Category Archives: Stats Posts

Is Chip Kelly in for a Sophomore Slump?

Chip KellyRejoice! The doldrums of summer, and the seemingly-endless stream of unsubstantiated speculation about the coming season is mercifully subsiding. Eagles training camp is here, and thus marks the official unofficial start of the 2014 NFL season. Huzzah! Now we have some actual news to read about!

But games that count are still quite a ways away, and something has been bugging me. While perusing the various forms of Philadelphia sports talk-radio over the last couple of weeks (Hey! Have you heard our excellent podcast yet?), I noticed that one of the more persistent topics of unsubstantiated conjecture debate has been “Are Chip Kelly’s Eagles going to improve or decline in year two?”

The argument generally breaks down into one of two run-on sentences: 1) Chip’s offense has been torn apart in NFL film rooms all offseason, and it’s a college offense anyway, and it was sort of a flukey year, and the defense still sucks, so the Eagles will be worse in 2014, or 2) Chip is a genius, so when opposing teams make adjustments, Chip’ll adjust them right back, the team is used to Chip now, and the defense didn’t get any worse but the offense is gonna get better, so the Eagles will be better than last year.

Frankly, both sides make a somewhat cogent point. What bothers me – what always bothers me – is the lack of context…

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Mocking the Draftniks: Are NFL draft “experts” actually any good at mock drafting?

“Say what?”

[Note: This is a write-up that Hank did last year following the 2013 draft, but it's still totally accurate and well worth your time.] 

Mock drafts are stupid.

There, I said it. You and I know that as much as we all love them, they’re not consequential. They’re not inherently insightful. They’re often nothing more than speculative conversation pieces. At best, they’re educated guesswork.

Now I’m likely to be dragged to the town square and stoned for saying that, but so be it, it needed to be said. I’ll die a martyr for the cause of reasonable, retrospective sports analysis. A worthy ideal, certainly.

Sarcasm aside, I really was convinced that if there ever were a year when I could successfully prove that the draftniks really are all just soothsaying con-men, this was the year. There were no sure-fire top-5 quarterbacks, no stud wide outs or corners. No truly obvious picks. The consensus seemed to be that the real talent in this draft was along the lines, some of the hardest positions in the sport to scout. If there really is such a thing as a “draft guru,” this is the kind of draft that would expose him as either a true expert or a useless hack.

With this hypothesis in mind, I collected an assortment of 14 “final” 1st-round mock drafts published before the draft started last Thursday. As a control, I asked my buddy Frank to submit his own 1st-round mock. Frank watches far more college and pro football than anybody can reasonably consider healthy, but he’s not a paid analyst, nor does he have a support team, league sources, game film, nor any other resources that pro analysts or sports columnists can access.

Here’s what I found out.

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If the NFL moves the Extra Point, this is why smart teams will stop kicking them entirely…

Shout out to the pro-football-reference.com database for the stats in this article. You guys rock.

So we’ve all heard the rumblings from the NFL’s competition committee recently: “The extra point is sort of boring. Let’s screw with it!” seems to be the general gist of the conversation.

The Commish himself has gone on record about his distaste for the extra point. “I believe we had five missed extra points this year out of 1,200 some odd. So it’s a very small fraction of the play, and you want to add excitement with every play.”

The gripe might be legitimate. In the last ten season, NFL kickers have completed the extra point attempt a whopping 98.9% of the time (11058 attempts). In 2013, the success rate was 99.6% (1267 attempts). This is as close to automatic as it is going to get in the NFL. The problem, of course, is that there are still 21 players besides the kicker on the field, so major injuries can still occur. Rob Gronkowski, the Pats’ ginormous, extraordinarily gifted tight end, famously broke his forearm on a simple extra-point attempt. While that was a highly visible incident, there are undoubtedly countless, unreported minor traumas that occur during extra point attempts every season. The logic is that the 1.1% of kicks that aren’t made are outweighed in importance by the danger of the play.

Goodell intimated that there are several proposals to change the rule, including one where the point is automatically given after the touchdown unless the offense wants to attempt a two-point conversion. But football purists are certain to be appalled by the idea of taking another step to remove feet from football, so this complete removal of the kick attempt would be a fairly radical move to make in one fell swoop.

So the NFL competition committee is floating a compromise idea: Move extra point kick attempts to the 25 yard line, making the kick a 42 yard attempt rather than its current 19. This solution makes some sense on its face. Teams are still allowed the option of attempting a slightly-riskier but still very makeable extra point, or they can go for the two-point play from the regular spot two yards out. This presumably would leave the strategy of the game intact but provide for a more interesting post-touchdown play.

But this proposal has a major flaw: Any team that chooses to kick in that scenario is run by stupid people. Here’s why:

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

TL;DR

If they move the extra point kick back pretty much at all, statistically minded coaches will stop attempting it almost completely. There’s a graph above that says so! The yellow line is how much extra points would be “worth” on average from a given yardage, and the horizontal lines are multiple approximations for the expected points of any regular two-point conversion attempt. Extra Point attempts start being worth less than two-point conversions if they are attempted from 15-16 yards out, so if the extra point were moved to the 25, smart teams would go for two almost every time.

I’ll admit the above graph doesn’t have the best labels in the world, so please allow me to elaborate. Explanation after the jump.

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Comparing Offenses: Chip’s 2013 v. Reid’s 2012 through 7 Games

After 7 games, Chip Kelly’s Eagles are 3-4. Incidentally, through 7 last season, Reid had also earned a 3-4 record. This parallel shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise: Despite a massive overhaul of the defense, the Eagles still can’t stop anybody. We expected this. DC Billy Davis has a long history of putting together middling to bad defenses, and he has very little talent to work with. On the other hand, there are few new faces on offense. Jason Peters returned from injury, Lane Johnson was drafted, and Jeremy Maclin tore up his knee (and nobody sane can call Riley Cooper an upgrade at that spot). All told, 8 of this year’s starters on offense also started last year, and 9 were active on last year’s squad.

So the defense still stinks, the offense is comprised of the same stiffs, and their W-L records are identical. Sounds like a perfect time to compare the two groups! And since we know both defenses were/are crap this deep into the season, I’d rather just focus on the offense. The raw numbers are after the jump, but this graph really says it all.

Behold:

Offensive Efficiency Chart

Click Image to Enlarge

(A quick explanation of what you’re looking at: For every stat above, 0 represents the NFL average after 7 games. If you’re not familiar with standard deviations and z-scores, just know that in general a score greater than 0 is above average, greater than 1 is good, and greater than 1.5 is close to the top of the league. The reverse is true for negative numbers.*)

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Can the Phillies really turn it around? A statistical defense of the run differential argument

If you’ve been following our podcasts for the last few months, you’ve heard our spring optimism fade into depressed summer resignation: The Phillies aren’t good, won’t get better, and should start to sacrifice their immediate assets in hopes of building a brighter (long-term) future.

I routinely cited their dismal run differential as evidence that their true talent level was far below their middling record, and suggested that it was nearly inconceivable that they could continue to hold on to their mediocrity, much less make a legitimate run at winning the division.

But last week I read an article by Joecatz of The Good Phight that piqued my interest and had me challenging my assumptions. If you didn’t click over there, here are some of the money quotes:

  • At the 90 game mark, the 2012 Phillies had a run differential of -23. Over the remainder of the season, without Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino, and later Joe Blanton, They went 42-30 with a run differential of +29. Must be an anomaly, right? 
  • Well, of the remaining 8 teams that at the 90 game point had – run differentials, 4 of those teams (5 total) went on to have positive run differentials the rest of the way. The Phillies +29 was the lowest total of any of those teams. 
  • There were 7 teams with positive run differentials in the first 90 games of 2012. 3 of those teams showed a negative run differential the rest of the way

The reason run differential swings so dramatically at the mid point of the season, league wide, is because of the trade deadline. Teams change. Rosters change, people change. 

– Joecatz, TheGoodPhight.com

Joe makes some valid points here. But while Joe was mostly arguing thats using run differential to predict 2nd half results with certainty was ill-advised — and I’m never, ever a proponent of certainty — I didn’t really believe that you could just write off run differential as a midseason predictor of 2nd-half results either. And so, the following…

Click to enlargeData drawn from baseball-reference.com

Figure 1
Click to enlarge
Data drawn from baseball-reference.com

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With Gustafsson deal done, who are you picking for the Flyers’ starting lineup? [Poll]

Erik Gustafsson
Image via Wikimedia Commons

24-year old Erik Gustafsson signed a 1-year, $1M offer to remain with the Flyers through this season. His new contract is a 1-way deal. Barring injury, Gus is almost certain to start the season in the NHL, and it seems likely he’ll slot in on the third pairing and 2nd-line power play.

But with 10 defenders now under contract for 2013-14, at a total of $34.2 million against the cap, Paul Holmgren and Peter Laviolette are now facing some very interesting decisions when it comes time for camp. Who’s gonna make it?

There are a couple things we can get out of the way. First, barring a miraculous resurrection, Chris Pronger’s contract is going to come off the books as soon as possible. The Flyers are currently $2.05 million over the cap, but Pronger’s contract still counts for $4.94M (CapGeek). Moving Prongs to Long Term Injured Reserve will free up that space and make the Flyers cap compliant in one fell swoop. This takes some pressure off of the front office to pursue trades, because a salary dump – at least for the upcoming season – is not really necessary.

Beyond that, the Flyers have some roster locks:

  • Kimmo Timonen
  • Mark Streit
  • Luke Schenn

Lock, lock, lock. Not even worth discussing whether they’ll start the year as three of the top four. How they’re paired, however, is a bit more iffy. Schenn is a big thumping defender who tends to hang near the crease and relishes contact, while Timonen and Streit both work better by taking away space and cutting off passing lanes.

Kimmo is a superior all-around player, while Streit at times plays like a 4th forward, but both have offensive skills that pair up pretty well with Schenn’s bruising character. Lavy may opt to continue to take advantage of what seemed like some good chemistry between the Timonen and Schenn last season, when they generated a 53.1% 5v5 Corsi For* while on ice together, but 49.7% and 46.6% respectively while apart.

*For the uninitiated, quick definitions of Corsi found here

This still leaves us with five defenders vying for the final two active roster spots, one of whom will see big minutes on the second line — unless a non-roster player impresses in camp and leapfrogs the group, which is possible, but let’s stick with what we’ve got for now.

Braydon Coburn — 6’5″ 225 lb – age 28 – $4.5M cap hit through 2016

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The Big Piece (of S$!%)

The second article of a three-part series on the Phillies by Nick, stats by Hank. Check out Part 1 here.

Now seems like a peculiar time to look back on the Ryan Howard contract.

Howard is in the midst of some kind of resurgence. He has hit .313 this month with 12 extra-base hits and has even walked 12 times in 23 games, all adding up to an outstanding .965 OPS.

Everyone seemed ready to declare Howard’s days as a productive player long gone. However, he might actually have something left.

That’s why I think this is the perfect time to reflect on Rubén Amaro’s biggest failure.

With three years and $75 million left on his deal (including a $10 million buyout for a fourth year), we find ourselves pleasantly surprised that Howard is contributing anything even though he will be paid like an elite player for three more seasons.

Howard signed his massive five-year, $125 million extension in April 2010. He still had almost two full seasons before he was due to hit free agency.

A drop of production should have been expected. Howard was already 30, and aside from a strong 2009, his OPS had fallen every season after his monster MVP campaign in 2006.

But following 2009, Howard’s OPS continued to fall. First it dropped from .931 to .859 in 2010, then to .835 in 2011, the last year of his prior contract.

Simply put, Howard was paid for what he did, not what he was going to do, a cardinal sin for a general manager.

Just look at the nifty chart Hank made. (Click image to enlarge)

50-game moving average of HR/100AB over MLB seasonal average (accounts for overall drop in league-wide home run production over this same period). MLB average is 0 at all points along graph. At the time this plot was made, Howard had dropped to just above total league average for all players despite playing a power-hitting position.

Howard may be hitting well now, but make no mistake, he was paid to hit the long ball. Howard’s home run production had been declining for years, well before he signed this contract. Even at the time he signed it, it was easy to see this extension was a major mistake.

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Rise and Fall with Rollins and Utley

Part 1 of a three-part series by Nick Carroll, with stats by Hank. Find Part 2 here. Click to enlarge all graphs below.

50-G Moving Avg Runs v MLB Avg

50-game moving average of Phillies runs scored compared to MLB seasonal averages (this was done in order to account for overall drop in league run production over this span). MLB Average is 0 for all points on this chart. Philly’s offense has become more inconsistent over last several seasons, while also dropping well below league average.

When Harry Kalas was singing “High Hopes” and Brett Myers and company was celebrating on the field at Citizens Bank Park on a Sunday afternoon in September 2007, something seemed to change in Philadelphia baseball.

The oft-downtrodden Phillies had reason to celebrate, and seemingly out of nowhere.

We all know the story. After the Phils overtook the New York Mets, they began an unprecedented run in team history.

They followed up with a World Series which was almost as unexpected and made another spirited run before falling two games short.

Two more years of substantial win totals came with disappointing playoff runs, but, at the very least, the Phillies put their stamp on a certain era of Major League Baseball, something this franchise had only done one other time – in the late 70’s and early 80’s.

I’ll admit I often fall into the trap of thinking that it all began on that Sunday afternoon when the Phillies finally overtook the Mets (or the Mets completed their collapse, either way). In reality, the wheels had been in motion for a decade.  Read the rest of this entry

Are you a Tebowmaniac?

Does Tim Tebow’s fame confuse you as much as it confused me?

I took a long, long time to study the phenomenon, and this essay is the result. Touching on historical, statistical, sociocultural, and media-related causes, this essay is a truly comprehensive study of Tebow’s baffling fame. Some of this stuff just might surprise you.

Read it now!

It’s Worse Than It Looks: Defending the Phillies Doomsayers

AP Photo/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Curtis Compton
via pennlive.com

As it stands on this humid, overcast June 3rd, the Phillies are in 3rd place in the NL East with a 27-30 record. With the team just 7.5 games back from the division-leading Braves and 8.5 games back from the wildcard slot, many fans are still be clinging to the hope that this team can turn its fortunes around and make a playoff run. Cliff Lee is pitching out of his mind again and Domonic Brown has finally blossomed at the plate, so it makes sense that some would be optimistic about the team’s immediate future.

But like the murky skies and sticky air outside, all the signs for this Phillies team portend rain.

Beware, Phillies fans. Don’t let that record fool you. Even though a playoff berth is seemingly within reach, the fact is that the Phillies have been extraordinarily lucky just to have as many wins as they have right now.

The untold story of the Phillies’ record – the one not mentioned by radio personalities, and often ignored by the newspapers as well – is that the their 27 wins-to-date is a house of cards. They may have the 3rd best record in the east, but they’ve scored a whopping 49 fewer runs than they’ve given up in just 57 games. That’s an average of -.86 runs per game, 3rd worst in the National League and ahead of just the Mets and Marlins.

Total run differential is an excellent predictor of a team’s record (like, d’uh) and the Pythagorean Wins calculation, originally invented by Bill James, is an accurate formula for determining how many wins a team ought to have. Having scored 202 runs and allowed 251, the Phillies’ Pythagorean Win-Loss record is 23-34. This means that, over the course of the season so far, their 27-30 record is actually 4 wins better than it should be.

In fact, they’re the luckiest team in the whole National League. Only one other team is ahead of their Pythagorean W-L record by 4, and that’s the 35-win Pirates. So even with the benefit of good fortune, the Phillies are still sitting far away from a playoff spot.  Read the rest of this entry

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