The Politics Of The Mueller Report

One big question, now that special counsel Robert Mueller has filed his report, is what the process of revealing Mueller’s findings will mean politically, which is a separate question from what additional legal issues might emerge. It may take a true bombshell — like, perhaps, a conclusion that the president did obstruct justice, or a full and explicit exoneration of the president from Mueller — to change Democrats’ and Republicans’ minds about how favorably they view Mueller and how trustworthy they find him.

That’s because views of the special counsel have become increasingly polarized since Mueller was appointed in May 2017.

Republicans in particular have grown more suspicious of Mueller — perhaps thanks to Trump’s frequent denunciations of the special counsel investigation as a politically motivatedwitch hunt.” Today, Republicans are much more inclined to believe that Mueller’s investigation is unfair than they were when he was appointed.

This is not to say that these numbers can’t change, especially if some important new information emerges in the coming weeks or months. In late 2018, after Mueller’s team indicted a number of people and Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to Congress as part of Mueller’s investigation, the percentage of Republicans who believed the probe was fair increased a bit. And if the results of Mueller’s probe are sufficiently damning, impeachment isn’t off the table. According to a poll conducted last month, 61 percent of Americans support impeachment if Mueller concludes that Trump authorized collusion with Russia, and 65 percent support impeachment if Mueller concludes that Trump obstructed justice.

But in terms of large-scale political ramifications like impeachment, it will likely take something big and dramatic to truly move the needle. As it stands now, Mueller’s investigation hasn’t been a political game-changer — either by providing fodder to House Democrats to begin considering impeachment proceedings against the president, or by officially clearing Trump’s name. This is important because Mueller, although he didn’t have unified support from Republicans and Democrats, has still maintained some credibility as an independent investigator — he’s still largely trusted, for example, by independents. So while the political showdown over the Mueller report is already beginning, the extent of the fallout is much more uncertain.

For more on the legal implications of the report, see Mueller Just Filed His Report. What Happens Next?

Fewer Americans Think LGBT People Face Discrimination

Over the past decade, the gay rights movement has had a lot to celebrate. Within a single generation, a politically divided country appeared to reach a consensus in support of same-sex marriage and acceptance of gay and lesbian people. Today, two-thirds of Americans support allowing gay and lesbian people to marry, nearly the mirror opposite of where things stood in 1996, the first year Gallup polled on the question.

But the rapid rise in support and the corresponding changes in American culture have led to a growing disconnect between public perceptions and the actual experiences of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in the U.S.

Perceptions of discrimination against gay and lesbian people have plummeted over the past few years, particularly among young people. Only 55 percent of Americans believe that gay and lesbian people face a lot of discrimination in the U.S., down from 68 percent in 2013. Among young adults, historically some of the strongest supporters of gay rights, perceptions of discrimination against gay and lesbian people dropped by 16 points. What’s more, a Pew Research Center study suggests that Americans surveyed by phone may be overstating the extent to which they believe gay and lesbian people face discrimination. A 2014 report found that Americans were 14 points less likely to say gays and lesbians experience a lot of discrimination when responding to an online survey than when a pollster called them.

The drop in perceptions of discrimination against gay and lesbian people has not coincided with a broader shift in the public’s thinking about discrimination in society. Over the same time period, Americans have not become notably less inclined to say Muslims, women, Jews or blacks are facing less discrimination. In fact, Americans are somewhat more likely to say black people are experiencing a lot of discrimination than they were in the past.1

Mounting evidence suggests that around half of Americans believe the fight for gay rights is increasingly unnecessary. A 2019 Gallup survey found that a majority (54 percent) of the public feel satisfied with the level of acceptance of gay and lesbian people in the country. In a Gallup survey conducted a couple years earlier, just under half (46 percent) of the public said new laws are not necessary to reduce discrimination against gay and lesbian people. This is largely consistent with a more recent PRRI survey, which found that nearly half (49 percent) of Americans — including 81 percent of Republicans — believe the country has made the changes needed to give gay and lesbian people equal rights.

Gay rights has never been the most important issue for the average voter. Even during the intense debate over same-sex marriage, few ranked it as a critical concern. And now, gay rights has largely fallen off the public radar. On a list of 16 issues, a Pew poll found that the treatment of LGBT people ranked dead last in the percentage of people who said it was important to their vote in the 2018 election.

This stands starkly at odds with the actual experiences of LGBT people. A 2017 Harvard study found that a majority of self-identified LGBT people reported facing slurs or offensive comments. Experiences of being threatened and subjected to sexual harassment were also widely reported in the study. The results of the Harvard study are remarkably similar to a 2013 Pew Research Center survey that found a nearly identical number (58 percent) of LGBT people who said they had been subjected to slurs or jokes based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

These findings suggest that the pervasiveness of discrimination experienced by LGBT people is, at best, largely unchanged over the past few years, and government data shows violence against LGBT people is increasing.

How has this happened? It’s difficult to point to any definite cause, but there are a few potential explanations. One is the high-profile accomplishments of the LGBT fight for equality. The movement’s milestones and accomplishments were meticulously documented and dramatized in real time. Media outlets have eagerly covered each historic step and shift in public opinion, which may have left an increasing number of Americans with the impression that the public has reached a comfortable consensus on the issue of gay rights.

Kasey Suffredini, president of strategy at Freedom for All Americans, says winning on same-sex marriage came with a cost. “[It] may have led some Americans to believe that LGBTQ Americans now have all the protections they need. Some people I meet out on the campaign trail are really surprised to learn how much discrimination LGBTQ Americans still face.”

Another possible explanation may be that despite the increasing visibility of the lives, experiences and perspectives of gay and lesbian people, Americans are receiving a picture of LGBT life that doesn’t always match reality. Gay, lesbian and transgender characters are featured widely in television shows, and the issues of sexual orientation and gender identity have become common themes in many of these programs. But although a number of gay and lesbian actors and entertainers have achieved national popularity, the experiences of LGBT people vary widely depending on where they live. As New York Times columnist Frank Bruni notes, “There is no such thing as LGBT life in America.”

Simply having a gay or lesbian friend may not change those misconceptions either. Seventy percent of Americans report having a close friend or family member who is gay or lesbian, but this doesn’t necessarily mean Americans are getting an honest accounting of what life is like for gay and lesbian people. A 2017 survey of LGBT people found that nearly one-third avoided talking about LGBT issues in social situations to avoid facing possible discrimination.

Perhaps the sustained focus by activists and the media on same-sex marriage — both the legal fight and the shifting public support — overly simplified the more complex and nuanced public views Americans have about LGBT issues. For years, support for same-sex marriage served as a proxy for the views about how gay and lesbian people should be treated in society. But it is unclear how committed Americans will remain to the entire set of issues that fall under the umbrella of LGBT equality. Polling on transgender issues shows a far more divided public, for example.

Lastly, public perceptions about LGBT rights in the U.S. may be affected by the decreasing prominence of critical opinions in the media. Opposition to gay rights remains entrenched in two important institutions — the Republican Party and many churches — but these perspectives are increasingly absent from popular culture.

Only one of the country’s two major political parties — the Democratic Party — currently affirms that gay and lesbian people have a right to marry. The Republican Party remains steadfast in its opposition to same-sex marriage. The 2016 Republican platform offered an emphatic denunciation of the recently-enshrined right, which had been ushered in at the federal level by a court ruling the year before. “We … condemn the Supreme Court’s lawless ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, which in the words of the late Justice Antonin Scalia, was a ‘judicial Putsch’ — full of ‘silly extravagances.’” Given how important conservative religious voters are in Republican politics, this state affairs is not likely to change in the near term.

Meanwhile, many of country’s largest religious denominations still prohibit same-sex marriage. The issue of homosexuality still appears in Sunday sermons around the country. Forty-two percent of Americans who regularly attend religious services report that their clergy discusses the issue. And the messages are usually critical, according to those who have heard them. Today, nearly one in three Americans believe that gay and lesbian relations are morally wrong.

The social media sphere was set atwitter after it was reported thatKaren Pence, wife of Vice President Mike Pence, would teach at a Christian school that bans gay and lesbian students and teachers. But this practice is not uncommon at many Christian secondary schools, where openly gay and lesbian teachers face disciplinary actions and can be fired.

The truth is that a large number of Americans express a deeply-felt discomfort with gay and lesbian people, but it’s becoming less likely that their perspectives will show up on “House Hunters,” in your Facebook feed or at your office happy hour. They do show up in state party platforms, in laws governing child welfare agencies and even in trade deals. They are held by a substantial number of Americans.

The challenge for the gay rights movement is convincing Americans that while the legalization of same-sex marriage was a major accomplishment, it’s not the only metric that matters.

Wofford Is Playing A Lot Bigger Than It Is

True to the reputation of an overlooked mid-major, when the Wofford Terriers were headed for the Southern Conference tournament earlier this month, they refused to take anything for granted. As dominant as the Terriers were, the persistent refrain from Spartanburg, South Carolina, was that Wofford would not feel safe on Selection Sunday without a tournament title and an automatic bid to the Big Dance.

Those worries were built on years of heartbreak from small schools whose surprise losses in conference tournaments nullified dominant seasons. No team from the Southern Conference has been given an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. Despite finishing the regular season 26-4 and ranking 14th in the NCAA’s NET metric, Wofford was vulnerable.

But the concern proved to be unnecessary. Wofford defeated its three conference tournament foes just as it won its 18 regular-season league games, and based on the way Sunday went, it wouldn’t have mattered anyway. This is no ordinary mid-major underdog. It’s official now: Wofford is going to the NCAA Tournament as one of the most dangerous mid-major teams this century.

A No. 7 seed in the Midwest region, the Terriers are a rare breed of March upstart. They are the highest-seeded Southern Conference team since the NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985. Other than powerhouse Gonzaga, just five schools this century have earned top-eight seeds in the NCAA Tournament from conferences that had played fewer than three tournament games per year.1 They are Pacific, Murray State, George Mason, St. Mary’s (twice) and Butler (four times).

Wofford compares favorably to other mid-major contenders

Teams from conferences that had played fewer than three tournament games per year and were seeded No. 8 or better in the men’s NCAA Tournament, based on key KenPom efficiency stats, 2000-19

Adjusted Efficiency Metrics
Year Team Conf Seed Off. Rk Def. Rk Diff. Rk
2011 Butler Horizon 8 112.3 34 97.3 69 +15.0 44
2005 Pacific Big West 8 113.5 27 99.3 93 +14.2 40
2012 Murray St. OVC 6 110.2 51 95.1 42 +15.1 38
2012 St. Mary’s WCC 7 114.4 20 98.9 97 +15.5 36
2011 George Mason CAA 8 113.3 28 95.0 44 +18.3 26
2008 Butler Horizon 7 116.1 16 96.8 56 +19.3 26
2010 Butler Horizon 5 110.8 49 90.7 18 +20.0 22
2019 Wofford SoCon 7 118.5 11 97.7 63 +20.8 19
2007 Butler Horizon 5 118.1 10 97.1 50 +21.0 14
2017 St. Mary’s WCC 7 118.9 15 94.3 22 +24.6 14

Source: KenPom.com

Tiny Wofford has posted a 118.5 adjusted offensive efficiency, better than all of those high-seeded mid-majors except St. Mary’s in 2016-17. The Terriers’ No. 19 ranking in Ken Pomeroy’s metrics indicates that they’re actually underseeded. In fact, they resemble the profile of the most famous Southern Conference darling, a Davidson team with a star shooter named Stephen Curry.

Entering the 2008 NCAA Tournament, Davidson was 30th in adjusted offense, 25th in adjusted defense and 18th overall. Today, Wofford is 11th in offense, 63rd in defense and 19th overall. Davidson finished 27th in effective field-goal percentage, while Wofford is fourth. Neither team went to the foul line much — Davidson was 332nd in free-throw rate; Wofford is 303rd — but both compensated by limiting turnovers, taking lots of 3-pointers and making a high percentage of those threes. Both teams ran the table in the SoCon.

Sunday was kind to little guys everywhere, from Wofford to Buffalo (a similarly threatening No. 6 seed in the West) to Belmont (which earned an at-large bid from the Ohio Valley Conference). But no team has Wofford’s combination of firepower, efficiency and relative obscurity.

Mid-major conferences have had looks at the top 20 in Pomeroy’s rankings — Wichita State from the Missouri Valley in 2014, San Diego State from the Mountain West in 2011 — but even in that company, Wofford and the Southern Conference would be considered lower-profile in every way. In the NCAA’s 2016 revenue distribution based on tournament success, the Southern received a smaller share than any other conference except the Big Sky, with which it tied at $1.56 million. The conference with the biggest share — the Big Ten — received $25.82 million.

The Terriers have been to the tourney before, positioned as a double-digit seed underdog in 2010, 2011, 2014 and 2015. In 2010, they were tied at 49 against No. 4 seed Wisconsin with 1:17 left. They didn’t score again and lost 53-49. In 2015, they were tied at 53 with No. 5 seed Arkansas with 1:55 left. They didn’t score again and lost 56-53.

Mike Young’s team has since developed into one that’s built to pull off an upset or two in the next couple of weeks. Wofford has followed the collegewide trend of increased reliance on the 3-point shot. The Terriers are second in America from 3-point range, shooting 41.6 percent, and 43.5 percent of their shots are from deep. Since 2002, only two tournament-bound mid-majors shot a higher percentage from three than Wofford did this season. In 2012, Doug McDermott and No. 8 seed Creighton knocked out Alabama before running into top-seeded North Carolina, and in 2010, hot-shooting Cornell made the Sweet 16 as a No. 12 seed after upsetting Temple and Wisconsin.

To power that offense, Wofford has a shooting threat capable of being a star in this tournament: Fletcher Magee, who’s just two 3-pointers shy of the all-time career record for made threes. Every March explosion needs a spark, just like Creighton had McDermott, Davidson had Curry and Murray State had Isaiah Canaan in 2012. Magee’s work ethic has become mythical in Spartanburg, where they tell tales of the guard who practices in the dark to work on his feel. He once shot in his driveway in the middle of the night, setting cushions under the hoop to muffle the sound.

As for any comparison to the other hot-shooting SoCon star? “I don’t like to compare players,” Young told The Athletic in 2017, “but in terms of Fletch’s ability to score and do it as efficiently as he’s doing it, from all points on the floor, let’s just say it reminds me of someone.” The mid-major energy and the streaky shooting are familiar, too.

The history of mid-major success in the NCAA tournament is what makes March Madness so special. Loyola of Chicago became the latest stunner last season when it reached the Final Four as a No. 11 seed from the Missouri Valley. If Wofford makes a similar run, nobody should be shocked.

Check out our latest March Madness predictions.

Mike Trout Is A $430 Million Bargain

As reported by ESPN’s Jeff Passan on Tuesday, the Los Angeles Angels are closing in on a 12-year contract extension worth at least $430 million with outfielder Mike Trout, setting the all-time mark for both the largest contract (passing Bryce Harper’s $330 million deal from a few weeks ago) and the greatest average annual contract value in baseball history. Trout is a longtime object of fascination for us here at FiveThirtyEight; we’ve frequently extolled his virtues as baseball’s best and most consistent star. Now he has the record-breaking contract to match his talent — but one that might still represent a big bargain for the Angels. And the deal’s long-term nature only renews questions about Trout’s ability to win in L.A., as well as his potential to break through as a star off the field.

At first glance, about $36 million per year seems like a tremendous deal for the Angels. According to FanGraphs’ estimated market values based on wins above replacement (WAR), a player with Trout’s 2018 production should have been worth about $79 million last season. That’s nothing new for Trout: FanGraphs estimates that he was worth $55 million (in 70 percent of a full season) in 2017, $78 million in 2016 and $74 million in 2016. So if Trout continues his recent pace, the Angels will basically be paying him half of what he’d be worth on the open market over the next few seasons.

Of course, Trout is also 27 this year, traditionally the age at which baseball players peak. Trout’s new deal will take him through 2030, his age-38 season. Even though no player in baseball history has posted more career WAR through their age-26 season than Trout,1 it’s probably safe to assume that Trout won’t continue to be a 10-WAR-per-season machine throughout the entire life of this contract.

The old saying that “Father Time is undefeated” remains true — perhaps truer now than ever. And even star-level players peak more quickly than you might expect. While Willie Mays and Hank Aaron were superstars late into their careers, other outfielders similar to Trout — such as Ken Griffey Jr. and Andruw Jones — fell off a performance cliff after age 30 and never recovered.

Here’s a plot of the 10 retired outfielders most similar to Trout through age 26 (according to The Baseball Gauge), along with the arcs of their seasonal WAR as aging took hold:

Trout’s most similar group averaged just fewer than 1.0 WAR by age 38. And that group contains eight Hall of Famers, including Griffey, Aaron, Mickey Mantle, Frank Robinson and Mel Ott. To further complicate matters, the quality of competition in MLB continues to improve over time, and the game is getting younger, making it more difficult to age well.

However, if 1 WAR is worth $8 million in 2019, and that value inflates by 3 percent per season (for the first five seasons),2 the average of Trout’s comparable group would be worth about $450 million from age 27 through age 38. And it bears mentioning that Trout has accumulated 48 percent more WAR through age 26 than his comparable group of all-time legends. (Yes, Trout is good.)

So Trout seems like a very good bet to deliver more value to the Angels than they’re paying him for in this contract, even if some of the assumptions above are more player-friendly than the current state of baseball’s economics. While many MLB mega-contracts end up looking bad in retrospect, this Trout deal might be the rare one that delivers positive surplus value for the team.

Either way, with no opt-outs in the deal and a full no-trade clause, Trout and the Angels are committed to each other for the long haul. If Trout is interested in winning World Series rings, he took a risk in remaining in Anaheim: He has never won a playoff game with the Angels even while establishing himself at the game’s best player. As great as Trout has been, even the best player cannot do it alone — particularly not in baseball, which is a weak-link sport that is less dependent on star talent than other sports.

But in some ways, the Angels’ outlook is improving for the second act of the Trout era. Albert Pujols’s albatross of a contract is coming off the books after the 2021 season — $28 million in present-day dead money the Angels can allocate elsewhere.

The Angels entered Tuesday with $28 million committed in 2022 salaries, ranking 18th in baseball despite playing in the sport’s No. 2 market in Los Angeles. (The MLB average is $35.2 million committed in 2022, according to Spotrac.) So should the Angels want to compete in the market for high-end free-agent talent in coming years — like, say, Mookie Betts (free agency ETA 2021) or Francisco Lindor (free agency ETA 2022)3 — they will have the flexibility and purchasing power to do so.


Baseball's Mike Trout is a god of WAR


Perhaps most important for the club’s long-term prospects is the productivity of its farm system. For much of Trout’s tenure with the Angels, the club had one of the worst farm systems in baseball. The Angels’ system ranked last in baseball in 2014, 2016 and 2017, according to Baseball America. That’s begun to change. The Angels hired Billy Eppler to lead their front office after the 2015 season; they improved to 14th in the rankings in 2018 and 13th this spring.

Outfielder Jo Adell, L.A.’s first-round pick in 2017, has quickly become one of the game’s elite prospects, while starter Griffin Canning, a second-round pick in 2017, gives the Angels a second top-100 prospect. And help from the farm is not too far away: Eight of the top 10 Angels prospects are expected to open in Double-A or higher this spring. Moreover, if the Angels’ top prospect from a year ago, Shohei Ohtani, can become a consistent impact performer as a pitcher and hitter, L.A. could have two star caliber players in one roster spot.

The Angels’ biggest long-term issue is that they are in the same division as the Houston Astros, who are on the cutting edge of evaluation and player development. The Astros took home the 2017 World Series trophy, won 103 games a year ago project to win 99 games again this season according to the FiveThirtyEight model, all while maintaining a farm system that has ranked fifth or better in three of the past four years. Baseball America ranks the Astros’ farm system No. 5 in the game entering 2019.

It will be no easy task to supplant the Astros as kings of the AL West. And if Trout and the Angels can’t do that, it will be more difficult for Trout to raise his own profile, which lags well behind what his talent would suggest. Only one baseball player made ESPN’s list of the 100 most famous athletes in the world, and it wasn’t Trout — it was Bryce Harper at No. 99. This contract extension makes Trout very rich, but it also forces him to forfeit the chance to join a more likely World Series contender — and he’ll miss out on the spotlight that would have shown on him during his own free agency after the 2020 season.

So now the pressure is even greater for the Angels to surround Trout with better talent and build a winner around him. By the end of this contract, he’ll have spent two full decades with the franchise. It would be a true shame if Trout’s next 12 seasons contain as little team success as his first eight did.

Is Beto O’Rourke Learning How To Troll The Media?

At 5:03 a.m. on Monday, Politico published a story on former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s “rocky rollout” to his presidential campaign, which launched last week.1

Roughly two hours later, O’Rourke’s campaign announced that it had raised $6.1 million in the first 24 hours after launch — more than any other Democratic candidate including Sen. Bernie Sanders, who raised $5.9 million.

Presumably, this was intentional on the O’Rourke campaign’s behalf. Having some good news in its pocket, it waited to announce its fundraising haul until a busier news cycle (Monday morning instead of Friday afternoon) and until the media narrative surrounding his launch had begun to overextend itself. O’Rourke’s $6.1 million in fundraising is important unto itself — more money allows a campaign to hire more staff, open more field offices, run more ads and compete in more states — but it sounded like an even bigger deal to journalists who had begun to hear whispers of fundraising totals that would fall well below that.

Indeed, I too had thought it was probably a bad sign for O’Rourke that he had not disclosed his fundraising on Friday when the 24-hour period ended, although I said that it would be a “good troll” if he had intentionally held off on announcing just to screw with media expectations:

It could be more than a good troll, in fact, if it suggests that O’Rourke and his staff are learning to manage media expectations, something that had been a problem for the proto-campaign in its pre-launch phase. Expectations management is a key survival skill for a modern presidential candidate — one that could come in handy later on when the media is trying to interpret, for example, whether a second-place finish in the Iowa caucuses was a good finish for O’Rourke or a bad one.

For better or worse, the primaries are partly an expectations game, meaning that it’s not just how well you do in an absolute sense that matters, but how well you do relative to how well the media expects you to do. Historically, for instance, the candidates that receive the biggest bounce to their national and New Hampshire polls after the Iowa caucuses are those who most beat their polls in Iowa — and therefore most beat media expectations, which are usually closely tied to the polls — and not necessarily the actual winners. The canonical example of this dynamic is Sen. Gary Hart and former Vice President Walter Mondale in the 1984 Democratic caucuses in Iowa. Even though Mondale dominated the caucuses with 48.9 percent of the vote to Hart’s 16.5 percent, it was Hart who got the favorable headlines as the media had finally found an alternative to the boring, predictable Mondale “juggernaut.” The next week, Hart came from well behind in the polls to win the New Hampshire primary.

The expectations game is dumb — among other things, it gives the media too large a role in the primary process — and maybe both voters and the media have become more sophisticated to the point where it matters less than it once did. (Recent Iowa caucuses have not produced especially large bounces, for instance.) I wouldn’t be so sure about that, though. Keeping expectations in check was a big problem in the Democratic primaries in 2016 for Hillary Clinton, who had one of the more robust victories of the modern primary era but who didn’t (and still doesn’t) get a lot of credit for it.

Conversely, one of President Trump’s big strengths in the primaries was to completely dominate media coverage — a big advantage when you need to differentiate yourself in a field of 17 candidates — while keeping expectations low. Usually, more coverage and higher expectations go hand-in-hand; the more hype you get, the more the press expects you to perform well in debates, polls, fundraising and, ultimately, in primaries and caucus. But Trump had a knack for trolling the media and for hacking the news cycle to make sure that he remained the center of the conversation. It’s not that this necessarily required great skill on Trump’s behalf, but he was canny enough to know that the media’s behavior is fairly predictable and therefore easy to manipulate. Meanwhile, lots of folks in the media — and certainly us here at FiveThirtyEight — were way too willing to dismiss polls showing Trump well ahead of the Republican field from the summer of 2015 onward. A high volume of coverage but low expectations is the best of both worlds for a candidate in the primaries, and Trump got it.

O’Rourke is going to get a lot of media coverage — and he’s one of those candidates who, like past failed candidates such as then-Gov. Rick Perry in 2012 and Sen. Marco Rubio in 2016, but also like successful ones such as then-Sen. Barack Obama in 2008 and Trump in 2016 — simultaneously seems to be overrated and underrated by the press and never quite at equilibrium. I’ve learned the hard way that it’s particularly important to stay at arm’s length when evaluating candidates like these, to wait for polling data or fundraising data or other hard evidence on how well they’re doing, and to avoid reading too much into the media narratives surrounding them because they’re prone to shift on a whim. O’Rourke’s fundraising numbers — as the most tangible sign to date of how his campaign is performing — were a fairly big deal, but so was his campaign’s apparent awareness about the importance of managing expectations.


From ABC News:
Beto O'Rourke faces criticism for saying he was 'born to run' for president


Your Guide To The 2019 NCAA Men’s Tournament

The NCAA tournament is finally here! Will we see another No. 16 seed beat a No. 1 seed? Will Gonzaga finally win its first national championship? Will Zion Williamson’s shoe explode again? We can’t tell you exactly what will happen over the next three weeks, but we can help steer you in the right direction when picking your bracket using our March Madness prediction model. You can read about how the system works here, and read on to learn what the model has to say about the top seeds’ fates, dark horses and Cinderellas to watch, and favorites to avoid. Let the madness begin…


East region

Top seed outlook: According to the FiveThirtyEight model, top seed Duke has the best chance of advancing to the Final Four in the entire field (53 percent probability) as well as the best odds of winning the national title (19 percent).

The Blue Devils are led by four soon-to-be first-round draft picks, including Zion Williamson, one of the greatest talents in recent memory. Duke is a walking highlight reel on the offensive end and far stingier on defense than many may realize. This is among Mike Krzyzewski’s most-balanced teams and projects to be his first since 2010 to rank inside the top six in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted offense and defense metrics. That team won the national title.1

What this team lacks, however, is touch along the perimeter. Duke shoots a ghastly 30.2 percent from beyond the arc, the worst mark among tournament-qualifying teams. In an offensive era increasingly dominated by space and perimeter scoring, the Blue Devils could buck the trend punishing the rim.

On the other side of the region is the winner of the Big Ten conference tournament, Michigan State. As their reward, the No. 2 Spartans have the honor of a potential matchup against the top overall seed in the Elite Eight. Head coach Tom Izzo was none too pleased. The Spartans have been pummeled by injuries but remain one of the most balanced teams in the country, ranking inside the top eight in Pomeroy’s adjusted offense and defense metrics.

Sneaky Final Four pick: No. 4 Virginia Tech. Led by the star pairing of Kerry Blackshear Jr. and Nickeil Alexander-Walker, the Hokies are a balanced squad that ranks among Pomeroy’s Top 25 teams on both offense and defense. Although they’ve lost eight times, only two of those were by double-digits. Virginia Tech also has a not-altogether-unfriendly draw, with extremely winnable opening games against Saint Louis (87 percent) and the Mississippi State-Liberty winner (63 percent) before most likely running into Duke’s juggernaut. We give the Hokies a respectable 25 percent chance against the Blue Devils — and a 54 percent chance against whoever emerges from the bottom of the region if they do manage to knock off Duke.

Don’t bet on: No. 3 LSU. With coach Will Wade embroiled in a pay-for-play scandal and his team probably overvalued as a 3-seed, the Bayou Bengals could be ripe for an upset in this tournament. They ranked only 18th in Pomeroy’s ratings — roughly the quality of a No. 5 seed — thanks in large part to a defense that didn’t even crack the nation’s top 60 in adjusted efficiency. (This showed up in the 51 second-half points they allowed to Florida while losing their first game of the SEC tournament.) Their NCAA path isn’t very easy, either: Yale is no pushover as a No. 14 seed, nor is potential second-round opponent Maryland, and we give the Tigers a mere 26 percent chance of beating Michigan State if the teams meet in the Sweet Sixteen. This is easily the lowest-rated top-three seed in the field.

Cinderella watch: No. 11 Belmont. The East is top-heavy, with Duke and Michigan State soaking up most of the Final Four odds. But the Bruins are an intriguing lower-seeded team because of an impressive offense led by do-everything swingman Dylan Windler. According to Pomeroy, Belmont ranks 20th in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency (and second nationally in raw points per game behind Gonzaga), while Windler was one of only three players nationally to average 20 points and 10 rebounds per game. Although the Bruins do have to win a play-in game against Temple just to make the field of 64 — we give them a 59 percent chance — they would have a very competitive 39 percent probability of upsetting Maryland in the first round and an even better chance against the LSU/Yale winner.

Player to watch: Cassius Winston, Michigan State

Three years ago, zzo said he thought his 6-foot-1 freshman could be Michigan State’s best passer since Magic Johnson. The Spartans’ do-everything point guard — one of the best facilitators in the country — is validating his coach’s comment. Only Murray State’s Ja Morant, a surefire lottery pick in this year’s draft, has a higher assist rate than Winston (46.0 percent). And behind Winston, the Spartans assist on the highest rate of field goals in the country.

The junior also happens to be Izzo’s leading scorer and one of the country’s top perimeter threats, shooting better than 40 percent from beyond the arc. As injuries have relentlessly sapped the Spartans of their on-court production, Winston has elevated his game to compensate. As he put it to The Athletic, “I have to do a lot for my team to win.”

Likeliest first-round upsets: No. 9 Central Florida over No. 8 VCU (47 percent); No. 11 Belmont* over No. 6 Maryland (39 percent); No. 10 Minnesota over No. 7 Louisville (34 percent)

(* Must win play-in game first.)


West region

Top seed outlook: Gonzaga is the best team in the West by a considerable margin, but the Zags, despite reaching the final two years ago, haven’t always performed well under the bright lights of the tournament. Still, Gonzaga has a 70 percent probability of reaching the Elite Eight, according to our model, and the third-best odds of any team to reach the national championship game (26 percent).

Should Gonzaga face Syracuse in the second round, the zone defense of the Orange could give the Bulldogs trouble. This is the best offense Mark Few has had in Spokane, but it may be tested by any of the terrific defenses in the West: Four of the top 15 can be found in this region, including the top two in Texas Tech and Michigan.

Sneaky Final Four pick: No. 4 Florida State. A fixture in the KenPom Top 20 for most of the season, the Seminoles are hoping to build on last season’s tournament run, which saw them come within a 4-point margin of making the Final Four. FSU has a dominant defense (No. 9 in Pomeroy’s ratings) and a balanced roster that saw four players accumulate at least 2.5 win shares. This draw isn’t terrible, either: Vermont isn’t especially difficult as a first-round foe, and Marquette is very beatable (more on that below). No. 1 seeded Gonzaga probably looms after that, and we give FSU a 24 percent chance against the Zags — but the Seminoles would have a 48 percent chance of making the Final Four if they were to pull off the upset.

Don’t bet on: No. 5 Marquette. Teams seeded fifth aren’t usually good bets to make it past the Sweet 16 anyway, but Marquette might be an especially bad pick. According to the FiveThirtyEight power ratings, the Golden Eagles are by far the worst No. 5 seed in the field, and a first-round date with breakout mid-major superstar Ja Morant didn’t do them any favors. Marquette has some star power of its own in junior guard Markus Howard, who ranks sixth in the nation with an average of 25 points per game, but this team lost five of its last six games and has a tough tournament road ahead of it.

Cinderella watch: No. 10 Florida. The Gators may have been one of the final bubble teams to sneak into the field of 68, but they could be poised to do some damage now that they are here. They drew Nevada, a so-so No. 7 seed, in the first round, and we give Florida a 42 percent chance of pulling the upset there. Last year’s national runner-up, Michigan, likely waits in Round 2, and that is a tough matchup (23 percent odds for Florida) — but if the Gators win, they have a 38 percent chance of making the Elite Eight. In a region with a number of good-but-flawed options, Florida looks better than the typical 10-seed.

Player to watch: Brandon Clarke, Gonzaga

The linchpin of the Zags isn’t the consensus lottery pick, nor the two veteran guards who have together started 87 percent of Gonzaga’s games over the past two seasons. It’s Brandon Clarke, a transfer from San Jose State who is in his first active season with the team. He’s perhaps the most underappreciated player in the country.

On a team that typically features a 7-footer protecting the rim, it’s Clarke, at 6-foot-8, who is tasked with protecting the paint this season. Clarke has responded by setting a single-season blocks record and posting the highest block rate of any team under Few.

“If I feel like if I can get a good, quick jump first, I’ll pretty much jump with anybody,” Clarke told me. “I mean, I’ve seen Zion (Williamson) coming down through the lane before on TV, and if I can’t jump at the right time, I probably wouldn’t jump with him, but … I don’t really see myself not jumping with anybody.”

Likeliest first-round upsets: No. 9 Baylor over No. 8 Syracuse (48 percent); No. 10 Florida over No. 7 Nevada (42 percent); No. 12 Murray State over No. 5 Marquette (32 percent)


South region

Top seed outlook: Can No. 1 Virginia exorcise last year’s demons now that the team is at full strength? Our model thinks so. The Cavaliers have a 49 percent probability of cracking the Final Four and a 31 percent probability of reaching what would be the program’s first national title game.

With De’Andre Hunter, who wasn’t on the court last year during UVA’s historic loss to No. 16 Maryland Baltimore County, the Cavaliers have been dominant on both ends — the only team ranking in the top five in Pomeroy’s adjusted offense and defense metrics. Once again, Tony Bennett’s pack line defense is suffocating most every offensive opportunity and successfully turning games into rock fights. But this year’s team is even better on the offensive end and should breeze into the Elite Eight, where it could meet Tennessee. Thanks to Grant Williams and the wonderfully named Admiral Schofield, the No. 2 Volunteers are playing their best basketball in program history. We give them a 22 percent probability of reaching the Final Four.

Sneaky Final Four pick: No. 6 Villanova. Is it “sneaky” to pick the team that’s won two of the past three national titles? Maybe not. But this hasn’t been the same team that coach Jay Wright guided to those championships. After losing a ton of its best players from last year’s title-winning team, the Wildcats had an up-and-down year and lost five of their final eight regular-season Big East games. But they also got hot over the past week, capping off a season in which they still won the Big East regular-season and conference-tournament titles — and still had one of the 20 best offenses in the country according to KenPom (powered by an absurd number of 3-pointers). Our power ratings think they’re the fourth-best team in the South despite being the No. 6 seed, and they have a 39 percent chance of at least making it back to the Sweet 16 for a fifth time in the past six seasons.

Don’t bet on: No. 4 Kansas State. Coach Bruce Weber’s Wildcats nearly made the Final Four last season, but they might find it tougher this time around. K-State has an elite defense (it ranks fourth in the country according to Pomeroy’s ratings), but its offense is prone to struggles — and could be down its second-leading scorer, forward Dean Wade, who missed the team’s Big 12 tournament loss to Iowa State with a foot injury. A brutal draw that gives the Wildcats tough No. 13 seed UC Irvine in the first round, then places them opposite the Wisconsin-Oregon winner in Round 2, could limit their potential to advance deep into a second consecutive tournament.

Cinderella watch: No. 12 Oregon. According to our model, the Ducks have the best Sweet 16 odds (24 percent) of any double-digit seed in the tournament, more than twice that of any other candidate. Oregon struggled to string together wins for most of the regular season, and its chances seemed sunk after 7-foot-2 phenom Bol Bol was lost for the season with a foot injury in January. But the Ducks have rallied to win eight straight games heading into the tournament, including a convincing victory in Saturday’s Pac-12 championship. Oregon fits a similar mold as K-State — great defense with a suspect offense — but that’s telling, given that the Ducks are a 12-seed and the Wildcats are a No. 4. If they meet in the Round of 32, we give Oregon a 47 percent chance at the upset.

Player to watch: Grant Williams, Tennessee

The junior has come a long way from being “just a fat boy with some skill.” Williams, the de facto leader of Rick Barnes’s Volunteers, has bullied the SEC over the past two seasons, collecting two consecutive conference player of the year honors.

The Vols might just feature the best offense of Barnes’s coaching career — and we’re talking about a guy who coached Kevin Durant! Much of that offensive potency can be traced to Williams, the team’s leading scorer and rebounder, who ranks in the 97th percentile in scoring efficiency, according to data courtesy of Synergy Sports.

Williams possesses an old-man game you might find at a local YMCA, a back-to-the-basket, footwork-proficient offensive assault that manifests primarily in post-ups, where he ranks in the 98th percentile in scoring efficiency and shoots an adjusted field-goal percentage of 56.1. He can get the Volunteers buckets in the waning moments of games, too, as he ranks in the 96th percentile in isolation scoring efficiency.

Likeliest first-round upsets: No. 9 Oklahoma over No. 8 Ole Miss (53 percent); No. 12 Oregon over No. 5 Wisconsin (45 percent); No. 10 Iowa over No. 7 Cincinnati (34 percent)


Midwest region

Top seed outlook: On paper, the Midwest seems to be the most open of the four regions, but we still give No. 1 North Carolina the best odds, with a 35 percent probability of reaching the Final Four and an 18 percent probability of appearing in the national championship game. Those odds are at least 8 percentage points lower than any other No. 1 team in the field, though, and for good reason: North Carolina’s offense depends on turning every play into a fast break. The Tar Heels struggle to get to the free-throw line and give up a ton of shots along the perimeter, which, in a slowed-down, half-court matchup, could be quite problematic.

After getting waxed by Duke to open the season, No. 2 Kentucky has caught fire in recent weeks while finding balance on both ends of the floor and mostly abstaining from the 3-point line. No. 3 Houston, meanwhile, is in the midst of its best season since Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon were revolutionizing college basketball, and they boast a defense that ranks among the very best along and inside the perimeter.

Sneaky Final Four pick: No. 5 Auburn. When the Tigers steamrolled Tennessee 84-64 in Sunday’s SEC title game, it likely got the attention of a lot of bracket-pickers. That wasn’t a one-off — Auburn also beat Tennessee eight days earlier, part of a string of eight straight wins for the Tigers, and 10 in their last 11 games. With an explosive offense (No. 8 in KenPom efficiency) that got more of its points from downtown than any other team in the NCAA field, Auburn can heat up in a hurry. We give the Tigers nearly a coin-flip’s odds of making the Sweet 16 — and a very solid 37 percent chance of beating top-seeded North Carolina if the Tar Heels are waiting for Auburn there. The only kryptonite might be a hypothetical regional-final matchup with No. 2 seed Kentucky, which beat the Tigers by 27 in late February to sweep their season series.

Don’t bet on: No. 4 Kansas. The Jayhawks went into the season ranked No. 1 in the AP’s preseason poll, and they appeared to validate the choice by starting the season 10-0. But a 15-9 record (and some key injuries) since then have cast doubt on Kansas’s NCAA tournament potential. This is a well-balanced team, but to say it doesn’t shoot well from the outside is an understatement — see KU’s 3-for-18 performance from deep in Saturday’s Big 12 ouster against Iowa State. Add an unfavorable draw that puts them on a potential second-round collision course with Auburn (see above), and we give the Jayhawks only an 8 percent chance of making out of the Midwest with their championship hopes intact.

Cinderella watch: No. 11 Ohio State. If a Big Ten team that has made 11 Final Fours can be a Cinderella, then you’re looking at it in these Buckeyes. (Hey, the committee’s increasing tendency to seed underwhelming power-conference schools this way really messes with the definition.) OSU went only 18-13 during the regular season, was defeated in its second Big Ten tournament game and has almost twice as many losses as wins since New Year’s. So why are the Buckeyes a potential Cinderella? Despite the seed, this is still a dangerous team, one that ranks 27th in Pomeroy’s adjusted defensive ratings and has star forward Kaleb Wesson back from suspension. So maybe they’ll give Big 12 champ Iowa State trouble. But mainly this tells you something about the other potential Cinderellas in this region: Seton Hall got a very tough first-round matchup with underseeded Wofford; none of the other low seeds here are world-beaters. That leaves the Buckeyes, a team that did all it could to play its way out of the tournament, but has some upset potential regardless.

Player to watch: Cameron Johnson, UNC

On a team that doesn’t hoist a ton of shots from the perimeter, Johnson is as lethal as they come. Following an injury-riddled campaign in which he barely made more than one-third of his looks from beyond the arc, the grad student is canning 46.5 percent of his attempts, which ranks inside the top 25 nationally.

Johnson has thrived in North Carolina’s every-possession-is-a-transition-opportunity scheme this season. He’s blossomed into one of the best scorers in the ACC, ranking between the 85th and 100th percentiles in scoring efficiency in transition, off screens and on spot-ups.

Johnson has elevated his game in conference play, boasting the ACC’s top offensive rating (132.5) and true shooting percentage (64.6). Suddenly, a player who wasn’t seen as a guaranteed professional now projects to be a second-round pick.

Likeliest first-round upsets: No. 9 Washington over No. 8 Utah State (49 percent); No. 10 Seton Hall over No. 7 Wofford (37 percent); No. 11 Ohio State over No. 6 Iowa State (33 percent)

What If The National League Had A DH?

For a brief moment this winter, it seemed like the designated hitter might finally come to the National League. The MLB players union proposed the idea to the commissioner’s office as part of broader negotiations, but last month Rob Manfred pumped the brakes. Adding the universal DH was not part of the agreement between the union and owners reportedly reached Wednesday. The leagues will keep their different rules for now, even if there is a growing sense that the DH’s arrival in the NL is inevitable.

As MLB continues to debate its rules, we wanted to quantify what a universal DH would mean for the game. So we looked to the American League, where they’ve been playing with a DH since 1973, not entertaining double-switches and skipping the added layer of decision-making regarding when to pull the starting pitcher. When we rummaged through the data, something surprising emerged: The NL already looks a whole lot like the AL.

What would a universal DH mean for offensive production?

The DH’s most obvious effect is that with it, pitchers don’t have to bat. It’s a baseball truism that pitchers are terrible at the plate, but throughout baseball history, they’ve gradually gotten worse. They are now historically bad.

We can measure pitchers’ offensive production using a stat called weighted runs created plus, or wRC+.1 While most positions have been producing more or less the same amount of offense over the course of major league history,2 pitchers keep declining. Last season, pitchers broke the previous year’s mark for offensive ineptness, combining for a record-low wRC+ of -25, meaning they were 125 percent worse than a league-average hitter.

Unsurprisingly, DHs are better at the plate. Over the past three years, DHs have averaged a wRC+ of 109. So it’s natural to assume that the league that employs a designated hitter would score more than the league that instead uses pitchers as batters. And the AL has historically seen more runs per game. But recently, the difference in run scoring between the two leagues has shrunk.

Overall, AL teams have combined to average 4.59 runs per game over the past three years, while NL teams have averaged 4.46 runs per game. From 1994 to 2003, the peak of the so-called Steroids Era, the AL advantage in runs per game averaged 0.37. Over the past four years, the advantage has been 0.12 runs.

Pitchers are already batting less often

That pitchers bat in the NL is always going to handicap teams’ ability to score, given how bad pitchers are. But pitchers are getting fewer opportunities to be automatic outs. The innings logged by starting pitchers continue to decline, and NL pitchers combined for a record low total of plate appearances last season.

Would NL starters pitch more if there were a DH?

It’s easy to assume that because starting pitchers in the NL are sometimes pulled so pinch hitters can bat, they’d pitch for shorter stints than AL pitchers do. Yet starting pitchers in the NL actually worked deeper into games last season, and the leagues have been almost even in innings per start since 2000. Perhaps the predominant factors are the starting pitcher’s pitch count and how many times he’s worked through the opposing order.

How would NL teams fill the DH position?

In adding the DH, NL teams would be presented with essentially two choices: Fill the spot with an offense-first player who fits in the lineup daily, or use the spot to rotate and rest players, enhancing roster versatility and building a deeper bench.

In the AL, teams largely employ players whose prime responsibility is to be DH. In each of the past three seasons, there were at least 12 AL teams with a player who made at least 50 percent of his 350-plus plate appearances as a DH.

One factor that could be a part of the union’s eagerness to add the DH to the NL is the hope for additional higher-paying jobs. The designated hitter is, per player, the highest-paid positional group in baseball. Adding a full-time DH, as many AL teams employ, might mean better-paying jobs if the DH could replace a cheaper-salaried, end-of-the-bench position.

Moreover, the DH would likely help some 30-and-older free agents find jobs — an issue in recent offseasons. If an aging player is losing defensive ability but can still hit, the DH offers another way to get in the lineup.

As for the trickle-down effect on the rest of the roster, AL teams have combined to average 387.7 pitchers used per season over the past six years. NL teams? 383.7. So while adding the DH might eliminate an end-of-bench utility position, it may not have much effect on the number of pitchers used throughout a season.

What would the universal DH mean for pace of play?

Of course, any rule change can bring unintended consequences. Manfred has made hastening pace of play a focus, including reducing the number of trips to the mound and experimenting with a pitch clock this spring. But it’s unclear what kind of effect adding the DH would have on pace. The average number of seconds between pitches last year was 24.1, the second greatest lull of the pitch-tracking era.3 The two leagues weren’t that different: Pitchers in the NL took 23.9 seconds between pitches, while the AL pitchers took 24.3 seconds. But when pitchers batted, the game sped up. The time between pitches was 20.1 seconds last season when NL pitchers hit but 24.2 seconds when all other NL hitters were at bat.

But given what we know about how often pitchers bat, that doesn’t amount to much. There were 18,344 pitches thrown to pitchers last season, for a total of 20.9 hours saved between pitches over the course of a season compared with the pace of league-average pitcher-batter encounters. Nearly a full day of baseball! Except baseball is played on too many days for that time savings be noticeable. Spread over the course of an entire season, replacing pitcher at-bats with those from a DH would lead to a relatively small slowing of about a minute per game.

But adding the DH could add time savings if it were to reduce midinning pitching changes.

According to data provided to FiveThirtyEight by David Smith of Retrosheet, midinning changes added about 3 minutes and 15 seconds per game in 2018. But the NL had fewer midinning pitching changes last season (2,213) than the AL did (2,452).

Still, the overall net effect might be modest: The average length of a nine-inning game in the NL over the past three years was 181.7 minutes. In the AL, it was 182 minutes.

Would pitchers’ jobs get more difficult?

NL pitchers may have to work a bit harder if the DH arrives in the league. When a pitcher faces another pitcher, the velocity of his fastball tends to decline, which suggests that pitchers give themselves a bit of a breather. The average fastball velocity in the NL last season was 93.7 mph, but when pitchers batted, it was 92.8 mph. Moreover, the NL average for four-seam fastball usage was 39.1 percent last season, but when pitchers were batting, that share jumped to 51.8 percent — a record during the pitch-tracking era. That suggests pitchers are saving their breaking balls for tougher hitters.

Which NL players would benefit the most?

A DH would mean all sorts of possibilities for NL rosters — but what might they look like if teams could use the DH this season? We asked our friends at Out of the Park Baseball, a strategic simulation game, to run a simulation based on 2019 NL teams playing with and without the DH to find out which teams and players would most benefit. (The simulation was run before Bryce Harper agreed to terms with the Phillies.)

In the table below, you can see which player on each team would become the primary DH under the OOTP simulations and which player would gain the most plate appearances. Sometimes that player would be the DH, and sometimes he would be someone else because of the trickle-down effect of opportunity gained from adding the DH.

Which NL players would benefit from a DH in 2019?

Projected NL designated hitters and the players that would gain the most in plate appearances based on 100 simulations of the 2019 season by Out of the Park Baseball

Projected
Team Primary DH Top gainer No. Plate Appearances
Diamondbacks Christian Walker Christian Walker 295
Braves Johan Camargo Johan Camargo 343
Cubs Kyle Schwarber Albert Almora 395
Reds Jesse Winker Jesse Winker 264
Rockies Ryan McMahon Ryan McMahon 396
Dodgers Max Muncy Alex Verdugo 400
Marlins Pedro Alvarez Pedro Alvarez 280
Brewers Eric Thames Eric Thames 359
Mets Jeff McNeil Keon Broxton 488
Phillies Nick Williams Dylan Cozens 282
Pirates Jose Osuna Jose Osuna 557
Padres Franmil Reyes Hunter Renfroe 333
Giants Anthony Garcia Cameron Maybin 541
Cardinals Jose Martinez Jose Martinez 230
Nationals Ryan Zimmerman Ryan Zimmerman 400

Source: Out of the Park Baseball

Interestingly, the top would-be gainers in plate appearances on eight of 15 NL teams were below average (wRC+ 100) in offensive production in 2018. In the AL last season, 13 of 15 teams enjoyed above league-average production from the DH position. That means a number of NL teams could benefit from adding effective hitters, which could lead to more free-agent spending.


So, what does all this mean for the never-ending debate about what a universal DH would do to baseball? Proponents could look at all this and say, “What’s the big deal? The game would barely change! Why not officially standardize it?” Opponents, meanwhile, could look at all this and say, “What’s the big deal? The game is practically the same already! Why change it?” And perhaps that shows what the debate over the DH is really about: the culture of baseball. While the underlying evidence shows that the leagues are increasingly the same, the identities of them aren’t. Change the DH and a style of baseball would be gone forever. Even if the game itself might barely change.

Why Are There So Many Bats At Spurs Games?

There are a few things we’ve come to expect over the years from San Antonio Spurs basketball. The team will always find a way to make the playoffs, no matter how much talent and pedigree it loses during the offseason. Coach Gregg Popovich will generally deliver grumpy end-of-quarter interviews no matter how well his team is playing. And once in a while, we can expect a furry, winged menace to descend from the rafters and terrorize their home court.

The local bats of San Antonio have long held a reputation as unruly Spurs fans, occasionally crashing games and disrupting play. In recent weeks, though, the bats have claimed season-ticket holder status with the red-hot team, which has won six-straight contests. In three of the team’s past six home games, including this past Sunday, one of the flying mammals has brought a Spurs’ game to a screeching halt for minutes at a time, as various team staffers furiously scrambled to apprehend the flapping intruders.

All of which raises the obvious question: Why is the arena plagued with bats so often?

After spending many sleepless nights investigating the matter — in truth, I just called a couple of local specialists — the answer actually makes pretty good sense. The AT&T Center is 25 miles southwest of Bracken Cave, which is home to more than 15 million Mexican free-tailed bats, making it the largest summer bat colony in the world.4

What’s more, it’s logical that bats would fly past the arena, particularly during the winter months. The stadium is almost directly in the bats’ migration path from Central America and Mexico back to Bracken Cave, where maternal colonies fly to have and nurse their newborns (nearly doubling in number).

Still, the team’s proximity to the real-life Batcave alone doesn’t explain how the bats are working their way inside the venue.

There are a couple of potential factors at play. First, the San Antonio arena — a few miles outside of the city’s downtown area and adjacent to a golf course — is perhaps the closest thing to a suburban venue in the entire NBA. The massive, brightly illuminated presence that attracts moths and other insects in an otherwise quiet area might be appealing to bats5 that are looking for food on a given night, according to Judit Green, who has worked as an urban wildlife biologist for 30 years with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

Beyond that, experts suggest that the 750,000 square-foot stadium almost certainly had — or potentially still has — a tiny crevice somewhere, releasing just enough warmth outside to entice bats and birds that are looking to escape the area’s colder-than-usual temperatures for a night. (The Spurs declined to comment or to make a facilities specialist available to be interviewed for this story.)

“I’d guess there’s a small vent or other opening to the outside that’s attracting the attention of migratory bats,” said Merlin Tuttle, an Austin-based ecologist who has studied bats for 60 years and founded Bat Conservation International in the 1980s. “When cold fronts hit, sometimes that’ll drive the bats wintering in San Antonio to look for a place that gets them out of the cold.”

Once a bat does make it into the arena, we’ve seen time and time again what type of hilarity may ensue. It was nearly a decade ago in 2009 — on Halloween, fittingly enough — that future Hall of Famer Manu Ginobili endeared himself to Spurs’ fans even more by swatting a disruptive bat out of the air with his bare hand.

To be clear, the AT&T Center isn’t alone in producing odd animal-related headlines. It’s nothing new for pro sports, particularly ones played outdoors, to be interrupted by uninvited animals like squirrels, cats, birds, bugs, dogs and rabbits, just to name a few. And bats have also popped up once each this year at NBA games in Utah and Indiana, respectively.

But the San Antonio arena has developed a reputation for general weirdness over the years. Aside from a pigeon that flew overhead at the arena in early January, a snake was found in the visiting locker room before a playoff game between the Blazers and Spurs in May 2014. A month later, during Game 1 of the NBA Finals, the air conditioning stopped working — a development that became controversial after visiting star LeBron James cramped, shifting the momentum of the contest away from Miami and toward San Antonio. The Spurs went on to dominate the series, and James left the Heat the following month in free agency.

While the team did hire a designated pest-control expert following the Ginobli incident, the little-desired task of removing the bats usually falls to arena staffers who just happen to be on the court — and needless to say, it doesn’t always go so well. A handful of Spurs’ employees often give unsuccessful chase to bats, usually armed with nothing more than towels. Even Coyote, the team mascot, has gotten in on it — and, in a few cases, has actually been the one to round up the bats, illustrating just how much of an all-hands-on-deck process it can be.

Rob Wicall, who served as the mascot for nearly two decades before stepping down in 2016, sounded almost envious of all the bat run-ins there have been lately. For years, well before Ginobili’s bat-swat back in 2009, Wicall kept a fishing net he’d bought and the mascot’s Batman costume accessories nearby,6 just in case a bat ever got loose in the arena.

Ginobili took care of the problem just before Wicall could suit-up and come to the rescue back in 2009. But during his farewell season, Wicall got another chance to be the hero before a game in December 2015, and he made it count. He couldn’t see that well — the costume allows little to no peripheral vision — but he tracked the bat into the painted area before somehow nabbing it with his net. When he realized he’d succeeded, Wicall — in Coyote’s full Batman attire, with the PA announcer playing the old-school Batman theme song over the speakers — lifted his arms triumphantly.

“It was one of those bucket-list things for a mascot, because you’ve not only solved a problem in the arena, but you’ve also brought entertainment,” said Wicall, adding that it took him less than 45 seconds total to dash into his changing area and throw on Coyote’s Batman accessories.

But not everyone relishes these run-ins. Spurs forward Rudy Gay sought shelter from a bat by hiding behind ref Zach Zarba last month. And Nets All-Star guard D’Angelo Russell, who has now had two separate bat experiences at AT&T Center the past three seasons, took refuge in the tunnel leading to the locker room as four bats circled over the court.

Bucks center Brook Lopez, on the other hand, would activate a Bat Signal if he could. As a comic-book aficionado, Lopez told SB Nation early in February that he’d welcome being bitten by a bat in hopes that it might make him a superhero.

“I’m just going to make myself available [to the bat],” Lopez said. “At that point, it’s up to the bat. A lot of it is up to fate in these superhero stories. But I want to give myself a shot.”

Fate seemed to be listening. A bat flew past Lopez on Saturday in San Antonio. Fortunately — or perhaps unfortunately, given Lopez’s hope of becoming a superhero — he wasn’t bitten.

 

Even After 31 Trillion Digits, We’re Still No Closer To The End Of Pi

UPDATE (March 14, 2019, 1:18 p.m.): On Thursday, Google announced that one of its employees, Emma Haruka Iwao, had found nearly 9 trillion new digits of pi, setting a new record. Humans have now calculated the never-ending number to 31,415,926,535,897 (get it?) — about 31.4 trillion — decimal places. It’s a Pi Day miracle!

Previously, we published a story about humans’ pursuit of pi’s infinite string of digits. To celebrate Pi Day, and the extra 9 trillion known digits, we’ve updated that story below.


Depending on your philosophical views on time and calendars and so on, today is something like the 4.5 billionth Pi Day that Earth has witnessed. But that long history is nothing compared to the infinity of pi itself.

A refresher for those of you who have forgotten your seventh-grade math lessons1: Pi, or the Greek letter \(\pi\), is a mathematical constant equal to the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter — C/d. It lurks in every circle, and equals approximately 3.14. (Hence Pi Day, which takes place on March 14, aka 3/14.)

But the simplicity of its definition belies pi’s status as the most fascinating, and most studied, number in the history of the world. While treating pi as equal to 3.14 is often good enough, the number really continues on forever, a seemingly random series of digits ambling infinitely outward and obeying no discernible pattern — 3.14159265358979…. That’s because it’s an irrational number, meaning that it cannot be represented by a fraction of two whole numbers (although approximations such as 22/7 can come close).

But that hasn’t stopped humanity from furiously chipping away at pi’s unending mountain of digits. We’ve been at it for millennia.

People have been interested in the number for basically as long we’ve understood math. The ancient Egyptians, according to a document that also happens to be the world’s oldest collection of math puzzles, knew that pi was something like 3.1. A millennium or so later, an estimate of pi showed up in the bible: The Old Testament, in 1 Kings, seems to imply that pi equals 3: “And he made a molten sea, ten cubits from the one brim to the other: it was round all about … and a line of thirty cubits did compass it round about.”

Archimedes, the greatest mathematician of antiquity, got as far as 3.141 by around 250 B.C. Archimedes approached his calculation of pi geometrically, by sandwiching a circle between two straight-edged regular polygons. Measuring polygons was easier than measuring circles, and Archimedes measured pi-like ratios as the number of the polygons’ sides increased, until they closely resembled circles.

Meaningful improvement on Archimedes’s method wouldn’t come for hundreds of years. Using the new technique of integration, mathematicians like Gottfried Leibniz, one of the fathers of calculus, could prove such elegant equations for pi as:

\begin{equation*}\frac{\pi}{4}=1-\frac{1}{3}+\frac{1}{5}-\frac{1}{7}+\frac{1}{9}-\ldots\end{equation*}

The right-hand side, just like pi, continues forever. If you add and subtract and add and subtract all those simple fractions, you’ll inch ever closer to pi’s true value. The problem is that you’ll inch very, very slowly. To get just 10 correct digits of pi, you’d have to add about 5 billion fractions together.

But more efficient formulas were discovered. Take this one, from Leonhard Euler, probably the greatest mathematician ever, in the 18th century:

\begin{equation*}\frac{\pi^2}{6}=\frac{1}{1^2}+\frac{1}{2^2}+\frac{1}{3^2}+\ldots\end{equation*}

And Srinivasa Ramanujan, a self-taught mathematical genius from India, discovered the totally surprising and bizarre equation below in the early 1900s. Each additional term in this sum adds eight correct digits to an estimate of pi:

\begin{equation*}\frac{1}{\pi}=\frac{2\sqrt{2}}{9801}\sum_{k=0}^{\infty}\frac{(4k)!(1103+26390k)}{(k!)^4 396^{4k}}\end{equation*}

Much like with the search for large prime numbers, computers blasted this pi-digit search out of Earth orbit and into deep space starting in the mid-1900s. ENIAC, an early electronic computer and the only computer in the U.S. in 1949, calculated pi to over 2,000 places, nearly doubling the record.

As computers got faster and memory became more available, digits of pi began falling like dominoes, racing down the number’s infinite line, impossibly far but also never closer to the end. Building off of Ramanujan’s formula, the mathematical brothers Gregory and David Chudnovsky calculated over 2 billion digits of pi in the early 1990s using a homemade supercomputer housed in a cramped and sweltering Manhattan apartment. They’d double their tally to 4 billion digits after a few years.

The current record now stands at about 31.4 trillion digits — thousands of times more than the Chudnovskys’ home-brewed supercomputer managed. It was calculated by a Google employee over 121 days using a freely available program called y-cruncher and verified with another 48 hours of number-crunching sessions. The calculation took up about as much storage space as the entire digital database of the Library of Congress. Emma Haruka Iwao, the woman behind the record, has been calculating pi on computers since she was a child.

Iwao’s feat of calculation increased humanity’s collective knowledge of the digits of pi by about 40 percent. The previous record stood at over 22 trillion digits, worked out after 105 days of computation on a Dell server, also using y-cruncher. That program, which uses both the Ramanujan and Chudnovsky formulas, has been used to find record numbers of digits of not only pi, but also of other endless, irrational numbers, including e, \(\sqrt{2}\), \(\log{2}\) and the golden ratio.

But maybe 31 trillion digits is just a bit of overkill. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory uses only 15 digits of pi for its highest-accuracy calculations for interplanetary navigation. Heck, Isaac Newton knew that many digits 350 years ago. “A value of \(\pi\) to 40 digits would be more than enough to compute the circumference of the Milky Way galaxy to an error less than the size of a proton,” a group of researchers wrote in a useful history of the number. So why would we ever need 31 trillion digits?

Sure, we’ve learned a bit of math theory while digging deep into pi: about fast Fourier transforms and that pi is probably a so-called normal number. But the more satisfying answer seems to me to have nothing to do with math. Maybe it has to do with what President John F. Kennedy said about building a space program. We do things like this “not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills.”

But there’s one major difference: The moon is not infinitely far away; we can actually get there. Maybe this famous quote about chess is more apt: “Life is not long enough for chess — but that is the fault of life, not of chess.”

Pi is too long for humankind. But that is the fault of humankind, not of pi. Happy Pi Day.

Arizona’s 2020 Senate Race Already Looks Tough

Signs point to the Arizona Senate special election being a key race in determining who controls the Senate in 2020. On the Republican side of the race to fill the late Sen. John McCain’s old seat, Sen. Martha McSally — who was appointed to McCain’s seat after losing her 2018 bid for the state’s other seat — is expected to run to finish off the last two years of McCain’s term. But she could face a formidable challenger in retired astronaut and Navy veteran Mark Kelly, who announced he’ll run for the seat as a Democrat last month. But Kelly could face his own adversary in the primary, so here’s a detailed look at the possible Democratic primary battle that lies ahead and an early look at the all-important general election.

The Democratic primary could get heated

After announcing his plans to run for Senate, Kelly raised $1.1 million in the first two days of his campaign, putting him on par with Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Kamala Harris in initial fundraising hauls for their 2020 presidential campaigns. Considering Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema spent $24 million to narrowly defeat McSally in 2018, Kelly will likely need a similar budget for the state’s upcoming Senate race, so his early fundraising haul is promising. And Kelly is no stranger to politics. He is the husband of former Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who survived being shot in the head during an assassination attempt in Tucson in 2011 that killed six and wounded 13. In the aftermath, Giffords and Kelly founded a political organization to fight gun violence, and in the 2018 midterms, their organization spent nearly $7 million to campaign against Republican members of Congress. But despite being a gun control activist, Kelly has indicated he will embrace a centrist, bipartisan approach, similar to how Sinema positioned herself in the 2018 race.

But Kelly may not have the Democratic field to himself. Rep. Ruben Gallego is also eyeing the race, and his entrance would set up a centrist vs. progressive battle for the party’s nomination. Gallego is a three-term congressman and member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, a collection of the most liberal members on Capitol Hill. What’s more, Gallego is a veteran, which could help him match qualifications with both Kelly and McSally, who was the Air Force’s first female fighter pilot in combat.

How might a Gallego-Kelly primary play out? Well, if we just look at Arizona’s electorate, Kelly might have an advantage. Although Gallego, like 23 percent of the state’s electorate, is Hispanic, the majority of Democratic primary voters are white,1 which might undercut any edge his heritage gives him in a primary. Kelly might also be able to make an electability argument in a primary race against Gallego: An early general election survey of the race from OH Predictive Insights found McSally ahead of Kelly by just 2 percentage points while she led Gallego by 8 points. Still, Gallego might be able to use Kelly’s voting record against him, as Kelly has voted in a Republican primary and has switched his party identification between independent and Democratic in the past. Kelly has also caught flak for taking money from big companies while working the speaking circuit.

Even more critical is the role geography can play in a primary, as candidates tend to get the most support from their home base. This could boost Gallego, who represents part of the state’s biggest city, Phoenix. Maricopa County, which encompasses Phoenix, usually casts about half or more of all votes in Arizona’s Democratic primaries. Meanwhile, Pima County — which covers Tucson, where Giffords and Kelly are based — casts less than a quarter of the vote. So if Gallego does run, Kelly will have to keep the margins close in Maricopa and elsewhere while performing strongly in Pima to win the primary.

The Phoenix area dominates Arizona’s Democratic primaries

Share of Arizona Democratic primary votes cast in Maricopa County (which includes Phoenix) and Pima County (which includes Tucson) compared to the rest of the state, 2012-2018

Year Primary Maricopa Pima Rest of Arizona
2012* Congress and state offices 47.9% 25.1% 27.0%
2014 Congress and state offices 50.0 21.3 28.7
2016 President 53.5 23.3 23.2
2016 Congress and state offices 50.9 23.3 25.8
2018 Congress and state offices 55.8 21.6 22.7
Average 51.6 22.9 25.5

*There was no 2012 Democratic presidential primary in Arizona.
State primaries are held in August; the 2016 presidential primary was in March 2016.

Source: Arizona Secretary of State

Should Gallego run, it’s likely this primary will be competitive, which could make things difficult for Democrats in the general election because Arizona holds its state primaries very late2 — the last Tuesday in August — which leaves roughly two months to consolidate support for a general election candidate.

McSally found herself in a similar situation in the 2018 Republican primary when she was up against former Maricopa county Sheriff Joe Arpaio and former state Sen. Kelli Ward, though McSally pulled away at the end with 55 percent of the vote; meanwhile Sinema coasted to victory in the Democratic primary with 79 percent of the vote against a minor opponent. So if the 2020 Democratic primary proves to be contentious and McSally doesn’t face a notable primary challenger of her own, she could stand to benefit from a heated Democratic primary. But she too could face her own primary — some Republicans didn’t want her to fill McCain’s seat because her performance in the 2018 race raised concerns that she would lose a 2020 race as well.

The general election could be close

Regardless of who wins the Democratic primary, Democrats face a tough opponent in McSally. Although McSally lost the 2018 Senate race, she raised more than $20 million and has experience winning elections in a competitive House district, which she held for two terms until she stepped aside to run for Senate this past November and Democrats captured her old seat. McSally has also received national attention for sharing her experience of being raped while she was serving in the Air Force. McSally’s one of several women in Congress who, since the rise of the #MeToo movement, have spoken openly about their own experiences with sexual assault or domestic violence. McSally’s support of sexual assault survivors may help her cut across party lines and change the perception of the #MeToo movement as a liberal women’s issue.

More broadly, the potential competitiveness of the Arizona contest speaks to the state’s evolution toward becoming a battleground state in U.S. politics. Sinema’s 2018 victory over McSally came on the heels of President Trump carrying the state by just 3.5 points in the 2016 election, the smallest GOP edge in Arizona since 1996, when Bill Clinton won the state — the only Democrat to do so since 1952. So despite its Republican lean (9 points more Republican than the country as a whole prior to the 2018 election,3) Arizona could see a lot of presidential activity in 2020, which could influence the state’s down-ballot elections.

This Senate race will be one of the top-tier contests in 2020 — handicappers currently view it as a toss-up (Inside Elections and Sabato’s Crystal Ball) or lean it toward the GOP (Cook Political Report). As the GOP has a 53-47 edge in the Senate,4 most paths for Democrats retaking the Senate require capturing this seat (and others) because it may be difficult for Democrats to retain the Alabama seat that they won in 2017. So just like in 2018, Arizona will host a high-octane Senate contest, one that could be pivotal in deciding the Senate majority.


From ABC News:
Who is Martha McSally?