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Posted by Nate Silver

It’s become a rite of spring. Every year — or at least every year since LeBron James returned to the Cleveland Cavaliers — our NBA Elo ratings are skeptical of the Cavs when the playoffs begin. And every year, LeBron and Co. have smashed our poor algorithm to bits.

In 2015, the Cavs entered the playoffs with a lukewarm 1631 Elo rating. That’s perfectly respectable, but the sort of rating you might associate with the Los Angeles Clippers or another 50-something-win team that you’d expect to lose in the second round or the conference finals. Instead, Cleveland reached the NBA Finals, losing to the Golden State Warriors in six competitive games even with a depleted roster.

In 2016, the Cavs had a similarly good-but-not-great Elo rating — 1642 — when the playoffs began. But they blew through the Eastern Conference playoffs before beating the 73-win Warriors to win the NBA title, famously overcoming a 3-1 series deficit along the way. Their Elo rating finished at 1759, ranking them among the top 25 teams of all-time and implying that the system had massively underrated them initially.

This year, Elo had the Cavs pegged lower still when the playoffs began last month. Although the Cavs were our preseason favorite to win the Eastern Conference, they slumped at the end of the regular season — losing 13 of their final 22 games, including their last four — and their Elo rating fell all the way to 1545. That isn’t good; it’s the sort of rating you’d normally associate with a No. 6 seed or some other team you’d expect to lose in the first or second round. Accordingly, the Cavs’ chances of winning the title drifted around in the low-to-mid single digits — variously at 2 percent to 5 percent according to our simulations — as the regular season wound down and the playoffs began.

But the Cavs have gone 12-1 in the playoffs and won by an average score of 117-103. Their Elo rating has climbed by almost 150 points, to 1691. They clinched a return to the finals by beating the Boston Celtics by 33 points on Thursday. It’s been dominating stuff.

So has Elo learned its lesson? Well, maybe not. Cleveland’s chances of winning the finals are just 10 percent according to the more advanced, “Carm-ELO” version of our ratings — and 13 percent according to the simpler, original Elo algorithm. Bookmakers also have the Cavs as underdogs, but not as heavily, implying that they have about a 30 percent chance to beat the Warriors again and repeat as champions.

Giving Cleveland only a 10 percent chance is not the hill I want to die on. Our NBA projections are pretty simple, and sports betting markets are pretty sophisticated. While there are occasional exceptions, I’d usually defer to Vegas in the event of a major disagreement. Still, we’ve gotten a lot of questions throughout the playoffs about why Elo hasn’t given the Cavs a better chance. There are basically three reasons — but the one that matters the most right now has nothing to do with the Cavs and everything to do with the Warriors.

Reason No. 1: Elo doesn’t account for teams such as Cleveland finding a higher “gear” in the playoffs. We covered this point extensively before the playoffs began, so I won’t go into too much detail here. Our Elo projections — and most other projection systems — essentially treat regular-season basketball as equivalent to playoff basketball. But LeBron’s teams have a long history of performing at a much higher caliber in the playoffs than in the regular season.

Maybe this is because James and his teammates conserve their energy; there aren’t a lot of high-leverage regular-season games in the Eastern Conference, as evidenced by the fact that the Cavs could play so crappily down the stretch run and still stumble into the No. 2 seed. Maybe it’s because LeBron is a terrific half-court player, and there’s a premium on the half-court game in the playoffs as defenses tighten up. In any event, the assumption that playoff basketball equals regular-season basketball seems to be pretty wrong in the case of the Cavs. This is something we plan on re-evaluating as we retune our NBA models this summer.

Reason No. 2: Elo ratings heavily weight recent performance. That hurt Cleveland before, although it’s starting to help them now. Elo ratings were originally devised for chess, which doesn’t have any such thing as a “season.” Instead, performance continuously fluctuates up and down over time. Our Elo-based sports ratings mostly work the same way. The more recent the game, the more heavily it gets weighted.

I’d defend this as being the right assumption to make, in general. The degree to which Elo ratings fluctuate from game to game — which is governed by something called the K-factor — has been tested based on tens of thousands of NBA games. Other things held equal, a game played a week ago ought to tell you more than one played six months ago. Elo can be “smart” about catching cases like the 2014-15 Atlanta Hawks, who started out 40-8 but went 20-14 for the rest of the regular season before being swept by Cleveland in the conference finals.

But for a team whose regular-season performance doesn’t tell you much about how they’re going to fare in the playoffs (like the Cavaliers), there isn’t much benefit to doubling down on recent play. Cleveland played pretty well in the first half of the regular season, but middlingly — sometimes even poorly — in the second half. Elo put a lot of emphasis on that late-season slump as the playoffs approached, and that made it more skeptical of the Cavs.

Elo’s philosophy of rapidly adjusting its ratings is benefiting the Cavaliers now, however. Because of their dominance in the playoffs, the Cavs’ current Elo rating has rebounded. Their 1691 is the highest Elo rating they’ve had since Dec. 25, when they were at 1692 and had a 23-6 record after beating the Warriors.

That’s a very good Elo rating. Since the ABA-NBA merger in the 1976-77 season, the average NBA Finals participant has entered the finals with a rating of 1695. So Elo is saying that despite their regular-season struggles, the Cavs are every bit as strong as the typical conference champion.

The Cavaliers are great … but still a big underdog
1967 76ers* 1745 92% Warriors 1541 8%
1971 Bucks* 1704 91 Wizards 1507 9
1972 Lakers* 1738 90 Knicks 1555 10
2001 Lakers* 1768 89 76ers 1592 11
1986 Celtics* 1807 88 Rockets 1640 12
2017 Warriors* 1850 87 Cavaliers 1691 13
1963 Celtics* 1677 85 Lakers 1533 15
1996 Bulls* 1832 84 SuperSonics 1695 16
1949 Lakers* 1625 84 Capitols 1490 16
1959 Celtics* 1643 82 Lakers 1514 18
2003 Spurs* 1746 81 Nets 1624 19
1974 Bucks* 1709 80 Celtics 1592 20
2002 Lakers* 1717 80 Nets 1601 20
1999 Spurs* 1745 80 Knicks 1631 20
1962 Celtics* 1669 80 Lakers 1557 20
1960 Celtics* 1676 78 Hawks 1575 22
1950 Lakers 1727 77 76ers* 1597 23
1961 Celtics* 1669 77 Hawks 1571 23
1981 Celtics* 1668 76 Rockets 1573 24
2014 Spurs* 1730 76 Heat 1638 24
1966 Celtics* 1650 76 Lakers 1558 24
2015 Warriors* 1802 75 Cavaliers 1712 25
1957 Celtics* 1630 75 Hawks 1541 25
1965 Celtics* 1653 75 Lakers 1565 25
1956 Warriors* 1617 75 Pistons 1529 25
1975 Bullets* 1659 75 Warriors 1571 25
1951 Royals* 1615 74 Knicks 1531 26
1955 Nationals* 1632 73 Pistons 1551 27
2006 Mavericks* 1717 73 Heat 1637 27
1993 Bulls 1741 73 Suns* 1634 27
1987 Lakers* 1738 72 Celtics 1661 28
1984 Celtics* 1706 72 Lakers 1633 28
1983 76ers* 1707 71 Lakers 1638 29
1964 Celtics* 1669 70 Warriors 1602 30
2016 Warriors* 1790 70 Cavaliers 1725 30
2007 Spurs* 1705 70 Cavaliers 1641 30
1989 Pistons* 1763 69 Lakers 1701 31
2009 Lakers* 1760 68 Magic 1703 32
2000 Lakers* 1699 68 Pacers 1643 32
1991 Bulls* 1750 67 Lakers 1697 33
1952 Lakers* 1646 67 Knicks 1594 33
2012 Thunder* 1737 67 Heat 1686 33
1997 Bulls* 1799 66 Jazz 1751 34
1970 Knicks* 1595 66 Lakers 1549 34
2005 Spurs* 1716 66 Pistons 1670 34
2013 Heat* 1755 65 Spurs 1711 35
1958 Celtics* 1603 65 Hawks 1559 35
1992 Bulls* 1742 64 Trail Blazers 1702 36
1980 Lakers* 1712 62 76ers 1681 38
1954 Nationals 1666 61 Lakers* 1607 39
1990 Pistons* 1688 60 Trail Blazers 1663 40
1985 Lakers 1752 60 Celtics* 1697 40
2008 Lakers 1737 59 Celtics* 1685 41
1978 SuperSonics* 1610 59 Bullets 1590 41
1973 Lakers* 1667 59 Knicks 1649 41
2004 Lakers* 1698 58 Pistons 1682 42
1969 Lakers* 1614 58 Celtics 1598 42
1976 Celtics* 1558 57 Suns 1544 43
1982 76ers* 1699 57 Lakers 1686 43
2010 Lakers* 1686 57 Celtics 1674 43
1979 SuperSonics 1620 57 Bullets* 1577 43
1994 Rockets* 1663 56 Knicks 1655 44
1968 Celtics* 1594 56 Lakers 1586 44
2011 Heat* 1721 55 Mavericks 1717 45
1988 Pistons 1692 55 Lakers* 1658 45
1998 Jazz* 1762 54 Bulls 1761 46
1995 Magic* 1628 52 Rockets 1635 48
1948 Warriors* 1491 52 Bullets 1500 48
1947 Warriors* 1423 52 Stags 1432 48
1977 76ers* 1615 51 Trail Blazers 1624 49
1953 Lakers* 1632 51 Knicks 1641 49

* Home-court advantage.
Elo ratings are for each NBA Finals team as they entered the series.

There’s just one big problem for Cleveland: Golden State.

Reason No. 3: Elo thinks the Warriors are insanely great — one of the two best teams ever, along with the 1995-96 Bulls.

The Warriors’ current Elo rating is 1850. That’s the highest rating a team has held upon entering the NBA Finals. And it’s the second-highest rating a team has had at any point in the regular season or playoffs; the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls peaked at a rating of 1853 after sweeping the first three games of the finals. It’s higher than the peak rating of last season’s 73-win Warriors, who topped out at 1839 after starting out the regular season 24-0.

We’ll be publishing a deeper dive on the Warriors next week, but Elo’s affection for them isn’t hard to explain. They’re 27-1 over their last 28 games. That includes a 12-0 record in the playoffs and an average margin of victory of more than 16 points, which is the best playoff scoring margin of all time. And they’ve done all of this in the Western Conference, which is still a lot deeper than the East. The Warriors are making it look so easy that they may even be underrated by the “eye test,” which tends to reward teams that triumph in the face of adversity. Other than in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals, the Warriors haven’t faced much adversity because they haven’t let their opponents get close.

2017 Warriors 12-0 118.3 102.0 +16.3
1971 Bucks 12-2 109.1 94.6 +14.5
2017 Cavaliers 12-1 116.8 103.2 +13.6
2001 Lakers 15-1 103.4 90.6 +12.8
1991 Bulls 15-2 103.9 92.2 +11.7
1961 Celtics 8-2 120.7 109.1 +11.6
1987 Lakers 15-3 120.6 109.2 +11.4
1996 Bulls 15-3 97.4 86.8 +10.6
1986 Celtics 15-3 114.4 104.1 +10.3
1985 Lakers 15-4 126.3 116.2 +10.2
The Warriors have dominated the playoffs like no one before them

Minimum 8 playoff games played.

Source: Basketball-reference.com

To put this in perspective, suppose you took an indisputably great team like the 1986-87 Los Angeles Lakers, who went 65-17 in the regular season and entered the NBA Finals with an Elo rating of 1738. Elo would have given the Lakers only a 20 percent chance to win a seven-game series over the Warriors, assuming that the Warriors had home-court advantage (as they will against the Cavs). Compared with that, the Cavaliers’ 10 percent or 13 percent chance doesn’t seem so bad. Still, I’d put a few dimes down on LeBron at Elo’s odds.

Worn Out

May. 26th, 2017 07:39 pm
rebelsheart: a wolf, laying down (laying down)
[personal profile] rebelsheart
My manager's last day was St. Patrick's Day - this was planned, though there was only a week's notice. The departure of my fellow contractor that day was not planned, nor his idea.

I spent the next week being solo primary coverage for roughly 250-300 users.

I got a new coworker (contractor) on March 27. At the end of that week, the rumor mill indicated the woman I'd been brought on board to cover for in May 2016 while she was out for an unknown period of time due to a medical issue related to a car accident would be returning. She did so on June 5, as our director - the only full-time IT person left in the state - was travelling for work until then. The returning FTE worked 2 hours aday for her first two weeks, adding two hours a day every two weeks, until returning to 8 hour days last week.

Upon her return, there was understandable concern about the longevity of employment of the new contractor - the job had been done by two field agents and their manager for years without issue. There was also a general consensus that had we had warning of the FTE's return, another contractor would probably have not been brought in.

We are currently very grateful to have 3 of us. Since the FTE's return (back when she was on limited hours), there have only been 3 weeks where I did not work OT and those were due to an illness, an interview, and weather. Had I not lost time those weeks, I would have likely had OT then as well. I had 43 hours this week, and I left 2 hours early today thanks to the holiday weekend.

I'm okay with occasional overtime, but right now three of us can't keep up and we're all wearing thin. Worse, I feel like the FTE and I are wearing thin with the other contractor because he's not where I was after 2 months.

Work is wearing me out, and it's eating into my already limited social life. I've been tempted to go to bed for 30 minutes now... and it's not quite 7:45 PM.
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Posted by Perry Bacon Jr.

As President Trump’s struggles have mounted, the overriding question in American politics has become “who’s still with him?” We’ve looked at what might make members of Congress, particularly Republicans, break with Trump. They are the ultimate deciders of how much of his agenda is passed, and even of his fate in any kind of process to push him out of office. We’ve also looked at how voters, particularly Republicans, view the president and whether they are likely to stick by him.

But it’s kind of obvious to say that Trump’s standing depends on how Republican voters and GOP members of Congress feel about him. The more complicated question may be: How do those two groups make up their minds about the president? What Trump does, first and foremost, but their decision-making is also likely to be influenced by how other major groups in the Republican Party treat Trump.

What are the major blocs of the GOP, outside of elected officials and voters? One popular definition of a political party from political science splits parties into three main wings: the party-in-the-electorate (voters), the party-in-the-government (elected officials and appointees) and the party-as-organization. The “organization,” in turn,” is comprised of many groups. Think of Fox News, which conservatives and Republicans watch much, much more than other national news channels. Or activists’ groups such as Heritage Action, which tries to push the GOP away from social welfare spending (Medicaid, Obamacare, etc.) and keeps a scorecard of the votes of members of Congress. The Koch brothers run a network of conservative groups, both nationally and in states, so vast that Politico referred to it as a “privatized political party.”

You can describe the party-as-organization wing in a lot of different ways, and Trump’s success in 2016, particularly in the GOP primary, suggested that journalists, political scientists and even GOP officials themselves may have had an incomplete understanding of how today’s Republican Party works. In 2016, there was perhaps an overemphasis on the party-as-organization, and its ability to stop Trump from winning the nomination, if it chose to do so.

That said, since Trump was sworn in, the party-as-organization appears to be strong. The president has largely not delivered (or really even tried to deliver) on his promises to provide “insurance for everybody” in his replacement for Obamacare or to or bring back factory jobs — goals that linked Trump and some of his voters but didn’t appeal to key constituency groups in the GOP organization. Instead, Trump signed on to both a health care bill and a budget that would reduce federal spending on Medicaid, as his party’s fiscal hawk wing wants, as well as a number of provisions to limit abortions, a passionate cause of religious conservatives.

So, after speaking with some political scientists and Republican operatives, examining the groups that spent the most money electing Trump and Republicans in Congress and looking at the president’s moves in his first few months in office, I came up with an informal list of six blocs that are significant parts of the Republican Party’s organizational wing. (Along with listing and describing each bloc, I included a current Republican politician whose ideology resembles that bloc, just to help clarify the distinctions.)

So if you’re looking for defections from Trump, watch these blocs. Here they are, ordered from most to least likely to break away from the president:


6. The intellectuals

Examples: David Brooks, The Weekly Standard (Stephen Hayes, Bill Kristol); National Review, Condi Rice
Politicians: John McCain
Priorities: Globalist foreign policy, support for international free trade agreements, wary of conservative identity politics

Many conservative intellectuals were in the Never Trump movement from the start. For Trump, these defections, if they happen, will not be surprising and perhaps are not all that meaningful either: He won the GOP nomination and the presidency while shunning the party’s wonks.

Why should the president care about these people at all? House Speaker Paul Ryan, who controls the fate of Trump’s agenda, is close to this wing of the party. Some of his closest allies work at Washington think tanks.


5. Small-government activists

Examples: Americans for Prosperity (Charles and David Koch), Heritage Action, National Rifle Association
Politicians: House Freedom Caucus
Priorities: Repeal of Obamacare, limits on Medicaid, reduced federal spending

This bloc, and all the others below, have said very few negative things about Trump. There is a big gap between the party’s think-tank wing, always wary of the president, and virtually every other bloc.

But why might small-government conservatives be less than completely loyal to Trump? Well, Trump is not truly a small-government figure. He has not proposed overhauling Medicare or Social Security’s retirement program, as these conservatives want.

Who is more likely to share their views? Mike Pence. The vice-president was the leader of the Republican Study Committee in the House, which was the most rightward part of the House GOP until the Freedom Caucus came along. Small-government conservatives might get more of their agenda enacted if Pence were in the Oval Office.


4. Conservative business groups/Wall Street

Examples: Chamber of Commerce, Club for Growth, Federalist Society
Politicians: Mitch McConnell
Priorities: Low taxes, reduced regulation

Business conservatives almost always get their way in Republican administrations. Trump, like George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan, is pushing an agenda of tax cuts and eliminating regulations. So this wing of the party is fine with Trump so far.

On the other hand, Pence would almost certainly sign these same bills just as happily. If Trump is becoming an impediment to their agenda, key party donors could lean on Republicans in Congress to stop supporting Trump so forcefully.


3. Religious conservatives

Examples: Jerry Falwell Jr., Franklin Graham, Ralph Reed, Family Research Council
Politicians: Ted Cruz
Priorities: Limits on abortion, opposition to transgender rights, defense of religious rights

You might think that this group would be very pro-Pence and anti-Trump, since the vice-president is a devout Christian and the president is not. But white conservative evangelical activists really like Trump. He is enacting limits on abortion rights and Planned Parenthood, some of their core goals, although Pence would likely do the same.

But there’s one other reason why conservative evangelical groups might prefer Trump to Pence. Think about it this way: Would Black Lives Matter activists have more leverage in a Hillary Clinton administration compared to Barack Obama’s? Probably. Pence’s conservative Christian bonafides, like Obama’s with African-Americans, can’t really be questioned. Therefore, religious conservatives are in a place to make demands of Trump, noting that his intense support from white evangelical Christians is one of the main reasons that the president was elected.

2. Cultural identity conservatives

Examples: Ann Coulter, Breitbart, Federation for American Immigration Reform
Politicians: Steve King
Priorities: Limits on immigration and international free trade agreements, wary of multiculturalism

The anti-immigration, antiglobalization wing of the GOP needs Trump to remain office, because it may never have as much sway as it does now. It is hard to imagine another Republican president, even Pence, employing Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller as top policy advisers, proposing a travel ban from majority Muslim-country countries or even considering a withdrawal from NAFTA.

Why might they turn on him? In some ways, this bloc’s agenda is tension with all of the groups listed above, except for Christian conservatives. The party intellectuals strongly supported Trump’s decision for a military strike in Syria, but this group was more skeptical. Business conservatives don’t want the U.S. to leave NAFTA and favor more trade agreements. This group is more anti-free trade. Cultural identity conservatives may have nowhere else to turn from Trump, but their strong support for the president is not guaranteed if he starts governing more like a traditional, big-business Republican.


1. GOP-aligned media

Examples: Fox News (Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity); conservative talk radio hosts (Laura Ingraham, Rush Limbaugh)
Politicians: Kevin McCarthy
Priorities: Opposition to liberal interests and Democratic Party

The simplest way to illustrate this: What would Trump have to do for Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity to start criticizing him regularly?

Actually, we don’t have to guess. As Matt Grossman and David Hopkins detail in their book “Asymmetric Politics,” Hannity and other conservatives on TV and talk radio started sharply criticizing George W. Bush near the end of his second term. Bush’s approval ratings were fading among conservatives, amid the struggling Iraq War and his bungled handling of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. And Hannity and other radio and television hosts were blasting Bush’s advocacy of a bill that would grant citizenship to some undocumented immigrants.

In other words, Bush was already unpopular, and he was proposing an idea — citizenship for undocumented immigrants — that was more popular on the left than the right. Trump may want to consider this example before he starts touting, say, his daughter’s proposal to allow new parents six weeks of paid leave. Trump’s numbers are already declining, even among Republicans, and paid leave is an idea that liberals love and conservative activists really don’t.

Earlier this year, my colleague Nate Silver listed 14 possible scenarios for Trump’s presidency and suggested one possibility was for the president to shift left and govern with Democrats. This would mirror the approach of another celebrity-turned-Republican-politician, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who made the pivot after initially struggling in California.

Why couldn’t Trump do that? Well, the various scandals around Russia have left the president desperately needing support from his own party. That support likely comes with strings attached: Trump needs to implement the policy goals of the party’s key blocs — or they might turn on him, and he doesn’t have strong public support to fall back on.

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Posted by Neil Paine

It wasn’t easy, but the Pittsburgh Penguins kept their bid for a second-consecutive Stanley Cup alive on Thursday night, surviving the surprising Ottawa Senators with a double-overtime win in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals. On paper, there was little reason to think the Sens would pose much of a threat to the defending champs, let alone take them into the 85th minute of Game 7. But that’s the way things have been for Pittsburgh all playoffs long.

Chris Kunitz’s game-winning goal saved Pittsburgh from what would have been the biggest conference-finals upset since 1996, when the Florida Panthers knocked off a very different version of the Penguins. According to Hockey-Reference.com’s Simple Rating System (SRS), Pittsburgh ranked fourth in the league during the regular season (0.59 goals per game better than average), while Ottawa ranked a distant 18th (0.01 goals per game below average).

It was the second series in a row that Pittsburgh has been taken the distance by its opponent, after Washington pushed them to seven games in the conference semifinal. To their credit, the Penguins weathered each onslaught; they even outgunned the Sens by 45 combined shots in the East final, including 49 over the series’ final four games. But Pittsburgh has also been living dangerously. Its even-strength possession metrics over the entire playoffs are not as good as they were during last year’s run to the Cup final, nor do they compare well with the postseason numbers of the Penguins’ upcoming opponent, the Nashville Predators.

The Preds didn’t play particularly great hockey during the regular season — they ranked 13th in SRS (in part because brilliant defenseman P.K. Subban missed 16 games with an injury). But they’ve saved their best work for the playoffs, where they rank second in possession rate (Pittsburgh is 12th out of 16 teams) and first in SRS (Pittsburgh is second). Pittsburgh was better in the regular season, but Nashville’s been the hotter team of late.

So which situation would you rather be in, heading into next week’s series? Intuition might say it’s better to be the comparatively less worn-down Preds, rolling with the more impressive postseason stats. But history suggests otherwise. Going back to 1988, there have been 14 cases in which one Stanley Cup finalist had the better regular-season SRS, but its opponent had the superior SRS in the playoffs leading up to the final. Of those, the better regular-season team won the Cup nine times (64 percent). And that’s not even considering that the Penguins’ regular-season edge was slightly wider than the typical favorite’s, or that they’ll have home-ice advantage in the final.

If we’ve learned anything about the Penguins these playoffs, it’s that they rarely make things easy. (And if we’ve learned anything about the NHL since 1998, it’s that repeating as a champion is really hard.) But a grueling, complicated postseason run isn’t necessarily a handicap in the Stanley Cup Final, if you’ve had a championship track record all season long.

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Posted by Walt Hickey

You’re reading Significant Digits, a daily digest of the numbers tucked inside the news.

5 points

A YouGov poll puts the U.K. Labour Party at their highest level of support yet in forthcoming elections, just five points behind the Conservative Party, 43 to 38 percent. Election Day is June 8. [Britain Elects]

7 points

Republican candidate Greg Gianforte, who allegedly body-slammed a reporter for asking about the GOP health care repeal plan on Wednesday, won his election in Montana by about seven points and will now be Rep. Greg Gianforte, who allegedly body-slammed a reporter for asking about the GOP health care repeal plan. [FiveThirtyEight]

90 percent

Probability the Golden State Warriors beat the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals. The prediction is based on FiveThirtyEight’s CARM-Elo projections, not historical indicators such as the Warriors blowing a 3-1 finals lead to the Cleveland Cavaliers but one year ago. [FiveThirtyEight]

205 pages

In a 205-page ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit declined to reinstate President Trump’s ban on travel from six predominantly Muslim nations, calling it discriminatory. [The New York Times]


Neil Gaiman, New York Times bestselling (and my favorite) author, will dramatically read the notoriously thorough Cheesecake Factory menu if a fundraiser for the U.N. High Commission on Refugees hits $500,000. [Boing Boing]

$2.5 billion

Offal is a huge market in China. The country imports $2.5 billion worth, about a quarter of its total meat imports. Offal accounts for about 70 percent of U.S. meat imports into China. [Bloomberg]

If you see a significant digit in the wild, send it to @WaltHickey.

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Posted by Ben Casselman, Kathryn Casteel and Anna Maria Barry-Jester

Welcome to TrumpBeat, FiveThirtyEight’s weekly feature on the latest policy developments in Washington and beyond. Want to get TrumpBeat in your inbox each week? Sign up for our newsletter. Comments, criticism or suggestions for future columns? Email us or drop a note in the comments.

Regulation: Rules are rules

President Trump has had a rough start to his term when it comes to passing laws or enacting new policies. (The latest setback: The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday refused to reinstate Trump’s travel ban.) But as we noted a few weeks back, he’s had more success when it comes to rolling back actions by his predecessor, Barack Obama. Trump, with an assist from Republicans in Congress, has repealed, suspended or delayed dozens of Obama-era regulations on banking, climate change and other issues.

There are limits to Trump’s authority, however. Republicans were able to reverse several of Obama’s rules via the Congressional Review Act, a previously little-used law that lets Congress and the president undo rules imposed late in the previous administration. The clock for using the law ran out in early May, however, meaning that from here on out, Trump will have a much harder time erasing Obama’s legacy.

Take, for example, the “fiduciary rule,” a set of regulations issued by the Obama administration last year that require financial advisers to put their customers’ interests first when handling their retirement accounts. Conservatives criticized the rule as an unnecessary regulation that would end up making it harder for ordinary Americans to get investing advice. And shortly after taking office, Trump issued a memorandum ordering the Department of Labor to delay its implementation.

This week, however, Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta said the rule will take effect June 9 without further delays. In a Wall Street Journal op-ed announcing his decision, Acosta said the rule “may not align with President Trump’s deregulatory goals” but that a review by the administration “found no principled legal basis” for delaying it. In other words, the president can’t ditch regulations just because he doesn’t like them.

The president could still get rid of the fiduciary rule the old-fashioned way, by writing a new rule and going through the long series of hearings and comment periods to put it in place. But that process can take months or years. In the meantime, the rule — and dozens of others issued by Obama — will remain in force.

Taxes: The phantom $2 trillion

Trump’s budget this week was widely mocked (by Stephen Colbert, among many others) for containing a “$2 trillion math error.” In a nutshell, the budget assumes that faster economic growth will help pay for Trump’s huge tax cuts, then it turns around and assumes that same growth will help balance the budget. In other words, he’s counting the same $2 trillion twice.

The administration’s efforts to explain away the apparent error only ended up causing more confusion. Mick Mulvaney, the White House budget director, told the Senate Budget Committee that there was no double-counting at all: Trump’s tax plan would pay for itself without relying on economic growth, which would require raising some taxes to offset the cuts. That would mark a major shift for the administration, which has previously said the plan would only pay for itself after factoring in the faster economic growth it believes the tax cuts would spark. Speaking to a separate congressional committee, however, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin implied that there had been no shift.

Somewhat lost in the back-and-forth, however, is the fact that the double-counted $2 trillion probably doesn’t exist in the first place. The administration argues that cutting taxes will spur faster economic growth, which will mean Americans will earn more money and therefore pay more in taxes. The problem is that pretty much no serious economist thinks Trump’s plan would raise enough money to pay for itself. Even conservative economists at the Tax Foundation last year estimated that the tax plan Trump proposed during the campaign would cost at least $2.6 trillion after factoring in economic growth. (Trump’s most recent plan, a one-page outline released last month, didn’t contain enough details for economists to calculate its cost.) The problem with Trump’s budget math, in other words, goes beyond simple arithmetic; the economics of the plan don’t work, either.

Immigration: Fewer bricks in the wall

Trump campaigned on a pledge to crack down on illegal immigration, and his 2018 budget requests hundreds of millions of dollars to do just that. The president is requesting over $300 million to hire and train 500 new border patrol agents and 1,000 Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers. The budget also proposes funding to expand efforts to remove undocumented immigrants who are already here and to expand detention space across the country to hold the soaring number of detainees apprehended by ICE agents so far this year.

But Trump may be backing away ever so slightly from his signature immigration-related promise: the wall on the U.S. border with Mexico. His budget calls for $1.6 billion in funding for a physical barrier, a fraction of the $21.6 billion that the Department of Homeland Security estimates the full wall would cost and enough to cover just 74 miles of the 1,900-mile U.S.-Mexico border. (Trump earlier dropped a demand that Congress provide funding for the wall as part of its 2017 budget.)

The apparent shift in focus comes as data suggests there has been a big drop in illegal border crossings since Trump took office, even without a wall. Meanwhile, research has found that in recent years, illegal immigration has been driven more by people overstaying their visas than by people crossing the border illegally. According to a new report released Monday by the Department of Homeland Security, an estimated 629,000 visitors — including students, tourists and workers — stayed in the country after their visas expired in fiscal year 2016. (Another 111,000 overstayed their visas but left the country before the end of the year.) That’s more than the 408,870 immigrants apprehended at the southwest border over the same period. And the DHS data only includes people who entered the country by boat or plane, so it doesn’t include anyone who entered the country legally by crossing the Mexican or Canadian border. The wall, in other words, wouldn’t have done anything to stop them.

Health care: Uncovered

On Wednesday, the Congressional Budget Office, Congress’s nonpartisan policy analyst, released a much anticipated report on the House bill to repeal and replace parts of the Affordable Care Act. It was by most accounts, including ours, not good for the prospects of the American Health Care Act, which passed the House earlier this month. While coverage of the report tended to focus on the 23 million people who would lose insurance under the law, or the slight reduction to the federal deficit that it would deliver over 10 years, beyond those headline numbers were some revealing descriptions of how the insurance market would change under the bill. The AHCA, as described by the report, would create a system in which many people with pre-existing conditions can’t afford insurance, the industry sells plans too skimpy even to be considered coverage by the CBO’s standards, and patients in some states struggle to get access to services such as treatment for substance abuse and maternity care.

Currently, plans offered through the ACA’s insurance marketplaces must cover what are known as Essential Health Benefits, 10 categories of services including ambulatory, maternal and mental health care. Under the GOP House bill, coverage requirements would become less stringent, and the CBO thinks that as a result, private insurance plans in some states would stop covering pediatric dental care, maternity care and treatment for substance abuse, among other things. Patients who needed those services could end up paying thousands of dollars out of pocket. Those assumptions likely stem from the fact that before the ACA, those services were routinely excluded in states that didn’t mandate them by law.

The CBO also predicts that the insurance market might start encouraging people to buy skimpy plans. A little-reported passage describes how the agency foresees the insurance industry offering bare-bones coverage priced to match closely the amount a person is eligible for in federal subsidies. In effect, this would allow people to buy government-subsidized health insurance for next-to-nothing, but the plans “would not provide enough financial protection in the event of a serious and costly illness to be considered insurance,” in the words of the CBO.

The AHCA is something of a dead letter, at least in its current form — the Senate is now working on its own bill, which may bear little resemblance to the House version. But the CBO report still carries an important reminder: Fewer regulations on the insurance industry can reduce the cost of premiums, but it can also leave Americans with plans that don’t cover services they need, or without coverage altogether.

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Posted by FiveThirtyEight

12:41 AM
That’s A Wrap

Gianforte leads by about 7 percentage points as we wrap up this live blog. The numbers will shift around a bit — Montana takes a long time to finalize its vote — but we should wind up somewhere in that range, which we can call the mid-to-high single digits. Here’s what I wrote about such an outcome before results began to come in:

Gianforte wins by 5 to 10 points. An outcome in this range would likely trigger a lot of debate among pundits. A few weeks ago, it would probably have been regarded as a good result for Democrats. But to the extent that expectations matter, Republicans had done a better job of managing them even before the body-slam incident. So this might be interpreted as a fairly poor result for Democrats, even though it could be a pretty good one by the numbers.

In other words, I think we’re in for a lot of “hot takes,” rather than a consensus about what the results mean.

Our vantage point is that we’re mostly looking at special elections in terms of how they might predict 2018. A night where Democrats are losing Montana by “only” 6 or 7 points is consistent with the sort of map you might see if Democrats were either taking over the House or coming pretty close to it.

On the other hand, our expectations were already pretty high for Democrats. The opposition party — the party that doesn’t hold the White House — usually does well in midterm elections. And Trump is not a popular guy. The Democrats have plenty of issues, like the GOP’s unpopular health care bill, to campaign on. This isn’t complicated stuff. You’d expect them to do pretty well under such circumstances and to have a decent shot — let’s call it 50 percent to 60 percent — of taking over the House.

This result in Montana doesn’t change our priors much, therefore. Furthermore, it’s a somewhat quirky race, given that Quist and (especially) Gianforte both have their issues as candidates and that Montana has been a little bit more competitive in congressional and statewide races than in races for the presidency. Quist winning by 1 or losing by 13 might have called for a recalibration of our assumptions; we don’t think this result does.

You might even say that the results were a bit predictable, as crazy as the journey was to get here. Thank you for joining us tonight.

(see updates...)

The Cavs Are Built For LeBron

May. 25th, 2017 09:13 pm
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Posted by Kyle Wagner

Talent tends to win out in the NBA. But talent also needs to fit a role. Take Draymond Green, for instance. How many players in the league can fulfill the defensive and playmaking role that Green does from night to night? LeBron James and … Chris Paul riding Rudy Gobert’s shoulders? Paul Millsap with a jetpack and a crowbar? Point is, Green is one of the best players in the league, but other, similarly talented players couldn’t begin to fill his shoes, and Green’s Golden State Warriors wouldn’t be nearly the same team without him.

The Cleveland Cavaliers certainly have talent beyond James. Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving would each be the best player on many NBA teams. But more important than the number of all-star appearances they could run up is the way their skillsets work in concert — more specifically, the way that each player fits into the model of how best to play on a team with LeBron James.

Cleveland is a team of specialists — each player fits a role that doesn’t maximize his talents so much as the team’s collective ability. That’s a theme among many NBA teams, but what’s unique about Cleveland is that even players as talented as Love and Irving are refashioned into role players.

Star Microwave: Kyrie Irving

This obviously raises some flags. How on earth does Irving qualify as a role player, particularly after his 42-point performance on Tuesday (that’s the most points that any teammate of James’s has had in the postseason)? It was a standout game that reminded us all of what we’ve known for years: Kyrie Irving is ice cold.

But Irving isn’t the first legitimate NBA star to become the de facto second option to LeBron. Dwyane Wade was at the tail end of his prime by the time James arrived in Miami, but he was still undeniably a better all-around player than Irving ever has been. Wade at his best operated as the centerpiece of an offense nearly as well as LeBron does and was one of the top perimeter defenders in the league — claims that can’t be made about Irving. He also didn’t fit nearly as well with LeBron as Irving does.

The obvious difference is the shooting. Kyrie is a career 38 percent 3-point shooter, and he shot 40 percent during this past regular season. Wade is 29 percent from three for his career. Irving can keep defenders on him — and thereby away from James — much better than Wade ever could, even with the off-ball motion that the Heat eventually built in to alleviate spacing issues. Irving’s effective field goal percentage on spot-up jumpers was 68.5 this season, second in the league, behind Kemba Walker, among players who took at least two spot-ups per game. He shot 47.9 percent on spot-up 3s.

Like Wade, Irving can be self-sufficient. LeBron may run the rest of the offense, but when he needs a break or when the offense stagnates, as it did in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals on Tuesday, Irving can step in and generate offense all by himself — and often all for himself. Go ahead and count how many of the plays in that highlight reel above include Cavs other than Irving. (Not many.) He has one of the best handles in the league, can get to the rim at will and is a good finisher once he gets there. And if the defense sags off too far to anticipate the drive, Irving can pull up from three.

Another component to Irving’s fit with James is his tendency to operate on the right side of the floor. James operates almost exclusively from the left side of the court and has a history of forcing teammates who prefer that space to find somewhere else to set up shop.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that a player who can shoot threes, use a bunch of possessions and pass is rare in the league. As a rough measure, I defined that as a 37-percent 3-point shooter who had at least a usage rate of 25 and an assist percentage of 20 in at least 20 minutes per game. Of the 11 players who fit that description this season, Irving ranked fifth in win shares, behind four guys who are asked to do more for their teams than he is. Irving’s workload isn’t exactly light, but compared with his peers here, having him in the role the Cavs do looks like high luxury.

Stephen Curry 30.1% 31.1% 41.1% +12.6
Isaiah Thomas 34.0 32.6 37.9 +12.6
Damian Lillard 31.5 28.7 37.0 +10.3
Mike Conley 26.3 34.5 40.8 +10.0
Kyrie Irving 30.8 29.7 40.1 +8.9
Kemba Walker 29.2 29.1 39.9 +8.1
Goran Dragic 27.1 29.0 40.5 +7.5
Jeremy Lin 26.6 35.5 37.2 +2.1
Dion Waiters 26.3 23.8 39.5 +1.6
Jordan Crawford 25.5 22.7 38.9 +0.9
Jerryd Bayless 27.7 29.4 40.0 -0.1
Kyrie Irving’s unique profile

For players who played at least 20 minutes per game with at least a usage rate of 25 percent, a 20 percent assist percentage, and a 3-point percentage of at least 37, in the 2016-17 regular season.

Source: basketball-reference.com

Stretch 4/Elite Rebounder: Kevin Love

In Miami, Chris Bosh turned himself into the ideal counterpart to James — an excellent, mobile defender, a reliable spot-up jump shooter to spread the floor, and a very good rebounder. The role minimized Bosh’s other abilities, but it served the Heat’s biggest needs. And more importantly, it allowed the team to fill the other frontcourt spots with more limited players, such as Udonis Haslem, Chris Andersen and Joel Anthony. Bosh wasn’t scoring 20-plus a night, but he was providing the kind of anchoring presence that Green now provides to the Warriors.

That’s hard to reproduce, even with a Big 3. In Cleveland, the defensive rebounding and shooting falls to Kevin Love; the defensive anchorage, rim protection and offensive rebounding fall elsewhere. This has worked out well for the Cavs, but only because Love has a set of set of skills no other NBA player shares.

That’s not to say things have come easy. Many of the things Love did best in Minnesota have proven to be extraneous in Cleveland. His elbow touches have all but vanished from 2013-14 — his last season in Minnesota — to this season, and his post-ups have fallen off over the same time and are far less effective than they used to be, falling from 91.7 points per 100 plays to 86.5. And without Ricky Rubio finding him for quick hits off of the pick-and-roll — or even the freedom to slip a screen or run to space — Love has become an afterthought on high screens. In short, Love is a completely different player.

Even now, with Love in the middle of a breakout playoff run, he’s much more of a system player than ever. He’s taking more than half of his shots from three (and making 47.9 percent). More of his threes came from the corner this season than in any other season, and that share has gone up in the playoffs.

Take a look at Love’s shot charts from 2013-14 (the season before he teamed up with James) and 2016-17, via StatMuse:

You can see that Love has had to make drastic adjustments, dropping huge pieces of his game to fit into the Cavs system.

Stripped of that excess, the Cavaliers’ Kevin Love turns out to be … Troy Murphy.

Don’t look at me like that! It says so right here. These are the only players in league history to take 3-pointers on 30 percent of their shots, shoot at least 35 percent from three (league average), and have a defensive rebound rate of at least 25 percent (meaning that they collected 25 percent of available defensive rebounds while on the floor):

2013-14 Kevin Love MIN 35.5% 37.6% 29.5% +14.3
2014-15 Kevin Love CLE 41.2 36.7 26.3 +8.7
2015-16 Kevin Love CLE 44.9 36.0 28.4 +8.5
2008-09 Troy Murphy IND 46.7 45.0 32.0 +8.5
2009-10 Troy Murphy IND 41.0 38.4 28.5 +7.8
2016-17 Kevin Love CLE 44.9 37.3 29.3 +6.4
Love and Murphy are long-lost soulmates

Includes all players for whom 3-pointers are at least 30 percent of their shots, who make at least 35 percent of their 3-point attempts and whose defensive rebound rate is at least 25 percent, during any regular season.

Source: basketball-reference.com

OK, so there are obvious differences between Love and Murphy, who was a useful but limited role player for a succession of middling teams. But the takeaway from this list shouldn’t (only) be that Love has been reduced to Troy Murphy comps. The real finding is that it’s hugely unusual for a big man to be able to rebound at an elite level and shoot (and make) a ton of threes. Love isn’t just the best at what he does — he’s the only one who does it.

Defender/Offensive Rebounder: Tristan Thompson

Thompson takes over where Love leaves off. His role is probably the most traditional: He crashes the offensive boards and protects the rim. When he’s pulled further out, he can pick up ballhandlers in pick-and-roll coverage, and doesn’t look totally lost when he has to defend in space. And on offense, he runs the floor, can fill a lane in transition, and can catch and finish at the rim. He’s the image of a modern, live-bodied NBA big.

If we define what Thompson does as offensive rebounding, rim protection and general defensive presence, Thompson comes in just behind some of the best big men in the league:

Rudy Gobert UTA 13.6% 6.4% +4.5 +14.3
DeAndre Jordan LAC 13.3 4.3 +3.0 +11.8
Nikola Jokic DEN 11.6 2.1 +2.2 +9.7
Hassan Whiteside MIA 12.8 5.0 +1.5 +9.5
Dwight Howard ATL 15.0 3.6 +2.8 +8.3
Tristan Thompson CLE 14.0 2.9 +1.5 +7.3
Marcin Gortat WAS 10.6 2.1 +1.2 +6.8
Andre Drummond DET 15.1 3.1 +2.9 +6.7
Steven Adams OKC 13.0 2.6 +1.2 +6.4
Clint Capela HOU 12.5 4.2 +1.0 +6.0
Tristan Thompson is indispensable

Includes players with a minimum of a 10 percent offensive rebound rate, a block percentage of at least 2 percent, and a defensive box plus/minus of at least 1 for the 2016-17 regular season.

Source: Basketball-reference.com

That’s pretty good company. But the crucial thing to remember is that these players aren’t just valuable — they’re scarce. The vast majority are core contributors on playoff teams. Replacing them, or Thompson, with the kind of player who’s readily available — say, Kyle O’Quinn? — simply wouldn’t work. So while it’s funny to crack jokes about the Cavs dropping a 5-year, $82 million contract on a guy who “only” crashes the boards and defends, the difference between having a guy with those skills and not is the difference between competing for a title and not.

3-and-D: J.R. Smith/Iman Shumpert

There was a time not long ago when Smith and Shumpert were about as likely to occupy the same slot in a taxonomy as a slender-horned gazelle and, say, a Ford F-150. Smith was a remorseless gunner who could also run the offense with surprising proficiency from time to time. Shumpert was known as a defender with a broken jump shot and a more broken handle. But this season, things are all turned around.

Smith is being used as the Cavaliers’ primary defender for opponents’ best perimeter players. So far in the playoffs, this has spurred Smith to new defensive heights. Shumpert, meanwhile, seems to have learned to shoot. He shot 36 percent from three during the regular season, but he has been good for 47.1 percent from distance during the playoffs.

Neither Smith nor Shumpert are among the very best 3-and-D guys in the league, even on their very best days. Patrick Beverley, Andre Iguodala and Danny Green would all come off the board ahead of them. But while the Cavs’ role players are weakest at 3-and-D, there are two major mitigating factors:

First, true 3-and-D players are surprisingly rare, considering the league has been actively seeking them out for more than a decade. So having anyone who can competently fill the role is something of a win. Second, LeBron is one of the best 3-and-D players on the planet.

So these two are playing the part for now, even if it’s imperfect casting. But if things turn south, the Cavs can always turn to LeBron to take on more of the load.

Bench Shooters: Kyle Korver/Channing Frye

Further down the bench, Korver (the hired gun) and Frye (a stretch 4 out of central casting) fill the role of instant shooting off the bench, and they’re both extremely good at it. Korver shot 48.5 percent from three once he was traded to the Cavs, though he’s fallen off to a more mortal 40.8 in the playoffs.

Kyle Korver ATL/CLE 116 111 26.2 69.7% 45.1%
Joe Ingles UTA 112 105 24.0 61.9 44.1
Jason Terry MIL 116 112 18.4 70.4 42.7
C.J. Miles IND 115 111 23.4 63.2 41.3
Patty Mills SAS 114 107 21.9 57.2 41.3
Channing Frye CLE 115 109 18.9 64.4 40.9
Juan Hernangomez DEN 117 112 13.6 50.4 40.7
Kyle Korver and Channing Frye come firing off the bench

For non-starting players who took 3-pointers for more than half their shots, played less than 30 minutes per game and qualified for minutes per game leaderboard, in the 2016-17 regular season.

Source: Basketball-reference.com

Korver is 36 years old and can’t escape the limitations of his age, but on the Cavs, he, Frye, Richard Jefferson and even James Jones can get run that they couldn’t on other teams because so much of the Cleveland offense is based on surrounding LeBron with three or four shooters and letting him go to work.

Check out our latest NBA predictions.

Pitchers Are Slowing Down To Speed Up

May. 25th, 2017 04:58 pm
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Posted by Rob Arthur

Welcome to Full Count, our weekly baseball column. This week, Rob Arthur is filling in for Full Count’s regular author, Neil Paine, who returns next week. Have anything you want them to write about? Tweet to Rob at @No_Little_Plans, or to Neil at @Neil_Paine.

Despite consternation from the commissioner and rule changes to speed up the game, baseball has never been slower than it is right now. Even in the short time since last season, the average delay between pitches has jumped a full second. It’s all part of a decadelong trend toward more sluggish play, and there’s an alarming reason baseball’s pace problem is likely to get even worse going forward: Slowing down helps pitchers throw faster.

Compared with 2007, the average MLB pitcher now holds the ball a full two seconds longer between consecutive pitches. This leisurely behavior has helped drag the average game out to a full three hours, five minutes — roughly 10 minutes longer than it was two years ago. Some have argued that the pace of the game isn’t a problem, but MLB commissioner Rob Manfred has announced that he intends to make baseball faster “for the benefit of the game and the fans.”

Regardless of where you stand on the pace-of-play debate, it hasn’t always been clear why players have slowed down so dramatically. Older hitters seem to gain from waiting longer between pitches, but that doesn’t explain why opposing pitchers have cooperated in slowing down the game. Hurlers must also have something to gain by letting the clock tick.

And indeed, in terms of baseball’s most valuable currency — fastball velocity — pitchers do benefit from a slower pace of delivery. I found this using a model that compared every pitch to the pitcher’s own average velocity, while normalizing for the count and number of pitches he had thrown in the game.

Because I adjusted for every pitcher’s own typical velocity, this pattern isn’t just caused by a bunch of slow-pitching, hard-throwing relievers. Instead, pitchers truly seem to gain velocity by waiting longer to deliver the ball. For every additional second they spend (up to 20 seconds), pitchers throw about .02 miles per hour harder.

Such a small difference in fastball velocity might seem too insignificant to chase. But every mile per hour matters: According to a 2010 study by Mike Fast (now employed in the Houston Astros’ front office), a single tick of fastball velocity is worth 0.3 runs per nine innings for a starter, and even more (0.45 runs per mph) for relievers. With players desperate for any advantage, a 0.1- or 0.2-mile per-hour bump is certainly worth the wait. And pitchers are taking advantage — those who took longer from one year to the next tended to see their fastball velocities increase slightly compared with what you’d expect based on their age.

Where pace matters most, though, is at the team level. If a team’s entire pitching staff took an average of 10 extra seconds, the resulting 0.2-mile per hour increase would equate to about 10 extra runs saved per season. Using the classic sabermetric rule of 10 runs per win, that’s one whole extra victory — something general managers have been willing to pay upwards of $7 million to acquire.

No front office source was willing to confirm to me on the record that they knew about the connection between pace and fastball velocity. But it’s clear that some teams have been taking advantage. Comparing data I put together on the number of front office analysts working for teams with each team’s average pace, it turns out that the most analytically minded teams have also been the slowest. For example, Tampa Bay — well known as one of the most advanced sabermetric teams in baseball — has also been among the worst dawdlers, pitching about 5 percent slower than the average team.

Across baseball, the average four-seam fastball velocity has spiked a full mile per hour since 2010, and that jump has coincided with the drop in pace. Seven years ago, 55 percent of all pitches were thrown with a wait of less than 20 seconds from the previous pitch. In 2016, that’s down to 43 percent, and it will likely decline further this season. All in all, declining pace could be responsible for about 20 percent of the leaguewide increase in fastball velocity since 2010.

If pace really is helping drive fastball velocities upward, then MLB’s slowdown is inevitable. Even if the payoff in fastball velocity is tiny — a tenth of a mile per hour — throwing hard is arguably the most valuable skill in baseball. Unless Manfred succeeds in adopting aggressive new measures (such as a pitch clock) to combat baseball’s pace problem, we can expect fastballs to continue getting faster while the rest of the game slows down.

This year, putting the ball in play doesn’t pay

So far this season, fewer batted balls are falling for hits than they have since 2003. The leaguewide batting average on balls in play has dropped to .294, 6 points off last year’s average. Here’s a plot of MLB-wide BABIP over the past 17 years:

Why are we seeing such a drastic dip? It’s possible that teams are finally starting to reap the benefits of the shift, putting fielders in spots to steal away more hits. Maybe defenses have improved in some other way, or maybe colder early-season weather has been a drag on BABIP thus far.

Alternatively, players might be selling out to hit home runs more than ever before, making only glancing contact when they don’t drive the ball. Strikeout rates are higher than they’ve ever been, supporting the idea that hitters are eschewing other outcomes in order to hit long balls. Regardless of the reason, decreased BABIP (combined with more strikeouts and walks) leaves baseball with less action on the basepaths and in the field than ever before.

Insane stat of the week

Baseball’s injury problems aren’t getting worse this season

From Cy Young contenders to All-Star left fielders (some of whom even play for teams other than the Mets!), injuries have already claimed many players’ seasons. The rash of elbow and shoulder problems has prompted concern among fans and analysts about whether injuries are taking a larger toll this year than in previous seasons.

But according to injury data I assembled for an earlier article, the toll of 2017’s disabled-list members isn’t outside the norm. So far this year, the league as a whole has lost some 30 wins above replacement (WAR) to injuries. Prorated to a full season, that would end up being about 112 WAR, which would stand as only the third-worst total of the last eight years. The worst season by far was 2013 — the height of the Tommy John epidemic — when the league lost a whopping 163 combined wins to injuries.

Between Noah Syndergaard and a host of other All-Stars, we may feel beset by injury problems this season, but baseball’s health is not really trending any worse than usual — and things are much better now than they were four years ago.

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Posted by Walt Hickey

You’re reading Significant Digits, a daily digest of the numbers tucked inside the news.

1 misdemeanor

Greg Gianforte allegedly “body slammed” a reporter asking about the Congressional Budget Office’s analysis of the Republican health bill. Gianforte, the Republican nominee for Montana’s at-large congressional district, was charged with misdemeanor assault. Montana votes today. [Gabriel Debenedetti, The Guardian]

7 weeks

Venezuela’s economic catastrophe is creating political chaos as well, with seven weeks of mass protests that have at times turned violent. Protesters are demanding early elections to replace President Nicolas Maduro, whose approval ratings are at 10 to 15 percent. The government instead announced a vote for a “constituent assembly,” with election rules that critics say are designed to ensure Maduro can hold onto power. [The Washington Post, Caracas Chronicles]


The Nashville Predators are in the Stanley Cup Final and are fighting to end one of the sneakiest losing streaks in sports: Tennessee’s three pro sports franchises — the Titans, Predators and Grizzlies — have competed in 52 professional sports seasons and have won a championship in zero of them. [FiveThirtyEight]

80 percent

Annual turnover rate among truck drivers in large for-hire fleets. No, that is not a typo, and yes, that is a ridiculous turnover rate for a business to have. The long-haul trucking business is grueling and existentially threatened by emerging technologies. [The New York Times]

23 million

The report from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office is in: The Republican bill to replace the Affordable Care Act would leave 23 million more people uninsured in 2026 compared to current law, cut Medicaid by $834 billion, and repeal taxes on high-income people to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars. [CBO, FiveThirtyEight]

$2 trillion

The White House budget request released Monday double counts $2 trillion. It argues that the same $2,000,000,000,000 can pay for both a $2,000,000,000,000 tax cut and simultaneously a $2,000,000,000,000 budget balance. Using money twice is frowned upon in financial circles. [NBC News]

If you see a significant digit in the wild, send it to @WaltHickey.

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Posted by Harry Enten

The special election to fill Montana’s U.S. House seat took a weird turn on Wednesday night when the Republican candidate, Greg Gianforte, reportedly body-slammed Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs. An audio tape of the incident seemed to indicate that Gianforte snapped after Jacobs asked him about the Republican health care bill. What effect all this will have on today’s special election is … unclear. Suffice to say that we don’t have much precedent for election-eve body-slamming.

Gianforte had been favored over Democrat Rob Quist, but not overwhelmingly so. Importantly, roughly two-thirds of the vote (or more) may have already been submitted before Wednesday in early voting. But even if Gianforte holds on to win, this might be another special election in which the Republican candidate vastly underperforms Trump’s showing in the 2016 presidential election, cranking up the anxiety level of GOP officials all over the country.

Most pollsters gave Gianforte the lead. Gravis Marketing had him up 49 percent to 35 percent. A Change Research poll put Quist closer, with Gianforte ahead 49 percent to 44 percent. Two Google Consumer Surveys put into the field over the last three weeks actually had Quist up by 7 and 14 percentage points, respectively. In other words, there’s a wide spread in the publicly available data.

The problem with public polls for special House elections is they aren’t all that accurate. In special House elections dating back to 2004, the true margin of error for any poll is a little bit more than +/- 13 percentage points. In this race, caution is extra warranted. Gravis Marketing’s only previous foray into a special House election, back in 2015, resulted in them missing the final result by 23 percentage points. Change Research has never produced a public horserace poll besides this one. Finally, there are some methodological issues with how Google Consumer Surveys conducts its horserace polls.

The consensus among insiders is that Gianforte has a small advantage. Internal Republican polls have been reported to show a race in which Gianforte is up 2 to 4 percentage points. Those internal surveys — while possibly leaked in an attempt to skew the expectations game — do track with assessments from the Cook Political Report and Inside Elections, which give Gianforte only a slight edge.

As always, we’re interested in who wins — a Republican win in Montana gives House Speaker Paul Ryan another member in his majority — but we’re also interested in what the Montana result tells us about the national political environment. And when we’re judging the latter, we need to look at the margin of victory, not just who wins and loses.

Specifically, we’ll want to compare the margin in Montana tonight to previous presidential results in the state. In a neutral political environment, we wouldn’t expect the Montana House special election to be at all close. Montana is about 21 percentage points more Republican than the nation as a whole, according to weighted average of the 2012 and 2016 presidential results. (That is, if there were a tie in the national popular vote for president, a Republican would be expected to win Montana by 21 points.)

The state hasn’t elected a Democrat to the House since Pat Williams won re-election in 1994, and Zinke won re-election by 16 points in 2016. Indeed, there are 120 other Republican-held House districts that lean more Democratic than Montana. Even a close Gianforte win (say, by 10 points or less) would be consistent with a national environment that heavily favors Democrats. A Gianforte loss would likely set off panic among Republicans and signal to them that being associated with Trump (as Gianforte has tried to be) is toxic. Trump’s approval rating in ruby red Montana is probably under 50 percent, and it’s even worse nationally.

If Gianforte wins by only a small margin or loses, it would be consistent with the three previous special election results so far this year. While Republicans haven’t lost a race that a House Republican won in 2016, the Democratic candidates have, on average, outperformed expectations by 16 points.

California 34 April 4 +87 +69 +18
Kansas 4 April 11 -6 -29 +23
Georgia 6 April 18 -2 -9 +7
Average +16
Democrats are doing better than expected in 2017 House special elections

Margins are rounded. In California 34 and Georgia 6, the special election margin is the cumulative vote share of the Democratic candidates minus the cumulative vote share of the Republican candidates. The Democratic lean compares the district’s voting patterns to the nation. The Democratic vote margin of the 2016 presidential election is weighted 75 percent and the Democratic vote margin of the 2012 presidential election 25 percent.

Sources: DAILY KOS ELECTIONS, Georgia Secretary of State, Kansas Secretary of State, Los Angeles Times

The consistency here is key. Any single House special election is susceptible to district-specific factors. (There’s the body-slamming incident, to take just one example. And even before that, Gianforte seemed a bit out of place in Montana. He was a billionaire tech entrepreneur from New Jersey who was last seen losing Montana’s 2016 gubernatorial race, even as Trump was cruising in the state.) But special elections as a group have done a decent job of forecasting the following midterm’s House results. When a party vastly underperforms the past presidential vote consistently, it tends to do poorly in the following midterm. If the average House Republican candidate has underperformed nationally by 16 points once all the special elections occur, it would be on par with 2006, when Democrats took back the House.

In other words, if the GOP candidate puts in an underwhelming performance in Kansas, and in Georgia, and in Montana, it’s probably safe to conclude that there’s something going on nationally rather than in just those three states specifically. We already heard Republicans try to explain away Ron Estes’s relatively poor performance in Kansas by pointing to Gov. Sam Brownback’s unpopularity. And while Gianforte’s flaws probably give Quist (who himself has issues) a better chance than normal in such a red state, Montanans typically don’t send a non-incumbent Democrat to Congress unless the national mood is poor for Republicans. The state’s Democratic Sen. Jon Tester originally won office in 2006 when he beat then-incumbent Sen. Conrad Burns. That year, Tester benefited from President George W. Bush’s 47 percent approval rating in the state. Williams originally won the state’s only congressional seat when President George H.W. Bush was so unpopular that he lost Montana in the 1992 presidential election.

So how will we know if Gianforte is vastly underperforming Trump as the results come in tonight? Here’s the weighted past presidential vote by county, relative to the nation as a whole. I’ve also included how well Gianforte did compared with his statewide performance in the 2016 gubernatorial election.

Where winning will be easiest and hardest for Rob Quist
Beaverhead -22 -26
Big Horn +24 +29
Blaine +16 +21
Broadwater -21 -35
Carbon -10 -11
Carter -70 -58
Cascade +6 0
Chouteau -8 -16
Custer -22 -24
Daniels -41 -38
Dawson -51 -35
Deer Lodge +39 +32
Fallon -51 -54
Fergus -29 -32
Flathead -19 -16
Gallatin +11 +18
Garfield -71 -66
Glacier +45 +49
Golden Valley -33 -41
Granite -14 -20
Hill +14 +7
Jefferson -11 -13
Judith Basin -23 -32
Lake -2 0
Lewis & Clark +19 +13
Liberty -24 -31
Lincoln -30 -29
Madison -55 -43
McCone -20 -25
Meagher -28 -33
Mineral -13 -18
Missoula +30 +34
Musselshell -39 -46
Park +6 +5
Petroleum -56 -55
Phillips -58 -44
Pondera -8 -17
Powder River -53 -52
Powell -23 -29
Prairie -51 -44
Ravalli -18 -18
Richland -55 -45
Roosevelt +10 +18
Rosebud -21 -13
Sanders -24 -30
Sheridan -18 -20
Silver Bow +40 +37
Stillwater -30 -35
Sweet Grass -36 -37
Teton -14 -21
Toole -24 -32
Treasure -30 -42
Valley -26 -23
Wheatland -19 -34
Wibaux -48 -53
Yellowstone -5 -7

Margins are rounded. The Democratic lean compares the county’s voting patterns to the statewide results. For the presidential lean, the Democratic vote margin of the 2016 presidential election is weighted 75 percent and the Democratic vote margin of the 2012 presidential election 25 percent.

Sources: Daily Kos Elections, Dave Leip’s Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections

Both the past gubernatorial and presidential results suggest that Gianforte should do well in populous Flathead County in the northwest, while Quist should do well to the south of Flathead in Missoula County. Nearby Lake County has been the most consistent bellwether in the state. The truth is, though, that we may need to need to wait for the results from the most populous county: Yellowstone. Gianforte barely won it in 2016 as he lost by just 4 percentage points statewide. Meanwhile, the past presidential vote suggests Gianforte should win it by about 7 points to be on track to win overall. If Quist is within single digits in Yellowstone, Gianforte is — at a minimum — vastly underperforming Trump in the state.

In any case, we’ll be live-blogging the election here on FiveThirtyEight, starting at around 9 p.m. Eastern, and hope that you’ll join us to see whether or not Gianforte holds his own even after body-slamming a reporter, underperforms Trump but still wins, or sets off the national GOP fire alarm by losing to Quist.

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Posted by Anna Maria Barry-Jester and Perry Bacon Jr.

The Congressional Budget Office’s long-awaited report on the American Health Care Act, released Wednesday, is on one level kind of irrelevant. The GOP-controlled Senate has already said it will write its own bill, dismissing the plan House Republicans passed this month to repeal and replace parts of the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare.

On another level, though, the report does not look good for the GOP’s current approach to reforming the health care system. According to the CBO, an estimated 23 million more people would be uninsured under the House bill in 2026 compared with current law, though the federal deficit would be cut by $119 billion during that time. The CBO score suggests that the last-minute changes to the Republican plan would mean less government savings and more insurance coverage than previous versions — but would result in a system that prices out many with pre-existing health conditions and eliminates much-promised “access” for some people with low incomes.

The CBO report provides important insight into some of the key questions the Senate is grappling with as it crafts new legislation. For the last several months, Republicans in both chambers have been debating three core challenges in U.S. health care policy: How can they wind down Medicaid, which was vastly expanded under Obamacare? How can they bring down the cost of premiums in the private insurance marketplace for people who don’t get insurance from their employer? And what kind of protections should they offer to people with pre-existing health conditions?

By giving a sense of how the House bill performs when it comes to these three core challenges, the report provides a rough roadmap of the tradeoffs Senate Republicans are likely to make as they write a new bill.

The Republicans have a big pre-existing condition problem

The biggest news of the report is how it assessed a controversial amendment added late in the process to win the support of the most conservative Republicans, which wasn’t included in two previous reports from the CBO. That amendment would allow states to seek waivers on various insurance regulations, including financial protections for people with pre-existing health conditions. The move caused public outcry, as it could allow insurers to price some people with health issues out of the marketplaces that target people without employer-sponsored insurance. It also made the task of scoring the bill challenging for the CBO. Among other things, the agency had to estimate how many states would take up the waivers and how many people they would affect.

The CBO’s findings align with what many health policy experts expected: Many people with pre-existing conditions would be priced out of the marketplace where the waivers are used. The CBO doesn’t say where exactly it thinks that will happen, but it estimates that the waivers would affect areas where about one-sixth of the U.S. population lives.

Republicans have said that people with pre-existing conditions wouldn’t necessarily be left uninsured, because the bill also called for a return to high-risk pools, subsidized plans that would isolate people who are expensive to treat, as well as other funding to reduce costs for that group. The idea is that insurance premium costs will go down for everyone else if the most expensive patients are separated out. But critics say the key to successful high-risk pools is sufficient funding, which many have argued is not in the GOP bill. The CBO report backs up the argument that the funding isn’t adequate to curb costs for many with health concerns.

How the Senate handles legislation for people with health problems, arguably those most in need of insurance, will likely be one of the most controversial aspects of its bill. Some in the chamber have signaled that they are likely to pursue policy along the lines of what the House did, allowing greater variations in insurance costs based on health status and age, while allowing insurers to sell plans that offer less coverage. The CBO report’s findings will give more fuel to pushback to this approach from Democrats and patients, as well as Republicans.

The bill is still projected to put a big hole in Medicaid

And while the handling of people with pre-existing conditions is among the most controversial aspects of the law, the biggest change to the uninsured rate would come from cuts to Medicaid enrollments, according to the CBO. The report estimates that about 14 million fewer people would be enrolled in the public insurance program in 2026 under the House plan. The CBO’s estimate of the previous version of the AHCA estimated similar declines in Medicaid enrollment.

That’s why one of the most complicated negotiations for senators will be over what to do with Medicaid. The program has long covered pregnant women, children and people with disabilities, but it was expanded under Obamacare to also cover everyone earning less than 138 percent of the federal poverty line. The AHCA would slowly deflate the expanded part of the program, by freezing its enrollment and simultaneously reducing federal funding for enrollees.

Even before Wednesday, there was substantial division among senators over Medicaid, between those from states that expanded the program (such as Ohio’s Rob Portman) and senators who don’t want more Americans on government-funded health care, such as Utah conservative Mike Lee. Portman is reportedly looking either to delay the unwinding of the Medicaid expansion or limit the cuts.

Will the individual markets be more affordable?

The House bill seeks to lower the cost of insurance by reducing regulations and removing expensive patients from the general insurance pools, two approaches that are popular among Republican legislators. The changes from current policy would reduce premiums in most places but would also make coverage less comprehensive. Costs would also vary much more widely between groups than they currently do — and still be so high that they would price out some of the poorest and sickest people in the country.

The CBO estimates that for about half the population, marketplace regulations would stay the same, and premiums would go down by an average of 4 percent in 2026 compared with what they would be under current law. Another third of the population lives in states that would invoke some regulatory changes and see a more dramatic reduction of 10 percent to 30 percent. The CBO estimates that the remaining areas would adopt the full set of waivers, which would make their insurance among the cheapest in the nation for young, healthy people — but unaffordable for many of those with health conditions. And, as the CBO notes, those averages obscure dramatic differences in premiums between age groups, since the GOP bill would allow older enrollees to be charged five times more than younger enrollees.

Like today, those costs would be offset by subsidies, though they would leave more of the poor without insurance, even if premiums decreased in most states. That’s because the subsidies would be based solely on age, not income or geographic cost variations, as is the case under Obamacare. Overall, there is likely to be an increase in coverage among healthy middle-class enrollees who currently receive fewer subsidies and have been priced out by rising costs. And even if what people pay for coverage drops, health care costs would go up for some people in states that chose to let insurers sell skimpier policies.

All this adds up to 10 million fewer people using the individual markets in 2020, and 6 million fewer in 2026, than would be expected under the current law, according to the CBO.

The Senate has signaled that it may seek to offer greater financial support to people with lower incomes, which would likely increase coverage compared with the House bill. Current subsidies are generous for the lowest earners, which has substantially increased coverage for this group. It’s unclear how much those subsidies can be reduced before people will start forgoing coverage.

How much will it all cost?

The CBO estimates that the House bill would reduce government revenue by nearly $1 trillion over 10 years, mostly by eliminating the taxes that the ACA imposed on high-income households. But the bill would also cut government spending on health care by $1.1 trillion, mostly by cutting spending on Medicaid. On net, the AHCA would save the government money, reducing the deficit by $119 billion over 10 years.

The bill’s savings are chump change compared to the $8.6 trillion deficit that the federal government is expected to run during that time and are a third the size of the savings that the earlier version of the bill would have provided (per CBO’s estimates). But Republicans avoided the worst-case scenario: a bill that would have cut the deficit by less than $2 billion, which for procedural reasons would have been virtually impossible for the Senate to pass.

Politically, though, the deficit cuts may be a harder sell. In effect, the bill would cut government spending for the poor (Medicaid) in order to pay for tax cuts for the rich. Democrats hammered that point after the CBO released its earlier report, and the new estimates won’t do much to snuff out that talking point.

What’s next?

These are some of the key questions a 13-man group of GOP senators (none of the five Republican women senators were included, though the GOP meetings have since been opened to all GOP senators) has been debating behind closed doors for weeks, trying to hash out differences between conservatives who want a major rollback of Obamacare, such as Lee, versus Portman and others who want a more measured approach.

The political divides on the Senate bill are already emerging, even before it is fully written. Republicans must earn the votes of 50 of the 52 members. And Louisiana’s Bill Cassidy and Maine’s Susan Collins have already expressed doubts about the legislation.

“I don’t know how we get to 50 (votes) at the moment. But that’s the goal. And exactly what the composition of that (bill) is I’m not going to speculate about because it serves no purpose,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told Reuters on Wednesday morning, before the CBO report was released.

Ben Casselman contributed to this article.

LeBron James Is Indestructible

May. 24th, 2017 08:34 pm
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Posted by Owen Phillips

For all the many things LeBron James is praised for, from his ability to set up his teammates to his capacity to take over a game, his most underappreciated quality may be his most obvious: He’s always there.

Since entering the league in 2003, James has never sat out for more than 15 percent of a season (regular and playoffs combined). Among players of his caliber, past and present, that’s unprecedented. Stephen Curry had ankle issues at the start of his career; both Tim Duncan and Kobe Bryant experienced late-season injuries that forced them to miss the playoffs in, respectively, 2000 and 2013; and Michael Jordan broke his foot in his sophomore season. Then there’s James. He’s never missed a playoff game, and even though he has the sixth-most regular-season minutes of all time among players at the same point in their careers (within their first 14 years in the league), the most severe injuries he’s incurred are a sore back and knee and some untimely cramps.

Quantifying a player’s durability is a bit tricky because the NBA doesn’t keep track of games missed due to injury, which leaves us no way to distinguish physical issues from other reasons for missing games, such as paternity leave or regular rest. The best we can do, then, is to look at the number of games a player appeared in as a portion of the number of games they could have appeared in. The higher the percentage of possible games played, the more durable the player is.

This year, James appeared in 74 out of a possible 82 games during the regular season and has played in all 12 of the Cavaliers’ playoff games — that’s a 91 percent appearance rate. By itself, that statistic is unremarkable. But when you put it in context — James has played in at least 85 percent of his teams’ games in every season of his career — you see something special.

Here’s James compared to the five inactive players with the highest career win share since 1980.

The only other past superstars who’ve played in a higher percentage of their teams’ total games are Karl Malone and John Stockton. (It’s fitting that a player nicknamed “The Mailman” appeared in 100 percent of potential games 10 different times in his career.) But even they had their injuries. In Malone’s case, he tweaked his right knee in his final season and missed nearly half of the regular season. (To be fair to Malone, he was eight years older than James and five seasons deeper into his career.) Meanwhile, Stockton injured his MCL in 1997, forcing him to sit out the first 18 games of that year.

He’s been equally great when compared to the five other active players with the highest career win share.

Truth is, James has been even healthier than those numbers would suggest, because potential games played is a conservative estimate of durability. Some of the games James missed weren’t because he was injured, but rather because a coach decided to rest him for meaningless games at the end of a regular season. (A philosophy that Malone is happy to remind people didn’t exist in his day.)

All this is even more impressive considering the bruising style of basketball James is known for. Among active players, no one has gone to the free-throw line more than James. It’s almost unbelievable that a player who plays such physical ball has stayed so healthy since, as we’ve seen in this year’s playoffs with Blake Griffin, Tony Parker, Kawhi Leonard and Isaiah Thomas, it only takes one misstep to end someone’s season.

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Posted by Neil Paine

When the Nashville Predators — who won the NHL’s Western Conference crown Monday night — take the ice in the Stanley Cup Final next week, they’ll be playing for more than their teammates, coaches or even their legions of catfish-throwing fans in “Smashville.” They’ll be trying to end the stealthiest title drought in pro sports and bring the state of Tennessee its first championship.

Since the Houston Oilers packed their bags and moved northeast in 1997 (briefly stopping in Memphis before settling in Nashville), Tennessee’s teams — the Titans, Predators and Grizzlies — have participated in 52 completed professional seasons, and 52 times, they’ve ended the year without a parade to show for it.

Tennessee 1.71 0 -1.71
Utah 1.37 0 -1.37
Connecticut 0.86 0 -0.86
Oklahoma 0.33 0 -0.33
Kentucky 0.15 0 -0.15
Iowa 0.06 0 -0.06
Among winless states, Tennessee is the biggest underachiever

Expected championships are calculated by assigning each team in a league equal odds of winning the title in a given season and then adding up those title chances over time.

Source: Sports-Reference.com

Among states with major-league franchises, that’s the most cracks anybody has taken at a title without winning at least one. Although Tennessee has been a pro-sports state for only 20 years, its teams have played long enough that we’d expect them to have nearly two championships under their belts by now — or they would, that is, if every team in each league had an equal chance of winning the title each year. (Obviously they don’t, but bear with us for the purposes of this exercise.)

Most of the other states on the winless list haven’t had more than one franchise, and in some cases, the team hasn’t been around for a long time: Iowa’s lone team was from the NBA’s first season, 67 years ago, and Kentucky hasn’t had a major pro team in nearly a century. Tennessee, by contrast, has had a toehold in three of the four major leagues since the Grizzlies moved to Memphis from Vancouver in 2001.

(Speaking of Vancouver, British Columbia would actually be ahead of Tennessee on the ranking of underperforming states above if we included Canadian provinces. Between the Vancouver Canucks and the Grizzlies, whose stint in B.C. was brief, the province “should have” won 2.2 championships by now but has zero rings. Canada as a whole, though, has run far above expectation — it has won 43 titles, 13.5 more than we would have expected.)

Tennessee has come close to glory — a few inches, to be specific. The Titans’ Kevin Dyson was within a yard of potentially tying Super Bowl XXXIV on the game’s final play, but the Rams’ Mike Jones dragged him to the ground before Dyson’s outstretched arm could reach the ball across the goal line.

The Titans also lost the 2003 AFC championship game and three divisional playoff games (including two at home). Meanwhile, the Grizzlies lost the 2013 Western Conference finals, and the Predators lost three times in the conference semifinals before breaking through this postseason.

Some Tennessee fans might counter that this is all moot anyway, because the state’s flagship university has won more than 20 national championships — most notably in women’s basketball (eight, with the most recent coming in 2008) and football (four, most recently in 1999). But as seriously as the state takes its college sports, adding that elusive title in the pro ranks would no doubt be welcomed warmly.

Then again, if we also look at states that have won championships, albeit not enough of them (given the number of tries they’ve made at it), Tennessee is far from the most disappointing state relative to expectations. Ohio teams have 16 titles (tied with Missouri for the seventh-most of any state), but they’ve also played so many seasons that we’d expect the state to have 23.2 championships by now. That 7.2-ring shortfall, powered in large part by the now-defunct Cleveland sports curse, is the most of any state in the union (exceeding even that of my home state, Georgia, which has just one measly title to show for a half-century of major-league sports).

At the other end of the spectrum, the states with the best championship fortune have been — big surprise — Massachusetts (+13.0), New York (+8.4) and California (+5.6). But kudos to Wisconsin for coming in fourth at +4.0, with the Milwaukee Braves (1957) and Bucks (1971) each pitching in a title to go with the Green Bay Packers’ 13.

1 Massachusetts 1903-2016 382 37 24.0 +13.0
2 Quebec 1927-2016 153 23 11.7 +11.3
3 New York 1903-2016 804 56 47.7 +8.4
4 California 1926-2016 777 38 32.4 +5.6
5 Wisconsin 1922-2016 218 15 11.1 +4.0
6 Alberta 1980-2016 71 6 2.8 +3.2
7 Ontario 1927-2016 180 14 11.9 +2.1
8 Maryland 1950-2016 132 8 6.4 +1.6
9 Texas 1952-2016 347 14 12.9 +1.1
10 Rhode Island 1925-31 7 1 0.6 +0.5
11 Florida 1966-2016 257 9 8.7 +0.3
12 New Jersey 1929-2016 70 3 2.8 +0.2
13 Iowa 1950 1 0 0.1 -0.1
14 Michigan 1903-2016 348 22 22.1 -0.1
15 Colorado 1950-2016 142 5 5.1 -0.1
16 Kentucky 1922-26 3 0 0.2 -0.2
17 Oklahoma 2006-16 10 0 0.3 -0.3
18 Oregon 1971-2016 46 1 1.9 -0.9
19 Connecticut 1926-97 19 0 0.9 -0.9
20 Manitoba 1980-2016 22 0 0.9 -0.9
21 North Carolina 1989-2016 66 1 2.2 -1.2
22 Louisiana 1967-2016 67 1 2.4 -1.4
23 Utah 1980-2016 37 0 1.4 -1.4
24 Tennessee 1997-2016 52 0 1.7 -1.7
25 British Columbia 1971-2016 51 0 2.2 -2.2
26 Washington 1968-2016 123 2 4.6 -2.6
27 Pennsylvania 1903-2016 626 31 33.8 -2.8
28 Minnesota 1922-2016 201 6 9.0 -3.0
29 Indiana 1922-2016 91 1 4.1 -3.1
30 Arizona 1969-2016 115 1 4.2 -3.2
31 Illinois 1903-2016 509 28 31.5 -3.5
32 Missouri 1903-2016 409 16 19.9 -3.9
33 D.C. 1903-2016 246 7 12.3 -5.3
34 Georgia 1966-2016 169 1 6.5 -5.5
35 Ohio 1903-2016 464 16 23.2 -7.2
Which states (and provinces) have overachieved?

Expected championships are calculated by assigning each team in a league equal odds of winning the title in a given season and then adding up those title chances over time, for states with pro sports teams between 1903 and 2016.


In general, there’s a weak-to-moderate relationship between a state’s population or economic power (as measured by gross state product) and its ability to win more championships than we’d expect from chance alone. That’s not exactly a shocking discovery; larger, wealthier states tend to have bigger cities, which historically have tended to accumulate a disproportionate share of the available playing talent.

So in that regard, maybe we shouldn’t be too surprised by the slight underperformance of a state like Tennessee. It’s big enough — and economically successful enough — to have three major-sports franchises but not to consistently outcompete other states for the best players. Nor should we be amazed that the last winless multisport state is one whose entire history is in the modern era of huge leagues, when outracing the pack involves much more competition. (Think of how much higher your chances of a title would be in, say, the NHL’s six-team era than the current 32-team NFL.) And some state was probably going to go a stretch of years without winning a championship no matter what. (Much like some city was going to go a half-century without one.) Tennessee just happens to embody the perfect combination of circumstances for it to occur.

The Predators have a chance to change all that. Just like when North Carolina won a Cup in 2006, it might be a bit odd to see a Southern state using hockey (of all sports) as its ticket to finally winning a championship. But, hey, a ring is a ring. And you might be up next, Utah.

Donald Trump’s Base Is Shrinking

May. 24th, 2017 04:23 pm
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Posted by Nate Silver

A widely held tenet of the current conventional wisdom is that while President Trump might not be popular overall, he has a high floor on his support. Trump’s sizable and enthusiastic base — perhaps 35 to 40 percent of the country — won’t abandon him any time soon, the theory goes, and they don’t necessarily care about some of the controversies that the “mainstream media” treats as game-changing developments.

It’s an entirely reasonable theory. We live in a highly partisan epoch, and voters are usually loyal to politicians from their party. Trump endured a lot of turbulence in the general election but stuck it out to win the Electoral College. The media doesn’t always guess right about which stories will resonate with voters.

But the theory isn’t supported by the evidence. To the contrary, Trump’s base seems to be eroding. There’s been a considerable decline in the number of Americans who strongly approve of Trump, from a peak of around 30 percent in February to just 21 or 22 percent of the electorate now. (The decline in Trump’s strong approval ratings is larger than the overall decline in his approval ratings, in fact.) Far from having unconditional love from his base, Trump has already lost almost a third of his strong support. And voters who strongly disapprove of Trump outnumber those who strongly approve of him by about a 2-to-1 ratio, which could presage an “enthusiasm gap” that works against Trump at the midterms. The data suggests, in particular, that the GOP’s initial attempt (and failure) in March to pass its unpopular health care bill may have cost Trump with his core supporters.

These estimates come from the collection of polls we use for FiveThirtyEight’s approval ratings tracker. Many approval-rating polls give respondents four options: strongly approve, somewhat approve, somewhat disapprove and strongly disapprove. Ordinarily, we only estimate Trump’s overall approval and disapproval. But we went back and collected this more detailed data for all polls for which it was available, and then we reran our approval ratings program to output numbers for all four approval categories instead of the usual two. Here are Trump’s strongly approve and somewhat approve ratings from shortly after the start of his term through this Tuesday:

After a slight uptick in the first two to three weeks of his term, Trump’s strong approval ratings have headed downward. But it hasn’t been a steady decline. Instead, they fell considerably from about 29 percent on March 6 — when Republicans introduced their health care bill — to around 24 percent on April 1, shortly after the GOP pulled the bill from the House floor. They then remained stable for much of April, before beginning to fall again this month after the reintroduction (and House passage) of the health care bill and after Trump fired FBI director James Comey on May 9. As of Tuesday, just 21.4 percent of Americans strongly approved of Trump’s performance.

By comparison, 45 percent of Americans strongly approved of President Obama’s performance as of April 2009, although Obama’s strong approval numbers would fall considerably over the course of his term — to the mid-to-high 20s by the midterms and to the high teens by 2014.

The share of Americans who somewhat approve of Trump’s performance has actually increased slightly, however, from about 16 percent in early February to 17.9 percent as of Tuesday. In part, this probably reflects voters who once strongly approved of Trump and who have now downgraded him to the somewhat approve category. (Trump’s strongly approve and somewhat approve numbers have been inversely correlated so far, meaning that as one has risen, the other has tended to fall.) A potential problem for Trump is that in the event of continued White House turmoil, the next step for these somewhat approve voters would be to move toward disapproval of the president.

The number of Americans who strongly disapprove of Trump has sharply risen since early in his term, meanwhile, from the mid-30s in early February to 44.1 percent as of Tuesday. In most surveys, Trump’s strongly disapprove rating exceeds his overall approval rating, in fact.

The bulk of the increase in Trump’s strong disapproval ratings came early in his term, over the course of late January and early February. It’s possible that this was partly a reaction to Trump’s initial travel ban on immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim countries, which was the biggest news of Trump’s first few weeks in office. But presidential disapproval often rises in the first month or so of a president’s tenure as voters who initially give a new president the benefit of the doubt find things to dislike in his performance.

Meanwhile, the share of Americans who somewhat disapprove of Trump has been small and fairly steady throughout his term, usually averaging around 10 or 11 percent. It was 11.6 percent as of Tuesday.

During last year’s presidential primaries, Trump received about 14 million votes out of a total of 62 million cast between the two parties, which works out to 23 percent of the total. So perhaps it’s not a coincidence that 20 to 25 percent of the country still strongly supports Trump; they were with him from the start.

But 20 to 25 percent isn’t all that large a base — obviously not enough to win general elections on its own. Instead, Trump won the White House because most Republicans who initially supported another GOP candidate in the primary wound up backing him in the November election. Trump has always had his share of reluctant supporters, and their ranks have been growing as the number of strong supporters has decreased. If those reluctant Trump supporters shift to being reluctant opponents instead, he’ll be in a lot of trouble, with consequences ranging from a midterm wave against Republicans to an increased likelihood of impeachment.

So while there’s risk to Democrats in underestimating Trump’s resiliency, there’s an equal or perhaps greater risk to Republicans in thinking Trump’s immune from political gravity.

If you look beneath the surface of Trump’s approval ratings, you find not hidden strength but greater weakness than the topline numbers imply.

Harry Enten and Dhrumil Mehta contributed to this article.

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Welcome to the latest episode of Hot Takedown, FiveThirtyEight’s sports podcast. On this week’s show (May 23, 2017), FiveThirtyEight’s Kyle Wagner joins us as a guest host. We talk about the Warriors’ 12-game win streak in this year’s NBA playoffs and bid a possible farewell to the San Antonio Spurs’ Manu Ginobili. Next, the Chicago Cubs broke their curse, but are they falling short of expectations this year? We investigate. Finally, NFL owners voted Tuesday to limit regular-season overtime to 10 minutes, ostensibly to protect players. ESPN’s Kevin Seifert calls in and argues that this change won’t really help. Plus, a significant digit on Tennessee.

Here are links to things we discussed this week:

  • You can stay up to date with FiveThirtyEight’s NBA predictions, updated after every game, here.
  • Kyle penned an appreciation of Ginobili, a true NBA unicorn.
  • Neil Paine wondered why the Cubs defense is so bad this year.
  • Seifert wrote that the NFL overtime rule change does nothing for player safety.
  • Significant Digit: 1.7, the number of championships we’d expect teams from the state of Tennessee to have if every team in a league had equal odds of winning each year. Tennessee currently has three pro franchises (the Memphis Grizzlies, Nashville Predators and Tennessee Titans) yet has won zero championships in its pro teams’ history. It’s one of just six states that have ever had a major league franchise to never win a championship (joining Utah, Connecticut, Oklahoma, Kentucky and Iowa).
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Posted by Walt Hickey

You’re reading Significant Digits, a daily digest of the numbers tucked inside the news.


A U.S. court of appeals ruled you don’t have to register your drones with the Federal Aviation Administration because small drones are just model airplanes. Save the $5 on that registration. In other news, drones are about to get way more annoying. [Quartz]

60 days

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte declared a 60-day period of martial law for the entirety of Mindanao island because of clashes between armed groups and the government. [ABS CBN]


More than 80 U.S. Olympians are reporting that their medals won at the Rio Olympics are flaking or otherwise degrading. Officials have observed problems on 6 to 7 percent of medals. [The Associated Press]


Uber underpaid tens of thousands of New York City drivers by improperly basing their payments on net rather than gross fares. The controversial ride-sharing company has agreed to repay those lost earnings, an average of about $900 per driver. That’s tens of millions of dollars out of the pockets of drivers, finally reclaimed. [Quartz]

$5 million

Reported annual value of a contract between Nike and New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., the most lucrative shoe deal for an NFL player. [ESPN]

662 million vacation days

Number of available vacation days that Americans collectively did not take in 2016. Hit the beaches, people. [Fortune]

If you see a significant digit in the wild, send it to @WaltHickey.

[syndicated profile] 538_feed

Posted by A FiveThirtyEight Chat

In this week’s politics chat, we debate what trajectory the Donald Trump presidency is on. The transcript below has been lightly edited.

micah (Micah Cohen, politics editor): So just after President Trump was inaugurated, Nate wrote a piece that laid out 14 possible versions of the Trump presidency — basically, 14 different paths the Trump administration might take. We were debating what to talk about in today’s chat, and one of our beloved readers had this idea:

So let’s do that! We never assigned each version a probability, but I’ll paste a scenario in here, you’ll tell me “more likely” or “less likely” (no pushes), and then we’ll quickly talk over why you think the probability has gone up or down.

Everyone got that? (We’re missing our dear colleague Clare today, FYI; she’s doing actual reporting.)

harry (Harry Enten, senior political writer): I got it. I got it.

perry (Perry Bacon Jr., senior writer): Yes. Go ahead.

natesilver (Nate Silver, editor in chief): I thought I was supposed to write an article about this, Micah. Did the statute of limitations run out?

micah: It did, yes. You were supposed to file that article about three weeks ago.

OK, No. 1, in the “extrapolations from the status quo” category:

1. Trump keeps on Trumpin’ and the country remains evenly divided. In this scenario, Trump continues to implement his campaign-trail agenda. He still rants on Twitter every morning and picks unnecessary fights, although … he mostly avoids major entanglements with foreign leaders that could really get him into trouble. And it … sort of works. The press regularly predicts Trump’s demise, but difficult periods are followed by comparatively successful ones and he benefits from relatively low expectations. At the same time, he doesn’t win over many new converts. Still, Trump’s base of 40 to 45 percent of the country sticks with him. Given Republicans’ geographic advantages in Congress and the Electoral College, that makes for a very competitive 2018 and 2020.

perry: Less likely.

harry: Less likely.

natesilver: I’m not allowed so say “push”? I guess I’d say less likely. I would have said more likely at the 100-day mark.

harry: Trump’s approval rating is at best at 40 percent. The part of the scenario where the press repeatedly predicts his demise probably still holds true, but I don’t know if there has been a successful Trump period yet.

natesilver: Also, the notion that Trump is mostly avoiding getting himself into real trouble doesn’t hold up as well, with the James Comey stuff.

harry: Trump hasn’t had a foreign policy disaster, but, as Nathaniel notes, he cannot seem to keep quiet on stuff he doesn’t need to be talking about (e.g. Comey).

natesilver: That scenario also posits that “Trump continues to implement his campaign-trail agenda,” which is a pretty debatable proposition based on his lack of big policy wins so far.

Mind you, I still think this scenario is very possible (it was one of the more likely ones to begin with). But I’m not sure that it’s become more likely, per se. He’s bogeying holes instead of parring them.

harry: Heck, Louisiana Sen. Bill Cassidy (a Republican) has argued that Trump’s budget, released Tuesday, doesn’t follow his campaign-trail agenda. Cassidy said the same thing about the GOP health care bill.

perry: Right. I think this scenario is still possible. Trump governs with a mix of his campaign-trail agenda and general Republican orthodoxy. He holds at around 40 percent approval. But it’s less likely than in January.

micah: No. 2, same category …

2. Trump gradually (or not-so-gradually) enters a death spiral … We don’t yet know very much about how sustainable Trump’s schtick will be as president, so it would be foolish to dismiss the possibility that he’s in over his head and never really recovers. Trump is fighting a lot of battles at once without much of a support structure around him. Moreover, his problems could be self-reinforcing as issues pile on top of one another and public opinion turns against him, especially if the more coolheaded and competent advisers and Cabinet members flee the White House as Trump begins to falter. In this scenario, Trump’s approval ratings wouldn’t necessarily fall off a cliff — his base would give him a mulligan or two — but they would move slowly and inexorably downward, as happened to George W. Bush during his last two years in office. Although a desperate and deeply unpopular Trump could pose some risks to American institutions, the general idea here is that Trump would become too ineffectual too quickly to cause all that much lasting damage. Impeachment and resignation are plausible endgames in this scenario.

perry: More likely.

natesilver: More likely.

harry: More likely.

natesilver: “Trump is fighting a lot of battles at once without much of a support structure around him. Moreover, his problems could be self-reinforcing as issues pile on top of one another and public opinion turns against him …” I mean, that sounds like a pretty good description of the past few weeks.

harry: We just had an article on the site about the chances of freaking impeachment.

natesilver: Now, I would say that having been on this course so far doesn’t necessarily mean that we’ll continue on this course. And you could easily wind up halfway between scenarios No. 1 and No. 2.

harry: Right, it’s merely more likely. Not probable.

perry: This scenario feels like what is happening. There are days when it feels very much like 2005, with Republicans trying to figure out how to break from the president of their party, Democrats gleeful about the upcoming congressional elections, the president’s numbers going gradually down.

harry: And look at Trump’s approval rating. … It isn’t falling off of a cliff, but it is declining.

natesilver: I do think there’s a chance that — I think I said this on the podcast on Monday, so sorry for the repetition — Trump is spending so much time treading water to get out of his various self-inflicted crises that his victories are few and far between.

harry: He got a health care bill past the House. He got a Supreme Court justice. He had the Syria strikes

natesilver: A health care bill that could get a bunch of Republicans voted out of office because the White House and Paul Ryan did an awful job of thinking through the politics of it. I’ll give him Neil Gorsuch.

micah: No. 3 (I’m truncating these excerpts, BTW, because Nate tends to be … verbose):

3. Trump keeps rewriting the political rules and gradually becomes more popular. Trump won the presidency despite being fairly unpopular, and he remains fairly unpopular now. Nonetheless, what he’s accomplished is impressive, especially given the long odds that many people (including yours truly) gave Trump at the start. Maybe the guy is pretty good at politics? One can imagine various scenarios where Trump’s default approach to politics turns out to be a winning one over the long run, even if it leads to its fair share of rocky moments.

harry: Less likely.

perry: Less likely. And I thought this was pretty likely a few months ago.

natesilver: Less likely, certainly. I suppose with the slight caveat that assessing this scenario would turn heavily on election results (e.g. how well Republicans do at the midterms) and those elections haven’t happened yet.

harry: I should note that “One can imagine various scenarios where Trump’s default approach to politics turns out to be a winning one over the long run, even if it leads to its fair share of rocky moments,” may still turn out to be true.

natesilver: I actually think a big part of Trump’s problem is that the election convinced him he could walk on water, but he can’t.

It’s like when some No. 12 seed wins their first-round game in the NCAA tournament and then starts jacking up wild 3s and playing like crap in their next game. Overconfidence.

perry: He won both the primary and general while not following the rules of politics. I’m not sure if flouting of the rules was why he won or if he won because of other factors while he flouted the rules. Either way, his violation of both casual norms (don’t make a Stephen Bannon-like figure your senior adviser) and real norms (firing the FBI director investigating you) have backfired.

harry: It’s still very early. Bill Clinton had a rocky first few months – so rocky that his approval rating dropped into the 30s at just about this point of his first term. What may have to happen is that Trump needs to get crushed in the midterms in order to recalibrate.

natesilver: Yeah, I think firing Comey — and (allegedly) asking two intelligence agency heads to push back on the FBI investigation into ties between Russia and the Trump campaign — counts as more than a “rocky moment”

micah: How about a Rocky moment?


micah: No. 4 … (Now we’re in Category 2, “Trump changes directions”)

4. Trump mellows out, slightly. This is the mildest course change. In this case, after an up-and-down first three to six months, Trump gradually gets better at the job of being president, not necessarily because of a concerted effort to pivot but because he learns through trial and error that he needs to pick his battles. Steve Bannon and other more incendiary advisers lose stature, and Trump’s bonds with Republican leaders in Congress strengthen as he somewhat faithfully carries out their agenda. There are still many profoundly weird moments, but Trump gradually comes to govern more like a conventional Republican. Like most first-term incumbents, he enters 2020 as a slight favorite for re-election.

harry: I’ll argue this has become more likely.

natesilver: Moreless likely

harry: The heck is that?

natesilver: That’s like the T/F (truefalse). I suppose I’d go with more likely.

perry: This is a hard one. I will go with less likely. But parts of this are more likely (he governs like a traditional Republican) and parts are less likely (slight favorite for re-election.)

harry: I once got credit on a multiple-choice science test in 8th grade because I wrote a “d” that looked like an “a.”

Anyway. I’d go with “more likely” because I think he needs a course change and it has been rocky. So it merely opens the possibility more. Not that I think he’ll take this option.

micah: Harry gets the prize for most nonsensical answer so far.

natesilver: He has shown some restraint at times. For instance, in avoiding a government shutdown.

I guess you could ask whether or not there’s been a trend toward more restraint over time.

Upon reflection, I think I’m going to change my answer to less likely.

perry: The Comey thing was just so big that it overwhelms 10 mellowing moves.

micah: Yeah, that’s true.

His first trip abroad has been pretty restrained.

perry: Agree, the foreign trip has been restrained.

natesilver: Yeah. I think if you rated each day from 0 to 10 in terms of how “presidential” Trump was, there wouldn’t be an upward trajectory. Or at least, not a statistically significant one.

micah: We should do that, Nate.

harry: My point is that we have had a rather rocky 3-6 months. He needs to learn how to pick his battles. He hasn’t yet. But this requires waiting. So we’ll have to wait and see.

natesilver: Nobody is saying this is scenario is impossible. In fact, it was one of the most likely scenarios to begin with, IMO. But does the evidence point toward a trajectory of greater restraint? You could argue the case, but my view is that not really, at least not given Comey.

micah: No. 5:

5. Trump cedes authority. I rarely see this possibility discussed, but it has several historical precedents among presidents who found the job mentally or physically overwhelming. The key aspect is that within a year or two, Trump would have effectively relinquished day-to-day control of the government to Vice President Mike Pence and to his Cabinet, instead focusing on the more ceremonial aspects of the presidency and perhaps exploiting it for personal enrichment. There are several variations on this scenario, which range from Trump being surprisingly popular as a sort of celebrity-in-chief to Trump largely withdrawing from the public spotlight.

perry: More likely.

harry: More likely.

natesilver: More likely.


harry: I disagreed last time and you told me I was nonsensical.

natesilver: I’m not someone who says that Trump’s frequent golfing, etc. is a big deal. But it is an indication that he maybe likes the auspices of the job more the job itself.

micah: What evidence has there been that Trump would cede any power?

perry: I think there is a scenario where the party leaders suggest to Trump, “We can support you, as long as you let us and Vice President Mike Pence do domestic policy and H.R. McMaster/Nikki Haley/James Mattis/Rex Tillerson do foreign policy. You can give speeches.”

That would be done in private.

natesilver: He seems to be enjoying the foreign trip, which sorta fits with this theory.

harry: What evidence? How about the fact that he freaking offered John Kasich control of both foreign and domestic policy in hopes of getting Kasich to join his ticket as vice president.

micah: Reportedly.

harry: Reportedly, but still.

natesilver: In terms of ceding power, he certainly isn’t a micromanager. He totally delegated construction of the health care bill to the House, for example.

perry: I don’t think this is likely. Trump is not a humble man. I just think it’s more likely, because I think Trump’s mistakes have empowered others to try to take authority from him.

micah: That makes sense.

Next …

6. Trump successfully pivots to the populist center (but with plenty of authoritarianism too). This is [David] Frum’s scenario. To recap, it involves Trump becoming more of a true populist, remaining hard-line on immigration and trade but calling for significant infrastructure and social welfare spending. His new direction earns plaudits from the media, which is eager to tell a “pivot” story, and is genuinely popular with independents and Rust Belt Democrats. At the same time, Trump continues to erode the rule of law by using strong-arm tactics with the media, the judiciary and private business, and he collaborates with Republicans to restrict voting rights. Trump’s presidency is fairly successful as far as it goes, but he moves the country in the direction of being an illiberal democracy.

perry: Less likely.

harry: His new budget argues against this option. So: less likely.

natesilver: Less likely. There’s been rather little actual economic populism.

perry: I think he is taking steps to erode the rule of law (Comey firing, sidestepping ethics laws, bashing judges and the press) but I would argue that those steps have been somewhat ineffective so far. I don’t think he is succeeding in breaking those institutions, many of which are bedeviling him. (See the travel ban being struck down, The Washington Post and The New York Times embarrassing him almost daily with stories from leakers inside government.) And the populism has been nonexistent. He has made no real efforts to win Democrats.

micah: No. 7 …

7. Trump flails around aimlessly after an unsuccessful attempt to pivot. In this scenario, Trump is like George Steinbrenner running the 1980s New York Yankees, firing his managers and changing course all the time without ever really getting anywhere. Instead, he churns through advisers and alienates allies faster than he makes new ones. In one version of the scenario, Trump attempts a Frum-ian pivot to the center but it fails — Congressional Republicans don’t go along with with the program, and it costs him credibility with his base more quickly than it wins him new converts. By early 2019, there are impeachment proceedings against Trump, and several Republicans are considering challenging him for the 2020 nomination. Trump winds up being something of a lame duck despite being in his first term, drawing comparisons to Jimmy Carter.

perry: More likely.

natesilver: More likely. Especially given the frequent leaks and rumors of staff shake-ups.

harry: More likely.

micah: But has he attempted a pivot?

harry: He hasn’t yet, but if he stays this unpopular?

micah: Yeah, I guess he’s more likely to?

perry: I know we don’t think of it as such, but firing Comey was an attempt at a pivot, by changing the subject from Russia.

natesilver: He’s flip-flopped on some issues. But this scenario is more arguing that he doesn’t really have a strategy, and that contributes to his undoing. Which seems … very possible based on what we’ve seen so far.

perry: Right. The rumors about Bannon leaving, Gary Cohn rising in power – those all pointed to some strategic confusion.

micah: No. 8:

8. Trump is consumed by scandal. On the one hand, the threshold for what it takes to make the public truly outraged about Trump is likely to be higher than it would be for almost any other politician. On the other hand, perhaps no president has had such high potential for scandal. Between his business dealings (and potential conflicts of interest), his treatment of women, and his long tenure in the public spotlight, Trump is a target-rich environment, and news organizations are ramping up their investigative teams in hopes of breaking a story.

(We’re in the “three horsemen of the presidential apocalypse” category now.)

harry: More likely.

natesilver: Hmm, tough one. Just kidding.

perry: I think we can say that Nate nailed this one.

natesilver: More likely.

perry: More likely. And happening.

natesilver: Although, I’d note that my (long) description there in the original article did not mention Russia.

perry: True.

harry: How could you miss that? … But this scenario looks like what the last two weeks or so have actually been like.

perry: I feel like we can safely say this is the scenario of Trump’s presidency (for now). And I’m having a hard time seeing it not continuing on this path.

micah: Yeah, we’re firmly on this path at the moment.

perry: He has appointed people who are walking conflicts of interest (Jared Kushner). He has lied so often about ethics issues that the newspaper investigative teams are going to keep adding people and writing bigger pieces.

natesilver: Yeah. And there’s a lag between when he does something dubious and when it gets reported. He’s still cleaning up a lot of messes related to Michael Flynn, for example. So who knows what he’s doing now that will come to light in some big New York Times or Washington Post investigative story in July.

micah: Next!

9. Trump is undermined by a failure to deliver jobs. Although the U.S. economic outlook is fairly bright in the near term, macroeconomic conditions are largely unpredictable more than about six months in advance. Some of Trump’s economic policies, such as imposing tariffs, could also contribute to the likelihood of an economic downturn. Presidents usually see their popularity suffer amidst a declining economy, and Trump could be especially vulnerable after having promised to create so many jobs.

perry: Less likely.

harry: Push.

micah: No pushing.

harry: Fine. Less likely.

natesilver: I peeked out of my office to see how our economics editor/writer Ben Casselman would answer this question.

micah: We need an @benc guest appearance.

@benc joined #14-versions-update by invitation from @micah

micah: Ben, has the situation above become more or less likely?

benc: I would say the situation on jobs hasn’t changed meaningfully since Trump took office. I mean, I guess it’s become less likely insofar as some people were saying Trump’s mere election would spark a recession (which, for the record, I said was dumb at the time). That obviously didn’t happen. But the job market seems to have been pretty much unaffected by Trump so far, for good or ill.

micah: Thanks, Ben!

natesilver: I suppose I’d say less likely, since I don’t think most economists say there’s a recession looming, but note the caveat about “macroeconomic conditions are largely unpredictable more than about six months in advance.”

He has mostly avoided policies that could sabotage the economy so far, such as extremely draconian tariffs.

perry: Trump seems, I would argue, too scared to actually do the really aggressive economic stuff he talked about on the campaign trail, like fighting China on currency, getting out of NAFTA, etc.

The economy may be strong or weak in his presidency, but it seems like he will have little to do with big shifts either way.

harry: A weak economy could make the ground fall out from under him.

He might be looking at, instead of an approval rating of 37 percent, his rating falling to 30 percent. I don’t know if what Trump does makes economic downturn more likely, but presidents get blamed for the economy whether or not it was their fault.

natesilver: To add some data/context here, economists in the Wall Street Journal panel estimate there’s about a 15 percent chance of a recession, which is pretty typical.

(That’s a 15 percent chance within the next year, I believe.)

micah: OK, No. 10:

10. Trump’s law-and-order agenda is bolstered by an international incident or terrorist attack. It’s all too easy to envision this scenario, since the tactics Trump might use if this happened are similar to the ones he used on the campaign trail. A terrorist attack or an international conflagration initially boosts Trump’s popularity because of the so-called rally-’round-the-flag effect, which we saw with Bush after the Sept. 11 attacks. Trump uses his popularity boost to promote nationalism, curtail civil liberties, erode the rule of law and demonize minority groups such as Muslims.

perry: More likely.

natesilver: I’d say less likely.

micah: CONFLICT!

Harry is the tiebreaker.

harry: Push … I’m kidding. I guess it’s more likely.

perry: I’m not predicting an incident. Or, God forbid, an attack. I just think that the odds of Trump seeking to exploit such an incident are higher because it seems like this is one of his only paths to get to more public support and respect. The White House loved how people reacted to the Syria strike.

natesilver: It’s a tricky proposition to test because we arguably haven’t had such an incident so far. So maybe the grade is “incomplete.”

I agree that the White House seemed to like the reaction to the Syria attack, and they also got pretty favorable press coverage for it. At the same time, the response itself was pretty restrained.

micah: Perry is right. Nate is wrong.

No. 11, the first item in our penultimate category: “Things fall apart.”

11. Trump plunges America into outright authoritarianism. While Frum imagines a gradual eight-year drift toward authoritarianism, there are other precedents (such as in Turkey and Russia) for a more abrupt shock to the system. Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist, spoke in 2013 of wanting to “bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.” If Trump feels the same way, he could decide that there are lots of advantages to moving quickly while his opponents are still disoriented, and while he has a Republican Congress that has not yet shown much appetite to resist him. How many indicators of authoritarian and anti-democratic behavior has Trump checked off so far? In our opinion, this is a hard question to answer because Trump hasn’t been on the job for very long. But if you started out with the view that Trump represented an existential threat to American democracy, there hasn’t been a lot to reassure you so far.

harry: Less likely.

natesilver: Less likely.

perry: Less likely.

natesilver: This scenario specifically envisions a “shock-and-awe” type of approach to start Trump’s presidency.

harry: There’s no sign Bannon is really in charge, for one thing.

natesilver: It looked like we might be on that trajectory in the first two weeks — with the travel ban — but certainly not since.

perry: I read Frum’s piece and thought it was possible. I think 1. maybe the institutions are stronger than I thought 2. maybe Trump is inept. 3. Trump maybe respects institutions more than I expected (I wasn’t sure he would follow the court orders on the travel ban, but he has).


12. Resistance to Trump from elsewhere in the government undermines his authority but prompts a constitutional crisis. Have you ever heard talk about the “deep state” or the “military-industrial complex”? We may soon see how much power it actually has. Traditionally, we think of Congress and the judiciary as providing a check on the president’s powers. But there are lots of people within the executive branch (including the military and the federal bureaucracy) who have the potential to stymie Trump, whether by expressly refusing to carry out his orders or by what amounts to sabotage (i.e. by leaking to the press, foot-dragging, etc).

perry: More likely.

natesilver: More likely, for sure.

harry: Isn’t this what’s been going on the past few weeks to a large degree?

perry: Right.

harry: More likely, BTW.

natesilver: It’s very risky for Trump to make enemies in the FBI and the other intelligence agencies. And the entire executive branch has been leaking like the Titanic so far.

perry: Although, I think Nate imagined a scenario where people would be more worried about the “deep state” and take Trump’s side. I think the public has largely sided with the bureaucracy on questions like Trump firing Comey.

micah: We’re now in the final bucket of scenarios — “Trump Makes America Great Again”

natesilver: #MAGA


13. Trump becomes Governor Schwarzenegger. … [Arnold] Schwarzenegger is one of the better precedents for Trump. … After a rough first couple of years on the job, Schwarzenegger dropped his tough-guy act and shifted significantly to the center, winning re-election in a landslide in 2006. Could Trump do something similar? As Frum notes, Trump doesn’t have a longstanding commitment to the GOP platform. … Unlike in Frum’s scenario, however, Trump wouldn’t necessarily be looking to pivot to the center as a cover for authoritarian impulses. Instead, one can imagine him becoming obsessed with his approval ratings and deciding fairly early in his term that a bipartisan approach would be the best way to improve them. The desire to be popular can do unexpected things to even the most stubborn-seeming politicians.

perry: More likely.

harry: Well the mere fact that this scenario requires a rough first couple of years for Trump makes it more likely.

natesilver: Hmm. I guess I buy Harry’s logic. More likely.

perry: Schwarzenegger reshuffled his staff and moved to the middle. Will Trump do that? Don’t know. But it seems like the smartest way for him to get his approval ratings up.

natesilver: There haven’t been too many feints in this direction from Trump so far, though, other than when he said he was willing to work with Democrats on health care.

But I can imagine a case where the GOP loses the House at the midterms (which I think has gotten more likely), and Trump thinks a more bipartisan course is the best way to save his bacon for 2020.

perry: Right. Bill Clinton did this in 1995, to some extent.

natesilver: Although, also, if the GOP loses the House, then we’re in Impeachment City.

perry: Good counterpoint.

harry: I heard you can get a great deal on a condo in Impeachment City.

micah: That’s a terrible joke, Harry.


14. Trump’s button-mashing works because the system really is broken. Another possibility is that it turns out that the elite consensus is in fact wrong in many areas — on the economic benefits of free trade and open borders, for instance. In that case, Trump does fairly well with a somewhat contrarian approach that “shakes up the system.” It’s not that all of his ideas are brilliant, necessarily, it’s just that deviating from the status quo is a good default because the status quo isn’t working very well.

perry: Less likely.

harry: Less likely.

perry: I kind of wish Bernie Sanders had won so we could try this experiment with a politician without all the legal/temperament issues.

natesilver: I’m going to use my one “push” here because I don’t think we’ve done a serious attempt to assess Trump from a policy perspective, and it would probably be too early to do so anyway.

The metrics we’ve proposed looking at are all long-term things.

harry: The first four words of that scenario — “Trump’s button-mashing works” — make me think it’s less likely.

perry: The elite consensus may be wrong on many issues, but I’m not sure Trump is challenging it in any real way.

harry: The elite consensus could very well be wrong, but as Perry says, we’d need someone not up at 7 a.m. on Twitter talking about who knows what in order to figure out whether button-mashing works.

natesilver: That’s fair enough. And the GOP health care bill — their most consequential policy action to date — made almost no one happy from a policy standpoint.

So I suppose I’d go with “less likely” if forced to choose.

perry: The health care bill also didn’t challenge consensus, just reflected the most unpopular parts of GOP orthodoxy. The budget also doesn’t really challenge GOP elite views.

harry: The only thing that has challenged elite views has been how Trump has acted on Twitter.

I don’t know if it’ll happen or not. I just think it’s less likely than it was.

micah: I haven’t really weighed in on any of these, but for what it’s worth: I actually did think there was a possibility of this one happening. The conventional wisdom is so shitty in so many cases that I thought there was like a 5 percent chance that a non-politician could come in there and get some stuff right — not because I thought all Washington needed was some plaid-draped, plain-American “common sense” to set everything straight, but just because Trump would be mashing different buttons.

But in the first few months of Trump’s presidency, one thing that I think has become 100 percent clear is that the way Washington does things may seem staid and bureaucratic, but many of those processes are there for a reason and have some benefits or at least prevent certain problems.

I guess I’ve grown to have more respect for the bureaucracy.

harry: Congrats on losing your bid for whatever office you wish to run for, Micah.

perry: lol

natesilver: Leaking this convo to James O’Keefe.

micah: OK, to wrap up here, if you had to put all your chips on one version of the Trump presidency (give me the number), which would it be? (Let’s say two years from now, in May 2019.)

Or give me three in order. Like, you’re putting chips on the roulette table.

harry: I have four.

perry: No. 7. “Trump flails around aimlessly after an unsuccessful attempt to pivot.”

natesilver: Nos. 8, 7, 1

harry: I agree on No. 8.

perry: I’ll just pick that one, with scandal (No. 8) and death spiral (No. 2) also close.

harry: I also had No. 2.

No. 12 seems plausible.

And No. 5 does too.

natesilver: The language of No. 8 is that Trump would be “consumed by scandal,” and that seems fairly likely at this point. Whether or not the scandal results in (e.g.) his impeachment isn’t necessarily the issue. Hell, he could even get re-elected. But it seems likely that Russia and other (alleged) scandals could eat up an enormous amount of his bandwidth.

micah: I think it’ll go, in order, No. 12, then 8, then 7, then 6, then 5.

perry: No. 12 is good — forgot about that one.

We seem to think the best outcome for Trump is “Trump keeps on Trumpin’ and the country remains evenly divided.”

That is not a great outcome. But it’s not a terrible one either. I guess this was Bush 2004 to some extent.

natesilver: It’s still awfully early, and so far, Trump’s presidency has been an amalgam of at least half of these scenarios. But the ones that end poorly for him have become more likely, generally, and the ones that end well for him have become less so.

[syndicated profile] 538_feed

Posted by Kathryn Casteel

Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s tough-on-crime policies are drawing criticism from civil rights groups and lawmakers. But his efforts also face an additional, perhaps more significant roadblock: state governments. Many have taken big steps away from the incarceration-focused policies espoused by Sessions and, with the cost of imprisonment rising, cash-strapped states have a strong incentive not to reverse course.

A new report from Vera Institute of Justice highlights the efforts that states have made to reduce prison populations and cut prison costs that put a heavy burden on their budgets after the financial crisis. After years of rapid increase, the state prison population fell 5 percent from 2009 to 2015, according to the report. At least 23 states across the political spectrum have reduced their prison populations since 2010, while many others have seen only modest growth. Many states have adopted policy changes such as eliminating mandatory minimum sentences, providing alternative punishments rather than imprisonment and enhancing re-entry support to minimize recidivism.

Excludes states that didn’t respond to survey on prison costs. Figures for Alaska, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Rhode Island and Vermont include pretrial incarceration.

Source: Vera Institute for Justice

Sessions is pushing in the opposite direction. In a recent memo, Sessions called for prosecutors to pursue the toughest penalties possible, including for nonviolent drug offenses that carry mandatory minimum sentences. The new policy only applies to federal prosecutors, but if Sessions really wants to change direction on criminal justice policy, he will need states’ help: State prisons and local jails account for the vast majority of U.S. incarceration, including a majority of people locked up on drug offenses. States, however, may be reluctant to follow his lead.

“The states have built up quite a strong head of steam by this point,” said Adam Gelb, director of the Public Safety Performance Project at the Pew Charitable Trusts. Gelb said states have found that the new approach works better and costs less, and he said he has seen little sign that states are reconsidering the shift since Trump took office. “We’ve had our ear to close to the ground over the past few months and haven’t picked up any signs of reform fatigue,” he said.

California, a state that has struggled with severely overcrowded prisons for decades, saw the biggest decline in prison population, 21 percent from 2010 to 2015, according to Vera’s research. New York also saw a significant decrease in prison population and spending partly because of significant changes in law enforcement practices. But the shift hasn’t been limited to blue states. South Carolina, Georgia and Texas were among the Republican-led states that cut both prison population and spending.

“What Sessions is doing is completely out of step with the bipartisan movement in the states that is predominately Republican led,” said Inimai M. Chettiar, director of the Justice Program at Brennan Center for Justice. “He’s even an outlier in his own party.”

Several different forces helped drive the bipartisan shift away from harsh sentencing, particularly for drug crimes. Liberals worried about mass incarceration’s disproportionate impact on the poor and on racial and ethnic minorities. Libertarians worried about government overreach. And policymakers across the political spectrum took note of research that found that long sentences didn’t stop drug use or prevent recidivism.

For state governments, however, the financial incentive to reduce incarceration was a particularly powerful motivator, especially after the financial crisis blew up state budgets. Vera’s analysis found that from the early 1970s to the end of 2009, state prison populations increased more than 600 percent, which had a direct influence on state budgets. In states such as Connecticut, Delaware and California, annual prison expenditures top $200 per state resident, an expensive burden that often takes away from support for other state resources. In some states, prison spending has even outpaced spending for education. Even high-incarceration states such as Louisiana and Sessions’s home state of Alabama have been looking for ways to cut spending.

South Carolina provides a particularly stark example of the pressures that states are facing, and how they are adjusting their policies to deal with them. From 1983 to 2008, the state’s corrections expenses rose by 500 percent as the prison population grew. Almost half of the state prisoners in 2009 had committed nonviolent offenses. The state projected the prison population would continue to grow, adding $141 million to the Department of Corrections’ operating cost over the next five years and an additional $317 million for construction on new facilities.

By 2010, state leaders recognized the issue and pursued comprehensive legislative reform that eliminated the mandatory minimum sentence for drug offenses and gave judges an opportunity to apply nonprison alternatives such as probation for nontrafficking drug offenses. Studies show that probation and supervision reduce recidivism by 34 percent and cost less than one-twentieth of the average cost of a day in prison. By 2015, the state had reduced the prison population by 12 percent, which was driven by a 36 percent decline in admissions for nonviolent offenses and 46 percent decrease in those admitted for parole violations. Crime rates also declined by 16 percent from 2010 to 2015, according to additional research by the Pew Charitable Trusts. Instead of the projected millions in costs, the population decline allowed the state to reduce annual spending by $11 million and the state was able to close three minimum-security prisons from 2012 to 2015.

But Vera’s research also pointed to seven states that cut spending even as their prison populations increased. For example, Nevada experienced an 8 percent increase in prison population but cut spending by 15 percent in part by cutting the number of prison employees and requiring remaining employees to take unpaid furloughs. Experts said, however that that approach can lead to fewer resources for prison facilities and can potentially impact safety of both officers and inmates.

“It’s good to reduce population and cost should come down, but if you just reduce your spending without bringing the number of prisoners down you’re exposing yourself, your state, your personnel to danger,” said Martin Horn, executive director of New York State Permanent Sentencing Commission.

Not all states have managed to cut spending. Roughly half the states in Vera’s survey increased prison spending from 2010 to 2015, and while most of the increases were small, a handful were by double-digit percentages. Personnel costs made up the bulk of prison spending and rising employment costs created pressure on some state departments. Rising health care expenses, driven in part by an aging prison population, were another big factor.

“Saving is not an automatic thing,” said Chris Mai, one of the report’s authors. “States have to make choices to make that happen. A number of states have shown that it’s possible and most of that is a result of a lower number of people in prison than before.”

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