Marcus Allen knows he was fortunate to have such a long, healthy NFL career. Running backs are notorious for having short careers, and even stars see productivity that drops off sharply at 30 years of age. But if you ask Allen, the secret to extending your NFL career isn't some magic potion or little-known exercise -- it's a combination of smart habits and a mindful approach to the game.

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China has spent years hoping for a crack at the U.S. women's soccer team. That opportunity comes Friday, when the two teams face off in the Women's World Cup quarterfinals.

The match comes with the U.S. limping: Its best player, Alex Morgan, is coming off an injury. Its most famous name, Abby Wambach, is battling fatigue and the reality of playing at 35. And regular starters Megan Rapinoe and Lauren Holiday are suspended from the match after yellow cards.

So is the stage set for China's long-sought upset of the U.S.?

Julie Foudy says no.

"I think they'll be fine," says Foudy, a former U.S. star now working as an analyst for espnW. "It's a blessing [to be facing] China given all the other teams they could have gotten. China is nothing like it was in the 1990s."

In other words, the U.S. looks vulnerable -- but China shouldn't pose an obstacle. The bigger challenges lie ahead, such as a potential semifinal matchup with the winner of Germany-France.

Despite some criticisms that this iteration of the U.S. Women's National Team simply isn't on-par with talented teams of the past, Foudy said expectations are as high as ever -- because, despite the on-field results, she thinks there's never been a better top-to-bottom U.S. women's roster.

"It's deeper than we've ever had," Foudy tells ThePostGame, "which is probably part of the problem. They're trying a lot of different people [in different roles. ... They really haven't found that chemistry yet because [head coach Jill Ellis] has so many options.

"That's why you hear some of the frustration from the past players, because we know what they can do. The expectations are really high."

Despite the talent, the pieces have yet to coalesce into a fluid, potent offensive attack. Morgan was limited in group play and didn't score a goal in this year's World Cup until the team's Round of 16 match against Columbia.

Wambach has whiffed on several strong opportunities deep in the box, and she has looked exhausted at various points in the tournament. But even those great looks have been few and far between, as the U.S. attack has struggled to create.

Foudy believes the those problems are the product of riding Wambach and Morgan too hard.

"I think it's a formation issue myself," Foudy says. "I think that Abby and Alex as the two in front, in [the 2011 World Cup] it was good. But Abby at 35, and Morgan coming off injury, it's too much.

"Those are issues that are just [related to] formation, If you switch it up to 4-3-3 and they're still playing poorly, then you can say, 'Maybe it's other [problems], too."

The positive for the USWNT is that, having ruled out talent and chemistry as challenges to their offense, the current drought of goals is one that could be easily corrected.

Foudy is hopeful that Ellis can make tactical changes that alleviate the workload for the team's biggest stars while flexing the strength of the team's depth.

China should be no problem to overcome. After that, though, the U.S. will be tested -- and it's yet found the answers that will lift them to a championship.

The 19-year-old clears his throat. He wants to politely explain his complicated college major.

"Kinesiology is the study of the kinetic movement of the body," he says, "I've had a lot of fun pursuing that career choice and learning more about the human anatomy. I continue to keep learning and be the best human being I can be."

Movement is fitting subject for Kentucky center Karl-Anthony Towns. He is projected to go to the Minnesota Timberwolves as the first overall pick in Thursday's NBA draft, and he is staying busy with other activities.

"Yesterday, I went bowling and hit some golf balls, so I'm extremely stressed," Towns jokes.

Towns would be the sixth consecutive one-and-done player to be the top pick. But the New Jersey native says he will continue his studies. In addition to kinesiology, he says he is interested in getting a business degree and possibly becoming a doctor after his basketball career.

"I'm looking forward to enrolling in classes as soon as I can for this summer and also this fall," says Towns, who had a 3.96 GPA at St. Joseph High School in Metuchen, N.J., where he won three state titles in three years.

At St. Joseph he flirted with the idea of joining the baseball team where he could have teamed with Duke-bound pitcher James Ziemba to form a "Twin Towers" duo.

"I think I'm pretty good at golf," Towns says. "I was much better at baseball. I loved baseball. Soccer, I was OK. But you know what, it didn't matter. Soccer really helped me with my footwork and my pacing."

At 6-11 and 248 pounds, Towns has an obvious basketball frame but the decision to stop playing baseball was tough because his mother, Jacqueline Cruz-Towns, is Dominican-born.

"It's like embedded in our blood growing up," he says. "My mom loved the game of baseball. My grandmother adores the game of baseball. My grandmother was extremely happy when I really was thinking about pursuing baseball. I know she was a little disappointed when I quit baseball, but I think she'd say I made the right career choice."

Once upon a time, Towns was a star first baseman and pitcher on the summer travel baseball circuit.

"He could've been a dominant pitcher like Randy Johnson," Towns' father, Karl Towns, told ESPN. "When he wound up and lifted that size-20 foot up, he could intimidate a hitter."

Towns' basketball blood came from his father. Karl Towns played at nearby Monmouth University, then coached Piscataway Technical High School, his alma mater, for 15 years. Karl-Anthony practiced with the junior varsity team as a fifth grader.

Karl-Anthony attributes his fundamentals to his father, thanks to his knowledge of the game as a player and a coach. Once Karl-Anthony showed he was committed to pursuing basketball competitively, his father showed him the way.

"He really never pushed me in basketball," Karl-Anthony says. "I really played a lot of sports. My love of basketball came more naturally. I came more in tune with basketball because I wanted to play basketball. The way he pushed me was he let me know I had to have a certain work ethic if I wanted to be good."

Although he ultimately chose basketball over baseball (and piano, another hobby), Towns kept his ties to the Dominican. At 16, Towns was selected to play for the Dominican national team in the 2012 FIBA World Olympic Qualifying Tournament.

"What really made me pick that decision was the opportunity," Towns says. "You have an opportunity to play with the best players of a country -- professionals -- who already have an All-Star power forward in Al Horford. The most important thing was that I was able to represent my mother's country and wear her country on my chest and every game go out there and know my mother's on my side."

Towns' Dominican national team experience also served as his first go-around with an important figure in his life: John Calipari. The Kentucky head coach manned the sidelines for the Dominican team in 2011 and 2012. Towns says Calipari balanced his abilities on the offensive and defensive side of the ball, with an especial influence on Towns' pick-and-roll defense. By the time Towns arrived in Lexington, he fixed his holes to build his résumé.

But it was more than just Calipari. The whole experience let him test his high school freshman-level game against some of the NBA's best.

"I think the first moment it sunk in was when we played Team USA my freshman year and Anthony Davis had just been drafted," Towns says.

Davis played for the U.S. Olympic Team just after winning a national title for the Wildcats.

"I felt very comfortable on the court," Towns says. "I felt very comfortable with myself and I was having a lot of fun. I thought wow, you're playing against the team that they call better than the Dream Team and you're very comfortable. If you're not nervous and scared to play on the same court as those guys, you'll never be afraid of anyone on the court."

That's a mindset that served him well at St. Joseph.

"If you could win in New Jersey, you can win anywhere," Towns says.

At Kentucky, Towns won every game until the Final Four. Regardless of which NBA team selects him -- the Lakers, 76ers and Knicks follow Minnesota in the order -- he already has a trip booked to Los Angeles. Towns will help Gatorade announce the winner of its high school Athlete of the Year award. He won it in 2014 for his accomplishments at St. Joseph and takes some pride that the award recognizes a balance of sports and schoolwork.

"Academics came into play and that's huge because you can really tell the character of somebody if they have the discipline to do well in school and put in the effort off the court," he says.

Towns says he grew up a Knicks fan, but that will change as soon as he gets picked.

"I'm blessed for this opportunity," he says. "For any team I go to, I can't wait to start and possibly win a championship with."

No one saw Andre Iguodala serving as star of Golden State's NBA Finals squad. As younger stars Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green battle their way through shooting slumps, back injuries and gripes with the officials, Iguodala has emerged from the bench to serve as the team's most important player.

After starting Game 4 on Thursday night -- his first start of the entire year, by the way -- Iguodala set the tone for the night, pushing the ball forward in transition to get the offense going. He continued to be the primary defender for LeBron James, anchoring the team to a blowout win in Cleveland.

Iguodala left a strong impression on everyone, Vegas included. This morning, Vegas revised its NBA Finals MVP prop bets, and a new name was listed at the top of the board.

After coming into the Finals as a 125-to-1 shot to win MVP, Iguodala is now the favorite.

That's a pretty remarkable jump for a guy who had 14 names ahead of him at the start of the Finals. To offer some perspective, the Oakland Raiders are twice as likely to win the Super Bowl this season than Iggy was considered to win NBA Finals MVP, per ForTheWin.

The jump speaks both to how well Iguodala has risen to the occasion, as well as how doomed the Warriors would be without him. Keep in mind that Curry, Thompson and Green still combined for an underwhelming night.

Just how good was Iggy? Good enough that he had some spare time to troll LeBron by whining about an injury he was faking:

Iggy was so good that when Cleveland's James Jones blocked his shot, he tried to give Jones a high-five:

So, yeah. Iggy was real good. Polish up that trophy, please.

Peyton Manning's pre-snap audibles have become a hot topic of interest, starting with his rampant use of "Omaha!" in the seconds before snapping the ball.

After the Broncos quarterback was counted using the phrase 44 times during a single game, plenty of theories have been spun to try and make sense of the command's meaning.

People have even checked with his brother Eli Manning who has been coy about its meaning in the past -- last year, he wrote it off as a vague term that could mean different things depending on the play call and the circumstances of the game.

But now we know that may not be the case.

According to Giants.com, little brother Eli finally shed some light on the "Omaha" audible to an event for Giants season-ticket holders.

His story is a simple one: Omaha was just a part of the playbook, and the Giants use it as well.

"There was actually a sheet that said 'Omaha' at the top, and basically 'Omaha' was maybe we change the play, or maybe when I was changing protection ... and [the setup] was taking forever and the play clock's running down," Manning says. "And 'Omaha' just told everybody to put their hand in the ground, shut up, and the ball's about to be snapped."

In other words, it was a warning to everyone: Get ready, because this is about to happen.

"So I would say 'Omaha' and I would say it again and then say 'set hut' and do whatever you think you need to be doing and let's go play football."

Does that explain things? Yes, it sure sounds like it. Was it as exciting as everyone had hoped? Not at all.

Dondre Harris is, by almost any measure, a giant. At 7 feet tall and 375 pounds, he's got a body that can go toe-to-toe with Shaq. When his high school's football coach saw him walk out of a cornfield while working a summer job, the sales pitch was almost immediate.

How about you apply that huge body to football?

Harris gave it a try, but it wasn't the natural fit you might expect. Size is a valued asset in football, but so is speed. After trying out on the offensive line, he proved too slow-footed to stop defensive players. On defense, he had a little more success, proving to be a bulldozer with raw skills but tons of potential.

Even so, colleges weren't tripping over themselves to make Harris an offer. With such a massive body and so little football experience, Harris seems like a classic recruiting gamble: If he doesn't work, you're out a scholarship slot. If he does work out, you've got a near-unstoppable menace.

In the end, all he earned was a scholarship to a Division II university. Which begs the question: Is Harris really too big for football?

As those around Harris explain in a feature from Bleacher Report's Adam Kramer, coaching ears did perk up when word of a giant football prospect came up. Some coaches called, others requested tape. The tape itself wasn't too impressive, his high school coach admits, but eyewitness accounts insisted that his true impact was hard to see on a screen.

Even so, the initial buzz surrounding the behemoth wasn't supported by convincing on-field performances.

"After a while," Harris tells Bleacher Report, "they just started losing interest."

The prevailing concern from coaches was that, despite his size, the foot speed he displayed was just too slow -- he wasn't fast enough to break past blockers and put real pressure on the backfield, and he didn't have the closing speed to chase down ball carriers.

Harris had done a good job bringing his weight down to 375 from an original 450 pounds, but it wasn't enough to increase his speed. In a way, his massive size proved to be his strength as well as his weakness.

That doesn't mean football was a lost cause. Harris did show improvements and become a respectable contributor for his high school team. He did receive offers to play at the college level, and he signed with Fairmont State in Virginia.

For Harris, football's rewards don't require attending a powerhouse program or working toward an NFL career.

"He's just happy," says his high school coach. "And his mother is happy that he's going to school in the fall."

Harris has a lot of work ahead if he wants to be competitive in Division II, but with the help of strength coaches and additional on-field experience, he might be able to refine his game. But football remains a secondary pursuit.

"My main focus is school," Harris said. "I'm going to get my education. That comes before everything."


They ain't ready #trojan4life #trojan_nation #77 #61 #67

A photo posted by Dondre (@drdre_selfmade) on

On the bus ride, all I could think about was last year. My range of emotions had placed me on the precipice of insanity. My legs were sore for days after, and mentally I was taxed beyond belief. However, it had pushed me to be better. Pushed me to run when I wanted to stop and pushed me to trust the process. Sadly, during the past year, I let some of those lessons fall by the wayside. I still run, but not as much or as far as I should. Between life and laziness, I had lost the flame that was ignited at Nike Zoom Camp.

This year, I prepped for the camp by running a few miles to get back into running "shape." My mile time had fallen to more than 8 minutes, 30 seconds, and my personal ego was badly bruised. I wanted to be better; just not bad enough to motivate myself.

After the two-plus-hour bus trip, we finally made it to Zoom Camp. The set-up was beautiful. A small pond surrounded by trees served as a backdrop to our tents that were actually more like luxury teepees. We wouldn't be able to enjoy it much as we were expected to be ready for yoga at 5:30 a.m. Considering it was already past 11 p.m., I took the opportunity to gain a few hours of sleep before the next day's festivities.

Waking to the sounds of birds is a refreshing experience, even when it is 5 a.m. When you're in L.A., you don't often get to renew your relationship with the outdoors unless it involves smog, honking horns and desert dry air. This was different. The air was clean, the grass was green, the dew was fresh and the birds were alive and chirping in the woods. After some light stretching (I'd missed yoga) we were ushered off to Hayward Field at the University of Oregon.

Coach Blue Benadum's job was to make us faster, and he wasn't hesitant to let us know we had to work for it. Jordan McNamara, a mile specialist, ran us through a series of quick exercises to work on everything from building stamina to how to approach getting faster mentally. Left in the hands of Coach Blue, things were turned up a notch as we ran through more drills to put theories into motion. At this point, I am starting to feel it and the burn is starting to creep up into my thighs. It hurts, but I expected it. I wanted to get faster and that wasn't going to happen if I didn't push myself.

In my head, there was no reason to look nice and pretty in all of my Nike Running gear if I wasn't going to actually perform at my best. Yes, I was fresh off ankle surgery, but if I listen to my body I should be fine. I had to get rid of self-doubt and focus on the light at the end of the tunnel. I had to allow the chirp of Coach Blue's whistle to mark a moment to be better and not a moment of pain. Armed with a new frame of mind, the turn-arounds started to resonate in a different way. They still hurt and were tough, but they also allowed me to work on my mechanics, breathing and technique.

We were given the Nike Zoom Pegasus 32 to try out. I've had experience in the Pegasus 31, and the 32 didn't feel drastically different than the previous model. Flywire, engineered mesh and Zoom all return for this model, though they have been moved around or readdressed in an effort to make you look and feel faster.

Later, we took to the streets and woods of Eugene and headed to Autzen Stadium for another workout. I may or may not have made a few wrong turns on my way to the stadium, which resulted in me running a little more than I should have. Then came the absoluteworst part of the workout: STAIRS! I have always hated stairs and the next workout wanted us to build up speed by using the stairs. It was a nightmare.

I ran the first set like a champ and things slowly got worse from there. Running up stairs, jumping up stairs, double-stepping stairs, coming down stairs, going back up stairs, it was grueling. At one point, I had to yell at my legs to jump because they were so out of it. They felt like Jell-O and jumping was the last thing they wanted to do. It is a strange feeling when you legs start to shake uncontrollably, but if you want to get faster, you have to fight through it. I couldn't wait for it to be over. It was great for my legs, but it was probably the hardest part of the weekend.

Back at camp, I took quick dip in the ice bath, received a full-body massage and got ready to head back to Hayward Field. Nike wanted us to see what faster looked like and escorted us to the Pre Classic. It is inspiring to see people like Mo Farah run in real life. We often see these distance runners on TV, but there is something special about seeing them perform right in front of your eyes. Galen Rupp, who broke the U.S. record at the Pre-Classic last year, took his talents to the track to show us what world-class athletes look like in motion.

Whether intentional or not, seeing those guys push through pain and pick up the pace when things went down to the wire provided the boost of energy needed to prep for my mile run the next day. I just needed to beat my personal time and watching these guys run just might have been the fuel I needed.

In my tent that night, I had a hard time going to sleep. I was thinking about the next day and what it would take for me to say I accomplished something during this trip. Running a time faster than my current time wasn't really saying much. I had been faster before and my current mile was a result of being out of shape. Would beating my current time be a goal? Yes, absolutely. However, I needed to do more than that to feel like I had made the most of this trip. Settling in to sleep, realized it would take me doing more. It would take me feeling like I had no regrets. That I had given 100 percent.

Back at Hayward Field, it was time to run the mile. No more pep talks, drills or mechanics to practice. As we all lined up, I locked it. It was time to shine. Bang! We were off.

I took the first lap like a champ. Stride was great, pace was great, I was feeling great. About half way through the second, things started to fall apart. The stride slowed down a bit and I wasn't running in proper form. Unfortunately, it took a good hundred meters before I realized this and had time to correct things. The pace was still slow, but the form was right. passing the starting line for the third lap, Coach Blue shouted out my split and it hit like a brick in the face.

The last lap was a full 15 seconds slower than the first. My first instinct was to get down on myself and fight through the rest of it knowing I had already failed, but the encouragement of the coaches and staff on the field took over and allowed me to get out of my own head. For the third lap, I pushed a little harder and came in just above my original time. I was improving. With the confidence of the third lap and the encouragement of the coaches, I pushed even harder for the start of the fourth, which in retrospect wasn't a good idea. I got about 150 past the line and slowed down dramatically. This time I knew it. It was over. I had pushed myself too hard and now I needed to stop.

During the weekend, Coach Blue had mentioned to us that 50 percent of running is mental. As a runner you get into your own head and it often results in you not doing your best because you are talking yourself out of it. You tell yourself to stop, you body doesn't do it. More often than not, your body has the energy and the will to go, but it can only do what you tell it to do. Yes, it may hurt and you are tired as ever, but your body won't stop until you tell it to. You may want to, but you don't have to stop.

As I struggled for the next 50 meters, I questioned whether I should stop. I had pushed to hard to try and do more and now I was paying for it. And then it happened. Coach Blue popped into my head, "It is mental. You may want to stop, but you don't have to." As if that was the push I needed, I started to drive even harder. I focused on fixing my form, picking up the pace, and doing what I said I would to the nigh before, give it 100 percent. Rounding the Bowerman Curve, I was giving it all I had. The sounds of the cowbell at the finish line ringing in the distance became a siren's call I was inextricably drawn to. Seventy-five meters to go. "Push, Jacques, push," is all I was saying. "Go hard, go hard, go hard."

Striding past the finish line, I hear coach blue yell out my time. I had improved my mile time by 30 seconds. I was proud. I had done it. Not only did I beat my time, but I had pushed through it in way in which I can be proud. Yes, I struggled and almost stopped, but more than that, I gave it all I had and did better than I would have expected. It is a small victory, but a victory nonetheless. I have a long way to go. I want to be even better. I want to beat the new time by at least another minute and a half, but you have to start somewhere. This weekend was my start.

Thank you to Nike Running and all of the coaches for their help and hospitality. The Nike Zoom Pegasus 32 is available now on Nike.com and at select Nike Running retailers.

Water hazards are called hazards for a reason. Most golfers agonize over seeing their ball drop into the pond, which most of the team warrants a stroke penalty to get it back on dry land.

James Nicholas was not about to give up so easily. The Scarsdale High School senior was playing with the New York state championship on the line, and when he was able to locate his ball at the edge of a lake, he resolved to play the ball from its lie.

Nicholas stepped into the water, which was a respectable effort on his own. But all of that paled to the quality of his actual shot:


It's hard to overstate how tough that shot was -- standing with one foot in lake mud and accounting for the water's optical distortion as you line up for a very sensitive chip shot with a high-risk of error. Yet Nicholas clears the water hazard mostly unfazed, and he went on to win the state title.


What's next for this kid? Just a golf scholarship to Yale, where he's attending this fall. According to his Twitter account, Nicholas will also be playing football. Pretty interesting combo for a two-sport college star.

Smart kid, good golfer. Go Bulldogs.

Planking is a fun little diversion for most people, but for George E. Hood, it's serious business. A former Marine and now a fitness trainer, Hood set the world record over the weekend for the longest plank in history.

Hood's five-hour, 15-minute plank was nearly 50 minutes longer than the world record, which was set by a Chinese police officer. With the feat, Hood recaptured a record he had held in the past, all while raising fitness awareness and raising funds for the Semper Fi Fund, which benefits injured Marines.

"I’m a little sore and a little stiff," Hood told the San Diego Union-Tribune just after finishing his plank. "My feet and upper body are pretty sore, actually the whole body. It’s a total body exercise."

When Hood first set the record in 2011, his time was 1 hour, 20 minutes and 5.01 seconds. By 2013, Hood pushed the mark to 3 hours, 7 minutes and 15 seconds.

Hood performed his plank in front of a crowd that went through periods of silence followed by cheering, as the Marine veteran hit certain milestones en route to the record.

Hood wasn't aware of how long he was planking until he had officially surpassed the world record, at which time Hozier's song "Take Me to Church" came over the speakers.

Hood was aided by volunteers who supplied him with water and rubbed ice onto his muscles, which improved their endurance. To perform a plank -- and to have it count for world record purposes -- Hood was unable to led his back relax or dip, all while resting his body weight on his forearms and his toes. His toes were unable to come off the planking surface at any time.

The experience was a grueling one nonetheless, one that Hood characterized as "mind over matter." Once the record was set, he kept going as long as he could, resulting in an impressive record that will be tough to surpass.

CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

There is one cure for baseball's Tommy John epidemic, and that's "Big Data."

In a decade or so, MLB teams will know what every player ate for breakfast, his heart rate on a minute-by-minute basis, whether he exerted too much effort on his left hamstring while running sprints, and they'll aggregate all of this information, billions upon billions of lines of data, into powerful decision-making that will help organizations detect and prevent injuries before they happen.

Advances in technology won't be limited to baseball, either. All major sports will begin investing in the latest and greatest versions of Data Science with the hope that the "cloud" will save ACLs, labrums and ankles alike.

In baseball, for pitchers in particular, the equation is fairly simple:

Cost of additional computers < Cost of 2-5 Tommy John surgeries per year

The obvious caveat when discussing the computerization of Major League Baseball is that we're years away from teams accumulating enough information to make actionable decisions on players' health. In the meantime, we're forced to rely on logic, which is actually a touchy subject in the inherently conservative world of professional sports.

But in a seemingly pedestrian article that arrived and departed from ESPN's home page in the usual cycle, the Dodgers announced in March that they entered a partnership with Irish company Kitman Labs. After successes in European sports, Kitman built a sophisticated analytics platform specifically tailored to help baseball players avoid injury.

"We want to help practitioners, we want to help athletes, we want to improve the welfare of athletes," Kitman co-founder Stephen Smith tells ThePostGame. "We want to help improve sports so that fans get to see the best players on the field week in and week out."

Smith says he's in talks with several other MLB teams about procuring its technology, but whether it's Kitman Labs or the myriad other companies destined to enter the sports technology space, it seems that organizations are finally doing the math when it comes to keeping their players healthy.

For the Dodgers part, baseball's haut monde recently allocated $200,000 to invest in startups with the hopes of finding technological gems that will increase revenue and efficiency in areas such as ticketing, concessions and of course fitness. The Dodgers are ahead of the curve, but it's safe to say that organizations are beginning to realize that injury-prevention solutions will save them millions of dollars in lost seasons.

Sticking with the Dodgers as an example, their four-year, $48 million investment in Brandon McCarthy yielded 24 innings of production before losing the veteran right-hander to a torn ulnar collateral ligament (the culprit of every Tommy John surgery). Even if he returns by June of next season -- an extremely aggressive timeline given his age (31), build (tall, slender) and injury history -- the Dodgers essentially flushed $15 million down the toilet because they had no way of knowing the inner recesses of McCarthy's elbow were damaged to the point of no return.

So what will this data suggest? What intelligence will we glean from the millions of dollars invested in machine learning algorithms and technology that only computer science majors at Stanford can comprehend?

Perhaps Dodgers VP of medical services Stan Conte said it best last year when he told ESPN baseball columnist Jayson Stark: "The truth is, it's not pitch counts. It's not fatigue. It's not velocity. It's not youth baseball. It's all of those."

***

In 2012 with his team sliding out of contention, Rockies GM Dan O'Dowd conducted an experiment.

During his tenure in Colorado, he had seen every starter who threw 185 to 200 innings for three consecutive years break down with a significant injury. Throughout the early 2000s, O'Dowd spent hours discussing the pros and cons of a four-man rotation and reduced pitch counts with current Phillies pitching coach and former Rockies staffer Bob McClure.

After years of research, he concluded the idea made a lot of sense and was worth a shot, especially with his team out of playoff contention. He told manager Jim Tracy that the team was going to go with a four-man rotation and 75-pitch limit on their starting pitchers, which excited the old-school Tracy as much as a three-hour class on sabermetrics.

"The mistake I made was trying to do it in the middle of the season," says O'Dowd, now an analyst on MLB Network. "If I could back up the truck, I would've done it at [different] point."

Although Project 5183 (named for the altitude of Coors Field) wasn't a rousing success, it definitely wasn't a complete failure, especially given the Rockies less-than-stellar staff (sorry, Drew Pomeranz). What's lost in history is O'Dowd's logic: No matter the ballpark, a pitcher's ERA typically rises a half point every time he cycles through an opponent's lineup during a game. In Colorado, the prospect of having to adjust to a new pitcher every at-bat was especially intriguing considering what happens when a hitter squares a ball up in Coors (adios, baseball).

But the fact is that in any ballpark, any pitcher, anytime, outs don't come easy the third time through a lineup (i.e. Clayton Kershaw vs. St. Louis in last year's NLDS) because the pitcher's arm is exhausted and professional hitters can better recognize his pitches. Again, not rocket (or data) science.

More importantly, and the main factor in O'Dowd's decision to reduce pitch counts, was the injury element.

"The No. 1 thing we recommend as far as prevention [of arm injuries], is to try and prevent fatigue," Dr. James Andrews tells MLB Network.

So here's the real question: With all that we know about the fragility of the ulnar collateral ligament, why does every team in Major League Baseball structure its pitching staffs the exact same way?

We might be 10 years away from knowing how morning oatmeal affects a curveball, but we have incredibly simple, persuasive data that suggests the way teams structure pitching staffs is archaic, both from the standpoints of injury and effectiveness.

Unless an adjustment is made, elbows and shoulders are going to continue to break down, teams will continue losing $500-plus million every season to injuries. Ninety percent of MLB organizations will continue relying on inferior talent because of an unwritten rule that states every team must have five starting pitchers, they must throw six-plus innings every start, and we must judge them on a statistic (wins) that provides very little insight into their actual effectiveness.

***

"You got to fill 1,200 innings a year. The full formula is your starting rotation gives you 800-1,000 innings and your bullpen covers the rest. Well, you know what? That's just not working in our game anymore. It's just not working, man."-- Dan O'Dowd

With all the advances in hitting (there's a book entitled Moneyball, if you're interested) and fielding (shifts, pitch-framing metrics, UZR), when will MLB teams embrace the notion that Wins, Saves and Quality Starts hold zero value in modern baseball?

Here's two things to take into account when analyzing the pitching landscape:

  • Pitchers are throwing harder, which puts more strain on the UCL, and makes them more susceptible to elbow injury, especially when they throw more pitches (i.e. starters vs. relievers)
  • A player's build matters. Researchers at Northwestern have found that the muscles supporting the UCL are more important than previously thought. In other words, a tall lanky pitcher (Zach Wheeler, Brandon McCarthy, Patrick Corbin, Tyler Skaggs) is at greater risk than a player with more junk in the proverbial trunk (i.e. Bartolo Colon).

Going back to Conte's point, it's important to remember that each pitcher is unique. Just because a pitcher is tall and skinny doesn't mean he's going to tear his UCL. But it's a factor that teams should be taken into account, and considering the risks, wouldn't it make more sense for a young pitcher like Corbin or Skaggs to come back and throw 120 innings their first full season back than 180?

Why does every starting pitcher need to go six innings? Why does every team, despite its personnel, all of whom have unique builds, arm slots and histories, force a starting pitcher to follow the same guidelines?

"The win stat is today's age is an outdated stat because there's too many variables that actually control whether a pitcher gets a win or not," says O'Dowd. "And I think a Quality Start is very subjective."

Assuming Stephen Strasburg pulls it together this season, Nationals fans can rest easy. They have five horses in their rotation. But what percentage of teams have five arms that can consistently produce at an elite level for six-plus innings per game?

The argument here isn't that every team needs to structure their pitching staffs differently, but that doing so, for a vast majority of MLB teams, would benefit the club from an injury standpoint and a W/L standpoint.

There are 1,200 innings in a season, so why do all teams insist on dividing them up the same way?

For example, the Twins bullpen in 2014 had a 3.73 ERA. Minnesota's starters posted a 5.06 ERA.

So why does Ricky Nolasco (5.38 ERA) need to throw 159 innings? Because he was awarded a ridiculous four-year, $49 million contract?

What was holding back relievers Brian Duensing (3.31 ERA, 54.1 innings) or Caleb Thielbar (3.40, 47.2), two lefties capable of getting out left-handed and right-handed batters, from throwing three innings every three days and accumulating 75-80 innings?

In the current structure, teams are handcuffing themselves to throw worse pitchers for longer periods of time. If they're paying a starter to "eat up innings," wouldn't it be a better use of money to get three Brian Duensings and have them throw three innings each (one time through the lineup) every two to three days?

Minus a select few, almost every single MLB team has at least one weak link in its starting rotation. Hitters salivate at the prospect of two or three at-bats against Jeremy Guthrie, but would be equally unexcited about two to three innings from Wade Davis, Luke Hochevar, Brandon Finnegan, with a kiss goodnight from Greg Holland.

The Royals bullpen is beyond filthy, but Guthrie (5.70 ERA) and Jason Vargas (5.26) devour innings because Kansas City has to have five starters and it has to throw each starter as late into a game as possible because that's what teams do.

Every club is different, but all teams pigeonhole themselves into the same rotation structure because conformity is king in professional sports.

Until it's not.

The game's most recent wrinkle, defensive shifts, started nine years ago when Tampa Bay shifted the shortstop to the right side of the diamond to combat the monster that is David Ortiz. By 2011, the number of shifts had risen to 2,464. Last year? According to Bill James, it was 13,296.

When something works in baseball, it catches on like wildfire.

"There's many times during the season where you only need four starters, then there's times when you need six starters," O'Dowd says. "That's when your bullpen guys can pick up an extra start without having to get more starters -- this industry just doesn't have enough starters."

The supply of quality two-pitch relievers is much higher than sub-4.00 ERA starting pitchers. Why pay Ricky Nolasco when you can load your roster with quality relievers, stockpile arms in AAA for a rainy day and divy up innings in a new way?

When looking back at Project 5183 and what he would have done differently, O'Dowd talks about how altering rotations takes full organizational buy-in. If he could do it over, he would have made sure every coach, trainer and front office person in the entire Rockies system embraced the rationale and wanted to move forward.

"The concept has to be embraced from ownership on down," O'Dowd says. "It's the total conceptual model that everybody has to buy-in to and I failed at getting people to buy-in, without a doubt."

Going to two, three or four starting pitchers would be a massive philosophical change for any organization, but there's a lot of talented pitchers that don't need to see a "W" or "S" next to their name in the box score to know that they did their job.

Teams have come to accept Tommy John surgery as inevitable when it doesn't have to be -- guys who throw gas (Matt Harvey, Jose Fernandez) don't need to throw 100-plus pitches every five days. Additionally, mediocre starters don't need to throw six-plus innings every five days.

By simply rethinking the most effective way to get through 1,200 innings in a season, teams can become harder to hit, save arms, and most importantly to them, save an immense amount of money.

"No one agrees with me in the industry," O'Dowd says. "This isn't going to happen in the short term, it might not even happen in my lifetime."

But it might.

Machines are great, but so is common sense.

This isn't rocket science or data science. It's logic, and it's not that complicated.

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