line with the ball.The numbers support this. Sportvision analyst Graham Goldbeck found for FanGraphs last August that home run probability is maximized about 10 inches in front of home plate. And to pull a ball, the bat almost always has to make contact out in front of home plate. At that contact point, the barrel is typically going to be on the way up in any swing path.“The barrel is going to drop” after the start of the swing, Lindor said. “It’s heavy. It’s going to drop no matter what.“That’s gravity. I focus on contact point. Launch angle then takes care of itself.”This explains the propensity of these hitters to rip the ball down the foul line — but only partially. Last Friday, facing Baltimore pitcher David Hess, Ramirez did something he has done so often this season: He took a fastball and pulled it into the right-field seats. It was his 37th home run of the season.Lindor and Ramirez — actually the Indians in general — avoid talking about “launch angle,” which has become part of the baseball vernacular since the launch of Statcast in 2015. What they do talk about is contact point.For decades, hitting coaches have talked about using the “big part” of the ballpark, going “gap to gap,” using the “whole field.” And in today’s game, with defenses shifting the infield more than ever, you might think hitters are increasingly incentivized to avoid pulling the ball. But Ramirez and Lindor (and Betts and Carpenter and others like Eddie Rosario and Aaron Hicks) are trying to pull the ball. They are trying to hook and yank pitches down the line for extra-base hits and home runs. After all, the shortest distance to record a home run is down the line.Of fly balls hit to the pull side this season in the majors, 32.7 percent have become home runs, according to FanGraphs. To center field? Just 8 percent. And the opposite field? Just a 3.8 percent HR/FB ratio.Lindor knows this. Before his locker at Progressive Field last week, wearing black sweats and white tennis shoes, he held an imaginary bat in his hand. Lindor mimicked where he wanted his contact point to be — out in front of the plate. That’s where his power is.Lindor noted that he and Ramirez are far from the strongest players on the team. Ramirez ranks 126th in average exit velocity of fly balls and line drives (93 mph) in the majors,4Among players with a minimum of 150 batted balls. according to Baseball Savant leaderboards. Lindor ranks 77th (94.3 mph). Yet they might combine for 80 home runs this season.Lindor, and particularly Ramirez and Betts, have become masters at lifting and pulling. Ramirez’s pull rate on fly balls and line drives rose from 28.5 percent in 2016 to 38.8 percent last season, and it’s at 44.7 percent this season, ranking third in the majors. Ramirez leads all hitters in total volume of line drives and fly balls hit to the pull side. Ramirez also tied Betts for the lead in the majors in pulled line drives and fly balls last season. Lindor ranked ninth. They seem to be reading from the same developmental plan.“We talk,” Lindor said, breaking into his iconic ear-to-ear smile. “[Ramirez] helps me, I help him.”Ramirez has hit 31 of his 37 home runs to the pull side, first in the majors. Carpenter is second, hitting 23 of his 34 home runs to his pull side. Betts is third. Lindor? Eighteen pull-side homers, good for 11th. Didi Gregorius192286.4 Joey Gallo193259.3 Mookie Betts222781.5 CLEVELAND — Few players have changed their profiles as dramatically as Francisco Lindor.As a minor league prospect, Lindor was not the masher who currently sits atop the Cleveland Indians’ lineup. While he was still the fluid and graceful athlete at shortstop that he is today, he was a completely different player at the plate. He lunged at pitches outside the zone. He often made weak contact. When evaluating Lindor as a minor league hitter, scouts typically capped his power potential between 15 and 20 home runs — something fitting for his slight, 5-foot-11 frame.To the left of Lindor in the Cleveland infield this season is an even more unlikely MVP candidate. As a minor league shortstop, the 5-foot-9 Jose Ramirez never hit more than five home runs at any stop. While Lindor was a first-round pick, it wasn’t clear if Ramirez could be a major league regular if and when Lindor pushed him off shortstop to another more bat-dependent position. Ramirez was never a top 100 prospect.In their first couple of years in the majors, neither showed a hint of extreme power potential. Then, a year ago, something happened. Lindor smashed 33 homers in his third season, and Ramirez hit 29 in his fourth.1Of at least 100 plate appearances. This year, Ramirez trails only J.D. Martinez in home runs, and Lindor is 11th in the league.While Martinez is one of many players who have made well-documented swing changes with the goal of lifting the ball in the air, he has always had a big frame and underlying raw power. Among the 336 hitters who have hit at least 25 fly balls this season, Martinez ranks fifth in average fly-ball distance at 350 feet.2Through Aug. 19. He can hit the ball out to all fields. Lindor and Ramirez, though, do not possess such elite raw power. The are tied, ranked 92nd, in average fly-ball distance (328 feet). They have to better direct the balls they do hit in the air to maximize their power.Lindor and Ramirez are also two of the unlikeliest sluggers in the game because of their size. In baseball history, there have been 335 individual seasons of 40 or more homers by 146 different players. Only 17 players 5-foot-11 or shorter have hit 40 home runs in a major league season, according to Baseball-Reference.com. If he hits just three more homers, Ramirez will tie Roy Campanella (1953) and Mel Ott (1929) for second on the list of shortest players to reach 40 homers in a season.3The shortest player? The 5-foot-6 Hack Wilson (1930). Their power-to-size output is even more impressive as players have gotten taller and stronger.“Nobody thought I could do this,” Ramirez told ESPN. “I was too small.”Said Indians assistant general manager Carter Hawkins: “My sense is there was one guy who felt this was going to happen, and that was Jose.”The Indians’ diminutive duo isn’t alone in smashing expectations this season. At 5-foot-9, Boston’s Mookie Betts (27 home runs) is also one of the slightest sluggers in major league history. And though he’s taller, at 6-foot-3, St. Louis’s Matt Carpenter has transformed from an on-base-focused player to one leading the National League in home runs. Those players and others all fit a specific mold, sharing traits that have allowed them to become unlikely sluggers.These players represent the next generation of the Fly-Ball Revolution. While the first stage is to get the ball up in the air, the next and more important step for many hitters is to get to the pull side. Elite contact hitters are learning to raise their offensive profiles, learning that it’s OK to be pull-happy. Some of the game’s smallest players are becoming home run kings. Matt Carpenter233467.6 Jose Ramirez313783.8% One challenge in today’s game for scouts — and projection forecasts — is evaluating future power grades. Power jumps can now seemingly materialize out of nowhere. How do you forecast the next Ramirez? FiveThirtyEight spoke to one NL evaluator who described Ramirez’s trajectory as the most baffling development story of his scouting career.It isn’t just human evaluators. Projection forecasts didn’t buy in to Ramirez or Lindor as power hitters even after their 2017 breakouts. FanGraphs projected Ramirez to hit 20 home runs this year in its preseason forecast. Baseball Prospectus forecast 13. For Lindor, those projections were 24 and 21.“The main thing for me is athleticism,” said the NL evaluator. “You have to have the hand-eye and feel for the strike zone.”Lindor and Ramirez were, and remain, elite contact hitters. They can contact the ball at will and manipulate the barrel and contact point. Since 2016, they have made contact on swings at pitches in the zone at a rate of at least 91.1 percent, ranking in the top fifth of qualified major league hitters.The trait suggests that of baseball’s five tools — hit, run, throw, power, field — the “hit” tool is now of even greater importance. The hit tool, more than ever, dictates how the power tool with develop.“It’s easier for you to go from [contact focus] to the other side, to pulling,” Lindor said.The Indians are placing more weight on contact hitting when working with their prospects, with the idea that they can teach power. Like many teams, the Indians have technology that can capture exit velocities and launch angles in their minor league stadiums and batting cages. Such tools help the teaching and skill-acquisition process. If the hit tool is in place, those tools can help build power.“What’s old is new,” Hawkins said. “I think if you ask any evaluator or coach and said, ‘Hey, would you prefer a guy who can hit the ball 500 feet or a guy that can square up any ball that is in the zone?’ They are taking the later.“It’s not like [power development] didn’t happen prior to it being able to be measured [via Statcast]. There were guys that were tapping into power later in their careers in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, we just didn’t have the launch angle measurements, exit velocity measurements. I think one commonality between all those guys [like Ramirez, Lindor and Betts] is they control the zone really well. None of them are high-strikeout guys. They are extremely low-strikeout guys. They are swinging at pitches they can [damage].”Perhaps the team that has turned high-contact, low-power middle infielders Ramirez and Lindor into power-hitting superstars is on to something. Maybe there’s a road map for hitters of any size in how to go from good to great.Check out our latest MLB predictions. Then consider a data-density map of Ramirez’s swings against fastballs from 2016: Eddie Rosario172277.3 The World Series champion Houston Astros have developed a teamwide philosophy of only offering at the pitches they can damage. The Indians preach something similar.“If it’s a pitch you can’t get your body into a leveraged position [to hit], then you probably want to take it early in the count, or when you are ahead in the count,” Van Burkleo said.For so long, “covering the whole plate” was considered an important hitting characteristic. It was something that was taught to Lindor as a younger player.“Yeah, that’s when I was a slap hitter,” Lindor said with a smirk. “When I try and cover the whole plate, that’s when I get in trouble. … I can cover the whole plate if I want to. I can put the ball in play any time I want. That’s not going to do any good for me or the team.”Lindor is now eschewing pitches he cannot drive. He is becoming more disciplined. He is focused on attacking pitches — often fastballs — he can damage.“I don’t want to cover the whole plate,” he said.When explaining what led to home runs in post-game press conferences this season, Ramirez has often quipped to reporters, “home run pitch.” While Ramirez hasn’t been willing to divulge changes to his approach, he has become better able to hammer pitches he wants to hit.It’s similar to a concept that Reds great Joey Votto defines as pitch funneling — being so patient and discerning that the pitcher eventually gives the batter the pitch he wants to hit. The overall swing rates for Lindor and Ramirez have dropped. They have concentrated their swings in certain zones. They have better avoided getting out in front and rolling over off-speed pitches for ground balls or making weak contact at out-of-zone pitches. They are now two of the best fastball hitters in the game. They hunt fastballs and crush them.Consider a Baseball Savant data-density map, indicating where a batter swings most often, of Lindor’s swings against fastballs from 2016. The rectangular outline represents the batter’s strike zone. Evan Gattis212487.5 Of course, such a transformation is easier said than done. While most ground balls are pulled (hence the proliferation of shifts), fly balls are distributed more equally, with a slight tendency to the opposite field. How do you identify which players can make the leap to launching and pulling? Travis Shaw192576.0
It’s a tough season to be a center in the WNBA.Foul calls are down significantly, dropping by 1.4 fouls per game from 2018. But the “big” bigs — the best fives the league has to offer — have been hit especially hard. Through 32 games, the number of free-throw attempts by Liz Cambage of the Las Vegas Aces, Brittney Griner of the Phoenix Mercury and Sylvia Fowles of the Minnesota Lynx is down 37 percent.The results have been evident. Griner, tired of taking so much uncalled contact, was involved in an altercation last month that resulted in a three-game suspension. Cambage described it, in an interview earlier this summer, this way: “I don’t really see myself playing into my 30s because I don’t want to go to war.” Cambage is still having an elite season, but her overall production is down from last year — her field-goal percentage has fallen from 58.9 to 49.3 percent while her true shooting percentage has dropped from 64.3 to 55.2 percent.But Fowles, through a combination of inter- and intraseason adaptations, has kept her production remarkably consistent. Her career field-goal percentage is 59.3 percent. This season, her field-goal percentage is … 59.1 percent.Another year, same Syl. At age 33, Fowles is this generation’s greatest center, trailing only Lauren Jackson among centers in career Win Shares, but she doesn’t get enough appreciation, to hear her coach and teammates tell it.“Syl reminds me of myself, like no one recognizes her greatness,” said Fowles’s current Lynx and former LSU teammate Seimone Augustus. “But she continues to just get better, year after year. I mean, at the end of the day, when it’s all said and done and she retires, I think people are going to look back and go, ‘Wow.’”By the catch-all stat Win Shares, Fowles has quietly amassed more value than anyone else in the WNBA over the past three seasons. Elena Delle Donne, Griner and Cambage may get more headlines, but only Fowles has more than 20 win shares since the start of the 2017 season. No one else has cracked 19.But while the statistics — at least the topline numbers — would indicate that Fowles is simply the same great center she’s been since her rookie season in Chicago back in 2008, a closer look at how she’s been scoring her points in 2019 reveals the change she made to enhance her game.Fowles is 19-for-34 on shots 15 to 19 feet away from the basket, a 55.9 percent clip that ranks her among this season’s elite midrange shooters. For reference, Fowles was 2-for-6 from that distance in 2018.That didn’t happen by accident. Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve told Fowles in their exit meeting at the end of 2018 that she wanted her to diversify her game, and Fowles worked with Lynx assistant Walt Hopkins all offseason. The daily routine was punishing: Fowles would shoot at the rim, in the paint, from the free-throw and three-point lines, and couldn’t advance to the next spot until she made five in a row, all swishes.Her success this season from all over the court has actually helped Fowles focus on her original strength — that endless array of post moves — and not settle for the jumpers she’s now sinking routinely.“I have to make sure it doesn’t take away what I do best,” Fowles said. “I have to make sure I don’t get too relaxed and shoot jumpers. When I’m open, I shoot. But when I’m not, it’s making sure I do what I used to do, and that’s going to the rim.”But even Fowles acknowledged a frustration with how much harder it has been to earn foul-line trips through contact. Fowles has gotten more than four free-throw attempts in a game just six times all season. In 2018, she shot more than four free throw attempts in 17 of 34 games.I asked Sue Blauch, the WNBA’s head of referee performance and development, about the reduction in both free-throw attempts originating out of the paint and player frustration with it. She acknowledged the decrease in offensive efficiency in the league this season and said “everyone should dig deep and explore” what might be the cause. “We certainly looked at our play-calling data and have addressed any contribution that officiating may have had,” she said.Refs across the WNBA did seem to take note of recent league office guidance. Before July’s All-Star break, the average number of fouls per game was 33.2. Since then, fouls are up to 37.3 per game — an increase of 12.3 percent. That shift toward more fouls in the paint required another adjustment for Fowles, who was sent to the bench early in several games with foul trouble herself.“Now everything’s a foul fest, the last couple of games it’s a foul fest, we have to adjust to that,” Reeve said after a Minnesota win in New York on Aug. 13. “All of a sudden there’s an about-face about how it’s being officiated. And so I told Syl, I said, ‘No complaints now. You know, you gotta get yourself to the foul line.’ Some of it is being patient and not racing through the move, give a defender a chance to foul you, type of thing. So I think she’s got to be a little more poised in the post.”It isn’t easy. Fowles said she huddled with Cambage and Griner during All-Star weekend in Las Vegas about how to handle all the physical abuse. She laughed when asked if she meditates.“Oh, yes,” Fowles said. “I meditate. I talk to therapists. It gets frustrating.” But she doesn’t want to talk about it with her teammates and coaches, to “put out that negative energy.” Instead, she just continues to be Sylvia Fowles.In the three games after that Aug. 13 win, she shot 63.6 percent. She took only one shot from the 15-to-19-foot range. And in her past four games, she’s shot 59.5 percent, going 4-of-7 when 15 to 19 feet from the basket.The rules change, the teams change, the players change. But Sylvia Fowles keeps on doing what she does.
OSU redshirt freshman running back Mike Weber checks out his opponent before the Buckeyes game against Oklahoma on Sept. 17 at Gaylord Family Memorial Stadium. The Buckeyes won 45-24. Credit: Alexa Mavrogianis | Photo EditorOhio State redshirt freshman running back Mike Weber came to Columbus after the Buckeyes won the 2014 national championship. Former OSU running back, and current member of the Dallas Cowboys, Ezekiel Elliott emerged as a star, and it was clear that the four-star recruit, Weber, was going to have to wait to become the featured back in coach Urban Meyer’s offense.Just one year later, Weber is quietly showing his potential as OSU’s next great running back.Originally committed to Michigan, then nearly decommitting from Meyer and OSU after former running backs coach Stan Drayton left for the Chicago Bears days after National Signing Day, Weber elected to hang tough and try to win the job in 2016.Weber progressed over the spring and summer. Redshirt senior center Pat Elflein and redshirt junior quarterback J.T. Barrett talked at length at Big Ten Media Days in July about Weber’s maturity compared with a year ago. The two often worked out with Weber over the summer and noticed a new determination in the redshirt freshman.“(A year) makes a big difference. I lost a lot of weight and I got a lot stronger, faster and smarter,” Weber said after his first game as a starter against Bowling Green. “(Elliott) made sure he looked out for me. He saw potential in me and hopefully I make a lot of good plays for the team this year.”Last Saturday against Oklahoma, in Weber’s first true road game, he displayed the maturity and the strength coaches and players were raving about.Weber had his largest load of work against the Sooners, carrying the ball 18 times for 123 yards — good for an average of 6.8 yards-per-carry. Through three games now, Weber has 351 rushing yards and one touchdown. He ranks 13th in the NCAA in rushing yards and first in the Big Ten.Weber said after the Oklahoma game that he feels comfortable and confident on the field. “I actually learned a lot today … It was kind of fast. It was faster than what I expected,” he said. “It was faster than Bowling Green, faster than Tulsa. I’m pretty used to it. It’s just football at the end of the day.”Redshirting in 2015 after suffering a torn meniscus before the season began, Weber stood on the sidelines taking in the reality of his situation. But he decided to make the most of it and learn from Elliott every chance he could.When Elliott was on the sidelines, Weber was right there learning from the would-be No. 4 overall pick in the 2016 NFL draft. Elliott played in a substantial amount of road and neutral-site games in his career at OSU — Michigan State, Michigan, Alabama and Oregon, just to name a few. So when it was Weber’s turn to produce in a hostile, boisterous environment like Oklahoma’s Memorial Stadium, Weber used a few mental notes he took from Elliott.“Just sitting on the bench next to Zeke and him going back to the sideline saying this and that, I kind of learned that and kept it in my back pocket for when I started playing,” Weber said. “And now it’s working for me.”By comparison, Elliott didn’t rush for 100 yards in a game until his fourth career start. The former Buckeye ran for 149 yards and two touchdowns in his first three starts.Weber still has much to accomplish to be featured in conversation with the likes of Elliott, Eddie George, Archie Griffin and Carlos Hyde, but the redshirt freshman is making his statement early when he has the opportunity. With H-back Curtis Samuel as another player getting double-digit carries per game, Weber is bolstering OSU’s offense heading into Big Ten play.
The Reds gave up 47 runs in six games against West-coast teams this week, and still managed to win three of them.The Reds ended a five-game losing streak with an 11-9 win at home against the Dodgers Tuesday night. It was yet another win in their last at bat, the fashion in which they had won all six of their games up to that point.The Reds dropped the second game in the series with a sluggish 14-6 loss, but Mike Leake continued his impressive start to his rookie season in becoming the first pitcher in the Reds’ rotation to record a win this season in an 8-5 series-clinching victory.The Padres then came to town, and Adrian Gonzalez hit a home run in all three games as San Diego won the first two games of the series. However, late game heroics by Jay Bruce and Ramon Hernandez allowed the Reds to win the last game in the series 5-4, again in their last at bat.Studs: Mike Leake. The Reds’ rookie right-hander is the only starting pitcher to record a win thus far, and is batting .429 (In just seven at-bats).Duds: Aaron Harang. A lot of the pitchers in the rotation are deserving, but the player once considered the “ace” of the ball club has gone 0-3 in four starts with an 8.31 ERA this season.Next Week: The Reds are off Monday, but then embark on a six-game divisional road trip as they will open a series with the Astros on Tuesday, followed by a series with the Cardinals on Friday.
ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Ohio State football is used to success. In Jim Tressel’s 10 years as coach, he led the Buckeyes to eight BCS bowl game appearances and six consecutive Big Ten Championships. The 2011 season was different. OSU won just half of its regular season games, finishing with a 6-6 record and its first loss to archrival Michigan since 2003. It also dropped its final three games of the year. Senior wide receiver DeVier Posey, who was playing his second game of the year after serving two five-game suspensions, said the locker room felt “weird” after the loss. “We’ve never lost to Michigan,” Posey said, “It’s just an eerie feeling. You have a weird feeling in your stomach.” Despite the drop in success this season, the Buckeyes were reluctant to call the season a disappointment. “I think it’s a disappointment in terms of what the fans think and everything,” senior linebacker Tyler Moeller said. “Obviously you want to go out there and win every game. We fought and battled out there. Every game that we have lost, we were in them. We fought them. Sometimes in life that happens.” OSU has the minimum number of six wins to be eligible for a bowl game, but for the first time since 2004, OSU won’t be selected for a BCS bowl. Senior center Mike Brewster said dealing with all the losses has been difficult after having so much success in the past. “It’s hard,” Brewster said. “Just kind of shows you when you’re playing a team sport, decisions you make can affect your teammates.” OSU is still awaiting the decision as to whether or not they’ll be selected to play in a bowl game. Although six wins grants a team eligibility to participate in a bowl, it does not guarantee a team will be selected. Traditionally, OSU has had an advantage in the selection process because of the program’s reputation for traveling well to postseason games and drawing high TV ratings. One report from the Orlando Sentinel said representatives from the Gator Bowl are interested in choosing the Buckeyes to participate in the Jan. 2, bowl in Jacksonville, Fla., and pitting them against the Florida Gators. The hypothetical matchup would pit the team Urban Meyer coached from 2005-2010 (Florida) with the team Meyer will coach for the 2012 season (OSU). According to athletic director Gene Smith, current coach Luke Fickell will coach the bowl game and Meyer will no role in the team’s preparation. No matter what bowl game OSU is selected to or the coaching situation the team faces, junior defensive lineman John Simon said it won’t affect how his team will prepare. “We’re motivated,” Simon said. “We get excited for every game. We’ll make the corrections about this game tomorrow when we watch the tape and get back to work.” Moeller agreed. “Any game that we’re dealt, we’re going to work hard,” he said. “Just as hard as any other bowl game that we had. We’re going to try to win that.”
Freshman forward Nichelle Prince (7) advances the ball during a game against Purdue Sept. 29 at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium. OSU lost, 1-0.Credit: Michele Theodore / Copy ChiefComing off a season-high six goals in a senior day victory against Northwestern, the Ohio State women’s soccer team heads back on the road for two Big Ten games this weekend. The Buckeyes are scheduled to play at No. 21 Nebraska Friday afternoon and Iowa Sunday.“(This) week’s games we just have to win,” freshman forward Nichelle Prince said. “We have to go in hard, we have to go in even harder than (last) week.”With just three games left in the regular season, OSU currently sits at 3-3-2 in Big Ten play, good for sixth best in the conference. The Buckeyes have scored 11 goals in their past three games, compared to just 18 goals in their first 13 games. Coach Lori Walker is hoping the offense continues its run but is also making sure the defense is getting attention, too.“Consistency is our challenge,” Walker said. “My hope is we didn’t expend all the goals left in the box (on Sunday). We’re going to continue to work on our defending and not giving away transition goals, kind of like we saw today.”Sitting atop the Big Ten standings is OSU’s Friday opponent, Nebraska, who is 7-1 in conference play. Two Nebraska forwards, senior Jordan Jackson and freshman Jaycie Johnson, each have seven goals on the year to lead the Huskers in scoring.“These are two tough games and two very important games,” Walker said. “Nebraska is playing extremely well, and it’s always hard to play Iowa at Iowa, so everyone counts.”Hawkeye sophomore goalkeeper Hannah Clark has shut out seven opponents, tied for the most in the Big Ten this season.OSU freshman midfielder Alexis Degler said for the Buckeyes to be successful, they need to keep their composure and concentrate on the task at hand.“We really need to keep our intensity level and just celebrate the game,” Degler said. “We just really need to bring that the rest of the time, and our soccer will come with it.”Friday’s match at Nebraska is scheduled to start at 4 p.m., and Sunday’s match at Iowa is set to kick off Sunday at 2 p.m.
Note to readers: this story contains graphic and violent imagery.Brazil is home to the most successful national soccer team in history. As the only team to play in every FIFA World Cup, the Brazilians have won five titles, one ahead of Gli Azzurri from Italy.The country has fielded some of the greatest names in the sport’s storied history: from arguably the greatest player ever, Pelé, whose real name is Edson Arantes do Nascimento, to the likes of Roberto Carlos and Roberto Rivelino. Today, the squad features the phenomenon that is Barcelona forward Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior, as well as stars like Chelsea midfielder Oscar dos Santos Emboaba Júnior and Paris Saint-Germain defender Thiago Silva.The history is there; the talent is there. Brazil is my favorite to win the 2014 World Cup on home soil, but in what world is it acceptable to host one of the largest international affairs in a city rampant with near-warfare between police forces and drug lords?In recent years, numerous stories have come out of Brazil about gruesome murder and corruption. Some might say these issues have nothing to do with soccer, and will not affect the tournament itself.The thing is, the sport has begun to play a central part in these crimes.Back in July, 20-year-old referee Otávio Jordão da Silva stabbed Josenir dos Santos Abreu, a 30-year-old Brazilian soccer player, during a match. The player died on the way to the hospital, but the violence goes doesn’t end there. In retaliation, fans came onto the field and stoned Silva to death, before beheading him on the pitch.Two dead because of a game — no good reasons.Fast forward to Oct. 29 in Rio de Janeiro. The wife of former Brazilian soccer player João Rodrigo Silva Santos made the most horrifying discovery imaginable. Santos had not returned home from work the night before and his wife found his rucksack outside their front door. In the bag was Santos’ severed head.The first crime, the double murder on a soccer pitch, was a direct result of the sport. The death of Santos might not have any direct ties to his time as a soccer player, but the point is that the violence in Rio de Janeiro is out of hand.I never would have heard of these crimes had they not been related to a sport, but they are. In a country that is set to host the biggest event in soccer, violence runs rampant from fans, refs, players and even former players.I would love an opportunity to attend a World Cup, especially in a place which such a rich history in the sport. That said, I would not even consider an all expenses paid trip to the 2014 tournament.The risk is high, and the reward cannot compare.FIFA has made some questionable decisions in recent years, like rewarding the 2022 World Cup to Qatar, but there is no decision more absurd than allowing this event to take place in Rio de Janeiro.Rio de Janeiro is also set to host the 2016 Summer Olympics.While these stories are horrifying, I truly fear for the stories that will likely come out about crimes during the tournament. From locals in Rio, to those traveling in from around the world, how can one not fear for his or her life?