Blue Jays spring training

A look at the Toronto Blue Jays as they prepare for the 2013 baseball season.

FILE - In this Sept. 20, 2017, file photo, Kansas City Royals' Whit Merrifield hits a solo home run against the Toronto Blue Jays during the sixth inning of a baseball game, in Toronto. Merrifield fought every spring to make the Royals roster, usually to no avail. Once he broke through, he made sure he would never give his spot away. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP, File)
FILE - In this Sept. 20, 2017, file photo, Kansas City Royals' Whit Merrifield hits a solo home run against the Toronto Blue Jays during the sixth inning of a baseball game, in Toronto. Merrifield fought every spring to make the Royals roster, usually to no avail. Once he broke through, he made sure he would never give his spot away. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP, File)
FILE - In this Sept. 20, 2017, file photo, Kansas City Royals' Whit Merrifield hits a solo home run against the Toronto Blue Jays during the sixth inning of a baseball game, in Toronto. Merrifield fought every spring to make the Royals roster, usually to no avail. Once he broke through, he made sure he would never give his spot away. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP, File)
Toronto Blue Jays' Troy Tulowitzki watches as Devon Travis throws at baseball spring training in Dunedin, Fla., Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018.(Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
Toronto Blue Jays' Troy Tulowitzki watches as Devon Travis throws at baseball spring training in Dunedin, Fla., Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018.(Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
Toronto Blue Jays' Troy Tulowitzki watches as Devon Travis throws at baseball spring training in Dunedin, Fla., Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018.(Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
Toronto Blue Jays' Rowdy Tellez fields a ground ball at baseball spring training in Dunedin, Fla., Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018.(Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
Toronto Blue Jays' Rowdy Tellez fields a ground ball at baseball spring training in Dunedin, Fla., Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018.(Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
Toronto Blue Jays' Rowdy Tellez fields a ground ball at baseball spring training in Dunedin, Fla., Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018.(Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
Toronto Blue Jays' Josh Donaldson fields a ground ball at baseball spring training in Dunedin, Fla., Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018.(Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
Toronto Blue Jays' Josh Donaldson fields a ground ball at baseball spring training in Dunedin, Fla., Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018.(Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
Toronto Blue Jays' Josh Donaldson fields a ground ball at baseball spring training in Dunedin, Fla., Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018.(Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
Toronto Blue Jays' pitcher Jaime Garcia throws in the bullpen at baseball spring training in Dunedin, Fla., Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018.(Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
Toronto Blue Jays' pitcher Jaime Garcia throws in the bullpen at baseball spring training in Dunedin, Fla., Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018.(Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
Toronto Blue Jays' pitcher Jaime Garcia throws in the bullpen at baseball spring training in Dunedin, Fla., Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018.(Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
Toronto Blue Jays' pitcher Marcus Stroman, right, jokes with pitching coach Pete Walker at baseball spring training in Dunedin, Fla., Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018.(Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
Toronto Blue Jays' pitcher Marcus Stroman, right, jokes with pitching coach Pete Walker at baseball spring training in Dunedin, Fla., Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018.(Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
Toronto Blue Jays' pitcher Marcus Stroman, right, jokes with pitching coach Pete Walker at baseball spring training in Dunedin, Fla., Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018.(Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
Toronto Blue Jays' Kendrys Morales talks by the batting cage at baseball spring training in Dunedin, Fla., Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018.(Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
Toronto Blue Jays' Kendrys Morales talks by the batting cage at baseball spring training in Dunedin, Fla., Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018.(Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
Toronto Blue Jays' Kendrys Morales talks by the batting cage at baseball spring training in Dunedin, Fla., Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018.(Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
Toronto Blue Jays' Troy Tulowitzki leans on a batting cage at baseball spring training in Dunedin, Fla., Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018.(Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
Toronto Blue Jays' Troy Tulowitzki leans on a batting cage at baseball spring training in Dunedin, Fla., Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018.(Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
Toronto Blue Jays' Troy Tulowitzki leans on a batting cage at baseball spring training in Dunedin, Fla., Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018.(Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
Toronto Blue Jays manager John Gibbons watches his team at baseball spring training in Dunedin, Fla., Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018.(Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
Toronto Blue Jays manager John Gibbons watches his team at baseball spring training in Dunedin, Fla., Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018.(Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
Toronto Blue Jays manager John Gibbons watches his team at baseball spring training in Dunedin, Fla., Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018.(Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
<p>Bullpen management has changed radically over the last five years, and managers seem to put more innings on the arms of their relievers every season. The changes haven’t affected dramatically affected closers, where most of the bullpen-related fantasy value still lies, but it has created a new class of relievers that the savvy fantasy player can use to his or her advantage. Want to steal an SP2/3 type for free? All you need to do is build yourself a Montvenski.</p><p>Mike Montgomery of the Cubs and Chris Devenski of the Astros were two of the most obvious examples of how managers are using their best relievers in the modern game. Montgomery made 44 appearances for the Cubs, including 14 starts. All 62 of Devenski’s appearances came as a reliever, but he threw more than one inning in 25 of them. Montgomery, meanwhile, pitched more than an inning in 23 of his 30 relief appearances. These may have once been typical usage patterns for relievers, but they haven’t been for some time. What’s old is new again. And it’s creating opportunities in the fantasy game.</p><p>For the sake of this conversation, we’ll throw out what Montgomery did as a starter. He (as a reliever only) and Devenski combined for 142 innings, more than Kyle Hendricks and Rich Hill. They totaled a 2.60 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and 144 strikeouts. Their combined ERA was better than every starter’s, other than Corey Kluber, Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg, while their WHIP would have ranked eighth, sandwiched between Zack Greinke and Carlos Carrasco. Montgomery and Deveski combined for a 25.3% strikeout rate, tied with Carlos Martinez for 19th best among starters, and better than Gerrit Cole and Jake Arrieta. The Montvenski is a legitimate weapon in fantasy leagues, essentially replicating SP2/3 value at a fraction of the cost.</p><p>Now, to be sure, building your own Montvenski is easier said than done. Few fantasy owners, if any, saw Devenski coming last season, and it took winning a bidding war on the waiver wire to acquire him. Still, we know pitchers like him will exist every season, and it is possible to find them if you spend some time hunting. For starters, both Montgomery and Devenski should be in similar, if not identical, roles this year. Other relievers who could form one end of a 2018 Montvenski include Carl Edwards, Josh Hader, Dominic Leone, Archie Bradley, Tommy Kahnle and Cam Bedrosian, just to name a few.</p><p>Closers may still be the most valuable relievers, and that’s where we’ll focus the rest of the primer. Still, by channeling your inner-Terry Francona and building your very own Montvenski, you’ll not only embrace the modern era of bullpen management, you’ll lengthen your fantasy rotation with a Frankenstein’s monster of an SP2/3.</p><h3>Five Big Questions</h3><p><strong>1. Considering the changes in bullpen management, are high-end closers worth their draft-day prices?</strong></p><p>There is no question that the truly elite closers are more valuable now than they were five years ago. Strikeout rates have skyrocketed, and the best of the best in the ninth inning make significant contributions to four of the five traditional pitching categories. If you’re in a league that uses K/9 or an innings cap, then Kenley Jansen, Craig Kimbrel and Aroldis Chapman are certainly worth their respective price tags.</p><p>Most fantasy owners, however, do not play in K/9 or innings-cap leagues. And in those more common formats, I still cannot get on board with Jansen at pick No. 40 or Kimbrel at pick No. 50.</p><p>This is all about opportunity cost. Even if we grant that Jansen is going to give his fantasy owners 65 innings worth of a 1.50 ERA and 0.75 WHIP to go along with 100 strikeouts and 35 saves, is he really more valuable than, say, Andrew Benintendi? Or Jose Abreu? Or Zach Greinke? Would you really rather have Kimbrel than Justin Upton, Carlos Martinez, Anthony Rendon and Yu Darvish? Going by ADP, those are the players you would have to pass on to secure the league’s best closers. It’s just not worth it.</p><p>One of the best traits of the elite closers is that they carry nearly zero bust risk. Closers go bust with more frequency at all levels than any other position. Chances are if you get in right after the top options are off the board, you’re flirting with significant risk. Still, even knowing that and understanding the changes in bullpen usage, I cannot in good conscience take a 65-inning reliever over 200-inning potential SP1, or a high-level hitter who’s going to rack up 600 plate appearances. I’m still passing on the position’s best and waiting for the sweet spot, which takes us right into big question No. 2</p><p><strong>2. Where is Goldilocks Equilibrium?</strong></p><p>We all know the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, right? One bowl of porridge is too cold, one bowl is too hot, and one bowl is just right. One bed is too big, one bed is too small, but one is perfect. Goldilocks Equilibrium refers to the story, and states that, in certain instances, we are looking for the ideal spot that falls between two extremes. It applies perfectly to the closer position in fantasy baseball.</p><p>I already covered why you do not want to dive into the position too early. Dive in too late, though, and you’ll effectively punt saves, and put too much pressure on your starting pitches to maintain competitive rate stats. Finding the spot that’s just right can ensure that you don’t miss out on the big bats and top-end starting pitchers in the early rounds, but that you also field a bullpen that rounds out a successful pitching staff. I like to represent Goldilocks Equilibrium with a specific closer, one who’s good enough to anchor a bullpen but also doesn’t cost you a premium pick. This year, that closer is Raisel Iglesias.</p><p>Iglesias is the 10th closer off the board in a typical draft, with an ADP of 106.31. That should give you plenty of time to nab the two more closers necessary to be generally competitive in the bullpen in a standard fantasy league. Iglesias was one of the lone bright spots for the Reds last year, totaling a 2.49 ERA, 1.11 WHIP and 92 strikeouts in 76 innings. He converted 28 of his 30 save opportunities, and allowed fewer homers per nine innings than Jansen, Kimbrel and Corey Knebel.</p><p>Iglesias has the stuff to develop into a multi-season, high-end closer, with a four-seamer that sits at 96-97 mph, a power slider with which he had a 22.8% whiff rate last season, and a still-developing changeup that helped him significantly improve his performance against lefties last season. In 2016, lefties hit .264 with a .446 slugging percentage against Iglesias. Last year, those numbers were down to .256 and .349, respectively.</p><p>Kimbrel? Too early. Hector Neris? Too late. Iglesias is just right.</p><p><strong>3. OK, so then who are you going after late?</strong></p><p>If you plan on hitting Goldilocks Equilibrium, while also remaining a player in the bullpen, that necessarily means you’re going to be targeting closers ranked in the bottom-third of the position. These guys are ranked here for a reason. None is perfect, and a handful are fated to lose the job. In that vein, it does help to try to find substantive reasons to believe in one or two over the others. In hunting for those reasons during draft prep, I keep coming back to the same guy.</p><p>Blake Treinen spent the first three seasons of his career as a mostly reliable setup man and middle reliever for the Nationals. In that time, he amassed a 2.91 ERA, 1.33 WHIP and 3.43 FIP with 158 strikeouts in 185 1/3 innings. That, admittedly combined with a lack of options, was enough to elevate Treinen to the closer’s chair in Washington to start last season. For whatever reason, Treinen decided that was the time to tinker with his pitch usage. The results were not pretty.</p><p>Treinen was largely a sinker-slider pitcher over his first three season. He’d mix in the occasional four-seamer and changeup, but the sinker and slider accounted for about 80% of his offerings. In the first half of last season, he leaned on the four-seamer more than ever, throwing it 20% of the time, with the additional 10 percentage points coming almost entirely at the expense of his slider. Hitters totaled an even .400 batting average against the pitch with a .600 slugging percentage. That helped make Treinen expendable, and the Nationals shipped him to the A’s days before the All-Star break.</p><p>Almost immediately, Treinen reverted to his previous usage tendencies. The sinker’s usage remained flat at 53.5% in the second half, but he shaved 10 percentage points off his four-seamer usage, giving it back to the slider. Treinen looked like an entirely different pitcher in Oakland, pitching to a 2.13 ERA, 1.16 WHIP and 3.08 FIP with 42 strikeouts in 38 innings. The slider was the star of the show, limiting hitters to a .105 batting average and .140 slugging percentage, with a whiff rate of 30.1%.</p><p>Treinen is the 22nd closer off the board in a typical draft, with an ADP of 201.47. That places him in the 17th round of a 12-team league, and the 15th round of a 14-teamer. Make sure to have him on your mind when your draft approaches the end game.</p><p><strong>4. Who is on bust watch?</strong></p><p>You mean other than Wade Davis? I covered him in our <a href="https://www.si.com/mlb/2018/02/13/wade-davis-fantasy-baseball" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:player profile series" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">player profile series</a>, laying out why I believe he will be unable to reconstruct this year the great seasons he has had with the Royals and Cubs in the past. So, we’ll move on to the closer I believe has the second-greatest bust risk among the top 10 by ADP, Milwaukee’s Corey Knebel.</p><p>Knebel enjoyed a breakout 2017 campaign, racking up a 1.78 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 2.53 FIP and 126 strikeouts in 76 innings, all while converting 39 of 45 save opportunities. He made his first All-Star Game, and is now the fourth closer selected in a typical draft, about two picks behind Aroldis Chapman. That is a risk nowhere near worth taking.</p><p>First, let’s start with Knebel’s pre-2017 history. He was decent enough in 83 relief appearances in the first two years of his career, pitching to a 3.80 ERA, 1.31 WHIP and 3.85 FIP with 96 strikeouts in 83 innings. He had a 27.1% strikeout rate, 9.3% walk rate, and allowed 1.2 homers per nine innings. Those are all solid numbers, but none portend a dominant closer in the making.</p><p>Any time a player breaks out, we should look for substantive changes in his game. For pitchers, this typically comes in their repertoire or velocity. In 2016, Knebel threw his four-seamer 72.3% of the time and his curveball 27.6% of the time. Last year, those offerings were at 71.8% and 28.2%, respectively. No meaningful change there. His fastball velocity did tick up to 97.8 mph from 96.2 mph, but that’s not the sort of change that would drive the leap that Knebel made last year. In repertoire and velocity, Knebel was effectively the same pitcher in 2017 he was previously.</p><p>Knebel had a 40.8% strikeout rate last year, which ranked fourth among relievers. He was one of 10 with a strikeout rate better than 35%. We should expect a pitcher with that high a strikeout rate to generate a lot of empty swings and to post a high o-swing rate, which measures the rate at which hitters swing at pitches outside the strike zone. Among those 10 pitchers, only Dellin Betances had a lower whiff rate than Knebel’s 14.1%. Betances and Chad Green were the only ones with a lower o-swing rate than Knebel’s 28.8%. In fact, among the top-30 pitchers in strikeout rate, Knebel ranked 19th in whiff rate and 25th in o-swing rate.</p><p>In short, I’m dubious about Knebel’s ability to even come close to last year’s strikeout numbers, let alone repeat them. It’s those strikeouts that are driving him to the top of the draft board at his position. I’d let someone else take that plunge.</p><p><strong>5. Which closer-in-waiting is your top target?</strong></p><p>The first thing you have to do when answering a question like this is look for a closer who enters the season with a tenuous hold on the job. There are more than one of those, but Luke Gregerson jumps out at me. He’ll open the season as the Cardinals closer, but he’s unlikely to have much leeway from Mike Matheny. Gregerson was a league-average reliever last year, and the notably old-school Matheny won’t like that he’s not a proven closer, having spent just one year of his career as his team’s primary man in the ninth inning.</p><p>Alex Reyes seems the obvious choice here, but the Cardinals are already pushing back against that idea. GM Mike Girsch said placing their prized pitching prospect in the ninth could make his innings, and the stress on his surgically repaired elbow, unpredictable. Plus, they still rightly view him as a starter in the long term. That could just be front-office speak, but I think we should take Girsch at his word, especially since the Cardinals understandably want to get Reyes back in the rotation. With Reyes off the table, consider new Cardinal Dominic Leone as the one most likely to step in should Gregerson falter.</p><p>Leone came over to the Cardinals from the Blue Jays in exchange for Randal Grichuk. He had the best year of his career in 2017, totaling a 2.56 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 2.94 FIP and 81 strikeouts against 22 non-intentional walks in 70 1/3 innings. As we just discussed with respect to Knebel, we should always look for a major change when a player experiences so dramatic an improvement. In Leone’s case, we can find one.</p><p>Leone turned to his cutter more than ever last year, throwing it 36.3% of the time. He threw it 30% of the time in 2016, and no more than 21.5% of the time in the first two years of his career. The offering quickly became his go-to out pitch. When he got to two strikes against righties, he threw the cutter 39% of the time. Against lefties, it was 28% of the time. Leone racked up a ridiculous 44.7% whiff rate with his cutter, and held hitters to a .202 batting average and .360 slugging percentage with the pitch. Mariano Rivera he is not, but the cutter is turning Leone into a reliable reliever with legitimate closer potential.</p><p>Leone’s four-seam fastball accounted for a plurality of his pitches last year. He mixes in a sinker and slider, and while it would be nice to see him develop the latter considering the way it can work in conjunction with a cutter, he doesn’t necessarily need it if he can command the cutter to both sides of the plate. Entering his age-26 season, Leone may already be the best reliever on the Cardinals. He’ll be on my radar at the very end of my drafts and auctions.</p>
Relief Pitcher Primer: New Era of Bullpen Management Reaches the Fantasy Game

Bullpen management has changed radically over the last five years, and managers seem to put more innings on the arms of their relievers every season. The changes haven’t affected dramatically affected closers, where most of the bullpen-related fantasy value still lies, but it has created a new class of relievers that the savvy fantasy player can use to his or her advantage. Want to steal an SP2/3 type for free? All you need to do is build yourself a Montvenski.

Mike Montgomery of the Cubs and Chris Devenski of the Astros were two of the most obvious examples of how managers are using their best relievers in the modern game. Montgomery made 44 appearances for the Cubs, including 14 starts. All 62 of Devenski’s appearances came as a reliever, but he threw more than one inning in 25 of them. Montgomery, meanwhile, pitched more than an inning in 23 of his 30 relief appearances. These may have once been typical usage patterns for relievers, but they haven’t been for some time. What’s old is new again. And it’s creating opportunities in the fantasy game.

For the sake of this conversation, we’ll throw out what Montgomery did as a starter. He (as a reliever only) and Devenski combined for 142 innings, more than Kyle Hendricks and Rich Hill. They totaled a 2.60 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and 144 strikeouts. Their combined ERA was better than every starter’s, other than Corey Kluber, Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg, while their WHIP would have ranked eighth, sandwiched between Zack Greinke and Carlos Carrasco. Montgomery and Deveski combined for a 25.3% strikeout rate, tied with Carlos Martinez for 19th best among starters, and better than Gerrit Cole and Jake Arrieta. The Montvenski is a legitimate weapon in fantasy leagues, essentially replicating SP2/3 value at a fraction of the cost.

Now, to be sure, building your own Montvenski is easier said than done. Few fantasy owners, if any, saw Devenski coming last season, and it took winning a bidding war on the waiver wire to acquire him. Still, we know pitchers like him will exist every season, and it is possible to find them if you spend some time hunting. For starters, both Montgomery and Devenski should be in similar, if not identical, roles this year. Other relievers who could form one end of a 2018 Montvenski include Carl Edwards, Josh Hader, Dominic Leone, Archie Bradley, Tommy Kahnle and Cam Bedrosian, just to name a few.

Closers may still be the most valuable relievers, and that’s where we’ll focus the rest of the primer. Still, by channeling your inner-Terry Francona and building your very own Montvenski, you’ll not only embrace the modern era of bullpen management, you’ll lengthen your fantasy rotation with a Frankenstein’s monster of an SP2/3.

Five Big Questions

1. Considering the changes in bullpen management, are high-end closers worth their draft-day prices?

There is no question that the truly elite closers are more valuable now than they were five years ago. Strikeout rates have skyrocketed, and the best of the best in the ninth inning make significant contributions to four of the five traditional pitching categories. If you’re in a league that uses K/9 or an innings cap, then Kenley Jansen, Craig Kimbrel and Aroldis Chapman are certainly worth their respective price tags.

Most fantasy owners, however, do not play in K/9 or innings-cap leagues. And in those more common formats, I still cannot get on board with Jansen at pick No. 40 or Kimbrel at pick No. 50.

This is all about opportunity cost. Even if we grant that Jansen is going to give his fantasy owners 65 innings worth of a 1.50 ERA and 0.75 WHIP to go along with 100 strikeouts and 35 saves, is he really more valuable than, say, Andrew Benintendi? Or Jose Abreu? Or Zach Greinke? Would you really rather have Kimbrel than Justin Upton, Carlos Martinez, Anthony Rendon and Yu Darvish? Going by ADP, those are the players you would have to pass on to secure the league’s best closers. It’s just not worth it.

One of the best traits of the elite closers is that they carry nearly zero bust risk. Closers go bust with more frequency at all levels than any other position. Chances are if you get in right after the top options are off the board, you’re flirting with significant risk. Still, even knowing that and understanding the changes in bullpen usage, I cannot in good conscience take a 65-inning reliever over 200-inning potential SP1, or a high-level hitter who’s going to rack up 600 plate appearances. I’m still passing on the position’s best and waiting for the sweet spot, which takes us right into big question No. 2

2. Where is Goldilocks Equilibrium?

We all know the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, right? One bowl of porridge is too cold, one bowl is too hot, and one bowl is just right. One bed is too big, one bed is too small, but one is perfect. Goldilocks Equilibrium refers to the story, and states that, in certain instances, we are looking for the ideal spot that falls between two extremes. It applies perfectly to the closer position in fantasy baseball.

I already covered why you do not want to dive into the position too early. Dive in too late, though, and you’ll effectively punt saves, and put too much pressure on your starting pitches to maintain competitive rate stats. Finding the spot that’s just right can ensure that you don’t miss out on the big bats and top-end starting pitchers in the early rounds, but that you also field a bullpen that rounds out a successful pitching staff. I like to represent Goldilocks Equilibrium with a specific closer, one who’s good enough to anchor a bullpen but also doesn’t cost you a premium pick. This year, that closer is Raisel Iglesias.

Iglesias is the 10th closer off the board in a typical draft, with an ADP of 106.31. That should give you plenty of time to nab the two more closers necessary to be generally competitive in the bullpen in a standard fantasy league. Iglesias was one of the lone bright spots for the Reds last year, totaling a 2.49 ERA, 1.11 WHIP and 92 strikeouts in 76 innings. He converted 28 of his 30 save opportunities, and allowed fewer homers per nine innings than Jansen, Kimbrel and Corey Knebel.

Iglesias has the stuff to develop into a multi-season, high-end closer, with a four-seamer that sits at 96-97 mph, a power slider with which he had a 22.8% whiff rate last season, and a still-developing changeup that helped him significantly improve his performance against lefties last season. In 2016, lefties hit .264 with a .446 slugging percentage against Iglesias. Last year, those numbers were down to .256 and .349, respectively.

Kimbrel? Too early. Hector Neris? Too late. Iglesias is just right.

3. OK, so then who are you going after late?

If you plan on hitting Goldilocks Equilibrium, while also remaining a player in the bullpen, that necessarily means you’re going to be targeting closers ranked in the bottom-third of the position. These guys are ranked here for a reason. None is perfect, and a handful are fated to lose the job. In that vein, it does help to try to find substantive reasons to believe in one or two over the others. In hunting for those reasons during draft prep, I keep coming back to the same guy.

Blake Treinen spent the first three seasons of his career as a mostly reliable setup man and middle reliever for the Nationals. In that time, he amassed a 2.91 ERA, 1.33 WHIP and 3.43 FIP with 158 strikeouts in 185 1/3 innings. That, admittedly combined with a lack of options, was enough to elevate Treinen to the closer’s chair in Washington to start last season. For whatever reason, Treinen decided that was the time to tinker with his pitch usage. The results were not pretty.

Treinen was largely a sinker-slider pitcher over his first three season. He’d mix in the occasional four-seamer and changeup, but the sinker and slider accounted for about 80% of his offerings. In the first half of last season, he leaned on the four-seamer more than ever, throwing it 20% of the time, with the additional 10 percentage points coming almost entirely at the expense of his slider. Hitters totaled an even .400 batting average against the pitch with a .600 slugging percentage. That helped make Treinen expendable, and the Nationals shipped him to the A’s days before the All-Star break.

Almost immediately, Treinen reverted to his previous usage tendencies. The sinker’s usage remained flat at 53.5% in the second half, but he shaved 10 percentage points off his four-seamer usage, giving it back to the slider. Treinen looked like an entirely different pitcher in Oakland, pitching to a 2.13 ERA, 1.16 WHIP and 3.08 FIP with 42 strikeouts in 38 innings. The slider was the star of the show, limiting hitters to a .105 batting average and .140 slugging percentage, with a whiff rate of 30.1%.

Treinen is the 22nd closer off the board in a typical draft, with an ADP of 201.47. That places him in the 17th round of a 12-team league, and the 15th round of a 14-teamer. Make sure to have him on your mind when your draft approaches the end game.

4. Who is on bust watch?

You mean other than Wade Davis? I covered him in our player profile series, laying out why I believe he will be unable to reconstruct this year the great seasons he has had with the Royals and Cubs in the past. So, we’ll move on to the closer I believe has the second-greatest bust risk among the top 10 by ADP, Milwaukee’s Corey Knebel.

Knebel enjoyed a breakout 2017 campaign, racking up a 1.78 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 2.53 FIP and 126 strikeouts in 76 innings, all while converting 39 of 45 save opportunities. He made his first All-Star Game, and is now the fourth closer selected in a typical draft, about two picks behind Aroldis Chapman. That is a risk nowhere near worth taking.

First, let’s start with Knebel’s pre-2017 history. He was decent enough in 83 relief appearances in the first two years of his career, pitching to a 3.80 ERA, 1.31 WHIP and 3.85 FIP with 96 strikeouts in 83 innings. He had a 27.1% strikeout rate, 9.3% walk rate, and allowed 1.2 homers per nine innings. Those are all solid numbers, but none portend a dominant closer in the making.

Any time a player breaks out, we should look for substantive changes in his game. For pitchers, this typically comes in their repertoire or velocity. In 2016, Knebel threw his four-seamer 72.3% of the time and his curveball 27.6% of the time. Last year, those offerings were at 71.8% and 28.2%, respectively. No meaningful change there. His fastball velocity did tick up to 97.8 mph from 96.2 mph, but that’s not the sort of change that would drive the leap that Knebel made last year. In repertoire and velocity, Knebel was effectively the same pitcher in 2017 he was previously.

Knebel had a 40.8% strikeout rate last year, which ranked fourth among relievers. He was one of 10 with a strikeout rate better than 35%. We should expect a pitcher with that high a strikeout rate to generate a lot of empty swings and to post a high o-swing rate, which measures the rate at which hitters swing at pitches outside the strike zone. Among those 10 pitchers, only Dellin Betances had a lower whiff rate than Knebel’s 14.1%. Betances and Chad Green were the only ones with a lower o-swing rate than Knebel’s 28.8%. In fact, among the top-30 pitchers in strikeout rate, Knebel ranked 19th in whiff rate and 25th in o-swing rate.

In short, I’m dubious about Knebel’s ability to even come close to last year’s strikeout numbers, let alone repeat them. It’s those strikeouts that are driving him to the top of the draft board at his position. I’d let someone else take that plunge.

5. Which closer-in-waiting is your top target?

The first thing you have to do when answering a question like this is look for a closer who enters the season with a tenuous hold on the job. There are more than one of those, but Luke Gregerson jumps out at me. He’ll open the season as the Cardinals closer, but he’s unlikely to have much leeway from Mike Matheny. Gregerson was a league-average reliever last year, and the notably old-school Matheny won’t like that he’s not a proven closer, having spent just one year of his career as his team’s primary man in the ninth inning.

Alex Reyes seems the obvious choice here, but the Cardinals are already pushing back against that idea. GM Mike Girsch said placing their prized pitching prospect in the ninth could make his innings, and the stress on his surgically repaired elbow, unpredictable. Plus, they still rightly view him as a starter in the long term. That could just be front-office speak, but I think we should take Girsch at his word, especially since the Cardinals understandably want to get Reyes back in the rotation. With Reyes off the table, consider new Cardinal Dominic Leone as the one most likely to step in should Gregerson falter.

Leone came over to the Cardinals from the Blue Jays in exchange for Randal Grichuk. He had the best year of his career in 2017, totaling a 2.56 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 2.94 FIP and 81 strikeouts against 22 non-intentional walks in 70 1/3 innings. As we just discussed with respect to Knebel, we should always look for a major change when a player experiences so dramatic an improvement. In Leone’s case, we can find one.

Leone turned to his cutter more than ever last year, throwing it 36.3% of the time. He threw it 30% of the time in 2016, and no more than 21.5% of the time in the first two years of his career. The offering quickly became his go-to out pitch. When he got to two strikes against righties, he threw the cutter 39% of the time. Against lefties, it was 28% of the time. Leone racked up a ridiculous 44.7% whiff rate with his cutter, and held hitters to a .202 batting average and .360 slugging percentage with the pitch. Mariano Rivera he is not, but the cutter is turning Leone into a reliable reliever with legitimate closer potential.

Leone’s four-seam fastball accounted for a plurality of his pitches last year. He mixes in a sinker and slider, and while it would be nice to see him develop the latter considering the way it can work in conjunction with a cutter, he doesn’t necessarily need it if he can command the cutter to both sides of the plate. Entering his age-26 season, Leone may already be the best reliever on the Cardinals. He’ll be on my radar at the very end of my drafts and auctions.

Toronto Blue Jays&#39; Troy Tulowitzki, left, and Josh Donaldson throw long toss at baseball spring training in Dunedin, Fla., Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
Toronto Blue Jays' Troy Tulowitzki, left, and Josh Donaldson throw long toss at baseball spring training in Dunedin, Fla., Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
Toronto Blue Jays' Troy Tulowitzki, left, and Josh Donaldson throw long toss at baseball spring training in Dunedin, Fla., Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
Toronto Blue Jays&#39; Devon Travis blows a bubble during a rundown drill at baseball spring training in Dunedin, Fla., Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
Toronto Blue Jays' Devon Travis blows a bubble during a rundown drill at baseball spring training in Dunedin, Fla., Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
Toronto Blue Jays' Devon Travis blows a bubble during a rundown drill at baseball spring training in Dunedin, Fla., Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Aaron Sanchez throws live batting practice at baseball spring training in Dunedin, Fla., Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Aaron Sanchez throws live batting practice at baseball spring training in Dunedin, Fla., Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Aaron Sanchez throws live batting practice at baseball spring training in Dunedin, Fla., Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
Toronto Blue Jays pitchers are reflected in the glasses of closer Roberto Osuna at baseball training in Dunedin, Fla. on Tuesday, February 20, 2018. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
Toronto Blue Jays pitchers are reflected in the glasses of closer Roberto Osuna at baseball training in Dunedin, Fla. on Tuesday, February 20, 2018. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
Toronto Blue Jays pitchers are reflected in the glasses of closer Roberto Osuna at baseball training in Dunedin, Fla. on Tuesday, February 20, 2018. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Yordano Ventura (30) and first baseman Eric Hosmer (35) of a baseball game against the Toronto Blue Jays at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo., Sunday, Aug. 7, 2016. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
Blue Jays Royals Baseball
Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Yordano Ventura (30) and first baseman Eric Hosmer (35) of a baseball game against the Toronto Blue Jays at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo., Sunday, Aug. 7, 2016. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
Tulowitzki struggled last season with just seven home runs and 26 RBIs with a .249/.300/.378 slash line in 66 games.
Troy Tulowitzki injury update: Blue Jays SS won’t commit to opening day
Tulowitzki struggled last season with just seven home runs and 26 RBIs with a .249/.300/.378 slash line in 66 games.
<p>Troy Tulowitzki injury update: Blue Jays SS won’t commit to opening day</p>
Troy Tulowitzki injury update: Blue Jays SS won’t commit to opening day

Troy Tulowitzki injury update: Blue Jays SS won’t commit to opening day

<p>Troy Tulowitzki injury update: Blue Jays SS won’t commit to opening day</p>
Troy Tulowitzki injury update: Blue Jays SS won’t commit to opening day

Troy Tulowitzki injury update: Blue Jays SS won’t commit to opening day

The Blue Jays and third baseman Josh Donaldson weren&#39;t able to make much progress on a contract extension, so those talks have been tabled so he can focus on the 2018 season.
Blue Jays, Josh Donaldson to table extension talks
The Blue Jays and third baseman Josh Donaldson weren't able to make much progress on a contract extension, so those talks have been tabled so he can focus on the 2018 season.
The Blue Jays and third baseman Josh Donaldson weren&#39;t able to make much progress on a contract extension, so those talks have been tabled so he can focus on the 2018 season.
Blue Jays, Josh Donaldson to table extension talks
The Blue Jays and third baseman Josh Donaldson weren't able to make much progress on a contract extension, so those talks have been tabled so he can focus on the 2018 season.
Toronto Blue Jays&#39; Troy Tulowitzki sits on the bench at baseball spring training in Dunedin, Fla., Monday, Feb. 19, 2018. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
Toronto Blue Jays' Troy Tulowitzki sits on the bench at baseball spring training in Dunedin, Fla., Monday, Feb. 19, 2018. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
Toronto Blue Jays' Troy Tulowitzki sits on the bench at baseball spring training in Dunedin, Fla., Monday, Feb. 19, 2018. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
Toronto Blue Jays&#39; Troy Tulowitzki takes batting practice at baseball spring training in Dunedin, Fla., Monday, Feb. 19, 2018. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
Toronto Blue Jays' Troy Tulowitzki takes batting practice at baseball spring training in Dunedin, Fla., Monday, Feb. 19, 2018. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
Toronto Blue Jays' Troy Tulowitzki takes batting practice at baseball spring training in Dunedin, Fla., Monday, Feb. 19, 2018. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
Toronto Blue Jays&#39; Josh Donaldson throws at baseball spring training in Dunedin, Fla., Monday, Feb. 19, 2018. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
Toronto Blue Jays' Josh Donaldson throws at baseball spring training in Dunedin, Fla., Monday, Feb. 19, 2018. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
Toronto Blue Jays' Josh Donaldson throws at baseball spring training in Dunedin, Fla., Monday, Feb. 19, 2018. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
Toronto Blue Jays&#39; Troy Tulowitzki, left, and Josh Donaldson throw long toss at baseball spring training in Dunedin, Fla., Monday, Feb. 19, 2018. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP, File)
Toronto Blue Jays' Troy Tulowitzki, left, and Josh Donaldson throw long toss at baseball spring training in Dunedin, Fla., Monday, Feb. 19, 2018. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP, File)
Toronto Blue Jays' Troy Tulowitzki, left, and Josh Donaldson throw long toss at baseball spring training in Dunedin, Fla., Monday, Feb. 19, 2018. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP, File)
Toronto Blue Jays, from left, President Mark Shapiro, general manager Ross Atkins and manager John Gibbons keep an eye on the action at at baseball spring training in Dunedin, Fla., Monday, Feb. 19, 2018. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
Toronto Blue Jays, from left, President Mark Shapiro, general manager Ross Atkins and manager John Gibbons keep an eye on the action at at baseball spring training in Dunedin, Fla., Monday, Feb. 19, 2018. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
Toronto Blue Jays, from left, President Mark Shapiro, general manager Ross Atkins and manager John Gibbons keep an eye on the action at at baseball spring training in Dunedin, Fla., Monday, Feb. 19, 2018. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
Toronto Blue Jays&#39; Josh Donaldson runs at baseball spring training in Dunedin, Fla., Monday, Feb. 19, 2018. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
Toronto Blue Jays' Josh Donaldson runs at baseball spring training in Dunedin, Fla., Monday, Feb. 19, 2018. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
Toronto Blue Jays' Josh Donaldson runs at baseball spring training in Dunedin, Fla., Monday, Feb. 19, 2018. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
Toronto Blue Jays&#39; Josh Donaldson bunts at baseball spring training in Dunedin, Fla., Monday, Feb. 19, 2018. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
Toronto Blue Jays' Josh Donaldson bunts at baseball spring training in Dunedin, Fla., Monday, Feb. 19, 2018. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
Toronto Blue Jays' Josh Donaldson bunts at baseball spring training in Dunedin, Fla., Monday, Feb. 19, 2018. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
<p>As he has done with this column at at multiple Olympics around the halfway point, NBC Sports Chairman Mark Lazarus addressed some questions viewers have have had regarding NBC’s coverage of the PyeongChang Games. You might not like his answers—in fact, I am sure many of you will not—but he is accountable to those who write about his company and that gets great respect here. Lazarus spoke to <em>Sports Illustrated</em> for 30 minutes on Sunday afternoon (Monday morning his time) from his office at the International Broadcasting Centre in PyeongChang.</p><p><strong>SI: <em>How would you self-evaluate your coverage so far on all platforms?</em></strong></p><p><strong>Lazarus:</strong> I am extremely proud of our coverage. I think our quality is uncompromised by the tremendous amount of quantity we are doing on all of our platforms. Is it perfect? No. We strive to be perfect every show but every show you reflect back and see where we could have done better, especially In this live environment. But I am extremely proud on the production side and the team led by Jim Bell (executive producer of NBC Olympics), Joe Gesue (Senior Vice President, Production, Olympics) and Becky Chatman (Vice President and Coordinating Producer of Olympic Production). It is an extraordinary quantity and I feel our quality is unmatched in anything in sport.</p><p><strong>SI: <em>As of early last week your coverage trailed the Sochi Olympics in viewership <a href="http://adage.com/article/special-report-the-olympics/nbc-olympics-ratings-defy-expectations/312364/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:by roughly 6%" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">by roughly 6%</a>. Have those numbers changed?</em></strong></p><p><strong>Lazarus: </strong>We are off 6% in primetime but we are up in what we are calling prime-plus<strong>, </strong>what you would historically know as late night, is up 28%. Our streaming numbers are through the roof. Media consumption has changed a lot and what the Olympics has shown is a resiliency over a four year period that I think is unmatched in primetime television given the decline collectively the broadcast networks have seen in the primetime window.</p><p><strong>SI: <em>Are your Total Audience Delivery numbers meeting NBC&#39;s ratings guarantees to advertisers?</em></strong></p><p><strong>Lazarus: </strong>Yes. As of now we expect to meet all of our ratings guarantees.</p><p><strong>SI: <em>How much has hockey viewership been hurt by the NHL players not being there?</em></strong></p><p><strong>Lazarus: </strong>A bit. It is early in the men’s tournament and we have not seen the big games yet but we are off roughly in the high 20s or low 30s. It has been affected. The [broadcast] windows are pretty similar so it is close to an apples to apples comparison. Listen, I think it is bad for hockey everywhere. Our numbers are off and if you look at the RSN numbers for every NHL team over this week-long period, at least when I looked at it, all but two teams were off versus a year ago in this window. So it is not good for anybody’s hockey ratings.</p><p><strong>SI: <em>You made a huge investment in Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir a couple of years ago to make them your No. 1 figure skating team. That decision has proven to be wise. They are the rare sports broadcasting team who has gotten near-universal praise for their work. How satisfying is it for you to see them excelling in what is the most important Olympic sport for NBC, at least on viewership terms?</em></strong></p><p><strong>Lazarus: </strong>Tara and Johnny are exceptional broadcasters and I don’t want to leave out [host] Terry Gannon who I think is a key part of that trio because of the role he plays in keeping everything moving in a good direction. They are pleasing to the viewers, they have fun, they are fun and they have a little bit of flamboyance coming through the television. But when you listen to their analysis, that is what separates them and makes them so good. They are just very insightful and honest and direct. We are very pleased. We think they are very good for our audience. I do want to say our longtime analyst, Scott Hamilton, is doing a lot of coverage on NBCSN and doing a daily show called “Olympic Ice” with Liam McHugh and Tanith White. We have a tremendous stable of figure skating analysts. It is always fun when someone breaks through and I have been part of it in my career with Charles Barkley too. [He previously headed up Turner Sports.] This feels just like that and it’s fun.</p><p>?</p><p><strong>SI: <em>This is not a Monday Morning quarterback question because I would have made the decision to leave the women’s Super-G when you did to show Adam Rippon’s free skate. But I do want to get your viewpoint as the head of NBC Sports on your network pulling out of the women’s Super-G before the conclusion of the race and declaring that Austria’s Anna Veith had won the gold…You saw what happened: A once-in-generation event, crazy fluke when <a href="https://www.si.com/olympics/2018/02/16/world-champion-snowboarder-wins-olympic-gold-skiing" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Ester Ledecka of the Czech Republic pulled off a miracle win." class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Ester Ledecka of the Czech Republic pulled off a miracle win.</a></em></strong></p><p><strong>Lazarus:</strong> As you pointed out it is extremely uncommon for someone that far down the starting position lineup to contend for a medal let alone win the gold. We were surprised, as was the entire ski world. Some characterized it as one of the greatest upsets in the Olympics. I think our esteemed colleague Mr. [Al] Michaels might take exception given his eyewitness account of Miracle on Ice. But it was an incredible feat and a complete surprise. We obviously captured it, and went back to it. We felt it was important that we leave the live coverage when we thought we were done and go to the figure skating and Adam Rippon’s skate. In hindsight, when we left, we should have left room in the broadcast for a miracle to happen, and I think we were a touch too definitive. But I think we went back quickly and showed the run and characterized it as the exceptional feat that it was. We strive to be perfect but we are not always perfect. I think we did the best we could under that miracle circumstance. I think we would have been doing our audience a disservice had we stayed for a long time and missed what was becoming an important story around figure skating and something our others viewers cared about. That is the luxury and curse of live.</p><p><strong>SI: <em>How would you assess NBC Sports’s coverage of sexual harassment allegations against Shaun White amid the coverage of his </em>halfpipe win, especially given how popular his Olympic runs have been for NBC?</strong></p><p><strong>Laazrus:</strong> It was not a story coming into the Games for anybody, including your publication and most publications. We all talked about his redemption and coming back from an athletic point of view and we covered it that same way coming into the Games. It only became a story publicly again when he won and that press conference took place where he gave not a great answer and I think he has since said that. NBC News, which was next on deck with him, covered it extensively. Savannah Guthrie interviewed him and asked him questions directly and Nightly News covered it and discussed his issues. We did not have him due to scheduling and other things for a post-victory interview once he left the competition venue. But if we had, we would have asked him the questions that he deserved to be asked.</p><p>Something we have thought about in reflection is we used him very extensively in our promotional campaign leading up to the Games, including a one-minute Super Bowl promotion which is street value $10 million. We ran many millions of dollars of other promotion. We didn’t get one inquiry from media but put that aside. We did not get one email, tweet, text or phone call from viewers, the general public, saying how could you do that? We are a pretty big target. We take a lot of flack. We are big boys and girls. But I think the collective consciousness of this was extremely low if it even existed until that press conference.</p><p><strong>SI: <em>Is there anything you already know at this point from your coverage that you would like to implement for Tokyo in 2020?</em></strong></p><p><strong>Lazarus: </strong>There is a slight difference in the time zone. Tokyo is 13 hours ahead of the East Coast as opposed to 14 here. We are going to look very careful at what our primetime hours will consist of and whether they will be 7-11 p.m. ET, 8-12 a.m. ET, 7-10 p.m. ET. We will evaluate where we can put the best live coverage to the most people. We do those kind of reflections after every games. Having three Asian games in a row allows us to really do some learning’s form the time zones we are in and try to implement them on a going forward basis. One of things I really like what we have done here and I think we will be able to do over the next two Games is we have been able to be dynamic with our primetime shows. We have hit a lot of venues. We come in and out of coverage in smaller bites but we hit more venues… I like the dynamic nature of that because it is the spirit of the Olympics.</p><p><strong>SI:</strong><em><strong> What is your daily schedule like?</strong></em></p><p><strong>Lazarus: </strong>I get up around 4:30 or 4:45 a.m. and get over to the IBC (International Broadcast Center) by 6:00 a.m. I try to work out some days. But sometimes I get up at 2:30 a.m. because the body clock gets turned around over here. We have a business and logistics meeting at 6:00 a.m. every morning to make sure everything is running smoothly with the Games in terms of getting our people where they need to be or other issues. Then I go production meetings as the day gets going. I’ll get back to the hotel at 8:00 p.m. or 9:00 p.m. usually. Most of the day I am at the IBC. I have been to a few of our compounds—I try to get to every compound each week just to touch base with production managers, producers and talent. That’s to show appreciation and support. I have been to one event only—the U.S. vs. Canada in women’s hockey, which was great. Then I have some meetings and meals with the IOC or OBS or other broadcasters from around the world.</p><p><strong>SI:<em> Are there any active athletes who have caught your attention at these Olympics as someone who can be a future broadcaster for you four years from now? Obviously someone like Lindsey Vonn given her profile, accomplishment and age seems like an obvious candidate.</em></strong></p><p><strong>Lazarus:</strong> Lindsey would be an interesting person if four years from now that is what she was interested in. Adam Rippon could be interesting in some sort of role. The one thing I just want to emphasize is that is not a referendum on anyone. So I am not saying in any way shape or form we somehow want to replace Johnny Weir. This is not a coaching carousel around here. We don’t move people around. When we have someone good and when the audience reacts as they do whether it is Rowdy Gaines, Johnny or Mike Tirico, we are not looking to trade in or trade up. We think we have the best there is and if we can enhance it, that is our goal. But we are not looking for cheap changes.</p><p><strong>SI: <em>Has Mike Tirico been told that he is indeed the primetime host beyond PyeongChang?</em></strong></p><p><strong>Lazarus:</strong> Mike is our primetime host. This is not a training ground. This is not an audition. This is not a tryout. Mike is our primetime host. And I expect him to be our primetime host for many generations to come.</p><h2>THE NOISE REPORT</h2><p><em>(SI.com examines some of the week’s most notable sports media stories)</em></p><p><strong>1. </strong>The photo of the father greets the son each time the son sets foot inside the radio station. How large is the shadow?</p><p>When you walk inside the newsroom of WAER-FM—a commercial-free, Syracuse, N.Y.-based NPR station that’s licensed to the University and airs Orange football, basketball and men’s lacrosse—you can’t miss the images of Ian Eagle alongside other well-known 88.3 FM alums such as Marv Albert, Marty Glickman, Sean McDonough and Dave Pasch. When you head to the basement of the station, you’ll find the WAER Hall of Fame wall, where Eagle’s induction plaque from August 2013 hangs next to Mike Tirico, another famous Syracuse broadcasting alum.</p><p>“I walk by it every day and I am reminded where I come from,” said Noah Eagle, a 21-year-old Syracuse University junior with a last name familiar to millions of sports fans.</p><p>On Saturday father and son experienced what promises to be one of the most memorable days of their lives. As Noah and his broadcasting partner, Sam Rubinoff, called the Syracuse-Miami men’s basketball game at the Watsco Center in Miami for WAER-FM, Ian broadcast the game for CBS alongside analyst Bill Raftery.</p><p><a href="https://www.si.com/tech-media/2018/02/16/ian-eagle-son-noah-eagle-broadcaster-syracuse-university" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:After writing a story on it last Friday" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">After writing a story on it last Friday</a>, I emailed both over the weekend to get how the day went:</p><p><strong>Noah:</strong> “The experience for me was incredible. I knew it would be a special day, but I didn’t realize just how special. The pregame coverage was very cool for me, but when it came time for tip, I knew I still needed to focus on the task at hand—calling a good, clean game. I’m extremely thankful for the opportunity. It is certainly a day I will never forget.”</p><p><strong>Ian:</strong> “As a dad it was an unforgettable day. As a broadcaster it was an absolute blast. All the stars aligned to make that moment possible, I was so proud of how Noah handled himself both on and off the air. During timeouts I found myself glancing over at his broadcast position and thinking back to my days sitting in that same seat. Having the great Bill Raftery next to me was an added bonus; he&#39;s known Noah literally since the day he was born. On Saturday, not only did they briefly share a microphone but later that night they also shared a beer [don&#39;t worry, both are of legal age].”</p><p><strong>1a.</strong> Deadspin video editor Tim Burke went <a href="https://screengrabber.deadspin.com/how-nbc-flubbed-its-super-g-coverage-reported-the-wron-1823104438" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:in-depth on NBC’s miss on the women’s Super-G" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">in-depth on NBC’s miss on the women’s Super-G</a>. He also has the incredible call on BBC.</p><p><strong>1b.</strong> What a great call by Leigh Diffey on Yun Sung-Bin&#39;s skeleton gold medal winning run. He’s been among the broadcasting stars of these Games.</p><p><strong>1c.</strong> Great camera work by TNT to get a clear view of a ball careening off the foot of Team Steph player Joel Embiid with the game tied at 144-144 and under two minutes remaining. The refs missed the call but TNT nailed it.</p><p><strong>1d.</strong> Sports Business Daily assistant managing editor Austin Karp reported that Fox drew a 5.1 overnight rating for Daytona 500, a likely new ratings low for the event. Karp said Fox was down 22% from the 2017 race.</p><p><strong>2.</strong> Episode 164 of the Sports Illustrated Media Podcast features guest Jonathan Abrams, a Bleacher Report writer and the author of the new book, “All The Pieces Matter: The Inside Story of The Wire.” In this podcast, Abrams discusses how he came to write an oral history book of the acclaimed HBO series, “The Wire;” the process of conducting interviews for the book; how he initially had trouble getting cast members after Michael B. Jordan and what changed; his Amtrak interview with The Wire creator David Simon; how he efficiently transcribed all the interviews; the one person he wanted to interview for the book, but didn&#39;t get the chance to; the frustration among the creators and some of the actors that nothing has really changed since The Wire; a discussion on which season is the best and why; how the actors feel about the show; a discussion about show writer George Pelecanos writing the famous line for Snoop when Michael kills her in the car (“How’s my hair look, Mike?”); how the show had such an impact with so little episodes, how J.D. Williams knew that his Bodie character would be killed; and much more. To listen to the podcast in full, check it out on Apple Podcasts and Stitcher.</p><p><strong>3.</strong> Sports Business Daily writer John Ourand went inside the economics of <a href="https://www.bizjournals.com/losangeles/news/2018/02/13/inside-the-economics-of-fox-s-bold-thursday-night.html" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Fox’s new Thursday Night Football deal." class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Fox’s new Thursday Night Football deal.</a></p><p><strong>3a.</strong> Per Austin Karp of Sports Business Daily, heading into All-Star weekend, NBA game viewership, ABC ESPN, TNT and NBA TV were on pace to have its best NBA regular season in six years. NBA games are averaging 1.4 million viewers across the board, up 15% from the same point last season. Karp also reported that NBA games on RSNs were up 9% to date. On the breakouts, Karp reported that NBA games on TNT are averaging 1.9 million viewers, up 20% from the same point last year. ESPN is averaging 1.7 million viewers, up 10%. NBA TV games are averaging 354,000 viewers to date, up 20%. All demos are up too.</p><p><strong>4</strong>. <em>Sports pieces of note:</em></p><p>• Great work from <em>Toronto Star</em> sports columnist Bruce Arthur: As Sven Kramer cracked, Canada&#39;s Ted-Jan Bloemen began to cry, overcome with joy. In the stands, his wife Marlinde began to cry, too. <a href="https://www.thestar.com/sports/olympics/2018/02/15/canadas-ted-jan-bloemen-wins-olympic-gold-in-10000m-speedskating.html" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:But she was overcome by something else." class="link rapid-noclick-resp">But she was overcome by something else.</a></p><p>• From Justin Tinsley of The Undefeated: <a href="https://theundefeated.com/features/marvin-gaye-the-star-spangled-banner-1983-nba-all-star-game-players-anthem/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Marvin Gaye performed the most soulful national anthem ever." class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Marvin Gaye performed the most soulful national anthem ever.</a></p><p>• Via The Nation’s Dave Zirin and Jules Boycoff: <a href="https://www.thenation.com/article/the-farce-of-the-olympic-athletes-from-russia/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:The farce of the Olympic Athletes From Russia." class="link rapid-noclick-resp">The farce of the Olympic Athletes From Russia.</a></p><p>• ESPN’s <a href="http://www.espn.com/nfl/story/_/id/22359434/where-people-miss-point-nfl-television-ratings-2017-season-super-bowl-lii" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Mina Kimes on the NFL’s ratings issues." class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Mina Kimes on the NFL’s ratings issues.</a></p><p>• Via <em>The New York Times</em>’s Karen Crouse?: Before he became an Olympian, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/13/sports/olympics/figure-skating-adam-rippon.html?rref=collection%2Fnewseventcollection%2Fwinter-olympics-2018" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Adam Rippon starved himself to be competitive" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Adam Rippon starved himself to be competitive</a>, and he&#39;s not alone among male skaters.</p><p>• <em>The Athletic</em>’s Jon Krawczynski: <a href="https://theathletic.com/242293/2018/02/15/a-banner-will-be-raised-and-a-promise-will-be-made-the-timberwolves-will-never-forget-flip-saunders/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:The Timberwolves will never forget Flip Saunders." class="link rapid-noclick-resp">The Timberwolves will never forget Flip Saunders.</a></p><p>• From Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports: Shaun White tried to cast his gold-medal run at the PyeongChang Games as the end to a redemptive arc. <a href="https://yhoo.it/2EquY1f" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Across the world, it was playing out as the latest #MeToo story." class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Across the world, it was playing out as the latest #MeToo story.</a></p><p>• Sportsnet’s Michael Grange on <a href="https://www.sportsnet.ca/basketball/nba/makes-dwane-caseys-star-staff-unlike/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Dwane Casey and his coaching staff." class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Dwane Casey and his coaching staff.</a></p><p>• SI’s Tim Layden on <a href="https://www.si.com/olympics/2018/02/14/codie-bascue-bobsled-pyeongchang-whitehall" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:a first-ever Olympian from his hometown of Whitehall, N.Y." class="link rapid-noclick-resp">a first-ever Olympian from his hometown of Whitehall, N.Y.</a></p><p>• From The Chronicle of Higher Education: <a href="https://www.chronicle.com/article/Inside-Auburn-s-Secret/242569?key=VUoegFJonv4-gPdfGkNzj4-JTkfh6ZBlDK9mgIYAAhyu5LdCr3bh48MStNroJvNNbmxLUFZDM0w1bWo3ZEhWTklpUzNsUUZsajB5ZjFPaVctWmRoM24tVmhEVQ" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Inside Auburn’s Secret Effort to Advance an Athlete-Friendly Curriculum." class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Inside Auburn’s Secret Effort to Advance an Athlete-Friendly Curriculum.</a></p><p>• Another one from Arthur: Eric Radford was a bullied gay kid in a northern gold-mine hockey town, and <a href="https://www.thestar.com/sports/olympics/2018/02/14/skating-was-always-there-eric-radfords-road-to-becoming-the-first-openly-gay-man-to-win-olympic-gold.html" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:now he’s the first openly gay male gold medalist at a Winter Olympics." class="link rapid-noclick-resp">now he’s the first openly gay male gold medalist at a Winter Olympics.</a></p><p>• <em>The Buffalo News</em> columnist Bucky Gleason on <a href="http://buffalonews.com/2018/02/16/bucky-gleason-was-st-bonaventures-win-over-rhode-island-best-ever-in-reilly-center-its-up-there/?utm_campaign=puma&#38;utm_medium=social&#38;utm_source=Twitter#link_time=1518901298" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:St. Bonaventure’s win over No. 16 Rhode Island." class="link rapid-noclick-resp">St. Bonaventure’s win over No. 16 Rhode Island.</a></p><p>Non-sports pieces of note:</p><p>• From Molly McKew, for <em>Wired</em>: <a href="https://www.wired.com/story/did-russia-affect-the-2016-election-its-now-undeniable" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Did Russia Affect The 2016 Election? It’s Now Undeniable." class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Did Russia Affect The 2016 Election? It’s Now Undeniable.</a></p><p>• From <em>The Washington Post</em>: <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/rob-porter-is-my-ex-husband-heres-what-you-should-know-about-abuse/2018/02/12/3c7edcb8-1033-11e8-9065-e55346f6de81_story.html?utm_term=.87f6a9ddea47" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:“Rob Porter is my ex-husband. Here’s what you should know about abuse.”" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">“Rob Porter is my ex-husband. Here’s what you should know about abuse.”</a></p><p>• From <em>Wired</em>: <a href="https://www.wired.com/story/inside-facebook-mark-zuckerberg-2-years-of-hell/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Inside The Two Years That Shook Facebook—and the World." class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Inside The Two Years That Shook Facebook—and the World.</a></p><p>• Via author James Andrew Miller: <a href="https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/features/anthony-pellicano-prison-interview-hollywoods-notorious-fixer-his-victims-enablers-a-coming-release-1084353" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:The Anthony Pellicano prison interview." class="link rapid-noclick-resp">The Anthony Pellicano prison interview.</a></p><p>• Anne Helen Peterson, writing for CJR, on female journalists being targeted and harassed. <a href="https://www.cjr.org/special_report/reporting-female-harassment-journalism.php" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:I hope people read and share." class="link rapid-noclick-resp">I hope people read and share.</a></p><p>• From Jonathan Albright: <a href="https://medium.com/berkman-klein-center/trolls-on-twitter-how-mainstream-and-local-news-outlets-were-used-to-drive-a-polarized-news-agenda-e8b514e4a37a" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:“Trolls on Twitter: How Mainstream and Local News Outlets Were Used to Drive a Polarized News Agenda”" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">“Trolls on Twitter: How Mainstream and Local News Outlets Were Used to Drive a Polarized News Agenda”</a></p><p>• From Chico Harlan of <em>The Washington Post</em>: Seconds before she was ready to take off on an Olympic skeleton race, <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/olympics/this-olympian-hadnt-seen-her-mom-in-four-years-then-she-looked-in-the-stands/2018/02/17/a582a014-13bc-11e8-8ea1-c1d91fcec3fe_story.html?utm_term=.563859d02a32" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Katie Uhlaender spotted her estranged mother" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Katie Uhlaender spotted her estranged mother</a>, somebody she hadn&#39;t seen or spoken to in four years.</p><p>• Via <em>Wired</em>’s May Jeong: <a href="https://www.wired.com/story/final-terrible-voyage-nautilus/?src=longreads" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:The Final Terrible Voyage of Nautlius." class="link rapid-noclick-resp">The Final Terrible Voyage of Nautlius.</a></p><p><strong>5.</strong> Longtime Blue Jays broadcaster Jerry Howarth <a href="http://sprtsnt.ca/2F0Ti6S" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:retired after 36 seasons." class="link rapid-noclick-resp">retired after 36 seasons.</a></p><p><strong>5a.</strong> ESPN basketball analyst Doris Burke was named the <a href="https://twitter.com/Hoophall/status/964925277145939968" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:2018 Curt Gowdy Award winner for broadcasting" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">2018 Curt Gowdy Award winner for broadcasting</a> by the Basketball Hall of Fame.</p><p><strong>5b. </strong>Episode 165 of the Sports Illustrated Media Podcast features a sports media roundtable with Sports Business Daily media writer John Ourand and USA Today staff writer A.J. Perez. In this podcast, the panel discusses NBC’s coverage of the Pyeongchang Games; how to evaluate that primetime viewership is down six percent; whether NBC executives should be happy with the ratings; NBC Sports’s responsibility when it comes to geopolitical or stories that involve social justice or criminality; the impact of the NHL players being out of the Olympics; what Fox getting the NFL Draft means for ESPN; ESPN’s NFL future; the declining Daytona 500 ratings; what NASCAR can do to turn its viewership issues around; the New York Post’s story on Fox and ESPN making a play for Peyton Manning as a broadcaster; why newspapers have dropped sports media writers over the last decade, and much more. To listen to the podcast in full, <a href="https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/si-media-podcast-with-richard-deitsch/id997819235?mt=2" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:check it out on Apple Podcasts and Stitcher." class="link rapid-noclick-resp">check it out on Apple Podcasts and Stitcher.</a></p>
Evaluating NBC's Olympics Coverage at the Halfway Mark in PyeongChang

As he has done with this column at at multiple Olympics around the halfway point, NBC Sports Chairman Mark Lazarus addressed some questions viewers have have had regarding NBC’s coverage of the PyeongChang Games. You might not like his answers—in fact, I am sure many of you will not—but he is accountable to those who write about his company and that gets great respect here. Lazarus spoke to Sports Illustrated for 30 minutes on Sunday afternoon (Monday morning his time) from his office at the International Broadcasting Centre in PyeongChang.

SI: How would you self-evaluate your coverage so far on all platforms?

Lazarus: I am extremely proud of our coverage. I think our quality is uncompromised by the tremendous amount of quantity we are doing on all of our platforms. Is it perfect? No. We strive to be perfect every show but every show you reflect back and see where we could have done better, especially In this live environment. But I am extremely proud on the production side and the team led by Jim Bell (executive producer of NBC Olympics), Joe Gesue (Senior Vice President, Production, Olympics) and Becky Chatman (Vice President and Coordinating Producer of Olympic Production). It is an extraordinary quantity and I feel our quality is unmatched in anything in sport.

SI: As of early last week your coverage trailed the Sochi Olympics in viewership by roughly 6%. Have those numbers changed?

Lazarus: We are off 6% in primetime but we are up in what we are calling prime-plus, what you would historically know as late night, is up 28%. Our streaming numbers are through the roof. Media consumption has changed a lot and what the Olympics has shown is a resiliency over a four year period that I think is unmatched in primetime television given the decline collectively the broadcast networks have seen in the primetime window.

SI: Are your Total Audience Delivery numbers meeting NBC's ratings guarantees to advertisers?

Lazarus: Yes. As of now we expect to meet all of our ratings guarantees.

SI: How much has hockey viewership been hurt by the NHL players not being there?

Lazarus: A bit. It is early in the men’s tournament and we have not seen the big games yet but we are off roughly in the high 20s or low 30s. It has been affected. The [broadcast] windows are pretty similar so it is close to an apples to apples comparison. Listen, I think it is bad for hockey everywhere. Our numbers are off and if you look at the RSN numbers for every NHL team over this week-long period, at least when I looked at it, all but two teams were off versus a year ago in this window. So it is not good for anybody’s hockey ratings.

SI: You made a huge investment in Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir a couple of years ago to make them your No. 1 figure skating team. That decision has proven to be wise. They are the rare sports broadcasting team who has gotten near-universal praise for their work. How satisfying is it for you to see them excelling in what is the most important Olympic sport for NBC, at least on viewership terms?

Lazarus: Tara and Johnny are exceptional broadcasters and I don’t want to leave out [host] Terry Gannon who I think is a key part of that trio because of the role he plays in keeping everything moving in a good direction. They are pleasing to the viewers, they have fun, they are fun and they have a little bit of flamboyance coming through the television. But when you listen to their analysis, that is what separates them and makes them so good. They are just very insightful and honest and direct. We are very pleased. We think they are very good for our audience. I do want to say our longtime analyst, Scott Hamilton, is doing a lot of coverage on NBCSN and doing a daily show called “Olympic Ice” with Liam McHugh and Tanith White. We have a tremendous stable of figure skating analysts. It is always fun when someone breaks through and I have been part of it in my career with Charles Barkley too. [He previously headed up Turner Sports.] This feels just like that and it’s fun.

?

SI: This is not a Monday Morning quarterback question because I would have made the decision to leave the women’s Super-G when you did to show Adam Rippon’s free skate. But I do want to get your viewpoint as the head of NBC Sports on your network pulling out of the women’s Super-G before the conclusion of the race and declaring that Austria’s Anna Veith had won the gold…You saw what happened: A once-in-generation event, crazy fluke when Ester Ledecka of the Czech Republic pulled off a miracle win.

Lazarus: As you pointed out it is extremely uncommon for someone that far down the starting position lineup to contend for a medal let alone win the gold. We were surprised, as was the entire ski world. Some characterized it as one of the greatest upsets in the Olympics. I think our esteemed colleague Mr. [Al] Michaels might take exception given his eyewitness account of Miracle on Ice. But it was an incredible feat and a complete surprise. We obviously captured it, and went back to it. We felt it was important that we leave the live coverage when we thought we were done and go to the figure skating and Adam Rippon’s skate. In hindsight, when we left, we should have left room in the broadcast for a miracle to happen, and I think we were a touch too definitive. But I think we went back quickly and showed the run and characterized it as the exceptional feat that it was. We strive to be perfect but we are not always perfect. I think we did the best we could under that miracle circumstance. I think we would have been doing our audience a disservice had we stayed for a long time and missed what was becoming an important story around figure skating and something our others viewers cared about. That is the luxury and curse of live.

SI: How would you assess NBC Sports’s coverage of sexual harassment allegations against Shaun White amid the coverage of his halfpipe win, especially given how popular his Olympic runs have been for NBC?

Laazrus: It was not a story coming into the Games for anybody, including your publication and most publications. We all talked about his redemption and coming back from an athletic point of view and we covered it that same way coming into the Games. It only became a story publicly again when he won and that press conference took place where he gave not a great answer and I think he has since said that. NBC News, which was next on deck with him, covered it extensively. Savannah Guthrie interviewed him and asked him questions directly and Nightly News covered it and discussed his issues. We did not have him due to scheduling and other things for a post-victory interview once he left the competition venue. But if we had, we would have asked him the questions that he deserved to be asked.

Something we have thought about in reflection is we used him very extensively in our promotional campaign leading up to the Games, including a one-minute Super Bowl promotion which is street value $10 million. We ran many millions of dollars of other promotion. We didn’t get one inquiry from media but put that aside. We did not get one email, tweet, text or phone call from viewers, the general public, saying how could you do that? We are a pretty big target. We take a lot of flack. We are big boys and girls. But I think the collective consciousness of this was extremely low if it even existed until that press conference.

SI: Is there anything you already know at this point from your coverage that you would like to implement for Tokyo in 2020?

Lazarus: There is a slight difference in the time zone. Tokyo is 13 hours ahead of the East Coast as opposed to 14 here. We are going to look very careful at what our primetime hours will consist of and whether they will be 7-11 p.m. ET, 8-12 a.m. ET, 7-10 p.m. ET. We will evaluate where we can put the best live coverage to the most people. We do those kind of reflections after every games. Having three Asian games in a row allows us to really do some learning’s form the time zones we are in and try to implement them on a going forward basis. One of things I really like what we have done here and I think we will be able to do over the next two Games is we have been able to be dynamic with our primetime shows. We have hit a lot of venues. We come in and out of coverage in smaller bites but we hit more venues… I like the dynamic nature of that because it is the spirit of the Olympics.

SI: What is your daily schedule like?

Lazarus: I get up around 4:30 or 4:45 a.m. and get over to the IBC (International Broadcast Center) by 6:00 a.m. I try to work out some days. But sometimes I get up at 2:30 a.m. because the body clock gets turned around over here. We have a business and logistics meeting at 6:00 a.m. every morning to make sure everything is running smoothly with the Games in terms of getting our people where they need to be or other issues. Then I go production meetings as the day gets going. I’ll get back to the hotel at 8:00 p.m. or 9:00 p.m. usually. Most of the day I am at the IBC. I have been to a few of our compounds—I try to get to every compound each week just to touch base with production managers, producers and talent. That’s to show appreciation and support. I have been to one event only—the U.S. vs. Canada in women’s hockey, which was great. Then I have some meetings and meals with the IOC or OBS or other broadcasters from around the world.

SI: Are there any active athletes who have caught your attention at these Olympics as someone who can be a future broadcaster for you four years from now? Obviously someone like Lindsey Vonn given her profile, accomplishment and age seems like an obvious candidate.

Lazarus: Lindsey would be an interesting person if four years from now that is what she was interested in. Adam Rippon could be interesting in some sort of role. The one thing I just want to emphasize is that is not a referendum on anyone. So I am not saying in any way shape or form we somehow want to replace Johnny Weir. This is not a coaching carousel around here. We don’t move people around. When we have someone good and when the audience reacts as they do whether it is Rowdy Gaines, Johnny or Mike Tirico, we are not looking to trade in or trade up. We think we have the best there is and if we can enhance it, that is our goal. But we are not looking for cheap changes.

SI: Has Mike Tirico been told that he is indeed the primetime host beyond PyeongChang?

Lazarus: Mike is our primetime host. This is not a training ground. This is not an audition. This is not a tryout. Mike is our primetime host. And I expect him to be our primetime host for many generations to come.

THE NOISE REPORT

(SI.com examines some of the week’s most notable sports media stories)

1. The photo of the father greets the son each time the son sets foot inside the radio station. How large is the shadow?

When you walk inside the newsroom of WAER-FM—a commercial-free, Syracuse, N.Y.-based NPR station that’s licensed to the University and airs Orange football, basketball and men’s lacrosse—you can’t miss the images of Ian Eagle alongside other well-known 88.3 FM alums such as Marv Albert, Marty Glickman, Sean McDonough and Dave Pasch. When you head to the basement of the station, you’ll find the WAER Hall of Fame wall, where Eagle’s induction plaque from August 2013 hangs next to Mike Tirico, another famous Syracuse broadcasting alum.

“I walk by it every day and I am reminded where I come from,” said Noah Eagle, a 21-year-old Syracuse University junior with a last name familiar to millions of sports fans.

On Saturday father and son experienced what promises to be one of the most memorable days of their lives. As Noah and his broadcasting partner, Sam Rubinoff, called the Syracuse-Miami men’s basketball game at the Watsco Center in Miami for WAER-FM, Ian broadcast the game for CBS alongside analyst Bill Raftery.

After writing a story on it last Friday, I emailed both over the weekend to get how the day went:

Noah: “The experience for me was incredible. I knew it would be a special day, but I didn’t realize just how special. The pregame coverage was very cool for me, but when it came time for tip, I knew I still needed to focus on the task at hand—calling a good, clean game. I’m extremely thankful for the opportunity. It is certainly a day I will never forget.”

Ian: “As a dad it was an unforgettable day. As a broadcaster it was an absolute blast. All the stars aligned to make that moment possible, I was so proud of how Noah handled himself both on and off the air. During timeouts I found myself glancing over at his broadcast position and thinking back to my days sitting in that same seat. Having the great Bill Raftery next to me was an added bonus; he's known Noah literally since the day he was born. On Saturday, not only did they briefly share a microphone but later that night they also shared a beer [don't worry, both are of legal age].”

1a. Deadspin video editor Tim Burke went in-depth on NBC’s miss on the women’s Super-G. He also has the incredible call on BBC.

1b. What a great call by Leigh Diffey on Yun Sung-Bin's skeleton gold medal winning run. He’s been among the broadcasting stars of these Games.

1c. Great camera work by TNT to get a clear view of a ball careening off the foot of Team Steph player Joel Embiid with the game tied at 144-144 and under two minutes remaining. The refs missed the call but TNT nailed it.

1d. Sports Business Daily assistant managing editor Austin Karp reported that Fox drew a 5.1 overnight rating for Daytona 500, a likely new ratings low for the event. Karp said Fox was down 22% from the 2017 race.

2. Episode 164 of the Sports Illustrated Media Podcast features guest Jonathan Abrams, a Bleacher Report writer and the author of the new book, “All The Pieces Matter: The Inside Story of The Wire.” In this podcast, Abrams discusses how he came to write an oral history book of the acclaimed HBO series, “The Wire;” the process of conducting interviews for the book; how he initially had trouble getting cast members after Michael B. Jordan and what changed; his Amtrak interview with The Wire creator David Simon; how he efficiently transcribed all the interviews; the one person he wanted to interview for the book, but didn't get the chance to; the frustration among the creators and some of the actors that nothing has really changed since The Wire; a discussion on which season is the best and why; how the actors feel about the show; a discussion about show writer George Pelecanos writing the famous line for Snoop when Michael kills her in the car (“How’s my hair look, Mike?”); how the show had such an impact with so little episodes, how J.D. Williams knew that his Bodie character would be killed; and much more. To listen to the podcast in full, check it out on Apple Podcasts and Stitcher.

3. Sports Business Daily writer John Ourand went inside the economics of Fox’s new Thursday Night Football deal.

3a. Per Austin Karp of Sports Business Daily, heading into All-Star weekend, NBA game viewership, ABC ESPN, TNT and NBA TV were on pace to have its best NBA regular season in six years. NBA games are averaging 1.4 million viewers across the board, up 15% from the same point last season. Karp also reported that NBA games on RSNs were up 9% to date. On the breakouts, Karp reported that NBA games on TNT are averaging 1.9 million viewers, up 20% from the same point last year. ESPN is averaging 1.7 million viewers, up 10%. NBA TV games are averaging 354,000 viewers to date, up 20%. All demos are up too.

4. Sports pieces of note:

• Great work from Toronto Star sports columnist Bruce Arthur: As Sven Kramer cracked, Canada's Ted-Jan Bloemen began to cry, overcome with joy. In the stands, his wife Marlinde began to cry, too. But she was overcome by something else.

• From Justin Tinsley of The Undefeated: Marvin Gaye performed the most soulful national anthem ever.

• Via The Nation’s Dave Zirin and Jules Boycoff: The farce of the Olympic Athletes From Russia.

• ESPN’s Mina Kimes on the NFL’s ratings issues.

• Via The New York Times’s Karen Crouse?: Before he became an Olympian, Adam Rippon starved himself to be competitive, and he's not alone among male skaters.

The Athletic’s Jon Krawczynski: The Timberwolves will never forget Flip Saunders.

• From Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports: Shaun White tried to cast his gold-medal run at the PyeongChang Games as the end to a redemptive arc. Across the world, it was playing out as the latest #MeToo story.

• Sportsnet’s Michael Grange on Dwane Casey and his coaching staff.

• SI’s Tim Layden on a first-ever Olympian from his hometown of Whitehall, N.Y.

• From The Chronicle of Higher Education: Inside Auburn’s Secret Effort to Advance an Athlete-Friendly Curriculum.

• Another one from Arthur: Eric Radford was a bullied gay kid in a northern gold-mine hockey town, and now he’s the first openly gay male gold medalist at a Winter Olympics.

The Buffalo News columnist Bucky Gleason on St. Bonaventure’s win over No. 16 Rhode Island.

Non-sports pieces of note:

• From Molly McKew, for Wired: Did Russia Affect The 2016 Election? It’s Now Undeniable.

• From The Washington Post: “Rob Porter is my ex-husband. Here’s what you should know about abuse.”

• From Wired: Inside The Two Years That Shook Facebook—and the World.

• Via author James Andrew Miller: The Anthony Pellicano prison interview.

• Anne Helen Peterson, writing for CJR, on female journalists being targeted and harassed. I hope people read and share.

• From Jonathan Albright: “Trolls on Twitter: How Mainstream and Local News Outlets Were Used to Drive a Polarized News Agenda”

• From Chico Harlan of The Washington Post: Seconds before she was ready to take off on an Olympic skeleton race, Katie Uhlaender spotted her estranged mother, somebody she hadn't seen or spoken to in four years.

• Via Wired’s May Jeong: The Final Terrible Voyage of Nautlius.

5. Longtime Blue Jays broadcaster Jerry Howarth retired after 36 seasons.

5a. ESPN basketball analyst Doris Burke was named the 2018 Curt Gowdy Award winner for broadcasting by the Basketball Hall of Fame.

5b. Episode 165 of the Sports Illustrated Media Podcast features a sports media roundtable with Sports Business Daily media writer John Ourand and USA Today staff writer A.J. Perez. In this podcast, the panel discusses NBC’s coverage of the Pyeongchang Games; how to evaluate that primetime viewership is down six percent; whether NBC executives should be happy with the ratings; NBC Sports’s responsibility when it comes to geopolitical or stories that involve social justice or criminality; the impact of the NHL players being out of the Olympics; what Fox getting the NFL Draft means for ESPN; ESPN’s NFL future; the declining Daytona 500 ratings; what NASCAR can do to turn its viewership issues around; the New York Post’s story on Fox and ESPN making a play for Peyton Manning as a broadcaster; why newspapers have dropped sports media writers over the last decade, and much more. To listen to the podcast in full, check it out on Apple Podcasts and Stitcher.

<p>As he has done with this column at at multiple Olympics around the halfway point, NBC Sports Chairman Mark Lazarus addressed some questions viewers have have had regarding NBC’s coverage of the PyeongChang Games. You might not like his answers—in fact, I am sure many of you will not—but he is accountable to those who write about his company and that gets great respect here. Lazarus spoke to <em>Sports Illustrated</em> for 30 minutes on Sunday afternoon (Monday morning his time) from his office at the International Broadcasting Centre in PyeongChang.</p><p><strong>SI: <em>How would you self-evaluate your coverage so far on all platforms?</em></strong></p><p><strong>Lazarus:</strong> I am extremely proud of our coverage. I think our quality is uncompromised by the tremendous amount of quantity we are doing on all of our platforms. Is it perfect? No. We strive to be perfect every show but every show you reflect back and see where we could have done better, especially In this live environment. But I am extremely proud on the production side and the team led by Jim Bell (executive producer of NBC Olympics), Joe Gesue (Senior Vice President, Production, Olympics) and Becky Chatman (Vice President and Coordinating Producer of Olympic Production). It is an extraordinary quantity and I feel our quality is unmatched in anything in sport.</p><p><strong>SI: <em>As of early last week your coverage trailed the Sochi Olympics in viewership <a href="http://adage.com/article/special-report-the-olympics/nbc-olympics-ratings-defy-expectations/312364/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:by roughly 6%" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">by roughly 6%</a>. Have those numbers changed?</em></strong></p><p><strong>Lazarus: </strong>We are off 6% in primetime but we are up in what we are calling prime-plus<strong>, </strong>what you would historically know as late night, is up 28%. Our streaming numbers are through the roof. Media consumption has changed a lot and what the Olympics has shown is a resiliency over a four year period that I think is unmatched in primetime television given the decline collectively the broadcast networks have seen in the primetime window.</p><p><strong>SI: <em>Are your Total Audience Delivery numbers meeting NBC&#39;s ratings guarantees to advertisers?</em></strong></p><p><strong>Lazarus: </strong>Yes. As of now we expect to meet all of our ratings guarantees.</p><p><strong>SI: <em>How much has hockey viewership been hurt by the NHL players not being there?</em></strong></p><p><strong>Lazarus: </strong>A bit. It is early in the men’s tournament and we have not seen the big games yet but we are off roughly in the high 20s or low 30s. It has been affected. The [broadcast] windows are pretty similar so it is close to an apples to apples comparison. Listen, I think it is bad for hockey everywhere. Our numbers are off and if you look at the RSN numbers for every NHL team over this week-long period, at least when I looked at it, all but two teams were off versus a year ago in this window. So it is not good for anybody’s hockey ratings.</p><p><strong>SI: <em>You made a huge investment in Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir a couple of years ago to make them your No. 1 figure skating team. That decision has proven to be wise. They are the rare sports broadcasting team who has gotten near-universal praise for their work. How satisfying is it for you to see them excelling in what is the most important Olympic sport for NBC, at least on viewership terms?</em></strong></p><p><strong>Lazarus: </strong>Tara and Johnny are exceptional broadcasters and I don’t want to leave out [host] Terry Gannon who I think is a key part of that trio because of the role he plays in keeping everything moving in a good direction. They are pleasing to the viewers, they have fun, they are fun and they have a little bit of flamboyance coming through the television. But when you listen to their analysis, that is what separates them and makes them so good. They are just very insightful and honest and direct. We are very pleased. We think they are very good for our audience. I do want to say our longtime analyst, Scott Hamilton, is doing a lot of coverage on NBCSN and doing a daily show called “Olympic Ice” with Liam McHugh and Tanith White. We have a tremendous stable of figure skating analysts. It is always fun when someone breaks through and I have been part of it in my career with Charles Barkley too. [He previously headed up Turner Sports.] This feels just like that and it’s fun.</p><p>?</p><p><strong>SI: <em>This is not a Monday Morning quarterback question because I would have made the decision to leave the women’s Super-G when you did to show Adam Rippon’s free skate. But I do want to get your viewpoint as the head of NBC Sports on your network pulling out of the women’s Super-G before the conclusion of the race and declaring that Austria’s Anna Veith had won the gold…You saw what happened: A once-in-generation event, crazy fluke when <a href="https://www.si.com/olympics/2018/02/16/world-champion-snowboarder-wins-olympic-gold-skiing" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Ester Ledecka of the Czech Republic pulled off a miracle win." class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Ester Ledecka of the Czech Republic pulled off a miracle win.</a></em></strong></p><p><strong>Lazarus:</strong> As you pointed out it is extremely uncommon for someone that far down the starting position lineup to contend for a medal let alone win the gold. We were surprised, as was the entire ski world. Some characterized it as one of the greatest upsets in the Olympics. I think our esteemed colleague Mr. [Al] Michaels might take exception given his eyewitness account of Miracle on Ice. But it was an incredible feat and a complete surprise. We obviously captured it, and went back to it. We felt it was important that we leave the live coverage when we thought we were done and go to the figure skating and Adam Rippon’s skate. In hindsight, when we left, we should have left room in the broadcast for a miracle to happen, and I think we were a touch too definitive. But I think we went back quickly and showed the run and characterized it as the exceptional feat that it was. We strive to be perfect but we are not always perfect. I think we did the best we could under that miracle circumstance. I think we would have been doing our audience a disservice had we stayed for a long time and missed what was becoming an important story around figure skating and something our others viewers cared about. That is the luxury and curse of live.</p><p><strong>SI: <em>How would you assess NBC Sports’s coverage of sexual harassment allegations against Shaun White amid the coverage of his </em>halfpipe win, especially given how popular his Olympic runs have been for NBC?</strong></p><p><strong>Laazrus:</strong> It was not a story coming into the Games for anybody, including your publication and most publications. We all talked about his redemption and coming back from an athletic point of view and we covered it that same way coming into the Games. It only became a story publicly again when he won and that press conference took place where he gave not a great answer and I think he has since said that. NBC News, which was next on deck with him, covered it extensively. Savannah Guthrie interviewed him and asked him questions directly and Nightly News covered it and discussed his issues. We did not have him due to scheduling and other things for a post-victory interview once he left the competition venue. But if we had, we would have asked him the questions that he deserved to be asked.</p><p>Something we have thought about in reflection is we used him very extensively in our promotional campaign leading up to the Games, including a one-minute Super Bowl promotion which is street value $10 million. We ran many millions of dollars of other promotion. We didn’t get one inquiry from media but put that aside. We did not get one email, tweet, text or phone call from viewers, the general public, saying how could you do that? We are a pretty big target. We take a lot of flack. We are big boys and girls. But I think the collective consciousness of this was extremely low if it even existed until that press conference.</p><p><strong>SI: <em>Is there anything you already know at this point from your coverage that you would like to implement for Tokyo in 2020?</em></strong></p><p><strong>Lazarus: </strong>There is a slight difference in the time zone. Tokyo is 13 hours ahead of the East Coast as opposed to 14 here. We are going to look very careful at what our primetime hours will consist of and whether they will be 7-11 p.m. ET, 8-12 a.m. ET, 7-10 p.m. ET. We will evaluate where we can put the best live coverage to the most people. We do those kind of reflections after every games. Having three Asian games in a row allows us to really do some learning’s form the time zones we are in and try to implement them on a going forward basis. One of things I really like what we have done here and I think we will be able to do over the next two Games is we have been able to be dynamic with our primetime shows. We have hit a lot of venues. We come in and out of coverage in smaller bites but we hit more venues… I like the dynamic nature of that because it is the spirit of the Olympics.</p><p><strong>SI:</strong><em><strong> What is your daily schedule like?</strong></em></p><p><strong>Lazarus: </strong>I get up around 4:30 or 4:45 a.m. and get over to the IBC (International Broadcast Center) by 6:00 a.m. I try to work out some days. But sometimes I get up at 2:30 a.m. because the body clock gets turned around over here. We have a business and logistics meeting at 6:00 a.m. every morning to make sure everything is running smoothly with the Games in terms of getting our people where they need to be or other issues. Then I go production meetings as the day gets going. I’ll get back to the hotel at 8:00 p.m. or 9:00 p.m. usually. Most of the day I am at the IBC. I have been to a few of our compounds—I try to get to every compound each week just to touch base with production managers, producers and talent. That’s to show appreciation and support. I have been to one event only—the U.S. vs. Canada in women’s hockey, which was great. Then I have some meetings and meals with the IOC or OBS or other broadcasters from around the world.</p><p><strong>SI:<em> Are there any active athletes who have caught your attention at these Olympics as someone who can be a future broadcaster for you four years from now? Obviously someone like Lindsey Vonn given her profile, accomplishment and age seems like an obvious candidate.</em></strong></p><p><strong>Lazarus:</strong> Lindsey would be an interesting person if four years from now that is what she was interested in. Adam Rippon could be interesting in some sort of role. The one thing I just want to emphasize is that is not a referendum on anyone. So I am not saying in any way shape or form we somehow want to replace Johnny Weir. This is not a coaching carousel around here. We don’t move people around. When we have someone good and when the audience reacts as they do whether it is Rowdy Gaines, Johnny or Mike Tirico, we are not looking to trade in or trade up. We think we have the best there is and if we can enhance it, that is our goal. But we are not looking for cheap changes.</p><p><strong>SI: <em>Has Mike Tirico been told that he is indeed the primetime host beyond PyeongChang?</em></strong></p><p><strong>Lazarus:</strong> Mike is our primetime host. This is not a training ground. This is not an audition. This is not a tryout. Mike is our primetime host. And I expect him to be our primetime host for many generations to come.</p><h2>THE NOISE REPORT</h2><p><em>(SI.com examines some of the week’s most notable sports media stories)</em></p><p><strong>1. </strong>The photo of the father greets the son each time the son sets foot inside the radio station. How large is the shadow?</p><p>When you walk inside the newsroom of WAER-FM—a commercial-free, Syracuse, N.Y.-based NPR station that’s licensed to the University and airs Orange football, basketball and men’s lacrosse—you can’t miss the images of Ian Eagle alongside other well-known 88.3 FM alums such as Marv Albert, Marty Glickman, Sean McDonough and Dave Pasch. When you head to the basement of the station, you’ll find the WAER Hall of Fame wall, where Eagle’s induction plaque from August 2013 hangs next to Mike Tirico, another famous Syracuse broadcasting alum.</p><p>“I walk by it every day and I am reminded where I come from,” said Noah Eagle, a 21-year-old Syracuse University junior with a last name familiar to millions of sports fans.</p><p>On Saturday father and son experienced what promises to be one of the most memorable days of their lives. As Noah and his broadcasting partner, Sam Rubinoff, called the Syracuse-Miami men’s basketball game at the Watsco Center in Miami for WAER-FM, Ian broadcast the game for CBS alongside analyst Bill Raftery.</p><p><a href="https://www.si.com/tech-media/2018/02/16/ian-eagle-son-noah-eagle-broadcaster-syracuse-university" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:After writing a story on it last Friday" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">After writing a story on it last Friday</a>, I emailed both over the weekend to get how the day went:</p><p><strong>Noah:</strong> “The experience for me was incredible. I knew it would be a special day, but I didn’t realize just how special. The pregame coverage was very cool for me, but when it came time for tip, I knew I still needed to focus on the task at hand—calling a good, clean game. I’m extremely thankful for the opportunity. It is certainly a day I will never forget.”</p><p><strong>Ian:</strong> “As a dad it was an unforgettable day. As a broadcaster it was an absolute blast. All the stars aligned to make that moment possible, I was so proud of how Noah handled himself both on and off the air. During timeouts I found myself glancing over at his broadcast position and thinking back to my days sitting in that same seat. Having the great Bill Raftery next to me was an added bonus; he&#39;s known Noah literally since the day he was born. On Saturday, not only did they briefly share a microphone but later that night they also shared a beer [don&#39;t worry, both are of legal age].”</p><p><strong>1a.</strong> Deadspin video editor Tim Burke went <a href="https://screengrabber.deadspin.com/how-nbc-flubbed-its-super-g-coverage-reported-the-wron-1823104438" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:in-depth on NBC’s miss on the women’s Super-G" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">in-depth on NBC’s miss on the women’s Super-G</a>. He also has the incredible call on BBC.</p><p><strong>1b.</strong> What a great call by Leigh Diffey on Yun Sung-Bin&#39;s skeleton gold medal winning run. He’s been among the broadcasting stars of these Games.</p><p><strong>1c.</strong> Great camera work by TNT to get a clear view of a ball careening off the foot of Team Steph player Joel Embiid with the game tied at 144-144 and under two minutes remaining. The refs missed the call but TNT nailed it.</p><p><strong>1d.</strong> Sports Business Daily assistant managing editor Austin Karp reported that Fox drew a 5.1 overnight rating for Daytona 500, a likely new ratings low for the event. Karp said Fox was down 22% from the 2017 race.</p><p><strong>2.</strong> Episode 164 of the Sports Illustrated Media Podcast features guest Jonathan Abrams, a Bleacher Report writer and the author of the new book, “All The Pieces Matter: The Inside Story of The Wire.” In this podcast, Abrams discusses how he came to write an oral history book of the acclaimed HBO series, “The Wire;” the process of conducting interviews for the book; how he initially had trouble getting cast members after Michael B. Jordan and what changed; his Amtrak interview with The Wire creator David Simon; how he efficiently transcribed all the interviews; the one person he wanted to interview for the book, but didn&#39;t get the chance to; the frustration among the creators and some of the actors that nothing has really changed since The Wire; a discussion on which season is the best and why; how the actors feel about the show; a discussion about show writer George Pelecanos writing the famous line for Snoop when Michael kills her in the car (“How’s my hair look, Mike?”); how the show had such an impact with so little episodes, how J.D. Williams knew that his Bodie character would be killed; and much more. To listen to the podcast in full, check it out on Apple Podcasts and Stitcher.</p><p><strong>3.</strong> Sports Business Daily writer John Ourand went inside the economics of <a href="https://www.bizjournals.com/losangeles/news/2018/02/13/inside-the-economics-of-fox-s-bold-thursday-night.html" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Fox’s new Thursday Night Football deal." class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Fox’s new Thursday Night Football deal.</a></p><p><strong>3a.</strong> Per Austin Karp of Sports Business Daily, heading into All-Star weekend, NBA game viewership, ABC ESPN, TNT and NBA TV were on pace to have its best NBA regular season in six years. NBA games are averaging 1.4 million viewers across the board, up 15% from the same point last season. Karp also reported that NBA games on RSNs were up 9% to date. On the breakouts, Karp reported that NBA games on TNT are averaging 1.9 million viewers, up 20% from the same point last year. ESPN is averaging 1.7 million viewers, up 10%. NBA TV games are averaging 354,000 viewers to date, up 20%. All demos are up too.</p><p><strong>4</strong>. <em>Sports pieces of note:</em></p><p>• Great work from <em>Toronto Star</em> sports columnist Bruce Arthur: As Sven Kramer cracked, Canada&#39;s Ted-Jan Bloemen began to cry, overcome with joy. In the stands, his wife Marlinde began to cry, too. <a href="https://www.thestar.com/sports/olympics/2018/02/15/canadas-ted-jan-bloemen-wins-olympic-gold-in-10000m-speedskating.html" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:But she was overcome by something else." class="link rapid-noclick-resp">But she was overcome by something else.</a></p><p>• From Justin Tinsley of The Undefeated: <a href="https://theundefeated.com/features/marvin-gaye-the-star-spangled-banner-1983-nba-all-star-game-players-anthem/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Marvin Gaye performed the most soulful national anthem ever." class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Marvin Gaye performed the most soulful national anthem ever.</a></p><p>• Via The Nation’s Dave Zirin and Jules Boycoff: <a href="https://www.thenation.com/article/the-farce-of-the-olympic-athletes-from-russia/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:The farce of the Olympic Athletes From Russia." class="link rapid-noclick-resp">The farce of the Olympic Athletes From Russia.</a></p><p>• ESPN’s <a href="http://www.espn.com/nfl/story/_/id/22359434/where-people-miss-point-nfl-television-ratings-2017-season-super-bowl-lii" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Mina Kimes on the NFL’s ratings issues." class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Mina Kimes on the NFL’s ratings issues.</a></p><p>• Via <em>The New York Times</em>’s Karen Crouse?: Before he became an Olympian, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/13/sports/olympics/figure-skating-adam-rippon.html?rref=collection%2Fnewseventcollection%2Fwinter-olympics-2018" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Adam Rippon starved himself to be competitive" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Adam Rippon starved himself to be competitive</a>, and he&#39;s not alone among male skaters.</p><p>• <em>The Athletic</em>’s Jon Krawczynski: <a href="https://theathletic.com/242293/2018/02/15/a-banner-will-be-raised-and-a-promise-will-be-made-the-timberwolves-will-never-forget-flip-saunders/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:The Timberwolves will never forget Flip Saunders." class="link rapid-noclick-resp">The Timberwolves will never forget Flip Saunders.</a></p><p>• From Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports: Shaun White tried to cast his gold-medal run at the PyeongChang Games as the end to a redemptive arc. <a href="https://yhoo.it/2EquY1f" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Across the world, it was playing out as the latest #MeToo story." class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Across the world, it was playing out as the latest #MeToo story.</a></p><p>• Sportsnet’s Michael Grange on <a href="https://www.sportsnet.ca/basketball/nba/makes-dwane-caseys-star-staff-unlike/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Dwane Casey and his coaching staff." class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Dwane Casey and his coaching staff.</a></p><p>• SI’s Tim Layden on <a href="https://www.si.com/olympics/2018/02/14/codie-bascue-bobsled-pyeongchang-whitehall" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:a first-ever Olympian from his hometown of Whitehall, N.Y." class="link rapid-noclick-resp">a first-ever Olympian from his hometown of Whitehall, N.Y.</a></p><p>• From The Chronicle of Higher Education: <a href="https://www.chronicle.com/article/Inside-Auburn-s-Secret/242569?key=VUoegFJonv4-gPdfGkNzj4-JTkfh6ZBlDK9mgIYAAhyu5LdCr3bh48MStNroJvNNbmxLUFZDM0w1bWo3ZEhWTklpUzNsUUZsajB5ZjFPaVctWmRoM24tVmhEVQ" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Inside Auburn’s Secret Effort to Advance an Athlete-Friendly Curriculum." class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Inside Auburn’s Secret Effort to Advance an Athlete-Friendly Curriculum.</a></p><p>• Another one from Arthur: Eric Radford was a bullied gay kid in a northern gold-mine hockey town, and <a href="https://www.thestar.com/sports/olympics/2018/02/14/skating-was-always-there-eric-radfords-road-to-becoming-the-first-openly-gay-man-to-win-olympic-gold.html" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:now he’s the first openly gay male gold medalist at a Winter Olympics." class="link rapid-noclick-resp">now he’s the first openly gay male gold medalist at a Winter Olympics.</a></p><p>• <em>The Buffalo News</em> columnist Bucky Gleason on <a href="http://buffalonews.com/2018/02/16/bucky-gleason-was-st-bonaventures-win-over-rhode-island-best-ever-in-reilly-center-its-up-there/?utm_campaign=puma&#38;utm_medium=social&#38;utm_source=Twitter#link_time=1518901298" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:St. Bonaventure’s win over No. 16 Rhode Island." class="link rapid-noclick-resp">St. Bonaventure’s win over No. 16 Rhode Island.</a></p><p>Non-sports pieces of note:</p><p>• From Molly McKew, for <em>Wired</em>: <a href="https://www.wired.com/story/did-russia-affect-the-2016-election-its-now-undeniable" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Did Russia Affect The 2016 Election? It’s Now Undeniable." class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Did Russia Affect The 2016 Election? It’s Now Undeniable.</a></p><p>• From <em>The Washington Post</em>: <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/rob-porter-is-my-ex-husband-heres-what-you-should-know-about-abuse/2018/02/12/3c7edcb8-1033-11e8-9065-e55346f6de81_story.html?utm_term=.87f6a9ddea47" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:“Rob Porter is my ex-husband. Here’s what you should know about abuse.”" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">“Rob Porter is my ex-husband. Here’s what you should know about abuse.”</a></p><p>• From <em>Wired</em>: <a href="https://www.wired.com/story/inside-facebook-mark-zuckerberg-2-years-of-hell/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Inside The Two Years That Shook Facebook—and the World." class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Inside The Two Years That Shook Facebook—and the World.</a></p><p>• Via author James Andrew Miller: <a href="https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/features/anthony-pellicano-prison-interview-hollywoods-notorious-fixer-his-victims-enablers-a-coming-release-1084353" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:The Anthony Pellicano prison interview." class="link rapid-noclick-resp">The Anthony Pellicano prison interview.</a></p><p>• Anne Helen Peterson, writing for CJR, on female journalists being targeted and harassed. <a href="https://www.cjr.org/special_report/reporting-female-harassment-journalism.php" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:I hope people read and share." class="link rapid-noclick-resp">I hope people read and share.</a></p><p>• From Jonathan Albright: <a href="https://medium.com/berkman-klein-center/trolls-on-twitter-how-mainstream-and-local-news-outlets-were-used-to-drive-a-polarized-news-agenda-e8b514e4a37a" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:“Trolls on Twitter: How Mainstream and Local News Outlets Were Used to Drive a Polarized News Agenda”" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">“Trolls on Twitter: How Mainstream and Local News Outlets Were Used to Drive a Polarized News Agenda”</a></p><p>• From Chico Harlan of <em>The Washington Post</em>: Seconds before she was ready to take off on an Olympic skeleton race, <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/olympics/this-olympian-hadnt-seen-her-mom-in-four-years-then-she-looked-in-the-stands/2018/02/17/a582a014-13bc-11e8-8ea1-c1d91fcec3fe_story.html?utm_term=.563859d02a32" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Katie Uhlaender spotted her estranged mother" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Katie Uhlaender spotted her estranged mother</a>, somebody she hadn&#39;t seen or spoken to in four years.</p><p>• Via <em>Wired</em>’s May Jeong: <a href="https://www.wired.com/story/final-terrible-voyage-nautilus/?src=longreads" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:The Final Terrible Voyage of Nautlius." class="link rapid-noclick-resp">The Final Terrible Voyage of Nautlius.</a></p><p><strong>5.</strong> Longtime Blue Jays broadcaster Jerry Howarth <a href="http://sprtsnt.ca/2F0Ti6S" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:retired after 36 seasons." class="link rapid-noclick-resp">retired after 36 seasons.</a></p><p><strong>5a.</strong> ESPN basketball analyst Doris Burke was named the <a href="https://twitter.com/Hoophall/status/964925277145939968" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:2018 Curt Gowdy Award winner for broadcasting" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">2018 Curt Gowdy Award winner for broadcasting</a> by the Basketball Hall of Fame.</p><p><strong>5b. </strong>Episode 165 of the Sports Illustrated Media Podcast features a sports media roundtable with Sports Business Daily media writer John Ourand and USA Today staff writer A.J. Perez. In this podcast, the panel discusses NBC’s coverage of the Pyeongchang Games; how to evaluate that primetime viewership is down six percent; whether NBC executives should be happy with the ratings; NBC Sports’s responsibility when it comes to geopolitical or stories that involve social justice or criminality; the impact of the NHL players being out of the Olympics; what Fox getting the NFL Draft means for ESPN; ESPN’s NFL future; the declining Daytona 500 ratings; what NASCAR can do to turn its viewership issues around; the New York Post’s story on Fox and ESPN making a play for Peyton Manning as a broadcaster; why newspapers have dropped sports media writers over the last decade, and much more. To listen to the podcast in full, <a href="https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/si-media-podcast-with-richard-deitsch/id997819235?mt=2" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:check it out on Apple Podcasts and Stitcher." class="link rapid-noclick-resp">check it out on Apple Podcasts and Stitcher.</a></p>
Evaluating NBC's Olympics Coverage at the Halfway Mark in PyeongChang

As he has done with this column at at multiple Olympics around the halfway point, NBC Sports Chairman Mark Lazarus addressed some questions viewers have have had regarding NBC’s coverage of the PyeongChang Games. You might not like his answers—in fact, I am sure many of you will not—but he is accountable to those who write about his company and that gets great respect here. Lazarus spoke to Sports Illustrated for 30 minutes on Sunday afternoon (Monday morning his time) from his office at the International Broadcasting Centre in PyeongChang.

SI: How would you self-evaluate your coverage so far on all platforms?

Lazarus: I am extremely proud of our coverage. I think our quality is uncompromised by the tremendous amount of quantity we are doing on all of our platforms. Is it perfect? No. We strive to be perfect every show but every show you reflect back and see where we could have done better, especially In this live environment. But I am extremely proud on the production side and the team led by Jim Bell (executive producer of NBC Olympics), Joe Gesue (Senior Vice President, Production, Olympics) and Becky Chatman (Vice President and Coordinating Producer of Olympic Production). It is an extraordinary quantity and I feel our quality is unmatched in anything in sport.

SI: As of early last week your coverage trailed the Sochi Olympics in viewership by roughly 6%. Have those numbers changed?

Lazarus: We are off 6% in primetime but we are up in what we are calling prime-plus, what you would historically know as late night, is up 28%. Our streaming numbers are through the roof. Media consumption has changed a lot and what the Olympics has shown is a resiliency over a four year period that I think is unmatched in primetime television given the decline collectively the broadcast networks have seen in the primetime window.

SI: Are your Total Audience Delivery numbers meeting NBC's ratings guarantees to advertisers?

Lazarus: Yes. As of now we expect to meet all of our ratings guarantees.

SI: How much has hockey viewership been hurt by the NHL players not being there?

Lazarus: A bit. It is early in the men’s tournament and we have not seen the big games yet but we are off roughly in the high 20s or low 30s. It has been affected. The [broadcast] windows are pretty similar so it is close to an apples to apples comparison. Listen, I think it is bad for hockey everywhere. Our numbers are off and if you look at the RSN numbers for every NHL team over this week-long period, at least when I looked at it, all but two teams were off versus a year ago in this window. So it is not good for anybody’s hockey ratings.

SI: You made a huge investment in Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir a couple of years ago to make them your No. 1 figure skating team. That decision has proven to be wise. They are the rare sports broadcasting team who has gotten near-universal praise for their work. How satisfying is it for you to see them excelling in what is the most important Olympic sport for NBC, at least on viewership terms?

Lazarus: Tara and Johnny are exceptional broadcasters and I don’t want to leave out [host] Terry Gannon who I think is a key part of that trio because of the role he plays in keeping everything moving in a good direction. They are pleasing to the viewers, they have fun, they are fun and they have a little bit of flamboyance coming through the television. But when you listen to their analysis, that is what separates them and makes them so good. They are just very insightful and honest and direct. We are very pleased. We think they are very good for our audience. I do want to say our longtime analyst, Scott Hamilton, is doing a lot of coverage on NBCSN and doing a daily show called “Olympic Ice” with Liam McHugh and Tanith White. We have a tremendous stable of figure skating analysts. It is always fun when someone breaks through and I have been part of it in my career with Charles Barkley too. [He previously headed up Turner Sports.] This feels just like that and it’s fun.

?

SI: This is not a Monday Morning quarterback question because I would have made the decision to leave the women’s Super-G when you did to show Adam Rippon’s free skate. But I do want to get your viewpoint as the head of NBC Sports on your network pulling out of the women’s Super-G before the conclusion of the race and declaring that Austria’s Anna Veith had won the gold…You saw what happened: A once-in-generation event, crazy fluke when Ester Ledecka of the Czech Republic pulled off a miracle win.

Lazarus: As you pointed out it is extremely uncommon for someone that far down the starting position lineup to contend for a medal let alone win the gold. We were surprised, as was the entire ski world. Some characterized it as one of the greatest upsets in the Olympics. I think our esteemed colleague Mr. [Al] Michaels might take exception given his eyewitness account of Miracle on Ice. But it was an incredible feat and a complete surprise. We obviously captured it, and went back to it. We felt it was important that we leave the live coverage when we thought we were done and go to the figure skating and Adam Rippon’s skate. In hindsight, when we left, we should have left room in the broadcast for a miracle to happen, and I think we were a touch too definitive. But I think we went back quickly and showed the run and characterized it as the exceptional feat that it was. We strive to be perfect but we are not always perfect. I think we did the best we could under that miracle circumstance. I think we would have been doing our audience a disservice had we stayed for a long time and missed what was becoming an important story around figure skating and something our others viewers cared about. That is the luxury and curse of live.

SI: How would you assess NBC Sports’s coverage of sexual harassment allegations against Shaun White amid the coverage of his halfpipe win, especially given how popular his Olympic runs have been for NBC?

Laazrus: It was not a story coming into the Games for anybody, including your publication and most publications. We all talked about his redemption and coming back from an athletic point of view and we covered it that same way coming into the Games. It only became a story publicly again when he won and that press conference took place where he gave not a great answer and I think he has since said that. NBC News, which was next on deck with him, covered it extensively. Savannah Guthrie interviewed him and asked him questions directly and Nightly News covered it and discussed his issues. We did not have him due to scheduling and other things for a post-victory interview once he left the competition venue. But if we had, we would have asked him the questions that he deserved to be asked.

Something we have thought about in reflection is we used him very extensively in our promotional campaign leading up to the Games, including a one-minute Super Bowl promotion which is street value $10 million. We ran many millions of dollars of other promotion. We didn’t get one inquiry from media but put that aside. We did not get one email, tweet, text or phone call from viewers, the general public, saying how could you do that? We are a pretty big target. We take a lot of flack. We are big boys and girls. But I think the collective consciousness of this was extremely low if it even existed until that press conference.

SI: Is there anything you already know at this point from your coverage that you would like to implement for Tokyo in 2020?

Lazarus: There is a slight difference in the time zone. Tokyo is 13 hours ahead of the East Coast as opposed to 14 here. We are going to look very careful at what our primetime hours will consist of and whether they will be 7-11 p.m. ET, 8-12 a.m. ET, 7-10 p.m. ET. We will evaluate where we can put the best live coverage to the most people. We do those kind of reflections after every games. Having three Asian games in a row allows us to really do some learning’s form the time zones we are in and try to implement them on a going forward basis. One of things I really like what we have done here and I think we will be able to do over the next two Games is we have been able to be dynamic with our primetime shows. We have hit a lot of venues. We come in and out of coverage in smaller bites but we hit more venues… I like the dynamic nature of that because it is the spirit of the Olympics.

SI: What is your daily schedule like?

Lazarus: I get up around 4:30 or 4:45 a.m. and get over to the IBC (International Broadcast Center) by 6:00 a.m. I try to work out some days. But sometimes I get up at 2:30 a.m. because the body clock gets turned around over here. We have a business and logistics meeting at 6:00 a.m. every morning to make sure everything is running smoothly with the Games in terms of getting our people where they need to be or other issues. Then I go production meetings as the day gets going. I’ll get back to the hotel at 8:00 p.m. or 9:00 p.m. usually. Most of the day I am at the IBC. I have been to a few of our compounds—I try to get to every compound each week just to touch base with production managers, producers and talent. That’s to show appreciation and support. I have been to one event only—the U.S. vs. Canada in women’s hockey, which was great. Then I have some meetings and meals with the IOC or OBS or other broadcasters from around the world.

SI: Are there any active athletes who have caught your attention at these Olympics as someone who can be a future broadcaster for you four years from now? Obviously someone like Lindsey Vonn given her profile, accomplishment and age seems like an obvious candidate.

Lazarus: Lindsey would be an interesting person if four years from now that is what she was interested in. Adam Rippon could be interesting in some sort of role. The one thing I just want to emphasize is that is not a referendum on anyone. So I am not saying in any way shape or form we somehow want to replace Johnny Weir. This is not a coaching carousel around here. We don’t move people around. When we have someone good and when the audience reacts as they do whether it is Rowdy Gaines, Johnny or Mike Tirico, we are not looking to trade in or trade up. We think we have the best there is and if we can enhance it, that is our goal. But we are not looking for cheap changes.

SI: Has Mike Tirico been told that he is indeed the primetime host beyond PyeongChang?

Lazarus: Mike is our primetime host. This is not a training ground. This is not an audition. This is not a tryout. Mike is our primetime host. And I expect him to be our primetime host for many generations to come.

THE NOISE REPORT

(SI.com examines some of the week’s most notable sports media stories)

1. The photo of the father greets the son each time the son sets foot inside the radio station. How large is the shadow?

When you walk inside the newsroom of WAER-FM—a commercial-free, Syracuse, N.Y.-based NPR station that’s licensed to the University and airs Orange football, basketball and men’s lacrosse—you can’t miss the images of Ian Eagle alongside other well-known 88.3 FM alums such as Marv Albert, Marty Glickman, Sean McDonough and Dave Pasch. When you head to the basement of the station, you’ll find the WAER Hall of Fame wall, where Eagle’s induction plaque from August 2013 hangs next to Mike Tirico, another famous Syracuse broadcasting alum.

“I walk by it every day and I am reminded where I come from,” said Noah Eagle, a 21-year-old Syracuse University junior with a last name familiar to millions of sports fans.

On Saturday father and son experienced what promises to be one of the most memorable days of their lives. As Noah and his broadcasting partner, Sam Rubinoff, called the Syracuse-Miami men’s basketball game at the Watsco Center in Miami for WAER-FM, Ian broadcast the game for CBS alongside analyst Bill Raftery.

After writing a story on it last Friday, I emailed both over the weekend to get how the day went:

Noah: “The experience for me was incredible. I knew it would be a special day, but I didn’t realize just how special. The pregame coverage was very cool for me, but when it came time for tip, I knew I still needed to focus on the task at hand—calling a good, clean game. I’m extremely thankful for the opportunity. It is certainly a day I will never forget.”

Ian: “As a dad it was an unforgettable day. As a broadcaster it was an absolute blast. All the stars aligned to make that moment possible, I was so proud of how Noah handled himself both on and off the air. During timeouts I found myself glancing over at his broadcast position and thinking back to my days sitting in that same seat. Having the great Bill Raftery next to me was an added bonus; he's known Noah literally since the day he was born. On Saturday, not only did they briefly share a microphone but later that night they also shared a beer [don't worry, both are of legal age].”

1a. Deadspin video editor Tim Burke went in-depth on NBC’s miss on the women’s Super-G. He also has the incredible call on BBC.

1b. What a great call by Leigh Diffey on Yun Sung-Bin's skeleton gold medal winning run. He’s been among the broadcasting stars of these Games.

1c. Great camera work by TNT to get a clear view of a ball careening off the foot of Team Steph player Joel Embiid with the game tied at 144-144 and under two minutes remaining. The refs missed the call but TNT nailed it.

1d. Sports Business Daily assistant managing editor Austin Karp reported that Fox drew a 5.1 overnight rating for Daytona 500, a likely new ratings low for the event. Karp said Fox was down 22% from the 2017 race.

2. Episode 164 of the Sports Illustrated Media Podcast features guest Jonathan Abrams, a Bleacher Report writer and the author of the new book, “All The Pieces Matter: The Inside Story of The Wire.” In this podcast, Abrams discusses how he came to write an oral history book of the acclaimed HBO series, “The Wire;” the process of conducting interviews for the book; how he initially had trouble getting cast members after Michael B. Jordan and what changed; his Amtrak interview with The Wire creator David Simon; how he efficiently transcribed all the interviews; the one person he wanted to interview for the book, but didn't get the chance to; the frustration among the creators and some of the actors that nothing has really changed since The Wire; a discussion on which season is the best and why; how the actors feel about the show; a discussion about show writer George Pelecanos writing the famous line for Snoop when Michael kills her in the car (“How’s my hair look, Mike?”); how the show had such an impact with so little episodes, how J.D. Williams knew that his Bodie character would be killed; and much more. To listen to the podcast in full, check it out on Apple Podcasts and Stitcher.

3. Sports Business Daily writer John Ourand went inside the economics of Fox’s new Thursday Night Football deal.

3a. Per Austin Karp of Sports Business Daily, heading into All-Star weekend, NBA game viewership, ABC ESPN, TNT and NBA TV were on pace to have its best NBA regular season in six years. NBA games are averaging 1.4 million viewers across the board, up 15% from the same point last season. Karp also reported that NBA games on RSNs were up 9% to date. On the breakouts, Karp reported that NBA games on TNT are averaging 1.9 million viewers, up 20% from the same point last year. ESPN is averaging 1.7 million viewers, up 10%. NBA TV games are averaging 354,000 viewers to date, up 20%. All demos are up too.

4. Sports pieces of note:

• Great work from Toronto Star sports columnist Bruce Arthur: As Sven Kramer cracked, Canada's Ted-Jan Bloemen began to cry, overcome with joy. In the stands, his wife Marlinde began to cry, too. But she was overcome by something else.

• From Justin Tinsley of The Undefeated: Marvin Gaye performed the most soulful national anthem ever.

• Via The Nation’s Dave Zirin and Jules Boycoff: The farce of the Olympic Athletes From Russia.

• ESPN’s Mina Kimes on the NFL’s ratings issues.

• Via The New York Times’s Karen Crouse?: Before he became an Olympian, Adam Rippon starved himself to be competitive, and he's not alone among male skaters.

The Athletic’s Jon Krawczynski: The Timberwolves will never forget Flip Saunders.

• From Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports: Shaun White tried to cast his gold-medal run at the PyeongChang Games as the end to a redemptive arc. Across the world, it was playing out as the latest #MeToo story.

• Sportsnet’s Michael Grange on Dwane Casey and his coaching staff.

• SI’s Tim Layden on a first-ever Olympian from his hometown of Whitehall, N.Y.

• From The Chronicle of Higher Education: Inside Auburn’s Secret Effort to Advance an Athlete-Friendly Curriculum.

• Another one from Arthur: Eric Radford was a bullied gay kid in a northern gold-mine hockey town, and now he’s the first openly gay male gold medalist at a Winter Olympics.

The Buffalo News columnist Bucky Gleason on St. Bonaventure’s win over No. 16 Rhode Island.

Non-sports pieces of note:

• From Molly McKew, for Wired: Did Russia Affect The 2016 Election? It’s Now Undeniable.

• From The Washington Post: “Rob Porter is my ex-husband. Here’s what you should know about abuse.”

• From Wired: Inside The Two Years That Shook Facebook—and the World.

• Via author James Andrew Miller: The Anthony Pellicano prison interview.

• Anne Helen Peterson, writing for CJR, on female journalists being targeted and harassed. I hope people read and share.

• From Jonathan Albright: “Trolls on Twitter: How Mainstream and Local News Outlets Were Used to Drive a Polarized News Agenda”

• From Chico Harlan of The Washington Post: Seconds before she was ready to take off on an Olympic skeleton race, Katie Uhlaender spotted her estranged mother, somebody she hadn't seen or spoken to in four years.

• Via Wired’s May Jeong: The Final Terrible Voyage of Nautlius.

5. Longtime Blue Jays broadcaster Jerry Howarth retired after 36 seasons.

5a. ESPN basketball analyst Doris Burke was named the 2018 Curt Gowdy Award winner for broadcasting by the Basketball Hall of Fame.

5b. Episode 165 of the Sports Illustrated Media Podcast features a sports media roundtable with Sports Business Daily media writer John Ourand and USA Today staff writer A.J. Perez. In this podcast, the panel discusses NBC’s coverage of the Pyeongchang Games; how to evaluate that primetime viewership is down six percent; whether NBC executives should be happy with the ratings; NBC Sports’s responsibility when it comes to geopolitical or stories that involve social justice or criminality; the impact of the NHL players being out of the Olympics; what Fox getting the NFL Draft means for ESPN; ESPN’s NFL future; the declining Daytona 500 ratings; what NASCAR can do to turn its viewership issues around; the New York Post’s story on Fox and ESPN making a play for Peyton Manning as a broadcaster; why newspapers have dropped sports media writers over the last decade, and much more. To listen to the podcast in full, check it out on Apple Podcasts and Stitcher.

Toronto Blue Jays&#39; Troy Tulowitwitzki plays catch with his son Taz, age 4, at baseball spring training in Dunedin, Fla., Monday, Feb. 19, 2018. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
Toronto Blue Jays' Troy Tulowitwitzki plays catch with his son Taz, age 4, at baseball spring training in Dunedin, Fla., Monday, Feb. 19, 2018. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
Toronto Blue Jays' Troy Tulowitwitzki plays catch with his son Taz, age 4, at baseball spring training in Dunedin, Fla., Monday, Feb. 19, 2018. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
Toronto Blue Jays&#39; Troy Tulowitwitzki sits on the bench with his son Taz, age 4, at baseball spring training in Dunedin, Fla., Monday, Feb. 19, 2018. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
Toronto Blue Jays' Troy Tulowitwitzki sits on the bench with his son Taz, age 4, at baseball spring training in Dunedin, Fla., Monday, Feb. 19, 2018. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
Toronto Blue Jays' Troy Tulowitwitzki sits on the bench with his son Taz, age 4, at baseball spring training in Dunedin, Fla., Monday, Feb. 19, 2018. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
<p>GANGNEUNG, South Korea—At the pinnacle of sport, the margins shrink. Gather the best in the world and the difference at the top often won’t be that much. Picture the shock on Ester Ledecká’s face when she unexpectedly won the women’s super-G by a hundredth of a second. Scroll through the luge times, measured out to the thousandths.</p><p>And in curling, sometimes they pull out a measuring contraption because the rocks are so close to each other the difference is indistinguishable to the human eye.</p><p>The tiny margins were on display during Monday’s session at the Gangneung Curling Centre, which featured a raucous crowd, a tightening of the standings and a potential Olympics-saving win for the Americans. Maybe.</p><p>Team USA entered its date with Canada in precarious circumstances. Six games into a 10-team round robin, the Americans had won two and lost four. After a losing to Norway the previous night, the U.S. needed to run the table and receive some help if it sought a medal for the first time since a 2006 bronze. The first team that stood in the way was defending Olympic champion.</p><p>Mighty Canada itself entered with two losses already, giving the match tremendous importance not just for bragging rights along the 49th parallel, but within the Olympic curling table as well.</p><p>Despite the match’s major implications, USA-Canada was the undercard in its own gym. The way the curling arena is set up for the Olympics, four matches occur simultaneously on four parallel sheets. More than two-thirds of the eyeballs on Monday were focused two sheets over, where South Korea took on Italy. The host nation, participating in the men’s curling tournament for the first time, came into play in last place at 1–6. But after scoring three in the first end, the South Koreans led wire-to-wire—alternating scoring frames for much of the game and then finishing off an 8–6 victory. And each time they scored, the crowd erupted. From all corners of the arena, engulfing each of the other three matches.</p><p>“You have to notice it,” U.S. vice-skip Tyler George said after the game. “Because when it’s loud out there while you’re shooting, a lot of times you can’t hear the skip or somebody calling sweep, where you’re trying to communicate what shot you’re gonna play.” But no problem, he said, the Americans resorted to hand signals to make sure they were on the same page.</p><p>The set-up forced the same conditions for both sides; it was just startling to see Olympians play in a tornado of brief noise bursts that had nothing to do with them. Not that they minded though. It is the Olympics, after all.</p><p>“Where would you rather be?” George asked rhetorically. “It’s just a blast out there.”</p><p>The Americans took an early lead aided by two measurements that came down in their favor. Both times breathlessly waiting to be beneficiaries of an endearing quirk featuring all the drama of the NFL’s first-down chain with infinitely more precision.</p><p>Those tiny margins made all the difference as the two teams traded scores. For five ends, each side scored when it had the hammer, before Team USA managed a steal in the sixth. But in the eighth, Team USA missed a great opportunity. Canada had two rocks in the house, but the U.S. had a shot to curl one final stone onto the button. But skip John Schuster and his team of sweepers couldn’t quite land it inside Canada’s closest, and fell into a 5–5 tie instead of taking a 6–4 lead.</p><p>The drama came down to the final rock in the final end. Canada had the hammer, trailing 7–5. They tied the match, because there seemed to be no other way to end it in than extra ends.</p><p>Now cut back to the Koreans, because no account of USA-Canada would be complete without an update on the home team. With most of the gym standing and applauding, the Koreans were sweeping one final rock frantically, needing every last inch on the shot that closed things out.</p><p>First: Euphoria. Then: Exodus.</p><p>The majority of the home fans shuffled out. After 10 ends in a constant swirl of noise, a tense silence fell over the arena for the extra frame between North American rivals. Suddenly fans could hear individual curlers and vice versa.</p><p>“It is a little bit eerie after that,” George said. “You’re like ‘OK, well now nobody’s making any noise.’ But that’s kind of how curling goes.”</p><p>That’s not to say the U.S. and Canada fans didn’t make <em>any</em> noise; there were flags, signs and chants. Earlier in the day one corner section of Americans even sang Happy Birthday to Matt Hamilton—twice—loud enough to draw a tip of the cap from the mustachioed birthday boy.</p><p>And the fans who stayed were treated not only to one last dramatic frame, but the sort of shared camaraderie that results from taking in 11 ends together and watching three other matches come to a close. One fan wearing a Green Bay Packers t-shirt and cheesehead started waving his American flag at a group of Canadians all the way across the arena. Their group, with one fan in a Canada hockey jersey and another in a red Marcus Stroman Blue Jays uniform, dished it right back in a friendly-rivalry type fashion.</p><p>Somewhere in the quiet, the Americans found a win. Then it wasn’t quiet much more. There were cheers from the American fans, chants of USA and several dejected Canadians. Fans of both sides then applauded the efforts of both sides too.</p><p>It took an extra frame and a couple measurements to confirm things. But the U.S. men beat Canada in Olympic play for the first time. And though they still sit on the outside of the bubble, they closed to within one win of the teams currently slated to qualify for the quarterfinals.</p><p>By the tiniest of margins.</p>
By the Slimmest of Margins, the U.S. Knocks Canada Off in Curling Thriller

GANGNEUNG, South Korea—At the pinnacle of sport, the margins shrink. Gather the best in the world and the difference at the top often won’t be that much. Picture the shock on Ester Ledecká’s face when she unexpectedly won the women’s super-G by a hundredth of a second. Scroll through the luge times, measured out to the thousandths.

And in curling, sometimes they pull out a measuring contraption because the rocks are so close to each other the difference is indistinguishable to the human eye.

The tiny margins were on display during Monday’s session at the Gangneung Curling Centre, which featured a raucous crowd, a tightening of the standings and a potential Olympics-saving win for the Americans. Maybe.

Team USA entered its date with Canada in precarious circumstances. Six games into a 10-team round robin, the Americans had won two and lost four. After a losing to Norway the previous night, the U.S. needed to run the table and receive some help if it sought a medal for the first time since a 2006 bronze. The first team that stood in the way was defending Olympic champion.

Mighty Canada itself entered with two losses already, giving the match tremendous importance not just for bragging rights along the 49th parallel, but within the Olympic curling table as well.

Despite the match’s major implications, USA-Canada was the undercard in its own gym. The way the curling arena is set up for the Olympics, four matches occur simultaneously on four parallel sheets. More than two-thirds of the eyeballs on Monday were focused two sheets over, where South Korea took on Italy. The host nation, participating in the men’s curling tournament for the first time, came into play in last place at 1–6. But after scoring three in the first end, the South Koreans led wire-to-wire—alternating scoring frames for much of the game and then finishing off an 8–6 victory. And each time they scored, the crowd erupted. From all corners of the arena, engulfing each of the other three matches.

“You have to notice it,” U.S. vice-skip Tyler George said after the game. “Because when it’s loud out there while you’re shooting, a lot of times you can’t hear the skip or somebody calling sweep, where you’re trying to communicate what shot you’re gonna play.” But no problem, he said, the Americans resorted to hand signals to make sure they were on the same page.

The set-up forced the same conditions for both sides; it was just startling to see Olympians play in a tornado of brief noise bursts that had nothing to do with them. Not that they minded though. It is the Olympics, after all.

“Where would you rather be?” George asked rhetorically. “It’s just a blast out there.”

The Americans took an early lead aided by two measurements that came down in their favor. Both times breathlessly waiting to be beneficiaries of an endearing quirk featuring all the drama of the NFL’s first-down chain with infinitely more precision.

Those tiny margins made all the difference as the two teams traded scores. For five ends, each side scored when it had the hammer, before Team USA managed a steal in the sixth. But in the eighth, Team USA missed a great opportunity. Canada had two rocks in the house, but the U.S. had a shot to curl one final stone onto the button. But skip John Schuster and his team of sweepers couldn’t quite land it inside Canada’s closest, and fell into a 5–5 tie instead of taking a 6–4 lead.

The drama came down to the final rock in the final end. Canada had the hammer, trailing 7–5. They tied the match, because there seemed to be no other way to end it in than extra ends.

Now cut back to the Koreans, because no account of USA-Canada would be complete without an update on the home team. With most of the gym standing and applauding, the Koreans were sweeping one final rock frantically, needing every last inch on the shot that closed things out.

First: Euphoria. Then: Exodus.

The majority of the home fans shuffled out. After 10 ends in a constant swirl of noise, a tense silence fell over the arena for the extra frame between North American rivals. Suddenly fans could hear individual curlers and vice versa.

“It is a little bit eerie after that,” George said. “You’re like ‘OK, well now nobody’s making any noise.’ But that’s kind of how curling goes.”

That’s not to say the U.S. and Canada fans didn’t make any noise; there were flags, signs and chants. Earlier in the day one corner section of Americans even sang Happy Birthday to Matt Hamilton—twice—loud enough to draw a tip of the cap from the mustachioed birthday boy.

And the fans who stayed were treated not only to one last dramatic frame, but the sort of shared camaraderie that results from taking in 11 ends together and watching three other matches come to a close. One fan wearing a Green Bay Packers t-shirt and cheesehead started waving his American flag at a group of Canadians all the way across the arena. Their group, with one fan in a Canada hockey jersey and another in a red Marcus Stroman Blue Jays uniform, dished it right back in a friendly-rivalry type fashion.

Somewhere in the quiet, the Americans found a win. Then it wasn’t quiet much more. There were cheers from the American fans, chants of USA and several dejected Canadians. Fans of both sides then applauded the efforts of both sides too.

It took an extra frame and a couple measurements to confirm things. But the U.S. men beat Canada in Olympic play for the first time. And though they still sit on the outside of the bubble, they closed to within one win of the teams currently slated to qualify for the quarterfinals.

By the tiniest of margins.

The Blue Jays redesigned their outfield this offseason, can it help them get back into the postseason?
MLB spring training 2018: Three things on the Blue Jays' to-do list
The Blue Jays redesigned their outfield this offseason, can it help them get back into the postseason?
<p>MLB spring training 2018: Three things on the Blue Jays&#39; to-do list</p>
MLB spring training 2018: Three things on the Blue Jays' to-do list

MLB spring training 2018: Three things on the Blue Jays' to-do list

<p>MLB spring training 2018: Three things on the Blue Jays&#39; to-do list</p>
MLB spring training 2018: Three things on the Blue Jays' to-do list

MLB spring training 2018: Three things on the Blue Jays' to-do list

<p>Upon being named general manager of the Atlanta Braves three months ago, Alex Anthopolous inherited a blessing and a curse, and they are one in the same. The Braves are sitting on a cache of 10 highly-rated starting pitchers between 19 and 24 years old who have yet to pitch a full season in the majors: nine first-round picks and an international free agent who is one of the game’s best lefthanded prospects.</p><p>The blessing is the deepest inventory of young pitching in baseball for a team that could contend as soon as this year. The curse is teams still haven’t figured out how to keep young arms healthy.</p><p>One of Anthopolous’ first orders of business was to check what kind of mileage the organization put on their young arms last season. He immediately noticed that Luiz Gohara at age 21 jumped from 81 1/3 innings to 153 innings, a whopping 88% increase.</p><p>“I definitely noticed that,” Anthopolous said. “And [Mike] Soroka and [Kolby] Allard in Double A, they threw a lot of innings for their age. That’s not to say that’s critical or wrong. But candidly, those jumped off the page a bit.”</p><p>Let’s get something straight: there is no one, proven way to develop pitching. Pitchers enter pro ball with different mechanics, biomechanics, backgrounds, ages, wear and tear, etc. Treating everybody the same would be madness. But there are markers of potential trouble and there are studies that show the two greatest risks for injury are poor mechanics and fatigue.</p><p>For two decades I’ve been tracking when major league teams put their young pitchers at risk by pushing the fatigue factor. I began by looking at big league pitchers 25 and under who added 30 innings from their previous season. It was meant as a rule of thumb rather than a hard-and-fast one; pitchers on the younger and smaller side of the spectrum, for instance, would be more at risk of regression. I called this The Year After Effect, because often injury or regression showed up the year after a young pitcher was pushed.</p><p>Meanwhile, every team in baseball began monitoring year-to-year innings jumps. (One AL team logged them under “VE,” for Verducci Effect.) In recent years, taking a cue from several of those teams, I began applying a percentage jump (30%) as the red flag marker instead of a strict count of innings. Further still, I began looking at mechanics, age and size to see if any of those pitchers with red flags were at more risk than others. In other words, not every 30% jump is the same.</p><p>At this time last year, for instance, I red-flagged 12 pitchers who took an innings jump of 30% or more; 11 of those 12 threw fewer innings in 2017, including Dodgers phenom Julio Urias, who broke down with shoulder trouble. Further, applying other risk factors, I tagged four pitchers as “high risk.” Three of those four “high risk” pitchers broke down. There is more on them and the 2017 report card below.</p><p>In short, the methodology has evolved—just as innings limits have evolved for Anthopolous.</p><p>“I think there’s definitely merit to it,” he said. “I definitely bought into it my first few years [as Toronto GM] and those guys who were protected still broke down. It’s not just black and white, this total innings bump. Where is he in terms of workload, arm action, stress innings? … I think there’s a lot more that can go into it.</p><p>“Do I have an innings number in mind [this year]? You know they’re not going to throw 200, but I don’t believe in a locked number over the course of the year.”</p><p>It’s time for the annual Year After Effect report, this time in four stages: 1) The 2018 pitchers at risk. 2) Anthopolous’s Toronto lessons. 3) The 2018 Braves and 4) The 2017 Report Card.</p><h3>1. 2018 Pitchers at Risk</h3><p>After a dozen pitchers made the list last year, only three are on the watch list this year, the lowest number since I’ve been tracking young major league pitchers. There is no doubt teams are being more careful with their young arms, but it’s also a reflection of starters throwing fewer innings in general as more and more relievers chew up more and more innings.</p><p>*&quot;Increase&quot; denotes the increase over the pitcher&#39;s other previous pro innings high.</p><p><strong>1. Luiz Gohara, Braves</strong></p><p>The Mariners signed Gohara out of Brazil at age 16 and sent him to Pulaski, Va., where many of his teammates were 22 and 23 years old—so it should not have been a surprise that he endured maturity and conditioning issues. Seattle unwisely traded him after the 2016 season to Atlanta for Shea Simmons and Mallex Smith, whom they flipped in a deal for Drew Smyly.</p><p>Gohara began last year with the Florida Fire Frogs in Class A ball and finished it as the hardest throwing lefthanded starter in the majors (average fastball velo: 96.4). Despite the added innings and despite being out of the race, the Braves ran him out to the mound five times in September—giving him 30 starts on the year—including his final two on four days rest. He pitched six innings four times, making him the only pitcher that young to do so in the past four seasons.</p><p>Gohara became the youngest Braves lefty with five starts since Odalis Perez in 1999. That happened to be Perez’s Year After Effect season. After the Braves gave him a 91% innings jump in 1998, Perez blew out his elbow in 1999.</p><p>In addition to elite velocity, Gohara features a nasty slider and a functional changeup. He most often is compared to CC Sabathia, in part because of their bulk (Gohara is 6’ 3” and weighs about 240), but there are key differences in the way they throw. Sabathia has pristine mechanics in which he gets out over his front side very well, using his lower half to generate power and extension. Gohara throws in a “tall” position with a stiff front side, with little bend in his front knee without truly getting over his front leg. Sabathia is three inches taller than Gohara, but because of how he uses his legs throws with a release point that is almost half a foot closer to the ground. Gohara throws more like Drew Pomeranz and Carlos Rodon than he does Sabathia. Gohara last season had the eighth-highest release point of any lefthander with at least 200 fastballs.</p><p><em>Risk level: High.</em></p><p><strong>2. Dylan Bundy, Orioles</strong></p><p>After three injury-plagued seasons, Baltimore arranged a “transition” season for Bundy in 2016, in which he spent the first half in the bullpen and second half in the rotation. The move paid dividends in 2017 when Bundy stayed healthy and made 28 starts.</p><p>Orioles manager Buck Showalter is most decidedly not a fan of innings limits, but when you look even closer at how Baltimore treated Bundy you see the care they gave him over these past two seasons. Showalter started Bundy on four days of rest 12 times in his first 20 starts. But he gave him extra rest in seven of his final eight starts down the stretch. Bundy did falter in three September starts (7.53 ERA), when his velocity slipped and he increased his slider usage to a season high (30%), before Baltimore shut him down because of hamstring issues.</p><p>The good news for Baltimore is that Bundy is 25 years old and has a powerful lower half that he uses extremely well in his delivery, though he has room to firm up his front side.</p><p><em>Risk Level: Medium.</em></p><p><strong>3. Luis Severino, Yankees.</strong></p><p>One pitch during ALCS Game 6 sent Yankees manager Joe Girardi sprinting to the mound to check on Severino. It had been a wayward changeup, after which Severino shook his arm. Severino was fine, but Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild watched Severino closely because they worried about his innings. Severino did not reach 80 pitches or five innings in his two ALCS starts.</p><p>Severino finished with 209 1/3 innings. His 193 1/3 regular season innings at age 23 were the most by a Yankees pitcher that young in almost half a century, since Steve Kline in 1971. Severino, who turns 24 this month, has worked hard to gain strength. He has a clean, athletic delivery with exceptional arm deceleration. If he can close the gap in his release point from his fastball to his slider, which is a few inches lower, he will be even nastier.</p><p><em>Risk Level: Medium.</em></p><h3>2. Lessons from Toronto</h3><p>Anthopolous was sitting on a boatload of pitching talent before. In the Blue Jays’ system in 2012, all between 19 and 22 years old, were Noah Syndergaard, Aaron Sanchez, Marcus Stroman, Anthony DeSclafani, Daniel Norris, Drew Hutchison, Joe Musgrove and Justin Nicolino. From 2009–12 Toronto used 12 first-round picks on pitchers, only three of whom actually wound up pitching for the Blue Jays.</p><p>“Early on in Toronto I was so … stubborn is the wrong word … strong-willed about protecting these guys, watching every inning,” he said. “My thought back then was that it seemed like high school guys break down more than college kids. The workload in college is about 110 innings. They throw once a week and are into their strength.</p><p>“So if we’re taking these high school kids, we can simulate their work like they’re in college. Wait until they’re 21, when they have their man strength. And we still had guys break down. And we had issues at the big league level.”</p><p>After many breakdowns in 2012 and 2013, Anthopolous re-examined his philosophy on developing pitchers. He did away with firm innings targets and was guided more by “micro-targets”—side sessions, high-pitch innings, recovery days, etc.</p><p>“I thought we got better in ’14 and ’15,” he said. “To this day I don’t think anybody has the answers. I thought [with the Dodgers] we monitored Julio Urias as well as anybody and [a breakdown] happened. In Toronto we protected Drew Hutchison and he still had Tommy John.</p><p>“Innings limits alone are not the panacea. It was almost to protect yourself, almost like, ‘If they can’t pitch they can’t get hurt.’ Year-by-year is important, but I don’t think it’s black and white. It’s day-to-day, start to start.</p><p>“Stress innings I think are big. Every doctor will tell you they are more prone to injury when they’re tired. The difference between a major league inning and a minor league innings is huge. Those long innings really take a toll. What is your side work? Should you skip sides?</p><p>“Everybody talks about how those Braves teams threw two sides [between starts]. I asked [Greg] Maddux about it in spring training. He said he skipped sides a ton. Where’s the recovery? Where’s the rest? No one clearly has the answers yet.”</p><h3>3. The 2018 Braves</h3><p>Four Top 100 prospect lists included eight Braves pitchers (which does not include Sean Newcombe and Lucas Sims, who arrived last year). To give you an idea of such depth, Fangraphs liked Kyle Wright best, Baseball America liked Gohara best and MLB.com and Baseball Prospectus liked Kolby Allard best. Here are the 10 gems.</p><p>* denotes overall pick in first round.</p><p>“This is a really talented group,” said Anthopolous, who, comparing it to the youngsters he had in Toronto, added, “potentially it belongs with that group, though that group had a little more power. Kyle Wright is probably the biggest flamethrower. There’s a lot of really good arms here.”</p><p>The Braves likely have two spots open in their rotation after Julio Teheran, Mike Foltynewicz and Brandon McCarthy. And no, Anthopolous does not sound like a big fan of six-man rotations, preferring to stick with five starters through off days to build in rest. The problem with a six-man rotation, he said, is that it limits your bench and “the biggest challenge is your veteran starters hate the extra days off.”</p><p>You might have noticed the Braves are heavy with high school arms. (Toussaint, Fried and Newcombe, incidentally, were acquired in trades). The flameout rate of such arms is astounding. From 2000–09, teams drafted 90 high school pitchers in the first round; 34 of them have never won a game in the major leagues, a 38% failure rate.</p><p>If you limit the window to 2000–04—allowing more time for a career to play out—18 of the 45 high school first-rounders never won a big league game (40%). Some grabbed a cup of coffee, leaving 62% of first-round high school pitchers that never won more than 10 games in the big leagues. The best-case scenario belongs to pitchers such as Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Cole Hamels.</p><p>“From a position player viewpoint,” Anthopolous said, “when your team is built on all these young arms, we felt like we need to be as good a defensive team as we can. We really wanted to focus on defense, eliminate the stress innings.</p><p>“The biggest change for us in Toronto in 2015 wasn’t David Price. Once we changed the defense all of a sudden our rotation got better. It’s the one thing you can do to make the 12 guys on your staff better.”</p><p>Sound familiar? In 1991, when Braves GM John Schuerholz was sitting on a pile of great young arms, he emphasized defense, acquiring infielders Terry Pendleton, Sid Bream and Rafael Belliard and improving the playing surface at Fulton County Stadium. The Braves immediately went from last in the majors in defensive efficiency to third.</p><h3>4. The 2017 Report Card</h3><p>Eleven of the 12 pitchers identified threw fewer innings in 2017. (The exception was Reynaldo Lopez of the White Sox.) Over the past four seasons, 26 of 32 pitchers I identified as at risk threw fewer innings, an 81% rate of decline. But several of those declines were so small as to be insignificant.</p><p>Here are the four pitchers I pegged as “high risk:”</p><p><strong>Reynaldo Lopez, White Sox:</strong> Powered through 30 starts and 168.1 innings. One concern: his average fastball velocity dropped from 96.7 to 94.7.</p><p><strong>Aaron Sanchez, Blue Jays:</strong> Limited to just 10 starts and 44 innings because of blister issues.</p><p><strong>Rob Whalen, Mariners:</strong> Limited to just 11 starts and 60.2 innings because of shoulder inflammation and personal issues. (Whalen would step away from the game during 2017 due to those personal issues. He has since recovered in better physical and mental health.)</p><p><strong>Brock Stewart, Dodgers:</strong> Limited to just 10 starts and 52 innings because of shoulder issues.</p><p>Pitchers get hurt. We know that. But Whalen is the perfect example that I’ve seen over the years of how some injuries should be avoidable. By the time the Braves shut down Whalen on Aug. 23, 2016, they had increased his innings by 49% and his shoulder was barking. Somehow, the Mariners traded for him. Predictably, he showed up at spring training with his shoulder still bothering him.</p><p>Said Whalen then, “When I got to 150 innings last year, which was my career high, I was kind of shot at that point. I was throwing all arm again, and my shoulder took the bulk of it. Throughout the offseason, it didn’t feel good when I was throwing.”</p><p>That is the kind of “year after” story I’ve heard too many times. From Kevin Millwood to Cole Hamels to Phil Hughes to Michael Wacha to James Paxton to Lance McCullers to Rob Whalen, you see the wear and tear of a big innings jump show up the next year. The symptoms could be reduced velocity or shoulder inflammation, not necessarily a major injury. Innings limits have evolved as more data become available, but developing young pitchers and keeping them healthy remains one of the biggest mysteries in baseball.</p><p>“As an industry we have to constantly cross check,” Anthopolous said. “The way we were protecting these guys—and I was front and center—it doesn’t mean it’s wrong, but it clearly hasn’t solved it.”</p>
The 2018 Year After Effect: Which Young Pitchers Are At a Heightened Risk for Injury?

Upon being named general manager of the Atlanta Braves three months ago, Alex Anthopolous inherited a blessing and a curse, and they are one in the same. The Braves are sitting on a cache of 10 highly-rated starting pitchers between 19 and 24 years old who have yet to pitch a full season in the majors: nine first-round picks and an international free agent who is one of the game’s best lefthanded prospects.

The blessing is the deepest inventory of young pitching in baseball for a team that could contend as soon as this year. The curse is teams still haven’t figured out how to keep young arms healthy.

One of Anthopolous’ first orders of business was to check what kind of mileage the organization put on their young arms last season. He immediately noticed that Luiz Gohara at age 21 jumped from 81 1/3 innings to 153 innings, a whopping 88% increase.

“I definitely noticed that,” Anthopolous said. “And [Mike] Soroka and [Kolby] Allard in Double A, they threw a lot of innings for their age. That’s not to say that’s critical or wrong. But candidly, those jumped off the page a bit.”

Let’s get something straight: there is no one, proven way to develop pitching. Pitchers enter pro ball with different mechanics, biomechanics, backgrounds, ages, wear and tear, etc. Treating everybody the same would be madness. But there are markers of potential trouble and there are studies that show the two greatest risks for injury are poor mechanics and fatigue.

For two decades I’ve been tracking when major league teams put their young pitchers at risk by pushing the fatigue factor. I began by looking at big league pitchers 25 and under who added 30 innings from their previous season. It was meant as a rule of thumb rather than a hard-and-fast one; pitchers on the younger and smaller side of the spectrum, for instance, would be more at risk of regression. I called this The Year After Effect, because often injury or regression showed up the year after a young pitcher was pushed.

Meanwhile, every team in baseball began monitoring year-to-year innings jumps. (One AL team logged them under “VE,” for Verducci Effect.) In recent years, taking a cue from several of those teams, I began applying a percentage jump (30%) as the red flag marker instead of a strict count of innings. Further still, I began looking at mechanics, age and size to see if any of those pitchers with red flags were at more risk than others. In other words, not every 30% jump is the same.

At this time last year, for instance, I red-flagged 12 pitchers who took an innings jump of 30% or more; 11 of those 12 threw fewer innings in 2017, including Dodgers phenom Julio Urias, who broke down with shoulder trouble. Further, applying other risk factors, I tagged four pitchers as “high risk.” Three of those four “high risk” pitchers broke down. There is more on them and the 2017 report card below.

In short, the methodology has evolved—just as innings limits have evolved for Anthopolous.

“I think there’s definitely merit to it,” he said. “I definitely bought into it my first few years [as Toronto GM] and those guys who were protected still broke down. It’s not just black and white, this total innings bump. Where is he in terms of workload, arm action, stress innings? … I think there’s a lot more that can go into it.

“Do I have an innings number in mind [this year]? You know they’re not going to throw 200, but I don’t believe in a locked number over the course of the year.”

It’s time for the annual Year After Effect report, this time in four stages: 1) The 2018 pitchers at risk. 2) Anthopolous’s Toronto lessons. 3) The 2018 Braves and 4) The 2017 Report Card.

1. 2018 Pitchers at Risk

After a dozen pitchers made the list last year, only three are on the watch list this year, the lowest number since I’ve been tracking young major league pitchers. There is no doubt teams are being more careful with their young arms, but it’s also a reflection of starters throwing fewer innings in general as more and more relievers chew up more and more innings.

*"Increase" denotes the increase over the pitcher's other previous pro innings high.

1. Luiz Gohara, Braves

The Mariners signed Gohara out of Brazil at age 16 and sent him to Pulaski, Va., where many of his teammates were 22 and 23 years old—so it should not have been a surprise that he endured maturity and conditioning issues. Seattle unwisely traded him after the 2016 season to Atlanta for Shea Simmons and Mallex Smith, whom they flipped in a deal for Drew Smyly.

Gohara began last year with the Florida Fire Frogs in Class A ball and finished it as the hardest throwing lefthanded starter in the majors (average fastball velo: 96.4). Despite the added innings and despite being out of the race, the Braves ran him out to the mound five times in September—giving him 30 starts on the year—including his final two on four days rest. He pitched six innings four times, making him the only pitcher that young to do so in the past four seasons.

Gohara became the youngest Braves lefty with five starts since Odalis Perez in 1999. That happened to be Perez’s Year After Effect season. After the Braves gave him a 91% innings jump in 1998, Perez blew out his elbow in 1999.

In addition to elite velocity, Gohara features a nasty slider and a functional changeup. He most often is compared to CC Sabathia, in part because of their bulk (Gohara is 6’ 3” and weighs about 240), but there are key differences in the way they throw. Sabathia has pristine mechanics in which he gets out over his front side very well, using his lower half to generate power and extension. Gohara throws in a “tall” position with a stiff front side, with little bend in his front knee without truly getting over his front leg. Sabathia is three inches taller than Gohara, but because of how he uses his legs throws with a release point that is almost half a foot closer to the ground. Gohara throws more like Drew Pomeranz and Carlos Rodon than he does Sabathia. Gohara last season had the eighth-highest release point of any lefthander with at least 200 fastballs.

Risk level: High.

2. Dylan Bundy, Orioles

After three injury-plagued seasons, Baltimore arranged a “transition” season for Bundy in 2016, in which he spent the first half in the bullpen and second half in the rotation. The move paid dividends in 2017 when Bundy stayed healthy and made 28 starts.

Orioles manager Buck Showalter is most decidedly not a fan of innings limits, but when you look even closer at how Baltimore treated Bundy you see the care they gave him over these past two seasons. Showalter started Bundy on four days of rest 12 times in his first 20 starts. But he gave him extra rest in seven of his final eight starts down the stretch. Bundy did falter in three September starts (7.53 ERA), when his velocity slipped and he increased his slider usage to a season high (30%), before Baltimore shut him down because of hamstring issues.

The good news for Baltimore is that Bundy is 25 years old and has a powerful lower half that he uses extremely well in his delivery, though he has room to firm up his front side.

Risk Level: Medium.

3. Luis Severino, Yankees.

One pitch during ALCS Game 6 sent Yankees manager Joe Girardi sprinting to the mound to check on Severino. It had been a wayward changeup, after which Severino shook his arm. Severino was fine, but Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild watched Severino closely because they worried about his innings. Severino did not reach 80 pitches or five innings in his two ALCS starts.

Severino finished with 209 1/3 innings. His 193 1/3 regular season innings at age 23 were the most by a Yankees pitcher that young in almost half a century, since Steve Kline in 1971. Severino, who turns 24 this month, has worked hard to gain strength. He has a clean, athletic delivery with exceptional arm deceleration. If he can close the gap in his release point from his fastball to his slider, which is a few inches lower, he will be even nastier.

Risk Level: Medium.

2. Lessons from Toronto

Anthopolous was sitting on a boatload of pitching talent before. In the Blue Jays’ system in 2012, all between 19 and 22 years old, were Noah Syndergaard, Aaron Sanchez, Marcus Stroman, Anthony DeSclafani, Daniel Norris, Drew Hutchison, Joe Musgrove and Justin Nicolino. From 2009–12 Toronto used 12 first-round picks on pitchers, only three of whom actually wound up pitching for the Blue Jays.

“Early on in Toronto I was so … stubborn is the wrong word … strong-willed about protecting these guys, watching every inning,” he said. “My thought back then was that it seemed like high school guys break down more than college kids. The workload in college is about 110 innings. They throw once a week and are into their strength.

“So if we’re taking these high school kids, we can simulate their work like they’re in college. Wait until they’re 21, when they have their man strength. And we still had guys break down. And we had issues at the big league level.”

After many breakdowns in 2012 and 2013, Anthopolous re-examined his philosophy on developing pitchers. He did away with firm innings targets and was guided more by “micro-targets”—side sessions, high-pitch innings, recovery days, etc.

“I thought we got better in ’14 and ’15,” he said. “To this day I don’t think anybody has the answers. I thought [with the Dodgers] we monitored Julio Urias as well as anybody and [a breakdown] happened. In Toronto we protected Drew Hutchison and he still had Tommy John.

“Innings limits alone are not the panacea. It was almost to protect yourself, almost like, ‘If they can’t pitch they can’t get hurt.’ Year-by-year is important, but I don’t think it’s black and white. It’s day-to-day, start to start.

“Stress innings I think are big. Every doctor will tell you they are more prone to injury when they’re tired. The difference between a major league inning and a minor league innings is huge. Those long innings really take a toll. What is your side work? Should you skip sides?

“Everybody talks about how those Braves teams threw two sides [between starts]. I asked [Greg] Maddux about it in spring training. He said he skipped sides a ton. Where’s the recovery? Where’s the rest? No one clearly has the answers yet.”

3. The 2018 Braves

Four Top 100 prospect lists included eight Braves pitchers (which does not include Sean Newcombe and Lucas Sims, who arrived last year). To give you an idea of such depth, Fangraphs liked Kyle Wright best, Baseball America liked Gohara best and MLB.com and Baseball Prospectus liked Kolby Allard best. Here are the 10 gems.

* denotes overall pick in first round.

“This is a really talented group,” said Anthopolous, who, comparing it to the youngsters he had in Toronto, added, “potentially it belongs with that group, though that group had a little more power. Kyle Wright is probably the biggest flamethrower. There’s a lot of really good arms here.”

The Braves likely have two spots open in their rotation after Julio Teheran, Mike Foltynewicz and Brandon McCarthy. And no, Anthopolous does not sound like a big fan of six-man rotations, preferring to stick with five starters through off days to build in rest. The problem with a six-man rotation, he said, is that it limits your bench and “the biggest challenge is your veteran starters hate the extra days off.”

You might have noticed the Braves are heavy with high school arms. (Toussaint, Fried and Newcombe, incidentally, were acquired in trades). The flameout rate of such arms is astounding. From 2000–09, teams drafted 90 high school pitchers in the first round; 34 of them have never won a game in the major leagues, a 38% failure rate.

If you limit the window to 2000–04—allowing more time for a career to play out—18 of the 45 high school first-rounders never won a big league game (40%). Some grabbed a cup of coffee, leaving 62% of first-round high school pitchers that never won more than 10 games in the big leagues. The best-case scenario belongs to pitchers such as Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Cole Hamels.

“From a position player viewpoint,” Anthopolous said, “when your team is built on all these young arms, we felt like we need to be as good a defensive team as we can. We really wanted to focus on defense, eliminate the stress innings.

“The biggest change for us in Toronto in 2015 wasn’t David Price. Once we changed the defense all of a sudden our rotation got better. It’s the one thing you can do to make the 12 guys on your staff better.”

Sound familiar? In 1991, when Braves GM John Schuerholz was sitting on a pile of great young arms, he emphasized defense, acquiring infielders Terry Pendleton, Sid Bream and Rafael Belliard and improving the playing surface at Fulton County Stadium. The Braves immediately went from last in the majors in defensive efficiency to third.

4. The 2017 Report Card

Eleven of the 12 pitchers identified threw fewer innings in 2017. (The exception was Reynaldo Lopez of the White Sox.) Over the past four seasons, 26 of 32 pitchers I identified as at risk threw fewer innings, an 81% rate of decline. But several of those declines were so small as to be insignificant.

Here are the four pitchers I pegged as “high risk:”

Reynaldo Lopez, White Sox: Powered through 30 starts and 168.1 innings. One concern: his average fastball velocity dropped from 96.7 to 94.7.

Aaron Sanchez, Blue Jays: Limited to just 10 starts and 44 innings because of blister issues.

Rob Whalen, Mariners: Limited to just 11 starts and 60.2 innings because of shoulder inflammation and personal issues. (Whalen would step away from the game during 2017 due to those personal issues. He has since recovered in better physical and mental health.)

Brock Stewart, Dodgers: Limited to just 10 starts and 52 innings because of shoulder issues.

Pitchers get hurt. We know that. But Whalen is the perfect example that I’ve seen over the years of how some injuries should be avoidable. By the time the Braves shut down Whalen on Aug. 23, 2016, they had increased his innings by 49% and his shoulder was barking. Somehow, the Mariners traded for him. Predictably, he showed up at spring training with his shoulder still bothering him.

Said Whalen then, “When I got to 150 innings last year, which was my career high, I was kind of shot at that point. I was throwing all arm again, and my shoulder took the bulk of it. Throughout the offseason, it didn’t feel good when I was throwing.”

That is the kind of “year after” story I’ve heard too many times. From Kevin Millwood to Cole Hamels to Phil Hughes to Michael Wacha to James Paxton to Lance McCullers to Rob Whalen, you see the wear and tear of a big innings jump show up the next year. The symptoms could be reduced velocity or shoulder inflammation, not necessarily a major injury. Innings limits have evolved as more data become available, but developing young pitchers and keeping them healthy remains one of the biggest mysteries in baseball.

“As an industry we have to constantly cross check,” Anthopolous said. “The way we were protecting these guys—and I was front and center—it doesn’t mean it’s wrong, but it clearly hasn’t solved it.”

<p>Upon being named general manager of the Atlanta Braves three months ago, Alex Anthopolous inherited a blessing and a curse, and they are one in the same. The Braves are sitting on a cache of 10 highly-rated starting pitchers between 19 and 24 years old who have yet to pitch a full season in the majors: nine first-round picks and an international free agent who is one of the game’s best lefthanded prospects.</p><p>The blessing is the deepest inventory of young pitching in baseball for a team that could contend as soon as this year. The curse is teams still haven’t figured out how to keep young arms healthy.</p><p>One of Anthopolous’ first orders of business was to check what kind of mileage the organization put on their young arms last season. He immediately noticed that Luiz Gohara at age 21 jumped from 81 1/3 innings to 153 innings, a whopping 88% increase.</p><p>“I definitely noticed that,” Anthopolous said. “And [Mike] Soroka and [Kolby] Allard in Double A, they threw a lot of innings for their age. That’s not to say that’s critical or wrong. But candidly, those jumped off the page a bit.”</p><p>Let’s get something straight: there is no one, proven way to develop pitching. Pitchers enter pro ball with different mechanics, biomechanics, backgrounds, ages, wear and tear, etc. Treating everybody the same would be madness. But there are markers of potential trouble and there are studies that show the two greatest risks for injury are poor mechanics and fatigue.</p><p>For two decades I’ve been tracking when major league teams put their young pitchers at risk by pushing the fatigue factor. I began by looking at big league pitchers 25 and under who added 30 innings from their previous season. It was meant as a rule of thumb rather than a hard-and-fast one; pitchers on the younger and smaller side of the spectrum, for instance, would be more at risk of regression. I called this The Year After Effect, because often injury or regression showed up the year after a young pitcher was pushed.</p><p>Meanwhile, every team in baseball began monitoring year-to-year innings jumps. (One AL team logged them under “VE,” for Verducci Effect.) In recent years, taking a cue from several of those teams, I began applying a percentage jump (30%) as the red flag marker instead of a strict count of innings. Further still, I began looking at mechanics, age and size to see if any of those pitchers with red flags were at more risk than others. In other words, not every 30% jump is the same.</p><p>At this time last year, for instance, I red-flagged 12 pitchers who took an innings jump of 30% or more; 11 of those 12 threw fewer innings in 2017, including Dodgers phenom Julio Urias, who broke down with shoulder trouble. Further, applying other risk factors, I tagged four pitchers as “high risk.” Three of those four “high risk” pitchers broke down. There is more on them and the 2017 report card below.</p><p>In short, the methodology has evolved—just as innings limits have evolved for Anthopolous.</p><p>“I think there’s definitely merit to it,” he said. “I definitely bought into it my first few years [as Toronto GM] and those guys who were protected still broke down. It’s not just black and white, this total innings bump. Where is he in terms of workload, arm action, stress innings? … I think there’s a lot more that can go into it.</p><p>“Do I have an innings number in mind [this year]? You know they’re not going to throw 200, but I don’t believe in a locked number over the course of the year.”</p><p>It’s time for the annual Year After Effect report, this time in four stages: 1) The 2018 pitchers at risk. 2) Anthopolous’s Toronto lessons. 3) The 2018 Braves and 4) The 2017 Report Card.</p><h3>1. 2018 Pitchers at Risk</h3><p>After a dozen pitchers made the list last year, only three are on the watch list this year, the lowest number since I’ve been tracking young major league pitchers. There is no doubt teams are being more careful with their young arms, but it’s also a reflection of starters throwing fewer innings in general as more and more relievers chew up more and more innings.</p><p>*&quot;Increase&quot; denotes the increase over the pitcher&#39;s other previous pro innings high.</p><p><strong>1. Luiz Gohara, Braves</strong></p><p>The Mariners signed Gohara out of Brazil at age 16 and sent him to Pulaski, Va., where many of his teammates were 22 and 23 years old—so it should not have been a surprise that he endured maturity and conditioning issues. Seattle unwisely traded him after the 2016 season to Atlanta for Shea Simmons and Mallex Smith, whom they flipped in a deal for Drew Smyly.</p><p>Gohara began last year with the Florida Fire Frogs in Class A ball and finished it as the hardest throwing lefthanded starter in the majors (average fastball velo: 96.4). Despite the added innings and despite being out of the race, the Braves ran him out to the mound five times in September—giving him 30 starts on the year—including his final two on four days rest. He pitched six innings four times, making him the only pitcher that young to do so in the past four seasons.</p><p>Gohara became the youngest Braves lefty with five starts since Odalis Perez in 1999. That happened to be Perez’s Year After Effect season. After the Braves gave him a 91% innings jump in 1998, Perez blew out his elbow in 1999.</p><p>In addition to elite velocity, Gohara features a nasty slider and a functional changeup. He most often is compared to CC Sabathia, in part because of their bulk (Gohara is 6’ 3” and weighs about 240), but there are key differences in the way they throw. Sabathia has pristine mechanics in which he gets out over his front side very well, using his lower half to generate power and extension. Gohara throws in a “tall” position with a stiff front side, with little bend in his front knee without truly getting over his front leg. Sabathia is three inches taller than Gohara, but because of how he uses his legs throws with a release point that is almost half a foot closer to the ground. Gohara throws more like Drew Pomeranz and Carlos Rodon than he does Sabathia. Gohara last season had the eighth-highest release point of any lefthander with at least 200 fastballs.</p><p><em>Risk level: High.</em></p><p><strong>2. Dylan Bundy, Orioles</strong></p><p>After three injury-plagued seasons, Baltimore arranged a “transition” season for Bundy in 2016, in which he spent the first half in the bullpen and second half in the rotation. The move paid dividends in 2017 when Bundy stayed healthy and made 28 starts.</p><p>Orioles manager Buck Showalter is most decidedly not a fan of innings limits, but when you look even closer at how Baltimore treated Bundy you see the care they gave him over these past two seasons. Showalter started Bundy on four days of rest 12 times in his first 20 starts. But he gave him extra rest in seven of his final eight starts down the stretch. Bundy did falter in three September starts (7.53 ERA), when his velocity slipped and he increased his slider usage to a season high (30%), before Baltimore shut him down because of hamstring issues.</p><p>The good news for Baltimore is that Bundy is 25 years old and has a powerful lower half that he uses extremely well in his delivery, though he has room to firm up his front side.</p><p><em>Risk Level: Medium.</em></p><p><strong>3. Luis Severino, Yankees.</strong></p><p>One pitch during ALCS Game 6 sent Yankees manager Joe Girardi sprinting to the mound to check on Severino. It had been a wayward changeup, after which Severino shook his arm. Severino was fine, but Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild watched Severino closely because they worried about his innings. Severino did not reach 80 pitches or five innings in his two ALCS starts.</p><p>Severino finished with 209 1/3 innings. His 193 1/3 regular season innings at age 23 were the most by a Yankees pitcher that young in almost half a century, since Steve Kline in 1971. Severino, who turns 24 this month, has worked hard to gain strength. He has a clean, athletic delivery with exceptional arm deceleration. If he can close the gap in his release point from his fastball to his slider, which is a few inches lower, he will be even nastier.</p><p><em>Risk Level: Medium.</em></p><h3>2. Lessons from Toronto</h3><p>Anthopolous was sitting on a boatload of pitching talent before. In the Blue Jays’ system in 2012, all between 19 and 22 years old, were Noah Syndergaard, Aaron Sanchez, Marcus Stroman, Anthony DeSclafani, Daniel Norris, Drew Hutchison, Joe Musgrove and Justin Nicolino. From 2009–12 Toronto used 12 first-round picks on pitchers, only three of whom actually wound up pitching for the Blue Jays.</p><p>“Early on in Toronto I was so … stubborn is the wrong word … strong-willed about protecting these guys, watching every inning,” he said. “My thought back then was that it seemed like high school guys break down more than college kids. The workload in college is about 110 innings. They throw once a week and are into their strength.</p><p>“So if we’re taking these high school kids, we can simulate their work like they’re in college. Wait until they’re 21, when they have their man strength. And we still had guys break down. And we had issues at the big league level.”</p><p>After many breakdowns in 2012 and 2013, Anthopolous re-examined his philosophy on developing pitchers. He did away with firm innings targets and was guided more by “micro-targets”—side sessions, high-pitch innings, recovery days, etc.</p><p>“I thought we got better in ’14 and ’15,” he said. “To this day I don’t think anybody has the answers. I thought [with the Dodgers] we monitored Julio Urias as well as anybody and [a breakdown] happened. In Toronto we protected Drew Hutchison and he still had Tommy John.</p><p>“Innings limits alone are not the panacea. It was almost to protect yourself, almost like, ‘If they can’t pitch they can’t get hurt.’ Year-by-year is important, but I don’t think it’s black and white. It’s day-to-day, start to start.</p><p>“Stress innings I think are big. Every doctor will tell you they are more prone to injury when they’re tired. The difference between a major league inning and a minor league innings is huge. Those long innings really take a toll. What is your side work? Should you skip sides?</p><p>“Everybody talks about how those Braves teams threw two sides [between starts]. I asked [Greg] Maddux about it in spring training. He said he skipped sides a ton. Where’s the recovery? Where’s the rest? No one clearly has the answers yet.”</p><h3>3. The 2018 Braves</h3><p>Four Top 100 prospect lists included eight Braves pitchers (which does not include Sean Newcombe and Lucas Sims, who arrived last year). To give you an idea of such depth, Fangraphs liked Kyle Wright best, Baseball America liked Gohara best and MLB.com and Baseball Prospectus liked Kolby Allard best. Here are the 10 gems.</p><p>* denotes overall pick in first round.</p><p>“This is a really talented group,” said Anthopolous, who, comparing it to the youngsters he had in Toronto, added, “potentially it belongs with that group, though that group had a little more power. Kyle Wright is probably the biggest flamethrower. There’s a lot of really good arms here.”</p><p>The Braves likely have two spots open in their rotation after Julio Teheran, Mike Foltynewicz and Brandon McCarthy. And no, Anthopolous does not sound like a big fan of six-man rotations, preferring to stick with five starters through off days to build in rest. The problem with a six-man rotation, he said, is that it limits your bench and “the biggest challenge is your veteran starters hate the extra days off.”</p><p>You might have noticed the Braves are heavy with high school arms. (Toussaint, Fried and Newcombe, incidentally, were acquired in trades). The flameout rate of such arms is astounding. From 2000–09, teams drafted 90 high school pitchers in the first round; 34 of them have never won a game in the major leagues, a 38% failure rate.</p><p>If you limit the window to 2000–04—allowing more time for a career to play out—18 of the 45 high school first-rounders never won a big league game (40%). Some grabbed a cup of coffee, leaving 62% of first-round high school pitchers that never won more than 10 games in the big leagues. The best-case scenario belongs to pitchers such as Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Cole Hamels.</p><p>“From a position player viewpoint,” Anthopolous said, “when your team is built on all these young arms, we felt like we need to be as good a defensive team as we can. We really wanted to focus on defense, eliminate the stress innings.</p><p>“The biggest change for us in Toronto in 2015 wasn’t David Price. Once we changed the defense all of a sudden our rotation got better. It’s the one thing you can do to make the 12 guys on your staff better.”</p><p>Sound familiar? In 1991, when Braves GM John Schuerholz was sitting on a pile of great young arms, he emphasized defense, acquiring infielders Terry Pendleton, Sid Bream and Rafael Belliard and improving the playing surface at Fulton County Stadium. The Braves immediately went from last in the majors in defensive efficiency to third.</p><h3>4. The 2017 Report Card</h3><p>Eleven of the 12 pitchers identified threw fewer innings in 2017. (The exception was Reynaldo Lopez of the White Sox.) Over the past four seasons, 26 of 32 pitchers I identified as at risk threw fewer innings, an 81% rate of decline. But several of those declines were so small as to be insignificant.</p><p>Here are the four pitchers I pegged as “high risk:”</p><p><strong>Reynaldo Lopez, White Sox:</strong> Powered through 30 starts and 168.1 innings. One concern: his average fastball velocity dropped from 96.7 to 94.7.</p><p><strong>Aaron Sanchez, Blue Jays:</strong> Limited to just 10 starts and 44 innings because of blister issues.</p><p><strong>Rob Whalen, Mariners:</strong> Limited to just 11 starts and 60.2 innings because of shoulder inflammation and personal issues. (Whalen would step away from the game during 2017 due to those personal issues. He has since recovered in better physical and mental health.)</p><p><strong>Brock Stewart, Dodgers:</strong> Limited to just 10 starts and 52 innings because of shoulder issues.</p><p>Pitchers get hurt. We know that. But Whalen is the perfect example that I’ve seen over the years of how some injuries should be avoidable. By the time the Braves shut down Whalen on Aug. 23, 2016, they had increased his innings by 49% and his shoulder was barking. Somehow, the Mariners traded for him. Predictably, he showed up at spring training with his shoulder still bothering him.</p><p>Said Whalen then, “When I got to 150 innings last year, which was my career high, I was kind of shot at that point. I was throwing all arm again, and my shoulder took the bulk of it. Throughout the offseason, it didn’t feel good when I was throwing.”</p><p>That is the kind of “year after” story I’ve heard too many times. From Kevin Millwood to Cole Hamels to Phil Hughes to Michael Wacha to James Paxton to Lance McCullers to Rob Whalen, you see the wear and tear of a big innings jump show up the next year. The symptoms could be reduced velocity or shoulder inflammation, not necessarily a major injury. Innings limits have evolved as more data become available, but developing young pitchers and keeping them healthy remains one of the biggest mysteries in baseball.</p><p>“As an industry we have to constantly cross check,” Anthopolous said. “The way we were protecting these guys—and I was front and center—it doesn’t mean it’s wrong, but it clearly hasn’t solved it.”</p>
The 2018 Year After Effect: Which Young Pitchers Are At a Heightened Risk for Injury?

Upon being named general manager of the Atlanta Braves three months ago, Alex Anthopolous inherited a blessing and a curse, and they are one in the same. The Braves are sitting on a cache of 10 highly-rated starting pitchers between 19 and 24 years old who have yet to pitch a full season in the majors: nine first-round picks and an international free agent who is one of the game’s best lefthanded prospects.

The blessing is the deepest inventory of young pitching in baseball for a team that could contend as soon as this year. The curse is teams still haven’t figured out how to keep young arms healthy.

One of Anthopolous’ first orders of business was to check what kind of mileage the organization put on their young arms last season. He immediately noticed that Luiz Gohara at age 21 jumped from 81 1/3 innings to 153 innings, a whopping 88% increase.

“I definitely noticed that,” Anthopolous said. “And [Mike] Soroka and [Kolby] Allard in Double A, they threw a lot of innings for their age. That’s not to say that’s critical or wrong. But candidly, those jumped off the page a bit.”

Let’s get something straight: there is no one, proven way to develop pitching. Pitchers enter pro ball with different mechanics, biomechanics, backgrounds, ages, wear and tear, etc. Treating everybody the same would be madness. But there are markers of potential trouble and there are studies that show the two greatest risks for injury are poor mechanics and fatigue.

For two decades I’ve been tracking when major league teams put their young pitchers at risk by pushing the fatigue factor. I began by looking at big league pitchers 25 and under who added 30 innings from their previous season. It was meant as a rule of thumb rather than a hard-and-fast one; pitchers on the younger and smaller side of the spectrum, for instance, would be more at risk of regression. I called this The Year After Effect, because often injury or regression showed up the year after a young pitcher was pushed.

Meanwhile, every team in baseball began monitoring year-to-year innings jumps. (One AL team logged them under “VE,” for Verducci Effect.) In recent years, taking a cue from several of those teams, I began applying a percentage jump (30%) as the red flag marker instead of a strict count of innings. Further still, I began looking at mechanics, age and size to see if any of those pitchers with red flags were at more risk than others. In other words, not every 30% jump is the same.

At this time last year, for instance, I red-flagged 12 pitchers who took an innings jump of 30% or more; 11 of those 12 threw fewer innings in 2017, including Dodgers phenom Julio Urias, who broke down with shoulder trouble. Further, applying other risk factors, I tagged four pitchers as “high risk.” Three of those four “high risk” pitchers broke down. There is more on them and the 2017 report card below.

In short, the methodology has evolved—just as innings limits have evolved for Anthopolous.

“I think there’s definitely merit to it,” he said. “I definitely bought into it my first few years [as Toronto GM] and those guys who were protected still broke down. It’s not just black and white, this total innings bump. Where is he in terms of workload, arm action, stress innings? … I think there’s a lot more that can go into it.

“Do I have an innings number in mind [this year]? You know they’re not going to throw 200, but I don’t believe in a locked number over the course of the year.”

It’s time for the annual Year After Effect report, this time in four stages: 1) The 2018 pitchers at risk. 2) Anthopolous’s Toronto lessons. 3) The 2018 Braves and 4) The 2017 Report Card.

1. 2018 Pitchers at Risk

After a dozen pitchers made the list last year, only three are on the watch list this year, the lowest number since I’ve been tracking young major league pitchers. There is no doubt teams are being more careful with their young arms, but it’s also a reflection of starters throwing fewer innings in general as more and more relievers chew up more and more innings.

*"Increase" denotes the increase over the pitcher's other previous pro innings high.

1. Luiz Gohara, Braves

The Mariners signed Gohara out of Brazil at age 16 and sent him to Pulaski, Va., where many of his teammates were 22 and 23 years old—so it should not have been a surprise that he endured maturity and conditioning issues. Seattle unwisely traded him after the 2016 season to Atlanta for Shea Simmons and Mallex Smith, whom they flipped in a deal for Drew Smyly.

Gohara began last year with the Florida Fire Frogs in Class A ball and finished it as the hardest throwing lefthanded starter in the majors (average fastball velo: 96.4). Despite the added innings and despite being out of the race, the Braves ran him out to the mound five times in September—giving him 30 starts on the year—including his final two on four days rest. He pitched six innings four times, making him the only pitcher that young to do so in the past four seasons.

Gohara became the youngest Braves lefty with five starts since Odalis Perez in 1999. That happened to be Perez’s Year After Effect season. After the Braves gave him a 91% innings jump in 1998, Perez blew out his elbow in 1999.

In addition to elite velocity, Gohara features a nasty slider and a functional changeup. He most often is compared to CC Sabathia, in part because of their bulk (Gohara is 6’ 3” and weighs about 240), but there are key differences in the way they throw. Sabathia has pristine mechanics in which he gets out over his front side very well, using his lower half to generate power and extension. Gohara throws in a “tall” position with a stiff front side, with little bend in his front knee without truly getting over his front leg. Sabathia is three inches taller than Gohara, but because of how he uses his legs throws with a release point that is almost half a foot closer to the ground. Gohara throws more like Drew Pomeranz and Carlos Rodon than he does Sabathia. Gohara last season had the eighth-highest release point of any lefthander with at least 200 fastballs.

Risk level: High.

2. Dylan Bundy, Orioles

After three injury-plagued seasons, Baltimore arranged a “transition” season for Bundy in 2016, in which he spent the first half in the bullpen and second half in the rotation. The move paid dividends in 2017 when Bundy stayed healthy and made 28 starts.

Orioles manager Buck Showalter is most decidedly not a fan of innings limits, but when you look even closer at how Baltimore treated Bundy you see the care they gave him over these past two seasons. Showalter started Bundy on four days of rest 12 times in his first 20 starts. But he gave him extra rest in seven of his final eight starts down the stretch. Bundy did falter in three September starts (7.53 ERA), when his velocity slipped and he increased his slider usage to a season high (30%), before Baltimore shut him down because of hamstring issues.

The good news for Baltimore is that Bundy is 25 years old and has a powerful lower half that he uses extremely well in his delivery, though he has room to firm up his front side.

Risk Level: Medium.

3. Luis Severino, Yankees.

One pitch during ALCS Game 6 sent Yankees manager Joe Girardi sprinting to the mound to check on Severino. It had been a wayward changeup, after which Severino shook his arm. Severino was fine, but Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild watched Severino closely because they worried about his innings. Severino did not reach 80 pitches or five innings in his two ALCS starts.

Severino finished with 209 1/3 innings. His 193 1/3 regular season innings at age 23 were the most by a Yankees pitcher that young in almost half a century, since Steve Kline in 1971. Severino, who turns 24 this month, has worked hard to gain strength. He has a clean, athletic delivery with exceptional arm deceleration. If he can close the gap in his release point from his fastball to his slider, which is a few inches lower, he will be even nastier.

Risk Level: Medium.

2. Lessons from Toronto

Anthopolous was sitting on a boatload of pitching talent before. In the Blue Jays’ system in 2012, all between 19 and 22 years old, were Noah Syndergaard, Aaron Sanchez, Marcus Stroman, Anthony DeSclafani, Daniel Norris, Drew Hutchison, Joe Musgrove and Justin Nicolino. From 2009–12 Toronto used 12 first-round picks on pitchers, only three of whom actually wound up pitching for the Blue Jays.

“Early on in Toronto I was so … stubborn is the wrong word … strong-willed about protecting these guys, watching every inning,” he said. “My thought back then was that it seemed like high school guys break down more than college kids. The workload in college is about 110 innings. They throw once a week and are into their strength.

“So if we’re taking these high school kids, we can simulate their work like they’re in college. Wait until they’re 21, when they have their man strength. And we still had guys break down. And we had issues at the big league level.”

After many breakdowns in 2012 and 2013, Anthopolous re-examined his philosophy on developing pitchers. He did away with firm innings targets and was guided more by “micro-targets”—side sessions, high-pitch innings, recovery days, etc.

“I thought we got better in ’14 and ’15,” he said. “To this day I don’t think anybody has the answers. I thought [with the Dodgers] we monitored Julio Urias as well as anybody and [a breakdown] happened. In Toronto we protected Drew Hutchison and he still had Tommy John.

“Innings limits alone are not the panacea. It was almost to protect yourself, almost like, ‘If they can’t pitch they can’t get hurt.’ Year-by-year is important, but I don’t think it’s black and white. It’s day-to-day, start to start.

“Stress innings I think are big. Every doctor will tell you they are more prone to injury when they’re tired. The difference between a major league inning and a minor league innings is huge. Those long innings really take a toll. What is your side work? Should you skip sides?

“Everybody talks about how those Braves teams threw two sides [between starts]. I asked [Greg] Maddux about it in spring training. He said he skipped sides a ton. Where’s the recovery? Where’s the rest? No one clearly has the answers yet.”

3. The 2018 Braves

Four Top 100 prospect lists included eight Braves pitchers (which does not include Sean Newcombe and Lucas Sims, who arrived last year). To give you an idea of such depth, Fangraphs liked Kyle Wright best, Baseball America liked Gohara best and MLB.com and Baseball Prospectus liked Kolby Allard best. Here are the 10 gems.

* denotes overall pick in first round.

“This is a really talented group,” said Anthopolous, who, comparing it to the youngsters he had in Toronto, added, “potentially it belongs with that group, though that group had a little more power. Kyle Wright is probably the biggest flamethrower. There’s a lot of really good arms here.”

The Braves likely have two spots open in their rotation after Julio Teheran, Mike Foltynewicz and Brandon McCarthy. And no, Anthopolous does not sound like a big fan of six-man rotations, preferring to stick with five starters through off days to build in rest. The problem with a six-man rotation, he said, is that it limits your bench and “the biggest challenge is your veteran starters hate the extra days off.”

You might have noticed the Braves are heavy with high school arms. (Toussaint, Fried and Newcombe, incidentally, were acquired in trades). The flameout rate of such arms is astounding. From 2000–09, teams drafted 90 high school pitchers in the first round; 34 of them have never won a game in the major leagues, a 38% failure rate.

If you limit the window to 2000–04—allowing more time for a career to play out—18 of the 45 high school first-rounders never won a big league game (40%). Some grabbed a cup of coffee, leaving 62% of first-round high school pitchers that never won more than 10 games in the big leagues. The best-case scenario belongs to pitchers such as Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Cole Hamels.

“From a position player viewpoint,” Anthopolous said, “when your team is built on all these young arms, we felt like we need to be as good a defensive team as we can. We really wanted to focus on defense, eliminate the stress innings.

“The biggest change for us in Toronto in 2015 wasn’t David Price. Once we changed the defense all of a sudden our rotation got better. It’s the one thing you can do to make the 12 guys on your staff better.”

Sound familiar? In 1991, when Braves GM John Schuerholz was sitting on a pile of great young arms, he emphasized defense, acquiring infielders Terry Pendleton, Sid Bream and Rafael Belliard and improving the playing surface at Fulton County Stadium. The Braves immediately went from last in the majors in defensive efficiency to third.

4. The 2017 Report Card

Eleven of the 12 pitchers identified threw fewer innings in 2017. (The exception was Reynaldo Lopez of the White Sox.) Over the past four seasons, 26 of 32 pitchers I identified as at risk threw fewer innings, an 81% rate of decline. But several of those declines were so small as to be insignificant.

Here are the four pitchers I pegged as “high risk:”

Reynaldo Lopez, White Sox: Powered through 30 starts and 168.1 innings. One concern: his average fastball velocity dropped from 96.7 to 94.7.

Aaron Sanchez, Blue Jays: Limited to just 10 starts and 44 innings because of blister issues.

Rob Whalen, Mariners: Limited to just 11 starts and 60.2 innings because of shoulder inflammation and personal issues. (Whalen would step away from the game during 2017 due to those personal issues. He has since recovered in better physical and mental health.)

Brock Stewart, Dodgers: Limited to just 10 starts and 52 innings because of shoulder issues.

Pitchers get hurt. We know that. But Whalen is the perfect example that I’ve seen over the years of how some injuries should be avoidable. By the time the Braves shut down Whalen on Aug. 23, 2016, they had increased his innings by 49% and his shoulder was barking. Somehow, the Mariners traded for him. Predictably, he showed up at spring training with his shoulder still bothering him.

Said Whalen then, “When I got to 150 innings last year, which was my career high, I was kind of shot at that point. I was throwing all arm again, and my shoulder took the bulk of it. Throughout the offseason, it didn’t feel good when I was throwing.”

That is the kind of “year after” story I’ve heard too many times. From Kevin Millwood to Cole Hamels to Phil Hughes to Michael Wacha to James Paxton to Lance McCullers to Rob Whalen, you see the wear and tear of a big innings jump show up the next year. The symptoms could be reduced velocity or shoulder inflammation, not necessarily a major injury. Innings limits have evolved as more data become available, but developing young pitchers and keeping them healthy remains one of the biggest mysteries in baseball.

“As an industry we have to constantly cross check,” Anthopolous said. “The way we were protecting these guys—and I was front and center—it doesn’t mean it’s wrong, but it clearly hasn’t solved it.”

<p>Upon being named general manager of the Atlanta Braves three months ago, Alex Anthopolous inherited a blessing and a curse, and they are one in the same. The Braves are sitting on a cache of 10 highly-rated starting pitchers between 19 and 24 years old who have yet to pitch a full season in the majors: nine first-round picks and an international free agent who is one of the game’s best lefthanded prospects.</p><p>The blessing is the deepest inventory of young pitching in baseball for a team that could contend as soon as this year. The curse is teams still haven’t figured out how to keep young arms healthy.</p><p>One of Anthopolous’ first orders of business was to check what kind of mileage the organization put on their young arms last season. He immediately noticed that Luiz Gohara at age 21 jumped from 81 1/3 innings to 153 innings, a whopping 88% increase.</p><p>“I definitely noticed that,” Anthopolous said. “And [Mike] Soroka and [Kolby] Allard in Double A, they threw a lot of innings for their age. That’s not to say that’s critical or wrong. But candidly, those jumped off the page a bit.”</p><p>Let’s get something straight: there is no one, proven way to develop pitching. Pitchers enter pro ball with different mechanics, biomechanics, backgrounds, ages, wear and tear, etc. Treating everybody the same would be madness. But there are markers of potential trouble and there are studies that show the two greatest risks for injury are poor mechanics and fatigue.</p><p>For two decades I’ve been tracking when major league teams put their young pitchers at risk by pushing the fatigue factor. I began by looking at big league pitchers 25 and under who added 30 innings from their previous season. It was meant as a rule of thumb rather than a hard-and-fast one; pitchers on the younger and smaller side of the spectrum, for instance, would be more at risk of regression. I called this The Year After Effect, because often injury or regression showed up the year after a young pitcher was pushed.</p><p>Meanwhile, every team in baseball began monitoring year-to-year innings jumps. (One AL team logged them under “VE,” for Verducci Effect.) In recent years, taking a cue from several of those teams, I began applying a percentage jump (30%) as the red flag marker instead of a strict count of innings. Further still, I began looking at mechanics, age and size to see if any of those pitchers with red flags were at more risk than others. In other words, not every 30% jump is the same.</p><p>At this time last year, for instance, I red-flagged 12 pitchers who took an innings jump of 30% or more; 11 of those 12 threw fewer innings in 2017, including Dodgers phenom Julio Urias, who broke down with shoulder trouble. Further, applying other risk factors, I tagged four pitchers as “high risk.” Three of those four “high risk” pitchers broke down. There is more on them and the 2017 report card below.</p><p>In short, the methodology has evolved—just as innings limits have evolved for Anthopolous.</p><p>“I think there’s definitely merit to it,” he said. “I definitely bought into it my first few years [as Toronto GM] and those guys who were protected still broke down. It’s not just black and white, this total innings bump. Where is he in terms of workload, arm action, stress innings? … I think there’s a lot more that can go into it.</p><p>“Do I have an innings number in mind [this year]? You know they’re not going to throw 200, but I don’t believe in a locked number over the course of the year.”</p><p>It’s time for the annual Year After Effect report, this time in four stages: 1) The 2018 pitchers at risk. 2) Anthopolous’s Toronto lessons. 3) The 2018 Braves and 4) The 2017 Report Card.</p><h3>1. 2018 Pitchers at Risk</h3><p>After a dozen pitchers made the list last year, only three are on the watch list this year, the lowest number since I’ve been tracking young major league pitchers. There is no doubt teams are being more careful with their young arms, but it’s also a reflection of starters throwing fewer innings in general as more and more relievers chew up more and more innings.</p><p>*&quot;Increase&quot; denotes the increase over the pitcher&#39;s other previous pro innings high.</p><p><strong>1. Luiz Gohara, Braves</strong></p><p>The Mariners signed Gohara out of Brazil at age 16 and sent him to Pulaski, Va., where many of his teammates were 22 and 23 years old—so it should not have been a surprise that he endured maturity and conditioning issues. Seattle unwisely traded him after the 2016 season to Atlanta for Shea Simmons and Mallex Smith, whom they flipped in a deal for Drew Smyly.</p><p>Gohara began last year with the Florida Fire Frogs in Class A ball and finished it as the hardest throwing lefthanded starter in the majors (average fastball velo: 96.4). Despite the added innings and despite being out of the race, the Braves ran him out to the mound five times in September—giving him 30 starts on the year—including his final two on four days rest. He pitched six innings four times, making him the only pitcher that young to do so in the past four seasons.</p><p>Gohara became the youngest Braves lefty with five starts since Odalis Perez in 1999. That happened to be Perez’s Year After Effect season. After the Braves gave him a 91% innings jump in 1998, Perez blew out his elbow in 1999.</p><p>In addition to elite velocity, Gohara features a nasty slider and a functional changeup. He most often is compared to CC Sabathia, in part because of their bulk (Gohara is 6’ 3” and weighs about 240), but there are key differences in the way they throw. Sabathia has pristine mechanics in which he gets out over his front side very well, using his lower half to generate power and extension. Gohara throws in a “tall” position with a stiff front side, with little bend in his front knee without truly getting over his front leg. Sabathia is three inches taller than Gohara, but because of how he uses his legs throws with a release point that is almost half a foot closer to the ground. Gohara throws more like Drew Pomeranz and Carlos Rodon than he does Sabathia. Gohara last season had the eighth-highest release point of any lefthander with at least 200 fastballs.</p><p><em>Risk level: High.</em></p><p><strong>2. Dylan Bundy, Orioles</strong></p><p>After three injury-plagued seasons, Baltimore arranged a “transition” season for Bundy in 2016, in which he spent the first half in the bullpen and second half in the rotation. The move paid dividends in 2017 when Bundy stayed healthy and made 28 starts.</p><p>Orioles manager Buck Showalter is most decidedly not a fan of innings limits, but when you look even closer at how Baltimore treated Bundy you see the care they gave him over these past two seasons. Showalter started Bundy on four days of rest 12 times in his first 20 starts. But he gave him extra rest in seven of his final eight starts down the stretch. Bundy did falter in three September starts (7.53 ERA), when his velocity slipped and he increased his slider usage to a season high (30%), before Baltimore shut him down because of hamstring issues.</p><p>The good news for Baltimore is that Bundy is 25 years old and has a powerful lower half that he uses extremely well in his delivery, though he has room to firm up his front side.</p><p><em>Risk Level: Medium.</em></p><p><strong>3. Luis Severino, Yankees.</strong></p><p>One pitch during ALCS Game 6 sent Yankees manager Joe Girardi sprinting to the mound to check on Severino. It had been a wayward changeup, after which Severino shook his arm. Severino was fine, but Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild watched Severino closely because they worried about his innings. Severino did not reach 80 pitches or five innings in his two ALCS starts.</p><p>Severino finished with 209 1/3 innings. His 193 1/3 regular season innings at age 23 were the most by a Yankees pitcher that young in almost half a century, since Steve Kline in 1971. Severino, who turns 24 this month, has worked hard to gain strength. He has a clean, athletic delivery with exceptional arm deceleration. If he can close the gap in his release point from his fastball to his slider, which is a few inches lower, he will be even nastier.</p><p><em>Risk Level: Medium.</em></p><h3>2. Lessons from Toronto</h3><p>Anthopolous was sitting on a boatload of pitching talent before. In the Blue Jays’ system in 2012, all between 19 and 22 years old, were Noah Syndergaard, Aaron Sanchez, Marcus Stroman, Anthony DeSclafani, Daniel Norris, Drew Hutchison, Joe Musgrove and Justin Nicolino. From 2009–12 Toronto used 12 first-round picks on pitchers, only three of whom actually wound up pitching for the Blue Jays.</p><p>“Early on in Toronto I was so … stubborn is the wrong word … strong-willed about protecting these guys, watching every inning,” he said. “My thought back then was that it seemed like high school guys break down more than college kids. The workload in college is about 110 innings. They throw once a week and are into their strength.</p><p>“So if we’re taking these high school kids, we can simulate their work like they’re in college. Wait until they’re 21, when they have their man strength. And we still had guys break down. And we had issues at the big league level.”</p><p>After many breakdowns in 2012 and 2013, Anthopolous re-examined his philosophy on developing pitchers. He did away with firm innings targets and was guided more by “micro-targets”—side sessions, high-pitch innings, recovery days, etc.</p><p>“I thought we got better in ’14 and ’15,” he said. “To this day I don’t think anybody has the answers. I thought [with the Dodgers] we monitored Julio Urias as well as anybody and [a breakdown] happened. In Toronto we protected Drew Hutchison and he still had Tommy John.</p><p>“Innings limits alone are not the panacea. It was almost to protect yourself, almost like, ‘If they can’t pitch they can’t get hurt.’ Year-by-year is important, but I don’t think it’s black and white. It’s day-to-day, start to start.</p><p>“Stress innings I think are big. Every doctor will tell you they are more prone to injury when they’re tired. The difference between a major league inning and a minor league innings is huge. Those long innings really take a toll. What is your side work? Should you skip sides?</p><p>“Everybody talks about how those Braves teams threw two sides [between starts]. I asked [Greg] Maddux about it in spring training. He said he skipped sides a ton. Where’s the recovery? Where’s the rest? No one clearly has the answers yet.”</p><h3>3. The 2018 Braves</h3><p>Four Top 100 prospect lists included eight Braves pitchers (which does not include Sean Newcombe and Lucas Sims, who arrived last year). To give you an idea of such depth, Fangraphs liked Kyle Wright best, Baseball America liked Gohara best and MLB.com and Baseball Prospectus liked Kolby Allard best. Here are the 10 gems.</p><p>* denotes overall pick in first round.</p><p>“This is a really talented group,” said Anthopolous, who, comparing it to the youngsters he had in Toronto, added, “potentially it belongs with that group, though that group had a little more power. Kyle Wright is probably the biggest flamethrower. There’s a lot of really good arms here.”</p><p>The Braves likely have two spots open in their rotation after Julio Teheran, Mike Foltynewicz and Brandon McCarthy. And no, Anthopolous does not sound like a big fan of six-man rotations, preferring to stick with five starters through off days to build in rest. The problem with a six-man rotation, he said, is that it limits your bench and “the biggest challenge is your veteran starters hate the extra days off.”</p><p>You might have noticed the Braves are heavy with high school arms. (Toussaint, Fried and Newcombe, incidentally, were acquired in trades). The flameout rate of such arms is astounding. From 2000–09, teams drafted 90 high school pitchers in the first round; 34 of them have never won a game in the major leagues, a 38% failure rate.</p><p>If you limit the window to 2000–04—allowing more time for a career to play out—18 of the 45 high school first-rounders never won a big league game (40%). Some grabbed a cup of coffee, leaving 62% of first-round high school pitchers that never won more than 10 games in the big leagues. The best-case scenario belongs to pitchers such as Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Cole Hamels.</p><p>“From a position player viewpoint,” Anthopolous said, “when your team is built on all these young arms, we felt like we need to be as good a defensive team as we can. We really wanted to focus on defense, eliminate the stress innings.</p><p>“The biggest change for us in Toronto in 2015 wasn’t David Price. Once we changed the defense all of a sudden our rotation got better. It’s the one thing you can do to make the 12 guys on your staff better.”</p><p>Sound familiar? In 1991, when Braves GM John Schuerholz was sitting on a pile of great young arms, he emphasized defense, acquiring infielders Terry Pendleton, Sid Bream and Rafael Belliard and improving the playing surface at Fulton County Stadium. The Braves immediately went from last in the majors in defensive efficiency to third.</p><h3>4. The 2017 Report Card</h3><p>Eleven of the 12 pitchers identified threw fewer innings in 2017. (The exception was Reynaldo Lopez of the White Sox.) Over the past four seasons, 26 of 32 pitchers I identified as at risk threw fewer innings, an 81% rate of decline. But several of those declines were so small as to be insignificant.</p><p>Here are the four pitchers I pegged as “high risk:”</p><p><strong>Reynaldo Lopez, White Sox:</strong> Powered through 30 starts and 168.1 innings. One concern: his average fastball velocity dropped from 96.7 to 94.7.</p><p><strong>Aaron Sanchez, Blue Jays:</strong> Limited to just 10 starts and 44 innings because of blister issues.</p><p><strong>Rob Whalen, Mariners:</strong> Limited to just 11 starts and 60.2 innings because of shoulder inflammation and personal issues. (Whalen would step away from the game during 2017 due to those personal issues. He has since recovered in better physical and mental health.)</p><p><strong>Brock Stewart, Dodgers:</strong> Limited to just 10 starts and 52 innings because of shoulder issues.</p><p>Pitchers get hurt. We know that. But Whalen is the perfect example that I’ve seen over the years of how some injuries should be avoidable. By the time the Braves shut down Whalen on Aug. 23, 2016, they had increased his innings by 49% and his shoulder was barking. Somehow, the Mariners traded for him. Predictably, he showed up at spring training with his shoulder still bothering him.</p><p>Said Whalen then, “When I got to 150 innings last year, which was my career high, I was kind of shot at that point. I was throwing all arm again, and my shoulder took the bulk of it. Throughout the offseason, it didn’t feel good when I was throwing.”</p><p>That is the kind of “year after” story I’ve heard too many times. From Kevin Millwood to Cole Hamels to Phil Hughes to Michael Wacha to James Paxton to Lance McCullers to Rob Whalen, you see the wear and tear of a big innings jump show up the next year. The symptoms could be reduced velocity or shoulder inflammation, not necessarily a major injury. Innings limits have evolved as more data become available, but developing young pitchers and keeping them healthy remains one of the biggest mysteries in baseball.</p><p>“As an industry we have to constantly cross check,” Anthopolous said. “The way we were protecting these guys—and I was front and center—it doesn’t mean it’s wrong, but it clearly hasn’t solved it.”</p>
The 2018 Year After Effect: Which Young Pitchers Are At a Heightened Risk for Injury?

Upon being named general manager of the Atlanta Braves three months ago, Alex Anthopolous inherited a blessing and a curse, and they are one in the same. The Braves are sitting on a cache of 10 highly-rated starting pitchers between 19 and 24 years old who have yet to pitch a full season in the majors: nine first-round picks and an international free agent who is one of the game’s best lefthanded prospects.

The blessing is the deepest inventory of young pitching in baseball for a team that could contend as soon as this year. The curse is teams still haven’t figured out how to keep young arms healthy.

One of Anthopolous’ first orders of business was to check what kind of mileage the organization put on their young arms last season. He immediately noticed that Luiz Gohara at age 21 jumped from 81 1/3 innings to 153 innings, a whopping 88% increase.

“I definitely noticed that,” Anthopolous said. “And [Mike] Soroka and [Kolby] Allard in Double A, they threw a lot of innings for their age. That’s not to say that’s critical or wrong. But candidly, those jumped off the page a bit.”

Let’s get something straight: there is no one, proven way to develop pitching. Pitchers enter pro ball with different mechanics, biomechanics, backgrounds, ages, wear and tear, etc. Treating everybody the same would be madness. But there are markers of potential trouble and there are studies that show the two greatest risks for injury are poor mechanics and fatigue.

For two decades I’ve been tracking when major league teams put their young pitchers at risk by pushing the fatigue factor. I began by looking at big league pitchers 25 and under who added 30 innings from their previous season. It was meant as a rule of thumb rather than a hard-and-fast one; pitchers on the younger and smaller side of the spectrum, for instance, would be more at risk of regression. I called this The Year After Effect, because often injury or regression showed up the year after a young pitcher was pushed.

Meanwhile, every team in baseball began monitoring year-to-year innings jumps. (One AL team logged them under “VE,” for Verducci Effect.) In recent years, taking a cue from several of those teams, I began applying a percentage jump (30%) as the red flag marker instead of a strict count of innings. Further still, I began looking at mechanics, age and size to see if any of those pitchers with red flags were at more risk than others. In other words, not every 30% jump is the same.

At this time last year, for instance, I red-flagged 12 pitchers who took an innings jump of 30% or more; 11 of those 12 threw fewer innings in 2017, including Dodgers phenom Julio Urias, who broke down with shoulder trouble. Further, applying other risk factors, I tagged four pitchers as “high risk.” Three of those four “high risk” pitchers broke down. There is more on them and the 2017 report card below.

In short, the methodology has evolved—just as innings limits have evolved for Anthopolous.

“I think there’s definitely merit to it,” he said. “I definitely bought into it my first few years [as Toronto GM] and those guys who were protected still broke down. It’s not just black and white, this total innings bump. Where is he in terms of workload, arm action, stress innings? … I think there’s a lot more that can go into it.

“Do I have an innings number in mind [this year]? You know they’re not going to throw 200, but I don’t believe in a locked number over the course of the year.”

It’s time for the annual Year After Effect report, this time in four stages: 1) The 2018 pitchers at risk. 2) Anthopolous’s Toronto lessons. 3) The 2018 Braves and 4) The 2017 Report Card.

1. 2018 Pitchers at Risk

After a dozen pitchers made the list last year, only three are on the watch list this year, the lowest number since I’ve been tracking young major league pitchers. There is no doubt teams are being more careful with their young arms, but it’s also a reflection of starters throwing fewer innings in general as more and more relievers chew up more and more innings.

*"Increase" denotes the increase over the pitcher's other previous pro innings high.

1. Luiz Gohara, Braves

The Mariners signed Gohara out of Brazil at age 16 and sent him to Pulaski, Va., where many of his teammates were 22 and 23 years old—so it should not have been a surprise that he endured maturity and conditioning issues. Seattle unwisely traded him after the 2016 season to Atlanta for Shea Simmons and Mallex Smith, whom they flipped in a deal for Drew Smyly.

Gohara began last year with the Florida Fire Frogs in Class A ball and finished it as the hardest throwing lefthanded starter in the majors (average fastball velo: 96.4). Despite the added innings and despite being out of the race, the Braves ran him out to the mound five times in September—giving him 30 starts on the year—including his final two on four days rest. He pitched six innings four times, making him the only pitcher that young to do so in the past four seasons.

Gohara became the youngest Braves lefty with five starts since Odalis Perez in 1999. That happened to be Perez’s Year After Effect season. After the Braves gave him a 91% innings jump in 1998, Perez blew out his elbow in 1999.

In addition to elite velocity, Gohara features a nasty slider and a functional changeup. He most often is compared to CC Sabathia, in part because of their bulk (Gohara is 6’ 3” and weighs about 240), but there are key differences in the way they throw. Sabathia has pristine mechanics in which he gets out over his front side very well, using his lower half to generate power and extension. Gohara throws in a “tall” position with a stiff front side, with little bend in his front knee without truly getting over his front leg. Sabathia is three inches taller than Gohara, but because of how he uses his legs throws with a release point that is almost half a foot closer to the ground. Gohara throws more like Drew Pomeranz and Carlos Rodon than he does Sabathia. Gohara last season had the eighth-highest release point of any lefthander with at least 200 fastballs.

Risk level: High.

2. Dylan Bundy, Orioles

After three injury-plagued seasons, Baltimore arranged a “transition” season for Bundy in 2016, in which he spent the first half in the bullpen and second half in the rotation. The move paid dividends in 2017 when Bundy stayed healthy and made 28 starts.

Orioles manager Buck Showalter is most decidedly not a fan of innings limits, but when you look even closer at how Baltimore treated Bundy you see the care they gave him over these past two seasons. Showalter started Bundy on four days of rest 12 times in his first 20 starts. But he gave him extra rest in seven of his final eight starts down the stretch. Bundy did falter in three September starts (7.53 ERA), when his velocity slipped and he increased his slider usage to a season high (30%), before Baltimore shut him down because of hamstring issues.

The good news for Baltimore is that Bundy is 25 years old and has a powerful lower half that he uses extremely well in his delivery, though he has room to firm up his front side.

Risk Level: Medium.

3. Luis Severino, Yankees.

One pitch during ALCS Game 6 sent Yankees manager Joe Girardi sprinting to the mound to check on Severino. It had been a wayward changeup, after which Severino shook his arm. Severino was fine, but Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild watched Severino closely because they worried about his innings. Severino did not reach 80 pitches or five innings in his two ALCS starts.

Severino finished with 209 1/3 innings. His 193 1/3 regular season innings at age 23 were the most by a Yankees pitcher that young in almost half a century, since Steve Kline in 1971. Severino, who turns 24 this month, has worked hard to gain strength. He has a clean, athletic delivery with exceptional arm deceleration. If he can close the gap in his release point from his fastball to his slider, which is a few inches lower, he will be even nastier.

Risk Level: Medium.

2. Lessons from Toronto

Anthopolous was sitting on a boatload of pitching talent before. In the Blue Jays’ system in 2012, all between 19 and 22 years old, were Noah Syndergaard, Aaron Sanchez, Marcus Stroman, Anthony DeSclafani, Daniel Norris, Drew Hutchison, Joe Musgrove and Justin Nicolino. From 2009–12 Toronto used 12 first-round picks on pitchers, only three of whom actually wound up pitching for the Blue Jays.

“Early on in Toronto I was so … stubborn is the wrong word … strong-willed about protecting these guys, watching every inning,” he said. “My thought back then was that it seemed like high school guys break down more than college kids. The workload in college is about 110 innings. They throw once a week and are into their strength.

“So if we’re taking these high school kids, we can simulate their work like they’re in college. Wait until they’re 21, when they have their man strength. And we still had guys break down. And we had issues at the big league level.”

After many breakdowns in 2012 and 2013, Anthopolous re-examined his philosophy on developing pitchers. He did away with firm innings targets and was guided more by “micro-targets”—side sessions, high-pitch innings, recovery days, etc.

“I thought we got better in ’14 and ’15,” he said. “To this day I don’t think anybody has the answers. I thought [with the Dodgers] we monitored Julio Urias as well as anybody and [a breakdown] happened. In Toronto we protected Drew Hutchison and he still had Tommy John.

“Innings limits alone are not the panacea. It was almost to protect yourself, almost like, ‘If they can’t pitch they can’t get hurt.’ Year-by-year is important, but I don’t think it’s black and white. It’s day-to-day, start to start.

“Stress innings I think are big. Every doctor will tell you they are more prone to injury when they’re tired. The difference between a major league inning and a minor league innings is huge. Those long innings really take a toll. What is your side work? Should you skip sides?

“Everybody talks about how those Braves teams threw two sides [between starts]. I asked [Greg] Maddux about it in spring training. He said he skipped sides a ton. Where’s the recovery? Where’s the rest? No one clearly has the answers yet.”

3. The 2018 Braves

Four Top 100 prospect lists included eight Braves pitchers (which does not include Sean Newcombe and Lucas Sims, who arrived last year). To give you an idea of such depth, Fangraphs liked Kyle Wright best, Baseball America liked Gohara best and MLB.com and Baseball Prospectus liked Kolby Allard best. Here are the 10 gems.

* denotes overall pick in first round.

“This is a really talented group,” said Anthopolous, who, comparing it to the youngsters he had in Toronto, added, “potentially it belongs with that group, though that group had a little more power. Kyle Wright is probably the biggest flamethrower. There’s a lot of really good arms here.”

The Braves likely have two spots open in their rotation after Julio Teheran, Mike Foltynewicz and Brandon McCarthy. And no, Anthopolous does not sound like a big fan of six-man rotations, preferring to stick with five starters through off days to build in rest. The problem with a six-man rotation, he said, is that it limits your bench and “the biggest challenge is your veteran starters hate the extra days off.”

You might have noticed the Braves are heavy with high school arms. (Toussaint, Fried and Newcombe, incidentally, were acquired in trades). The flameout rate of such arms is astounding. From 2000–09, teams drafted 90 high school pitchers in the first round; 34 of them have never won a game in the major leagues, a 38% failure rate.

If you limit the window to 2000–04—allowing more time for a career to play out—18 of the 45 high school first-rounders never won a big league game (40%). Some grabbed a cup of coffee, leaving 62% of first-round high school pitchers that never won more than 10 games in the big leagues. The best-case scenario belongs to pitchers such as Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Cole Hamels.

“From a position player viewpoint,” Anthopolous said, “when your team is built on all these young arms, we felt like we need to be as good a defensive team as we can. We really wanted to focus on defense, eliminate the stress innings.

“The biggest change for us in Toronto in 2015 wasn’t David Price. Once we changed the defense all of a sudden our rotation got better. It’s the one thing you can do to make the 12 guys on your staff better.”

Sound familiar? In 1991, when Braves GM John Schuerholz was sitting on a pile of great young arms, he emphasized defense, acquiring infielders Terry Pendleton, Sid Bream and Rafael Belliard and improving the playing surface at Fulton County Stadium. The Braves immediately went from last in the majors in defensive efficiency to third.

4. The 2017 Report Card

Eleven of the 12 pitchers identified threw fewer innings in 2017. (The exception was Reynaldo Lopez of the White Sox.) Over the past four seasons, 26 of 32 pitchers I identified as at risk threw fewer innings, an 81% rate of decline. But several of those declines were so small as to be insignificant.

Here are the four pitchers I pegged as “high risk:”

Reynaldo Lopez, White Sox: Powered through 30 starts and 168.1 innings. One concern: his average fastball velocity dropped from 96.7 to 94.7.

Aaron Sanchez, Blue Jays: Limited to just 10 starts and 44 innings because of blister issues.

Rob Whalen, Mariners: Limited to just 11 starts and 60.2 innings because of shoulder inflammation and personal issues. (Whalen would step away from the game during 2017 due to those personal issues. He has since recovered in better physical and mental health.)

Brock Stewart, Dodgers: Limited to just 10 starts and 52 innings because of shoulder issues.

Pitchers get hurt. We know that. But Whalen is the perfect example that I’ve seen over the years of how some injuries should be avoidable. By the time the Braves shut down Whalen on Aug. 23, 2016, they had increased his innings by 49% and his shoulder was barking. Somehow, the Mariners traded for him. Predictably, he showed up at spring training with his shoulder still bothering him.

Said Whalen then, “When I got to 150 innings last year, which was my career high, I was kind of shot at that point. I was throwing all arm again, and my shoulder took the bulk of it. Throughout the offseason, it didn’t feel good when I was throwing.”

That is the kind of “year after” story I’ve heard too many times. From Kevin Millwood to Cole Hamels to Phil Hughes to Michael Wacha to James Paxton to Lance McCullers to Rob Whalen, you see the wear and tear of a big innings jump show up the next year. The symptoms could be reduced velocity or shoulder inflammation, not necessarily a major injury. Innings limits have evolved as more data become available, but developing young pitchers and keeping them healthy remains one of the biggest mysteries in baseball.

“As an industry we have to constantly cross check,” Anthopolous said. “The way we were protecting these guys—and I was front and center—it doesn’t mean it’s wrong, but it clearly hasn’t solved it.”

FILE - In this Sept. 5, 2017, file photo, Boston Red Sox third baseman Eduardo Nunez throws out Toronto Blue Jays&#39; Jose Bautista during the eighth inning of a baseball game, at Fenway Park in Boston. In a historically slow market, players and management are feuding publicly about riches and rules, and teams seemingly are seeking bargains like shoppers awaiting a closeout. Job-seekers include pitchers Alex Cobb and Lance Lynn; reliever Greg Holland; infielder Eduardo Nunez; outfielders Carlos Gomez and Carlos Gonzalez; and catcher Jonathan Lucroy. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson, File)
Red Sox re-sign Eduardo Nunez for infield insurance
FILE - In this Sept. 5, 2017, file photo, Boston Red Sox third baseman Eduardo Nunez throws out Toronto Blue Jays' Jose Bautista during the eighth inning of a baseball game, at Fenway Park in Boston. In a historically slow market, players and management are feuding publicly about riches and rules, and teams seemingly are seeking bargains like shoppers awaiting a closeout. Job-seekers include pitchers Alex Cobb and Lance Lynn; reliever Greg Holland; infielder Eduardo Nunez; outfielders Carlos Gomez and Carlos Gonzalez; and catcher Jonathan Lucroy. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson, File)

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