Sunday, June 29, 2014

WNBA 2014: Six Week Power Rankings

“Where have you gone, Rebekkah Brunson…
Your Lynx teammates are struggling today. Hey, hey, hey.
The Mercury and the ‘Lanta Dream
Have matched your superiority. Hee, hee, hee.”

My apologies (especially to Simon & Garfunkel), these lyrical convolutions (emphasis on the “co-“) overtake me on occasion. Catch me at the right time and I just might be singing “Pinball Wizard” to the tune of “The Yellow Rose of Texas.” Really!!

Out-dated musical mayhem aside, the Merc’ and Dream, both under the leadership of new coaches, are running side-by-side with the defending champions, a cut above the rest of the WNBA. The continuing loss of Super Soph Elena Della Donne has brought Chicago’s stratospheric early performance back to earth.

On the other end of the spectrum, the acquisition of double-double machine Tina Charles has yet to pay dividends for Bill Laimbeer’s New York Liberty. While the spirited play of TC’s replacement in CT, Kelsey Bone (another in an impressive crop of second-year players), has the Sun on an up-tick.

And Carol Ross’s Los Angeles Sparks have been downright schizophrenic.

Last Thursday (June 26), marked the end of the season’s sixth week – a mid-point of sorts in a three-month regular season. Let’s put an Abacus to the season to that point.

Power Rankings --The Measurement Instrument

Our team-ranking tool utilizes four elements. Two scales are based solely on team wins and losses; the others are measures of the efficiency of team performance in comparison with the competition. First, we’ll simply use win-loss record irrespective of conference.

The second criterion will be the difference between a team’s road wins and its home losses. Since this cute little metric is said to be a personal favorite of long-time NBA coach George Karl (now at ESPN), let’s call this the Karl Kount (KK).

Criterion No. 3, Conversion Quotient (CQ), involves the rate at which a team converts its possessions into a successful field goals or free throw attempts. Like the KK, the computation is simple subtraction—a team’s rate of offensive efficiency minus that of the opponent.

Lastly, please allow Abacus to introduce the “SPOR-t” score. SPOR-t stands for “Shooting Plus Offensive Rebounds minus turnovers.” Add a team’s FG percentage and its offensive rebounding percentage (o. boards divided by missed FG’s). Then subtract the percentage of a team’s possessions lost to turnovers. For example, a team shoots field goals at a .488 clip, its offensive rebounds account for .199 of its missed field goals, and .143 of its possessions result in a turnover. So its SPOR-t is (488+199-143) or 544. Once again, our measurement will be the difference between the SPOR-t scores of a team and its opposition.

We’ll rank the teams from 1 to 12 in all criteria and simply add up the rankings. Low score wins, naturally.

No. 1 Phoenix Mercury (6)
[6-week ESPN rating: 1
3-week Abacus rating: 2
2013 Abacus Rating: 4]

9-3, .750; 1st seed West / 1st overall
KK:  +3; (4 Road Wins – 1 Home Loss) / No. 2 overall
CQ:  +59; (.530 - .471) / No. 1 overall
SPOR-t:  +61; (584-523) / No. 2 overall
Abacus Revelation: The Mercury are the league’s best shooting (.498) and most efficient (.530) squad, they rank third in the defensive equivalent of each of these categories.

No. 2 Minnesota Lynx (10)
[6-week ESPN rating: 2
3-week Abacus rating: 1
2013 Abacus Rating: 1]
11-4, .733; 2nd seed West / 2nd overall                                          
KK:  +5; (6 Road Wins – 1 Home Loss) / No. 1 overall
CQ:  +38; (.511 - .473) / No. 2 overall
SPOR-t:  +29; (554-525) / No. 5 overall
Abacus Revelation: Despite a mediocre (4-4) showing during the second three-weeks, the Lynx still commit the fewest turnovers in the league and sit No. 2 in FG shooting.  Alas, last year’s top offensive rebounding team currently ranks ninth in both procuring and preventing them.

No. 2 Atlanta Dream (10)
[6-week ESPN rating: 3
3-week Abacus rating: 6
2013 Abacus Rating: 4]
10-4, .571; 1st seed East / 3rd overall
KK:  +2; (3 Road Wins – 1 Home Loss) / No. 3 overall
CQ:  +36; (.493 - .457) / No. 3 overall
SPOR-t:  +96; (572-477) / No. 1 overall
Abacus Revelation: Though the Dream currently sit atop the circuit in defensive efficiency (opponents convert 45.7% of possessions), ‘twas not so after three weeks when a 48.9% rate placed them No. 10. The Atlanta defense throttled the other guys into a .413 FG% during that second three-weeks.

No. 4 Connecticut Sun (20.5)
[6-week ESPN rating: 4
3-week Abacus rating: 12
2013 Abacus Rating: 12]
8-6, .571; 2nd seed East / 4th overall
KK:  -1; (1 Road Win – 2 Home Losses) / No. 7 overall (tied)
CQ:  0; (.482 - .482) / No. 5 overall
SPOR-t:  +32; (543-511) / No. 4 overall
Abacus Revelation: Despite being the league’s second-worst FG shooting team, the Sun do manage to take a second-best 22.3 free throws per game.

No. 5 Tulsa Shock (25)
[6-week ESPN rating: 7
3-week Abacus rating: 12
2013 Abacus Rating: 9]
6-7, .462; 4th seed West / 6th overall (tied)
KK:  +1; (2 Road Wins – 1 Home Loss) / No. 4 overall (tied)
CQ:  -10; (.512 - .522) / No. 8 overall
SPOR-t:  +22; (602-580) / No. 6 overall
Abacus Revelation: After a discouraging 0-5 start to the season, the Shock have ranked No. 2 in Offensive Rebounding Percentage, taking care of the ball and Conversion Percentage. Defensive woes persist, including being dead last in Opponent per-game Free Throw attempts (23.5).

No. 6 Indiana Fever (25.5)
[6-week ESPN rating: 5
3-week Abacus rating: 7
2013 Abacus Rating: 7]
6-7, .462; 4th seed East / 6th overall (tied)
KK:  0; (3 Road Wins – 3 Home Losses) / No. 6 overall
CQ:  -7; (.476 - .483) / No. 6 overall
SPOR-t:  -15; (497-512) / No. 7 overall
Abacus Revelation: The pesky Fever create a turnover on slightly better than one in five of their opponents’ possessions, best in the league. While their 25.1 free-throw attempts per game tops the circuit, they surrender 23.4, second-worst.

No. 7 Los Angeles Sparks (27)
[6-week ESPN rating: 11
3-week Abacus rating: 5
2013 Abacus Rating: 2]
5-8, .385; 5th seed West / 10th overall
KK:  -2; (2 Road Wins – 4 Home Losses) / No. 9 overall (tied)
CQ:  +14; (.486 - .472) / No. 4 overall
SPOR-t:  +45; (552-507) / No. 3 overall
Abacus Revelation: Opponents take over twice as many and make nearly two-and-a-half times as many three pointers as LA. The Sparks are second-worst in per-game FT attempts and only eight-best at taking care of the ball. Still, they are the third-best FG shooting (.453) team in the league.

No. 8 San Antonio Stars (34.5)
[6-week ESPN rating: 6
3-week Abacus rating: 8
2013 Abacus Rating: 11]
7-8, .467; 3rd seed West / 5th overall
KK:  -1; (4 Road Wins – 5 Home Losses) / No. 7 overall (tied)
CQ:  -30; (.465 - .495) / No. 11 overall
SPOR-t:  -62; (487-549) / No. 11 overall
Abacus Revelation: The Stars rank dead last in Opponent FG%, and only 10th with their own shooting. Yet they win the turnover battle, maximize the three-point line and stay above water at the free throw line.

No. 9 Washington Mystics (36.5)
[6-week ESPN rating: 9
3-week Abacus rating: 4
2013 Abacus rating: 6]
2013 Abacus Rating:6-9, .400; 5th seed East / 9th overall
KK:  -2; (3 Road Wins – 5 Home Losses) / No. 9 overall (tied)
CQ:  -20; (.449 - .469) / No. 9 overall (tied)
SPOR-t:  -25; (487-512) / No. 8 overall
Abacus Revelation: Though the least efficient offensive team (.447 conversion rate) in the circuit, the Mystics rank first in Opponent FG% (.409) and second in Opponent conversion rate (.469).

No. 10 Chicago Sky (37)
[6-week ESPN rating: 8
3-week Abacus rating: 3
2013 Abacus Rating: 3]
6-8, .429; 4th seed East / 8th overall
KK:  -4; (1 Road Win – 5 Home Losses) / No. 12 overall
CQ:  -9; (.486 - .495) / No. 7 overall
SPOR-t:  -40; (525-565) / No. 10 overall
Abacus Revelation: During a 5-1 start, Sky opponents shot .390 and converted 44.8% of possessions; during the next eight (1-7), the “bad guys” shot .465 and converted at a .529 rate. Oddly, the Sky forced turnovers at a higher rate when they were getting clobbered.

No. 11 Seattle Storm (39.5)
[6-week ESPN rating: 10
3-week Abacus rating: 10
2013 Abacus Rating: 8]
6-10, .375; 6th seed West / 11th overall
KK:  +1; (3 Road Wins – 2 Home Losses) / No. 4 overall (tied)
CQ:  -39; (.451 - .490) / No. 12 overall
SPOR-t:  -107; (437-544) / No. 12 overall
Abacus Revelation: The Storm work hard to limit opponent free throw attempts (best in the league) and three-point attempts (among the top four). They rebound poorly (last in Offensive Rebounding Percentage) and take care of the ball just as well (second-to-last in Turnover Percentage – nearly 19%).

No. 12 New York Liberty (40.5)
[6-week ESPN rating: 12
3-week Abacus rating: 10
2013 Abacus Rating: 9]
4-10, .286; 6th seed East / 12th overall
KK:  -2; (1 Road Win – 3 Home Losses) / No. 9 overall (tied)
CQ:  -20; (.451 - .471) / No. 9 overall (tied)
SPOR-t:  -33; (461-494) / No. 9 overall
Abacus Revelation: Bill Laimbeer’s combative 2013 Liberty placed third in opponent FG percentage and opponent Offensive Rebounding percentage. This year’s group is first and second, respectively.

“Point” the Way

The WNBA is unusually rich in play-making guards these days. The Dream have added rookie Shoni Schimmel and Euro-vet Celine Dumerc. A re-juvenated Skylar Diggins has hooked up with Odyssey Sims (like Schimmel, a rook with a very special skill set) on a Tulsa roster that also includes steady soph Angel Goodrich – not to mention scoring machine Riquna Williams. Another rookie, Kayla McBride, is a beneficiary in San Antonio of All-Star (Danielle Robinson) and Olympic (Becky Hammon) grooming.

Old hands like Whalen, Taurasi and Bird keep conjuring up their hardwood wizardry.

And don’t bet against retiring Lin Dunn’s championship caliber Zellous-January combo.

Last season’s plague of debilitating injuries prompted numerous three-guard units…the practice continues.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

From Abacus’ Bookshelf: Recalling David Halberstam

It must have been quite a challenge to edit the sports literature of the late, great David Halberstam. At times, it’s a bit of a challenge simply to read it – though invariably a rewarded effort.

Whether he’s chronicling one of the most spectacular stretches (albeit brief) of basketball brilliance in the history of the NBA…

Whether he’s waxing boyishly nostalgic over the baseball heroes of his youth…

Whether he’s craftily connecting the puzzle pieces of a lifetime so as to account for the consistent superiority of the “best-in-the-business” pro football coach…

He has so thoroughly researched his subjects – to about seven layers of separation (the web of associations that led to a 23-year-old Bill Belichick’s first job in the NFL is stunning) – that the background stories and supporting characters occasionally take on a life of their own.

The “No-where” from which Billy Ray Bates came; the evolution and devolution of Kermit Washington; the big-city swagger of Tom Owen, an otherwise innocuous Big White Stiff in a league full of them; the toll taken on so fragile a thing as the human foot by the grind of big-time ball – and the consequent toll on the equally fragile human ego.

Ah, the breaks in the narrative make The Breaks of the Game, you might say.

But those lengthy breaks in the narrative create some herky-jerky “OK, now where were we?” moments. Additionally, Halberstam’s bountiful supply of sources can create occasional confusion regarding just whose little anecdote is being rendered at a given point.

In a closing notation to Summer of ’49, the author observes that any number of male friends would have been happy to conduct the interviews with his/their boyhood heroes. However, having resisted the impulse to play Tom Sawyer, he’s “left with the pleasure of having finished the book and, of course, the even greater pleasure of the doing of it.”

The greatest pleasure, and therefore the ultimate reward, is the opportunity to perform the task in the first place.

That’s what resonates about Halberstam’s work – each endeavor is truly a labor of love. Naturally, he brings to the task the eye and instinct of a trained historical researcher, indeed one of the best and brightest. Of course even the best and brightest of us, when offering explanation or rendering a tale, reach that uncomfortable moment of “Uh-oh, where was I going with all this?”

The cast of characters that peoples our wide world of sports, with their super-human skills and ever-so-human psyches, weaves a tapestry every bit as complex and intriguing as the best of Dickens or Ludlum. It requires a sharp eye to see the inner-workings and a unique voice to deliver the play-by-play.

With the aid of that frazzled editor, David Halberstam was able to pull it off time and again.

I miss that voice.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

My World and Welcome to It

I was recently adopted – no mean feat for a 57-year-old grandpa (technically, a great-grandfather, but that’s another story for another time). I’ve been accompanied into this new situation by the entire family, including our three energetic canines – all of whom have essentially been adoptees themselves.

About two weeks ago our backyard, long the dogs’ romping zone, became home, on the heels of a couple of days of heavy rain, to a good-sized turtle.

A crawling or swimming or flying critter is hardly a novel sight in the Bayou City. Before our grand-dog Duke moved in with us permanently, our property played host to numerous toads, a village of lizards, even the occasional snake. For several months, the front stoop was home to one tiny creature who seemed to be half-frog and half-lizard. He had long spindly legs with enough suction for him to maneuver safely on any vertical surface. The legs folded up neatly beside his inch-or-so long, lizard-esque body. At night, he’d feed on the insects attracted to the porch-light, rising up on those frog-legs to snatch dinner right out of the air. Then he’d attach himself high onto the narrow window by the door for a post-repast snooze.

It took this city slicker about a week to realize the stuff on the outside window sill was not just generic dirt. But hey, I didn’t know until the other day that a turtle has a tail, a separate opening in the shell for it as well, it seems.

To this day, I cannot put a name to that type of animal. I did, however, put a name to that particular animal. Somehow, I had begun calling him “Ignatius,” perhaps because I wondered whether he was an iguana or simply because it was a long and ostentatious moniker to bestow upon such a little bit of a thing.

Duke’s more frequent and ultimately permanent presence soon had Ignatius and the rest scurrying for a safer social setting. Of course, our most recent guest, while showing appropriate deference to the feet and snouts of the dogs, came equipped with his own protective gear, thus is less prone to flight. Initially, he’d “shelter-in-place” at the approach of anyone or anything, in no hurry to resume his foraging. Now, he still appears to be scoping out the scene from inside his shell, much quicker to unfurl his head like a charmed snake and inspect, more trusting of his surroundings and co-inhabitants.

The new arrival kept a pretty low profile for several days, lurking in the nooks, crannies and shadows. A time or two it seemed as if he must have waddled on back where he’d come from – then there he’d be again.

When my grandson the new kindergarten graduate and I began occasionally dousing him with tap water, a name became necessary. JJ came up with two good suggestions: Wrinkle Dinkle and Green Ranger. I tend to use the former, he the latter. Maybe we should split the difference and call him Green Wrinkle.

His timidity returned for a while earlier today, but it was probably a reaction to the noise and commotion of a visit from the lawn men. By late afternoon, his mobility returned, perhaps searching for the comfortable clumps of thick grass now missing from his world.

Unfortunately, the rigors of a hot, dry, South Texas summer do not bode well for our Wrinkle – at least not in his current digs.

My mind wafts its way back to the ‘70’s.

“If you love something, set it free!”

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

NBA Finals Numbers, While Not Lying, Are Stuttering

Numbers may not intentionally misrepresent…but they do discombobulate more than clarify on occasion. (Ever hear of vector geometry?)

Take the first two games of this year’s NBA Finals, for example. On both occasions, the losers compiled more offensive rebounds and fewer turnovers than did the winners. Counter-intuitive, isn’t it?

The same little oddity occurred in Games 5 & 7 of last season’s championship series between the same two teams. (In the iconic Game 6, the teams were even on the offensive glass while the winning Heat committed more turnovers than they forced.)

In terms of raw numbers, the San Antonio Spurs have been virtually indistinguishable from their opposition in some key areas during the past two regular seasons. In those 164 games, the Spurs and their opponents are separated by just 16 total rebounds, 28 turnovers and 37 free throw attempts – less than 0.25 of each per game. On top of that, they surrender almost two more offensive rebounds per game than they retrieve.

How were they able to outscore the other guys by 1,164 points and win 120 of those games?

Well, over 300 of those points come from an edge in successful three-point shots. In all, the Spurs managed to make over 400 more field goals while attempting over 400 fewer.

San Antonio’s familiar Finals foe, during the same stretch, also converted over 400 more field goals than its opposition – and accomplished this feat on nearly 500 fewer shots. But that exceptional field-goal shooting and an identical win total end the list of numerical similarities between the two teams over the past two seasons.

The Heat are a heady and athletic team built to run rather than rebound…indeed they are among the poorest rebounding teams ever to win a championship. Their opponents have chased down over 500 more offensive rebounds, in excess of three per game.

The Heat have taken and made about 60 more treys than the other guys and gain about a point per game at the foul line. The generator of their near 1,000 point scoring differential is to be found in the turnover column, where the Heat have induced almost 300 more turnover than they’ve committed. They force a turnover on a league-best 17 percent of opponent possessions, while squandering opportunities at a 15 percent rate.

Yet, their last three Finals victories were accomplished without their most identifiable trait.

Traditional wisdom has always preached that defense wins championships. But these back-to-back Heat-Spurs Finals have featured the top two shooting teams in the league.

Little wonder that our numbers, while violating no Commandments, just don’t add up.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

WNBA 2014: Youth is Served – Until It Runs into the Lynx

Admit it, WNBA fan. You had reservations about Elena Della Donne’s decision not to play overseas on the heels of her Rookie of the Year showing last summer – especially when her Chicago Sky had been so unceremoniously upset in the opening round of the playoffs by the defending champs. You questioned her competitive nature or her love for the game. A smug “Aha!” was at the ready as play kicked off last month.

The Tulsa Shock’s Skylar Diggins, another of 2013’s touted “Three to See,” similarly raised eyebrows by making the same decision following a rookie season with more than its share of challenges, on both the personal and team front.

Perhaps it’s simply fresh legs, but each of the domestic D & D girls has started her sophomore pro season like the proverbial bull in a china shop. Both rank in the top ten not only in scoring, but also in free throw attempts. EDD squeezed 16 foul shots into 30 minutes of play the other night against the Sparks. Minnesota is the only team that has kept her off the stripe, yet she tops the league with seven attempts per game. Diggins’s 4.5-per-game pace rank her ninth.

The WNBA’s current top ten in free throw tries is actually an even generational split – five 2012 Olympians (Whalen, Taurasi, Parker, Moore and McCoughtry) and several likely candidates for the 2020 squad (Brittney Griner, Glory Johnson and this season’s top pick Chiney Ogwumike along with Della Donne and Diggins).

Successful basketball teams at any level seem to find their way to the foul line regularly while preventing their opponents from doing so. Let’s see who is best applying this old-school logic through the WNBA’s first 21 days of play: 

FTA’s per game              Opponents                             +/-

Indiana 25.33               Minnesota 15.0                 Phoenix +9.3
Phoenix 25.25              Seattle 15.5                       Minnesota +5.7
Minnesota 20.7           *Los Angeles 16.0              Indiana +4.1
Atlanta 19.7                *Phoenix 16.0                     Seattle +2.5
Chicago 18.83              San Antonio 17.0               Chicago +1.8
Connecticut 18.75         New York 17.3                 Los Angeles +0.8
Seattle 18.0                 *Chicago 17.5                     San Antonio -1.2
Tulsa 17.6                   *Washington 17.5                Washington -1.8
Los Angeles 16.8           Indiana 21.2                      New York -2.7
San Antonio 15.8           Connecticut 22.1               Connecticut -3.3
Washington 15.7             Tulsa 22.2                         Atlanta -3.9
New York 14.6                      Atlanta 23.6                              Tulsa -4.6

Michael Cooper’s Atlanta Dream offer an enticing array of talent that bears watching – and the early attendance numbers suggest more Atlantans are taking notice. First-round draft choice Shoni Schimmel’s clever play-making has jump-started the WNBA’s third-best field-goal shooting team and second-best offensive rebounding team. The primary beneficiary seems to be veteran center Erika de Souza, currently the league’s best-field goal shooter. She and the again healthy Sancho Lyttle form arguably the best front line in the circuit. They rank fourth and fifth, respectively, in overall rebounding.

For all their size and athleticism, though, the Dream are the league’s second worst team at preventing second chances. Even as Atlanta looked impressive to their home crowd and a national TV audience last week while repelling Los Angeles 93-85, they surrendered 15 offensive rebounds to the Sparks, their best output of the season. What say we examine these numbers:  [OR% = OR/(OR + Opp. DR)]

Off. Reb. %                         Opponents                                +/-

Connecticut .328               Washington .236                 Washington +48
Atlanta .312                       New York .244                  Connecticut +32
Indiana .291                       Phoenix .248                       Minnesota +22
Chicago .289                     Minnesota .253                    Phoenix +15
Tulsa .287                          Seattle .258                         Chicago +8
Washington .284                Chicago .281                       New York +4
Los Angeles .276               San Antonio .282                 Atlanta +2
Minnesota .275                  Los Angeles .287                 Tulsa -7
Phoenix .263                      Tulsa .294                            Los Angeles -11
New York .248                  Connecticut .296                  Seattle -34
San Antonio .245                Atlanta .310                         San Antonio -37
Seattle .224                        Indiana .353                         Indiana -62

The Cream of the WNBA Crop continues to reside in the Twin Cities. No Brunson, No Wright, No Problem! This is a heady bunch that works to make difficult that which their opponent tends to do well. For instance, Della Donne shot zero free throws in her team’s loss to the Lynx last month, her lone 0-fer of the season. It took Griner three games before she got a hand on a Lynx shot last year, and she had one block in two playoff games against them.

Big Brittney gets her first 2014 chance, in front of the ESPN cameras, next Sunday at the appropriately named Target Center. Set your DVR.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

NBA Finals Ver. 2-3-2: A Legacy?

The circumstances surrounding the opening game of this year’s NBA Finals evoke some memories of days gone by…especially some sultry late spring Sunday afternoons in the old Boston Garden as Bird and Magic were battling for supremacy. Sweaty gymnasiums notwithstanding, that bi-coastal rivalry spurred an unprecedented growth in the league’s popularity and marketability.

But this classic rivalry also begat an NBA practice that has, ever since, caused some to cry foul. Perhaps figuring that classic Boston-LA match-ups would be both inevitable and indefinite, the NBA adopted the 2-3-2 format for its championship series beginning in 1985. Instead of as many as four inter-city jaunts, at most only two would be needed.

Maybe I’m too much of a wise-guy, but it seems fitting that the first NBA Finals game contested under the “everything-old-is-new-again” 2-2-1-1-1 format should also be played in the same conditions as the last one.

Let’s look back at the league’s 29-year “World Series of Basketball” experiment.

Nearly half (13) of these title teams wrapped up their rings in six games, five times on foreign turf. Seven series were decided in Game 5, but only twice on a home court. There were four sweeps, and the home team won all five Game 7’s.

Nearly three-quarters (21) of this era’s titles were claimed by the “favorite” (i.e. the team holding the home-court advantage). Indeed the home squad emerged victorious in 101 of 164 Finals games – just shy of 62 percent. Moreover, the home team has a winning record game-by-game:

Game 1 – 22-7 (.759)
Game 2 – 18-11 (.621)
Game 3 – 15-14 (.517)
Game 4 – 15-14 (.517)   [Yes, Games 3 & 4 are identical – I didn’t edit poorly!!]
Game 5 – 14-11 (.560)
Game 6 – 12-6 (.667)
Game 7 – 5-0 (1.000)

Only four underdogs were able to hold serve at home, champions all: Miami ’12, Miami ’06, Detroit ’04 and Houston ’95, who deprived ownership a big gate by sweeping the higher-seeded Magic. (Three favorites swept a series, three others swept Games 3-5.)

In no year did home court prevail completely, but on four occasions a favorite returned home in need of two wins. Last year’s Heat, the ’94 Rockets and two generations of Lakers (’88 and ’10) all succeeded.

During the entire 29-year run of the 2-3-2 format, the playoff field consisted of 16 teams; for the first 18 years, the opening round was a best-of-five series. Aside some minor tinkering with in-conference seeding, there were no other adjustments.

It would be interesting to compare this data with that of the pre-1985 era. Anyone got a link?

Monday, June 2, 2014

MLB Pitching: The Yowzah-Yuck Ratio

The Toronto Blue Jays’ Mark Buehrle has been the Mr. Automatic among MLB starting pitchers during the season’s first two months. The well-traveled lefty became the majors’ first 10-game winner Sunday, the 11th Blue Jay victory in his dozen 2014 starts.


The flip-side of that coin has been the season of Arizona’s Brandon McCarthy, who has been on the wrong end of eight out of nine decisions, with the Diamondbacks dropping 10 of his 12 starts.


Through close of business for May, 828 of the regular season’s 2430 games have been completed (one is still pending), just over a third of the season. Of the pitchers on pace to compile 20 or more starts, eleven (including Buerhle) have set the stage for a team win in at least 75 percent of their outings. On the other hand, nine hurlers on that pace (McCarthy among them) take the bump in what will become a loss at a 75 percent rate of frequency.


10 – 1 [.909]
Mark Buerhle (Tor.)

9 – 2 [.818]
Scott Kazmir (Oak.); Masahiro Tanaka (NYY)

8 – 2 [.800]
Phil Hughes (Minn.); Rick Porcello (Det.)

7 – 2 [.778]
Tim Hudson (SF); Yu Darvish (Tex.)

9 – 3 [.750]
Julio Teheran (Atl.); Chris Tillman (Balt.); Adam Wainwright (St. L.)

6 – 2 [.750]
Andre Rienzo (Chi. W)


0 – 7 [.000]
Hector Santiago (LAA)

1 – 6 [.143]
Cole Hamels (Phil.)

2 – 10 [.167]
Brandon McCarthy (Ariz.)

2 – 9 [.182]
Ubaldo Jimenez (Balt.); Jeff Samardzija (Chi. C)

2 – 7 [.222]
Brett Oberholtzer (Hou.); Robbie Ross (Tex.)

2 – 6 [.250]
Dustin McGowan (Tor.); Drew Smyly (Det.)

Bullpen Power

One final Yowzah needs to be directed towards the San Francisco Giants’ relief specialists. The Bay Area Back-ups have posted a stout 15-5 record, nine of those victories coming in games started by old hands Tim Lincecum and Mark Vogelsong.

The Giants’ 15 bullpen wins ranks second to the Pittsburgh Pirate ‘Pen, which accounts for 16 of the squad’s 25 triumphs. The Brewers, Phillies, Marlins and White Sox place third with 12 non-starter winning decisions.

The most Yuck-worthy relief performance (3-12) to date has been delivered by the Cubs. The Dodgers’ 4-13 relief record has ravished the splendid (26-14) work that’s been submitted by their starting staff.

St. Louis and Cincinnati relievers also have posted but four victories apiece, Houston and Seattle a mere five.

The Pirate’s 23 bullpen decisions lead the majors, with Tampa Bay one behind. San Diego’s 12 relief decisions are the fewest, followed by the Tigers, Reds and Astros at 13.

Overall this season, relief pitchers have accounted for 526 of the 1656 decisions (31.8%) for a 267-259 record.