Thursday, December 18, 2014

Congratulations Danny Shelton

The NCAA continues to insist that student athletes are exactly that, students who are also athletes. In this role they are required to attend classes while on scholarship to play a sport for the university. For many football and basketball players this is kind of a joke. Players take the lighted credit load allowed and fill it with easy classes. Turn on any bowl game this season and you will see a string of communications majors parade out on the field. We usually laugh it off as just a bunch of dumb jocks, but it is sad so many young people are wasting a opportunity at such a valuable experience. So when a player actually does take his/her eduction seriously and puts in the hard work required I think they deserve to be recognized.

The Academic All-American awards do exactly this. Their goal is to honor student athletes that excel in the class room as well as on the playing field. This year only one Pac-12 football player made the team. That player also happens to be the first UW Husky to be honored with the award since 1991. Congratulations to Danny Shelton on being named an Academic All-American. You should be proud of the 3.54 GPA you accumulated and the Anthropology degree you will earn. You are a shining example for student athletes everywhere and the University of Washington should be proud of you.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The MLS Playoffs Need to Change

Recently the Seattle Sounders defeated the Los Angeles Galaxy 2-1 at CenuryLink Field. Normally this would be cause for celebration . The hometown team defeated a big rival, in a playoff game. But there was one little twist to this particular game , it was the second leg of the MLS Western Conference Finals. This meant, thanks to the stupidity of the MLS playoff format, the Sounders victory was actually a defeat and resulted in them being ousted from the playoffs.

The MLS playoffs are based on the aggregate goals scored by each team over the course of a two game series. One game is played at each teams home site. If the total goals scored by each team end up even after the two games, the victor is decided by whoever scored the most goals on the road. This often results in a team winning the second game at home, but losing the series, exactly like what happened in the Sounders-Galaxy series.

In no other major North American sport's championship playoffs can a team win the final game of a series but still lose. Could you even imagine the Yankees losing to the Red Sox in game seven, but still heading to the World Series? Probably not because it is just plain un-American. Winning playoff games should result in winning playoff series. The MLS playoff format is just dumb. They need to change.

A better format would be to play best two out of three, with no ties allowed. If the game is tied after 90 minutes you simply take one player off each team every five minutes until someone wins. As an example the Sounders and Galaxy are tied after 90 minutes so each drops to 10 men and play 10v10 for five minutes. If there is still no score another man is removed from each team and the play conitinues 9v9. At some point in the 7v7 area we are basically guaranteed to have a winner. This method would ensure a winner in each game. First team to win two games wins the series.

The best of three games series would also allow the league to eliminate the confusing and powerful, but stupid, away goals tie breaker. It would return the a goal equals a goal equals a goal sensibility that is currently missing from the system. Why should a goal scored in front of fans of the opposition be worth extra? It is simple really, it shouldn't.

The three game series would also allow for the team with the better record to have a true home field advantage. Whoever had the most regular season points would get two home games. It would probably make since to award them the first and third, but you could also give them the second and third. It doesn't really matter. It would be a home field advantage and a reason to fight for that top seed. The current system awards the second leg to the series to the team with the better season, which just results in disgruntled fans.

One downfall of the first to two series format is it could drag the already long soccer season into January and basically eliminate the offseason. But this has an easy fix. MLS would just need to schedule more than one game a week. This is nit that horrendous. Players wouldn't all suddenly drop dead with exhaustion. Baseball, basketball, and hockey all play multiple game in a week. Sure a single baseball game is much less physically demanding than soccer, but basketball is at the least equivalent and hockey is clearly much more demanding. MLS wouldn't even have to go all the way to two games a week. They could do some kind of hybrid like  Friday, Tuesday, Saturday schedule for each series. This would give players three days off between each game in a series and five games off between series. This should be plenty of time to recover.

It is time for the MLS to join all the other major sports leagues and implement a respectable playoff system. They need to eliminate the aggregate goal system.  No more loser moves on. No more confused fans. No more un-American playoff systems. No more stupid (who am I kidding this is soccer there is always going to be some stupid, but I am ok with that).

Monday, December 8, 2014

Learn an NBA Roster: Los Angeles Lakers

It's time for another edition of everyone's favorite blog post: "Learn an NBA Roster!"  Yes, now is the chance for you to learn about all the players you don't care about on the teams you don't care about.  Previously on "Learn an NBA Roster," we looked at the cream of the tanking crop: the Philadelphia 76ers.  Nobody really cares about the 76ers, and for good reason.  If you are a 76ers fan, let me be the first to say: my sincere apologies, KJ McDaniels' mom.  Rest assured, your team is not alone in its anonymity.  This year marks one of the strangest occurrences in NBA history, outside of the entirety of Darryl Dawkins' career.  The Los Angeles Lakers are tanking.  The Los Angeles Lakers are filled with players you've never heard of.

Take a breath.  We all know how strange those two statements are, but they are indisputably fact.  Gone are the days of Kobe and Shaq, though Kobe remains hilariously certain that he is that good.  Gone is Lamar Odom, who used to destroy just about everything before succumbing to the dangers of lots and lots of Hershey's kisses.  Gone is Pau Gasol, who thankfully gets to contribute to a team worth watching (until Tom Thibodeau plays him 85 minutes one night and he dies on the spot).

Instead, we have a roster of forgotten partial icons and players that may all be just one guy wearing different jerseys (look at Xavier Henry, Jordan Clarkson, and Wesley Johnson.  Tell me they are not a progression of Wes animorph-ing into Henry).  That doesn't mean there's on reason to pay attention to them, though!  They're still on national TV 26 times this season, so you'll be forced to watch them instead of say, the Milwaukee Bucks or some other team that doesn't make you cry.  Yes, we live in a bizarro world where the Lakers are bad and the Clippers are good.  The Lakers are the Jamie Lee Curtis to the Clippers' Lindsey Lohan, and we've all been Freaky Friday'd.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

When Advanced Stats Fail

If you have read this blog much at all you have probably noticed that I like using advanced baseball stats in my analysis. I love to drop wRC+ when complaining about the M's offense (Like did you know Justin Smoak has a career wRC+ of 94). I also like reading analysis rich in advanced stats; I especially enjoy sites like Fangraphs. One of the big things that advanced stat-heads like to promote is the devaluation of counting stats, like hits conceded, walks given up, and strikeouts. They also like to promote the value of rate based and projection stats like HR/FB% and FIP.  Most of all they love the uber-stat, WAR. However this love of WAR can lead to incomplete and inaccurate analysis.

WAR, or Wins Above Replacement, is an all-encompassing statistic that tries to show exactly the value an individual player. Batting, base-running, and defense is all considered in the calculation of WAR. It is an awesome concept. It has become kind of a super-stat and a go to for people trying to disprove traditional stats.

WAR is also a bit of a crutch for people that don't want to look at a whole myriad of information. Instead they can just look at one number and trust the math is good. The problem is WAR often causes people to lose context of the individual accomplishments it is rolling up.

Another favorite topic of the advanced stats community is the naivety and outdated thinking used during the voting of many season end awards such as the MVP and Cy Young. Back in 2012 the baseball world was stuck in fierce debate over who should be the MVP, Miguel Cabrera or Mike Trout. The debate here was between a triple crown winner (Cabrera) and a five tool stud (Trout). WAR said Trout was better, while traditional stats said Cabrera had one of the great seasons of the ages. In the end Cabrera won the award and half the baseball world groaned while the other half cheered. This award was seen as a battle between traditional and advanced stats. It was a microcosm of the new school vs the old school debate.

Over the next two seasons stat-heads continued to preach the glory of advanced stats. They focused their preaching on WAR because it is simple conceptually and scratches an age old baseball itch. It provides one number to rule them all. During this time advanced stats disciples like Dave Cameron and Nate Silver got big time exposure in all kinds of media and used WAR frequently in their analysis. Fans minds began to change and they got more comfortable with the math heavy world of advanced stats. But for many they embraced the change without truly understanding how to use the stats.

All this brings us to the present, where Corey Kluber just won the AL Cy Young award by narrowly edging out Felix Hernandez. The Cy Young award is award to the pitcher in each league that had the best season. Kluber, an Indians starter, had a great season posting a 2.44 ERA racking up 269 strikeouts which, according to Fangraphs, all added up to 7.3 WAR. This is an awesome season to be sure, the thing is by most other traditional measures Felix Hernandez had a better season. Felix had a 2.14 ERA, 248 strikeouts and a 6.2 WAR. He should have won the Cy Young.

For the 2014 season, WAR  is a very misleading stat. According to the Fangraphs calculation of WAR Corey Kluber had a more valuable season then both Felix Hernandez and Clayton Kershaw. Yes, you read that right. Clayton Kershaw had a lower WAR than Kluber (7.3 to 7.2). Kershaw made 27 starts had a 1.77 ERA and gave up a 6.3 H/9, and struck out 239 batter, while waking only 31. The Dodger star had the best pitching season since Pedro Martinez's 2000 campaign. Yet, despite this WAR said Kluber was better.

So, why did WAR fail to show Kershaw and Hernandez as the best pitchers in the league? Partially because it shouldn't be used as a one stop shop, but also because it relies on projected value not actual outcomes. WAR projects what should have happened rather than considering what really did happen. Let me give you an example. Two pitchers each pitch one inning and give up one homerun. With their other batters, the first gets three fielded outs, while the second gives up a hit and records three strikeouts. In this case the pitcher with three strikeouts has a higher WAR because strikeouts are more valuable and are under a pitcher control.

In addition to the counting stats, WAR also includes adjustment for the defense playing behind a pitcher and the stadium they are paying in. Recording an out with a bad fielding team behind you is more difficult than doing it with a bunch of gold-glovers. So, WAR rewards pitchers who do get an out with a bunch of Russ Davis' trying to make plays more than those with Omar Vizquels behind them. In 2014, Felix benefitted from a strong Mariners defense, while Kluber had a less than stellar crew of defenders behind him. In this case WAR gives Kluber a boost over Felix. Even though Felix gave up the least runs in the league, he doesn't get full credit for that because his defenders were too good.

As mentioned before WAR also tries to capture park effects on players outcomes. It is commonly accepted that where a player plays impacts his statistical numbers. Playing in a bandbox like the Red Sox's Fenway Park will boost batting numbers and negatively impact pitchers because long flyballs turn into homeruns. The Mariners home field of Safeco Field is considered a pitchers park. As such Safeco is detrimental to Felix's case because the outs he records are considered simpler to achieve than those at other parks.

WAR undervalues the idea that the primary goal of every pitcher is to avoid letting runs score and the secondary goal is to avoid base runners. Instead it focuses on the projected outcomes that math says should have happened. So  WAR does not provide the context for award voting, which should weigh actual results (read counting stats) heavier then projection based stats. In 2014, Felix Hernandez was the best pitcher at preventing runs and base runners. He gave up less runs, hits and walks than Kluber. What Felix did worse at were two of the three true outcomes, homeruns and strikeouts. He also had a strong defense and an offense deflating home park. As such WAR valued Kluber more highly, but Hernandez had the better season.

Basically what this all boils down to highlight that WAR should not be used as a standalone stat when voting on post season awards. The success of a player over a season needs to be considered in context. In deciding what to pay a player for potential future performance WAR is great. For determining the individual impact of a single player WAR also provides great insight. However, when determining the best player of a season WAR misses the point that counting stats capture.

The 2014 AL Cy Young award epitomized where WAR can overvalue a player compared to his actual results. In 2014 Corey Kluber had an amazing season and a crappy defense and home field behind him which inflated his WAR and resulted in a Cy Young. While King Felix also had an amazing season where he did the best in the American League at achieving a pitchers two primary goals, but was punished by WAR because he had a good defense behind him and played at Safeco field. The advanced stats, specifically WAR, appear to have swayed baseball writers voting for the AL Cy Young. Advanced stats appear to have burned a guy that deserved off season recognition.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Learn an NBA Roster: Philadelphia 76ers

Basketball season is here, and the stars are out.  Cleveland isn't just a cesspool next to Lake Erie anymore, it's a cesspool next to Lake Erie with LeBron James and the best basketball-playing Beach Boys relation!  Chicago has all sorts of talent to have hurt their ankles!  Phoenix is using a roster consisting of nothing but people related to other NBA players and Eric Bledsoe!  Yes, it is truly an exciting time to like basketball or, like most people, need something to do between Monday Night and Thursday Night Football.

The NBA may not have the severe brain injuries that we all love most about the NFL, but it does have the interchangeable, forgettable players!  Remember Joe Jurevicius?  Of course you don't, and for good reason.  Well fear not, intrepid NFL fans, for the NBA has its own Joe Jureviciuses.  It is practically overflowing with them! While we all might know the big names like Dirk, Melo, and the marketing robot that calls itself Kevin Durant, the lesser names in the NBA may have fallen by the wayside in our sporting minds.

Today, we remedy that.  Today, we take a look at the players that don't make the NBA exciting so much as they make the NBA a league with rosters of the requisite size.  There is no team better to begin with than the Philadelphia 76ers.  The 76ers are, by all NBA rules, an official NBA team with players and everything.  Why, you might ask?  That's an excellent question.  Perhaps the other NBA teams like knowing that no matter what they do, they will not be the worst team in the league.  Perhaps the creators of Sporcle just wanted to increase the difficulty of their NBA quizzes.  Perhaps Sam Hinkie really doesn't know anything about basketball and is just picking names out of a hat.

The 76ers are in the midst of the purest, greatest tank ever accomplished by a professional sports team.  So obvious are their intentions that the NBA tried to change their draft lottery rules to make it harder for the worst teams to get any better.  That's right, NBA owners were so annoyed with how bad the 76ers are that they tried to make things even easier for the Lakers, Knicks, and other such rich franchises.  To be fair, the Lakers and Knicks have been trying to make it harder for themselves for years on end now, it seems, which is very generous of them.

Looking at the 76ers roster might intimidate you.  It's true, you really haven't heard of any of these players and no, it doesn't make you any worse as a sports fan.  Let me help you.  It will be ok.  If you need cheering up, just remember that a particularly good performance at your local YMCA may earn you a contract from Philadelphia.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Move Bruce Irvin Back to DE

The Seahawks drafted Bruce Irvin in the first round of the 2012 draft. At the time Irvin was considered a reach by many. In college he was essentially a one trick pony. He made it at West Virginia and built his NFL potential as a pass rusher. According to the player profile, "Bruce would be an ideal option at outside backer in a 3-4 defense where he can focus solely on rushing the passer."

During his first year with the Seahawks he was used almost exclusively as a pass rushing DE. He found success in this role getting to the QB and notching up eight sacks. The future looked bright for the young and athletic pass rusher. At the end of the 2012 season Irvin he seemed sure to be on the cusp of breaking big. Fans expected an offseason dedicated to refining his skill to boost him to the next level. Then Pete Carroll and his staff threw a wrench in the perceived plan and decided to transition Irvin to an OLB in their 4-3 scheme. This is still the position he plays today.

The Seahawks play a 4-3 and generally only use their OLB as pass rushers on blitzes. As an OLB Irvin is asked to primarily play coverage against the pass and stop the run. Occasionally he is asked to blitz the opposing quarterback. The Seahawks want him to be an everything linebacker, much like K.J. Wright.  However, through his first 19 games at the position (spanning 2013 and 2014) Irvin has been forgettable. He has shown flashes of brilliance, but when those plays happen they remind me that Irvin is even on the team. He doesn't produce consistently.

The stats back up my perception of Irvin as a non-contributor at the OLB position. So far in 2014 he has eight tackles. That is eight tackles in seven games. For comparisons sake here are the Seahawks other main OLB games played and total tackles over the last several season.

LeRoy Hill - 2013 GS 12 G 14 Tkl 31
Malcolm Smith - 2013 GS 8 G 15 Tkl 34
Malcolm Smith - 2014 GS 3 G 7 Tkl 19
Aaron Curry - 2010 GS 16 G 16 Tkl 57
K.J. Wright - 2013 GS 13 G 13 Tkl 46

Notice how Irvin's numbers are nowhere near the other players. Malcolm Smith, K.J. Wright, and LeRoy Hill all out perform Irvin. Even Aaron Curry, who is considered one of the biggest busts in Seahawks history managed to record tackles at a greater rate, 3.5 tkl/g to 1.14 tkl/g,  than Bruce has in 2014.

Now all of this seems really depressing, but stop yourself before you fall into the pit of football despair, there is still hope for Bruce Irvin it will just require a position change back to DE. Irvin's best feature is his pure athleticism. He has put that on display the last two weeks against Oakland and Carolina. He can run fast and jump high. What he appears to struggle with is reading the offense and putting himself in a position to make a play. Often players like that need to have the game simplified to allow them to excel. At DE Irvin could focus his skills on just one job, finding the quarterback and tackling him.

The move would also allow Malcolm Smith (when health) and Kevin Pierre-Louis to get more playing time. Both of those players appear to have the makings of excellent NFL level linebackers. They require less molding and training and more fine tuning to turn them into contributors. They both played the position in college and appear to have a much better feel for it.

In his return to his old role as a DE Irvin would be able to unleash himself as a quarterback seeking missile and provide the Seahawks with the additional pass rush they so desperately need. Instead of hurting the team as a sub-par OLB Irvin could help the team as an average to above average DE. The position change would also free up playing time for other talented players with potentially bright NFL futures. It is time for Pete Carroll to move Irvin back to DE.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Why the Seahawks are 3-3

2013 Sack Rankings from Most to Least
2014 Sack Rankings from Least to Most