Saturday, May 20, 2017

Jarrod Dyson is Fun to Watch

Speed in baseball is a under-appreciated talent especially on the Mariners for the last several years. The previous GM focused so much on power that he forgot what an important skill can be. By collecting lumbering power hitters the Mariners sacrificed runs. Fast players are able take an extra base and they can score when other slower players would be stuck on second or third.

The Mariners new GM, Jerry Dipoto, has recognized how valuable speed can be. He has filled the Mariners roster with athletic players. The whole outfield can fly. For me this has made the Mariners offense fun to watch again. They are getting on base (9th highest OBP in MLB) and scoring runs (10th most runs in MLB). Of all the new guys, outfielder Jarrod Dyson has been my favorite to watch. His defining characteristic, and why I love watching him, is he super fast speed. He is like ridiculous, blink and you'll miss him fast.

Whenever Dyson gets on base it is almost a guarantee he is going to steal second base. His walks and singles are as good as doubles. There is always a threat he might steal third base, something not many guys attempt anymore. As proof consider this, he already has 12 stolen bases, which is on pace for 45 by the end of the year. In 2016 the Mariners team leader, Leonys Martin, had 24 over the whole year.  Also Dyson has only been caught stealing twice. That is an 86% success rate for stolen bases, which is good.

Dyson's speed has also helped the Mariners by letting him score frequently. Despite having only 28 hits, 12 walks, and 8 HBP, Dyson has already scored 24 runs. That means he is scoring a run half the time he reaches base. For comparison's sake, the highest rate in the league is Trea Turner at 62.1%. Jarrod Dyson is ranked 14th of all eligible players for his run scoring percentage. That is almost entirely because of his speed.

As already alluded to, the problem with Dyson is he held back by his poor hitting skill. He is only batting .217 this year with an OBP of .318. In his seven year career he is only a .256 hitter. When you consider how fast he reaches first base, that average is low. Dyson doesn't make good quality contact frequently enough (only 17.8% of his hits are line drives) and he doesn't have any power (only 9 career home runs). I wish there was a way to improve Dyson's skills with the bat because once he doesn't get on base he is electric.

Dyson's speed is a huge offensive asset for the Mariners. He is able to turn single into extra base hits by outrunning throws and stealing bases. He is able to score runs on other players hits when most players would still be stuck on base. His speed is fun to watch and makes the game exciting. However, it would be even better if he could just get on base more often. His poor hitting prevents him from being great.

Sources: Fangraphs

Friday, May 5, 2017

My 2016-2017 NBA Games: One Bust After Another

I don't watch a lot of NBA basketball. When I do watch it is usually something I planned based on the matchup or with friends. I don't dislike the NBA, but without a pro team in Seattle it is hard for me to feel invested. However, fans are tell me all the time how exciting it is. They insist the games are full of drama and excitement. However, that wasn't my experience this year. I have only watched four games and all four were duds. The closet final score differential was 15.

The first game I watched was back in November. The best team in the NBA, the Golden State Warriors, were set to play the Los Angeles Lakers. The game looked poised to be an exhibition of the Splash Brother prowess. I was hoping to see the Dubs in their full offensive juggernaut glory. Against a team like the Lakers (who ended up the third worst defense team at the end of the year) there seemed to be a chance that Steph Curry or Klay Thompson could drop 50 points. Instead I got treated to see the first time in 157 games157 games that Curry didn't make a three point shot. I got to watch the Lakers beat the Warriors by 20 points. Sure seeing D'Angelo Russell play adequately was kind of interesting, but it wasn't what I was hoping for when I decide to watch the game.

The next game I watched was a random Thursday night game in February. I was on babysitting duty and channel surfing during a nap. I found the Knicks leading the Cavs early. The first quarter was a high octane offense driven affair. The score at the end of one quarter of play was 34-33 Cleveland. Sure, I knew the Knicks were bad and they should have no chance to hanging with the Cavs, but that one quarter had got my hopes up. I decided to stick around and see what happened. What happened was the Knicks remember who they are and fell apart in the second quarter getting outscored 35-18. That score doesn't even do the quarter justice. Watching the game it felt like the Cavaliers outscored them by 30. Carmelo Anthony and Courtney Lee tried valiantly to bring the Knicks back in the third, but the Cavs were just too much for them to handle. After the first quarter it never felt close again. The Knicks ended up losing 119 to 104.

The third and final regular season game I watched was in March. The San Antonio Spurs were set to take on the Golden State Warriors. This matchup should have been a great one. The Spurs and Warriors are two of the best teams in the league year after year. At the end of the season the Warriors ended up with the Western Conference's number 1 seed, yet again, and the Spurs landed the number 2 seed. Unfortunately both teams decided to rest their starters robbing us of this potentially awesome matchup. Ian Clark was the Warriors leading scorer and Patty Mills lead the Spurs. Those guys are far from stars, but being the leading scorers for their respective teams doesn't have to be a bad thing. The game could still be interesting. However, the thing is the Warriors, one of the greatest offensive forces in basketball history, scored a season low 85 points and they lost by 22 points. The Spurs B-squad at least showed up to play. Other than Ian Clark the Warriors bench looked like trash.

Yesterday I decided to watch the Boston Celtics third playoff game against the Washington Wizards. University of Washington Alum and PNW basketball hero Isaiah Thomas is the Boston Celtics star point guard. Thomas averaged 28.9 ppg on 46.3% shooting during the regular season. In the first two games of the playoff series of Thomas scored 86 points. The guy is also only 5'9" (which is generous), which makes it all the more amazing that he is able to score so dominantly in the NBA where the average height is 6'6". But that isn't all. Thomas is also overcoming the recent death of his younger sister and getting one of histeeth knocked out during the first game of the series. I was excited to watch Thomas continue his run of stellar playoff run and build his epic narrative. Instead Thomas went 3 for 8 shooting from the field, scored only 13 points and the Celtics lost by 27 to the Wizards. On the bright side I got to see John Wall run really fast, shot poorly, and get fouled a bunch all while scoring 24 points.

Like I said before I have had rotten luck picking NBA games to watch this year. The closet final score differential was 15 (Cavs vs Knicks). In three of the four games the losing team didn't even score 100 points. The player that scored the most individual points in any of these games was Ian Clark. Basically every game I watched was a complete bust. So NBA, if you want to convince me that your games can be exciting show me a game that isn't a blow out and where the star players actually perform

Friday, April 7, 2017

Possessive Pluralization of Players

A common literary device used in sports commentary is describing a style of player with the possessive pluralized name of a player that shares the attributes. It annoys me. Every time I hear it I cringe. 

As an example to describe a fast and range outfielder a commentator might say something like "The Mariners outfield defense was subpar in 2016 so they decided to target your Jarrod Dysons and Mitch Hanigers." This pluralization is complete unneeded and it annoys me. Instead the broadcaster could say the Mariners add players like Jarrod Dyson. It is much more accurate because there is only one Jarrod Dyson. He isn't a commodity that you can buy at Target. 

Another example is something like this "The Patriots are a great team with their Tom Bradys and Wes Welkers". It is just annoying. The Patriots only have one Tom Brady and one Wes Welker. They don't have multiple of the same player. These men are unique individuals. Their other quarterbacks aren't of Brady's ilk, so don't pluralize it to allude that they are. 

Every time I hear people describe professional athletes as possessive plurals it irks me. Possessive pluralization of athletes grinds my gears. It is such an easy problem to fix, but instead of correcting it the trend seems to be growing. I don't know how we can stop it, but we need to and fast!

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Which is Better, Scoring Goals or Preventing Them?

Soccer is new to many American fans. By viewers it still doesn't rank even close to the big three of the National Football League, Nataionl Basketball Association, or Major League Baseball. For comparison NFL game viewership dropped 8% in 2016 and was still 60 times larger than MLS (16.5 million for the NFL compared to 270K for the MLS). According to World Soccer Talk, MLS, the major domestic league, doesn't even have the highest TV rating in the United States for a soccer league. The English Premiere League draws more viewers than MLS. As such the general knowledge of the sport is still lacking in the US. Personally I have only been following the beautiful game since 2009 and only seriously since 2012 or so. That means there are some relatively fundamental questions that I still need answered. One of these is which is a better indicator of a team's success scoring a lot of goals or preventing the other team from scoring goal? Basically, does defense win Supporter's Shields and MLS Cup Championships?

Rather than just Google this question, I decide to take a look at data from 2007-2016. I collected every MLS teams wins, losses, ties, final conference standing, goals scored, goals conceded, and goal differential (the difference between goals scored and goals conceded). Using that I was able to look at whether goals for (GF) or goals against (GA) was a better indicator of MLS success. The answer, much like other major American sports it is better to have a good defense than a good offense. But do not just take my word for it. Let us look at the numbers to back it up.
Table 1: Average Rank of GF, GA, and GD by Final Conference Standing.
Take a look at Table 1 for a breakdown of the average rank of GF, GA, and GD for each final conference standing. Teams that finished first in their conference had an average rank in goals scored of 4.2 compared to an average rank in goals allowed of 3.8. So the teams that finished first were on average 0.4 spots better at defense on average. A similar separation held for all four of the top spots per conference. They all had higher average ranks for GA than GF. Basically good regular season teams stop other teams from scoring.

What about the playoffs? Looking just at MLS Cup Champions shows a similar difference between average rank for GF and GA. For MLS Cup Champions the average rank for GF was 5.9 compared to 4.2 for GA. That means MLS Cup Champions were on average 1.7 ranks higher on defense than offense. It appears that good defense wins championships in the MLS.

Interesting this GF to GA average rank flipped in the middle. The teams finishing fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth in their respect conference were all better at scoring goals than preventing them. This seems to make sense because those teams may be scoring frequently or not, but they are giving up just as many resulting in ties and losses. All those ties and losses result in a lower final place in the standings.

I also took a look at the statistical correlation between GF rank and GA rank and having the most wins, the most ties, and the least losses during the regular season. There was a strong correlation between having a high GF or GA rank and having a high wins rank. The correlation was stronger for GA to win total (.74) than GF to win total (.63), which aligns with the previous findings. The correlations for GF and GA to fewest losses also held with a higher GF correlating at .60 compared to a higher GA correlating at .76. That implies that not conceding goals helps teams avoid losing more than it helps them win, which makes a lot of sense if you think about it.

Interestingly there was no correlation between having the most ties and scoring a lot of goals. A higher GF rank had a .09 correlation to a higher number of ties. There was a weak correlation (.25) between prevent goals and having a lot of ties.  Both of these are basically just noise. It appears ties have more to do with the competition and less to do with a team's own strength.

The number one indicator of a team's success was its goal differential (GD). Teams that ranked high in GD also ranked high in final conference standing, were more likely to win the MLS cup and had a strong correlation (.81) to total wins. Teams finishing first in their conference had an average GD rank of 3.1. This was a higher average rank for the first place teams than either GF or GA. Team's that eventually won the MLS cup had an average GD rank of 3.6. Keeping a wide margin between the goals you score and the goals you concede is the surest way to find success in the MLS, which again makes a lot of sense. It doesn't matter as much if you are a powerhouse offense with a mediocre defense or a stellar defense with a blah offense, as long as you are scoring significantly more goals than you are giving up your team will be fine.

Looking at data between the 2007-2016 season I was able to determine that it better for your favorite soccer team to have a great defense than a great offense. Stopping the opponents attack is a better indicator of success than trying to outscore them. Good teams have a higher average GA rank than GF rank. However, GD is the most important rank of those I looked at. Being able to consistently score more goals than you concede by a wide margin is the most important trait for a team looking for success in the MLS. Teams can get to a good GD by either excelling at one side of the ball or the other. Teams can also achieve good GD with balance. But however they get there great teams have a high GD rank.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

The NFL is Not a Paragon of Parity

The NFL sells their fans on the idea that the league is built on parity and equality more so than other professional sports leagues. The NFL has done such a good job convincing fans and journalists about this supposed parity that is has become conventional wisdom. People throw out that the league is built of parity frequently without having to defend their claim at all. The NFL certainly has superior equity when compared to say Spanish La Liga, the top tier of Spanish soccer. However, when the NFL is compared to other American professional sports leagues it doesn’t stand out as a stalwart of parity. The belief of the NFL system somehow leveling the playing field for all the teams is false.

Twelve teams make the NFL playoffs each year. Since 2007 all but three NFL teams have made the playoffs at least once (the three fan bases that haven't witnessed a playoff game in a decade are Los Angeles/St. Louis, Cleveland, and Buffalo). This looks like a good sign pointing to parity of play, but when we dig deeper into the distribution of playoff teams we find things aren't so rosy. 

Take a look at Figure 1 for a distribution of all the NFL playoff spots between 2007 and 2016. Of the 32 total NFL teams just 9 have taken up over 50% of all available playoffs spots. Even more illuminating, two teams, the Packers and Patriots, have been to the playoffs nine out of ten chances. Those two teams are eating up 15% of all available playoff spots just between themselves. If all things were equal they should have taken only 6%. The continued dominance of a few top teams has taken away potential playoff spots from the rest of the league.

Figure 1

All these stats do not prove that the NFL is not a leader in competitive equality on the field of play. The way to see this is to compare the NFL to other professional American sports leagues. The league often held up for its dominate teams that can just buy championships is MLB. Writers, and radio hosts often whine that MLB quality is open to the highest bid and small market teams are priced out of competition. So how does MLB compare to the NFL?

Between 2007 and 2011 eight teams made the MLB playoffs. For 2012 and on ten teams have made the playoffs. This ratio of playoff spots to league size closely compares to the NFL. Also much like the NFL 9 out of 30 MLB teams account of 50% of all available playoff spots. The top three teams, the Dodgers, Yankees, and Cardinals, have each been to the playoffs six times in the last ten years account for 20% of available playoff spots. MLB also has a few cellar dwellers. Three teams that have failed to make the playoffs since 2007, The Mariners (ouch), the Marlins, and the Padres (at least our natural rivals are struggling also). 

Figure 2 shows a similar breakdown of MLB playoff teams between 2007 and 2016. It is pretty clear that the NFL and MLB are very comparable in their frequency of playoff teams. In both leagues a few teams are perennial powers taking far more than their fair share of playoff berths. Instead of suppressing the post season appearances for the whole league, these champions are eating up spots left open by weaklings at the bottom that seem unable to get out of their losing ways. For both there is a large chunk of middling teams bouncing in and more frequently out of the playoffs. In both leagues the expected number of  appearances for any given team is right around 3 (3.75 in the NFL and 3 in MLB). In the NFL 16 teams have made the playoffs between 2 and 4 times, while the number of teams is 19 in MLB. This shows that large group of middle tier teams.

Figure 2

The NFL is not bad at keeping all their teams competitive, but comparing them to the supposed worst of the other American leagues at maintaining parity of play, MLB, the NFL is not a clear winner. In fact the NFL is very comparable to MLB. The NFL and MLB both have a few dominate teams that appear in the playoffs every year and a few terrible teams that just can't figure it out. However, most of the league just sits in the middle reaching the playoffs about as frequently as we would expect if all things were fair. The sports media needs to stop parroting the NFL's marketing message of it being some sort of paragon of parity. The facts just don't back this claim up.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

It's Still Time to Let Lorenzo Romar Go

The University of Washington's Men's Basketball team has had a long slow spiral down the drain. Their loss to UCLA by 41 points cements them as a truly bad team. Not only have the Huskies become a bad team they have also lost relevance (I know I for one don't bother to watch games anymore). In years past people would talk about the Husky men at work and at bars. Sports radio would do whole hours on the team. The team used matter to the sports scene in Seattle. Those days are gone.

All of this is especially sad considering the team continues to have top level recruits pass through the program on their way to the NBA. We have had the opportunity to watch future stars in the making lose more college games than they win. In 2016 the team had two NBA first round draft picks in Dejounte Murray and Marquese Chriss and they were still unable to make the NCAA tournament. The 2017 feature Markelle Fultz, the consensus projected number one pick in the upcoming NBA draft, yet the team is the worst they have been in years.

When all the players that has suited up and played for the Huskies recently is considered it becomes obvious that talent is not the issue. Instead the blame falls on the coaching staff and their inability to get these premier players to mesh together as a team. Ultimately that blame falls completely on head coach Lorenzo Romar, who has been a constant on the team throughout their decline. It is time for the university athletic department to cut bait and let Romar go.

Many will defend Romar because of his early success with the program. Others will defend him because of his stellar personal character and leadership. Both of these reasons seemed valid a few years into this downward trend, but after five straight years, and soon to be six, without an appearance in the NCAA tournament they have lost their weight.

The other commonly cited reason I hear to keep Romar in charge is ability to continuously recruit top tier high school talent. After all he has managed to bring NBA prospects previously mentioned to UW. Those are the kind of player that usually goes to Duke, UNC, Kentucky, or UCLA. More proof of his prowess is next seasons incoming class that feature Michael Porter, probably the best high school player in the country. Romar recruits players to UW like he is running a blue blood program.

The allure of having Porter in Purple and Gold is enough for many fans to want to risk keep Romar as the head coach for one more year. The see the potential for greatest that a player of Porter's ilk presents. The thing is Romar has recruited players like this before and has failed to find success with them. There is nothing to make us believe that Romar will find some secret formula over the off season to suddenly find success with uber talented freshmen. In fact his track record suggests the exact opposite.

Recruiting all these amazing players is pointless if they don't win games. These players stay only one season (I don’t think they should even have to do one season in the NCAA) and then jump to the NBA and its riches. So, the fans develop little to no report with them because our time with these guys is so short. Any attachment we might develop is further squashed by the lack of victories. There are just no marquee moments to look back upon. No event ties them to the school history. Romar's talent at getting 17 year old to commit to a year at UW is rendered moot by the results on the hardwood floor or Hec Ed pavilion.

The losing for the men's basketball team has grown tiresome. The fans, myself included, have stopped watching games. The most surefire way to fix this problem is to let Lorenzo Romar go. The Huskies need a new coach that can actually turn a collection of individually talented basketball players into a competitive team and win games. Romar's past on court successes, strong moral fiber, and recruiting coups do not justify the continued losing.