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 thinking...do 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 double...by 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!

Peformance Enhancer Detector: The Baltimore Orioles

The graph below acts as a detector for Performance Enhancing Drug (PED) users.  The subsequent graphs show an obvious user in Rafael Palmiero; somebody who might have been using steroids in Cal Ripken; and a normal career curve for comparison--the great Frank Robinson. We'll start with the chart showing the top 10% and the bottom 10% for adjusted career OPS+ only:


A great way to detect an abnormal career progression; the graph uses OPS+ as a proxy to measure overall batting skill.  Relative OPS+ is measured by comparing 5-year periods of a player's career.  For instance, when 32 is seen on the age axis it represents the player's performance from age 28 through age 32, and age 33 represents ages 29 through 33 and so on.  The "relative" part is introduced when all of the player's other five-year periods are indexed to the player's best five-year period.  The best 5-year period is set to equal 100 and the rest of the 5-year periods are measured accordingly.  The chart above  displays the career progression in which 80% of players fit.  A couple of things to remember when viewing the chart is that the area between the 10% lines is 80% of all players measured. Additionally, the player's performance is compared to himself, so if Player A has an 85 rating at age 32 and Player B has an 89 rating at the same age, that does not necessarily mean that Player  B was a better player; it just means Player B closer to his peak than Player A. Hit the jump to see the individual player charts.

Rotation Rankings: Week 6

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



Week six 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!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

NBA Playoffs Second Round: Night Nine

Eastern Conference

Atlanta Hawks (5) @ Chicago Bulls (1)
5/2: Game One--Hawks 103, BULLS 95 (1-0, Atlanta)
5/4: Game Two--BULLS 86, Hawks 73 (1-1, Tie)
5/6: Game Three--Bulls 99, HAWKS 82 (2-1, Chicago)
5/8: Game Four--HAWKS 100, Bulls 88 (2-2, Tie)
5/10: Game Five-- BULLS 95, Hawks 83 (3-2, Chicago)
Spoiler Alert: he misses.
Despite an 11-point Chicago advantage after the first quarter, the Hawks crawled back into Game Five last night and cut the Bulls lead to two points heading into the fourth quarter.  That final period was never really close, though, as there was too much Derrick Rose for the Hawks to handle.  He hit outside shots, he hit inside shots, and he drove to the basket.  All in all, D-Rose scored 11 of his game-high 33 points in the fourth, as the Bulls won this game going away. Chicago was helped out by some horific outside shooting on the part of the Hawks. They went 1-12 (8.3%) from downtown, including 1-9 from Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford. Those guys were first and second on the team in three-pointers made during the regular season (if you exclude the departed Mike Bibby), but they couldn't hit the backside of a barn from behind the arc last night.  Though Johnson managed to have a serviceable game for himself (15 points, 40% shooting), Crawford stunk it up in Game Five.  He went 1-9 from the field, didn't get to the free throw line once (despite attempting 4.7 per game in the post season before last night), and ended up with only two points.  Crawford's 17.7 points per game in the playoffs this season had been a huge boost to the Hawks--including a game-winner against the Magic.  However, he kept throwing up bricks last night, and the Bulls took the surprisingly easy win.

The NBA Playoffs: Does Defense Really Improve? (Part 1 of 3)

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

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? Let's take a look.

One Month In: NL East Edition

Lowe's 3.22 ERA is the worst amongst
Braves starters, yet is 22nd in the NL
For years and years, the NL East was filled with teams in big cities that somehow failed to make any impact on a national level. The Phillies were stuck in mediocrity (or worse) from 1994-2006, the Mets had a few good years but lately a few atrocious ones--and that's not even mentioning the team playing in the nation's capital. The Marlins, despite a World Series victory in 2003 and a talented team of youngsters, continues to draw about 500 people to a game. Yet, somehow, this once-ragtag group of teams has formed the toughest division in all of baseball thus far. The last-place team, New York, has All-Stars David Wright and Jose Reyes, in addition to solid pitchers in Chris Young and R.A. Dickey. The Washington Nationals, long a joke in the division, has been competitive behind solid pitching and a talented-if-struggling lineup. The top of the division gets even tougher due to the power arms thrown out seemingly every night. The pitching throughout the division is spectacular, headlined by the aces in Josh Johnson, Derek Lowe (right), and Roy Halladay. And Cliff Lee. And Tim Hudson. Anibal Sanchez. Get it? Opposing hitters sure do. To see how the rest of the division breaks down so far, hit the jump!

Stat Line of the Day: May 11th

Tim Lincecum (SF) & Ian Kennedy (ARI): 1-0 San Francisco
Kennedy (L) and Lincecum dueled in 
the desert, though neither got the win
Most eyes were on Roy Halladay and Josh Johnson to provide the pitcher's duel of the night--and while the two each had very solid starts in South Florida, they didn't throw the ball as well as Lincecum and Kennedy. The two NL West pitchers combined to throw 16 scoreless innings, giving up just four hits each. Kennedy walked three and struck out eight, throwing 76 of his 116 pitches for strikes (65.5%). Lincecum, meanwhile, walked two and struck out nine while throwing 76 of his 113 pitches for strikes (67.3%). Suffice it to say, other than Lincecum's slightly higher gamescore--81 to 79--there wasn't much separating these two pitchers other than possibly the performance of their bullpens. While Lincecum had Brian Wilson pitch a scoreless ninth for the Giants, David Hernandez didn't do such a great job for the Diamondbacks. Hernandez gave up a leadoff walk to Buster Posey, and two batters later Cody Ross singled in pinch runner Darren Ford for the win. The spotlight, however, was still on the two starters. Lincecum became just the third starter this year (Zambrano, Billingsley) to throw a gamescore of 80+ and not get a decision, which really only happens in these type of scenarios. We haven't yet seen a pitcher throw an 80+ gamescore and have his team blow a lead of more than one run, if they had a lead at all, but I would imagine watching your team implode for five or six runs in the ninth inning would be much more painful. Neither pitcher tonight really deserved a loss, but that's the way the game happens sometimes. Either way, Tim Lincecum and Ian Kennedy combined for our Stat Line of the Day, and it wasn't even close.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

NBA Playoffs Second Round: Night Eight

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) 
For the first time in this second round series, the road team won a game.  That's bad news for the Boston Celtics, as they now are in a 3-1 hole, needing to win the final three games of this series to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals.  To do so, they would need to win both games at the American Airlines Arena in Miami, a place where they are 0-2 in the playoffs and 1-1 in the regular season.  That does not bode well for the C's, since they lost by an average of 10 points in Miami during the first two games of this series.  Last night's loss was particularly troubling for Doc Rivers' squad because the key to their Game Three win, Kevin Garnett, looked overmatched in Game Four.  His dominance of Miami counterpart Chris Bosh led to a blowout win for the Celtics over the weekend.  Last night, though, Bosh had a bounce-back performance in shutting down KG--and putting up some pretty nice numbers himself.  In Game Three, Bosh shot 1-6 en route to an underwhelming six-point effort.  In Game Four, he shot 8-17 (47.1%), scoring 20 points and pulling down 12 rebounds.  Bosh was strong on the defensive end, as well.  He held Garnett to seven points on 1-10 shooting.  He also prevented KG, the two-time NBA rebounding champion, from grabbing a single offensive rebound.  By contrast, Bosh pulled down four on the offensive glass, which he promptly turned into six Miami points.  The news was not all bad for Boston, though.  Paul Pierce shot 10-20 (50%), going off for 27 points and eight rebounds.  LeBron James still outplayed the Celtics small forward, netting 35 points, 14 rebounds, and three steals on the night.  One more win, and the newer Big 3 are in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Hit the jump to read about the Thunder/Grizzlies game!

The AL West At a Glance

The entire landscape of the AL West has changed in recent years as the competition seems to be growing with arms. Last season, the Texas Rangers dethroned the Los Angeles Angels' run of three straight division titles and even went on to the World Series. The AL  West might be the most competitive division in baseball at the moment
Dan Haren (L) and Jered Weaver
anchor one of baseball's best rotations
with just four games separating four teams. Thus far, the Angels' rotation, led by Dan Haren and Jered Weaver (left) has them rolling to an early lead at 20-15. The Rangers and Oakland Athletics follow at 18-17 while the Seattle Mariners again sit in last at 16-19. This pitching-heavy division is tight right now and is largely up for grabs. Though often overshadowed by the AL East, the West remains competitive for a four team division and has produced as many World Series appearances than the Central over the past 10 years. For the Angels, they added outfielder Vernon Wells via trade from Toronto this winter, then extended his contract for $126 million over seven years. Wells has yet to prove his worth as he has struggled mightily, sitting at around .179.  If or when Wells and Torii Hunter start hitting, it could be a fun summer in Los Angeles. Here is a far more in-depth look at the AL West and where it is heading.

Stat of the Day: May 10th

So, normally this column is a compilation of great/terrible/interesting performances from the previous day's action. However, yesterday didn't really produce anything like that: no 16-strike out games, no 44-point performances, nobody with a hat trick or a playoff shutout or anything like that. So instead, we're going to talk about a statistical anomaly in the world of baseball that is particularly interesting/unlikely/weird over the course of a full season

M. Scherzer (DET): 3-0 with a 6.23 ERA (road); 3-0 with a 0.96 ERA (home)
In eight starts this season, young Tigers pitcher Max Scherzer is 6-0 with a solid 3.20 ERA and 9.1 K/9.  However, looking deeper into Scherzer's performance in 2011 we find something strange: he is a stellar 3-0 with a 0.96 ERA at home, while also being 3-0 on the road. The difference, though, is that in road starts, his ERA is a whopping 6.23 this season. Not only is that an enormous home/road split in ERA, but Scherzer managed to rack up a win in three of four road starts. How is this possible? Well, in Scherzer's four road starts, the Tigers have scored an average of 8.25 runs per game. In fact, in his first start of the season, Scherzer departed (the road game) after allowing six runs on nine hits--including four home runs--in only five innings. He still got the win, though, as the Tigers scored 10 runs that game. In his four home starts, by contrast, they have scored only 3.75 run/game for Scherzer, but he has gotten the W in a 3-0 Tigers win and a 4-0 Tigers win. Now, why did this happen? Other Tigers starters do not show this same trend: though Rick Porcello is 1-1 at home and on the road, his ERA is actually 1.97 higher at home. That means that Comerica Park is not some amazing pitchers park that hides pitchers' flaws--Scherzer is just pitching better there. In fact, the reason for Scherzer's home success this season was actually the cause of his better home performance last year (his first with the Tigers) as well. In 2010, Scherzer had a 2.99 ERA at home and 3.99 ERA on the road. Though he pitched only 3% more innings on the road last year, Scherzer still gave up four more home runs and walked six more batters on the road--in only three more innings. Likewise, this season Scherzer has walked five more batters on the road in 5.1 fewer innings. He's also given up eight round-trippers away from Detroit but zero at home. This means that Scherzer is better able to limit the damage at home, while on the road he is prone to the big inning. This then leads us to the final question: why is Scherzer giving up more home runs on the road? Unfortunately, there is no clear answer to this question.  Though it makes sense that the young Tigers hurler gave up four home runs in Yankees Stadium (the second-easiest park in which to hit a four-bagger), he also gave up two home runs at Cleveland's Progressive Field and one at Seattle's Safeco Field--the fifth and ninth-hardest stadiums at which to hit one out, respectively. This means that Scherzer is simply prone to the longball on the road. It was the same last season (12 road/eight home), his first year pitching at Comerica Park. By the way, Comerica is the 15th-easiest/16th-hardest place to hit a home run--right in the middle. So the Tigers aren't any more or less likely to give up home runs there, Max Scherzer is just an anomaly.

Monday, May 9, 2011

NBA Playoffs Second Round: Weekend Recap

Though four fan-bases might disagree with me, I thought we got a really fun weekend of NBA playoff action the last two days. Three teams pulled off upsets, including one by mounting a 13-point comeback in the fourth quarter only to win in overtime. Another upset tied the series at two games apiece, while the third was the product of NBA-record shooting performances. There were ejections and rejections and three-pointers galore. Hit the jump to read all about it.

NHL Playoffs Update

The NHL Playoffs are as entertaining as any playoff in any sport. This year is no different. The Boston Bruins avenged their monumental collapse from a season ago, and the Tampa Bay Lightning secured another early round exit for the Washington Capitals. Both of those series were quick and painless for the victors. As for the Western Conference, the two remaining series have become quite a battle. Early on, it looked as if both series' would end rather quickly. However, the Predators and Red Wings have both clawed their way back into their respective series and are in great positions to force pivotal Game Sevens. Hit the jump to see my complete playoff review of the Conference Semifinals.

Leadoff Rankings: Week 6

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

The sixth weekend of the 2011 season has come and gone, and the Leadoff Rankings are starting to settle out. The division leaders are all in the top-10 (along with two last-place teams), while the bottom 10 is filled with truly offensively challenged clubs. 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, 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 9th

D. Jeter (NYY): 4-6, 2 HR, 3 RBI, 2 R, SB
The Yankees' captain broke out in a big way yesterday, hitting his first two home runs of the season as the Yankees beat down the Texas Rangers, 12-5, in Arlington. It had been 62 games since the last time Jeter went yard, which is well over his career average.  For his 17 seasons in the majors, Jeter  averaged a  homer every 40 at-bats, or
Jeter went yard twice against the Rangers yesterday
approximately one home run every nine or 10 games. The last two seasons, however, that average has skyrocketed to over 61 at-bats per home run. That's to be expected for any player as they get older, but the concept of Jeter (left) getting "old" still seems to be a tough one to swallow for most Yankees fans. As some who got into baseball right around 1993-94, the two players who've been great from then until now have been Derek Jeter and Chipper Jones, and both of them are now in the twilight of their careers--though they're both still pretty productive for the same teams they've played with their entire careers. Jeter posted his first-ever OPS+ under 100 last season, and he's on pace for another year with around a 90 OPS+, meaning he's slightly below the league average (compared to a career OPS+ of 118). Jeter proved yesterday that he still has his pop left in his bat, and the Yankees are certainly talented enough to send their captain packing with another World Series title--but this might be his last shot.

Honorable Mention

G. Sanchez (FLA): 4-4, 3 R, 3 RBI, HR, 2 2B, BB vs. Nationals
While starter Anibal Sanchez looked to be the Marlin destined for an honor today, throwing a perfect game through his first six innings, he fell victim to some hits in the 7th inning as well as a high pitch count, and so his start ends up being a great one, but not an all-time great one--as so many starts end up. Instead, another Sanchez finished with the best day on the Fish, as Gaby went 4-for-4 with three extra-base hits, scoring three runs and getting on base all five plate appearances to help the soon-to-be Miami Marlins beat the Nationals 8-0.

J. Terry & P. Stojakovic (DAL): 53 points (18-21 FG, 15-16 3PT) vs. Lakers
Yes, Dallas swept the Lakers. No, this isn't the only thing we have to say about the most surprising sweep of the 2011 NBA Playoffs. Yes, Phil Jackson had one of the weirder press conferences I've ever seen yesterday--if you want to know how to announce a retirement without actually announcing a retirement, then I highly suggest watching the Zen Master dance around those questions after yesterday's game. The Dallas bench went crazy in the 2nd quarter, helping the Mavs go into halftime with a 24-point lead and the series, and the bench consisted of Jason Terry, Peja Stojakovic, and J.J. Barea, who combined for 75 of the 122 Dallas points.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Stat Line of the Day: May 8th

J. Verlander (DET): 9 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 4 K vs. Blue Jays
Manager Jim Leyland congratulates
Verlander on his 2nd career no-hitter
Less than a week after Francisco "9.13 ERA" Liriano threw a no-hitter for the Minnesota Twins, the Detroit Tiger's Justin Verlander tossed his second career no-no. This one was almost a perfect game, as Verlander didn't allow a baserunner until the eighth inning. He walked J.P. Arencibia on a borderline 3-2 pitch after 7.1 perfect innings pitched. The walk ruined the perfect game, but Verlander immediately erased the runner on a double play. He faced the minimum of 27 batters in throwing a complete game, no-hit shutout. He also only needed 108 pitches to do it, an average of 12 pitches per inning. Verlander was able to do that by pounding the strike zone, as 68.5% of his pitches were strikes. The Toronto hitters barely made any effort to work the count against the Tigers' ace, as Edwin Encarnacion and David Cooper went 0-6 on a grand total of 14 pitches. Without getting Verlander's pitch count up, the Blue Jays had no chance to see him tired or get a stab at the bullpen. Instead, Verlander bore down, threw his fastball consistently for strikes all night long (16 of 27 first-pitch strikes), and blew away the opposition.

Honorable Mention:

Z. Randolph (MEM): 21 points, 21 rebounds (8 offensive), 2 assists, 1 block vs. Thunder
Another huge performance from the Grizzlies' power forward Zach Randolph, who got 21 points and 21 rebounds in Memphis' come-from-behind victory over the Thunder in Game Three. Randolph was third in the league in rebounds this regular season, with 12.2 per game. During the postseason prior to yesterday, though, he had only been averaging 9.25 boards per game--perhaps because he has had to deal with Tim Duncan and Serge Ibaka down low. Last night, though, Randolph overpowered Thunder big men Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins. He grabbed 21 rebounds, including eight offensive ones that he turned into six points. Randolph was at his best when it mattered most, pulling in five rebounds late in the fourth quarter as the Grizzlies eliminated a 13-point deficit. He even drew a big offensive foul from Russell Westbrook with 22 seconds left in overtime, effectively icing the game for the Grizzlies. Without Randolph's contributions down low, Memphis likely would not have come back to win this game; Z-Bo was fantastic down the stretch, though, with 21 all-important rebounds and some great defense.

Y. Gallardo (MIL): 8 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 6 K vs. Cardinals
On almost any other day, Yovani Gallardo's eight shutout innings against the potent St. Louis lineup would have been the Stat Line of the Day. However, with Verlander's no-hitter and Randolph's 21-21 performance in a playoff game, the Brewers' underrated ace barely makes the column. What he did yesterday against the Cardinals was extraordinary, though, as he dominated a lineup with guys named Pujols, Holliday, and Molina. Those three went a combined 0-11 against Gallardo, as he held the Cardinals hitless for seven full innings. Leading off the eighth, Daniel Descalso, a career .240 hitter in 104 at-bats, finally broke up the no-hit bid. Gallardo got through the eighth inning unscathed, though, and he departed after the inning due to a high pitch count (118). Had he been able to complete the no-hitter, it would have been the first time since Jane 29, 1990 that there were two no-hitters on the same day. That time, Dave Stewart and the great Fernando Valenzuela each threw nine no-hit innings. Yesterday, Justin Verlander was able to do it, but Yovani Gallardo came up just short: eight innings, one hit. Still a pretty good start.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

NBA Playoffs Second Round: Night Five

Eastern Conference

Atlanta Hawks (5) @ Chicago Bulls (1)
5/2: Game One--Hawks 103, BULLS 95 (1-0, Atlanta)
5/4: Game Two--BULLS 86, Hawks 73 (1-1, Tie)
5/6: Game Three--Bulls 99, HAWKS 82 (2-1, Chicago)
Joakim Noah was a beast on the boards
in Game Three in Atlanta
Well, the Bulls don't look so vulnerable anymore.  I've had to eat a slice of humble pie over the last few days because, after I wrote that the Bulls did not look long for the playoffs, they've run off two straight double-digit victories over the Hawks. Last night's win was the most impressive because it came in Atlanta, where the Hawks had not yet lost in the postseason.  Chicago was in control the whole way in this one, leading by 13 at halftime and 17 after three quarters. Game Three really was the Derrick Rose show, as the youngest-ever NBA MVP dropped a career-high 44 points on the unsuspecting Hawks. His 59.3% shooting from the field (16-27) and 4-7 performance from downtown was a sharp departure from the first two games of the series, in which D-Rose shot a combined 21-54 (38.9%) on field goals and 3-15 (20%) on three's.  Rose's career high could not have come at a better time, because now the Bulls have home court advantage back and can advance to the Eastern Conference Finals just by holding serve at the United Center.  If Chicago continues to play the way they did last night, they are likely to do just that.  Not only did Rose live up to his MVP award, but his teammates were fantastic as well.  The Bulls shot 10-20 (50%) from downtown last night, and they outrebounded the Hawks 47-34.  Joakim Noah was particularly dominant in the paint, pulling down 15 rebounds (eight offensive) and blocking five Atlanta shots.  Despite another subpar performance from Carlos Boozer (six points, six rebounds), the Bulls were helped by Taj Gibson stepping up with 13 points and 11 rebounds off the bench.  This was a complete effort from the East's top seed, as they dominated every phase of the game and looked like the team that played to the NBA's best record during the regular season.

Western Conference

Dallas Mavericks (3) @ Los Angeles Lakers (2)
5/2: Game One--Mavericks 96, LAKERS 94 (1-0, Dallas)
5/4: Game Two--Mavericks 93, LAKERS 81 (2-0, Dallas) 
5/6: Game Three--MAVERICKS 98, Lakers 92 (3-0, Dallas)
The Mavericks stymied Kobe Bryant and the
Lakers down the stretch in Game Three
Another close game between the Lakers and the Mavericks, and, once again, Dallas comes out on top. Just like in Game One, this contest was tied in the final two minutes and the Lakers had ample opportunities to win. The Mavs were able to execute while the Lakers made careless mistakes, though, including a bad inbounds pass that gave the Mavericks the ball and more free throws with fewer than 20 seconds remaining.  Perfect free throw shooting down the stretch enabled Dallas to ice the game and prevent Kobe Bryant (see above) from getting a potential game-tying shot. Granted, barely pulling out a win at home is not the most ringing endorsement of the Mavericks' fitness for the Western Conference Finals, but they have managed to win close games this postseason, including against the defending champs.  Last night, just like in the first two games, the Mavs won by playing to their strengths and minimizing the Lakers' own advantages.  Dallas continued to have good ball movement, racking up assists on 71% (22 of 31) of all field goals--compared to just 48.7% (19 of 39) for the Lakers.  That strong team play allowed the Mavericks to find open shooters down the stretch--like Peja Stojakovic and Jason Terry, who each hit big three-pointers--while the Lakers struggled through isolation sets to Bryant and Lamar Odom.  Another result of this ball movement is that Dallas excelled at the perimeter game.  They shot 41.4% from behind the arc compared to just 23.1% for Los Angeles.  That's 12 treys for the Mavs and just three for the defending champs--a huge difference.  Dallas also worked to minimize the Lakers proclivity for controlling the ball.  During the regular season, Phil Jackson's squad committed the fifth-fewest turnovers in the league.  In the final four minutes last night in Dallas, though, the Lakers committed two turnovers, which the Mavericks promptly turned into four points.  By continuing to play to their strengths--passing and outside shooting--the Mavericks are up 3-0 in this series.  All 98 teams to be down 3-0 in NBA history have eventually been eliminated, so this doesn't look to promising for the Lakers.