Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Frank Collins Nicholson (1889-1972), who pitched in two games for the Phillies

Last week, the Washington Post had an article about a pitcher who missed his one shot at the big leagues when his scheduled start for the Phillies was rained out.

That reminded me of another pitcher, who did not miss his one chance with the Phillies -- Frank Collins Nicholson. He pitched a total of six innings over two games in 1912. He was my great-great-uncle.

In the family photo, he is the guy in the back with the hat. He is next to his brother Elwyn Nicholson. In the front are his other brothers Clarence "Fat" Nicholson, and William S. Nicholson, my great-grandfather. Thanks to my Aunt Pam for the picture.

If you touch the major leagues, even for an instant, that stays with you for the rest of your life (and beyond). Here is his obituary:

And here is a remembrance from his hometown paper shortly afterwards. It recounts when, as a minor-leaguer, he faced the major-league pitching of "Chief Bender" and "poled out a three-bagger."

Here is another story from a few years after his passing:

And here is another story about his game against Chief Bender and the Philadelphia A's. It contains my favorite line, which is thank Uncle Frank was "a wizard moundsman with the spit ball."

I originally posted this on Facebook, but I thought I would put it on the blog for wider dissemination. If you have come across this and are related to Frank Nicholson, or if you have any more information about his baseball career, please e-mail me at

Saturday, September 01, 2018

Scotland's UEFA Coefficient: 2018/9 Group-Stage Preview

We have group stage! For two clubs!
It didn't seem possible when the various draws were announced, but...I guess Rangers really is better this year?
 Scotland's "neighborhood" (nations within 2 points of them) has shrunk to 20-27 -- versus 19-29 at the start of the competition. The difference is, Scotland is near the top of this neighborhood.

They are having the 3rd best year of any nation so far. (Of course, the top nations are just getting started with the group stages.) Serbia (at 19) and Norway are the only ones doing better. Scotland, Norway and Cyprus are the only countries to start with 4 teams and still have 2 alive.

Playoff-Round Review

Celtic settled for a draw away, and then closed things out with an emphatic win at home. Rangers started with a 1-0 win at home, which put them in good position, then somehow clung to a 1-1 draw despite being down to 9 men late in the match. A few things going differently could have exceeded the 0.75 points gained in the round, but it seems petty to quibble.

Group-Stage Preview

Group stage! The road gets even tougher here. I'm going to use Clubelo ratings one last time to give you a sense of how hard. Celtic (Elo 1550) is grouped with previous opponents Rosenborg (1542), Red Bull Salzburg (1714) and Red Bull Leipzig (1689). Rangers (1444) is grouped with Villareal (1752), Rapid Vienna (1565) and Spartak Moscow (1685).

Clubelo doesn't look at individual matches all the way into December, like we want to do, so I'm going to switch to Fivethirtyeight's predictions. They give Celtic only a 30% chance of making it out of the group, and Rangers a mere 12%.

Looking at the individual matches, things don't look great either. The only match where a Scottish side is favored is their opening tilt versus Rosenborg. But that's not likely the only points we'll see during the group stages.

If you add up the probabilities across all the games, even Rangers can be expected to steal a win and a draw. Celtic should do even better, with one or two wins and one or two draws.

Add it up, and the Fivethirtyeight estimates expect at least two more points for the coefficient. So I'm going to set my expectations there. A good run will be one where they exceed that and put a team through to the knockout rounds, and a bad one will be earning below 1.5 points.

Where We Stand

Four whole points for the year is as many as they got all last year, even after Celtic made it to the knockout rounds of the Europa League (via the Champions League group stages).

Above them, Belarus should pick up about a point in BATE Borisov's group, which would allow them to be caught by Scotland for 20th place. Sweden might pick up a point and a half from MalmΓΆ, which wouldn't be enough to catch Scotland. Norway's two entrants aren't supposed to do as well as Scotland's two...but these are all probabilities, so a series of small upsets could set back Scotland's match to 20th.

The hope, however, is that this excellent season will take Scotland away from worrying about having all Europa League entrants come in during the first round (like next year), and move closer to where the question is whether they can compete for 17th. There, the cup winner enters at the third round, and the second-place team enters in the second round. The real prize, however, is 15th, which will require a consistent 5.5 points per year. This is the year Scotland can show that's realistic.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Where's Jon? Madison Edition

Can you find me in this picture from July's ANTS conference in Madison, Wisconsin?

Hint: I am easier to spot than normal.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Scotland's UEFA Coefficient: 2018/9 Playoff-Round Preview

They're up to 23rd! That's the good news. The bad news is that Celtic dropped out of the Champions League. That is not bad news for the coefficient per se (since they drop down to the Europa League), but it is bad news for the club's budget, will which affect their competitiveness in future years.

Third-Round Review

So it was a mixed bag. Celtic only picked up 0.125 in being bounced from the Champions League. Rangers picked up 0.375 in advancing. And Hibs managed 0.125 on their way out. Blame was being thrown around, but I think they just weren't good enough to make it any further. Anyway, the 3.25 so far is more than Scotland earned in their terrible year three years ago. And they still have two clubs alive! The goal of 5-6 points per year is achievable (if not necessarily likely) this year.

Playoff-Round Preview

Rangers (Elo 1421) faces the Russian club FC Ufa (Elo 1575). Clubelo.com gives Rangers only a 25.6% chance of advancing. Of course, they were underdogs in the last two rounds as well, so the Elo may not tell the whole story.

Celtic (Elo 1534) takes on Lithuanian Club Suduva (Elo 1278). Clubelo gives Celtic a 85.4% of advancing to the group stage. One would hope it would be higher, but this Celtic club does not seem as strong as the ones from the last two years. After only two league matches, they are sitting in sixth place.

The only thing that seems at stake here is Rangers advancing to the group stages, however many points they pick up. Having both Old Firm sides in the group stage of the same competition would be delicious.

So a good result is having both sides advancing. That's a minimum of 0.5 more points, but more likely at least 0.75.

A bad result would see Rangers out, but Celtic advancing. Rangers wouldn't pick up anything on their way out, and Celtic would drop some points. Say 0.25-0.375 total.

A disastrous result would have both sides out. Even picking up 0.5 on the way out, it would be a disaster.

Where We Stand

They're in 23rd now. Looking above them, Belarus' BATE Borisov is still in the Champions League (thus guaranteed a group stage of some sort). Serbia is also going to be tough to catch, being the only other nation with two teams alive, and one of those is in the Champions League. So I'm going to set 21st as a realistic upside for this year. We won't think about the downside until the group stages are set.

Monday, August 06, 2018

Scotland's UEFA Coefficient: 2018/9 Third-Round Preview

That went very well! How well? The 2.625 points Scotland have picked up so far this year is second only to Serbia. I fell compelled to point out that the giants are Europe are just starting to enter and will inevitably pass Scotland, but among those not in the top 15, it's hard to top this performance!

Second-Round Review

I said a good second round would have one Europa League team advance, and a total of 1.375 points. They got 1.25 points, but with two sides advancing! And Celtic staying in the Champions League.

Pour one out for Aberdeen, who took Burnley to extra time. When you're in a situation where one goal falling differently would have knocked out a Premier League team, you have to give respect to Derek McInnes and his squad. Still, Aberdeen bows out with only having contributed 0.125 to the coefficient this year. That's the first time in their five-year streak of qualification that they've contributed less than 0.625.

Hibs started out with a 3-2 win at home over Asteras. That result was not entirely surprising; the real triumph came with the 1-1 draw on the return leg. They actually probably should have picked up more points, since they held a one-goal first-half lead against a 10-man side.

Rangers won 1-0 on the road in Croatia. That put them in command when Osijek visited Ibrox last week. A 1-1 draw was enough to advance, but would have produced more points if not for a late own-goal.

If we celebrate Aberdeen for being one goal from advancing, we should note that Hibs and Rangers were each one goal from going out. But those are the breaks, and for once Scotland got them.

One Scottish side not in need of breaks was Celtic, which cruised to a 3-1 win at home before settling for a 0-0 draw for a relatively easy dispatching of Rosenborg.

Third-Round Preview

Hibs, whose Elo is up to 1325, faces Norwegian side Molde (Elo 1423). So Neil Lennon's side has about the same chance (33.2%) as they had against Asteras. Given the way Hibs (and Scotland in general) have been overperforming this year, I wouldn't count them out.

Similarly, Rangers has an Elo which has risen to 1385, and they take on Slovenia's Maribor (Elo 1499). So Clubelo.com gives them a 31.8% chance of advancing.

Again, if we look at the probability that at least one of the two advance, we're better than 50/50. But the chance that both do is 10%, unless we believe that Clubelo is underestimating Scotland this year.

Celtic (Elo 1548) faces another tough road against Greek champions AEK Athens (Elo 1605). The mismatch is not quite as severe here, giving Celtic a 42.6% chance of advancing.

So let's say a good round has Celtic advancing in the Champions, and one of the two Europa League sides continuing on, and I'll not be too greedy in asking for half of the possible 1.5 points towards the coefficient.

A bad round would have Celtic be the lone survivor, in the Europa League, and I could see Scotland picking up as few as 0.25 points.

Playoff-Round Sneak Peek

It bothers me that this is not just the fourth round.

If Celtic can get past AEK, they face either Swedish champions Malmo (Elo 1502) or Hungarian champions Vidi (Elo 1435). Celtic would be clear favorites to advance to the group stage against either.

If they can't, they are pretty much a shoo-in for the Europa League group stage, as they face the winner of the tie between Latvian champs Spartaks Jumula (Elo 1138) and Lithuanian champs Suduva (Elo 1264).

If Rangers advances, they face either FC Ufa (Elo 1569) or Niederkorn (Elo 1104). So that doesn't look good for making the group stages.

If Hibs wins, they get either Zenit (Elo 1724) or Dinamo Minsk (Elo 1442).

Unless there are some major upsets, I don't see anyone but Celtic being in the group stage, which is a shame.

Where We Stand

They started out in 25th; now they're 24th. That's progress. The two nations ahead of them (Sweden and Azerbaijan) only have one representative each, so 22nd is not out of the question by the end of the third round. (It is theoretically possible they'll jump to 19th, but it's not going to happen.) On the other side of the coin, Israel and Kazakhstan have a reasonable chance to catch Scotland. (Norway has an unreasonable chance.)

It's more important, I think, to lay a groundwork for advancing in future years (although letting the Cup winner skip the first round in 2020/21 is a bonus). I think 5 points needs to be the goal, and they're over halfway there. If we look at the preliminary 2021 rankings, which includes that last two good years along with this year's results so far, Scotland is 20th. While that shows progress, it also shows that a consistent 5 point is needed to get back into the teens.

If Celtic can manage a comparable run to last year, Scotland should exceed 5 points even without contributions from the other sides. If the Scottish draw hadn't been so rough this year, I think the quality they've shown would have even more promise.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Scotland's UEFA Coefficient: 2018/9 Second Round Preview

Well, good news for Scotland. They picked up over 90% of the available points in the first round, which is better than anyone else in their "neighborhood" (which I've been defining as nations within two points). Kazakhstan and Serbia got more total points, but they had four teams in the first round.

First-Round Review

Hibernian beat Runavik 6-1 and 6-4. I'm sure Neil Lennon isn't thrilled with giving up 4 goals in the away match (and I bet the Faroese player with the hat trick will be dining out on that performance for years), but they got the job done.

Rangers beat Shkupi 2-0 at home, then held on for a goalless draw to win the tie. I was convinced somebody was going to drop some points somewhere, and this is not the worst place to do so.

Celtic won 3-0 and 3-0 against Alashkert.

Shkupi was clearly the fiercest competition there, so this makes sense.

Second-Round Preview

Up next for Hibernian (ELO 1305) is Asteras Tripolis (ELO 1424). Clubelo.com gives that a 69.5% chance to go to the Greeks, and I don't see any reason to doubt them.

Rangers (ELO 1357) faces Osijek (ELO 1442). Clubelo gives the Croatians 63.9% chance of advancing. (Before you ask, their is no overlap between the mostly-homegrown Osijek squad and the recent World Cup finalists.)

Aberdeen (ELO 1380) faces Burnley (ELO 1684). The Clubelo odds only give Burnley an 88.1% chance of advancing. I'm surprised.

In the Champions League, Celtic (ELO 1517) have a rematch of last year's clash against Rosenborg (ELO 1512). Clubelo ever-so-slightly favors Celtic, with 50.6% odds.

That means there's a more than 60% chance of one of the three Europa League teams advancing.

So I'll say a good second round has Celtic and one of Hibs or Rangers advancing. Let's say that's with 1.375 total points.

A bad second round would have Celtic dropping to the Europa League, and nobody else surviving. Only picking up 0.5 points is realistic.

Third-Round Sneak Peak

Celtic is the one club guaranteed to particpate in the third round of one of the two competitions. If they win, they face AEK Athens (ELO 1597), so the odds will not favor the Scottish champions. If they lose, they face Cork City (ELO 1212), so the coefficient points should flow in the Europa League.

If Hibs wins, they face either Molde (ELO 1427) or Laci (ELO 1228).

If Rangers gets by Osijek, they have the winner of Chikura (ELO 1202) and Maribor (1499).

If Aberdeen someone makes it past Burnley, they face Başakşehir (ELO 1650).

I guess it looks pretty bleak for any Scottish side but Celtic to advance past the third round.