Columnists, Sports

Numbers Roundup: Changing of the Guard

All good things come to an end, but that doesn’t mean that more good things won’t follow. 

Nearly every major professional sport is undergoing a transition from established stars dominating their respective leagues to young kids trying to earn their way into championship conversations. That means that fans won’t be seeing some of their favorite players on the court or field anymore, but there are plenty of reasons for them to stick around anyways. 

 

Devin Booker: 27.2 PPG, 6.4 APG, 18.2 FGA, 51.1 FG percent, 91.9 FT percent 

 

One of the people hit hardest by Kobe Bryant’s death was Phoenix Suns shooting guard Devin Booker. Known as “Young Kobe” to some, Booker idolized Bryant and modeled several aspects of his game after him. 

There’s no doubt that it will take a long time for Booker to move on from the tragedy, but Bryant’s Mamba Mentality has fueled Booker’s marked improvement this season. Booker surpassed Bryant as the youngest guard to reach 7,000 points last week and was easily the biggest 2020 All-Star snub.

Adding point guard Ricky Rubio to Phoenix’s cast of characters was one of the best decisions Suns General Manager James Jones made in the off-season, and it helped to open up Booker’s game. Rubio has taken the role of facilitating the offense off of Booker’s plate, allowing him to utilize his off-ball skill set. 

Booker has an upgraded set of offensive weapons around him now, including Rubio and an improved Kelly Oubre Jr. and Deandre Ayton. That has freed him to attempt 18.2 shots per game, his fewest attempts since his rookie season. As a result, he has been able to focus on smarter shot selection, which is reflected in his 51.1 field goal percentage. 

That mark would be impressive for any player, particularly a guard, but it’s especially remarkable considering the numbers posted by other elite players take the same number of shots. Anthony Davis, Brandon Ingram and Jayson Tatum, all of whom were named All-Stars, are also taking around 18 shots per game, but none are shooting as high as Booker.

 

Starling Marte’s 2019 Batting Statistics: .295 AVG, .845 OPS, 16.0 K percent

 

The Arizona Diamondbacks acquired longtime Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Starling Marte on Jan. 27. for two prospects. Not only do the Diamondbacks now have two Martes on their roster, they also have four former All-Stars in their starting lineup.  

Marte quietly had a career year in 2019. He finished the season tied for seventh in batting average and 20th in OPS among all MLB outfielders, per MLB stats. Most importantly, he had a career-best strikeout rate of 16 percent, below the league average of 17.3 percent. He significantly improved his plate approach, and didn’t look like a player who entered the big leagues with a reputation for being strikeout-prone and impatient. 

One of the few outfielders better than Marte in 2019 is now his teammate in Arizona. Ketel Marte finished fourth in 2019 National League MVP voting after he nearly willed the Diamondbacks to a wild card playoff spot. Ketel Marte was also tied for second in batting average with Milwaeukee Brewers’ Christian Yelich and finished seventh in OPS in the MLB, per MLB stats

Both Martes are center fielders, so adding Starling Marte will allow Ketel Marte to spend more time at his natural position as second base. Right fielder Kole Calhoun, who Arizona also added in the off-season, will also help to hold the fort down in the outfield with Ketel Marte in the infield.

Outfield production, or lack thereof, was a major concern for the Diamondbacks heading into free agency, but they have more than fixed that problem. Their improved outfield makes them a serious contender to dethrone the Dodgers in the NL West. 

 

Combined ages of Super Bowl LIV Quarterbacks: 52 years

 

Patrick Mahomes is 24 and Jimmy Garoppolo is 28, making them the youngest duo of quarterbacks to face off on Super Bowl Sunday since Joe Flacco and Colin Kaepernick did it in 2013. 

Mahomes and Garoppolo are just two of the young quarterbacks taking command of the NFL. With Eli Manning announcing his retirement on Jan. 22 and Tom Brady, Philip Rivers and Drew Brees nearing the end of their careers, several young signal-callers have stepped into the spotlight. 

At 28 and 27, respectively, Garoppolo and Carson Wentz are the elder statesmen of the bunch. Mahomes, MVP Lamar Jackson, Deshaun Watson and Josh Allen round out the pack of playoff quarterbacks south of 30. Daniel Jones, Jared Goff, Kyler Murray, Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold are also 25 or younger, and are also showing flashes of promise in the early stages of their careers.

Young players like Mahomes and Jackson dominated several statistical categories in 2019. Jackson led the NFL with a quarterback rating of 81.8 with Mahomes following close behind with a 76.3 rating, while Watson ranked seventh at 68.7, according to ESPN stats.

Even more impressively, those three were among the league leaders in adjusted net yards per pass attempt, arguably one of the best statistics for measuring quarterbacks. Mahomes ranked second with 8.38 ANY/A and Jackson was fourth with 8.19 ANY/A, according to Pro Football Reference. Fourteen of the top 25 quarterbacks in ANY/A are under 30 years old. 

Jackson, Murray and Allen are also dynamic pieces of their team’s run games. Jackson was by far the best in that category, leading the NFL in rushing yards per attempt and ranking eighth with 80.4 rushing yards per game. 

All those stats just show that the NFL is entering a new, fun era at the quarterback position.

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