Friday, June 23, 2017

On Markelle Fultz

Some of you may realize that Markelle Fultz played basketball for the University of Washington last year, but many of you probably don't. Personally I have only a fleeting understand of who Markelle Fultz is and what makes him good at basketball. If it wasn't for Dave "Softy" Mauler on KJR, I probably wouldn't know anything about the young guard. That is a sad state of affairs because Markelle Fultz was just drafted number one overall by the Philadelphia 76ers. We should be excited and celebrating another Husky great being recognized by the NBA.

I never got to know Fultz as a player. The basketball team he was on was so bad that it was unwatchable. The Huskies routinely got embarrassed by their opponents. The team was so bad last year that the University fired long time head coach Lorenzo Romar and punted on the opportunity to have the best high school senior in the country come play for them in 2017. The team essentially quit playing defense halfway through the conference season. The only potential draw to watching them play was Fultz's NBA caliber talent, but that just wasn't enough to make me care about him or the team.

Don't get me wrong I am glad for the young man and I don't begrudge him at all. I hope that he has a spectacular professional career. However, I won't be rooting for him or following his exploits any closer than I do any other random NBA starter. He has no connection to me at all. I will never look back on the glory days of Fultz. I will never opine with friends about his place in the Pantheon of Husky greats. In fact, I expect, my only memory of him will be that he was drafted first overall by the Philadelphia 76ers.

Friday, June 9, 2017

On Colin Kaepernick's Lack of a Job

Colin Kaepernick was once a star quarterback in the NFL. In 2012, after he took over from Alex Smith, he led the 49ers to the Super Bowl. Although his team lost that game to the Ravens, Kaepernick had made a mark on the NFL fandom. He followed up his breakout Super Bowl run with two very solid years in 2013 and 2014. In those two years he threw for a combined 6,566 yds, 40 TD, 18 INT. Kaepernick also contributed with his legs rushing for 1,163 yds and another 5 TD. Although not elite, Kaepernick was definitely top tier, but then things fell apart in 2015. The 49ers and Kaepernick struggled to start the season going 2-6. The coaching staff benched Kaepernick after that and he eventually underwent surgery on his shoulder, ending the season on the IR

All that brings us to last season. Coming off his injury and the worst statistical season of his career, Kaepernick entered 2016 fighting for the starting job. That by itself would have been an interesting storyline. Then during a preseason game Kaepernick decided to sit in protest during the national anthem and all hell broke loose. Kaepernick was protesting the treatment of ethnic minorities in the United States. The quarterback's protest continue in various forms throughout the year. He pissed off a lot of fans, but inspired others. Regardless of what you think about his protest it worked in getting people talking about the issues and the place of political action in sports.

Coming into the 2017 season Kaepernick is a free agent able to sign to play with any NFL team that wants him. Several analysts, former teammates, and former coaches have said that Kaepernick still has the skills to play in the NFL. Additionally NFL contracts are not guaranteed so if any team signed him and found out he couldn't play they could cut him with little or no penalty. However, so far, no NFL team has offered him a contract. There could be lots of reasons for this, but one of them is definitely because of Kaepernick's decision to not honor the flag during the swinging of the national anthem before games.

Some teams like the Jets and Broncos are in great need of a quarterback and if only football related matters were considered should clearly sign Kaepernick. However, both of those two teams are run by strongly opinionated Republicans with a strong sense of nationalism and I think both were clearly biased against Kaepernick because of their political leanings.

(The Broncos main decision maker is John Elway, who is the Executive Vice President of Football Operations and the General Manager.  He is also a lifelong Republican and recently attended Donald Trump's inauguration. Elway also doesn't have a problem with mixing football and politics. As a recent example Elway wrote an endorsement of Neil Gorsuch to the United States Senate Judiciary Committee on Broncos letterhead. 

Woody Johnson is the owner of the New York Jets. He is a very active owner and is often involved in football personnel decisions. He is also is big time Republican donor and Donald Trump supporter. Johnson was rewarded for his party loyalty with being nominated to be ambassador to the United Kingdom. Johnson doesn’t strike me as someone that would put up with a person disrespecting the flag he clearly loves.)

As the decision makers for their respective teams John Elway and Woody Johnson have the right to not employee Colin Kaepernick, but when they make that choice it hurts their team's chances of winning. As long as they are honest that they chose to not sign the former 49ers QB because of his activism and not because of his football skills I don't see a problem with it. Just don't lie to us and him by saying it is a football decision.

It appears that other teams have chosen not to sign Kaepernick, not because of their own political beliefs, but because of the potential media and fan backlash that could result. They are afraid, right or wrong, that all the attention and controversy that comes with Kaepernick outweighs the potential football benefits. They view him as a potential distraction that would get in the way of the team concentrating of winning football games. They very well could be right, but for a team like the Houston Texans it seems like a gamble worth making. Without Kaepernick they are going into the 2017 with Tom Savage (someguy) or DeShaun Watson (a rookie) as their quarterbacks. They are taking the easy way out and hurting their teams in the process.

The third and final reason that teams with a need at the quarterback position could be avoiding Kaepernick is money he may be asking for. This reason is a lot more speculative as Kaepernick hasn't publicly stated how much money he wants to make. The assumption is that teams, like the Seattle Seahawks, that need a backup QB aren't willing to pay Kaepernick the amount of money he is asking for. He may be asking for starter money or even high end back up money. The Seahawks have a great starting quarterback in Russell Wilson and hope to never see their backup play a meaningful snap in 2017. If Kaepernick is asking for a large contract it doesn't make sense for a team like the Seahawks to sign him. Their salary cap limited resources are better spent on players at other positions.

All that being said and discussed I think it is a shame that Colin Kaepernick hasn't been signed to an NFL team yet. He is an upstanding citizen with strong well thought out political beliefs. He is someone willing to sacrifice for what he believes in and make very public and civil defenses of those beliefs. He should be a role model for us all. He should not be chastised for his actions.

Personally I was hoping the Seahawks would sign him. If the money was the issue I completely understand, but if it was because of the distraction factor or the front offices political beliefs shame on them. They should be able to see through nonviolent off field issues and make decisions that help the football team win.

For any of the NFL teams avoiding Kaepernick because of their politics or fear of distractions, especially the Jets and Broncos, it is a shame and has exposed yet again the hypocrisy of the NFL morality. Teams regularly employ wife beaters, drunk drivers, and other dangerous offenders, but they won't pay a brave nonviolent activist. Instead of trying to understand Kaepernick and the issues he brought up they are choosing to hide behind the shield of the NFL like cowards.

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.