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.