Axios Sports

A large foam finger.

May 03, 2022

👋 Good morning! I always forget how awesome it is having both NBA and NHL playoffs on every night. Should be an electric next few weeks.

Today's word count: 1,539 words (6 minutes).

Let's sports...

1 big thing: ⚾️ Too many pitchers

Data: Baseball Reference; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: Baseball Reference; Chart: Axios Visuals

MLB rosters were reduced from 28 to 26 players on Monday, and no more than 14 can be pitchers, marking the first position-specific cap in league history, Axios' Jeff Tracy writes.

Why it matters: There's no stopping the technological advancements that have made pitchers better than ever, but this limit should at least mitigate their dominance, which has yielded historically low offense.

State of play: In April, league-wide batting average (.231) was its lowest since 1968, while slugging percentage (.369) and runs scored per nine innings (4.12) were their lowest since 1992, per The Ringer.

  • Starting pitchers have faced opposing hitters for at least a third time in a game in a record-low 15.3% of plate appearances through Sunday, indicative of managers' militant use of analytics, which tells them when starters will be least effective.
  • Batters are hitting .273 in their third (or more) appearance against a starter this season, compared to .232 in their first two appearances. A pitcher cap will force managers to leave them on the mound longer.
  • On May 30, the 14-pitcher cap will be reduced to 13, and there have been reports of further reductions to 12 or even 11 in the future.

The bottom line: MLB hopes fewer pitchers leads to more offense, while also limiting the barrage of pitching changes that slow the game down.

In related news ... The Mets designated Robinson Canó for assignment as part of their roster reduction despite owing him $44.7 million over the next two seasons. The 39-year-old was batting .195.

2. 🎓 The NCAA is under construction

Illustration of hands holding a paintbrush, hammer, and measuring tape up against the NCAA logo

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Mark Emmert and the NCAA mutually agreed to part ways last week, announcing he would step down as its president no later than June 2023, Jeff writes.

Why it matters: Finding Emmert's replacement was never going to be easy, but it's made more difficult by turbulent times. The NCAA's future has never felt less certain than it does right now, and the next commissioner's job description is still being written.

State of play: The rise of NIL and the transfer portal have essentially brought free agency to college sports, though the changes hardly stop there.

  • The Transformation Committee is working to make radical changes to NCAA bylaws, which will give schools and conferences far more power.
  • Plus, some believe the most dominant FBS schools will inevitably break away and form their own "super league," whose influence would rival the NCAA's.

The big picture: Emmert's rocky tenure began in 2010, and his first major controversy came in 2012 when he levied such severe sanctions on Penn State after the Jerry Sandusky scandal that they were later rolled back.

  • The two biggest moments, though, were the landmark NIL trials that paved the way for college sports' evolving status quo: Ed O'Bannon in 2014 and Shawne Alston in 2021.
  • In both cases, Emmert and the NCAA fought to maintain the concept of amateurism, but after the Supreme Court unanimously ruled in Alston's favor, the tide turned.

What to watch: "What the [NCAA] needs is a younger experienced person filled with great ideas about how to navigate an uncertain future," Michigan interim president Mary Sue Coleman told NYT.

  • Possible candidates include Baylor president Linda Livingstone, NCAA senior vice president for basketball Dan Gavitt and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
  • Another idea: Rebuild the NCAA as a three-branch system, with commissioners for football, basketball and non-revenue sports.

The bottom line: One of the biggest organizations in sports is changing leadership for the first time in 12 years, and whomever it hires will shape the next 12 years and beyond.

3. 👟 104 marathons in 104 days

Marathon runner

Photo courtesy of Jacky Hunt-Broersma.

Jacky Hunt-Broersma, an amputee athlete, recently completed 104 marathons in as many days, which will likely be a Guinness World Record once the company confirms it.

Why it matters: This was more than a record attempt. Hunt-Broersma's feat raised $192,000 for Amputee Blade Runners, a charity that provides running blades for amputees, which aren't covered by many insurance companies. $104,000 came from RXBAR.

  • Hunt-Broersma's original goal was 102 marathons in 102 days, but she added two more at the end for good measure, finishing on Saturday, April 30. "I've got to end April on a marathon, right?" she told me.
  • She ran mostly on a loop course near her home in Gilbert, Arizona, and a handful of times on a treadmill. She also entered two official races: The Boston Marathon and The Lost Dutchman Marathon.
  • All in all, the South Africa native — who lost her leg in 2001 to a rare cancer — covered 2,724.8 miles, roughly the equivalent of running from New York to Los Angeles.

🎙 Interview: I spoke with the real life Forrest Gump. Some highlights from our conversation...

  • Hardest part? "It was more mental than physical. Just getting up every morning knowing you have to do another marathon — the same movement, the same route — that part was really hard."
  • Biggest surprise? "I was really worried that I would do damage to my stump, but it's held up amazingly well. I've had swelling and it's been sore, but I was able to keep going."
  • Why Amputee Blade Runners? "Running changed my life. It made such a big difference mentally, and it really helps you accept yourself as an amputee. A lot of amputees suffer from depression, and I feel running changed that for me, so I wanted to pay that forward."
  • Guinness World Record process: "You have to submit all your GPS files, a whole bunch of photos and witness statements. It's super official, and I'm glad they do it that way."

4. ⚡️ Lightning round

Kamila Valieva

Kamila Valieva. Photo: Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

⛸ Age limit proposal: Following the Kamila Valieva debacle in Beijing, figure skating's governing body has proposed raising the minimum age from 15 to 17 for major events, including the Winter Olympics.

🏈 D-Hop suspended: Cardinals star WR DeAndre Hopkins has been suspended six games for violating the NFL's PED policy.

🥎 JMU cancels season: James Madison, which made a historic run to the WCWS last year, has canceled the remainder of its season following the death of catcher Lauren Bernett.

⚽️ USA Cup: Bayern Munich and Manchester City will play a July 23 exhibition at Lambeau Field, the first-ever soccer match at "The Frozen Tundra."

5. 🎥 Catch of the year: Taylor robbery

Animated GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY
Source: Giphy

Michael A. Taylor submitted an early candidate for "Catch of the Year," using the wall as leverage to rob a home run.

Michael A. Taylor catch
Photo: Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

6. 🎾 Chasing tweens: IMG aims younger

Tennis court as a dollar bill

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Venture capital has come to tennis, where the startups are 11-year-old kids and the investors are sports agencies.

State of play: "The search for elite players is so competitive that IMG, the agency that once ruled tennis, is cultivating preteens to find the next prodigy," writes NYT's Matthew Futterman.

  • IMG recently held its first Future Stars Invitational in Athens, Greece, an event for boys and girls aged 12 and under that is both a tournament and an education, with seminars led by Nike executives.
  • IMG used to collect future stars by recruiting them to its world-class Florida academy or by sending agents to elite youth tournaments. Now, spurred by competition from rival academies and agencies, they're aiming younger.

The last word: "Nobody wants to have a tournament for 11- and 12-year-olds," Max Eisenbud, who leads IMG's tennis division, told NYT. "I'd rather wait, but the competition forced us into this situation."

7. 🌍 The world in photos

Devin Booker
Devin Booker's back. Photo: Christian Petersen/Getty Images

PHOENIX — Deandre Ayton (25 points) and Devin Booker (23) led the top-seeded Suns past Luka Dončić (45) and the Mavericks, 121-114, as Phoenix improved to 4-0 against Dallas this season.

David Kampf
David Kampf celebrates his goal. Photo: Kevin Sousa/NHLI via Getty Images

TORONTO — The Lightning's three-peat bid began with a dud, falling 5-0 to the Maple Leafs, who tied a franchise record for largest shutout win in a playoff opener.

Chloe Kim
Photo: Ilya S. Savenok/Getty Images for The Mark

NEW YORK — Chloe Kim and other athletes attended the 2022 Met Gala, which was hosted by Blake Lively, Ryan Reynolds, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Regina King.

8. 🎥 Watchlist: Avoiding 0-2 at home

Jordan Poole

Jordan Poole has been playing like the third "Splash Brother." Photo: Justin Ford/Getty Images

Tonight's playoff games feature home teams trying to avoid falling into 0-2 holes.

  • Bucks (up 1-0) at Celtics (7pm ET, TNT): Stopping Giannis is Boston's primary objective, but not far behind is making some two-pointers. They had just 10 in Game 1, the second-fewest ever in a playoff game.
  • Warriors (up 1-0) at Grizzlies (9:30pm, TNT): Golden State has won 12 straight best-of-seven series after winning Game 1, so Memphis may already be in trouble.

More to watch:

9. 🏟 Ballpark trivia

Baseballs on turf

Photo: Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Five MLB ballparks use turf instead of grass.

  • Question: Name them.
  • Hint: Three AL, two NL.

Answer at the bottom.

10. 💵 1 betting thing: NRFI, YRFI

Illustration of a baseball with the stitching coming apart revealing a dollar bill inside

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

First-inning prop bets are taking baseball by storm. Two acronyms to know: NRFI and YRFI.

  • NRFI: No Runs First Inning
  • YRFI: Yes Runs First Inning

How it works: NRFI and YRFI aren't listed at sportsbooks. Instead, look for inning props (i.e. Over/Under 0.5 runs in the first inning, or a three-way line with 0 runs first inning, 1 run first inning, 2+ runs first inning).

Talk tomorrow,

Kendall "0 marathons in 104 days" Baker

Trivia answer: Chase Field (Diamondbacks); Globe Life Field (Rangers); loanDepot Park (Marlins); Rogers Centre (Blue Jays); Tropicana Field (Rays)

🙏 Thanks for reading. Follow us on Twitter: @kendallbaker and @jeffreytracy. Tell your friends to sign up.