Monday, July 4, 2011

Effects of Race on Baseball Players Salaries


Using data from over 300 major league baseball players we found that a player's salary is statistically effected by the interaction between his race and the racial composition city in which he plays. Whites earn less than blacks and Hispanics in cities populated by minorities. When the population in a city grows to  20% black,  a black player will earn about 5.2% more than a white player even if they perform equally good on the field. This may or may not be a sign of racial discrimination in player's salaries.  According to economist and statistician Jeffrey M. Wooldrige:

"We cannot simply claim that discrimination exist against blacks and Hispanics, because the estimates imply that whites earn less than blacks and Hispanics in cities heavily populated by minorities.  The importance of city composition on salaries might be due to player preferences:  perhaps the best black players live disproportionately in cities with more blacks and maybe the best Hispanic players tend to be in cities with more Hispanics."

The econometric estimations that follow show a strong correlation between race, racial composition of player's cities and earnings of Major League Baseball players, but we cannot distinguish between the hypotheses of racial discrimination versus player preference as the driving factors.


The analysis of a city's racial decomposition on player's salaries will be done via a multivariate regression analysis.  The idea behind a regression analysis is that it allows us to compare apples to apples.  There are many variables that can effect a players salary, but the most obvious is performance.  We want to control for a players performance in our regression analysis.  The following variables will be our control variables, with the exception of blackpb and hispph which are the variables we are testing.  The variables blackpb and hispph are interaction variables between race and the racial composition in a player's city.   The estimates and statistical significance of blackpb and hisph are the subject of this post. A full list of all variables included in the regression analysis are described below:

Data Source:  Companion website for Introduction to Econometrics by Wooldridge.

This next table provides some descriptive statistics for the variables above...

The table above shows that the average player in our data set has 6.3 years of experience with a minimum of 1 and maximum of 20 years in the league.  The batting average is 258.98 hits out of a thousand at bats with about 7.1 home runs per year.  The percentage of players that are black is 30.5% .While Hispanic players account for 18.1 % of the population.

The table below is a simple scatter plot that shows the salary of players and the games per year they played.  There is an obvious positive correlation with games played per year and salary:

Not surprisingly there is also a strong positive correlation between the percentage of years a player has been an all-star and wages as shown in this graph below:

Although these scatter plots are descriptive of the performance to salary relationships they are far too naive for any real comprehensive analysis.  In order to capture the true essence of the effect of performance and race on a baseball player's salary a multivariate regression analysis needs to reconcile all the driving factors.  This is what is done below.


The following table is the output from a multivariate regression describing the correlations between our control variables, variables we are testing (race and city racial composition interaction), and wages.  The top section of the table describes some statistics of the model, but focus your attention on the column labeled "Coef." and "t" in the bottom table.

Reading Regression Results Above

The variables in the regression are under the "lsalary" column.  The column "Coef." can be interpreted as the percentage change in salary given a one unit change in our explanatory variables from the first table.  For example, look at the "year" row above and the its value under "Coef." of 6.7%, this means that for every year a player is in the league you can expect his salary to increase by 6.7% on average after controlling for all the other variables in the regression.  The phrase, "after controlling for all other variables in the regression" can be included after the interpretation of any variable in this model!  This is what makes regression analysis so powerful. 

Next focus on the column labeled "t".  This is a t-statistics and when it is greater than two in absolute value we say the interpretation of the "Coef." variable is statistically significant.  In other words, if "t"is say 10 or -10, then we say the effect of  the corresponding "Coef." x on a player's salary is statistically significant.  If however the "t" column is contains -.5 or 1, for example, then we say that the effect of the corresponding variable in the table is statistically insignificant in explaining MLB salaries.  In the regression table above, only years, gamesyr, allstar, and the interaction between race and city composition are statistically significant.

Interpretation of Statistically Significant Race and a City's Racial Composition

The regression table above suggest that after controlling for player characteristics and performance Hispanic and black players get paid more as the percentage of  their race in the city they play in increases.

Being black in a city with zero percent black people means you earn about 19.8% less than white players after controlling for player ability  (this comes from the black coefficient above).  However, as the percentage of blacks increases this changes discrepancy rapidly changes.  If a city has a population of 10% black then one can calculate the effect by multiplying coefficient of blckbp ( which is 0.125 in the regression table above) by 10 and adding it to the negative 19.8 % to see what effect this change  racial composition has on salaries for a black player:

-19.8 + 0.125(10) = -0.73

The calculation above shows that when the population of blacks within a city increases black players get paid only 7.3% less even if the players have identical performance statistics (regression...controlling for performance variables).  When the population in a city grows to  20% a black player will earn about 5.2% more than a white player even if they perform equally good on the field. The population with the largest percentage of blacks is Detroit with about 74% black residents.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Deepest Draft Classes Since 1981.

The Number One Pick?
The 2011 Draft class seems to be one of the weakest in a long time; but which classes were the strongest?  The following series of charts and articles will be an attempt to determine the answer.  The depth of each draft class from 1981 to 2010 was measured by the number of players they placed in the top 50 during each season of their career.  The top 50 players are measured by minutes played; while this measure may seem inadequate, it is probably the best measure of talent that can be used to compare one large group of players to another large group of players.  I understand the limitations of using minutes played; comparing one player to another player using only minutes played would be idiotic, but large groups smooth out the differences in minutes played that are due to coaching preferences, team injury situations, and other distortions of talent evaluation.  Another thing to mention about the method is that the draft classes from 2006-2010 cannot be really measured accurately, as their careers are still unfolding.  The results from those years should be disregarded.

Here’s the rating system:   Each draft class that leads the league, during a given season, in number of top 50 players gets 5 points, the second and third place classes get 3 points, and the fourth and fifth place classes are given 1 point.  Remember, this study is attempting to find out the deepest draft classes, not the most top heavy. 

I think the 1984, 1996, and 2003 drafts had the best top talent, but were they the deepest?  The table shows the top ten draft classes since 1981.  On this table is total points (explained earlier), number of times the class led the league, the year the class had its best season and how many top 50 players it had that year, and what season of its career did the class peak.

Notable Observations:

Most of the best draft classes seem to have the ability to simultaneously take over the league from their predecessors and prevent the younger classes from pushing them from the top.
Two NBA Finals' MVPs
The class of ’98, who had to wait until January ’99 to start their lockout-shortened rookie year, did pretty well for themselves and did not peak until their 11th year. The average class peaks around their 6th or 7th season, then the younger classes start to take over. Once you get past one of the worst number one picks in NBA history, Michael Olowokandi, it was a really good draft. Dirk Nowitzki, Paul Pierce, Antawn Jamison, Vince Carter, and Rashard Lewis were all drafted that year; and there were at least 5 or 6 more good players drafted in 1998.

And With The Third Pick...
Class of ’84: Jordan, Olajuwon, Barkley, and Stockton: The greatest player; a top 2 or 3 center; an undersized, versatile, rebounding machine, all-time great power forward; and the NBA’s all-time leader in steals and assists. Don’t be fooled by the top heaviness; there were some other good players in this draft: Big Smooth Sam Perkins, Steal Machine Alvin Robertson and even great coach, but not-so-great player Rick Carlisle. I don’t want to turn this into a list of the 1984 draftees, but you get the idea.

The 1992 class was very interesting:  Shaq, Zo, Spree, and others were in this draft, but that’s not the interesting part – this class(as a whole) peaked after only its 3rd season.

We'll Miss You.

The class of ’96 is one of my favorites; Kobe, Iverson, Ray Allen, Steve Nash, and the undrafted Ben Wallace highlight this class.

What A Class, But Where's AI?


Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Dirk With A Ring: Better Than The Ringless Wonders, Ewing, Malone, and Barkley?

Does Dirk jump ahead of Patrick Ewing, Karl Malone, and Charles Barkley on the all-time greats list if he wins a ring this year? In other words, does winning a single championship necessarily make one superstar better than another superstar who hasn’t won?   The Bulls, Lakers, and Spurs have dominated the last 20 years; as a result, some players have been denied rings that they may have won otherwise.  The table below is an attempt to distinguish between the guys who should have won a championship and just had some bad luck and the guy who just didn’t get it done in the playoffs.   I measure them using something called “Consolation Points”; the player who loses to the eventual champion in the first round gets 1 point, second round gets 2 points, conference finals gets 3 points, and NBA finals gets 4 points.  I had to make the “superstar cutoff” somewhere, so I only included guys who had met one of the following criteria:  20,000 career points, 8,000 career assists, a career average of 20 points per game, or a career average of 8 assists per game.  The cutoff could be made at many different milestones, but I don’t think they’re unreasonable.  Defensive stats are conspicuously absent from the criteria; that is because in the context of talking about great players and winning championships, almost all the talk is about offensive players, Bill Russell notwithstanding.

I don’t think Dirk moves ahead of Ewing and Malone if he wins a ring.  I do think he is already of Barkley just by virtue of making this year’s finals; Barkley has lost to the eventual champ only once in the Conf. Finals or later.  However; my eyes, heart, and those Right Guard commercials still say choose Barkley over Dirk.


Some Notables About The Table:

Jason Kidd is third on the list.  I’m rooting the most for him to win this year; he is a winning player.  Nobody was beating the Lakers and Spurs during early 2000s – except for the Lakers and Spurs.

The top seven guys on this list kept running into dynasties; they all lost to the Lakers, Spurs, or Bulls at least once.  Malone, Ewing, Kidd, and Stockton really got hit hard against those dynasties; each of these guys would have a ring if not for Jordan, Shaq/Kobe, or Duncan.

Jordan’s Bulls almost single-handedly prevented 3 all-time greats from winning a ring, that’s greatness.

The guys in this year’s finals; Kidd, James, Nowitzki, and Bosh, each get 4 points for this year.  Obviously 2 of these 4 guys won’t be on this list anymore.

Of the top 10, three of the players really squandered golden opportunities: Malone, Ewing, Nowitzki lost to teams they probably should have beaten, the 2004 Pistons, the 1994 Rockets, and the 2006 Miami Heat, respectively.  In this just-ended 20-year era of dynasties, a player has to take advantage of every opportunity.

Only 38 players met the criteria to make this list; the table lists the top 20 players.  Four of the remaining 18 players have no “consolation points”:  Walt Bellamy, I don’t know enough about him to form a opinion; Gilbert Arenas, not a winner; Tracy McGrady, not a winner; and Chris Paul, it’s too early in his career.

Dominique Wilkins, Vince Carter, and Tim Hardaway have less than 4 “consolation points”:  I was surprised by Tim Hardaway; I saw him as a winning player, but his Miami days were only a small portion of his career.  Vince Carter has never really been thought of as a winning player, no surprise there.  Dominique was never seen as a winning player either and he had many chances to play to the NBA Champ; the Sixers, Pistons, and Celtics won 5 championships in seasons beginning in the 80s.  I have to cut him some slack though; the East was tough in the 80s. In addition to those 5 championship teams, he had to deal with the early to mid 80s’ Bucks and the mid to late 80s’ Bulls.
There's A Stat For That

Monday, May 23, 2011

Leadoff Rankings: Week 8

Previous Rankings: Week 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7

The eighth weekend of the 2011 season has come and gone, and we're changing up the way we do our rankings. For the first time, our Leadoff Rankings have been determined not by my all-knowing power, but by the use of a formula. Similar to what we did on Thursday with our Rotation Rankings, we set all the statistics relative to league average, and then weighted each statistic to mean more or less than others (OBP means more than slugging percentage, for example). This gives us an overall average of 1.000, with lower scores correlating to above-average performance. More a fan of pitching? Check out our Rotation Rankings, published every Thursday, where we rank each team by the performance of their starting pitchers. The rankings are based on season performance (90%), with a small bias towards recent performance. The stats come from each team's first and second batters every game, regardless of the name on the back of the jersey. To see how things turned out this week, hit the jump!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Stat Line of the Day: May 22nd

Oklahoma City Thunder: 1-17 3PT, 32-36 FT vs. Mavericks
Harden (L) and Durant shot a combined 0-12
from downtown in Game Three
In a close Game Three loss to Dallas, the Thunder's shooters were something of a mixed bag. OKC as a team shot 36.5% from the field--not great, but far from Butler-in-the-title-game-esque. The real striking stat from Scott Brook's squad was their three-point shooting. The Thunder shot only 1-17 from downtown, including an 0-8 from Kevin Durant and 0-4 from James Harden. In fact, until Russell Westbrook hit the team's lone three-pointer with 35 seconds remaining, the Thunder were about to set the record for postseason three-point futility. If the Thunder had ended the game 0-16 from downtown, they would have set an all-time playoff record for the most three-point attempts without a make.  Instead, they shot 5.9% from downtown--just a horrifying mark.  Granted, the Thunder were a mediocre three-point shooting team during the regular season: 19th in the NBA at 34.7%.  The Mavericks were also above-average at defending the three-ball this year: 7th in the NBA at 34.3% against.  However, 1-17 is just an impressive level of futility--one that made the difference in a close game.

Not to be overly negative with this post, though, I want to highlight how impressive the Thunder's free throw shooting was last night. OKC was the NBA's best free-throw shooting team during the regular season (82.3%), and they were second in the league in free throws attempted (29.3/game).  Last night, the Thunder shot 32-36 (88.9%) from the line, including 10-12 during a furious fourth quarter comeback. Though the Thunder fell short, the free throw shooting of their big stars got them back into a game that had looked lost when they were down 27-12 after the first quarter.  Durant shot 10-11 and Westbrook shot 13-14: 92% combined.  Though they were only 1-10 from three-point range, 23-25 from the free throw line for Westbrook and Durant should at least give Thunder fans a little hope going into Game Four.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Can the Thunder Win without Durant?

Durant didn't score 40 in Game
Two, but OKC got the win
In dramatic, bounce-back, season-saving fashion, the Oklahoma City Thunder pulled out a win last night over the red-hot Dallas Mavericks at the American Airlines Center in Dallas. It was the first time all postseason that the Mavericks lost a game at home, and it tied the Western Conference Finals up at one game apiece. A huge reason that the Thunder were able to win Game Two was that they limited Dirk Nowitzki to 19 fewer points and 14 fewer free throw attempts. By keeping the Mavs' best player from dominating the game, Scott Brooks' crew forced the rest of the Dallas team to hit shots--and they didn't. However, the Thunder did not just perform differently on the defensive end on Game Two--their offense was completely changed as well. Despite scoring only six fewer points in Game Two than in Game One, the Thunder got 28 more points (50 instead of 22) from their bench. They also got 16 fewer points from NBA scoring champ Kevin Durant (see above) and 11 more points from the team's third-highest scorer, James Harden. This got me the Thunder really play better when Durant scores fewer points? Any team obviously wants its star players to score as many points as possible, but do the Thunder really succeed when Durant is such a huge part of the offense? Or do they need contributions from Harden and others to succeed? Well, we ran the stats, so hit the jump to check out the results.

Phil Jackson: Really Great or Really Lucky?

Legendary coach Vince Lombardi once stated that “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” Although Charlie Sheen would agree and most sports are predicated on this adage, it appears that in the art of coaching even those with the most impressive of track  records may be met with forceful  skepticism  that their merits do not warrant an
anointment of greatness. Phil Jackson, the “Zen Master” himself, has developed an impeccable resume of winning throughout his twenty years as a head coach for the Chicago Bulls and the Los Angeles Lakers. Winning eleven championships during this two decade time period, this means that Jackson has won an NBA Title in an incredible fifty-five percent of the seasons that he has been a head coach. To put this in perspective, when coaching an NBA team, Phil Jackson is roughly 10 percent more likely to win a championship that year than Ben Wallace is to make a free throw. Despite this unparalleled success, Jackson (right) has not gone without his fair share of criticism. Blessed with the commonly accepted (although Bill Russell should be) greatest player of all-time for his first six-pack of championships, Jackson followed up this first act by fortuitously stumbling upon two arguably top ten players of all-time enabling him to win five more rings and reach his currently dauntingly impressive eleven championship rings. There is no doubt that this string of luck is quite possibly the greatest in all of the history of coaching. But how great of a coach was Jackson? Hit the jump to take a look.

The NBA Playoffs: Does Defense Really Improve? (Part 3 of 3)

(This is the final part of a three-part series on defense in the NBA Playoffs)

Part One: The 1980s
Part Two: The 1990s

We often hear from NBA analysts that defense improves, or at least intensifies between game 82 of the regular season and Game 1 of the playoffs. It seems intuitive enough, the playoffs start and there’s a lot to play for: pride, fame, and winning the ‘ship. All that tends to lead to more aggressive play. The LeBron James's drive harder to the basket while the Andrew Bynum's go up for the block harder. It's human nature-- the more that's on the line, the harder they play. But does that aggression lead to better defense during the playoffs? Play-by-play guys and experts like to say it does. Coaches and players like to say it does. But do the stats agree? They didn't for the 1980s...but now we're looking at the 90s. Let's take a look.

Stat Line of the Day: May 20th

J. Giambi (COL): 3-5, 3 R, 7 RBI, 3 HR vs. Phillies
When Jason Giambi won his only MVP, at the age of 29, he hit 43 home runs and drove in 137 RBIs. That was eleven seasons ago. Now 40, the veteran is still playing, though he  hasn't had more than 400 at-bats in a season since he was 37, back in 2007
Giambi went yard three times in Philadelphia
with the New York Yankees. In fact, coming into last night, Giambi (left) hadn't even gotten a hit since April 10th, a series of 11 personal games (but 34 Rockies games). Then, for some reason, he remembered his MVP ways for one game in Philadelphia. Giambi hit a home run in his first three at-bats. The first one, against Kyle Kendrick, came in the first inning with two men on base. The next long ball, also off Kendrick, was a two-run shot in the third inning, scoring Carlos Gonzalez. The final long ball came off Danyz Baez in the fifth inning, with Troy Tulowitzki on base. Coming into the game, Giambi had just one home run and four RBIs on the season. The three home runs alone added 40.7% to the win for Giambi, the 79th time this season that a batter added more than 40% to their team's win probability.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Great Debate: 5/19

Welcome to the May 19th edition of the Great Debate. Today, Andrew Leff and Jake Adams discuss some of the most interesting sports topics of the day. Today, we talk about the never-ending NFL lockout, the recent Heat-Bulls contest, a frustrating start from the NL East favorites, and a surprising comeback in the NL Central. Hit the jump for the discussion!

Division Updates Part 4: AL East

The American League East is generally believed to be one of he most competitive divisions in all of baseball. So far this season no one team has proven to be the team to beat in the division. The five teams that make up the AL East are separated by a mere four games, and all have areas in which they can improve. The much anticipated Red Sox have just poked their heads over .500, and the sliding Yankees have given way to the most consistent team--the Tampa Bay Rays. There is only one way to try and understand what has happened so far in the AL East, lets dissect this division by the numbers. Let's take a look:

Rotation Rankings: Week 7

Previous Rankings: Week 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6

Week seven of our Rotation Rankings: the statistical ranking of every rotation in Major League Baseball. More a fan of offense? Check out our Leadoff Rankings, based on every teams' first and second batters.This week, we're bringing out something new: a normalized formula. For the last few weeks, we've been basically eyeballing the stats, using our knowledge of the teams as well as the numbers to try and place each time in a slot that made the most sense based on season performance, while keeping in mind how the last week went for each team. Now, however, we have a formula--using WHIP, ERA, and some other statistics, we've compared them all to league averages to come up with normalized scores, which we've then set to a ratio according to importance (WHIP being more important than K/9, for example), which gives us a final, weighted, relative score. The season stats get weighted towards 90% of the total, while the last week's statistics account for the last 10% (allowing some fluctuation based on recent performance, which is really what most Power Rankings do without realizing it). To see how much movement there was when we switched to the formula (as well as how your favorite team stacks up), hit the jump!

Stat Line of the Day: May 19th

J. Peavy (CHW): CG, SO, 3 H, 0 BB, 8 K vs. Indians
C. Morton (PIT): CG, SO, 5 H, 2 BB, 5 K vs. Reds
P. Coke (DET): 7 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 4 K vs. Red Sox
C. Buchholz (BOS): 7 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 7 K vs. Tigers
J. Niese (NYM): 7 IP, 6 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 7 K vs. Nationals
B. Colon (NYY): 8 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 7 K vs. Orioles
Z. Britton (BAL): 7 IP, 6 H, 1 R (0 ER), 3 BB, 4 K vs. Yankees
J. Vargas (SEA): 7 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 9 K vs. Angels
Last night was one of the most impressive nights of pitching I've ever witnessed in over 20 years as an avid baseball fan.  Eight out of 30 starting pitchers did not allow a single earned run in their appearance while throwing at least seven innings. Two pitchers, Jake Peavy (see right) and Charlie Morton threw complete-game shutouts for their squads, allowing a total of of 10 baserunners in 18 innings.  Both shutouts were incredibly impressive given the opponents each pitcher faced.  Morton shut down the Reds at Great American Ballpark, the fourth-best hitters park in the baseball.  Peavy was able to hold Cleveland to only three hits and no runs, despite the Tribe leading the American League in runs scored.  In Boston, two hurlers threw dominant outings for their teams.  Phil Coke of the Tigers and Clay Buchholz of the BoSox each threw seven shutout innings. Because both starters were so impressive in this contest, neither pitcher featured in the decision. The same could be said of hard-luck ND-er Bartolo Colon. The former Cy Young Award winner threw eight shutout innings--with seven strikeouts and only three hits--for the Yankees, but Mariano Rivera blew the save and lost the W for Colon.  In that game, Zach Britton nearly matched Colon, throwing seven innings for the struggling O's while giving up only one unearned run. Of the eight pitchers in today's column, Britton was the only one to give up a run, earned or unearned. Perhaps not coincidentally, he also is the only one of those hurlers to allow more than two walks. He too, like Colon, did not get a win due to bullpen problems in the 15-inning marathon. Some pitchers did get a W out of their strong performances, though. Jon Niese threw seven shutout innings in the torrential rain (see right) last night at Citi Field, coming out on the long end of a 3-0 Mets victory.  By the same token, Jason Vargas got his third win of the season by throwing seven shutout innings, while striking out a season-high nine batters.  He even outpitched the Angels' Jered Weaver, he of the 2.45 ERA.  All in all, that's eight different pitchers who threw seven or more dominating innings on Wednesday night.  Some (Peavy, Colon) already have Cy Young's under their belt.  Others (Buchholz, Britton, Niese) are young up-and-comers whose fans have been dreaming about starts like these for some time.  Still others (Coke, Morton, Vargas) are looking to finally get their careers moving in a positive direction.  Regardless of their career history or potential career future, all eight starting pitchers gave us a truly fun night of baseball to watch on May 18th.

Before ending this column, I'd like to make note (and maybe give an Honorable Mention or something) to the two pitchers who squared off in Philadelphia last night.  Cole Hamels of the Phillies and Jorge De La Rosa of the Rockies each gave up only one earned run in eight innings of work.  That's an impressive showing from these two pitchers in the eight-best hitters park in the MLB.  Though they did each allow a run, which is why I did not include them with the eight starters above, Hamels and De La Rosa were both spectacular for their teams.  De La Rosa threw a complete game for Colorado, but he gave up an unearned run that proved to be the difference in the game.  I wouldn't put these two starters on the same level as Peavy, Morton, & Co. were last night, but they did give fans a nice pitchers duel to watch in Philadelphia.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

NHL Eastern and Western Conference Catch-Up

The talk of the Eastern Conference Finals coming in was goaltending and how major its role would be in the series.  In two games already, there have been a combined 18 goals scored as the series is tied at one apiece heading to Tampa Bay.  Despite a 6-5 loss on Tuesday night, the Lightning have the Bruins right where they want them as they dominated Game 1 and now have the home-ice advantage working for them.  Tim Thomas, the likely Vezina Trophy winner, has allowed five goals in each of the first two games and has already allowed more than he did against Philadelphia in Round 2.  At age 37, Thomas is still capable of playing his very best hockey in hopes of leading the Bruins to their first Stanley Cup since 1971-72.  Dwayne Roloson had won eight straight games before faltering in Game 2, as he has the Lightning just three wins away from the Stanley Cup Finals.  Tampa Bay was a team that many people had forgotten about late in the season as they took a nosedive and lost the division lead, but they have made some noise in the post-season.

Offensively, the Lightning are still every bit as deep as they have been all season.  They have had 10 different players score their 10 goals in this series.  Their "spreading of the wealth" offensively has them in an enviable position heading home tied at one game apiece.  To their credit, the Lightning have rifled 74 shots at Thomas in just two games.  Possibly they took notes from both Philadelphia and Montreal and realize that getting the puck at Thomas, or any goalie for that matter, is half the battle. This young Tampa team tends to take on the tenacious personality of its coach Guy Boucher, and that is a good thing in terms of their grit and will.  Boucher, at age 39 and in his first NHL season has turned Tampa's fortunes back to pre-lockout.  Remember, they did win the Stanley Cup back in 2003-04, just before the lockout.  Perhaps no team was hurt more by the lockout as this is just the third time (post-lockout) that the Lightning have made the post-season.  The Lightning have shown in this series that they do not need success from Steven Stamkos, Vincent Lecavalier or Martin St. Louis alone to win hockey games.  Of their "big three," just St. Louis registered a point in their 5-2 victory in Game 1.

Boston finally was able to get something going in Game 2 as rookie Tyler Seguin took over with four points (2G, 2A).  Seguin, who had just 22 points this season, has already had six in two postseason games (both in this series).  He was nowhere to be found against Montreal or Philadelphia, but he has now stepped in for the injured Patrice Bergeron.  Although not glorified for offensive depth, Boston proves they have a bit of it with this replacement.  Keep in mind that Seguin himself is just 19-years-old.  Boston also boasts the ever-dangerous Milan Lucic (see above), Nathan Horton and Michael Ryder among others.  Defensively, Zdeno Chara, their captain, is their rock as usual.  Chara heads one of the game's best and deepest defenses.  In Tuesday night's game, the Bruins scored five goals on Roloson on just nine shots.  At long last, Boston's power play appears to be clicking as they have went 2-for-10 in the first two games.  At 20%, they are far better than in their first two series when they went an abysmal 2-for-37 with the man advantage.

Hit the jump to read about the Western Conference Finals:

NBA Playoffs: A Look Ahead (Eastern Conference Edition)

Yesterday I wrote a column looking at the NBA Western Conference to see what the Thunder and Mavericks had to do to win the NBA Championship--and what could trip them up along the way.  The verdict, in short, was that the Thunder aren't ready to be championship contenders, while the Mavericks can win if they play up to their potential.  Vegas oddsmakers thought that the Mavericks (+250) were about twice as likely as the Thunder (+500) to win it all, and the analysis yesterday pretty much agreed.  Today, we're going to turn to the Eastern Conference and analyze the chances of the Heat and Bulls each winning the Title.  The series between NBA MVP Derrick Rose and Miami's Big 3 (see right) must have the NBA salivating.  It's a matchup of two of the most hyped teams that have some of the most hyped players in the Association.  But who is going to win this series?  And once they advance to the Finals, can that team win the Championship?  Can either team win it?  D-Rose or D-Wade?  Slow and soft Chris Bosh or slow and soft Carlos Boozer?  Can anyone stop LeBron? Hit the jump to find out.

Stat Line of the Day: May 18th

D. Nowitzki (DAL): 48 points (12-15 FG, 24-24 FT), 6 rebs, 4 asts vs. OKC
I'll admit to saying that of the four major American sports, I watch quite a lot more MLB  and NFL than I do NBA and  NHL, so I haven't  seen  all of Dirk's games over the
This shot went in.  So did the
next one. And the next one...
course of his career. However, there was no way I could have predicted that the 32-year-old German forward would have one of the best shooting nights in NBA Playoffs history last night, leading his team to a 121-112 victory in Game One. The 24 free-throws are a playoff record for most FTs without a miss, surpassing the 21 that Paul Pierce had back in 2003. Dirk has only made the NBA Finals once in his career, back in a 2006 loss to Dwayne Wade's Miami Heat. Now, he's teamed with Jason Kidd and Shawn Marion, two other vets who are still hoping for a chance to lift their first Larry O'Brien trophy. The free-throw shooting this game was impressive overall; the teams combined to shoot 71-of-79 (89.9%). It was Nowitzki that came into this Western Conference Finals hot, shooting 60% from three in these playoffs (12-for-20). However, last night Dirk didn't make--or take--a single long-distance shot. In step with his hot shooting, he's got a PER of 29.1 through the first 11 games of the playoffs, which would be the best of his career--and, with an MVP-esque 25.1 career PER in the playoffs, that is quite the impressive postseason performance. If the Mavericks are going to win a title, they're going to need MVP-quality performances from Dirk night in and night out. Marion, Kidd, J.J. Barea and others are great pieces, but it's Dirk and Dirk alone that can take them to the promised land.

Honorable Mentions:

K. Durant (OKC): 40 points (10-18 FG, 18-19 FT), 8 rebs, 5 assts vs. Mavs
Dirk wasn't the only guy on the court trying to carry his team--two-time scoring champ Kevin Durant was doing his thing for the Thunder at the other end of the court. Unfortunately for KD, everything he did to try and win the game for his team was nearly undone by Russell Westbrook's poor night. The guard shot just 3-of-15 from the floor with a -7 plus/minus, contributing to the loss for the visiting Thunder. Durant had a good free-throw shooting night of his own, but he just couldn't quite match the contribution by his counterpart on the Mavs. If Durant goes for 48 as well, then we might be in a much different scenario heading into game two.

K. Wood (CHC): 1 IP, 4 H, 4 R (0 ER), 1 error vs. Reds
Kerry Wood learned last night that playing baseball in the rain can be really hard. Not just trying to pitch and hold onto a bat, but fielding can be rather difficult as well. With his Cubs holding onto a 5-2 lead going into the bottom of the 8th, Wood allowed a leadoff double and an infield single, bringing up Cinci backup catcher Ryan Hanigan, who grounded back to the Cubs pitcher. Wood, trying for the double play at third, ended up throwing the ball over the third baseman's head--allowing two runs to score. The Reds went on to take the lead in that 8th inning, giving Wood the loss on four unearned runs. In fact, all seven runs the Reds scored yesterday in their 7-5 victory were unearned. At least the Chicago team ERA went down...

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

NHL Eastern and Western Conference Finals Predictions

The NHL Eastern Conference Finals will be headed by two fantastic goalies drinking from the fountain of youth. Both Tim Thomas (37 years old) and Dwayne Roloson (41) have  taken long, similar paths to  get to this point in  their respective careers. Thomas
(left) has reclaimed his stake as “the guy” in  Boston’s net and could ride that to a Stanley Cup. Or, will Roloson and Tampa Bay continue their miracle run and represent the East? Goalies will be in the spotlight in this series, but will they be the only ones that will shine? These are two of the highest-scoring teams in the playoffs. Meanwhile, the Western Conference Finals pits the top two seeds head-to-head as the Vancouver Canucks and San Jose Sharks do battle. These two teams have never faced one another in the NHL playoffs, and both have struggled in recent years in the postseason despite phenomenal regular season success. San Jose won the President’s Trophy in 2008-09 with 117 points but were hastily ousted by the Anaheim Ducks in Round 1. Vancouver has been a top seed in the West in each of the past two seasons but have been eliminated in the Semis twice. This season though, they enter in as the President’s Trophy winners and the unquestioned #1 seed in the Western Conference. Common belief is that the winner of this series will win the Stanley Cup. Not so fast though as the East winner, whomever that may be, will surely have something to say about that. So how do these series shake out? Hit the jump to see:

NBA Playoffs: A Look Ahead (Western Conference Edition)

Since the NBA playoffs started, all we've been doing here at SportStatistics is looking backwards. We've looked at some great/awful individual lines and stats from the previous day's action, and we've  done recaps of almost every postseason game played thus far in 2011. What we haven't done yet, though, is look ahead to the rest of the postseason and assess what is likely to come. Since we're roughly half way through the NBA postseason, I figured now would be a good time to step back from dissecting each individual game in incredible detail and instead look at what is likely to transpire in the Conference Finals and in the NBA Finals. Will Dirk (see right) finally get that first ring?  Can D-Rose be NBA MVP and Finals MVP?  Will the Evil Empire of South Beach continue to make me unhappy? And what about the NBA's humblest superstar, Kevin Durant?  Hit the jump to find out.

Stat Line of the Day: May 17th

V. Mazzaro (KC): 2.1 IP, 11 H, 14 R (14 ER), 3 BB, 2 Ks vs. CLE
You never want to see players have a "historically bad" night, but that's exactly what Vin Mazzaro did last night  in Kansas City. To  be fair to Mazzaro, he was put in a lose-
Mazzaro has the distinction of throwing possibly
the worst relief appearance in MLB history
lose situation: starter Kyle Davies had been removed after just one-third of an inning, after he walked three of the first four batters he faced while throwing just six of his 21 pitches for strikes. So, when the 24-year-old Mazzaro (left) came on to start the fourth inning, he was already the second reliever in the game--manager Ned Yost needed him to get through innings, not win the Royals the game. Unfortunately, Mazzaro ended up putting up the worst relief pitching line since at least 1919 (and possibly MLB history), allowing 12 of the final 14 batters he faced to get on base safely. If his appearance had been a start, he would have been tagged with a gamescore of -19, which would be the lowest since Oakland's Mike Oquist -21 in 1998. In fact, those are the lowest two gamescores since 1957--so that gives you an idea just how awful Mazzaro was. In the fourth inning alone, he gave up seven hits and 10 runs, finished off by a three-run shot by Michael Brantley. However, due to the Royals need of someone to just pitch more innings, Mazzaro got sent out for the fifth. After getting the first out, he allowed the next four batters to reach, loading the bases with one out for new reliever Jeremy Jeffress. Then, to add insult to injury, Jeffress allowed all three of those runners to score, ending Mazzaro's line for the day. The final blow? After the game (just his second of the season), Mazzaro was sent back down to the minor leagues.

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Great Debate: 5/16

Welcome to the May 16th edition of the Great Debate. Today, Andrew Leff and I discuss some of the most interesting sports topics of the day. Today, we talk about Phoenix Suns President Rick Welts' startling revelation, the fate of the two NBA Playoff games last night, and whether one MLB squad of aging stars has finally been shown the door. Hit the jump for the discussion!

Leadoff Rankings: Week 7

Previous Rankings: Week 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6

The seventh weekend of the 2011 season has come and gone, and we're changing up the way we do our rankings. For the first time, our Leadoff Rankings have been determined not by my all-knowing power, but by the use of a formula. Similar to what we did on Thursday with our Rotation Rankings, we set all the statistics relative to league average, and then weighted each statistic to mean more or less than others (OBP means more than slugging percentage, for example). This gives us an overall average of 1.000, with lower scores correlating to above-average performance. More a fan of pitching? Check out our Rotation Rankings, published every Thursday, where we rank each team by the performance of their starting pitchers. The rankings are based on season performance (90%), with a small bias towards recent performance. The stats come from each team's first and second batters every game, regardless of the name on the back of the jersey. To see how things turned out this week, hit the jump!

Stat Line of the Day: May 16th

A. Chapman (CIN): 0.1 IP, 0 H, 4 R (4 ER), 4 BB vs. Cardinals
Chapman, shown here in Spring Training, has
an electric arm--and some accuracy issues
It's been a little while since we've had an epically bad stat line be our Line of the Day, but this was just too bad to leave out. Aroldis Chapman, if you haven't heard of him, is the Cincinnati Reds flamethrow who's been clocked at 105.1 mph, the fastest speed a baseball has ever been thrown. Unfortunately, last night, his ability to throw hard didn't exactly help him out in the 9th inning of a win over the St. Louis Cardinals--a win that ended up being much closer than it needed to be. Chapman threw just five strikes against 18 balls, which helps explain the four walks without a single hit--three on 3-1 counts, and the fourth on a 3-0. The accuracy issues are not a new problem for the Cuban righty, who has walked 20 batters in just 13 innings against just six hits--a WHIP of 2.00 even as hitters are just .143 when facing Chapman. Now, he is still just 23 years old, so the ceiling is still incredibly high--but this is a really bad sign. We're not just talking about poor control, we're talking about game-ruiningly poor control. Last night, he entered the game with a 9-2 lead in the top of the 9th inning, and managed to leave with a 9-3 lead and the bases loaded, having walked four of the five batters he faced. The Reds shouldn't need to use their closer in a game they're winning 9-2, but Chapman forced their hand, and that could definitely hurt them in some games down the road.

Honorable Mentions

J. Bautista (TOR): 3-5, 3 R, 4 RBI, 3 HR vs. Twins
If we hadn't just had a three home run night the other night from Carlos Beltran, I might have felt a little more excited about Jose Bautista doing the same thing last night. However, they weren't all two-run shots like Beltran's, so Jose gets stuck with an Honorable Mention so we can spotlight the accuracy problems of Aroldis Chapman. Bautista's third home run, in the sixth inning (after one each in the 3rd and 4th) made the margin 11-3, which also happened to be the final score of that game.

R. Westbrook (OKC): 14 points, 10 rebounds (6 offensive), 14 assists vs. Grizzlies
The Thunder won game seven of their series with the Memphis Grizzlies by 21 points, and Russell Westbrook put up a +/- of 19. Coincidence? Probably, but that doesn't say that Westbrook wasn't very important for his team in their series-clinching victory. A triple-double in the biggest game of his young career was huge, almost as big as teammate Kevin Durant's game-leading 39 points. The Thunder advance to face the Dallas Mavericks in the conference finals, and Westbrook will be a huge cog in that series.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The NBA Playoffs: Does Defense Really Improve? (Part 2 of 3)

(This is the second part of a three-part series on defense in the NBA Playoffs)

Part One: The 1980s

We often hear from NBA analysts that defense improves, or at least intensifies between game 82 of the regular season and Game 1 of the playoffs. It seems intuitive enough, the playoffs start and there’s a lot to play for: pride, fame, and winning the ‘ship. All that tends to lead to more aggressive play. The LeBron James's drive harder to the basket while the Andrew Bynum's go up for the block harder. It's human nature-- the more that's on the line, the harder they play. But does that aggression lead to better defense during the playoffs? Play-by-play guys and experts like to say it does. Coaches and players like to say it does. But do the stats agree? They didn't for the 1980s...but now we're looking at the 90s. Let's take a look.

Stat Line of the Day: May 14th

K. Durant (OKC): 3-14 (1-9 3pt), 11 points, 5 fouls, 2 assts, 7 rebs @ MEM
This is what Durant needed to do
more of last night in Memphis
Oklahoma City had a chance to end their series with the Grizzlies in Game Six. They had a chance to advance to the conference finals for the first time in Thunder history, and the first time for the franchise since 1995-'96 (as the SuperSonics). Kevin Durant (right), the 22-year-old emerging superstar, needed to have a good game--not even a great one--for the Thunder to advance. In that respect, along with the result of the game, Durant lost. Part of the problem was his shot selection; Durant is an ultra-athletic wing with the ability to take the ball to the basket, but he took nine of his 14 shots from beyond the arc, which is far too high of a percentage for someone in his position. KD needs to create contact (he averages eight free-throws a game for his career), not just jack shots from beyond the arc. Durant is a pretty good shooter from distance, shooting 35.8% for his career, but he's a smart enough player to understand that some nights the shots just aren't going in. The great players understand which parts of their game are working on some nights and which parts aren't, and adjust accordingly. The good news is, Durant is only 22, and these are lessons that he will learn over the course of his career--he is one of those great players. Last night might have been the night he learned his lesson, and if so he's lucky he's got one more game to try and lead his team to the promised land.

Honorable Mention(s)

C. Martinez (ATL): 4 IP, 0 H, 0 BB, 4 Ks vs. PHI
On first glance, you would think Cristhian Martinez's relief apperance wouldn't exactly seem to merit a Stat Line of the Night mention, even if it is just an HM. Four innings of perfect relief against the Phillies is a pretty solid night, however. Add in the fact that the Phils' offense had six hits off starter Brandon Beachy before he left with an oblique injury before the third inning, and Martinez actually did quite a job holding the Phils back while his offense brought the Braves back. He was helped by a game tying, 2-RBI Cristhian Martinez (his first career hit and first career RBIs).

C. Maybin (SD): 4-for-4, 2 HR, 3 RBI, 3 R @ COL
San Diego has been struggling offensively, aside from their talented young centerfielder. Maybin's batting .273/.348/.453, and last night he tried to single-handedly carry his team to a win in Denver. The Padres did score seven runs for only the sixth time this season, but unfortunately it was for naught--the Rockies won, 13-7.

Friday, May 13, 2011

The Great Debate: 5/13

Welcome to our newest feature, the great debate: a short debate on a few sports topics between two of our writers. There are often sports topics that crop up that our writers want to talk about, but are tough to justify statistically. There are so many stories that hit the sports newswire every day, that it's tough to provide full coverage--but a little opinion is never a bad thing. We'll be doing these debates often between numerous writers, like a SportStatistics PTI (for those of you who watch ESPN). Feel free to join in the debates, we'll be happy to comment back and keep the debate going! Our first discussion comes courtesy of myself and Jake Adams, who tackled topics from the NBA Playoffs to Tiger Woods' latest injury issues:

Stat of the Day: May 13th

Carlos Beltran: 3-5, 3 HR, 6 RBI, 3R vs. COL
Beltran had the 8th 3-HR game
in Mets history--all on the road
Beltran’s knee might be going, but his bat sure isn’t. Carlos provided the majority of the Mets’ offense in Colorado last night as the Mets took the final two against the Rockies. He went deep the first time in the first inning off starter Ubaldo Jiminez (3.2 IP, 5 ER), again in the 7th off reliever Franklin Morales, and again in the 9th off Matt Lindstrom. The long balls were the 6th, 7th, and 8th of the season for Beltran (right). The 34-year-old outfielder has been hurt each of the past two seasons, so he hasn’t hit more than 10 home runs since he hit 27 back in 2008. However, he seems to be back to 2006 offensively, batting .295/.387/.590, for an OPS+ of 170 (which would be a career high). His home run % is at 5.6, well above his career 4.0 average, though in a relatively small sample size of only 142 PAs this season. He is hitting at a .54 GB/FB ratio, which is well below his .77 career average, but last night that was a good thing. Willie Harris benefited as well—he was on base every time Beltran cranked one out. The Mets are still looking for another offensive player to really break out, as Beltran is only going to last so much longer on his knees. A final All-Star appearance could be on the horizon, though, if Carlos keeps swinging his bat the way he is.

Honorable Mention

Zach Britton/Jason Vargas: Baltimore 2, Seattle 1 
After Beltran hit his three home runs earlier in the day, I figured that there was no way he could be topped. However, Zach Britton and Jason Vargas came close to putting up some pretty rare numbers: that is, they both had a chance to pitch into the 10th inning. After a full nine in Baltimore, the score was 0-0, and both starters were still going strong. Britton (5-2, 2.42 ERA) and Vargas (2-2, 3.86 ERA) have both had solid seasons, but the opportunity to go 10 innings is a rare one. It was within reason, too--both pitchers had retired the last six batters they'd faced, including 1-2-3 innings in each part of the 9th. Neither of them had thrown more than 108 pitches, and Britton had only given up three hits--his only three baserunners. Still, they both get quality starts with no decision to show for it, and the fact they each only went the normal nine innings keeps them below the three home run performance of Beltran.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

NBA Playoffs Second Round: Night Ten

Eastern Conference

Boston Celtics (3) @ Miami Heat (2)
5/1: Game One--HEAT 99, Celtics 90 (1-0, Miami)
5/3: Game Two--HEAT 102, Celtics 91 (2-0, Miami)
5/7: Game Three--CELTICS 97, Heat 81 (2-1, Miami)
5/9: Game Four--Heat 98, CELTICS 90 (3-1, Miami)
5/11: Game Five--HEAT 97, Celtics 87 (4-1, Miami wins)

Unlike in Games Three and Four, the matchup of Kevin Garnett and Chris Bosh did not decide the pivotal Game Five. Bosh had 14 points and 11 rebounds compared to 15 and 11 for KG. Like the power forward matchup, this game was close the whole way.  Boston entered the fourth quarter with a two-point lead, and the game was tied until 2:10 remaining in the game. That's when LeBron exploded, running off 10 consecutive points, by shooting 4-4 from the field and 2-2 from behind the arc. Miami scored the final 16 points of the game, in fact, as they turned a six-point Boston lead with 4:15 remaining into a 10-point victory. During that time, Boston did not grab a single offensive rebound, yet they committed three costly turnovers. That short stretch is a microcosm of why the Heat prevailed in Game Five: ball control.  The Heat grabbed four more offensive rebounds than the Celtics did while also turning the ball over eight fewer times.  That's twelve additional possessions for LeBron and D-Wade (see above), who were hot all night long.  They combined for 67 points on 24-39 shooting (61.5%) plus 21 rebounds and seven assists.  They key, actually, was Miami's ability to get to the free throw line.  Boston hit one more field goal than--and the same number of three pointers as--the Heat in Game Five.  Miami's constant slashing to the bucket, though, garnered them 18 additional free throw attempts.  They hit 12 of those 18, including six in an otherwise poor shooting first quarter.  By staying alive early with free throws and ball control, the Heat kept themselves in position to use their explosiveness late in the game to pull out the victory.  Now on to the Eastern Conference Finals

Hit the jump to read about Grizzlies/Thunder!