Stats & Info: ESPN Stats & Info

Star-studded showdown: Trout vs. Kershaw

August, 5, 2014
Aug 5
ESPN Stats & InformationThe Trout-Kershaw matchup will test the strengths of both players.
Hollywood loves a good blockbuster, and Tuesday night's battle in Chavez Ravine between the Los Angeles Angels and Los Angeles Dodgers will be no exception.

It will be the first ever regular-season meeting between Mike Trout and Clayton Kershaw.

Here are a few of the top stats to know for Tuesday night's marquee matchup.

Best of the best
Trout debuted for the Angels in 2011 (the season Kershaw won his first Cy Young award), but made a name for himself in 2012.

Since then, Trout has been arguably the best hitter in baseball, while Kershaw could be considered the game's best pitcher.

Trout leads all position players in WAR since the start of 2012 and Kershaw leads all pitchers in WAR over the same stretch.

Not only are they both at the top of their games in 2014, but each has started his career in historically impressive fashion.

Trout has produced more WAR through age 22 than any position player in MLB since 1900. His 26.1 WAR from 2011 on is ahead of Ty Cobb's 25.5 and Ted Williams' 23.6 through their seasons at age 22.

Meanwhile, Kershaw has produced more WAR through his age 26 season (this season) than any pitcher to debut in the last 40 years. His 37.4 WAR since 2008 is ahead of Dwight Gooden's 36.5 and Bret Saberhagen's and Roger Clemens' third-place tie at 35.7 through their seasons at age 26.

Strength vs. strength
One thing to keep an eye on will be how Trout handles Kershaw’s pitches in the lower third of the strike zone and below.

Kershaw ranks at or near the top in baseball in effectiveness with pitches down in the zone.

It's also worth noting that Kershaw has thrown an increasingly high percentage (46.0) of his pitches down, a jump from 37.3 percent a season ago and 36.5 percent in 2012.

Meanwhile, Trout has crushed pitches down in the zone, leading MLB with a .382 batting average, .763 slugging percentage and 17 home runs this season on pitches in that location.

Fastballs early, curveballs late
When thinking about how Kershaw might pitch to Trout, consider how Trout has fared against each of the types of pitches Kershaw throws.

Eighty-five percent of Kershaw's first pitches this season have been fastballs, while Trout ranks in the bottom third of the league in batting average against fastballs. Against first-pitch fastballs, Trout is hitting .250 this season, which ranks in the 13th percentile across MLB.

Trout has also struggled to hit pitches thrown up in the zone.

If Kershaw can survive deep in the count, he has thrown the curveball on 36 percent of his two-strike pitches up in the zone this season, the highest rate of any starter in MLB. Trout has seen 131 curveballs up in the zone in his career and has produced zero hits on just seven swings.

Ohio State's Braxton Miller back for 2014

August, 5, 2014
Aug 5
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesBraxton Miller could become Ohio State's winningest quarterback since 1960.
The 2014 college football season has the potential to showcase one of the most talented groups of quarterbacks in recent memory. Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota, Brett Hundley and Bryce Petty are all being talked about as potential first-round NFL draft picks, while Braxton Miller and Everett Golson have the chance to solidify their place in their respective school’s storied histories.

In preparation for the 2014 season and in conjunction with interviews conducted by ESPN CFB analyst Kirk Herbstreit, ESPN Stats & Info will take a deeper look at the top QBs entering the fall. Today, we take a look at Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller.

A look back at 2013
Braxton Miller had an outstanding junior season, becoming the first player in Big Ten history (since 1990 when the award was first given) to win the Offensive Player of the Year award in consecutive seasons. He was the only Power Five conference quarterback to throw for at least 2,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards last year. If Miller can accomplish that feat again, he will join Colin Kaepernick and become the second FBS quarterback in the past 10 years to reach those thresholds in three seasons.

Miller has rushed for at least 100 yards in 14 games since the start of 2011, second most among FBS quarterbacks. He had five such games last season, which tied for fourth among FBS quarterbacks. Miller has always been a prolific rusher, but he’s also improved as a passer every year at Ohio State. Miller’s completion percentage, passing yards and touchdowns have increased every season.

He was more willing to operate from the pocket last year. He attempted 85 percent of his passes from the pocket, nearly 20 percentage points higher than in 2012. His 19 touchdown passes from inside the pocket were tied for the most in the Big Ten with Indiana’s Nate Sudfeld and Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg.

A look ahead to 2014
With another 11-win season, Miller will pass Art Schlichter for the most wins (36) on record at Ohio State (the school first kept such records in 1960). Assuming Miller stays healthy, he has a good chance of passing Schlichter.

According to the ESPN Football Power Index, Ohio State has the best chance (41 percent) of winning the Big Ten, nearly 20 percentage points better than Wisconsin, and is projected for between 10 and 11 wins heading into bowl season. The Buckeyes have won 24 consecutive regular-season games, four shy of tying the Big Ten conference record.

The Buckeyes have big shoes to fill. They must replace six of 11 starters on offense, including league-leading rusher Carlos Hyde and four starters from an offensive line that combined for 135 starts.

Miller might have to shoulder more of the load. In the past, he has stepped up when his team needed him. Miller enters 2014 with six career game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime, including three last season. The six career game-winning drives are the most among returning FBS quarterbacks and five more than any other returning quarterback in the Big Ten.

One area in which Miller needs to get better is on third down. He ranked in the bottom third of the FBS in Total QBR (47.1) and completion percentage (50.9) on third down. Only Michigan’s Devin Gardner and Purdue’s Danny Etling were sacked more on third down than Miller (12) among Big Ten quarterbacks. Only two of the past 10 national championship quarterbacks have had a third-down QBR less than 70 in the season they won the title.

Top stats to know: Angels at Orioles

July, 30, 2014
Jul 30
Elsa/Getty Images
Mike Trout and the Angels face the Orioles on "Wednesday Night Baseball"
Two of the top three records in baseball are on the line during ESPN's "Wednesday Night Baseball" (7 ET on ESPN/WatchESPN) as the Los Angeles Angels take on the Baltimore Orioles.

While the Angels have the better record at 63-42, the 59-46 Orioles are the ones atop their division. The Angels have the Oakland Athletics, with the best record in baseball, ahead of them in the AL West.

Last night the Orioles secured another walk-off win on Manny Machado's 12th-inning home run. That ties the O's with none other than the Angels at eight walk-off wins apiece this season, good for second in the majors.

Both Teams are Hot
From June 9 on, these are two of baseball's three hottest teams. The Angels are tied with the Tampa Bay Rays for the MLB lead at 29 wins during that span. The Orioles are third during that stretch with 28 wins.

The Angels have taken care of business when it counts, posting a 37-11 record against teams that are .500 or worse, the best such record in the majors. They also lead the league with 33 comeback wins.

After another late victory last night, the Orioles are now 12-3 in extra-inning games this season, the best record in baseball.

Starting Pitchers
Garrett Richards will toe the mound for the Halos. Only one starting pitcher has a higher average fastball velocity than Richards this season.

Richards has allowed only one home run to a right-handed batter in 2014, the fewest of any qualified starter in the majors.

Orioles starter Kevin Gausman is no slouch in the velocity department, either. His fastball is averaging 95 mph this season, which would rank fifth among starting pitchers if he’d thrown enough innings to qualify.

Gausman (in his second season) has never faced an Angels hitter in his MLB career.

Stats About the Bats
Already off to a great start in his career, Mike Trout's next home run will be his 87th. That would tie him with Ken Griffey Jr. and Johnny Bench for seventh most before age 23 in MLB history.

Albert Pujols has had 208 plate appearances in which he put the ball in play against the shift this season, the most of any right-handed hitter in the bigs.

For the Orioles, Chris Davis has struggled with off-speed pitches this season. A year ago he had a .310 batting average and 25 home runs against off-speed pitches. This season he is hitting .131 and has managed only five home runs against those same pitches.

Meanwhile J.J. Hardy has been big at short stop with 81 home runs the past four seasons. That's second in MLB among shortstops behind only Troy Tulowitzki, who has 84.

Is this the end for Ryan Howard?

July, 29, 2014
Jul 29

AP Photo/Alex BrandonRyan Howard has struggled to find a consistent role in the Phillies' starting lineup.
Last week Ryan Howard sat four games in a six-game stretch, including three in a row. Two of those three straight were against left-handed starting pitchers, but Thursday he sat against Tim Hudson, the pitcher he’s faced the most in his career. Howard holds a .328 career BA (22-67) with 7 HR and a 1.112 OPS against Hudson.

Howard is having the worst full season of his career including a career-low .380 slugging percentage. He turns 36-years-old in November, he’s still owed $60 million after this season and he can block trades to 21 teams.

Could this be the end of the line for the former National League MVP?

Howard Can't Hit Righties
The biggest reason behind Howard’s disappointing season is his performance against right-handed pitchers, which has always been better than his performance against lefties.

In 2009, Howard hit .320 and slugged .693 against righties. This season he's hitting .221 and slugging .356 against them.

In 2011, his last full season, he hit 30 HR in 387 AB against righties. In the past 3 seasons combined, he's hit 26 HR in 656 AB against righties.

He Can't Handle Fastballs
The book on Howard used to be a steady diet of offspeed pitches that he would chase, especially if he was behind in the count.

In 2011, Howard saw 41% fastballs, the lowest figure of any qualified hitter in baseball. But after he tore his Achilles in that year’s playoffs, pitchers haven’t been afraid to throw him heaters or pitches in the strike zone anymore.

From 2009-2011 Howard ranked 11th in MLB in slugging percentage against fastballs and 10th against pitches in the strike zone. From 2012 on he ranks 130th in slugging percentage against fastballs and 110th against pitches in the strike zone.

He’s not even punishing the slower fastballs that he used to crush. In 2010, he slugged .851 and only missed 16% of his swings against fastballs from righties that were 91 MPH or slower. This season, he’s slugging .405 and missing 22% of his swings against those fastballs.

No Power at a Power Position
Howard is giving the Phillies almost nothing at a power position. The list of first basemen with similar slugging percentages this season have never been in Howard’s class as a slugger. He currently ranks 22nd in slugging percentage among 25 players with 100 plate appearances at first base.

He’s had plenty of opportunities to produce, tied with Albert Pujols and Casey McGehee for the MLB lead at 234 plate appearances with runners on base, but his .255 batting average with runners on has him in a tie for 107th in MLB this season.

Johnson and Busch likely to lead at Dover

May, 31, 2014
May 31
Here are the projections for Sunday's Sprint Cup race at Dover. Our projection system takes into account, among other factors, drivers’ past performances at the current track, pre-race on-track activity (practices and qualifying) and probability of finishing the race. All of the data is then adjusted for the track type (in this case, a 1-mile oval) and time of year.

No. 48 is a front-runner at Dover
Jimmie Johnson broke into the win column last week at Charlotte, and he could be primed for another win at Dover. He’s won a Cup Series-record eight times at Dover after winning last fall’s Chase race, breaking a tie with Richard Petty and Bobby Allison. In the last 10 races at Dover, Johnson has led more than half of the laps run and more than 1,300 more than any other driver.

Busch seeks a Dover sweep
Kyle Busch has won the first two NASCAR events at Dover this weekend and will try to complete the sweep on Sunday. He is the only driver to win all three National Touring Series in the same weekend (Bristol in August 2010). Busch should have a very strong car, and had it not been for mediocre showings in the last two practices (22nd and 15th) he would have overtaken Johnson in the projections. It’s splitting hairs between these two cars, as both should be out front most of the day.

Gordon atop points leaderboard
Jeff Gordon continues to lead the traditional points after a seventh-place finish at Charlotte - the sixth straight race he’s led in points. Since winning his last championship in 2001, this is tied for the second-longest span he’s topped the points leaderboard, behind only a 21-race streak in 2007.

Variety of winners
For the first time in the Chase era we’ve had 10 different winners in the 12 races. After 26 races (Dover is the halfway point before the Chase), the top 16 drivers in wins will make up the Chase field. Among the drivers who have yet to win is Matt Kenseth, who led the series with seven wins last season and currently sits second in points.

Biffle streak alive
Although he’s sitting outside the top 10 in points, Greg Biffle could have a record-breaking weekend at Dover by just finishing the race. Biffle has been running at the finish of 84 consecutive races, tying the Cup Series record for most consecutive starts without a DNF, set by Herman Beam from 1961-63.

Seahawks' Super Bowl win a slam dunk

February, 3, 2014
Feb 3

Joe Camporeale/USA TODAY Sports
Malcolm Smith recovered a fumble and returned an interception for a touchdown in Seattle's victory.
Their first defensive snap resulted in a safety. Their first offensive drive produced points. Their kickoff return to start the second half was a touchdown.

In all phases of the game, the Seattle Seahawks dominated the Denver Broncos in winning Super Bowl XLVIII, 43-8.

Seahawks’ defense locks down Broncos
The Seahawks forced the Broncos into their worst offensive-efficiency performance of the season. The Broncos’ offense contributed minus-21.6 points to their net scoring margin, their first game this season with a negative offensive efficiency. They entered the Super Bowl as the only team without such a game this season.

The first-snap safety was only part of the Broncos’ offensive difficulties. Peyton Manning averaged 8.2 yards per completion (league average in 2013: 11.6 yards). Malcolm Smith returned one of Manning's two interceptions for a touchdown. It added up to the Seahawks’ second-best game in terms of defensive efficiency this season, behind their shutout win against Eli Manning and the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium in Week 15 (plus-24.3 points).

The performance in the Super Bowl crowned the Seahawks’ season-long stretch of defensive supremacy. They finished the season with the league’s best defensive efficiency, contributing 7.2 points per game to their net scoring margin (the next closest team: Cincinnati Bengals, 4.7). Of those 7.2 points, an NFL-high 6.3 per game were on pass plays. The Seahawks’ defensive efficiency on pass plays Sunday equaled 14.3 points toward their scoring margin.

The Seahawks' defensive efficiency in the Super Bowl was the best in a postseason game since the 2009 wild-card round (the Baltimore Ravens contributed 23.1 points against the New England Patriots).

But the Seahawks dominated in every phase, not just defense. Their offense had zero turnovers, allowed zero sacks and limited negative plays to three. The Seahawks converted 7 of 12 third-down plays.

And their special teams added a touchdown on Percy Harvin’s return of the second-half kickoff for a touchdown.

Manning struggles, Wilson reverses field
Manning's 24.4 Total QBR in the Super Bowl was his lowest in a game this season and the worst in a Super Bowl since the Chicago Bears' Rex Grossman in 2006 (7.1).

Russell Wilson posted a 88.1 Total QBR, the second-highest in a Super Bowl since 2006 (Joe Flacco had a 93.4 last year), and it snapped Wilson's streak of six games with a Total QBR of less than 50.0. Wilson's Total QBR in his first two postseason games this season was 34.3.

Wilson completed 7 of 8 passes for 82 yards and six first-downs on third-down plays.

Game was out of hand early
The Broncos' first play from scrimmage, a safety, resulted in a 4.7-point hit to the team's offensive efficiency.

After Manning's interception that Smith returned for a touchdown with 3:36 left in the first half, the Broncos' win probability dropped to 3.5 percent. It never rose to more than 5 percent.

The Broncos ran 41 offensive plays with a win probability below 5.0 percent. They ran 19 such plays the rest of the season.

Thunder boom in second half to win West

June, 7, 2012

Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesKevin Durant led the Thunder's big second-half comeback to beat the Spurs and reach the NBA Finals.
For one half Wednesday night, Tony Parker was well on his way to carrying the San Antonio Spurs to victory and forcing Game 7.

Then Kevin Durant woke up… and Parker’s hot hand went ice cold.

Trailing by 15 points at the half, the Oklahoma City Thunder outscored the Spurs 59-36 in the second half to oust the West’s top seed and advance to their first NBA Finals since 1996, when the franchise was in Seattle. It was San Antonio’s largest blown playoff halftime lead ever.

The Thunder become the first Western Conference champion outside of the Spurs, Los Angeles Lakers or Dallas Mavericks since 1998. Coincidentally, Oklahoma City defeated all three during its current playoff run.

Durant, who played all 48 minutes, scored 20 points after halftime to key the Thunder’s huge comeback. He finished with 34 points and 14 rebounds, both team highs, and knocked down 12-of-15 free throws. Russell Westbrook played a solid supporting role with 25 points and eight boards.

Durant joins Xavier McDaniel and Gary Payton as the only members of the Oklahoma City/Seattle franchise with at least 30 points, 10 rebounds and five assists in a playoff game.

While the Thunder’s 3-point shooting was a major spark – they knocked down 10-of-18 from beyond the arc – they balanced it by scoring efficiently inside. Oklahoma City was 15-of-25 from inside 5 feet in Game 6, including a blistering 10-of-14 from that distance in the second half.

The Spurs watched their season end on a season-high four-game skid after running off 20 straight wins. After a dominant first half in which they scored 63 points on 54.5 percent from the field, they hit more iron than net in the second half, converting just 32.5 percent of their field goals.

A key was the Thunder limiting the Spurs’ pick-and-roll offense, allowing 19 points on 8-of-20 shooting on such plays (3-of-10, 6 points in 2nd half). The Spurs scored over 20 points on pick-and-rolls just once (Game 5) in the last four games of the series after scoring 30 in each of the first two games.

No player exemplified that more than Parker. The point guard had a first half for the ages, scoring 17 points in the opening quarter and reaching halftime with 21 points (8-14 FG) and 10 assists. He became the first player since at least 1996 to have at least 20 points and 10 assists in a playoff half.

Tony Parker
But Parker could not find his stroke in the second half, going just 4-of-13 from the field for eight points and two assists.

The Thunder become only the third team in NBA history to win four straight games in the conference finals after trailing 2-0 and now will wait to see if they will face the Boston Celtics or Miami Heat in the NBA Finals. With home-court advantage in that series, Oklahoma City has a prime opportunity to win its first title since 1979.

AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez
Rangers OF Josh Hamilton paced the American League with 12 home runs in May.

ESPN's Home Run Tracker analyzes video of each home run hit this season and as far back as 2006. Each month, the tracker will detail the best and worst home runs, as well as some other interesting statistics pertaining to the long ball. Below are the notable home runs for the month of May (games through May 30).

No Doubter (Longest true distance)
March/April Winner: Travis Hafner (481 feet)
May Winner: Justin Maxwell (471 feet)
Maxwell is an extremely unlikely winner. The Astro has just 12 career homers, only four of which went more than 400 feet. But on May 28, Maxwell hit an Alex White slider 471 feet to left at Coors Field.

Wall-Scraper (Shortest true distance)
March/April Winner: B.J. Upton (323 feet)
May Winner: Jed Lowrie (330 feet)
The Astros may be six games out of first place in the NL Central, but they claim the first two awards. Lowrie’s 330-foot home run off J.C. Romero on May 5 was originally ruled a double, but upon further review it indeed snuck over the left-field wall.

Moonshot (Highest apex - maximum vertical height a ball reaches)
March/April Winner: Todd Helton (162 feet)
May Winner: Josh Hamilton (153 feet)
When you hit as many home runs as Hamilton, you’re bound to find yourself winning an award. Hamilton hit a 385-foot home run off Jerome Williams on May 11 that had an apex of 153 feet. It is his highest apex home run since July 30, 2008 - a 407-foot blast off Miguel Batista that had an apex of 155 feet.

Liner (Lowest apex)
Note: There was an adjustment made late from last month which gives Carlos Gonzalez the award for March/April, not Luke Scott/Curtis Granderson.
March/April Winner: Carlos Gonzalez (46 feet)
May Winner: Adam Dunn (47 feet)
Dunn hit a 363-foot home run off Rick Porcello on May 6 that had an apex of 47 feet. It is Dunn’s lowest apex homer since June 13, 2008 - a 400-foot shot off Justin Masterson that had an apex of 45 feet.

Fastball (Fastest speed off bat)
March/April Winner: Travis Hafner (117.2 mph)
May Winner: Giancarlo Stanton (122.4 mph)
Stanton had a superb month of May, hitting 12 home runs. One of those was a 462-foot mammoth shot off the recently demoted Jamie Moyer on May 21 – it had a speed off bat of 122.4 mph. It is the fastest speed off bat since ESPN HR Tracker began tracking home runs in 2006.

Server (Pitcher who allowed the greatest cumulative distance)
March/April Winner: Ervin Santana
May Winner: Mike Minor
Minor and Colby Lewis each gave up 10 home runs in May, but Minor wins the tiebreaker by giving up an average home run distance of 406.2 feet to Lewis’ 383.6 feet. Minor gave up six home runs of 400-plus feet, including a 453-foot blast to Wilin Rosario on May 5.

Masher (Greatest average home run distance, min. five home runs)
March/April Winner: Josh Hamilton
May Winner: Mark Trumbo
Trumbo averaged 424.9 feet per homer in May, best in baseball. For the season, Trumbo has averaged 422.3 feet per homer, has five shots of 430-plus feet and has only hit one less than 400 feet.

Stanton's blast off Lincecum tells the story

May, 26, 2012
If you’re looking for a microcosm of the past month for Miami Marlins OF Giancarlo Stanton and San Francisco Giants P Tim Lincecum, look no further than the blast Stanton hit off of Lincecum in Miami’s 7-6 win Friday night.

Giancarlo Stanton

The home run, a solo shot which came in the fourth inning, traveled 431 feet and was the first ball to hit the home run sculpture at Marlins Park. It was Stanton’s second straight game with a long ball, the third time this month that he has homered in back-to-back games.

As Stanton has gone this season, so have the Marlins. When he struggled in the opening month, hitting only one home run, the team sat in last place. In May, however, he has been on a tear. His 10 home runs this month are the most in baseball, and his OPS of 1.120 is almost double what it was in April. Miami, meanwhile, is right in the thick of the NL East.

Then there’s Lincecum. The NL Cy Young Award winner in 2008 and 2009 struggled yet again on Friday, allowing six earned runs and walking four batters in 5 2/3 innings. Lincecum was rolling along until he was rocked for five runs in the sixth, including a three-run bomb at the hands of Chris Coghlan. The defeat drops Linceum’s record this season to 2-5 and raises his ERA to 6.41.

The Marlins were able to get to Lincecum by putting the ball in the air. Of the 17 balls they put in play against him, 13 were hit in the air, the fourth-highest percentage against him since 2009. The Marlins also were able to lay off the righty’s offspeed stuff, swinging at just 31 percent of those pitches. And they had only five swings-and-misses with him on the mound.

Tim Lincecum

The Giants are now 0-5 in Lincecum’s last five starts, only one of which he made it through six innings. Much like Stanton, Lincecum also got off to a rough start in 2012. He started to turn it around at the end of April, but he has hit the skids again in May. He has only one quality start on the year.

While the Giants remain in second place, they will need improved pitching from their ace if they want to keep pace with the Dodgers. On the other hand, if the new-look Marlins continue to get red-hot hitting from Stanton, they could be a factor in the division race in the months ahead.

Celtics, 76ers no strangers to Game 7

May, 25, 2012

Brian Babineau/NBAE/Getty Images The Celtics and 76ers meet in a winner-take-all Game 7 in Boston on Saturday night.
The Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics continue their storied playoff rivalry as they meet Saturday night (ABC, 8 ET) in Boston for the seventh all-time Game 7 between these franchises.

The Celtics own a 4-2 advantage in the previous six matchups, but the 76ers won the most recent game three decades ago in the 1982 Eastern Conference Finals.

Game 7 Stats To Know
History appears to be on the Celtics’ side as they are 17-4 all-time at home in Game 7s. They did lose their last such game in 2009 against the Orlando Magic, but they have never lost consecutive Game 7s at home. The Celtics are also 20-7 overall in Game 7s, the most such wins and second-best record in NBA history (min. five games).

The 76ers, on the other hand, are just 1-7 all-time on the road in Game 7s and haven’t played one since 1986. The franchise is 6-8 overall in Game 7s; the eight losses are tied for the most in NBA history.

Celtics Keys to the Game
The Celtics have yet to lose back-to-back games this postseason, having won all four contests following a loss. However, the Celts have not fared well trying to close out a series since the "Big 3" was formed entering the 2007-08 season. They are 10-13 in potential series clinchers (1-2 this postseason).

Kevin Garnett’s jump-shooting has kept the Celtics in this series. Garnett has made 26-of-55 (47 percent) jump shots from 15 feet and beyond. The rest of the Celtics have combined to shoot 30 percent from that distance this series.

The absence of Avery Bradley, who underwent season-ending shoulder surgery on Friday, is significant for the Celtics, as it takes away their best five-man lineup this postseason.

When Bradley, Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce, Brandon Bass and Garnett have been on the court together, the Celtics have outscored opponents by 53 points. Their next-best lineup has outscored opponents by only 18 points.

76ers Keys to the Game
Philadelphia is looking to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 2001 and is trying to become the first No. 8 seed to reach the conference finals since the Knicks in the lockout-shortened 1999 season.

However, they will need to overcome history in order to make it to the next round.

The 76ers have lost each of the last 13 best-of-seven series in which they have trailed 3-2. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that is the longest such streak in NBA history.

One of the deciding factors in this series has been the 76ers' ability to establish the pick and roll. In their three wins, they’re averaging 11 points running the pick and roll. In their three losses, they’re averaging eight points on 29 percent shooting.

Offense has been an issue in the playoffs for the 76ers, who are scoring 86.6 points per game, the fewest among remaining teams. The 76ers haven’t scored more than 92 points in their last 10 games, the longest single postseason streak of its kind since the Pistons in 2006 (11 games).

Alvarez needs to dodge Mosley's power

May, 2, 2012

Getty ImagesSaul Alvarez, 21, has the strength to hang with the more experienced Shane Mosley, but he'll have to avoid the veteran's power punches.

The co-main event for Saturday’s night Mayweather-Cotto fight features Saul "Canelo" Alvarez, the rising 21-year-old superstar from Mexico against 40-year-old Shane Mosley. The fight is for Alvarez’s WBC Junior Middleweight title, the same title Mosley won in 2003.

However, this Shane Mosley isn’t the 2003 version, despite going 12 rounds against the top-two ranked fighters in the world, Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao. In both fights, he was picked apart by faster fighters and landed 20 percent of his punches to 36 percent for his opponents.

In the Pacquiao fight, Mosley’s highest output of landed punches in a round was nine. Against Mayweather, Mosley’s second-round output was 18, when he had Mayweather in trouble. He landed six per round for the remainder of the fight.

In his bout against Alvarez, Mosley won’t be the younger, faster or more powerful fighter, but he has the experience to outbox the phenom. Mosley fought Sergio Mora to a questionable draw in September 2010, a fight many feel Mosley won easily ( scored it 117-111 Mosley). In that fight, 63 percent of Mosley’s punches thrown were power punches, with 37 percent landing (124 of 331).

The key from the Mora fight that could help Mosley against "Canelo" is his aggressiveness. In 9 of the 12 rounds, Mosley threw more punches. It’s possible -- but highly unlikely -- that Mosley’s power can knock out Alvarez, but being the aggressor and outboxing the young Mexican fighter could get Mosley’s hand raised.

The task will be a difficult one against Alvarez. At just 21, Alvarez has 40 pro fights but has never fought on a stage of this magnitude. In addition to being the co-main event of a Mayweather card, the fight is on the Mexican holiday Cinco de Mayo.

His advantage over Mosley in this fight will be his power. In his last fight against Kermit Cintron, Alvarez landed 44 percent of his power punches, including 42 of 62 in the final two rounds. Over his last three fights, Alvarez threw 62 percent power punches and 38 percent jabs. What remains to be seen is if Alvarez, who has 29 career knockouts, can knock out Mosley, who has never been stopped in 54 pro fights.

In Alvarez’s last three fights, he has easily avoided power punches as well. Cintron, Alfonso Gomez and Ryan Rhodes landed 95 power punches combined over 23 rounds (four per round). Alvarez landed 322 over the three fights (14 per round).

Alvarez doesn’t have the speed of Mayweather or Pacquiao at 154 pounds, but at 40 years old, Mosley’s speed has significantly decreased. For Alvarez to get his biggest win to date, he’ll need to avoid whatever power Mosley has left and inflict some of his own to get career victory number 40.

The winner of this clash could meet the winner of Mayweather-Cotto in 2013. Of course, there’s always Manny Pacquiao.

Information from CompuBox was used in this post.

Power punches Cotto's key vs Mayweather

May, 2, 2012

Getty ImagesFloyd Mayweather Jr. (left) and Miguel Cotto square off for Cotto's WBA Junior Middleweight title on Saturday in Las Vegas.
Floyd Mayweather Jr. will step into the ring on Saturday for the first time since September 2011, and the last time before he begins an 87-day jail sentence for misdemeanor battery.

His opponent, Miguel Cotto, is on a three-fight win streak, and holds the WBA Junior Middleweight title. The fight is a matchup between two of’s Top 10 Pound-for-Pound fighters in the world (Mayweather 1st, Cotto 10th) and is for Cotto’s 154-pound title.

Mayweather will go up in weight from 147 pounds to 154 for the second time in his career. The first was five years ago, when he defeated Oscar De La Hoya by split decision. In that fight, Mayweather established the jab to set up his power punches. Mayweather landed 69 jabs against De La Hoya, and in his last three fights has landed an average of 10 per round (282 over 28 rounds).

If Mayweather can’t get the jab going, Cotto should expect to see plenty of power punches. In his last fight against Victor Ortiz, Mayweather landed 14 percent of his jabs (12 of 83), but connected on 49 percent of his power punches (61 of 125). Combined with his two prior fights, Mayweather landed 51 percent of power punches compared to 21 percent for his opponents.

It comes down to simple science for Mayweather to get to 43-0: hit Cotto and don’t get hit -- and there’s no one more elusive than Mayweather.

But don't expect this to be a runaway victory for Mayweather, especially with Cotto's track record. Cotto will most likely throw more punches than Mayweather in this fight. In his last fight against Antonio Margarito, Cotto averaged 55 punches per round. In his last loss to Manny Pacquiao, he averaged almost 50.

There is no secret that Cotto’s go-to punch is the left hook. If he can find the mark accurately and consistently against Mayweather, this fight will be interesting. Against Margarito, Cotto landed 148 power punches of 210 total punches landed (70 percent). Against Yuri Foreman, Cotto landed 37 of 76 power punches in the final three rounds after Foreman’s knee gave out, including the final left hook.

In Mayweather’s previous fight, Ortiz bullied him into the corner with power shots, forcing Mayweather to retreat. If the bigger Cotto can do the same thing, he can finish the undefeated Mayweather with the left hook.

Saturday night may mark the biggest boxing event of the year, and it will see either Mayweather win his last fight before starting his jail sentence or Cotto provide his Puerto Rican faithful a stunning victory on Mayweather’s turf.

Information from CompuBox was used in this post.

Schedule release does Giants no favors

April, 17, 2012

Kirby Lee/US Presswire

The Giants and Patriots face much different roads following their Super Bowl matchup.

Just over two months after meeting in Super Bowl XLVI, the New York Giants and New England Patriots learned their 2012 outlook when the NFL schedule was released Tuesday night. To put it simply, one team has a slightly tougher road than the other.

The Giants will face the league’s most difficult schedule this season, including a lethal stretch that will pit them against four of last year’s playoff teams (vs Green Bay Packers, vs New Orleans Saints, at Atlanta Falcons, at Baltimore Ravens) in the final six games. In fact, each of their last 11 games is against a divisional opponent or team coming off a postseason appearance.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, New York is the first defending champion to have the toughest schedule, and the club with the hardest slate has failed to make the playoffs in six of the last seven years.

History is on the Giants’ side, though, when they face the Dallas Cowboys in the 2012 opener, which will be the first Wednesday NFL game since 1948. The reigning Super Bowl champs have won 12 straight openers.

Meanwhile, after having the second-easiest schedule last season, the Patriots have the simplest set of opponents in 2012. Tom Brady and company play exactly one road game against a 2011 playoff team: Week 3 at Baltimore.

Having the easiest slate hasn’t been a blessing in recent years, however. According to Elias, the last five such teams have failed to reach the postseason.

Peyton Manning

• In his first game with the Denver Broncos and first start since January 2011, Peyton Manning will square off with the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday night in a rematch of last season's playoff clash. The Steelers will then face Denver’s previous quarterback, Tim Tebow, when they host the New York Jets in Week 2. The Jets open the campaign against the Buffalo Bills.

• Both Ravens-Steelers matchups will take place within a 15-day span (Weeks 11 and 13) and are part of a treacherous closing stretch for Baltimore. The defending AFC North champs face playoff teams from last season in five of their final seven games.

• The 15-1 Packers have an interesting start to their slate, hosting the San Francisco 49ers in the opener before a quick turnaround for a Thursday-night clash with the rival Chicago Bears. They then are likely to face former quarterback Matt Flynn when traveling to play the Seattle Seahawks on Monday night before returning home to face the Saints.

• If the draft goes as expected, with the Indianapolis Colts selecting quarterback Andrew Luck first and the Washington Redskins taking quarterback Robert Griffin III second, that pair will not exactly be eased into professional competition. The Colts open the season on the road against the Bears, and the Redskins start the year at New Orleans.

• Jim Schwartz and Jim Harbaugh, who famously had a sideline spat after last season’s contest, won’t have to wait long to see each other again. The 49ers host the Detroit Lions in Week 2 on Sunday night.

Defense, QB among NFC East draft needs

April, 17, 2012
Stats & Information gets you ready for the NFL Draft at the end of the month with a look at the biggest need for each team. Today, we take a look at the NFC East.

Dallas Cowboys
Need: Secondary

Last season the Cowboys had trouble defending the deep ball, allowing 43 percent of passes over 20 air yards to be completed, fourth-worst in the NFL.

The Cowboys also got burned on throws to the sidelines, giving up 15 touchdowns with just five interceptions on tosses outside the numbers. Only the Bills and Vikings had worse differentials.

Cornerback Brandon Carr was a high-profile addition to the Dallas secondary, but further depth is necessary.

Kiper’s 1st-Round Prediction: Mark Barron, S, Alabama
McShay’s 1st-Round Prediction: Dontari Poe, DT, Memphis

New York Giants
Need: Linebacker

The Giants’ defense relied on a standard pass rush last season, sending four or fewer pass rushers on nearly 70 percent of dropbacks, which ranked among the top 15 teams in the NFL.

However, the Giants’ linebackers defended or intercepted only nine passes last year, tied for seventh-fewest in the league.

New York also had issues defending short throws in the middle of the field, allowing completions on 71 percent of passes within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage and inside the numbers (26th in NFL).

Kiper’s 1st-Round Prediction: Coby Fleener, TE, Stanford
McShay’s 1st-Round Prediction: Mike Adams, OT, Ohio State

Philadelphia Eagles
Need: Defense

The Eagles traded for LB DeMeco Ryans in the offseason, but their defense could use more upgrading. Philadelphia was one of three teams to send four or fewer pass rushers on more than 80 percent of dropbacks last season.

However, even with linebackers frequently dropping into coverage, the Eagles were susceptible to the short passing game.

An interior defensive line presence might be necessary as well to help stop the run. The Eagles line up defensive ends wide, leaving the middle open. The result? They allowed 4.9 yards per rush up the middle last season, which ranked second-worst in the NFL.

Kiper’s 1st-Round Prediction: Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State
McShay’s 1st-Round Prediction: Mark Barron, S, Alabama

Washington Redskins

The Redskins really struggled on long throws in 2011, notching the worst completion percentage (22 percent) and tying for the fewest touchdowns (2) on passes that traveled more than 20 air yards.

Washington is expected to take Robert Griffin III with the second pick in the draft, and he should provide a significant upgrade to their deep passing game. At Baylor last season, Griffin completed 51 percent of passes that flew more than 20 yards in the air, with 20 touchdowns and just two interceptions.

The Redskins also failed to control the middle of the field in the passing game. Washington quarterbacks ranked 27th in the NFL in Total QBR and 29th in completion percentage on throws inside the numbers last season.

Kiper’s 1st-Round Prediction: Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor
McShay’s 1st-Round Prediction: Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor

Power approach helps and hurts Blue Jays

March, 30, 2011
The 2010 Toronto Blue Jays had one of the strangest offensive seasons in baseball history, with Jose Bautista and Aaron Hill providing much of the firepower for a uniquely potent attack.

As the majors saw the fewest home runs in a season (4,613) since 1995, the Blue Jays swatted 257 home runs, tied for third-most in baseball history and more than double the amount the team hit two years prior.

Toronto got 53.1 percent of its runs via home runs, the highest percentage of any team since 1954 by over five percentage points. The Blue Jays hit just .248 as a team, but their .206 ISO (isolated power, defined by slugging percentage minus batting average) set an all-time record.

Much of this had to do with hitting coach Dwayne Murphy, who stressed power over everything else. For some players, like Bautista, his tutelage helped greatly. He hit 54 home runs in 2010, 38 more than his previous career high. He hit more fly balls (54.5 percent of batted balls) than in any other season in his career, and he hit those fly balls out of the park at a 21.7 percent clip, second-best in baseball behind Joey Votto.

While hitting more fly balls helped Bautista, it was a major problem for Hill. He hit 26 home runs, fourth-most among second basemen, but his other numbers tanked. He finished with the third-worst batting average in baseball last season (.205) and the second-worst on-base percentage (.271). His .196 BABIP (batting average on balls in play) was not just the lowest last season, but the lowest among batting-title qualifiers in the live-ball era (since 1920).

Tim Lincecum
Heading into 2010, Hill’s career fly-ball percentage sat at 38.7 percent. Last season, 54.2 percent of his batted balls were fly balls, and only 10.8 percent carried out of the park. The biggest casualty of his rising fly-ball percentage was his line-drive percentage, which fell to 10.6 percent, the lowest among qualified hitters since the stat was first compiled in 2002. Hill hit .723 on his 47 line drives compared to .205 on 241 fly balls, which goes a long way towards explaining his low average and BABIP.

Put it this way. If Hill’s 2010 BABIP had equaled his previous career low (.288 in 2009), his overall batting average would have risen from .205 to a respectable .278.

Hill wasn't always a home run hitter. Over his first four seasons, he homered every 67.8 plate appearances. But over the last two seasons, he has more than tripled that rate, homering every 21.2 plate appearances. Out of the 17 hitters who hit 60 or more home runs over the last two seasons, Hill’s home runs were the shortest at an average of 387.2 feet true distance.

Bautista, on the other hand, averaged an above-average 402.5 feet on his 54 home runs last season. He posted the third-worst BABIP at .233, which is understandable since 54 of his 148 hits were home runs and therefore not counted as balls in play.

Simply because he has more power, Bautista was able to overcome his poor BABIP, and his home-run rate should be more sustainable for a Blue Jays offense that will attempt to keep pace with the powerhouses of the AL East.