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Dijon-Troyes: malgré la menace, le DFCO ne cède pas à la panique

Le match entre Dijon et Troyes, ce samedi (20h), fait l'objet de menaces d'un groupe d'extrême droite. Ce qui ne fait pas paniquer le club bourguignon, qui va toutefois prendre des mesures de sécurité adéquates.

Dijon-Troyes: malgré la menace, le DFCO ne cède pas à la panique

Le match entre Dijon et Troyes, ce samedi (20h), fait l'objet de menaces d'un groupe d'extrême droite. Ce qui ne fait pas paniquer le club bourguignon, qui va toutefois prendre des mesures de sécurité adéquates.

Vienna candlelit demo warns against extreme right in parliament

Several thousand people holding candles gather around the Ministry area of Vienna to warn against the arrival of "right-wing extremists" in government positions, a month after legislative elections.

Vienna candlelit demo warns against extreme right in parliament

Several thousand people holding candles gather around the Ministry area of Vienna to warn against the arrival of "right-wing extremists" in government positions, a month after legislative elections.

Vienna candlelit demo warns against extreme right in parliament

Several thousand people holding candles gather around the Ministry area of Vienna to warn against the arrival of "right-wing extremists" in government positions, a month after legislative elections.

Vienna candlelit demo warns against extreme right in parliament

Several thousand people holding candles gather around the Ministry area of Vienna to warn against the arrival of "right-wing extremists" in government positions, a month after legislative elections.

U.S. Soccer, SUM Look Into Hosting Other Notable Nations Who Missed World Cup

When the USA joined the likes of Ghana and Chile on the outside looking in of the World Cup, plenty joked that a non-World Cup tournament for big-name nations be organized. Well, it might not be a joke after all.

U.S. Soccer and Soccer United Marketing are looking into the potential of hosting the likes of Italy, Netherlands and the aforementioned duo in a series of matches for nations who won't be participating in the summer showcase in Russia. It's very preliminary in the process, and there is no agreement with any of the other nations whose 2018 summer unexpectedly opened up.

That list is more extreme than usual, with the reigning regional champions in Africa (Cameroon), CONCACAF (USA) and South America (Chile) missing out; Italy failing to reach the World Cup for the first time since 1958 and the Netherlands missing out after finishing second in 2010 and third in 2014. Ghana, a past World Cup nemesis for the USA, hadn't failed to qualify since 2002.

Plenty would have to fall into place for the "joke" envisioned to become a true reality and for any iteration of this proposed competition to carry any clout. For starters, not every nation would necessarily send a top lineup to a largely meaningless forum, while those nations would also have to want to play the USA instead of opting for other World Cup warm-up matches against competition headed to Russia.

It's in the ideation phase, at the very least, and the USA will have to play someone during the international dates next summer. Might as well be someone with common ground.

What We Learned About Kentucky From Its Almost-Upsets And More From Opening Weekend

Over a largely ho-hum, headline-less opening weekend, college basketball had two of those games that inspire those hey-you-might-want-to-check-this-out tweets and texts, the kind that alert the uninitiated that something worthwhile and dramatic might be in development. (“Hey, Peter” games, in other words.) Both teased the same potential cause for excitement: vaunted Kentucky losing at home to a mid-major.

First up on Friday was Utah Valley, coached by former Wildcat Mark Pope—a forward on the ’96 Untouchables national title team—and fresh off a 6–8 finish in the WAC. On the back of a 16–2 run, the Wolverines took a nine-point lead into halftime...only for Kentucky to bury them under a flurry of turnovers and fast breaks, pulling away for a 10-point win.

On Sunday the Wildcats hosted Vermont, the experienced America East favorite who was playing its first game of the season. Kentucky led by 12 at the break but this time saw its lead erode in the final 10 minutes, with the Catamounts eventually getting to within three points with 3:32 to play. The margin was the same entering the game’s last minute, where Vermont actually got two chances to tie it in the final eight seconds, only to miss both, allowing the Wildcats to survive.

So what do we know about Kentucky now? Should struggling against two mid-majors at Rupp be cause for concern? Should ultimately putting them away be seen as encouraging? Are the Wildcats too young? Will their lack of shooters doom them? Are these warning signs? Are they in for a rude awakening on Tuesday against Kansas, or in late December, or in SEC play? Is Kentucky as good as expected, or—gulp—overrated?

The truth is as obvious as it is simple: Who knows?

Sure, if the Wildcats had lost one or both of those games, alarms would have sounded across Big Blue Nation, and cheers of Schadenfreude would have gone up around the country. And there were elements of their wins that seem to offer insight into how this team might excel: the potentially unmatchable explosiveness of its transition game, the effectiveness of its stretches of zone defense. But the clearest takeaway thus far on perhaps the most intriguing and unpredictable high-profile team in the country is that they are just what we expected: a work in progress.

“Part of this early is going to be about survival,” Calipari told reporters on Friday. So far, so good. The other part of it is going to be figuring out just how they play; Calipari has said the goal is to be “random”, and after Sunday’s win, when wondering aloud who his go-to player might be, Calipari said, “If you know, write me a note.”

While Kentucky might be a rather extreme case given its extreme youth (a rotation of six freshmen and two sophomores who were bit players last season) and the rather extreme scrutiny under which it perpetually exists (see: this column), its case can be a helpful reminder that early games offer an idea of starting points, not end points. These are young players growing into their games and teams attempting to congeal on the fly, often with a substantial turnover of personnel. Who we see now might not be who we see in March. It might not even be who we see in December.

Which brings us to Tuesday’s Champions Classic. Kentucky will play Kansas in a meeting of bluebloods currently ranked in the top five in the polls. Here we will find out some things about the Wildcats—glimpses into how their strengths and weaknesses translate to a marquee, neutral-floor matchup with an elite opponent. But with a team so young, with so much left still to learn about itself (did Calipari end up getting that note?), we won’t really be getting answers for a while. At some point, we’ll know whether this weekend’s games were warning signs or opportunities for growth. Until then, we’ll be figuring teams out as they are.

If you are wondering what exactly you are reading, you likely missed last week’s column or errantly clicked the wrong link. In the case of the former, this is the Monday Rebound, SI.com’s new weekly Monday-morning column on college hoops. It’ll be sort of a grab-bag of news and tidbits and opinions largely aimed at catching you up on the weekend’s (and week’s) action and being generally informative. If there’s anything you like or dislike or would want to see more of here, or if you would just like to chat and maybe share a good recipe or two, you can find me on Twitter @thedangreene. Thanks for reading.

As the scandal turns...

While no new bombshells have been dropped in the ongoing FBI probe into college basketball recruiting, last week did offer a few bits of news that could prove to be a bigger deal down the line. For one, eight of the 10 men arrested in the sting were indicted. There was also the revelation that, according to the federal indictment, now-former Louisville coach Rick Pitino knew about the scheme to pay guard Brian Bowen to play for the Cardinals. USC guard De’Anthony Melton was held out of the team’s opener due to eligibility concerns stemming from the investigation into indicted former Trojans assistant Tony Bland. And the state of Alabama briefly took center stage in the scandal, as Collin Sexton was suspended for one game and ESPN reported that Auburn could fire coach Bruce Pearl for his refusal to cooperate with their internal investigation.

What might be of the greatest import is that two of the men arrested in the probe were not indicted along with the others last week and reportedly are no longer referred to by name in the indictments at all. Those two are Brad Augustine, the former head of the Adidas-backed 1-Family youth basketball program, and financial planner Munish Sood. Reasonable speculation points to those two possibly cooperating with investigators in order to reduce their own punishment. If that includes providing information on further targets of the probe, those who engaged in similar schemes with Augustine and/or Sood are likely sweating right now. And we may soon find out who, if anyone, that is.

On the court, the team most directly impacted by the investigation thus far—Louisville, which fired its coach and suspended a key freshman—needed a late rally to put away George Mason at home in its opener on Sunday. “I was anxious,” David Padgett, Pitino's 32-year-old assistant-turned-replacement, told reporters after. “I think our guys had some nerves too. I’m glad it’s out of the way now.”

ICYMI

If you didn’t catch any college basketball during its opening weekend, you really missed, uh ... well, there were some games. Always nice to have games to watch. Some of them were pretty fun. And if you’re a fan of a certain team, you probably got to see them play, so that’s nice.

Other than that, it was another quiet, under-the-radar opening weekend. There are few deader horses in college hoops circles than decrying the lackluster way the season tips off, but every time it comes around again, barely registering in the larger American sports landscape, it’s hard not to bring it up again. And it may be especially so this year. If you ask the average casual sports fan what’s going on in college basketball, what are the odds they bring up anything to do with the games themselves rather than the FBI investigation and its fallout? And the latter wouldn’t be wrong. It’s easy to see why the off-court issues would be juicier and more intriguing than a forgettable slate of games that will have little impact on anything come March.

The case for a stronger opening weekend is obvious and easy. Who wouldn’t want to see more marquee matchups between ranked teams or ESPN to revive the 24-hour marathon (which died a quiet death this year), or for there to be some high-profile interconference challenge? It’s hard to know how much that would really change things, and how much room there would be within the given sports news cycle—with football dominating Saturday through Monday, and Thursday too—to put on anything better than the existing Champions Classic. But it sure wouldn’t hurt to try.

High Five

Each week, we’ll be highlighting five teams on the rise. Here’s who stood out over the opening weekend.

1. Texas A&M: This weekend’s most impressive win came at a military base in Germany, where the shorthanded Aggies—without star forward Robert Williams and point guard J.J. Caldwell—not only survived West Virginia’s press but turned an early 13-point deficit into a 33-point win against the nation’s No. 11 team. Tyler Davis (who shot 10-for-12) and Admon Gilder each scored 23 points. That’s how you kick things off with a statement.

2. Indiana State: Larry Bird did not walk through that door, but the Sycamores handed Indiana its first season-opening loss at Assembly Hall since 1984. Kenpom.com gave Indiana State just a 9% chance of the upset. So how’d they do it? Making 17 of 26 threes sure helped. With the Hoosiers making just four of 18, that meant three-point shooting gave State a 39-point advantage in their 21-point win.

3. Missouri: Fans who tuned in (or packed Mizzou Arena) on Friday night eager to see Michael Porter Jr.’s debut may have been disappointed to see the all-everything freshman on the bench for all but the game’s first two minutes, due to a balky hip. But junior Kevin Puryear’s 17 points and eight rebounds in his stead helped the Tigers earn a quality win even without their star, beginning the Cuonzo Martin era on the right note.

4. UC-Riverside: Coming off an 8–21 season, the Highlanders hadn’t beaten a power-conference team since knocking off Washington State in 2011. While the Cal team they beat on Friday is projected to finish near the bottom of the Pac-12, Riverside’s 74–66 road win will likely be one of the best by a Big West team this year.

5. Georgia Southern: A home loss to a Sun Belt team is not the way Danny Manning wanted to start Year 4 in Winston-Salem. But there were some happy faces in town, as Eagles guard Mike Hughes is a Winston-Salem native and nearly played the hero on a late three-point try that rimmed out. Instead, teammate Ike Smith was fouled on the put-back and sank the winning free throws.

Top of the Classes

Senior: Yuta Watanabe, George Washington guard

The 6' 8" Japan native did a little of everything in the Colonials’ season-opening win over Howard, putting up 19 points (on 72.7% shooting), 11 rebounds, seven (!) blocks and three assists ... all while using just 14.6% of his team’s possessions. Pretty efficient night for a guy who should be using much more in most games.

Junior: Geno Crandall, North Dakota guard

Crandall had just four points at halftime of the Fighting Hawks’ opener, then apparently downed a jug of Michael’s Secret Stuff. He scored 37 points—including 22 in a row—after halftime for a total of 41 (on 78.9% shooting, including 7-for-9 from three) and sealed an 83-80 win over Troy with a trio of free throws in the final seconds.

Sophomore: Jon Axel Gudmundsson, Davidson guard

Gudmundsson narrowly missed what likely would have been the first-ever D-I triple double by a player born in Iceland, registering 24 points, nine rebounds and eight assists in the Wildcats’ blowout win over Charleston Southern.

Freshman: Brandon McCoy, UNLV forward

The Runnin’ Rebels’ most prized recruit didn’t take long to make his impact felt, with game-highs of 25 points and 18 rebounds in UNLV’s 42-point win over Florida A&M. The most impressive part: he did it all in just 23 minutes. It’s early, but the excitement around McCoy looks justified so far.

Bests of the Best

Each week, we’ll get to know a standout player a little better by asking them about some of the best things in the world. This week we welcome Arizona guard Allonzo Trier, the Pac-12’s preseason player of the year, who averaged 31.0 points over two wins this weekend. So, Allonzo, tell us about the best...

...place to eat back home. “I’d say Ivar’s. It’s a big-time place. Big on seafood back home. There’s great fish and chips, great clam chowder. It’s a Pacific Northwest thing.”

...show to binge-watch.Stranger Things is a great one. I haven’t had time to binge-watch the second season, but I did the first one. I finished the first episode [of Season 2] but I’ve been kind of busy with practice and school lately so I haven’t had a chance to get back. Eleven is my favorite [character]. It’s cool what she does for the show, and it’s always kinda scary when she does that thing where her nose starts to bleed. But I think she’s cool, especially when she gets around the boys.”

...month of the year. “For me it would be probably March. You’ve got the Pac-12 tournament, you’re starting the NCAA tournament, wrapping up the season but getting into the best part of the year as a college basketball player. It’s just an exciting time. And it’s starting to get warm again before summer.”

Social Media Post of the Week

Assigned Viewing

Champions Classic, Tuesday at 7 p.m. ET, ESPN

Picking between these two games would be difficult and picking any others would be dishonest. First up are Duke and Michigan State. The Blue Devils look scary as advertised so far, with Marvin Bagley III averaging 24.5 points and 10 rebounds through two games and Grayson Allen getting his groove back to the tune of 20.0 points and 10-for-15 three-point shooting. And for the Spartans, freshman Jaren Jackson (13 points, 13 boards vs. North Florida) might open some eyes alongside Miles Bridges Tuesday night.

In the second game, between Kansas and Kentucky, watch to see who establishes control of the game’s rhythm. Bill Self said his team was playing too slowly through their exhibition games, while the Wildcats most excelled this weekend when pushing the ball up the floor. If the Jayhawks want to play fast, Kentucky will likely be happy to oblige.

Before You’re Dismissed...

• According to ESPN’s Arash Markazi, the three UCLA players arrested for shoplifting in China—LiAngelo Ball, Jalen Hill and Cody Riley—are expected to remain in Hangzhou for “a week or two.” For a legal breakdown of the situation, check out this piece from SI’s legal expert Michael McCann.

• Between that and Georgia Tech’s suspension of Josh Okogie and Tadric Jackson for accepting impermissible benefits, that UCLA-Tech game in China sure turned out to be quite a showcase for American college hoops.

• Speaking of bad looks, here’s a troubling story on New Mexico coach Paul Weir’s alleged advice to players about reporting potential concussions and head injuries. Weir reportedly told his players that he was going to “fight” the school’s 10-day sit-out policy for players diagnosed with concussions and warned them to consider said policy before reporting concerns to trainers. Weir defended himself to NMFishbowl.com by alleging players had used the policy to avoid conditioning in the past and that he wanted “to remind [players] to think very carefully before they describe their feelings to medical personnel.” That seems to imply a chilling effect was intended. Players shouldn’t be encouraged to second-guess themselves before seeking medical attention.

• He only played 17 minutes, but Wichita State had to like what it saw from sophomore guard Landry Shamet—17 points on 5-of-7 shooting, including 4-of-5 from three—as he works his way back from surgery to repair a broken foot this summer.

• This week’s laughable NCAA ruling comes from Houston, where guard Rob Gray was suspended one game for...playing in a church league game over the summer, for which coach Kelvin Sampson says Gray’s friend paid his $5 entry fee. Thank goodness someone is protecting the sanctity of this sport.

• Rough news for Ivy League contender Yale, who NBC reports will be without guard Makai Mason for up to two months due to a stress fracture in his foot and also lost freshman forward Jordan Bruner for the season to a torn meniscus.

• There’s an ugly situation developing at Creighton, where the Omaha World-Herald reports two employees of the school’s Violence Intervention and Prevention Center were placed “under review” for publicly criticizing basketball coach Greg McDermott for the “selfish and reckless” act of presenting an NCAA tournament ring to former guard Mo Watson and posting photos of him doing so on Twitter. Watson was arrested on charges of first-degree sexual assault for an alleged rape at a party last February; charges were dropped this summer, but Watson plead no contest to misdemeanor assault for touching the inner thigh of another woman at the same party. The two employees, Lauren Ward and Meredith Lierk, published a letter in the school’s online student newspaper admonishing McDermott. A university spokesman told the World-Herald that Ward and Lierk should have approached McDermott directly.

• Arizona fans should check out this roundtable of former Wildcats Steve Kerr, Bruce Fraser, Craig McMillan and Tom Tolbert reminiscing about their time in Tucson. As for the current Wildcats, it looks like the combo of Trier and Deandre Ayton should be as enjoyable to watch as we’d hoped. Check out this Ayton alley-oop to boot.

• Not sure how to end these just yet. But if you’re looking for something to watch besides college basketball this week, go see Lady Bird.

What We Learned About Kentucky From Its Almost-Upsets And More From Opening Weekend

Over a largely ho-hum, headline-less opening weekend, college basketball had two of those games that inspire those hey-you-might-want-to-check-this-out tweets and texts, the kind that alert the uninitiated that something worthwhile and dramatic might be in development. (“Hey, Peter” games, in other words.) Both teased the same potential cause for excitement: vaunted Kentucky losing at home to a mid-major.

First up on Friday was Utah Valley, coached by former Wildcat Mark Pope—a forward on the ’96 Untouchables national title team—and fresh off a 6–8 finish in the WAC. On the back of a 16–2 run, the Wolverines took a nine-point lead into halftime...only for Kentucky to bury them under a flurry of turnovers and fast breaks, pulling away for a 10-point win.

On Sunday the Wildcats hosted Vermont, the experienced America East favorite who was playing its first game of the season. Kentucky led by 12 at the break but this time saw its lead erode in the final 10 minutes, with the Catamounts eventually getting to within three points with 3:32 to play. The margin was the same entering the game’s last minute, where Vermont actually got two chances to tie it in the final eight seconds, only to miss both, allowing the Wildcats to survive.

So what do we know about Kentucky now? Should struggling against two mid-majors at Rupp be cause for concern? Should ultimately putting them away be seen as encouraging? Are the Wildcats too young? Will their lack of shooters doom them? Are these warning signs? Are they in for a rude awakening on Tuesday against Kansas, or in late December, or in SEC play? Is Kentucky as good as expected, or—gulp—overrated?

The truth is as obvious as it is simple: Who knows?

Sure, if the Wildcats had lost one or both of those games, alarms would have sounded across Big Blue Nation, and cheers of Schadenfreude would have gone up around the country. And there were elements of their wins that seem to offer insight into how this team might excel: the potentially unmatchable explosiveness of its transition game, the effectiveness of its stretches of zone defense. But the clearest takeaway thus far on perhaps the most intriguing and unpredictable high-profile team in the country is that they are just what we expected: a work in progress.

“Part of this early is going to be about survival,” Calipari told reporters on Friday. So far, so good. The other part of it is going to be figuring out just how they play; Calipari has said the goal is to be “random”, and after Sunday’s win, when wondering aloud who his go-to player might be, Calipari said, “If you know, write me a note.”

While Kentucky might be a rather extreme case given its extreme youth (a rotation of six freshmen and two sophomores who were bit players last season) and the rather extreme scrutiny under which it perpetually exists (see: this column), its case can be a helpful reminder that early games offer an idea of starting points, not end points. These are young players growing into their games and teams attempting to congeal on the fly, often with a substantial turnover of personnel. Who we see now might not be who we see in March. It might not even be who we see in December.

Which brings us to Tuesday’s Champions Classic. Kentucky will play Kansas in a meeting of bluebloods currently ranked in the top five in the polls. Here we will find out some things about the Wildcats—glimpses into how their strengths and weaknesses translate to a marquee, neutral-floor matchup with an elite opponent. But with a team so young, with so much left still to learn about itself (did Calipari end up getting that note?), we won’t really be getting answers for a while. At some point, we’ll know whether this weekend’s games were warning signs or opportunities for growth. Until then, we’ll be figuring teams out as they are.

If you are wondering what exactly you are reading, you likely missed last week’s column or errantly clicked the wrong link. In the case of the former, this is the Monday Rebound, SI.com’s new weekly Monday-morning column on college hoops. It’ll be sort of a grab-bag of news and tidbits and opinions largely aimed at catching you up on the weekend’s (and week’s) action and being generally informative. If there’s anything you like or dislike or would want to see more of here, or if you would just like to chat and maybe share a good recipe or two, you can find me on Twitter @thedangreene. Thanks for reading.

As the scandal turns...

While no new bombshells have been dropped in the ongoing FBI probe into college basketball recruiting, last week did offer a few bits of news that could prove to be a bigger deal down the line. For one, eight of the 10 men arrested in the sting were indicted. There was also the revelation that, according to the federal indictment, now-former Louisville coach Rick Pitino knew about the scheme to pay guard Brian Bowen to play for the Cardinals. USC guard De’Anthony Melton was held out of the team’s opener due to eligibility concerns stemming from the investigation into indicted former Trojans assistant Tony Bland. And the state of Alabama briefly took center stage in the scandal, as Collin Sexton was suspended for one game and ESPN reported that Auburn could fire coach Bruce Pearl for his refusal to cooperate with their internal investigation.

What might be of the greatest import is that two of the men arrested in the probe were not indicted along with the others last week and reportedly are no longer referred to by name in the indictments at all. Those two are Brad Augustine, the former head of the Adidas-backed 1-Family youth basketball program, and financial planner Munish Sood. Reasonable speculation points to those two possibly cooperating with investigators in order to reduce their own punishment. If that includes providing information on further targets of the probe, those who engaged in similar schemes with Augustine and/or Sood are likely sweating right now. And we may soon find out who, if anyone, that is.

On the court, the team most directly impacted by the investigation thus far—Louisville, which fired its coach and suspended a key freshman—needed a late rally to put away George Mason at home in its opener on Sunday. “I was anxious,” David Padgett, Pitino's 32-year-old assistant-turned-replacement, told reporters after. “I think our guys had some nerves too. I’m glad it’s out of the way now.”

ICYMI

If you didn’t catch any college basketball during its opening weekend, you really missed, uh ... well, there were some games. Always nice to have games to watch. Some of them were pretty fun. And if you’re a fan of a certain team, you probably got to see them play, so that’s nice.

Other than that, it was another quiet, under-the-radar opening weekend. There are few deader horses in college hoops circles than decrying the lackluster way the season tips off, but every time it comes around again, barely registering in the larger American sports landscape, it’s hard not to bring it up again. And it may be especially so this year. If you ask the average casual sports fan what’s going on in college basketball, what are the odds they bring up anything to do with the games themselves rather than the FBI investigation and its fallout? And the latter wouldn’t be wrong. It’s easy to see why the off-court issues would be juicier and more intriguing than a forgettable slate of games that will have little impact on anything come March.

The case for a stronger opening weekend is obvious and easy. Who wouldn’t want to see more marquee matchups between ranked teams or ESPN to revive the 24-hour marathon (which died a quiet death this year), or for there to be some high-profile interconference challenge? It’s hard to know how much that would really change things, and how much room there would be within the given sports news cycle—with football dominating Saturday through Monday, and Thursday too—to put on anything better than the existing Champions Classic. But it sure wouldn’t hurt to try.

High Five

Each week, we’ll be highlighting five teams on the rise. Here’s who stood out over the opening weekend.

1. Texas A&M: This weekend’s most impressive win came at a military base in Germany, where the shorthanded Aggies—without star forward Robert Williams and point guard J.J. Caldwell—not only survived West Virginia’s press but turned an early 13-point deficit into a 33-point win against the nation’s No. 11 team. Tyler Davis (who shot 10-for-12) and Admon Gilder each scored 23 points. That’s how you kick things off with a statement.

2. Indiana State: Larry Bird did not walk through that door, but the Sycamores handed Indiana its first season-opening loss at Assembly Hall since 1984. Kenpom.com gave Indiana State just a 9% chance of the upset. So how’d they do it? Making 17 of 26 threes sure helped. With the Hoosiers making just four of 18, that meant three-point shooting gave State a 39-point advantage in their 21-point win.

3. Missouri: Fans who tuned in (or packed Mizzou Arena) on Friday night eager to see Michael Porter Jr.’s debut may have been disappointed to see the all-everything freshman on the bench for all but the game’s first two minutes, due to a balky hip. But junior Kevin Puryear’s 17 points and eight rebounds in his stead helped the Tigers earn a quality win even without their star, beginning the Cuonzo Martin era on the right note.

4. UC-Riverside: Coming off an 8–21 season, the Highlanders hadn’t beaten a power-conference team since knocking off Washington State in 2011. While the Cal team they beat on Friday is projected to finish near the bottom of the Pac-12, Riverside’s 74–66 road win will likely be one of the best by a Big West team this year.

5. Georgia Southern: A home loss to a Sun Belt team is not the way Danny Manning wanted to start Year 4 in Winston-Salem. But there were some happy faces in town, as Eagles guard Mike Hughes is a Winston-Salem native and nearly played the hero on a late three-point try that rimmed out. Instead, teammate Ike Smith was fouled on the put-back and sank the winning free throws.

Top of the Classes

Senior: Yuta Watanabe, George Washington guard

The 6' 8" Japan native did a little of everything in the Colonials’ season-opening win over Howard, putting up 19 points (on 72.7% shooting), 11 rebounds, seven (!) blocks and three assists ... all while using just 14.6% of his team’s possessions. Pretty efficient night for a guy who should be using much more in most games.

Junior: Geno Crandall, North Dakota guard

Crandall had just four points at halftime of the Fighting Hawks’ opener, then apparently downed a jug of Michael’s Secret Stuff. He scored 37 points—including 22 in a row—after halftime for a total of 41 (on 78.9% shooting, including 7-for-9 from three) and sealed an 83-80 win over Troy with a trio of free throws in the final seconds.

Sophomore: Jon Axel Gudmundsson, Davidson guard

Gudmundsson narrowly missed what likely would have been the first-ever D-I triple double by a player born in Iceland, registering 24 points, nine rebounds and eight assists in the Wildcats’ blowout win over Charleston Southern.

Freshman: Brandon McCoy, UNLV forward

The Runnin’ Rebels’ most prized recruit didn’t take long to make his impact felt, with game-highs of 25 points and 18 rebounds in UNLV’s 42-point win over Florida A&M. The most impressive part: he did it all in just 23 minutes. It’s early, but the excitement around McCoy looks justified so far.

Bests of the Best

Each week, we’ll get to know a standout player a little better by asking them about some of the best things in the world. This week we welcome Arizona guard Allonzo Trier, the Pac-12’s preseason player of the year, who averaged 31.0 points over two wins this weekend. So, Allonzo, tell us about the best...

...place to eat back home. “I’d say Ivar’s. It’s a big-time place. Big on seafood back home. There’s great fish and chips, great clam chowder. It’s a Pacific Northwest thing.”

...show to binge-watch.Stranger Things is a great one. I haven’t had time to binge-watch the second season, but I did the first one. I finished the first episode [of Season 2] but I’ve been kind of busy with practice and school lately so I haven’t had a chance to get back. Eleven is my favorite [character]. It’s cool what she does for the show, and it’s always kinda scary when she does that thing where her nose starts to bleed. But I think she’s cool, especially when she gets around the boys.”

...month of the year. “For me it would be probably March. You’ve got the Pac-12 tournament, you’re starting the NCAA tournament, wrapping up the season but getting into the best part of the year as a college basketball player. It’s just an exciting time. And it’s starting to get warm again before summer.”

Social Media Post of the Week

Assigned Viewing

Champions Classic, Tuesday at 7 p.m. ET, ESPN

Picking between these two games would be difficult and picking any others would be dishonest. First up are Duke and Michigan State. The Blue Devils look scary as advertised so far, with Marvin Bagley III averaging 24.5 points and 10 rebounds through two games and Grayson Allen getting his groove back to the tune of 20.0 points and 10-for-15 three-point shooting. And for the Spartans, freshman Jaren Jackson (13 points, 13 boards vs. North Florida) might open some eyes alongside Miles Bridges Tuesday night.

In the second game, between Kansas and Kentucky, watch to see who establishes control of the game’s rhythm. Bill Self said his team was playing too slowly through their exhibition games, while the Wildcats most excelled this weekend when pushing the ball up the floor. If the Jayhawks want to play fast, Kentucky will likely be happy to oblige.

Before You’re Dismissed...

• According to ESPN’s Arash Markazi, the three UCLA players arrested for shoplifting in China—LiAngelo Ball, Jalen Hill and Cody Riley—are expected to remain in Hangzhou for “a week or two.” For a legal breakdown of the situation, check out this piece from SI’s legal expert Michael McCann.

• Between that and Georgia Tech’s suspension of Josh Okogie and Tadric Jackson for accepting impermissible benefits, that UCLA-Tech game in China sure turned out to be quite a showcase for American college hoops.

• Speaking of bad looks, here’s a troubling story on New Mexico coach Paul Weir’s alleged advice to players about reporting potential concussions and head injuries. Weir reportedly told his players that he was going to “fight” the school’s 10-day sit-out policy for players diagnosed with concussions and warned them to consider said policy before reporting concerns to trainers. Weir defended himself to NMFishbowl.com by alleging players had used the policy to avoid conditioning in the past and that he wanted “to remind [players] to think very carefully before they describe their feelings to medical personnel.” That seems to imply a chilling effect was intended. Players shouldn’t be encouraged to second-guess themselves before seeking medical attention.

• He only played 17 minutes, but Wichita State had to like what it saw from sophomore guard Landry Shamet—17 points on 5-of-7 shooting, including 4-of-5 from three—as he works his way back from surgery to repair a broken foot this summer.

• This week’s laughable NCAA ruling comes from Houston, where guard Rob Gray was suspended one game for...playing in a church league game over the summer, for which coach Kelvin Sampson says Gray’s friend paid his $5 entry fee. Thank goodness someone is protecting the sanctity of this sport.

• Rough news for Ivy League contender Yale, who NBC reports will be without guard Makai Mason for up to two months due to a stress fracture in his foot and also lost freshman forward Jordan Bruner for the season to a torn meniscus.

• There’s an ugly situation developing at Creighton, where the Omaha World-Herald reports two employees of the school’s Violence Intervention and Prevention Center were placed “under review” for publicly criticizing basketball coach Greg McDermott for the “selfish and reckless” act of presenting an NCAA tournament ring to former guard Mo Watson and posting photos of him doing so on Twitter. Watson was arrested on charges of first-degree sexual assault for an alleged rape at a party last February; charges were dropped this summer, but Watson plead no contest to misdemeanor assault for touching the inner thigh of another woman at the same party. The two employees, Lauren Ward and Meredith Lierk, published a letter in the school’s online student newspaper admonishing McDermott. A university spokesman told the World-Herald that Ward and Lierk should have approached McDermott directly.

• Arizona fans should check out this roundtable of former Wildcats Steve Kerr, Bruce Fraser, Craig McMillan and Tom Tolbert reminiscing about their time in Tucson. As for the current Wildcats, it looks like the combo of Trier and Deandre Ayton should be as enjoyable to watch as we’d hoped. Check out this Ayton alley-oop to boot.

• Not sure how to end these just yet. But if you’re looking for something to watch besides college basketball this week, go see Lady Bird.

Pirelli announces new, pink F1 tire for 2018; fans to select name

The extreme-soft, hyper-soft or mega-soft will be joining Pirelli's F1 tire range in 2018.

Pirelli announces new, pink F1 tire for 2018; fans to select name

The extreme-soft, hyper-soft or mega-soft will be joining Pirelli's F1 tire range in 2018.

Pirelli announces new, pink F1 tire for 2018; fans to select name

The extreme-soft, hyper-soft or mega-soft will be joining Pirelli's F1 tire range in 2018.

Aventure - Sarah Marquis : «Ça risque d'être assez violent»

Aventurière de l'extrême, Sarah Marquis va traverser la Tasmanie seule et à la marche à partir du 1er janvier 2018. La Suissesse hors du commun nous explique les contours de cette nouvelle expédition, qui s'annonce aussi rude qu'inédite.

Aventure - Sarah Marquis : «Ça risque d'être assez violent»

Aventurière de l'extrême, Sarah Marquis va traverser la Tasmanie seule et à la marche à partir du 1er janvier 2018. La Suissesse hors du commun nous explique les contours de cette nouvelle expédition, qui s'annonce aussi rude qu'inédite.

Aventure - Sarah Marquis : «Ça risque d'être assez violent»

Aventurière de l'extrême, Sarah Marquis va traverser la Tasmanie seule et à la marche à partir du 1er janvier 2018. La Suissesse hors du commun nous explique les contours de cette nouvelle expédition, qui s'annonce aussi rude qu'inédite.

Aventure - Sarah Marquis : «Ça risque d'être assez violent»

Aventurière de l'extrême, Sarah Marquis va traverser la Tasmanie seule et à la marche à partir du 1er janvier 2018. La Suissesse hors du commun nous explique les contours de cette nouvelle expédition, qui s'annonce aussi rude qu'inédite.

Report: Barcelona Line Up Lyon Star Nabil Fekir as Potential Signing

Barcelona are reported as having a keen interest in Lyon star Nabil Fekir after watching him string some remarkable performances together this season.

The 24-year-old Frenchman has set Ligue 1 alight, having scored 13 goals and registered four assists in 17 appearances so far this term, and has several clubs taking notice.

As seen in the image way above, he also has his Messi jersey celebration on point. But that isn't believed to have any bearing on Barcelona's interest; although the fact that he celebrated in such a manner in front of Saint Etienne fans following a Man of the Match performance during Lyon's 5-0 rout of the aforementioned side is perhaps an indication of his extreme confidence levels.

According to Marca, the Spanish side have been monitoring Fekir for several months and are possibly looking to add the French star to a growing list of players hailing from the country, currently inclusive of Ousmane Dembele, Lucas Digne and Samuel Umtiti.

Fekir was Ligue 1's Young Player of the Year during the 2014/15 season, and has since been called up to represent France.

The player is also said to be a potential alternative to Philippe Coutinho. Other reports in Spain have suggested that the Brazilian will move to the Camp Nou in January, with personal terms already ironed out. But Liverpool have given no indication that they will let the player go.

Snatching up Fekir from Lyon shouldn't be easy either, as Jean-Michel Aulas, Lyon's owner, is expected to ask for top dollar for his player if it ever comes down to him leaving.

49ers defensive coordinator: Injuries 'freak accidents'

SANTA CLARA -- From the day he arrived as 49ers defensive coordinator, Robert Saleh stressed to his player that he wanted them to play with extreme violence.

And while the players on the 49ers defense has doled out a few shots along the way, it seems they have absorbed even more. In back-to-back weeks, starting safeties Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tartt were lost for the remainder of the season with sustaining broken forearms.

How the Astros Mastered Applying Their Pitching Data and How Other Teams Should Follow Suit

The World Series champions are champions of technology, as well. Every team crunches numbers, but no team has been better at the practical application of data than the Houston Astros, especially on the pitching side.

Two years ago the Astros and the New York Yankees became the first teams to throw fewer than 50% fastballs. They knew the old pitching paradigm of “establish your fastball down” was broken. The modern hitter has adapted to the increase in velocity and, with the emphasis on hitting balls in the air, has a swing path geared toward the fastball down. This year the Indians, Rays and Angels joined Houston and New York in no longer believing fastballs should be thrown a majority of the time.

The data tell us that in particular the two-seam fastball/sinker is a dying pitch. It’s the easiest pitch to hit in baseball. Over the past three seasons the batting average on the pitch has been going up (.291, .293, .296) as well as the slugging percentage (.438, .452, .468).

Then, in the World Series, the Astros suddenly boosted their overall fastball percentage to 58%, with Brad Peacock (81%), Joe Musgrove (70), Justin Verlander (68) and Charlie Morton (67) leading the way, though they did so largely with high, hard fastballs. Maybe the slicker baseballs that pitchers complained about, particularly when throwing sliders, had something to do with the change. Sixth in MLB in slider usage during the regular season, the Astros decreased their slider percentage drastically in the World Series, from 19.6 to 12.8%.

Also, the matchup the Astros liked going into the World Series was their high-spin fastballs up in the zone against the Dodgers lineup. The Astros knew that the Dodgers, with so many hitters trying to launch balls in the air, were the worst team in baseball this year at hitting high fastballs (.204).

It wasn’t too long ago that the radar gun provided the only data point to evaluate pitching. Most of the evaluation was being done by scouts and pitching coaches based on what their eyes told them, which is how we came to accept phrases such as “good life on his fastball,” “the ball gets on you,” “12 to 6 curve,” “hides the ball well,” and so on. They were opinions, not facts.

Now we have actual data on how the ball moves and spins and how the pitcher releases the ball. The masters of the game no longer are those grizzled gurus with “an eye” for pitching, but the analysts who can interpret the data and combine it with a coach’s understanding of the craft.

Think about the role of Brian Bannister, Boston’s vice president of pitching development, an analyst/coaching job that didn’t exist two years ago. Bannister was about to start a private business based on pitching analytics, with centers around the country to provide data with “MRI level of precision” to train pitchers. Then the Red Sox called and asked him, “Can you do that for us?”

“In any industry where there is a disruptive technology, in this case Pitch FX and Trackman, it creates non-traditional roles, sometimes you don’t even expect,” he said. “I never expected to do this when I broke into the big leagues in 2006, but I saw an opportunity. At the major league level it’s always about competitive advantages and giving your players better information. The next wave is personalizing things for the players.”

The next wave is here.

Coaching in sports has changed dramatically. Golfers hire swing coaches who never played on the tour, but through technology have gained a deeper understanding of the golf swing than those who played it at the highest level. Major league hitters such as Justin Turner, Josh Donaldson, Chris Taylor and J.D. Martinez have turned around their careers by seeking out hitting gurus who never played in the majors, but bring the same deep, analytical approach to hitting that swing coaches bring to pro golf.

The same fresh approach is an asset with pitching. Bannister, for instance, admits he failed as a big league pitcher in part because “I was a big trial and error guy. I eventually stumbled upon a lot of things that now I have a high level of confidence in, the things that make major league pitchers successful and allow them to stay successful, but my road was very rocky and I had a lot of failure.”

In Houston, pitching coach Brent Strom and manager A.J. Hinch have embraced new technology and thinking. Strom went 22–39 with three teams in his big league career. Hinch was a .219 hitter. Because they were not largely successful as players, they are not hidebound to “the way I did it”—the old school ways that no longer are as applicable in a changing modern game. They have the freedom to embrace new technology instead of relying on what worked for centuries: one generation passing on “the way I did it” to the next.

Let’s take four key pitchers as examples of how Houston has re-imagined pitching. Four times in the postseason Hinch let a reliever finish a game by getting 11 outs or more—the first time in any postseason a team had so many lengthy game-finishing outings. Those four outings were as many as managed by every other team combined in the previous 26 postseasons.

What’s so interesting is that a different pitcher made each one, and the rise of each pitcher helps tell the story about how Houston has applied personalized data to pitching:

1. Collin McHugh (ALCS Game 3): McHugh was 0–8 with an 8.94 ERA when the Astros signed him after the 2013 season as a free agent. McHugh was failing in the traditional ways: the majority of his pitches were fastballs, including many hittable sinkers.

Despite the awful traditional stats, Houston liked McHugh because of the high spin rate on his curveball. The club figured McHugh should be throwing more breaking balls and fewer fastballs. He virtually eliminated the sinker (high fastballs work better in tandem with curveballs, because they work off the same “tunnel,” creating deception) and added a slider. The result: a guy who never won a game before is 48–28 since joining Houston, the 11th best winning percentage (.632) among starters over these past four seasons.

2. Lance McCullers (ALCS Game 7): The idea of throwing just 41% fastballs would have been heretical just five years ago. But McCullers did just that this year (sixth lowest among conventional pitchers) and thrived because his curveball is extraordinary. No other starter throws a curveball with a higher spin rate or at a greater velocity than does McCullers. Moreover, his fastball command is average at best, so why not throw more curveballs? He famously closed out the ALCS with 24 straight curveballs.

3. Brad Peacock (World Series Game 3): His place in the game was so tenuous this spring that Peacock told his wife that he wasn’t sure if he could make the club and was prepared to go find work pitching in Japan.

Thinking this might be his last shot, Peacock came to camp in better shape, and his pitches were crisper. The Astros also saw that Peacock had one of the highest spin rates on a slider (fourth highest among pitchers who threw at least 500 sliders), so they encouraged him to throw it more often—leading to career-high usage of 36%, which led to a career year (13–2, 3.00).

But it was his fastball that Houston liked against the flyball-hitting Dodgers. Peacock throws his fastball from an abnormally low release point—barely more than five feet off the ground. The normal release point is about the same height as the pitcher. Peacock is 6’ 1”.

Because of his long stride and because he has a low three-quarters delivery, Peacock “confuses” hitters with the angle he creates on his fastball. The ball seems to be “traveling up” to the hitters (it’s actually just dropping less than they expect), and they can’t get on top of it.

It’s the same illusion that works for Boston closer Craig Kimbrel. Peacock is a junior version of Kimbrel. That’s why the Dodgers hit .174 against Peacock’s fastballs in the World Series (4-for-23).

4. Charlie Morton (ALCS Game 7): Many critics scoffed when the Astros quickly gave $14 million over two years to Morton, a free agent sinkerball pitcher with a 46–71 record, a long injury history and major problems against lefthanded hitters. The Astros knew, however, that Morton had one of the highest curveball spin rates and above-average velocity. In their estimation, he was throwing too many sinkers (62% in his last full season, with Pittsburgh in 2015) and not enough curveballs, especially to lefthanded hitters.

The change in Morton in Houston was dramatic. A career-high 29% curveballs led to a career season (14–7, 3.62). The biggest improvement came against lefthanded hitters. By increasing his curveball percentage to lefties compared to 2015 (25 to 35%) he eliminated his biggest weakness (the batting average by lefties against him dropped from .301 to .175).

With Houston, Morton transformed from a non-descript journeyman to a World Series star. He became only the fourth pitcher to win the seventh game of the World Series with at least four innings of game-ending relief, earning a place in history next to Bob Turley (1958), Joe Page (1947) and Walter Johnson (1924).

His turnaround is so stunning that it begs the question: who is the next Charlie Morton? Why can’t another club, using technology and data available today, identify better things in mediocre pitchers such as Morton, McHugh and Peacock?

First, a disclaimer: Morton’s turnaround is not so simple as just throwing more high-spin curveballs. It’s a metamorphosis that began in late 2015 when he decided to throw harder instead of pitching to contact. It continued that winter when, with former Pirates pitcher and current Dodger Tony Watson as his workout partner, Morton revamped his diet and training regimen, which led him to losing 15 pounds and helped him gain speed and flexibility in his delivery. Extra fuel came from the disappointment he felt by pitching poorly against St. Louis in a key game down the stretch for the Pirates. “I let everybody down,” he said.

So it’s a recipe with many ingredients, not just one.

But let’s start with the main ingredients to find the next Charlie Morton: an underachieving pitcher with high-spin rates who is not using his pitches in proper proportion, who suffers from serious platoon splits, and who is stuck in the old “fastball-first” paradigm.

Here are the three pitchers who could be breakout stars next season—the next Charlie Morton.

1. Chris Stratton, 27, Giants.

The pitcher: A former 2012 first-round pick, Stratton finally made an imprint in the big leagues last season. In his final eight starts he went 4­2 with a 2.27 ERA. He’s ticketed to be in the mix for the No. 5 spot in the San Francisco rotation next year.

The problem: Stratton has a mediocre four-seam fastball (91.8 mph) and, if you lower the bar to 100 curveballs thrown, the fastest-spinning curveball in baseball (3,105 rpm). Batters hit .292 against his fastball, but only .100 against his curveball. But he’s stuck in an old-school way of pitching: 61% fastballs and only 18% curves.

The symptoms: Lefthanded hitters crushed Stratton, lighting him up for a .811 OPS, while he held righthanded hitters to a .670 OPS. Stratton throws his curveball even less often to lefties (17%) than to righties (21).

The mechanics: They need work. Stratton has poor arm deceleration, meaning his arm and hand brake too soon after release. He can improve velocity by working on better deceleration. He also can throw harder by driving his head and torso more toward the plate; he has a tendency to drift toward the first-base side of the mound while releasing the ball. Bottom line: there’s more in there.

How to get Morton-ized: Increase curveball percentage to lefthanded hitters, work the high fastball/curveball tunnel more often, and tighten mechanics.

2. Chad Kuhl, 25, Pittsburgh Pirates

The pitcher: A 2013 ninth-round pick out of Delaware, Kuhl learned the sinker while in the Pittsburgh minor league system—the Pirates and Cardinals love the sinker - and that pitch got him to the big leagues. He has added ridiculous velocity. In four games last year he hit 100 mph with his sinker!

Alas, after 45 big league starts, Kuhl is a good athlete with a power arm but a mediocre record: 13–15 with a 4.30 ERA.

The problem: Kuhl is trying to win in the big leagues as a sinker/slider pitcher. That was a great idea in the 90s; not so much now, especially since his fastball command can be spotty.

The parallels to Morton are almost uncanny. Kuhl’s exceptional spin rate on his curve (2,877) is almost identical to that of Morton (2,877). His average fastball velocity (95.6) is almost identical to Morton’s heater (95.7).

The symptoms: Lefties crush Kuhl (.893 OPS, fifth worst in baseball) because he doesn’t throw his curveball enough to them (7%). In fairness, Kuhl didn’t start throwing his knuckle-curve until late May, so confidence in the pitch may be lacking.

The mechanics: Terrific. His arm deceleration is among the best you can find. He’s a great athlete who repeats his mechanics well. Like some sinkerball pitchers, however, to “get on top” of the sinker he throws it with a release point two inches higher than his other pitches. Ideally, you want every pitch coming out of the same spot, so as not to give a hitter any early indication of what’s coming.

How to get Morton-ized: Trust the knuckle-curve more against lefthanders. Embrace the four-seam fastball up in the zone. De-emphasize the power sinker down.

3. Tyler Chatwood, 27, Rockies

The pitcher: He reached the big leagues just three years after the Angels drafted him out of high school in 2008. He has undergone two Tommy John surgeries and largely been mediocre: 40–46 with a 4.31 ERA. He led the league in losses last year (15).

The problem: Coors Field, for one. It’s hard to judge any pitcher in that ballpark. Chatwood suffered a 6.01 ERA at home, with a .302 average against, but posted a 3.49 mark on the road, with a .200 average against.

Chatwood has an extreme high-spinning curveball (2,980) but doesn’t use it much. He relies mostly on fastball and sliders. His two- and four-seam fastballs have above-average velocity (94-95 mph), but they get hit.

The symptoms: He’s too fastball dependent. The data:

Chatwood threw 177 curveballs to lefthanded hitters—and gave up just two hits! Lefties batted .063 against his hook, but he threw it only 13% of the time. Denver’s altitude is notorious for taking the bite out of curveballs, so his home park could be leading him away from a pitch that’s been successful.

The mechanics: Don’t try this at home. Chatwood, a short righthander (6-feet), keeps his hands away from his body, pulls the ball out of his glove early, pulls his elbow behind the line of his shoulders and raises the elbow higher than the shoulder before the ball rotates up—and that’s all before he gets the baseball in the loaded position. He throws over the top, but because of a long stride and an extreme bend of the front knee, actually has a low release point in terms of height off the ground.

How to get Morton-ized: Get out of Denver. Short of that, reduce fastball percentage and increase curveball percentage, especially to lefthanded hitters.

Honorable mentions: Pirates righthander Trevor Williams, 25, who because of freakish extension has the second-highest difference between effective and actual velocity on his four-seam fastball (Jacob deGrom is first); Twins reliever Ryan Pressly, 28, who throws 96 and also has a ridiculous curveball spin rate (3,083), but has mechanical issues because of forearm flyout (the ball when loaded is too far from his head); and Rays reliever Austin Pruitt, 28, a strike-thrower and converted starter with a high-spin hook (2,946) and overhand delivery who needs a tick or two on his mediocre four-seam fastball (91.8).

One of the most underrated factors in a ballplayers’ development is environment. Nolan Arenado hits in the same batting practice group as Troy Tulowitzki in Denver, and adopts the same foot shuffle in his setup. CC Sabathia extended his career with the cut fastball he learned from Andy Pettitte. After he was traded from Baltimore to Chicago, Jake Arrieta inherited a former crossfire pitcher as a pitching coach, Chris Bosio, who encourages a return to throwing across his body.

In Houston, Morton, who had always been interested in analytics, found the right place to emphasize his curveball. Stratton, Kuhl and Chatwood all pitch for organizations that largely work off the old paradigm of “fastball first.” If you include cut fastballs, the Rockies, Pirates and Giants ranked 5-6-8 in the highest percentage of fastballs thrown.

Dodgers pitcher Rich Hill tells the story of the day in 2015 when he had a conversation with Bannister in Pawtucket, where Hill was pitching in Triple-A at age 35. Bannister told Hill his high-spinning curveball was so good that he could throw it 50% of the time. Hill had been around pro ball 14 years and never heard such a thing. When Hill came home, his wife immediately saw the excitement on his face. “You’ve had a creative explosion,” she told him.

Since then, Hill is 24–13 in the majors and signed contracts worth $83 million.

Bannister also helped turn around the career of Joe Kelly, who was raised in the Cardinals system as a traditional sinkerball pitcher despite having a high-spin breaking ball and elite velocity. Bannister encouraged Kelly at the end of the 2016 season to emphasize his four-seam fastball, not his sinker. Kelly also changed his arm swing so as not to pull his arm behind the line of his shoulders. Kelly, 29, began this year with a career 3.93 ERA, but re-born as a power reliever he posted his best season (2.79 ERA, 3.49 FIP).

Many more will follow the likes of McHugh, Peacock, Morton, Hill and Kelly. There will be more as organizations accept this teaching in which data is not just collected, but also applied in highly personalized ways. Morton gave this revolution the high profile moment to scale it up. In ending the World Series, he started a movement.

How the Astros Mastered Applying Their Pitching Data and How Other Teams Should Follow Suit

The World Series champions are champions of technology, as well. Every team crunches numbers, but no team has been better at the practical application of data than the Houston Astros, especially on the pitching side.

Two years ago the Astros and the New York Yankees became the first teams to throw fewer than 50% fastballs. They knew the old pitching paradigm of “establish your fastball down” was broken. The modern hitter has adapted to the increase in velocity and, with the emphasis on hitting balls in the air, has a swing path geared toward the fastball down. This year the Indians, Rays and Angels joined Houston and New York in no longer believing fastballs should be thrown a majority of the time.

The data tell us that in particular the two-seam fastball/sinker is a dying pitch. It’s the easiest pitch to hit in baseball. Over the past three seasons the batting average on the pitch has been going up (.291, .293, .296) as well as the slugging percentage (.438, .452, .468).

Then, in the World Series, the Astros suddenly boosted their overall fastball percentage to 58%, with Brad Peacock (81%), Joe Musgrove (70), Justin Verlander (68) and Charlie Morton (67) leading the way, though they did so largely with high, hard fastballs. Maybe the slicker baseballs that pitchers complained about, particularly when throwing sliders, had something to do with the change. Sixth in MLB in slider usage during the regular season, the Astros decreased their slider percentage drastically in the World Series, from 19.6 to 12.8%.

Also, the matchup the Astros liked going into the World Series was their high-spin fastballs up in the zone against the Dodgers lineup. The Astros knew that the Dodgers, with so many hitters trying to launch balls in the air, were the worst team in baseball this year at hitting high fastballs (.204).

It wasn’t too long ago that the radar gun provided the only data point to evaluate pitching. Most of the evaluation was being done by scouts and pitching coaches based on what their eyes told them, which is how we came to accept phrases such as “good life on his fastball,” “the ball gets on you,” “12 to 6 curve,” “hides the ball well,” and so on. They were opinions, not facts.

Now we have actual data on how the ball moves and spins and how the pitcher releases the ball. The masters of the game no longer are those grizzled gurus with “an eye” for pitching, but the analysts who can interpret the data and combine it with a coach’s understanding of the craft.

Think about the role of Brian Bannister, Boston’s vice president of pitching development, an analyst/coaching job that didn’t exist two years ago. Bannister was about to start a private business based on pitching analytics, with centers around the country to provide data with “MRI level of precision” to train pitchers. Then the Red Sox called and asked him, “Can you do that for us?”

“In any industry where there is a disruptive technology, in this case Pitch FX and Trackman, it creates non-traditional roles, sometimes you don’t even expect,” he said. “I never expected to do this when I broke into the big leagues in 2006, but I saw an opportunity. At the major league level it’s always about competitive advantages and giving your players better information. The next wave is personalizing things for the players.”

The next wave is here.

Coaching in sports has changed dramatically. Golfers hire swing coaches who never played on the tour, but through technology have gained a deeper understanding of the golf swing than those who played it at the highest level. Major league hitters such as Justin Turner, Josh Donaldson, Chris Taylor and J.D. Martinez have turned around their careers by seeking out hitting gurus who never played in the majors, but bring the same deep, analytical approach to hitting that swing coaches bring to pro golf.

The same fresh approach is an asset with pitching. Bannister, for instance, admits he failed as a big league pitcher in part because “I was a big trial and error guy. I eventually stumbled upon a lot of things that now I have a high level of confidence in, the things that make major league pitchers successful and allow them to stay successful, but my road was very rocky and I had a lot of failure.”

In Houston, pitching coach Brent Strom and manager A.J. Hinch have embraced new technology and thinking. Strom went 22–39 with three teams in his big league career. Hinch was a .219 hitter. Because they were not largely successful as players, they are not hidebound to “the way I did it”—the old school ways that no longer are as applicable in a changing modern game. They have the freedom to embrace new technology instead of relying on what worked for centuries: one generation passing on “the way I did it” to the next.

Let’s take four key pitchers as examples of how Houston has re-imagined pitching. Four times in the postseason Hinch let a reliever finish a game by getting 11 outs or more—the first time in any postseason a team had so many lengthy game-finishing outings. Those four outings were as many as managed by every other team combined in the previous 26 postseasons.

What’s so interesting is that a different pitcher made each one, and the rise of each pitcher helps tell the story about how Houston has applied personalized data to pitching:

1. Collin McHugh (ALCS Game 3): McHugh was 0–8 with an 8.94 ERA when the Astros signed him after the 2013 season as a free agent. McHugh was failing in the traditional ways: the majority of his pitches were fastballs, including many hittable sinkers.

Despite the awful traditional stats, Houston liked McHugh because of the high spin rate on his curveball. The club figured McHugh should be throwing more breaking balls and fewer fastballs. He virtually eliminated the sinker (high fastballs work better in tandem with curveballs, because they work off the same “tunnel,” creating deception) and added a slider. The result: a guy who never won a game before is 48–28 since joining Houston, the 11th best winning percentage (.632) among starters over these past four seasons.

2. Lance McCullers (ALCS Game 7): The idea of throwing just 41% fastballs would have been heretical just five years ago. But McCullers did just that this year (sixth lowest among conventional pitchers) and thrived because his curveball is extraordinary. No other starter throws a curveball with a higher spin rate or at a greater velocity than does McCullers. Moreover, his fastball command is average at best, so why not throw more curveballs? He famously closed out the ALCS with 24 straight curveballs.

3. Brad Peacock (World Series Game 3): His place in the game was so tenuous this spring that Peacock told his wife that he wasn’t sure if he could make the club and was prepared to go find work pitching in Japan.

Thinking this might be his last shot, Peacock came to camp in better shape, and his pitches were crisper. The Astros also saw that Peacock had one of the highest spin rates on a slider (fourth highest among pitchers who threw at least 500 sliders), so they encouraged him to throw it more often—leading to career-high usage of 36%, which led to a career year (13–2, 3.00).

But it was his fastball that Houston liked against the flyball-hitting Dodgers. Peacock throws his fastball from an abnormally low release point—barely more than five feet off the ground. The normal release point is about the same height as the pitcher. Peacock is 6’ 1”.

Because of his long stride and because he has a low three-quarters delivery, Peacock “confuses” hitters with the angle he creates on his fastball. The ball seems to be “traveling up” to the hitters (it’s actually just dropping less than they expect), and they can’t get on top of it.

It’s the same illusion that works for Boston closer Craig Kimbrel. Peacock is a junior version of Kimbrel. That’s why the Dodgers hit .174 against Peacock’s fastballs in the World Series (4-for-23).

4. Charlie Morton (ALCS Game 7): Many critics scoffed when the Astros quickly gave $14 million over two years to Morton, a free agent sinkerball pitcher with a 46–71 record, a long injury history and major problems against lefthanded hitters. The Astros knew, however, that Morton had one of the highest curveball spin rates and above-average velocity. In their estimation, he was throwing too many sinkers (62% in his last full season, with Pittsburgh in 2015) and not enough curveballs, especially to lefthanded hitters.

The change in Morton in Houston was dramatic. A career-high 29% curveballs led to a career season (14–7, 3.62). The biggest improvement came against lefthanded hitters. By increasing his curveball percentage to lefties compared to 2015 (25 to 35%) he eliminated his biggest weakness (the batting average by lefties against him dropped from .301 to .175).

With Houston, Morton transformed from a non-descript journeyman to a World Series star. He became only the fourth pitcher to win the seventh game of the World Series with at least four innings of game-ending relief, earning a place in history next to Bob Turley (1958), Joe Page (1947) and Walter Johnson (1924).

His turnaround is so stunning that it begs the question: who is the next Charlie Morton? Why can’t another club, using technology and data available today, identify better things in mediocre pitchers such as Morton, McHugh and Peacock?

First, a disclaimer: Morton’s turnaround is not so simple as just throwing more high-spin curveballs. It’s a metamorphosis that began in late 2015 when he decided to throw harder instead of pitching to contact. It continued that winter when, with former Pirates pitcher and current Dodger Tony Watson as his workout partner, Morton revamped his diet and training regimen, which led him to losing 15 pounds and helped him gain speed and flexibility in his delivery. Extra fuel came from the disappointment he felt by pitching poorly against St. Louis in a key game down the stretch for the Pirates. “I let everybody down,” he said.

So it’s a recipe with many ingredients, not just one.

But let’s start with the main ingredients to find the next Charlie Morton: an underachieving pitcher with high-spin rates who is not using his pitches in proper proportion, who suffers from serious platoon splits, and who is stuck in the old “fastball-first” paradigm.

Here are the three pitchers who could be breakout stars next season—the next Charlie Morton.

1. Chris Stratton, 27, Giants.

The pitcher: A former 2012 first-round pick, Stratton finally made an imprint in the big leagues last season. In his final eight starts he went 4­2 with a 2.27 ERA. He’s ticketed to be in the mix for the No. 5 spot in the San Francisco rotation next year.

The problem: Stratton has a mediocre four-seam fastball (91.8 mph) and, if you lower the bar to 100 curveballs thrown, the fastest-spinning curveball in baseball (3,105 rpm). Batters hit .292 against his fastball, but only .100 against his curveball. But he’s stuck in an old-school way of pitching: 61% fastballs and only 18% curves.

The symptoms: Lefthanded hitters crushed Stratton, lighting him up for a .811 OPS, while he held righthanded hitters to a .670 OPS. Stratton throws his curveball even less often to lefties (17%) than to righties (21).

The mechanics: They need work. Stratton has poor arm deceleration, meaning his arm and hand brake too soon after release. He can improve velocity by working on better deceleration. He also can throw harder by driving his head and torso more toward the plate; he has a tendency to drift toward the first-base side of the mound while releasing the ball. Bottom line: there’s more in there.

How to get Morton-ized: Increase curveball percentage to lefthanded hitters, work the high fastball/curveball tunnel more often, and tighten mechanics.

2. Chad Kuhl, 25, Pittsburgh Pirates

The pitcher: A 2013 ninth-round pick out of Delaware, Kuhl learned the sinker while in the Pittsburgh minor league system—the Pirates and Cardinals love the sinker - and that pitch got him to the big leagues. He has added ridiculous velocity. In four games last year he hit 100 mph with his sinker!

Alas, after 45 big league starts, Kuhl is a good athlete with a power arm but a mediocre record: 13–15 with a 4.30 ERA.

The problem: Kuhl is trying to win in the big leagues as a sinker/slider pitcher. That was a great idea in the 90s; not so much now, especially since his fastball command can be spotty.

The parallels to Morton are almost uncanny. Kuhl’s exceptional spin rate on his curve (2,877) is almost identical to that of Morton (2,877). His average fastball velocity (95.6) is almost identical to Morton’s heater (95.7).

The symptoms: Lefties crush Kuhl (.893 OPS, fifth worst in baseball) because he doesn’t throw his curveball enough to them (7%). In fairness, Kuhl didn’t start throwing his knuckle-curve until late May, so confidence in the pitch may be lacking.

The mechanics: Terrific. His arm deceleration is among the best you can find. He’s a great athlete who repeats his mechanics well. Like some sinkerball pitchers, however, to “get on top” of the sinker he throws it with a release point two inches higher than his other pitches. Ideally, you want every pitch coming out of the same spot, so as not to give a hitter any early indication of what’s coming.

How to get Morton-ized: Trust the knuckle-curve more against lefthanders. Embrace the four-seam fastball up in the zone. De-emphasize the power sinker down.

3. Tyler Chatwood, 27, Rockies

The pitcher: He reached the big leagues just three years after the Angels drafted him out of high school in 2008. He has undergone two Tommy John surgeries and largely been mediocre: 40–46 with a 4.31 ERA. He led the league in losses last year (15).

The problem: Coors Field, for one. It’s hard to judge any pitcher in that ballpark. Chatwood suffered a 6.01 ERA at home, with a .302 average against, but posted a 3.49 mark on the road, with a .200 average against.

Chatwood has an extreme high-spinning curveball (2,980) but doesn’t use it much. He relies mostly on fastball and sliders. His two- and four-seam fastballs have above-average velocity (94-95 mph), but they get hit.

The symptoms: He’s too fastball dependent. The data:

Chatwood threw 177 curveballs to lefthanded hitters—and gave up just two hits! Lefties batted .063 against his hook, but he threw it only 13% of the time. Denver’s altitude is notorious for taking the bite out of curveballs, so his home park could be leading him away from a pitch that’s been successful.

The mechanics: Don’t try this at home. Chatwood, a short righthander (6-feet), keeps his hands away from his body, pulls the ball out of his glove early, pulls his elbow behind the line of his shoulders and raises the elbow higher than the shoulder before the ball rotates up—and that’s all before he gets the baseball in the loaded position. He throws over the top, but because of a long stride and an extreme bend of the front knee, actually has a low release point in terms of height off the ground.

How to get Morton-ized: Get out of Denver. Short of that, reduce fastball percentage and increase curveball percentage, especially to lefthanded hitters.

Honorable mentions: Pirates righthander Trevor Williams, 25, who because of freakish extension has the second-highest difference between effective and actual velocity on his four-seam fastball (Jacob deGrom is first); Twins reliever Ryan Pressly, 28, who throws 96 and also has a ridiculous curveball spin rate (3,083), but has mechanical issues because of forearm flyout (the ball when loaded is too far from his head); and Rays reliever Austin Pruitt, 28, a strike-thrower and converted starter with a high-spin hook (2,946) and overhand delivery who needs a tick or two on his mediocre four-seam fastball (91.8).

One of the most underrated factors in a ballplayers’ development is environment. Nolan Arenado hits in the same batting practice group as Troy Tulowitzki in Denver, and adopts the same foot shuffle in his setup. CC Sabathia extended his career with the cut fastball he learned from Andy Pettitte. After he was traded from Baltimore to Chicago, Jake Arrieta inherited a former crossfire pitcher as a pitching coach, Chris Bosio, who encourages a return to throwing across his body.

In Houston, Morton, who had always been interested in analytics, found the right place to emphasize his curveball. Stratton, Kuhl and Chatwood all pitch for organizations that largely work off the old paradigm of “fastball first.” If you include cut fastballs, the Rockies, Pirates and Giants ranked 5-6-8 in the highest percentage of fastballs thrown.

Dodgers pitcher Rich Hill tells the story of the day in 2015 when he had a conversation with Bannister in Pawtucket, where Hill was pitching in Triple-A at age 35. Bannister told Hill his high-spinning curveball was so good that he could throw it 50% of the time. Hill had been around pro ball 14 years and never heard such a thing. When Hill came home, his wife immediately saw the excitement on his face. “You’ve had a creative explosion,” she told him.

Since then, Hill is 24–13 in the majors and signed contracts worth $83 million.

Bannister also helped turn around the career of Joe Kelly, who was raised in the Cardinals system as a traditional sinkerball pitcher despite having a high-spin breaking ball and elite velocity. Bannister encouraged Kelly at the end of the 2016 season to emphasize his four-seam fastball, not his sinker. Kelly also changed his arm swing so as not to pull his arm behind the line of his shoulders. Kelly, 29, began this year with a career 3.93 ERA, but re-born as a power reliever he posted his best season (2.79 ERA, 3.49 FIP).

Many more will follow the likes of McHugh, Peacock, Morton, Hill and Kelly. There will be more as organizations accept this teaching in which data is not just collected, but also applied in highly personalized ways. Morton gave this revolution the high profile moment to scale it up. In ending the World Series, he started a movement.

How the Astros Mastered Applying Their Pitching Data and How Other Teams Should Follow Suit

The World Series champions are champions of technology, as well. Every team crunches numbers, but no team has been better at the practical application of data than the Houston Astros, especially on the pitching side.

Two years ago the Astros and the New York Yankees became the first teams to throw fewer than 50% fastballs. They knew the old pitching paradigm of “establish your fastball down” was broken. The modern hitter has adapted to the increase in velocity and, with the emphasis on hitting balls in the air, has a swing path geared toward the fastball down. This year the Indians, Rays and Angels joined Houston and New York in no longer believing fastballs should be thrown a majority of the time.

The data tell us that in particular the two-seam fastball/sinker is a dying pitch. It’s the easiest pitch to hit in baseball. Over the past three seasons the batting average on the pitch has been going up (.291, .293, .296) as well as the slugging percentage (.438, .452, .468).

Then, in the World Series, the Astros suddenly boosted their overall fastball percentage to 58%, with Brad Peacock (81%), Joe Musgrove (70), Justin Verlander (68) and Charlie Morton (67) leading the way, though they did so largely with high, hard fastballs. Maybe the slicker baseballs that pitchers complained about, particularly when throwing sliders, had something to do with the change. Sixth in MLB in slider usage during the regular season, the Astros decreased their slider percentage drastically in the World Series, from 19.6 to 12.8%.

Also, the matchup the Astros liked going into the World Series was their high-spin fastballs up in the zone against the Dodgers lineup. The Astros knew that the Dodgers, with so many hitters trying to launch balls in the air, were the worst team in baseball this year at hitting high fastballs (.204).

It wasn’t too long ago that the radar gun provided the only data point to evaluate pitching. Most of the evaluation was being done by scouts and pitching coaches based on what their eyes told them, which is how we came to accept phrases such as “good life on his fastball,” “the ball gets on you,” “12 to 6 curve,” “hides the ball well,” and so on. They were opinions, not facts.

Now we have actual data on how the ball moves and spins and how the pitcher releases the ball. The masters of the game no longer are those grizzled gurus with “an eye” for pitching, but the analysts who can interpret the data and combine it with a coach’s understanding of the craft.

Think about the role of Brian Bannister, Boston’s vice president of pitching development, an analyst/coaching job that didn’t exist two years ago. Bannister was about to start a private business based on pitching analytics, with centers around the country to provide data with “MRI level of precision” to train pitchers. Then the Red Sox called and asked him, “Can you do that for us?”

“In any industry where there is a disruptive technology, in this case Pitch FX and Trackman, it creates non-traditional roles, sometimes you don’t even expect,” he said. “I never expected to do this when I broke into the big leagues in 2006, but I saw an opportunity. At the major league level it’s always about competitive advantages and giving your players better information. The next wave is personalizing things for the players.”

The next wave is here.

Coaching in sports has changed dramatically. Golfers hire swing coaches who never played on the tour, but through technology have gained a deeper understanding of the golf swing than those who played it at the highest level. Major league hitters such as Justin Turner, Josh Donaldson, Chris Taylor and J.D. Martinez have turned around their careers by seeking out hitting gurus who never played in the majors, but bring the same deep, analytical approach to hitting that swing coaches bring to pro golf.

The same fresh approach is an asset with pitching. Bannister, for instance, admits he failed as a big league pitcher in part because “I was a big trial and error guy. I eventually stumbled upon a lot of things that now I have a high level of confidence in, the things that make major league pitchers successful and allow them to stay successful, but my road was very rocky and I had a lot of failure.”

In Houston, pitching coach Brent Strom and manager A.J. Hinch have embraced new technology and thinking. Strom went 22–39 with three teams in his big league career. Hinch was a .219 hitter. Because they were not largely successful as players, they are not hidebound to “the way I did it”—the old school ways that no longer are as applicable in a changing modern game. They have the freedom to embrace new technology instead of relying on what worked for centuries: one generation passing on “the way I did it” to the next.

Let’s take four key pitchers as examples of how Houston has re-imagined pitching. Four times in the postseason Hinch let a reliever finish a game by getting 11 outs or more—the first time in any postseason a team had so many lengthy game-finishing outings. Those four outings were as many as managed by every other team combined in the previous 26 postseasons.

What’s so interesting is that a different pitcher made each one, and the rise of each pitcher helps tell the story about how Houston has applied personalized data to pitching:

1. Collin McHugh (ALCS Game 3): McHugh was 0–8 with an 8.94 ERA when the Astros signed him after the 2013 season as a free agent. McHugh was failing in the traditional ways: the majority of his pitches were fastballs, including many hittable sinkers.

Despite the awful traditional stats, Houston liked McHugh because of the high spin rate on his curveball. The club figured McHugh should be throwing more breaking balls and fewer fastballs. He virtually eliminated the sinker (high fastballs work better in tandem with curveballs, because they work off the same “tunnel,” creating deception) and added a slider. The result: a guy who never won a game before is 48–28 since joining Houston, the 11th best winning percentage (.632) among starters over these past four seasons.

2. Lance McCullers (ALCS Game 7): The idea of throwing just 41% fastballs would have been heretical just five years ago. But McCullers did just that this year (sixth lowest among conventional pitchers) and thrived because his curveball is extraordinary. No other starter throws a curveball with a higher spin rate or at a greater velocity than does McCullers. Moreover, his fastball command is average at best, so why not throw more curveballs? He famously closed out the ALCS with 24 straight curveballs.

3. Brad Peacock (World Series Game 3): His place in the game was so tenuous this spring that Peacock told his wife that he wasn’t sure if he could make the club and was prepared to go find work pitching in Japan.

Thinking this might be his last shot, Peacock came to camp in better shape, and his pitches were crisper. The Astros also saw that Peacock had one of the highest spin rates on a slider (fourth highest among pitchers who threw at least 500 sliders), so they encouraged him to throw it more often—leading to career-high usage of 36%, which led to a career year (13–2, 3.00).

But it was his fastball that Houston liked against the flyball-hitting Dodgers. Peacock throws his fastball from an abnormally low release point—barely more than five feet off the ground. The normal release point is about the same height as the pitcher. Peacock is 6’ 1”.

Because of his long stride and because he has a low three-quarters delivery, Peacock “confuses” hitters with the angle he creates on his fastball. The ball seems to be “traveling up” to the hitters (it’s actually just dropping less than they expect), and they can’t get on top of it.

It’s the same illusion that works for Boston closer Craig Kimbrel. Peacock is a junior version of Kimbrel. That’s why the Dodgers hit .174 against Peacock’s fastballs in the World Series (4-for-23).

4. Charlie Morton (ALCS Game 7): Many critics scoffed when the Astros quickly gave $14 million over two years to Morton, a free agent sinkerball pitcher with a 46–71 record, a long injury history and major problems against lefthanded hitters. The Astros knew, however, that Morton had one of the highest curveball spin rates and above-average velocity. In their estimation, he was throwing too many sinkers (62% in his last full season, with Pittsburgh in 2015) and not enough curveballs, especially to lefthanded hitters.

The change in Morton in Houston was dramatic. A career-high 29% curveballs led to a career season (14–7, 3.62). The biggest improvement came against lefthanded hitters. By increasing his curveball percentage to lefties compared to 2015 (25 to 35%) he eliminated his biggest weakness (the batting average by lefties against him dropped from .301 to .175).

With Houston, Morton transformed from a non-descript journeyman to a World Series star. He became only the fourth pitcher to win the seventh game of the World Series with at least four innings of game-ending relief, earning a place in history next to Bob Turley (1958), Joe Page (1947) and Walter Johnson (1924).

His turnaround is so stunning that it begs the question: who is the next Charlie Morton? Why can’t another club, using technology and data available today, identify better things in mediocre pitchers such as Morton, McHugh and Peacock?

First, a disclaimer: Morton’s turnaround is not so simple as just throwing more high-spin curveballs. It’s a metamorphosis that began in late 2015 when he decided to throw harder instead of pitching to contact. It continued that winter when, with former Pirates pitcher and current Dodger Tony Watson as his workout partner, Morton revamped his diet and training regimen, which led him to losing 15 pounds and helped him gain speed and flexibility in his delivery. Extra fuel came from the disappointment he felt by pitching poorly against St. Louis in a key game down the stretch for the Pirates. “I let everybody down,” he said.

So it’s a recipe with many ingredients, not just one.

But let’s start with the main ingredients to find the next Charlie Morton: an underachieving pitcher with high-spin rates who is not using his pitches in proper proportion, who suffers from serious platoon splits, and who is stuck in the old “fastball-first” paradigm.

Here are the three pitchers who could be breakout stars next season—the next Charlie Morton.

1. Chris Stratton, 27, Giants.

The pitcher: A former 2012 first-round pick, Stratton finally made an imprint in the big leagues last season. In his final eight starts he went 4­2 with a 2.27 ERA. He’s ticketed to be in the mix for the No. 5 spot in the San Francisco rotation next year.

The problem: Stratton has a mediocre four-seam fastball (91.8 mph) and, if you lower the bar to 100 curveballs thrown, the fastest-spinning curveball in baseball (3,105 rpm). Batters hit .292 against his fastball, but only .100 against his curveball. But he’s stuck in an old-school way of pitching: 61% fastballs and only 18% curves.

The symptoms: Lefthanded hitters crushed Stratton, lighting him up for a .811 OPS, while he held righthanded hitters to a .670 OPS. Stratton throws his curveball even less often to lefties (17%) than to righties (21).

The mechanics: They need work. Stratton has poor arm deceleration, meaning his arm and hand brake too soon after release. He can improve velocity by working on better deceleration. He also can throw harder by driving his head and torso more toward the plate; he has a tendency to drift toward the first-base side of the mound while releasing the ball. Bottom line: there’s more in there.

How to get Morton-ized: Increase curveball percentage to lefthanded hitters, work the high fastball/curveball tunnel more often, and tighten mechanics.

2. Chad Kuhl, 25, Pittsburgh Pirates

The pitcher: A 2013 ninth-round pick out of Delaware, Kuhl learned the sinker while in the Pittsburgh minor league system—the Pirates and Cardinals love the sinker - and that pitch got him to the big leagues. He has added ridiculous velocity. In four games last year he hit 100 mph with his sinker!

Alas, after 45 big league starts, Kuhl is a good athlete with a power arm but a mediocre record: 13–15 with a 4.30 ERA.

The problem: Kuhl is trying to win in the big leagues as a sinker/slider pitcher. That was a great idea in the 90s; not so much now, especially since his fastball command can be spotty.

The parallels to Morton are almost uncanny. Kuhl’s exceptional spin rate on his curve (2,877) is almost identical to that of Morton (2,877). His average fastball velocity (95.6) is almost identical to Morton’s heater (95.7).

The symptoms: Lefties crush Kuhl (.893 OPS, fifth worst in baseball) because he doesn’t throw his curveball enough to them (7%). In fairness, Kuhl didn’t start throwing his knuckle-curve until late May, so confidence in the pitch may be lacking.

The mechanics: Terrific. His arm deceleration is among the best you can find. He’s a great athlete who repeats his mechanics well. Like some sinkerball pitchers, however, to “get on top” of the sinker he throws it with a release point two inches higher than his other pitches. Ideally, you want every pitch coming out of the same spot, so as not to give a hitter any early indication of what’s coming.

How to get Morton-ized: Trust the knuckle-curve more against lefthanders. Embrace the four-seam fastball up in the zone. De-emphasize the power sinker down.

3. Tyler Chatwood, 27, Rockies

The pitcher: He reached the big leagues just three years after the Angels drafted him out of high school in 2008. He has undergone two Tommy John surgeries and largely been mediocre: 40–46 with a 4.31 ERA. He led the league in losses last year (15).

The problem: Coors Field, for one. It’s hard to judge any pitcher in that ballpark. Chatwood suffered a 6.01 ERA at home, with a .302 average against, but posted a 3.49 mark on the road, with a .200 average against.

Chatwood has an extreme high-spinning curveball (2,980) but doesn’t use it much. He relies mostly on fastball and sliders. His two- and four-seam fastballs have above-average velocity (94-95 mph), but they get hit.

The symptoms: He’s too fastball dependent. The data:

Chatwood threw 177 curveballs to lefthanded hitters—and gave up just two hits! Lefties batted .063 against his hook, but he threw it only 13% of the time. Denver’s altitude is notorious for taking the bite out of curveballs, so his home park could be leading him away from a pitch that’s been successful.

The mechanics: Don’t try this at home. Chatwood, a short righthander (6-feet), keeps his hands away from his body, pulls the ball out of his glove early, pulls his elbow behind the line of his shoulders and raises the elbow higher than the shoulder before the ball rotates up—and that’s all before he gets the baseball in the loaded position. He throws over the top, but because of a long stride and an extreme bend of the front knee, actually has a low release point in terms of height off the ground.

How to get Morton-ized: Get out of Denver. Short of that, reduce fastball percentage and increase curveball percentage, especially to lefthanded hitters.

Honorable mentions: Pirates righthander Trevor Williams, 25, who because of freakish extension has the second-highest difference between effective and actual velocity on his four-seam fastball (Jacob deGrom is first); Twins reliever Ryan Pressly, 28, who throws 96 and also has a ridiculous curveball spin rate (3,083), but has mechanical issues because of forearm flyout (the ball when loaded is too far from his head); and Rays reliever Austin Pruitt, 28, a strike-thrower and converted starter with a high-spin hook (2,946) and overhand delivery who needs a tick or two on his mediocre four-seam fastball (91.8).

One of the most underrated factors in a ballplayers’ development is environment. Nolan Arenado hits in the same batting practice group as Troy Tulowitzki in Denver, and adopts the same foot shuffle in his setup. CC Sabathia extended his career with the cut fastball he learned from Andy Pettitte. After he was traded from Baltimore to Chicago, Jake Arrieta inherited a former crossfire pitcher as a pitching coach, Chris Bosio, who encourages a return to throwing across his body.

In Houston, Morton, who had always been interested in analytics, found the right place to emphasize his curveball. Stratton, Kuhl and Chatwood all pitch for organizations that largely work off the old paradigm of “fastball first.” If you include cut fastballs, the Rockies, Pirates and Giants ranked 5-6-8 in the highest percentage of fastballs thrown.

Dodgers pitcher Rich Hill tells the story of the day in 2015 when he had a conversation with Bannister in Pawtucket, where Hill was pitching in Triple-A at age 35. Bannister told Hill his high-spinning curveball was so good that he could throw it 50% of the time. Hill had been around pro ball 14 years and never heard such a thing. When Hill came home, his wife immediately saw the excitement on his face. “You’ve had a creative explosion,” she told him.

Since then, Hill is 24–13 in the majors and signed contracts worth $83 million.

Bannister also helped turn around the career of Joe Kelly, who was raised in the Cardinals system as a traditional sinkerball pitcher despite having a high-spin breaking ball and elite velocity. Bannister encouraged Kelly at the end of the 2016 season to emphasize his four-seam fastball, not his sinker. Kelly also changed his arm swing so as not to pull his arm behind the line of his shoulders. Kelly, 29, began this year with a career 3.93 ERA, but re-born as a power reliever he posted his best season (2.79 ERA, 3.49 FIP).

Many more will follow the likes of McHugh, Peacock, Morton, Hill and Kelly. There will be more as organizations accept this teaching in which data is not just collected, but also applied in highly personalized ways. Morton gave this revolution the high profile moment to scale it up. In ending the World Series, he started a movement.

How the Astros Mastered Applying Their Pitching Data and How Other Teams Should Follow Suit

The World Series champions are champions of technology, as well. Every team crunches numbers, but no team has been better at the practical application of data than the Houston Astros, especially on the pitching side.

Two years ago the Astros and the New York Yankees became the first teams to throw fewer than 50% fastballs. They knew the old pitching paradigm of “establish your fastball down” was broken. The modern hitter has adapted to the increase in velocity and, with the emphasis on hitting balls in the air, has a swing path geared toward the fastball down. This year the Indians, Rays and Angels joined Houston and New York in no longer believing fastballs should be thrown a majority of the time.

The data tell us that in particular the two-seam fastball/sinker is a dying pitch. It’s the easiest pitch to hit in baseball. Over the past three seasons the batting average on the pitch has been going up (.291, .293, .296) as well as the slugging percentage (.438, .452, .468).

Then, in the World Series, the Astros suddenly boosted their overall fastball percentage to 58%, with Brad Peacock (81%), Joe Musgrove (70), Justin Verlander (68) and Charlie Morton (67) leading the way, though they did so largely with high, hard fastballs. Maybe the slicker baseballs that pitchers complained about, particularly when throwing sliders, had something to do with the change. Sixth in MLB in slider usage during the regular season, the Astros decreased their slider percentage drastically in the World Series, from 19.6 to 12.8%.

Also, the matchup the Astros liked going into the World Series was their high-spin fastballs up in the zone against the Dodgers lineup. The Astros knew that the Dodgers, with so many hitters trying to launch balls in the air, were the worst team in baseball this year at hitting high fastballs (.204).

It wasn’t too long ago that the radar gun provided the only data point to evaluate pitching. Most of the evaluation was being done by scouts and pitching coaches based on what their eyes told them, which is how we came to accept phrases such as “good life on his fastball,” “the ball gets on you,” “12 to 6 curve,” “hides the ball well,” and so on. They were opinions, not facts.

Now we have actual data on how the ball moves and spins and how the pitcher releases the ball. The masters of the game no longer are those grizzled gurus with “an eye” for pitching, but the analysts who can interpret the data and combine it with a coach’s understanding of the craft.

Think about the role of Brian Bannister, Boston’s vice president of pitching development, an analyst/coaching job that didn’t exist two years ago. Bannister was about to start a private business based on pitching analytics, with centers around the country to provide data with “MRI level of precision” to train pitchers. Then the Red Sox called and asked him, “Can you do that for us?”

“In any industry where there is a disruptive technology, in this case Pitch FX and Trackman, it creates non-traditional roles, sometimes you don’t even expect,” he said. “I never expected to do this when I broke into the big leagues in 2006, but I saw an opportunity. At the major league level it’s always about competitive advantages and giving your players better information. The next wave is personalizing things for the players.”

The next wave is here.

Coaching in sports has changed dramatically. Golfers hire swing coaches who never played on the tour, but through technology have gained a deeper understanding of the golf swing than those who played it at the highest level. Major league hitters such as Justin Turner, Josh Donaldson, Chris Taylor and J.D. Martinez have turned around their careers by seeking out hitting gurus who never played in the majors, but bring the same deep, analytical approach to hitting that swing coaches bring to pro golf.

The same fresh approach is an asset with pitching. Bannister, for instance, admits he failed as a big league pitcher in part because “I was a big trial and error guy. I eventually stumbled upon a lot of things that now I have a high level of confidence in, the things that make major league pitchers successful and allow them to stay successful, but my road was very rocky and I had a lot of failure.”

In Houston, pitching coach Brent Strom and manager A.J. Hinch have embraced new technology and thinking. Strom went 22–39 with three teams in his big league career. Hinch was a .219 hitter. Because they were not largely successful as players, they are not hidebound to “the way I did it”—the old school ways that no longer are as applicable in a changing modern game. They have the freedom to embrace new technology instead of relying on what worked for centuries: one generation passing on “the way I did it” to the next.

Let’s take four key pitchers as examples of how Houston has re-imagined pitching. Four times in the postseason Hinch let a reliever finish a game by getting 11 outs or more—the first time in any postseason a team had so many lengthy game-finishing outings. Those four outings were as many as managed by every other team combined in the previous 26 postseasons.

What’s so interesting is that a different pitcher made each one, and the rise of each pitcher helps tell the story about how Houston has applied personalized data to pitching:

1. Collin McHugh (ALCS Game 3): McHugh was 0–8 with an 8.94 ERA when the Astros signed him after the 2013 season as a free agent. McHugh was failing in the traditional ways: the majority of his pitches were fastballs, including many hittable sinkers.

Despite the awful traditional stats, Houston liked McHugh because of the high spin rate on his curveball. The club figured McHugh should be throwing more breaking balls and fewer fastballs. He virtually eliminated the sinker (high fastballs work better in tandem with curveballs, because they work off the same “tunnel,” creating deception) and added a slider. The result: a guy who never won a game before is 48–28 since joining Houston, the 11th best winning percentage (.632) among starters over these past four seasons.

2. Lance McCullers (ALCS Game 7): The idea of throwing just 41% fastballs would have been heretical just five years ago. But McCullers did just that this year (sixth lowest among conventional pitchers) and thrived because his curveball is extraordinary. No other starter throws a curveball with a higher spin rate or at a greater velocity than does McCullers. Moreover, his fastball command is average at best, so why not throw more curveballs? He famously closed out the ALCS with 24 straight curveballs.

3. Brad Peacock (World Series Game 3): His place in the game was so tenuous this spring that Peacock told his wife that he wasn’t sure if he could make the club and was prepared to go find work pitching in Japan.

Thinking this might be his last shot, Peacock came to camp in better shape, and his pitches were crisper. The Astros also saw that Peacock had one of the highest spin rates on a slider (fourth highest among pitchers who threw at least 500 sliders), so they encouraged him to throw it more often—leading to career-high usage of 36%, which led to a career year (13–2, 3.00).

But it was his fastball that Houston liked against the flyball-hitting Dodgers. Peacock throws his fastball from an abnormally low release point—barely more than five feet off the ground. The normal release point is about the same height as the pitcher. Peacock is 6’ 1”.

Because of his long stride and because he has a low three-quarters delivery, Peacock “confuses” hitters with the angle he creates on his fastball. The ball seems to be “traveling up” to the hitters (it’s actually just dropping less than they expect), and they can’t get on top of it.

It’s the same illusion that works for Boston closer Craig Kimbrel. Peacock is a junior version of Kimbrel. That’s why the Dodgers hit .174 against Peacock’s fastballs in the World Series (4-for-23).

4. Charlie Morton (ALCS Game 7): Many critics scoffed when the Astros quickly gave $14 million over two years to Morton, a free agent sinkerball pitcher with a 46–71 record, a long injury history and major problems against lefthanded hitters. The Astros knew, however, that Morton had one of the highest curveball spin rates and above-average velocity. In their estimation, he was throwing too many sinkers (62% in his last full season, with Pittsburgh in 2015) and not enough curveballs, especially to lefthanded hitters.

The change in Morton in Houston was dramatic. A career-high 29% curveballs led to a career season (14–7, 3.62). The biggest improvement came against lefthanded hitters. By increasing his curveball percentage to lefties compared to 2015 (25 to 35%) he eliminated his biggest weakness (the batting average by lefties against him dropped from .301 to .175).

With Houston, Morton transformed from a non-descript journeyman to a World Series star. He became only the fourth pitcher to win the seventh game of the World Series with at least four innings of game-ending relief, earning a place in history next to Bob Turley (1958), Joe Page (1947) and Walter Johnson (1924).

His turnaround is so stunning that it begs the question: who is the next Charlie Morton? Why can’t another club, using technology and data available today, identify better things in mediocre pitchers such as Morton, McHugh and Peacock?

First, a disclaimer: Morton’s turnaround is not so simple as just throwing more high-spin curveballs. It’s a metamorphosis that began in late 2015 when he decided to throw harder instead of pitching to contact. It continued that winter when, with former Pirates pitcher and current Dodger Tony Watson as his workout partner, Morton revamped his diet and training regimen, which led him to losing 15 pounds and helped him gain speed and flexibility in his delivery. Extra fuel came from the disappointment he felt by pitching poorly against St. Louis in a key game down the stretch for the Pirates. “I let everybody down,” he said.

So it’s a recipe with many ingredients, not just one.

But let’s start with the main ingredients to find the next Charlie Morton: an underachieving pitcher with high-spin rates who is not using his pitches in proper proportion, who suffers from serious platoon splits, and who is stuck in the old “fastball-first” paradigm.

Here are the three pitchers who could be breakout stars next season—the next Charlie Morton.

1. Chris Stratton, 27, Giants.

The pitcher: A former 2012 first-round pick, Stratton finally made an imprint in the big leagues last season. In his final eight starts he went 4­2 with a 2.27 ERA. He’s ticketed to be in the mix for the No. 5 spot in the San Francisco rotation next year.

The problem: Stratton has a mediocre four-seam fastball (91.8 mph) and, if you lower the bar to 100 curveballs thrown, the fastest-spinning curveball in baseball (3,105 rpm). Batters hit .292 against his fastball, but only .100 against his curveball. But he’s stuck in an old-school way of pitching: 61% fastballs and only 18% curves.

The symptoms: Lefthanded hitters crushed Stratton, lighting him up for a .811 OPS, while he held righthanded hitters to a .670 OPS. Stratton throws his curveball even less often to lefties (17%) than to righties (21).

The mechanics: They need work. Stratton has poor arm deceleration, meaning his arm and hand brake too soon after release. He can improve velocity by working on better deceleration. He also can throw harder by driving his head and torso more toward the plate; he has a tendency to drift toward the first-base side of the mound while releasing the ball. Bottom line: there’s more in there.

How to get Morton-ized: Increase curveball percentage to lefthanded hitters, work the high fastball/curveball tunnel more often, and tighten mechanics.

2. Chad Kuhl, 25, Pittsburgh Pirates

The pitcher: A 2013 ninth-round pick out of Delaware, Kuhl learned the sinker while in the Pittsburgh minor league system—the Pirates and Cardinals love the sinker - and that pitch got him to the big leagues. He has added ridiculous velocity. In four games last year he hit 100 mph with his sinker!

Alas, after 45 big league starts, Kuhl is a good athlete with a power arm but a mediocre record: 13–15 with a 4.30 ERA.

The problem: Kuhl is trying to win in the big leagues as a sinker/slider pitcher. That was a great idea in the 90s; not so much now, especially since his fastball command can be spotty.

The parallels to Morton are almost uncanny. Kuhl’s exceptional spin rate on his curve (2,877) is almost identical to that of Morton (2,877). His average fastball velocity (95.6) is almost identical to Morton’s heater (95.7).

The symptoms: Lefties crush Kuhl (.893 OPS, fifth worst in baseball) because he doesn’t throw his curveball enough to them (7%). In fairness, Kuhl didn’t start throwing his knuckle-curve until late May, so confidence in the pitch may be lacking.

The mechanics: Terrific. His arm deceleration is among the best you can find. He’s a great athlete who repeats his mechanics well. Like some sinkerball pitchers, however, to “get on top” of the sinker he throws it with a release point two inches higher than his other pitches. Ideally, you want every pitch coming out of the same spot, so as not to give a hitter any early indication of what’s coming.

How to get Morton-ized: Trust the knuckle-curve more against lefthanders. Embrace the four-seam fastball up in the zone. De-emphasize the power sinker down.

3. Tyler Chatwood, 27, Rockies

The pitcher: He reached the big leagues just three years after the Angels drafted him out of high school in 2008. He has undergone two Tommy John surgeries and largely been mediocre: 40–46 with a 4.31 ERA. He led the league in losses last year (15).

The problem: Coors Field, for one. It’s hard to judge any pitcher in that ballpark. Chatwood suffered a 6.01 ERA at home, with a .302 average against, but posted a 3.49 mark on the road, with a .200 average against.

Chatwood has an extreme high-spinning curveball (2,980) but doesn’t use it much. He relies mostly on fastball and sliders. His two- and four-seam fastballs have above-average velocity (94-95 mph), but they get hit.

The symptoms: He’s too fastball dependent. The data:

Chatwood threw 177 curveballs to lefthanded hitters—and gave up just two hits! Lefties batted .063 against his hook, but he threw it only 13% of the time. Denver’s altitude is notorious for taking the bite out of curveballs, so his home park could be leading him away from a pitch that’s been successful.

The mechanics: Don’t try this at home. Chatwood, a short righthander (6-feet), keeps his hands away from his body, pulls the ball out of his glove early, pulls his elbow behind the line of his shoulders and raises the elbow higher than the shoulder before the ball rotates up—and that’s all before he gets the baseball in the loaded position. He throws over the top, but because of a long stride and an extreme bend of the front knee, actually has a low release point in terms of height off the ground.

How to get Morton-ized: Get out of Denver. Short of that, reduce fastball percentage and increase curveball percentage, especially to lefthanded hitters.

Honorable mentions: Pirates righthander Trevor Williams, 25, who because of freakish extension has the second-highest difference between effective and actual velocity on his four-seam fastball (Jacob deGrom is first); Twins reliever Ryan Pressly, 28, who throws 96 and also has a ridiculous curveball spin rate (3,083), but has mechanical issues because of forearm flyout (the ball when loaded is too far from his head); and Rays reliever Austin Pruitt, 28, a strike-thrower and converted starter with a high-spin hook (2,946) and overhand delivery who needs a tick or two on his mediocre four-seam fastball (91.8).

One of the most underrated factors in a ballplayers’ development is environment. Nolan Arenado hits in the same batting practice group as Troy Tulowitzki in Denver, and adopts the same foot shuffle in his setup. CC Sabathia extended his career with the cut fastball he learned from Andy Pettitte. After he was traded from Baltimore to Chicago, Jake Arrieta inherited a former crossfire pitcher as a pitching coach, Chris Bosio, who encourages a return to throwing across his body.

In Houston, Morton, who had always been interested in analytics, found the right place to emphasize his curveball. Stratton, Kuhl and Chatwood all pitch for organizations that largely work off the old paradigm of “fastball first.” If you include cut fastballs, the Rockies, Pirates and Giants ranked 5-6-8 in the highest percentage of fastballs thrown.

Dodgers pitcher Rich Hill tells the story of the day in 2015 when he had a conversation with Bannister in Pawtucket, where Hill was pitching in Triple-A at age 35. Bannister told Hill his high-spinning curveball was so good that he could throw it 50% of the time. Hill had been around pro ball 14 years and never heard such a thing. When Hill came home, his wife immediately saw the excitement on his face. “You’ve had a creative explosion,” she told him.

Since then, Hill is 24–13 in the majors and signed contracts worth $83 million.

Bannister also helped turn around the career of Joe Kelly, who was raised in the Cardinals system as a traditional sinkerball pitcher despite having a high-spin breaking ball and elite velocity. Bannister encouraged Kelly at the end of the 2016 season to emphasize his four-seam fastball, not his sinker. Kelly also changed his arm swing so as not to pull his arm behind the line of his shoulders. Kelly, 29, began this year with a career 3.93 ERA, but re-born as a power reliever he posted his best season (2.79 ERA, 3.49 FIP).

Many more will follow the likes of McHugh, Peacock, Morton, Hill and Kelly. There will be more as organizations accept this teaching in which data is not just collected, but also applied in highly personalized ways. Morton gave this revolution the high profile moment to scale it up. In ending the World Series, he started a movement.

Turquie: un "saut de l'extrême" du haut de la Tour de Galata

Un sportif turc de l'extrême a effectué jeudi 9 novembre un impressionnant saut en parachute du haut de la Tour de Galata à Istanbul - une première en son genre depuis 385 ans. Cengiz Kocak a sauté d'une hauteur de 36 mètres, devenant le deuxième homme après Hezarfen Ahmet Celebi, un légendaire aviateur ottoman qui - selon une légende - a sauté de la Tour de Galata pour son premier vol au-dessus d'Istanbul.

Turquie: un "saut de l'extrême" du haut de la Tour de Galata

Un sportif turc de l'extrême a effectué jeudi 9 novembre un impressionnant saut en parachute du haut de la Tour de Galata à Istanbul - une première en son genre depuis 385 ans. Cengiz Kocak a sauté d'une hauteur de 36 mètres, devenant le deuxième homme après Hezarfen Ahmet Celebi, un légendaire aviateur ottoman qui - selon une légende - a sauté de la Tour de Galata pour son premier vol au-dessus d'Istanbul.

Turquie: un "saut de l'extrême" du haut de la Tour de Galata

Un sportif turc de l'extrême a effectué jeudi 9 novembre un impressionnant saut en parachute du haut de la Tour de Galata à Istanbul - une première en son genre depuis 385 ans. Cengiz Kocak a sauté d'une hauteur de 36 mètres, devenant le deuxième homme après Hezarfen Ahmet Celebi, un légendaire aviateur ottoman qui - selon une légende - a sauté de la Tour de Galata pour son premier vol au-dessus d'Istanbul.

Turquie: un "saut de l'extrême" du haut de la Tour de Galata

Un sportif turc de l'extrême a effectué jeudi 9 novembre un impressionnant saut en parachute du haut de la Tour de Galata à Istanbul - une première en son genre depuis 385 ans. Cengiz Kocak a sauté d'une hauteur de 36 mètres, devenant le deuxième homme après Hezarfen Ahmet Celebi, un légendaire aviateur ottoman qui - selon une légende - a sauté de la Tour de Galata pour son premier vol au-dessus d'Istanbul.

Mysterious 'LFC' pattern found carved into Shropshire countryside

Crop circles and their provenance are subject to innumerable conspiracy theories, and if there is life beyond earth it appears they are all Liverpool fans.  The letters 'LFC' have been found mysteriously carved into the Shropshire countryside, and are approximately the same length as the Anfield pitch. The discovery was made by Ordnance Survey as they flew over the north side of Titterstone Clee Hill, and they were intriguing to find such unusual markings scrubbed into the landscape.  Danny Hayman of Ordance Survey said: “I think we can safely rule out aliens on this occasion. "Perhaps there is someone living in this area who supports Everton and has a back garden or bedroom window with a view of the hill and has a Liverpool supporting friend with an extreme sense of humour? "It is one of the most unusual ways of showing support for a team I’ve ever seen.” Upon further analysis, the letters appeared to measure between 85 and 95 metres long, however they could well be longer because of the slope they are on. Ordance Survey also concluded that the letters could be seen from up to six kilometers away.  If the lettering is the work of Liverpool supporters, they will not be the first group of fans to look for a ways to be remembered for eternity. A group of Manchester United-supporting construction workers famously buried a red jersey under concrete while working at Manchester City's Etihad stadium.  A group of Liverpool fans working on Gary Neville's home claim to have buried a club scarf under his swimming pool.  In London, a West Ham fan posted a picture on Twitter of a scarf and jersey laid down in the foundations to Tottenham's redeveloped ground at White Hart Lane. 

Turkish extreme sports athlete Cengiz Kocak is the first person in modern times to jump from the tower

Is Dez Bryant Playing in Week 10: Latest Update on Status for Game Against Atlanta

Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant is day-to-day after spraining his ankle during the fourth quarter of Sunday's 28–17 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs.

Head coach Jason Garrett told reporters that Bryant was dealing with knee and ankle issues but that the knee injury was not believed to be severe. Bryant said that his ankle was just a little sore and bruised.

"Extreme blessings from God that it ain't nothing bad," Bryant added on Monday, according to There's no tear, no bruising. My knee is stable. My ankle is stable."

Bryant had six catches for 73 yards before leaving the game.

Bryant did not practice with the Cowboys on Wednesday.

The Cowboys play the Atlanta Falcons on the road on Sunday afternoon at 4:25 p.m. ET.

FanView: Why Arsenal's Mesut Ozil Is Still One of the Best Players in the Premier League

It is not groundbreaking to say that football is a fickle, fickle game. However, rarely does the sport reach such levels of capriciousness than when it focusses on Mesut Özil.  From game to game the opinion around him swings from one extreme to another. It's already happened this year. After the Watford loss he was one of the most reviled players around, the next week he was the catalyst in a quasi-statement away win at Everton - nailing the coffin of a certain Dutchman on the opposition's...

FanView: Why Arsenal's Mesut Ozil Is Still One of the Best Players in the Premier League

It is not groundbreaking to say that football is a fickle, fickle game. However, rarely does the sport reach such levels of capriciousness than when it focusses on Mesut Özil.  From game to game the opinion around him swings from one extreme to another. It's already happened this year. After the Watford loss he was one of the most reviled players around, the next week he was the catalyst in a quasi-statement away win at Everton - nailing the coffin of a certain Dutchman on the opposition's...

FanView: Why Arsenal's Mesut Ozil Is Still One of the Best Players in the Premier League

It is not groundbreaking to say that football is a fickle, fickle game. However, rarely does the sport reach such levels of capriciousness than when it focusses on Mesut Özil.  From game to game the opinion around him swings from one extreme to another. It's already happened this year. After the Watford loss he was one of the most reviled players around, the next week he was the catalyst in a quasi-statement away win at Everton - nailing the coffin of a certain Dutchman on the opposition's...

FanView: Why Arsenal's Mesut Ozil Is Still One of the Best Players in the Premier League

It is not groundbreaking to say that football is a fickle, fickle game. However, rarely does the sport reach such levels of capriciousness than when it focusses on Mesut Özil.  From game to game the opinion around him swings from one extreme to another. It's already happened this year. After the Watford loss he was one of the most reviled players around, the next week he was the catalyst in a quasi-statement away win at Everton - nailing the coffin of a certain Dutchman on the opposition's...

FanView: Why Arsenal's Mesut Ozil Is Still One of the Best Players in the Premier League

It is not groundbreaking to say that football is a fickle, fickle game. However, rarely does the sport reach such levels of capriciousness than when it focusses on Mesut Özil.  From game to game the opinion around him swings from one extreme to another. It's already happened this year. After the Watford loss he was one of the most reviled players around, the next week he was the catalyst in a quasi-statement away win at Everton - nailing the coffin of a certain Dutchman on the opposition's...

FanView: Why Arsenal's Mesut Ozil Is Still One of the Best Players in the Premier League

It is not groundbreaking to say that football is a fickle, fickle game. However, rarely does the sport reach such levels of capriciousness than when it focusses on Mesut Özil.  From game to game the opinion around him swings from one extreme to another. It's already happened this year. After the Watford loss he was one of the most reviled players around, the next week he was the catalyst in a quasi-statement away win at Everton - nailing the coffin of a certain Dutchman on the opposition's...

FanView: Why Arsenal's Mesut Ozil Is Still One of the Best Players in the Premier League

It is not groundbreaking to say that football is a fickle, fickle game. However, rarely does the sport reach such levels of capriciousness than when it focusses on Mesut Özil.  From game to game the opinion around him swings from one extreme to another. It's already happened this year. After the Watford loss he was one of the most reviled players around, the next week he was the catalyst in a quasi-statement away win at Everton - nailing the coffin of a certain Dutchman on the opposition's...

33. Jeremy Hellickson

Position: SP | Age: 31

Current Team: Orioles | Best Fit: Royals

2017 Stats: 8-11, 5.43 ERA, 1.262 WHIP, 5.3 K/9

Regressed after a strong 2016, in part because he became a more extreme flyball pitcher and played in two home run havens (in Philadelphia and Baltimore). A move to a more spacious park, like Kansas City's Kauffman Stadium, could allow him to rediscover his effectiveness.

Q&A: Olympic Figure Skater Ashley Wagner is Not Done Yet

A military brat since birth, Ashley Wagner often felt a sense of displacement. The 26-year-old moved nine times in 10 years, following her father, Lieutenant Colonel Eric Wagner. The one constant in Ashley's life: figure skating. Wagner's parents were quickly aware of their daughter's talents, and often drove her over an hour to reach a rink. In 2002, at just 11 years old, Wagner qualified for the U.S. Junior Figure Skating Championships, the national championships for figure skaters at the juvenile and intermediate levels.

Since then, Wagner has become a three-time U.S. national champion (2012, 2013 and 2015), a winner of five Grand Prix events (2012 and 2016 Skate America; 2012 and 2013 Trophée Eric Bompard; 2015 Skate Canada) and a 2016 World silver medalist. At the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, Wagner skated her way to a bronze medal in the team event.

In a sport dominated by teenagers, Wagner's veteran presence remains prevalent. Her experience and composure have allowed for continued success within the ever-changing sport.

SI caught up with Wagner to chat about her journey to figure skating superstardom, her future plans and the 2018 Olympics.

(Editor's Note: The following interview has been lightly edited and condensed).

Nihal Kolur: Let's start at the beginning. How did you originally get involved in figure skating?

Ashley Wagner: Well I'm an army brat, so I'm from all over. I got into the sport because we were stationed in Eagle River, Alaska, which is right outside of Anchorage. My dad was on tour somewhere when I was five and my mom just wanted me to get out of the house. So she gave me the choice of ballet or figure skating, and I choose figure skating. And the rest is ancient history.

NK: Why'd you choose figure skating?

AW: I was a tomboy when I was younger so ironically, figure skating was less girly than ballet. And at school, they would hose down the parking lot and make a rink so kids could skate at recess, which I loved.

NK: Did moving around help you? Or was it really hard as a young child?

AW: I actually think that might be the reason my career has lasted so long, because I moved around so much. My parents always made sure I could skate. So it was that one familiar thing I had. I was always the new kid, always had to get used to new surroundings. But rinks are rinks wherever you go. So it's kind of part of my identity because it has always been there in my life.

NK: Did you always know you wanted to make a career out of figure skating?

AW: I've been skating since I was 5 so there's never really been any other option in my life. I think that I fell in love with it as soon as I got on the ice. I never doubted whether I wanted to do it. It was who I was and what I did.

NK: What exactly appealed to you about the sport?

AW: I love the flow on the ice, but I also love performing. I love making a crowd feel something and kind of changing the energy in the room, making everyone look at you and telling a story.

NK: Was there a moment when you realized you could make the Olympics? Or did you always have that dream?

AW: I watched Tara Lipinski win gold at the 1998 Olympics when I was 6 years old, so that was when I decided I wanted to go to the Olympics. But it wasn't a real thing yet, you know I was so young. I don't think it became a reality until I was 15 or 16 when I competed my first year on the senior circuit against past Olympians. That was when I was like, 'Ok, this is the real deal, I'm in this.'

NK: So at that point, did you ramp up your training?

AW: Definitely. And now, my training has changed a lot because I'm 26. I can't do some of the stuff the younger people can. But I spend a lot of the time on the ice and I realized I need to be more efficient with my time. I spend four hours on the ice a day and then train each program individually for about an hour each. And then I head to the gym and I do a lot of cardio work as well as band resistance and things like that.

NK: Are you the exception or the norm? Do most figure skaters start as young as you did?

AW: Actually most of them start earlier. Most figure skaters start really young, but the difference between me and most other skaters is that many of them are at the peak of their career at 18 to 20 years old, and then they retire. I'm 26 now and I'm going to be the oldest U.S. figure skater since 1928. I think my longevity in the sport is rare, but it's because I've been smart and I've paced myself throughout the years.

NK: Speaking about the Olympics for a little bit, what was that moment like when you first qualified for the Olympics?

AW: It was a lifelong dream. It was such an honor. It was exhausting, it was exhilarating, it was overwhelming. But at the end of the day it just kind of confirmed all those years of hard work and why I'm doing what I'm doing.

NK: A lot of athletes complain about the pressure at the Olympics. Did you feel an extra sense of pressure when you qualified?

AW: I think at the end of the day, you just kind of have to realize that it's just like any competition, it's just a competition on steroids. If you make it any bigger than it already is you're going to crumble under the pressure. So for me I tried to make it like every other day and I tried to enjoy the experience. And that got me on the podium. The time I actually felt the most pressure was when I was going into the 2016 World Championships. I was injured and the championships were on U.S. soil, and the ladies had a medal drought for 10 years. I was sitting in fourth place, but I skated last so I knew the door was open for me to get a medal. So I went out and used that pressure to kind of fuel me to a silver medal. I've actually been working with Bridgestone lately, focusing on my clutch performance for a campaign of theirs, and that was mine.


(L-R) Bronze medalists Gracie Gold, Ashley Wagner and Jeremy Abbott of the United States celebrate during the medal ceremony for the Team Figure Skating Overall on day 3 of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at Medals Plaza in the Olympic Park on February 10, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.
STREETER LECKA/GETTY IMAGES EUROPE

NK: I think I would have cracked [laughs]. What about when you got to the Olympics, tell me a little bit about being in the Olympic Village.

AW: It was really cool because figure skating is a very sport specific kind of environment, so you don't meet many athletes from other sports. At the Village, you meet most of the other athletes at the cafeteria, which has pretty much anything you could ever want. And then staying in the dorms, we all have roommates, it was great. The thing I was most excited about was that we had these lanyards with Coke bottles on them and you could go up to any vending machine and get any drink you wanted. So that was the coolest thing for me [laughs].

NK: I know you've suffered a lot of injuries throughout your career, and now that you're on the older side of the sport, what do you see your future like?

AW: I've suffered from about five concussions and in 2010, leading up to qualifying from the Games, I'm suffering from body tremors and heart palpitations and extreme memory issues and nobody could really explain what was going on, which was terrifying. It turned out that the C2 vertebrae in my spine was pressing into my spinal cord and basically causing my spine to short circuit. So, I mean, that was so scary to have doctors not have any clue what was going on. I almost stopped worrying about skating and just wanted to be better. But I never lost motivation. The Olympics were a goal my entire life and I never doubted that. Now that I'm a bit older, I think my experience and the fact that I know what to expect and how to control myself will help me in PyeongChang.

Court Denies NASL's Request for Injunction in Lawsuit vs. U.S. Soccer

The NASL’s request for a mandatory injunction restoring its second-division status for the 2018 season has been denied by a U.S. District Court judge, leaving the short and long-term future of the league in peril.

Judge Margo Brodie ruled Saturday morning that although the NASL did clear several required legal hurdles, including that the loss of D2 status would constitute “irreparable harm,” it ultimately never “made a clear showing of entitlement to relief.” The league was unable to demonstrate that the U.S. Soccer Federation (the defendant) isn’t entitled to regulate and determine professional division designations, while Brodie found that the USSF “has provided plausible bases to conclude that [division standards] have procompetitive effects.”

Perhaps more importantly, Brodie ruled that the NASL “fails to present sufficient evidence of undue influence in the actual standard-setting process” despite “ample evidence of a conflict of interest between [the USSF] and MLS.” Those aren’t uncommon in membership associations, she wrote, and in this case they’re “guarded against by [the USSF’s] fiduciary duties to its members.”

Brodie ruled, “Given these safeguards, even if so motivated, members of the [USSF] Board and the Standard Task Force may not blindly benefit MLS to the detriment of NASL or other professional leagues. Because Plaintiff’s claims rely so heavily on Defendant’s alleged financial motives, the Court’s conclusion on this factor also undercuts somewhat the other proffered evidence.”

U.S. Soccer’s decision to grant waivers to the NASL in the past, and the board’s vote to award provisional D2 sanctioning despite a contrary recommendation from the federation’s pro task force, also are among the elements that led Brodie to conclude, “that Plaintiff has failed to establish a likelihood of success on the merits, let alone a ‘clear showing’ of entitlement to relief.”

She added, “Even assuming, however, that Plaintiff has sufficiently demonstrated that there is concerted action … Plaintiff nevertheless fails to demonstrate unreasonable restraint of trade.”

Overall, the standards the NASL was forced to meet to win a mandatory injunction, which would effectively strip USSF of its regulatory power and reverse the status quo for 2018, proved to be too high. The NASL still could press forward with its antitrust case, which could continue even if the league dissolves. It also could appeal Brodie’s ruling to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.

The NASL released the following statement shortly after the ruling came down:

“We are very disappointed with the Court's decision in denying our motion for a preliminary injunction. We remain steadfast in our pursuit of antitrust claims against the U.S. Soccer Federation and are confident that justice will ultimately be served. In light of the extreme harm this decision poses to the NASL and our teams, players, coaches and fans, we will immediately begin reviewing all of our legal options including the process for appealing today's ruling.”

U.S. Soccer then said the following:

“U.S. Soccer’s responsibility is to ensure the long-term stability and sustainability of all professional leagues operating in the United States, as well as the teams that compete within those leagues. After providing numerous opportunities over the years for the NASL to meet the Professional League Standards, or at least provide a pathway to meet those standards, the elected and independent members of the U.S. Soccer Board of Directors ultimately made a decision not to sanction the NASL as a Division 2 league. The decision was made in the best interest of soccer in the United States, and today’s decision confirms it was the correct decision. U.S. Soccer is committed to finding ways to improve the long-term viability of all leagues and teams and, by doing so, continue building upon the growth of soccer in the United States. U.S. Soccer is committed to working with NASL as it considers its future.”

The NASL semifinals are scheduled for Sunday evening.

Meanwhile, it will be worth noting the impact of U.S. Soccer’s victory on embattled federation president Sunil Gulati and the upcoming election that seems to be attracting additional candidates almost daily. Gulati has been under immense pressure since last month’s failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, and the potential consequences and bad PR associated with the NASL lawsuit weren’t helping. Sources tell SI.com that Gulati still hasn’t decided whether to run for a fourth term and that he was disappointed when his former right-hand man, USSF VP Carlos Cordeiro, announced his candidacy this week.

Now Gulati has a piece of good news. It’s uncertain whether it’ll embolden him, or do anything to mollify a frustrated board. Rumors of an emergency meeting to evaluate Gulati’s position have been circulating for more than a week and on Thursday, New York-based Front Row Soccer confirmed that eight board members requested a meeting in order to “discuss the history of hiring of U.S. national team coaches.” That history, of course, has been written by Gulati.

SI.com understands that USSF CEO Dan Flynn contacted the board and asked to push the agenda back to early December, around the date of the MLS Cup final and a previously-scheduled meeting. Most, if not all, board members agreed. The information, answers or context they want from Gulati apparently can wait until then, and it’s quite possible the tone will soften a bit thanks to Saturday’s ruling.

Hippisme - EpiqE Days - Souvenirs de premières à Auteuil

Les courses d'obstacles, un sport extrême. Spécialement lorsqu'il est pratiqué à Auteuil. S'ils ont acquis ici leurs plus beaux titres, les cracks-jockeys de cette discipline ont d'abord dû se familiariser avec le lieu. Comme acteurs ou spectateurs, quels souvenirs gardent-ils de leur première visite dans le temple de l'obstacle ? James Reveley, Jacques Ricou, Bertrand Lestrade et Kévin Nabet témoignent.

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