Tag Archives: playoffs

Playoff Appetizer: True Wins Plus (Fumble Adjusted)

We might be halfway through the first quarter of the first NFL playoff game of 2013, but I’m still finishing up with baseball and just getting warmed up on football. Football month on the blog officially kicks off today — there’s lots of interest stuff to come, from innovative rule ideas and play calling to new prediction methods and game analysis. Today, I’m trying an addition to the measure of NFL team quality that I debuted last year: True Wins. True Wins are calculated as follows:

True Win = Blowout Wins + Close Wins/2 + Close Losses/2 + Ties/2

You may recognize the intuition from pythagorean expectations — you get full credit for blowout wins (I define this as more than 7 points), but no extra credit for winning by huge margins, and you get half credit for all close games, since those probably come down to luck more than skill. Last year, I showed that True Wins predicts a little better than pythagoreans, and it’s a whole lot more direct. Both measures are much better than using wins alone, which unfairly penalize (reward) teams that lose (win) a lot of close games.

What Else is Luck-Driven? Fumble Recoveries?

With the playoffs coming right up, I decided to try an improvement that adjusts for possible luck in fumble recoveries as well. Here’s the logic (from Football Outsiders):

Stripping the ball is a skill. Holding onto the ball is a skill. Pouncing on the ball as it is bouncing all over the place is not a skill. There is no correlation whatsoever between the percentage of fumbles recovered by a team in one year and the percentage they recover in the next year. The odds of recovery are based solely on the type of play involved, not the teams or any of their players . . . Fumble recovery is a major reason why the general public overestimates or underestimates certain teams. Fumbles are huge, turning-point plays that dramatically impact wins and losses in the past, while fumble recovery percentage says absolutely nothing about a team’s chances of winning games in the future. With this in mind, Football Outsiders stats treat all fumbles as equal, penalizing them based on the likelihood of each type of fumble (run, pass, sack, etc.) being recovered by the defense.

The keys are:

  1. Fumbles are huge turning points in games
  2. Teams don’t maintain high or low recovery rates over time

To quantify #1, I determined the point value of a recovery. A simple regression of point differential in each game on total fumbles and fumbles Continue reading

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Basketball questions

I’ve been watching my fair share of basketball during the playoffs — very exciting, compelling series so far, despite the injuries. However, I have a few questions:

  1. Why do you have to hand the ball to the ref before you throw it in? Wouldn’t it be much more exciting to let players throw it in as soon as they can get a ball, like a soccer throw in? Teams are allowed to do this after a made basket already. Add another commercial break to balance out the faster pace if that’s what it takes.
  2. Why can you only draw a charge if you stay on the ground and fall over? The offensive player can draw a foul while jumping and keeping his feet, why not the defense? If the defender jumps, the best case is a no call. Referees have a big say at the end of basketball games, but it’s not a bigger say than baseball umpires, for example, who must make every ball and strike call. I think one of the reasons people persecute basketball refs (besides the Tim Donaghy scandal) is that the foul rules aren’t especially consistent.
  3. Why do teams get so many timeouts, especially in the first half? They have lots of practiced plays that they can signal in from the sideline. I suppose that the endgame timeout flurries increase the tension on those individual plays, but the downtime in between is no fun, and I bet the rest of the game seems less important by comparison. Again, if we need a couple more evenly spaced TV timeouts or sponsors on the jerseys to compensate, I’m fine with that.

These are my questions. Do you have any answers?

Why are the hockey playoffs so unpredictable?

The NHL playoffs have many more upsets than the NBA. Adrian the Canadian tells me that this is ruining their product, since the most exciting teams often get unlucky and bow out early. I can’t help but agree — I stopped watching this year after my favorite team (the Red Wings), my local team (the Bruins), and probably the best team (the Penguins) got bounced. The NHL wasn’t always so unpredictable — the Canadiens, Islanders, and Oilers won 13 of 15 cups between 1975-76 and 1989-90. Adrian’s theory is that the the rise of the butterfly goalie has increased save percentages, which makes outcomes more random.

It’s pretty easy to show that increased save percentages do indeed muddy up the result. I generated 1,000 simulated games for three sets of parameters. First, the 1980s (before the butterfly):

  • Both teams: 89% save percentage
  • Team A: 32 shots per game on average
  • Team B: 28 shots per game on average

Then, for the late 90s/early 2000s (butterfly goalies, slightly fewer shots on average perhaps due to popularity of the neutral zone trap): Continue reading

The Tank Watch (4/27/2012, final edition)

Earlier this spring, my coauthor Chris and I discovered that NBA teams tank a lot, especially teams in the first or second lottery position. This season, I’ve been tracking team performance before and after playoff-eliminated teams locked in to their lottery position. Once teams clinch their spot, there’s no incentive to tank anymore. We found that teams play much better after clinching. Here’s what things look like this year:

The Tank Watch

As I thought a couple weeks ago, the lockout bunched everyone up this year. There just weren’t enough games for teams to separate at the bottom. Only the Bobcats, Wizards, Timberwolves, Trail Blazers, and Bucks clinched their spots before the season ended. This doesn’t mean that teams weren’t tanking (see my post on the Cavs yesterday), but I can’t really test for tanking in a foolproof way. And, comparing pre/post clinch winning percentage doesn’t identify all tankers, since some teams may make personnel decisions that are irreversible (Exhibit A: the Warriors) and others just get so used to losing or are so terrible that motivation fades (Exhibit B: the Bobcats).

The one team that looks like a tank show for sure is the Wizards, who essentially clinched the second lottery spot a week ago, and rattled off five wins to finish the season. While the Wiz were playing all their stars down the stretch (since they had no reason left to lose), their buddies at the bottom (Cavs, Timberwolves, Warriors) were sitting everyone down or trading them. The big outlier of course is the Hornets, who, due to their league ownership, kept Eric Gordon alive and played GREAT down the stretch. At least it only cost them one spot in the end (they finished tied for third), and Hornets fans can be optimistic about next year with Gordon.

Now that we’re done with all that tanking, let’s get on to the NBA’s second season, where all the best players get to play, all the stadiums are full, and all the teams are above average.

Here come the tanks

There’s a lot to decide in the NBA draft lottery still, with six teams bunched between 21 and 23 wins. The most unfortunate of these teams is the Hornets, who have won 62% of their games since they were eliminated from the playoffs on March 31st. They’ve beaten such quality teams as the Nuggets, Rockets, Jazz, and Grizzlies in that stretch — pretty much unheard of for a team in their position — and risen from possibly 2nd in the lottery to a potential tie for 5th (meaning they get the average lottery odds between 5th and 6th places). I’m sure this is due to league ownership (which forced the Hornets to bring back Eric Gordon). It’s a great “natural experiment,” actually, that provides further evidence of tanking by all other (individually owned) teams.

A few teams have clinched their lottery spots already: the Bobcats, Wizards, Timberwolves, and Trail Blazers. My research with my buddy Chris shows that these teams should pick it up now that there’s no reason to tank. Stay tuned for the final Tank Watch in a couple days. There’s a good test match up tonight between the Wiz and the Cavaliers — I expect the Wizards to take it to them. We’ll see if the clinched teams outperform the other playoff eliminated teams over the next two days.

The Tank Watch (4/23/2012)

Last week, the tanking was going strong. Only the Hornets had played well among playoff eliminated teams. My guess is that league ownership made them bring back Eric Gordon, and it’s about to cost them a lottery position after they won again in the last few days. They helped boot the Rockets out of the playoffs and Gordon had another superb game.

A couple other teams played well since the last Tank Watch. The Wiz have now beaten the Bulls, Bucks, and Heat in succession, but their spot is basically clinched, so their incentive to tank is diminished. One more loss in their last three games or a win for the Hornets will lock them in. The Pistons also posted a couple of wins, though over Cleveland and Toronto. Here are the updated numbers:

The Tank Watch

Tonight, we get a treat! The Bobcats travel to play Washington. Below is an incredible craigslist post that my buddy Tony sent me about this game (click to enlarge). Apparently there were zero tickets listed on Stubhub around 4pm.

The Tank Watch (4/17/2012)

‘Tis the season for tanking! Last week, there were six teams eliminated from the playoffs. The Bobcats and Wizards had lost quite a lot already since then, though the Hornets looked surprisingly good. The Hornets continue to look good, but everyone else is bad bad bad, and the ranks of the eliminated have grown. The Bobcats locked in the worst record last night, but it’s hard to imagine them winning any games the rest of the way, so I’m not sure they can be accused of tanking. They are just a terrible team.

The Tank Watch

The Hornets 6-3 record since playoff elimination is largely due to the return of Eric Gordon (they are 4-1 in recent games when he has played). However, would any team other than the LEAGUE OWNED Hornets bring back Eric Gordon Continue reading