A long drive, deep over the outfield wall … without a boost from performance-enhancing drugs.It’s an old-time ideal that Adrian Beltre of the Texas Rangers has played out over and over again. Earlier this week, he smashed two home runs, closing in on a relatively exclusive honor: membership in the 400 home run club. (Beltre needs one more dinger to become a card-carrying member.)In our view, and according to advanced stats, Beltre should be a Hall of Famer someday. But we worry that he won’t be because his conventional stats lack that Cooperstown shine.Why do we think Beltre should be enshrined alongside the likes of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Bill Mazeroski (more on him in a minute)? Beltre is a rarity — a player who excels at both offense and defense. And in both cases, that excellence is best illustrated using sabermetric measurements.1His offensive bona fides are also clear from such traditional statistics as home runs, of course. Among third basemen, Beltre, with his nearly 400 long balls, ranks fifth all-time; three of the four ahead of him are either already in Cooperstown or are locks to make it someday (Chipper Jones).For instance, in terms of per-plate appearance rates, Beltre ranks in the 80th percentile of his peers2Qualified hitters (according to Fangraphs’ leaderboard) who played between 1998 and 2015. in isolated power, the 70th percentile in contact rate, the 50th percentile in speed and the 82nd percentile as an overall hitter. (His only real offensive weakness is a 27th-percentile walk rate.) And those are just the rate statistics; Beltre’s durability has also seen him notch the second-most at-bats of any active player and the 53rd-most of any player ever.That longevity is a big reason why Beltre ranks ninth all-time in offensive wins above replacement (oWAR) among third basemen. Only one non-Hall of Famer, the easily forgettable Toby Harrah, ranks higher, and Beltre should pass him (plus Home Run Baker) this season, assuming that Beltre’s 2015 oWAR resembles his yearly output over the past five seasons. In fact, based on projections from Baseball Prospectus, there’s a good chance that the only players ahead of Beltre in oWAR by the end of his career will be offensive juggernauts Wade Boggs, George Brett, Chipper Jones, Eddie Mathews and Mike Schmidt.And defensively, Beltre’s advanced numbers are among the best ever. Per defensive WAR (dWAR) and defensive runs saved above average (DRAA),3Defense is harder to measure than offense, and traditional measurements have a way of propping up horrible defenders (see Jeter, Derek). But advanced statistics such as dWAR and DRAA (which is based on video-tracking data for recent seasons and estimated “zone ratings” for years before that) seem to capture defensive skill well. All modern players in the top 10 for DRAA have won at least one Gold Glove, and all but two have won at least four. Beltre is the second-best defensive third baseman in baseball history. Only Brooks Robinson, whom Reds manager Sparky Anderson had nightmares about after Robinson’s unforgettable defensive performance in the 1970 World Series, ranks better. According to dWAR, only 19 other players (across all positions) in baseball history were more valuable defensively than Beltre has been.The defender most like Beltre at this point is Mazeroski, who made it to the Hall almost entirely on his defense. Beltre, by contrast, combines Mazeroski-like defense with vastly superior offensive stats and greater durability.Yet, we worry about Beltre’s fate because his traditional measurements lag behind his advanced ones. The case against Beltre starts by saying that his nearly 400 home runs may be somewhat devalued by the steroid era — more than half of the club’s 51 members hit the majority of their home runs in the 1990s or 2000s — even if Beltre has never been implicated for steroid use. And Beltre’s other impressive credentials (four Gold Gloves, four Silver Sluggers and four All-Star Game nods) are good, but not great. Eric Chavez, for example, will only see Cooperstown as a visitor, but he won six Gold Gloves at third base. In addition, Beltre is unlikely to hit above .290 for his career or win a most valuable player award, and he has never won a World Series (only playing in a single Fall Classic).Simply put, Beltre’s conventional résumé falls short of Cooperstown’s traditional benchmarks. While there is no generally accepted baseball equivalent of Basketball-Reference.com’s Hall of Fame probability metric, Bill James developed a few good ways to gauge a player’s traditional statistical portfolio: the Hall of Fame Standards and Monitor tests, as well as the Black Ink and Gray Ink tests. Together, those metrics measure how well a player met certain (admittedly arbitrary) benchmarks that, historically speaking, are strongly correlated with Hall of Fame induction.In the “Ink” tests — which measure how often a player led the league and finished among the top 10 in important statistical categories — Beltre sits well behind the typical Hall member. He does fare somewhat better in the other, benchmark-based calculations (though he still ranks below average in both the Standards and Monitor tests), and at just 36 years old, Beltre still has time to add to his totals. But overall, he may not even have a coin flip’s chance at the Hall of Fame, according to traditional gauges. A logistic regression between the James metrics and Hall of Fame enshrinement for the eligible players on Baseball-Reference.com’s leaderboards4With additional variables for a player’s era and whether a player was publicly linked to steroids. would assign Beltre a mere 18 percent chance of induction if he retired today.But our hope is that Hall of Fame voters are slowly moving past the older considerations. If they look instead at Beltre’s advanced numbers, they’ll see a Hall of Fame worthy outlier. Look at the Jaffe WAR Score system, or JAWS.5For those curious, the eponym behind the number is Sports Illustrated’s Jay Jaffe. Built on the foundation of WAR, JAWS attempts to strike a balance between players who compiled value over a long period of time (think Paul Molitor, whose JAWS was 57.5) and those who burned brightly for a shorter span of seasons (think Jackie Robinson, whose JAWS was 56.8). And the difference between Beltre’s actual JAWS and what we’d predict from his conventional credentials6As measured by a regression using the James metrics. is stark.Beltre is one of only 10 non-Hall of Famers7Among either eligible players who were not elected or those ineligible for induction. in major league history to produce a JAWS rating above that of the average Hall of Famer, despite a predicted JAWS below the average Hall of Famer.8Predicted JAWS is designed so that its average equals the average JAWS.How can there be such a big difference? It’s partly because predicted JAWS doesn’t take into account defense (because it’s using conventional stats) and actual JAWS does. As we noted previously, defense is very hard to measure in a conventional sense. That’s especially the case at third base, where people can’t even agree on the best skill set for the position. It used to be impossible to say what exactly a player’s defensive range was, for instance. That’s why James’s metrics don’t make much of an attempt at incorporating defense, with the exception of taking into account a player’s position and where it sits on the defensive spectrum.But now we can understand how valuable Beltre is defensively. And we know that his mixture of offensive and defensive production for a third baseman is very rare.The question left is whether Hall of Fame voters will see things that way, conventions be damned.
I don’t want to say it’s been a while since the National League broke even in interleague play, but here are some things that were true the last time it happened:George W. Bush was still in his first term as president.Barry Bonds was the best player in baseball.We were all excited about the idea of a sequel to “The Matrix.”Beyonce was just trying out the whole solo thing.Battle lines were drawn between Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken supporters.You get the idea. Between 2003 and this season, AL teams compiled a 1,765-1,465 record1Including the World Series. against their NL counterparts — good for a .546 winning percentage, or roughly 89 wins per 162 games — and won interleague play by a grand total of 1,688 runs. It’s a run of complete dominance that has covered more than half the history of regular-season interleague play (which began in 1997).At a team-by-team level, the difference between leagues has been downright comical at times. In 2009, at the peak of the AL-NL disparity, the AL’s 75-win Toronto Blue Jays had a better schedule-adjusted run differential2As measured by Baseball-Reference’s Simple Rating System, or SRS. than the NL’s 93-win Philadelphia Phillies. Last season, the 98-win Pittsburgh Pirates were dead-even with the 78-win Boston Red Sox. Talent being equal, being in the NL over the past decade-plus has consistently been worth a number of extra wins each season.But so far this year, the NL has done uncharacteristically well against the Junior Circuit, posting a 25-18 record in interleague play as of Monday night’s games. If it holds up, that .581 winning percentage would represent the NL’s best-ever performance against the AL, shattering the old mark of .548 set in interleague’s debut season. That’s why Elo’s predictions say the AL should actually be ahead on wins, 22-21, against the NL right now. And since ‘97, that Elo-generated expectation has been a better predictor of interleague play over the rest of the season than each league’s actual record through 43 games.In other words, the NL shouldn’t start celebrating quite yet. Even though it’s off to a strong start against its cross-league rival, there’s still plenty of time left for the AL to mash it into paste, as usual. However, we’ve seen this kind of fast start from the NL before. In 2014, NL teams won 26 of the first 43 interleague matchups, a game better than even this season’s fast start, only to go 115-149 over the rest of the season and finish the year with a lousy .459 winning percentage. That was one of four instances during the NL’s 12-year run of futility that the Senior Circuit was above .500 through 43 interleague games; it finished those seasons with an average winning percentage of .453.And there are signs that this season could be destined for more of the same. Although the NL is home to a handful of the best teams in MLB — the mighty Cubs, plus the Mets, Nationals, Dodgers, Cardinals, Pirates and Giants, all of whom rank among FanGraphs’ top 11 teams by projected wins above replacement going forward — it also houses each of the seven worst teams in baseball by projected WAR.3For those curious, that’s the Diamondbacks, Rockies, Padres, Brewers, Reds, Phillies and Braves. So despite the NL’s top-heaviness, our team Elo ratings (which estimate a team’s strength at any given moment) consider the gap between the average AL and NL teams to be bigger now than it usually is after 43 interleague games.4Granted, MLB used to start the interleague schedule later in the season; before 2013, it would be mid-June before 43 games were played. But since Elo ratings are theoretically time-independent (hence the “strength at any given moment” part above), that difference shouldn’t be affecting the results.
Paul Hewitt was fired yesterday by George Mason, which means college basketball lost one of its strongest assets. Not all coaches are as smart as Hewitt or as committed to his players or as fine a representation of athletic leadership. To borrow Jack Nicholson’s famous line in A Few Good Men: college basketball “needs him on that wall.”There is a war on young Black men in America, as the news shows us every day, and a Black coach from New York with book sense and street smarts rates as a valuable commodity, especially in these times.Hewitt’s basketball teams at George Mason did not get it done, for various reasons that are boring and do not matter now. It would have been nice if they could have benefitted from Hewitt’s insight and won games, like much of his stay at Georgia Tech. But over four years at George Mason, they were one game under .500 and did not make the NCAA Tournament. Not good.But sometimes it has to be more than about winning. Sometimes it has to be about providing young men the kind of conscious leadership that will help shape their lives. That was Hewitt’s invaluable strength—to all his players, not just Black kids.That’s why he was able, as coach of Georgia Tech, to land first-rate recruits Chris Bosh, Derrick Favors, Thaddeus Young, Iman Shumpert, Anthony Marrow, Javaris Crittenton, Jarrett Jack and others. He had something to offer them that resonated beyond basketball.Last year, Hewitt took to ESPN radio to challenge Jeff Van Gundy, the former NBA coach and current analyst who claimed on the air that college athletes were not interested in getting an education. That was considered by many code for singling out Black athletes.For Hewitt, a father of three girls and staunch advocate education, that hit a nerve.Hewitt said of Van Gundy’s comments: “I thought to myself ‘Man, the general public must think really poorly of us. So later in the day before practice, I played his comments to my players and I didn’t say anything, I just said ‘I want you to listen to this and have a discussion about it.’“A lot of people were offended. They said ‘Coach, that’s what they think of us?’ (I told them): ‘Unfortunately, stereotypes are very strong to beat down in our society and it’s up to you guys to make sure that you take full advantage of what you have here.’ I think the overwhelming majority do, [but] I think oftentimes we get bogged down by stereotypes and really don’t step back and take a big picture look at what’s really going on in the American education system.”That was classic Hewitt, taking on causes. He took his platform as a big-time coach who led Georgia Tech to the NCAA Tournament Championship Game in 2004 as an opportunity to promote his players and to change the played out narrative about athletes, especially Black athletes, and raise awareness on important issues around the sport on a national platform.That’s why he held the position of president of the Black Coaches Association—he has the poise and generalship of a politician. A true politician, not one of the ones who are close-minded and selfish, an embarrassment to the country.Hewitt, 51, has been a proponent of college athletes getting paid, understanding there is a serious disparity in the ratio of money they generate for colleges against the deprived backgrounds from which many of them come.He also has pushed for a change to the rule that allows players to leave college after one season. And it really draws his ire when people like Dallas Maverick owner Mark Cuban blame college for the “one-and-done” rule that has diminished college basketball and sent unprepared players to the NBA when they were too young.“The Cuban thing really confused me,” Hewitt said. “The NBA ‘one-and-done rule’ is something that was instituted by the NBA owners, so if Mark Cuban has a problem with that rule, he and the owners should get together and repel it. That’s not an NCAA rule. A lot of people are running around thinking the NCAA put that rule in. That’s number one.“Number two, 18-year-olds are going to act like 18-year olds. Over my years, I’ve had kids like Chris Bosh and Derrick Favors and Thaddeus Young and guys who have gone one-and-done, and those kids were model students at Georgia Tech. I can remember the last exam Chris Bosh took before he put his name in the draft was his calculus exam.“What I’ve found over the years is when they get about to their junior year and they start to realize their dream of professional basketball is ‘a lot harder to obtain then I thought‘ or ‘I’ll never reach it’… then education becomes really important to them. Which is very similar to the normal 18-year-old kid who comes in with a lot of options. The fewer options you have, the more interest you have (in getting an education).”One of Hewitt’s prized recruits, Crittenton, found himself in trouble that no one could have projected for the kid when he was under Hewitt. He was charged with the murder of an Atlanta woman in 2011. Hewitt was a top Crittenton character witness that allowed him to receive bail. (The case has not gone to trial yet.) In the worst case scenario, Hewitt stood up for his player.In firing Hewitt, George Mason athletic director Brad Edwards said: “Paul has always been a tremendous advocate for the sport of college basketball and we are extremely appreciative for the manner in which he has represented the university and for his service to the student-athletes and to the program.”Maybe someone will see the value in Hewitt and hire him. He’s deserving of an opportunity with more of an upside than George Mason, which was not exactly a sexy place for recruits to flock.Chances are, if we’re lucky, Hewitt will take a TV analyst job, where he has some experience and would be a fresh, honest voice and an advocate for change benefitting the young Black athlete, first and foremost. We need Paul Hewitt on that wall.
MANCHESTER, England (AP) — Soccer players in England are backing a 24-hour boycott of social media to demand a crackdown on racial abuse on the platforms. “My teammates and I have been on the receiving end of well documented abuse from a minority of narrow-minded, ignorant people both on social media and on the pitch,” Deeney said. “Any racism in football is too much, and it’s essential that we fight it wherever and whenever we see it. “Throughout my career I have developed a thick skin against verbal abuse, justifying it as just ‘part of the game’ but the time has come for Twitter, Instagram and Facebook to consider regulating their channels, taking responsibility for protecting the mental health of users regardless of age, race, sex or income,” Smalling said. “Football has a problem with racism,” England and Tottenham defender Danny Rose said. “I don’t want any future players to go through what I’ve been through in my career.” After being targeted with monkey noises while playing for England in Montenegro last month, Rose said he couldn’t wait for his career to end to escape racism in football. The PFA has distributed a red graphic featuring the words “Enough. Make a stand against racism.” Manchester City’s Riyad Mahrez, left, challenges for the ball with Tottenham’s Danny Rose during the Champions League, round of 8, first-leg soccer match between Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City at the Tottenham Hotspur stadium in London, Tuesday, April 9, 2019. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein) Watford captain Troy Deeney was also targeted with racial insults on Instagram earlier this month after scoring in an FA Cup semifinal win over Wolverhampton. “Collectively, we are simply not willing to stand by while too little is done by football authorities and social media companies to protect players from this disgusting abuse,” Rose said. Twitter said earlier this week that it uses “proprietary-built internal technology to proactively find abusive content” but anti-discrimination organization Kick It Out asked for more serious action. Unlike Rose, Manchester United defender Chris Smalling does have public accounts on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. “I understand that I am in an extremely privileged position and I am deeply thankful for that but, at the end of the day, we are all human.” Earlier this week, Manchester United condemned abuse directed at Ashley Young online following the club’s Champions League exit at Barcelona. Following a series of high-profile cases, the Professional Footballers’ Association has gathered support from players to stay off Twitter, Facebook and Instagram from 9 a.m. Friday until 9 a.m. Saturday. “While there has been progress in the battle against racism within football, there are still far too many instances of players being abused,” said Leicester captain Wes Morgan, who won the Premier League in 2016. “I’ve heard it in the stands and I’ve seen it online. We all have. That’s why, as players, we are coming together on Friday to say that more must now be done to eradicate racism from our game.” “On Friday we are sending a message to anyone that abuses players — or anyone else — whether from the crowd or online, that we won’t tolerate it within football. The boycott is just one small step, but the players are speaking out with one voice against racism — enough is enough.” “Football is more popular than it has ever been, but we have a discontented generation of players who won’t stand for racist abuse any longer. Enough is enough,” Arsenal and England women’s team forward Danielle Carter said. “We want to see social media companies take proper responsibility for racist abuse on their platforms and we want them to find solutions.”
The Oakland A’s don’t spend much time in the spotlight. They have few household names on their roster, and they’re the No. 2 team in a West Coast market in a stadium that they’re trying to leave as soon as possible. Even as the A’s have climbed to rank as the fourth-best team in the majors by FiveThirtyEight’s Elo ratings, in recent weeks the club might be most known for the G-shaped beard of Mike Fiers that captured the public’s attention. But Oakland should be able to keep baseball’s attention now, as it is again on the cusp of securing an American League wild-card spot, one of the few unsettled postseason races in the majors. Despite owning just the sport’s 25th-ranked payroll, Oakland has a 96 percent chance of making the playoffs.Prior to last season, we saw the A’s as a 76-win team, FanGraphs had the A’s at 78 wins, and Vegas placed the over-under at 74.5 wins. The A’s would win 97 games. This spring, we pegged the A’s as an 83-win team, FanGraphs made an 85-win call, and Las Vegas placed the club’s over-under win total at 83.5. The A’s are on track for another 97-win season. How are they again exceeding expectations? It’s a formula similar to last year’s — with a few different players leading the charge and a new unconventional strategy.The A’s have already changed baseball once: In the early 2000s, they helped accelerate the embrace of analytics in baseball by exploiting market inefficiencies. And now, they’re arguably at the forefront of major shifts in the sport once again. Last season, they got ahead of other teams in keeping balls off the ground on offense and leaned on a strong bullpen that combined for the second-most innings in the majors. This year, the A’s again have a strong bullpen and an offensive lineup with one of the lowest ground-ball rates in baseball.The A’s position players are again excellent, ranking fifth in the majors in wins above replacement1By the FanGraphs version of the metric. and offensive efficiency (107 weighted runs created plus)2Where 100 WRC+ is considered average. entering Wednesday. The team has already set a franchise record for home runs in a season, but they’re also fourth in baseball in defensive efficiency, which is the share of balls put in play by opponents that are turned into outs.After five A’s players posted at least 3 WAR last year, they’ve already matched that this season. The A’s have five of the 66 players who have produced at least 3 WAR this year; only the division rival Astros have more, with six.Sluggers Matt Chapman and Matt Olson have been standouts for multiple years, but the best player on the A’s this season has been shortstop Marcus Semien, who has broken out for 6.8 WAR. He ranks seventh among the most improved players by WAR this season. He’s reduced his strikeouts while adding power, and he’s also gone from being a below-average defender earlier in his career to an above-average one, according to advanced metrics like ultimate zone rating. Outfielder Mark Canha is another unlikely star — acquired by the A’s with a Rule V draft selection — who has become a middle-of-the-order slugger, and outfielder Ramón Laureano is yet another improved hitter who also boasts a tremendous throwing arm.3And might have made the throw of the year.The A’s pitchers are also zigging in another area where clubs have zagged. Teams are favoring four-seam fastballs up in the zone, and the league, as a whole, has moved away from throwing sinkers. But the A’s lead baseball in sinker usage, which has perhaps helped them sport the lowest home run-to-fly ball ratio in the majors, as well as the fourth-best differential in home runs hit versus allowed (55), through Sunday.4They also get the effects of playing in a favorable pitcher’s park.And while the A’s have dominated this season without a rotation ace, they did recently welcome back Sean Manaea, perhaps their most talented arm, who has been excellent in his return from shoulder surgery. Maybe Manaea and the rest of the relative unknowns can keep up momentum going into where A’s haven’t exceeded expectations: the playoffs.Check out our latest MLB predictions.
Mike Trout and Bryce Harper, by consensus the most talented young position players in baseball, are facing off this week for the first time in their burgeoning careers. (Trout’s Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim got the best of Harper’s Washington Nationals on Monday night, 4-2.)Few youngsters arrived in the majors with as much buildup as Harper, who graced the cover of Sports Illustrated at age 16. Luckily for the Nationals, he’s mostly been as good as advertised (and he’s still just 21 years old, a fact that’s often forgotten because he’s been so good). Meanwhile, all Trout did in his first full pair of major-league seasons was turn in two of the 150 or so best position-player seasons in the past 113 years of baseball, making two strong MVP bids in the process.So, yeah, these guys have been really good, really early in their careers.With all the (deserved) hype surrounding Trout and Harper, I was wondering how the duo compares to other concurrent 22-or-under pairs of position players in the history of baseball. To answer that question, I looked at the most productive two non-pitchers age 22 or below in a given season, based on the combined number of wins above replacement they’d generated in the previous two seasons. (We can’t compare Trout/Harper through age 22 because we don’t know what they’ll do in 2014.)By that standard, Trout and Harper are the most productive young duo in baseball history. Here were the seasons featuring the best pairs of budding superstars ever (taking only the best score for duplicate pairs):The majority of those 28.2 combined WAR belong to Trout, author of the aforementioned pair of historically dominant campaigns. Let’s be honest, though: Given Trout’s otherworldly production at such a young age, we could pair him with just about anybody and he’d still be near the top of this list (Trout by himself would rank fifth). But Harper’s numbers to date hardly make him a coattail-rider. As far as No. 2s go, Harper’s 8.6 WAR ranks below only Mel Ott and Eddie Mathews as the third-best second fiddle in the history of promising under-22 duos.If we’re looking to give extra weight to No. 2s, ensuring that both players in a pair have great stats (to safeguard against a situation such as what happened in 1918, when Rogers Hornsby had 97 percent of the WAR in his “duo” with Ross Youngs), perhaps a better way to rank these kinds of pairings is not to sum up all of the WAR generated by a pair, but rather to take the harmonic mean of the two individuals’ WAR totals. If we do that, the following list emerges:By either list, though, Trout-Harper is the best young duo in baseball history. So, savor their matchup this week — you may never again see a pair of position players so good face off at such a young age.
OSU then-junior H-back Dontre Wilson (2) runs with the ball during a game against Indiana in Bloomington, Indiana. Credit: Samantha Hollingshead / Photo EditorOne was playing at another school and another was pledged to a different program. The two football players have gone through their test and trials, but one thing is in common for senior wide receiver Corey Smith and senior H-back Dontre Wilson — this is their last go-round in Columbus.Once a highly touted recruit from DeSoto, Texas, Wilson initially had plans to play his college football in Eugene, Oregon, under then-head coach Chip Kelly. Once Kelly left for greener pastures in the NFL with the Philadelphia Eagles, Wilson changed his post-high school plans.He committed to Ohio State coach Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes on Feb. 4, 2013, where he would see playing time as a freshman. Meyer raved about Wilson’s speed, often using him in jet sweeps where he would run across the line of scrimmage from one side of the field, receive the handoff, then run to the opposite sideline hoping to find open space to turn on the jets.Listed at 5-foot-10, 181 pounds by 247Sports entering into his freshman season, Wilson clearly wasn’t built for the physical play of the Big Ten. Now listed at 195 pounds, Wilson says he has evolved into a complete player, instead of one that can just run by you.“Everything that I’m doing right now, I feel like I haven’t done over the past couple years,” Wilson said. “But this year I feel like I’m going to bring everything to the table and put it all out on the field.”Wilson was fourth on the team in all-purpose yards with 983 in 2013, which put him behind only three players now in the NFL: Carlos Hyde, Corey “Philly” Brown and Braxton Miller.In his sophomore campaign, he saw improvement in his game from the year before, but that train came to a halt against Michigan State when he broke his foot, ending his regular season, excluding three plays in the national championship game. Wilson would miss extensive time in 2015 as well, still dealing with the foot injury from the year before.Now it’s 2016, his senior year. Since his arrival on campus, Wilson has carried a hype with him that he has yet to reach. Meyer believes that potential is still there.“The hardest part of our profession is when players get hurt,” Meyer said. “One of the great things about our profession is when they get to join the team again.”But Wilson isn’t the only Buckeye returning from an injury-plagued 2015 season. Senior Corey Smith was granted another year of eligibility after suffering a season-ending leg injury against Indiana on Oct. 3. It’s his final year in the Scarlet and Gray.“I don’t take nothing for granted anymore,” Smith said. “It’s really just a blessing to be out there with my brothers and being coached by some of the best coaches in the world.”Smith committed to OSU on Jan. 29, 2013, after a season playing under coach Buddy Stephens at East Mississippi Community College. After redshirting his first year in Columbus, Smith played in all 14 games for OSU, catching 20 passes for 255 yards, including a 47-yard reception in the national title game against Oregon. In total, he has registered 25 receptions and 317 yards as a Buckeye.To think there were a lack of expectations for Smith coming from JUCO ball would be ludicrous. Smith — originally from Akron Buchtel High School in northeast Ohio— had 51 receptions, 733 yards and nine touchdowns at EMCC and was ranked as the ninth-best overall junior college recruit. Smith was the first junior college commit to OSU since Larry Grant in 2006.Wilson and Smith have taken different paths to get to 2016, but neither of them feel like they have left a substantial mark on the program yet. With a younger receiving core, the two seniors will be asked to take the leap forward that was expected of them since their initiation into the program.“The legacy I want to leave is that kid that came from nothing and grinded to the top,” Smith said.Smith will see a healthy amount of time at receiver with Wilson getting touches at H-back, punt and kick return and running back.“A healthy me is a great me,” Wilson said. “I’m going to stay humble about it but you guys really haven’t seen what I can really do. This year I’m going to show it. I feel like if I can do everything that I’m ready to do this year, it’ll be great for my legacy. The sky’s the limit.”
OSU redshirt senior Shea Murray is switching positions from pitcher to outfield for the 2017 season. Credit: Courtesy of OSUChanging positions in baseball is often just part of the game. But it is rare a position change occurs in a player’s final year of eligibility. It is even more rare still that the change is from the mound to the outfield.But that is the transition coming for redshirt senior outfielder Shea Murray ahead of the 2017 season. The former pitcher will be taking his talents to the outfield where he hopes to compete for a starting spot in his final season with the Ohio State baseball team.The decision to make such a drastic position change came toward the end of the 2016 season. The coaching staff sat down with Murray and discussed a way for the 23-year-old player to have an impact on the team after three years of limited playing time.“My mechanics were not great — I couldn’t locate the ball like I at one time could and basically coming into my fifth year, I just wanted to have an opportunity to get on the field any way that I could,” Murray said. “And we lost a lot of the lineup from last year: two of the outfielders (Ronnie Dawson and Troy Montgomery) and a lot of the hitters. I felt like if there was any opportunity to make that transition, it was this year.”The decision to join OSU as a pitcher initially was not his alone. After graduating from Defiance High School, Murray spoke with baseball coach Tom Held who recommended he try to walk on as a pitcher due to his size and projectability.“He’s just a guy who’s got a lot of God-given ability, that I always knew if we convinced him that he could throw 90 miles per hour as a pitcher, he could walk on,” Held said. “I said, ‘you throw 90 at 6-foot-5 the way you are, they’ll keep you as a walk-on and that’s what he did.”Held – who has sent four pitchers to professional baseball, including Jon Niese and Chad Billingsley, as well as five pitchers to Division I college baseball – believed if there was ever a player who could make this transition, it was Murray.“We have a little idea to compare Shea with all those guys,” Held said. “Shea’s more athletic than any of them. That doesn’t mean he’s a better pitcher, but he’s more athletic.”Murray opted to redshirt his true-freshman season. That year he appeared in five games with little success, posting a 30.38 ERA across 2.2 innings. The following year, he made six appearances, but again failed to find much success as he produced a 7.04 ERA in 7.2 innings of work.Despite the struggles, Murray attracted big-league attention. After the 2015 season, Murray was drafted by the Texas Rangers when they selected him in the 39th round of the draft, 1158th overall.Some might find it strange to draft someone with only 10.1 innings of collegiate experience, but former Chicago Cubs scout and Cincinnati Reds’ interim general manager Brad Kullman said that is a typical pick for teams late in drafts given the upside that comes with Murray’s profile.“There is an old saying in baseball that you can teach a kid off-speed pitches, and you can work with his mechanics (to improve control), but can’t teach arm strength,” Kullman said. “The Rangers scout must have had a theory that they could work with his mechanics and try to harness his power. If he truly has not just a good arm, but two-plus pitches for a 39th rounder, it’s not an unreasonable gamble to try to catch lightning in a bottle.”Despite the offer to play professionally, Murray opted to return to OSU to prove to himself he could improve his value and still contribute to the team’s success.“I felt I could up my draft stock coming back and playing for another year,” Murray said. “I felt like I had unfinished business here at Ohio State, that was before we had won the Big Ten Championship. That was before I really had very much playing time and also, I hadn’t finished my degree yet, so it was a combination of things that was why I wanted to come back.”The 2016 campaign yielded better results for Murray as he logged 2.0 innings in two appearances and a 0.00 ERA with four strikeouts. The season also saw him log an inning in center field and register his first at-bat as a college player.After the season ended, OSU baseball coach Greg Beals saw practice in the outfield as a chance for Murray to reset his mechanics and get back to basics. But Beals was impressed enough by what he saw in Murray’s defensive ability and potential offensive upside that he now believes Murray might have a chance to stick in the outfield as a starter this season.“Shea’s a great athlete, I mean (he) can really run and throw; he’s a big, physical kid with great tools to play outfield defense,” Beals said. “He’s taken to playing the outfield extremely well and we’ve left him in that position, because we think he’s got a significant opportunity to contribute to our ball club this year.”For Murray, this transition has required spending many hours in the batting cages and shagging fly balls out in the field. His summer was spent improving his swing and defensive ability in the field with coach Beals and former MLB outfielder Matt Angle.Held believes Murray’s dedication to the baseball following a high-school career as a three-sport athlete has helped him make this transition by providing him with confidence in his ability and a strong work ethic.“He went to work that day (he made the position change) and has continued to put himself in a position maybe to put himself on the field and I couldn’t be more proud of him,” Held said. “Most guys wouldn’t do that. They wouldn’t even take on that challenge.”
Freshman Carter looks to follow in the footsteps of a legend at wide receiverWith every yard, touchdown and catch, Duron Carter is closer to following in his father’s footsteps. The freshman wide receiver has made an early impact this season and has found himself getting reps in three-wide formations. With a background like his, it is easy to understand how Carter has capitalized on his opportunities. Ohio State has a fine legacy of wide receivers, and like any young recruit, Carter will have to live up to their past achievements. Names like Joey Galloway, Terry Glenn and more recently Ted Ginn Jr. and Super Bowl MVP Santonio Holmes are just some of the past legends to wear scarlet and grey. However, before any of those wideouts made their name at OSU, the Buckeyes’ first great receiver was Duron’s Carter’s father, Cris.When Cris Carter’s career came to an end at OSU after three seasons, he held the all-time record for receptions and was also the Buckeyes’ first All-American at wide receiver. He was so smooth and athletic that some believed he might be the best to ever play the position. The eight-time Pro Bowler finished second in touchdown receptions for his career and is a sure-fire Hall-of-Famer. “I remember growing up and always being at my dad’s football games,” Duron Carter said. “I’ve been around football my whole life and always wanted to play. My dad has taught me almost everything he knows and it’s been great having a life full of football.”As a young player trying to improve his game, nothing can be better for Carter than having a father who has practically perfected his position. Using all of the elder Carter’s knowledge of the game could be key in making him the player he wants to be.“He’s taught me the little knowledge things like running routes and getting the shoulders down, little things that make a big difference playing receiver,” Carter said.Both father and son stand 6 feet 3 inches and it is obvious that most will find similarities between the two. However, Carter sees this as one of the few drawbacks in his situation, and said it is difficult being compared to “one of the best players to ever play the game.”Being a Buckeye was a dream come true for Carter, but he was not pushed toward it because of family ties. Interestingly enough, maize and blue were the colors that first attracted his attention.“I came on a visit my sophomore year, and I liked it a lot,” Carter said. “It was the place I wanted to go. It was either between here and the University of Florida, and I felt here would be a better place to develop me as a receiver. “I was a Michigan fan. I used to like Braylon Edwards a lot. He always made the spectacular catch, and that’s always something I wanted to do.”Carter’s impact thus far on his team might have been predicted by him or his coaches, but some believed it was his name that was garnering him attention during the recruiting process, and not his ability. “I thought it was pretty funny,” Carter said. “I remember going into the All-American game, I was like the No. 92 overall receiver, then after, they bumped me up to No. 11. It’s kind of comical what people say when they’ve never seen you play before.”Carter’s high school experience was also a great help to him. St. Thomas Aquinas in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida is a high school powerhouse, and was awarded the 2008 High School National Championship. He was a big part of their success the past two seasons, and is trying to translate what he learned there to the collegiate level.“I really went up against the best competition daily,” Carter said. “There are plenty of cornerbacks from St. Thomas. They’re eventually going to be the top product in the NFL and college football. Just going up against the best and getting reps against the best really prepares you.”Carter’s first touchdown grab came at Indiana on Oct. 3rd. However, it was one of his fierce blocks that caught the attention of his teammates. He said while scoring was great, he really enjoyed his punishing block because he loves to hit and get everyone on his team fired up.Although the name “Carter” will remain the same on the back of his jersey, Duron is determined to make a legacy all his own, and after 18 years, there really isn’t much more his dad can say.“We don’t really talk about football that much,” Carter said about his dad. “There’s really not much to talk about anymore.”
Lantern file photoDeshaun Thomas, a former forward for the Ohio State men’s basketball team, was selected with the 58th overall pick by the San Antonio Spurs in the 2013 NBA Draft Thursday night.Thomas played a key role for OSU teams that advanced to the NCAA Tournament Final Four in 2012 and to the Elite Eight in 2013. A junior during the 2013-13 season, Thomas elected to forgo his senior season and declare for the NBA draft.The Fort Wayne, Ind., native is leaving Columbus as the Buckeyes’ No. 9 scorer all-time with 1630 points, including the third best single-season total of 733 points during his final season.After forward Jared Sullinger declared for the draft in 2012, Thomas took on a leadership role for OSU. He ended the 2012-13 season leading the Big Ten in scoring with 19.8 points-per-game and an average of 5.9 rebounds per game.Thomas, the former Indiana Mr. Basketball, was a part of the highly touted 2010 recruiting class which included Sullinger as well as guards Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith Jr.Thomas is the ninth player under coach Thad Matta to be taken in the NBA draft. The 2013 draft marked the seventh straight draft in which an OSU player has been selected.Former Buckeyes under Matta to be drafted include center Greg Oden and guards Mike Conley Jr. and Daequan Cook in 2007, center Kosta Koufos in 2008, center Byron Mullens in 2009, forward Evan Turner in 2010, forward Jon Diebler in 2011 and Sullinger in 2012.