Month: September 2019

How Bad Was the Cabrera Deal

How Bad Was the Cabrera Deal

The big news coming out of baseball Thursday night was that Detroit Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera had been re-signed to a 10-year, $292 million contract extension, the most expensive deal in the history of the sport. On the surface, the pact seems like lunacy on the part of the team’s general manager, Dave Dombrowski.Cabrera has been the best hitter in baseball over the past nine years. Over the last four seasons, he won two American League Most Valuable Player Awards and three AL batting titles. But his gaudy offensive statistics overstate his value: He is a below-average fielder and baserunner. More important, Cabrera will turn 31 in April, meaning the Tigers will be paying him through age 40. Players are typically in decline by the time they hit their early 30s.Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA projection system expects Cabrera to generate about 35 more wins above replacement over the remainder of the contract (after rescaling BP’s value metric to the lower replacement level used more commonly by Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs). If the market rate for a single WAR was $6.5 million in 2014 (I split difference between this estimate and this estimate), and we add 5 percent in annual inflation to the cost of a win, Cabrera’s next 10 years will be worth about $275 million. By this rough math, the Tigers appear to have overpaid by something like $15 million to $20 million.It’s also worth noting that Detroit already had Cabrera locked up through 2015 under his existing contract. The $234 million it’s paying him beyond that season will deliver just $204 million in value, according to PECOTA.However, Dombrowski probably isn’t worried about the high likelihood that Cabrera will be overpaid (and vastly so) throughout the back half of this contract. Instead, he presumably put a premium on locking up the remaining prime seasons of one of the best hitters in baseball history. The Tigers were two wins away from a World Series berth last season with one of the AL’s oldest lineups, so the case can be made that the Tigers are discounting the long-term burdens of Cabrera’s huge contract in exchange for elite performance in the short-to-intermediate term.Indeed, before we lump this deal in with other onerous contracts, such as the ones handed to Alex Rodriguez and Albert Pujols, I’d like to look into modeling those deals against the players’ expected WAR. But for now, it appears the Tigers paid a huge premium for the tail end of Cabrera’s prime, banking on him remaining an MVP-caliber player into his mid-30s. read more

Its Judgment Day in World Cup Groups G and H

Its Judgment Day in World Cup Groups G and H

The World Cup has been a roller-coaster for the United States, which nearly drew with Ghana before beating it and nearly won against Portugal before drawing it. But overall, the Americans’ position is improved. It has about a 76 percent chance of advancing to the knockout stage — slightly more than double its odds before the tournament began.The U.S. will kick off against Germany at noon Eastern time in Recife, Brazil. By 2 p.m., its fate will be determined. If the Americans beat Germany, the math is simple: They’ll win Group G and will face the second-place team from Group H in the Round of 16. Their opponent would probably be either Algeria, whom the U.S. would be favored against — or Russia, against whom they would have about even odds.Draw with Germany, and the U.S. will also advance — but as the second-place team from Group G likely to face Belgium in the Round of 16. (The 2-1 and 1-1 scores in the chart below are some of the most common for wins and draws, respectively.)If the Americans lose, they’ll have to sweat the results of the other Group G match between Ghana and Portugal, which will take place simultaneously in Brasilia. They’ll get a reprieve if the Ghana-Portugal match is drawn, in which case the U.S. is guaranteed to advance in second. But a U.S. loss in Recife, coupled with a victor in Brasilia, could knock them out of the tournament.The table below describes what will happen if the U.S. loses its match, for all losing scores up to 4-0 Germany, and for all possible outcomes in Brasilia up to four goals scored by each team. For example, if the U.S. loses to Germany 2-0 and Portugal beats Ghana 3-1, the U.S. will advance over Portugal on the basis of FIFA’s goal-differential tiebreaker. Portugal, still disadvantaged from its 4-0 loss to Germany in its opening game, has to make up a net of five goals with the U.S. to make the knockout round.Although Cristiano Ronaldo might think otherwise, we can’t put it completely past Portugal to accomplish this: The Portuguese can score goals in bunches when in good form, and they have about a 5 percent chance of backing into the knockout stage. There’s even a remote chance that FIFA would have to draw lots to resolve a tie between the U.S. and Portugal: If Portugal beats Ghana 2-0 and the U.S. loses to Germany 3-0, both teams would be stuck on four goals scored and six allowed, and FIFA would resort to the luck of the draw.However, the bigger problem for the U.S. would be if it loses in Recife and Ghana wins in Brasilia. Then, any Ghana win by more than one goal, or any U.S. loss by more than one goal, would send Ghana forward. The U.S. does have the head-to-head tiebreaker against Ghana by virtue of having beaten it, but that will come into play only if the two matches finish with the same score line (there’s about a 2 percent chance of that happening).This could yield some interesting strategy and psychology at each venue. Say, for example, that about 75 minutes into Thursday’s matches, the U.S. trails Germany 2-1 while Ghana leads Portugal by the same margin. If those scores held, the U.S. would advance — so it might want to play quite defensively rather than seek an equalizer. But in Brasilia, the Portuguese would have almost nothing left to play for (merely drawing their match against Ghana or even winning it by one goal wouldn’t do them any good), and the Ghanaians would. If Ghana added a garbage-time goal against an indifferent Portuguese back line, the U.S. would be out.Incidentally, the Germans also have something to play for Thursday — at least in theory. They have not technically clinched advancement: They could be out of the tournament if they lose to the U.S. and there is a victor in Brasilia. However, the outcomes would need to be exceptionally lopsided given Germany’s +4 goal differential so far, which is why Germany has a 99.7 percent chance of going forward.Later Thursday, the final matches of Group H will take place. Belgium has clinched advancement but would do so as the second-place team if it loses to South Korea and Algeria beats Russia. Any other outcome advances the Belgians in first.Algeria clinches advancement by beating Russia, or if it draws Russia and Belgium beats or draws with South Korea. If Algeria draws Russia and South Korea beats Belgium, then Algeria and South Korea would be in a second-place tie — although Algeria would be strongly favored to advance on the basis of goal differential. If Algeria loses to Russia, Algeria is out of the tournament.Russia can advance only if it beats Algeria. In fact, it almost certainly will advance if it beats Algeria. The exception would require South Korea to beat Belgium by multiple goals.South Korea is not technically eliminated, but its chances of advancing are only about 1 percent. Its prospects require it, among other things, to beat Belgium by at least three goals in the event of an Algeria-Russia draw, or by at least two goals in the event of a Russian win.An interesting scenario might unfold in Group H if the U.S. beats Germany. Then Belgium might have an incentive to lose to South Korea and hope that Algeria overtakes it. That would set the Red Devils up with a Round of 16 match against the Americans instead of the Germans. read more

Heres A Timetable For When Knicks Fans Should Run Out Of Patience

Heres A Timetable For When Knicks Fans Should Run Out Of Patience

By any standard, the New York Knicks’ 2014-15 season — team President Phil Jackson’s first at the helm — has been an unmitigated disaster.It’s a fact that Jackson himself couldn’t avoid acknowledging in a message he issued to fans (particularly season-ticket holders) this week. “While I know this has been a challenging season for our team on the court, I can also tell you that everyone in the organization is working tirelessly to get our Knicks back to a place where we are once again competing at the highest level,” Jackson said.In the message, Jackson requested that fans be patient as the team works on its long-term plans. (“I ask that you remain optimistic and hope you will join us on our continued journey as we build a team that once again reflects the spirit of being a New York Knick.”) But what should Jackson’s rebuilding timetable look like? The legendary former coach signed a five-year deal last March. Given the particulars of the 2013-14 Knicks team he inherited (their average age, Simple Rating System scores relative to the league and the Eastern Conference, and the wins above replacement of their top player), how quickly should Knicks fans have expected Jackson to turn things around?To answer that question, I ran a series of logistic regressions using every non-playoff NBA team since the league expanded to 27 teams in 1989-90, estimating the likelihood of a team like the Knicks eventually returning to the postseason and reaching various SRS milestones within the five years of Jackson’s contract. These probabilities should serve as a rough guideline for how quickly the Knicks should have expected to return to respectability when Jackson came on, and when patience with Jackson should start to wear thin if the Knicks continue to languish.In some ways, Jackson is already far behind schedule. Based on historical trends, we’d expect 68 percent of Knicks-like teams to return to the playoffs within one season. (Instead, New York is currently 19.5 games out of the last playoff spot in a weak Eastern Conference.) But Jackson has also described his “ultimate goal” as bringing an NBA title back to New York after a 42-season drought, and to do that, a team typically has to be better than just a fringe playoff qualifier. The 25th percentile NBA championship team since the 1976 ABA-NBA merger had an SRS around 5 — a qualification that only five teams in 2014-15 met (after rounding up).That’s a level of performance our model says the Knicks are unlikely to attain, even within five years. But there was a 50 percent chance that the Knicks would reach the tier right below that, with an SRS of 3, by the end of Jackson’s contract. And progress toward that goal might be best judged three seasons in; while we’d expect a Knicks-like team to post an SRS of 3 within two seasons less than a third of the time, the probability of checking off that milestone within three seasons was 44 percent.In other words, while the Knicks have been absolutely awful this season, it’s still too early to ignore Jackson’s pleas for patience if building a contending team is the goal. We probably won’t really know what kind of progress he’s made in that direction for another couple of seasons. read more

Avery Johnson Joins Deron Williams For Birthday Dinner

Avery Johnson Joins Deron Williams For Birthday Dinner

If being a birthday dinner guest is an indication of Deron Williams’ intentions, then the Brooklyn Nets just might keep the coveted free-agent point guard.Among Williams’ small 28th birthday gathering in New York was Nets coach Avery Johnson. Nets fans are grasping any sign they can to feel good about Williams’ impending decision on where he will play next season. He is the prize free agent and reportedly has narrowed his choices down to Brooklyn, where the New Jersey Nets will move next season, or the Dallas Mavericks, who reside in his hometown.Williams made a flash appearance at Nets general manager Billy King’s news conference this morning at the team’s practice facility in New Jersey. He did not address the media; he smiled and left.King said he is not concerned about Mark Cuban attempting to court Williams to Dallas.“I’ve never wavered,” King said. “I’m not overconfident. I feel good.” read more

Tiger Woods Wins For The Third Time This Year

Tiger Woods Wins For The Third Time This Year

The talk of whether Tiger Wood is back to being, well,  Tiger Woods will not cease until he wins another major championship. In the meantime, Woods just keeps on winning, which was just what he did before a descent two years ago because of injuries and personal troubles.Sunday’s final round of the AT&T Nationals at Congressional Country Club outside of Washington, D.C. was a pre-drama effort by Woods. With five players in contention, the 14-time major winner separated himself with a dose of the steady and spectacular. When he was done, he outlasted Bo Van Pelt in the final two holes to shoot a 2-under 69 for his third win on the PGA Tour this year.“Of course, your confidence wanes,” Woods said of his dark days. “I wasn’t able to practice; I was hurt (knee). And when you’re changing systems. . . it’s going to take time.”Perhaps that time has come.The win not only was a testament to what he has done this year, but also over his remarkable career. No one on tour has more wins this season. He is No. 1 on the money list and the FedEx Cup standings for the first time since September 2009. Additionally, Woods moved past Jack Nicklaus into second place for all-time wins with 74. He’s just eight behind career leader Sam Snead.“It feels great to get to 74 wins and past Jack, to do at 36 years old,” Woods said. “It’s something I’m very proud of.”Of course, Woods wants majors and some believe he will not “officially” be back until he gets his 15th. He goes for it at the British Open later this month.But this tournament showed Woods to be at his best, meaning he was rock solid but skilled and patient enough to recover from wayward shots. He hit a spectacular shot on No. 12, when his ball was so close to a tree that he warned the galley that his club might snap after he struck the ball. Well, his club did not snap, although he hit the tree, but he executed a beautiful hook shot onto the green.On No. 17 , when he was tied with Van Pelt, Woods sank a six-foot par putt to take a one shot lead going into the final hole. He followed that up by piping a drive 345 yards and then squeezing off a beautiful nine-iron from nearly 190 yards into the peninsula green to about 15 feet. He safely two-putted from there for the win.And so ended a wild week in Washington — record heat Friday, followed by a wind storm that topped dozens of trees at Congressional and forced the tournament to keep spectators out Saturday. They were back in force for the final round, and they were treated to Woods looking like Tiger Woods.“Some days it’s better than others,” he said. “Itry hard. It’s a game that tests our patience. I’ve been out here 17 years. I understand what it’s like to have to grind and fight. Each shot means something. The first shot of the first day means as much as a shot on the 72nd hole. I’ve always had that mindset.” read more

Exhibition Season Over Team USA Ready For Olympics

Exhibition Season Over Team USA Ready For Olympics

The USA men’s basketball team could face Spain in the Olympics on August 12. Tuesday, the Americans delivered the message that the gold is theirs to take.With Carmelo Anthony coming off the bench to score 23 points in the first half and Team USA’s defense clamping down, the U.S. backhanded the No. 2 team in the world, Spain, 100-78, in Barcelona.It was a win that signified Anthony and Co. are ready for the London Olympics.“We knew that this was a big game,” U.S. guard Chris Paul said. “We approached it like (was a big game) and it was a good win for us.”The rematch of the 2008 gold-medal game wasn’t much of a match. Spain led by nine points early and then were hit with a barrage by Anthony, the New York Knicks forward.“It was a good test for us tonight, but the exhibition games are over, the (niceties)  are over and we look forward to the real challenge of going to London,” said LeBron James, who had 25 points.Pau Gasol scored 19 points and Oklahoma City forward Serge Ibaka, a native of the Republic of Congo who became a Spanish national last year, had 16.They’re still the best two teams in the world and favored to meet again in the Spain would have a different look, as Marc Gasol was held out of this one while recovering from a left shoulder injury and backup point guard Sergio Rodriguez also sat out.Spain’s players said the bigger priority was preparing for London. The Americans responded that the Spaniards, playing in front of their home fans, would be compelled to go all out in hopes of a victory.Spain seemed to be playing for real, but was simply overmatched and the Americans eventually ran away from them.“Well, it was definitely a game that we would have loved to play better as a team,” Gasol said. “We made too many mistakes which they capitalized and they played their game. They’re a quick unit, very athletic and once they were able to convert a few fast-break opportunities due to our turnovers, it was hard for us.” read more

Mark Cuban Under NBA Investigation for Sexual Assault Allegations

Mark Cuban Under NBA Investigation for Sexual Assault Allegations

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban stands on stage before a news conference in Dallas. (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins, File)DALLAS (AP) — The NBA is reviewing 2011 allegations of sexual assault against Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and the investigation that led to a decision by prosecutors not to pursue the case.League spokesman Mike Bass said Wednesday the NBA was looking into the matter, a day after a weekly alternative newspaper in Portland, Oregon, reported a woman’s claim that Cuban put his hands down her pants and touched her inappropriately while they were taking a photo at a Portland nightclub.“The NBA league office is reviewing the 2011 allegations against Mark Cuban and the subsequent findings from the Portland police investigation,” Bass said.The report Tuesday in the Willamette Week came about a week and half after a Sports Illustrated account that portrayed a hostile work environment for women in the front office of the Mavericks. While Cuban wasn’t implicated, the SI report raised questions about what he knew and when.Cuban flatly denied the woman’s allegations and provided a prosecutors’ report detailing the decision not to file charges.Prosecutors wrote that “there is no evidence to corroborate the complainant’s statement and there is evidence contradicting the claim.” The report also said the woman didn’t want to proceed with the allegation.The Portland weekly’s report included a transcript of Cuban’s phone conversation with a police detective, with the Dallas owner strongly denying the claim while expressing concern that he would have difficulty defending himself in court.In the SI report, former Mavericks CEO Terdema Ussery was accused of making sexually suggestive remarks to several women. Ussery was investigated by the team over similar claims in 1998, two years before Cuban bought the team. He worked for Cuban for 15 years.Cuban told SI that he fired human resources director Buddy Pittman after learning details of the magazine’s report, which included claims that superiors were seen as unresponsive to complaints.The SI report said team website reporter Earl Sneed was twice accused of domestic assault while working for the Mavericks, including a guilty plea in a case that was dismissed when he met the conditions of the agreement. Sneed also was fired. read more

Winning 10 Straight Put the Royals Playoff Chances at Even Money

Winning 10 Straight Put the Royals Playoff Chances at Even Money

These playoff percentages mean that about 58 percent of all win streaks that passed through 10 games came from teams that eventually made the playoffs, a slight increase from before.The Royals are right at the previous season average (they went 86-76, which gets you a regressed winning percentage around .522), but their pre-streak record was slightly below the standard for other 10-win-streak teams; their “at the time” regressed winning percentage was .488. How much does that matter?To determine whether these Royals could be a playoff team, we set up a logistic regression predicting make-the-playoffs odds from streak length, at-the-time regression winning percentage, and prior-season regressed winning percentage. This also helped us figure out how much of the chance of making the playoffs comes from the streak itself, and how much is just that good teams are more prone to run up these kinds of streaks. Causation versus correlation, basically.After running the regression, it told us that the Royals are 23.2 percent less likely to make the playoffs than a normal 10-game-win-streak team because their record before the streak was 29-32, whereas the typical 10-gamer would have been 32-29. That looks like a very strong effect for just a three-game swing; we might be seeing a big inflection point here. At any rate, as you would expect, pre-streak record certainly matters.Once we take their 10-win streak into account, the Royals have a little better than even odds of making the playoffs. Baseball Prospectus’s Playoff Odds Report gives KC a 42.3 percent chance of getting there. So if you want to peg the Royals somewhere around 50-50, that’s a decent place to start. And if you think about Kansas City’s roster — one with strengths but also significant weaknesses — that makes even more sense.On the plus side, the Royals are an elite defensive team. According to Baseball Info Solutions’ Defensive Runs Saved stat, KC has fielded the second-best defense in the American League. By Ultimate Zone Rating, the Royals actually lead all of baseball, and by a wide margin. The outfield is particularly impressive: The combination of Jarrod Dyson and Lorenzo Cain has been extremely effective in chasing down fly balls in the gaps. Meanwhile, Alex Gordon has been a force of nature in left field, the best in all of baseball by pretty much any advanced metric. He’s pretty good by Fancy Plays Over Replacement too.Your browser does not support iframes.That airtight defense has made an already strong pitching staff look even better. Closer Greg Holland and righty setup men Wade Davis and Kelvin Herrera have combined to allow just one home run in 89 innings pitched this season.Davis in particular has been a revelation. Acquired from the Tampa Bay Rays in the controversial December 2012 blockbuster, Davis was viewed as a throw-in, with James Shields and Wil Myers being the keys to the deal. After messing around with Davis as a starter last year, the Royals plopped him back into the role in which he excelled with Tampa Bay two years ago. So far this year, he has been right there with Sean Doolittle, Koji Uehara, Dellin Betances and one or two others for the title of best reliever in the American League. His season line: 31.1 innings pitched, 1.15 ERA, 52 strikeouts, and zero extra-base hits allowed.The starting rotation has flourished lately, too. Shields has been steady as expected, though his numbers are actually down slightly from recent years. But he’s received ample support, from 23-year-old fireballer Yordano Ventura (who leads all KC starters in fielding independent pitching), free-agent pickup Jason Vargas (tops in innings pitched), and Danny Duffy (tops in beating long odds, having come back from Tommy John surgery, and at one point nearly quitting baseball entirely).The big question revolves around the team’s offense. Just 13 days ago, the Royals sat in last place in the AL Central, and also last in the AL in slugging percentage, home runs and runs scored. Some of the team’s biggest slumpers came alive during the streak, especially Billy Butler and Mike Moustakas. Still, those players, along with talented but disappointing first baseman Eric Hosmer, have fallen well short of expectations in 2014, and KC still owns the third-lowest-scoring offense in the American League even after its recent explosion. The Royals almost certainly won’t be sellers any more at the trade deadline, not after this streak. Whether they’ll be buyers — to the point of possibly benching or jettisoning current players once viewed as future franchise cornerstones — remains an open question.Still, it’s a great question to get to ask. After nearly three decades in the wilderness, the Royals now have a legitimate shot to see October’s spotlight. It’s about damn time. The Detroit Tigers nipped the Kansas City Royals 2-1 in the final game of a four-game series Thursday. That win snapped a 10-game winning streak for KC, but even with that setback the Royals lead the American League Central Division by half a game. In late June. This is not a drill.If the baseball world seems shocked by the Royals’ sudden success, the franchise’s recent history may explain why. When the Royals beat the Tigers on Tuesday in the second game of their showdown for AL Central supremacy, the victory marked the first time the Royals had owned sole possession of first place since May 1, 2013.Of course, downtrodden teams always have a better chance to claim bragging rights early in the season, when hot starts and small sample sizes can skew what we’re seeing. So consider this: The last time the Royals were in first place after June 1 was all the way back in 2003. That year, Kansas City preyed on a weak AL Central — one dragged down by a 119-loss Tigers squad and no elite teams — to own a share of first as late as Aug. 20. They ended the season seven games off the pace at 83-79, a lukewarm showing for most franchises. For the Royals, the finish was almost something to celebrate. Kansas City hasn’t made the playoffs since 1985, the longest postseason drought for any major league team by a span of eight years.Now here’s the good news for Royals fans: Teams that win 10 straight games in a single season stand a good chance of making the playoffs. Which means that for the first time since “Careless Whisper” wasn’t at all ironic, the Royals could crack the postseason.Going back to 1995, the first year of the wild card,1The wild card was supposed to debut in 1994. But … well, you know. we looked at all teams that had a streak lasting at least one game (you gotta start somewhere), to see how often those streaks portended October baseball. Here are the results:As you can see, every team passed through streaks of one, two and three wins, and all but four teams passed through a streak of four wins. By this measure, with a 10-win streak the Royals have about a 55 percent chance of making the playoffs.2You’ll notice that it appears that a team is more likely to make the playoffs if it’s had an 11-game win streak than if it’s had a 12-game win streak. That’s just one of those weird quirks that can happen due to randomness in a small sample.It’s not quite that simple, though. Before their streak began, the Royals’ record only stood at 29-32, so they may not be totally representative of the type of team that tends to have 10-game win streaks. To examine that further, we looked at historical winning streaks of a given length since 1995 and tracked what each team’s regressed winning percentage was before the streak started (that is, we added 67 games of .500 baseball — 33.5 wins and 33.5 losses — to each team’s record at the time).3Regressed winning percentages add 67 games of .500 ball because that’s the number of games necessary for a team’s observed record to be half skill and half luck. (We know this by comparing the distribution of actual baseball teams’ records to the spread we’d see if every team was equal and each game was decided by a coin flip.) We used regressed winning percentages here so that every pre-streak winning percentage would be on the same footing, no matter when in the season the streak began. Otherwise, if one team started its streak early in the season, and another started it late, a straight average would weigh the two winning percentages equally even though the latter is much more indicative of what we’re trying to measure than the former. By regressing the records, we can make an apples-to-apples comparison between the streaks, no matter when in the season they occurred. We also recorded each team’s regressed winning percentage from the previous season. The results: read more

LeBron May Know Best About When The NewLook Cavs Have Gelled

LeBron May Know Best About When The NewLook Cavs Have Gelled

LeBron James predicted the new-look Cleveland Cavaliers, featuring himself and new Cav Kevin Love, would take a while to hit their stride. (“A couple of months and maybe a few,” as he put it last month.) He appears to have been correct: After starting 19-20 — with enough ups and downs that at times some commentators prematurely declared the Cavs to have gelled — Cleveland has won eight straight games, including impressive victories against the Clippers, Bulls, Thunder and Trail Blazers.We’re pretty sure that when James made that prediction, he wasn’t running regressions on historical NBA data. That’s because we tried, and we couldn’t find much evidence to back up the conventional wisdom.It makes sense that teams with lots of new players in major roles would get better during the season, as the new teammates get used to playing with one another. There just isn’t much statistical evidence to back up that theory — partly because it’s unusual for a team as good as Cleveland to rely so heavily on new arrivals.To study whether teams like Cleveland gel later in the season than more stable clubs like San Antonio, we looked at the fate of 939 older teams — those that played 82-game seasons back to 1978. To estimate how much of their contribution they were getting from newbies, we divided the total wins above replacement (WAR) of new players by the team total, omitting players who were below replacement value. Then we divided up the first 80 games of each season into 10 eight-game buckets — omitting the last two games because some teams rest starters — and checked how each team did, in each bucket, based on their opponent-adjusted point differential.There wasn’t a meaningful pattern. For instance, teams that peaked earliest, in the first eight games of the season, got an average of 20 percent of their WAR from new players. Teams that peaked in the middle of the season got an average of a little over 25 percent of WAR. But then teams that peaked between Game 49 and Game 80 averaged a contribution of about 21 percent of WAR from newbies.Part of the problem we had is that there haven’t been many teams that relied on new players as much as the Cavs do. They’ve gotten 63 percent of their WAR from new guys. That’s more than all but 48 teams in our data set — a group that doesn’t include James’s first Miami team, which got 57 percent of WAR from new players (the Heat peaked between Games 17 and 24). And most of those teams were lousy clubs, presumably rebuilding with rookies and cheap castoffs. Their average Pythagorean winning percentage was 36.3 percent.We nonetheless zoomed in on teams similar to Cleveland and found there is a small pattern of playing worse early and better at midseason, which fits the conventional wisdom. But it’s likely just noise. The only statistically significant difference was for the final 10-game chunk we studied, in which teams like the Cavs did a lot worse than average — which runs counter to the conventional wisdom of gelling and improving with time playing together.The lesson seems to be that a team starring James, Love and Kyrie Irving playing together for the first time might really need some time to gel, but there aren’t enough teams like the 2014-15 Cavaliers to say that their experience is typical. (One other possible reason it’s hard to detect much of a relationship: Some teams — like the Cavs — get new contributors at the start of the season, while others start playing rookies and midseason trade acquisitions late in seasons that are lost causes.)As is often the case in sports analysis, we have to trade off precision for sample size, and in this case the sample of teams like the Cavs is too small for the stats to beat the intuitive prediction of James. read more

Barcelona vs Juventus Is The Strongest Champions League Final Ever

Barcelona vs Juventus Is The Strongest Champions League Final Ever

1999Man. U.England Barcelona will take on Italian side Juventus in the Champions League final Saturday, and it may well be the strongest Champions League final ever. The sum of Barcelona and Juventus’s Elo ratings, according to the Football Club Elo Ratings, is higher than any final in history. (We love Elo around here — we’ve used it to explore the NBA, the NFL, chess and even Scrabble. Teams gain points for wins and lose them for losses. The higher your rating, the better.) You can see all this data from Champions League — known as the European Cup before 1992 — finals in the table at the top of this post.1One may suspect that some ratings inflation is responsible for the strength of this and a few other recent finals. However, a simple regression reveals only a very weak inflationary trend. One reason for the strength of many recent finals may be increasing inequality — the gulf between the great teams and the average ones is likely widening. Also note that the 1974 final was replayed, hence its appearing twice. And if a few totals look off, that’s because of rounding.Juventus won Serie A by a full 17 points over second-place Roma, and its average league game was a 1.3-goal victory. And it’s fourth in the world according to Elo — only Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich are rated higher. This would be Juventus’s third title.But Barcelona is beyond strong — so much so that it’s nearly unprecedented. It’s currently top-ranked in Europe and, by Elo, the strongest team to ever appear in a Champions League final. This would be Barça’s fifth title. 1988PSV EindhovenNetherlands 1972AjaxNetherlands 2009BarcelonaSpain YEARTEAMCOUNTRY 1967CelticScotland 2010Inter MilanItaly 2013Bayern MunichGermany And both teams are at near-historic peaks. Unsurprisingly, given the trophies it’s won already this year, Barcelona has shot up since the beginning of 2015 and is just about one win away from achieving the highest Elo rating in club history. Ditto Juventus, which is in its finest form in more than 15 years. It helps that both teams have won two major trophies already this year — whoever wins the Champ League final will complete a rare “treble.” (This has happened only seven times in European soccer, including once for Barça, shown in the table.)Oh, right, and there’s this Lionel Messi fellow, who plays for Barcelona. The game could serve as a popular referendum on his status as the greatest footballer of all time. If he scores in the match, he’ll be the first to do so in three Champions League finals, and he will lead outright this year’s competition in scoring, edging out Cristiano Ronaldo. And after seeing this Messi goal in the Copa del Rey final last Saturday, I’m tempted to just throw all these spreadsheets out the window.The market odds for the game have, as I write, settled around 4-to-11 for favorite Barcelona and 9-to-4 for underdog Juventus — implying a roughly 70 percent chance of a Barça victory. That’s right in line with what the Elo ratings imply — about a 71 percent chance of a win for Barcelona. Just because it’s the strongest Champions League final ever doesn’t mean it’ll be the most competitive. read more