Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Diving into DYJS Data, Part 1

First of all, welcome to all those who may have wandered over from waswatching.com, after Steve graciously linked to me tonight. Now that I've introduced DYJS, I thought that I'd post some interesting preliminary findings. The goal when I set out on this giant mission of data gathering, was to find new correlations to October success. I'm going to need more than six teams' worth of data (the 2006 playoff teams) to get that far, so for now I'd like to look at how well DYJS explains 2006 regular season success.

First of all, from the data summary, it seems that runs scored per game relates to wins at r=0.62. To explain, using my (admittedly limited) knowledge of statistics- a team's aggregate offensive output "explains" 62% of a team's win total. An r value of 1.00 means the two variables (in this case W and RS/G) would completely "explain" each other, while 0.00 would mean that there was no relation between the variables. Many of BP's regular season stats , when compared to post-season success, had an r value close to 0.00. Anyway, I'd like to use this 62% value as a benchmark for seeing how well each of the metrics I've co-created relate to wins.

Standard deviation of runs scored on a day-to-day basis was the original aim of this story. And as I pointed out in the previous post, the Yankees did lose to a team with a lower standard deviation of runs scored. However, here's where my statistics knowledge can get me into trouble, because I know just enough to make bad conclusions. What I'm wondering is what the effect of not being able to score fewer than zero runs has on the overall picture. What I mean is, does the Tigers' lower standard deviation come from the fact that they scored fewer runs, overall, than the Yankees. Any help from real statisticians would be appreciated.

In regards to the DYJS, the number that immediately jumps out at me is 0.89. That is the correlation between "DYJS O + D" and wins. What that means is the number of times that a team is able to Do Their Job at the plate and on the mound goes a long way towards explaining the number of wins a team accumulates. This seems intuitive to me, but I co-invented the statistic, so maybe it isn't so for others. At any rate, I think it shows me that I am on the right track with this metric, since it's so closely related to wins.

Looking specifically offense and defense, I find that Doing Your Job on the mound correlates much better to wins (r = 0.71) than does Doing Your Job at the plate (r = 0.59). To look at this another way, I've ranked each team in its DYJ percentage on offense and defense. The teams are ranked by wins, and I've compared each teams' rank in wins to its DYJS ranks:

So, what I believe this is telling me is that in the 2006 American League, it was much more important to Do Your Job on the mound than at the plate. In fact, for the Yankees it was crucial: there were 115 games when the Yankees Did Their Job at the plate in 2006, and they won 87 of those games (that's where the 75.7% comes from). On the mound, however, they Did Their Job in 79 games and won 67 of them (84.8%).

In the near future, then, I'm going to take a close look at my numbers for pitching, rather than offense, because I believe I am pushing toward the following conclusion: In terms of regular season success, the ability to keep the opposing team from reaching 5 runs in any given game was a crucial aspect of win total. More to come....

Using Team DYJS

Following the collapse of the Yankees in the 2006 Division Series, there was much discussion over at my favorite Yankees site (Bronx Banter) about What Went Wrong. More than a few fans began to rebel at what is considered the “new wave” of team construction- signing players with high on base percentages, focusing on scoring as many runs as possible, limiting traditional tactics such as stolen bases and sacrifice bunts. These fans were not at all satisfied with the response of the “statheads” to postseason performance, typified by Billy Beane’s comment: “My shit doesn’t work in the playoffs.”

Indeed, research conducted by Baseball Prospectus has produced reams of material showing the statistical correlations between regular season wins and on base percentage, slugging percentage, and other more complicated stats. It was these correlations that lead to philosophies of team building made infamous by Moneyball. But, as in all statistics, sample size matters. The long-term trends of a 162 game schedule cannot be compressed into the do-or-die environment of the best-of-five series.

Baseball Prospectus also investigated this, using a system they developed to measure post-season success. Simply put, a team gets maximum points if they sweep all eleven games and win the World Series, and minimum points for getting swept out of the division series. Using this formula, they tried to correlate post-season success with their metrics known to correlate well with regular season success: runs scored, runs allowed, on base percentage, pitchers’ strikeout rate, and many more. What they found is not one metric correlated with post-season success in any meaningful way. Perhaps the post-season really is a crapshoot.

Or is it? Another poster, who also has an excellent blog, and I started to toss around the idea that because the long-term trends do not apply does not mean that there are no trends at all. Offensive production surely is not tied to winning in October: the 2006 Yankees scored 933 runs, but went 21 straight innings without scoring a run in the Division Series. Therefore, the question is this: in terms of post-season success, perhaps what matters more than having a productive offense is having a consistent offense. I have no formal training in statistics (which should change in the next year or so), but to me the way to find this out was investigating the standard deviation of runs scored on a day-to-day basis. Looking at this graphically, here’s the 2006 Yankees:

The graph is vaguely bell-shaped, but there are some clear outliers: the Yankees scored exactly 3 runs in a game significantly more than is predicted by normal distribution, and allowed 2 runs a lot as well. Overall, the Yankees averaged 5.72 runs/game, with a standard deviation of 3.68. How does this compare to the team which knocked the Yanks from the playoffs? The Tigers averaged fewer runs per game (5.07) and with a smaller standard deviation (3.39). Here’s the Tigers’ run distribution:

So is it true that the Tigers had a more “consistent” offense, and that’s why they were better equipped to win in the small-sample environment of a Division Series? Well, I’m not sure. As I said, I’m not a statistician, and I would welcome the assistance of one for this data. In the meantime, this looks like a perfect use for Did Your Job Stat. As I hinted in the comments to Sam’s original post, DYJS originated not out of individual performance, but of that of a team. How often did the Yankees’ offense “do their job” and score at least five runs in a game? How often did the Yankees’ pitching “do their job” and limit the opposition to four or fewer runs?

Thanks to retrosheet.org and a parsing program written by Sam, I was able to collect this data for all MLB teams from the 2006 season. The results are very, very interesting and I will not try to say it all in one post. However, you can view the summarized data here. In the coming days and weeks I’ll try to dissect this data (as well as historical data from previous seasons) to determine what it is that DYJS can tell us about a team’s success in the regular season and the post season.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Remembering Shelden Williams

Shel-Shel prepares to collect rent versus Miami (FL), 2/19/06.

Six-nine-and-a-senior, from Forest Park, Oklahoma... number twenty-three... Sheeeeeeldeeeen Wiiiiiiiliams!
I cut today's game preview a little short because I wanted to make special note that today the Duke Blue Devils will retire #23 in honor of two-time Defensive Player of the Year Shelden Williams. The man known as the Landlord will be the 12th men's basketball player to receive such an honor, and the first since Jason Williams in 2003. In his four years the Blue Devils went 114-22, including a Final Four appearance in 2004. He left Duke as the team's all time leader in career blocks and career rebounds, and his 111 blocks in 2005 is the most in a season for a Blue Devil. In his senior season, Shelden recorded just the third triple double in Duke men's basketball history, with 19 points, 11 rebounds and 10 blocks- the first of the three triple doubles to include blocks.

Shelden's play was perhaps overshadowed by the flashier offensive production by his teammate, JJ Redick, whose number will also be retired next week. This is unfair, as Shelden's offense proved to be even more crucial than Redick's in close games- especially in his senior season. Connecticut's comeback in the 2004 Final Four began when Williams left the court due to foul trouble. Duke fell to Georgetown in 2006 even though Redick scored 41 points, in part because Williams was limited to just four points.

But it is even more unfair to identify Williams' play by how Duke faired when he struggled. Fans should remember his tenacity in the paint, and the ability to take over games defensively.
One of the most interesting points I remember the soft-spoken Williams making is that he is not the type of shot-blocker who swats floaters into the stands with intensity. He could do that, mind you- but that sort of thing isn't productive, since the other team just gets the ball back. Shelden said in an interview that he looks for opportunities when he can get the ball to his teammates with a block. Therefore while overall Duke may be more proficient with the blocked-shot this season, what they miss is Williams' ability to end possessions.

Williams was drafted by the Atlanta Hawks with the fifth overall pick in the 2006 NBA Draft. In his rookie season, he has started 27 of the Hawks' 42 games, and has put up rates of 5.8 ppg and 4.3 rpg. Shelden is backing up former Tar Heel Marvin Williams, but has had a few highlights such as a 12 point, 7 rebound game in an upset win over the Pistons a few weeks ago, and a season high 20 points in a loss to Detroit back in November.

His fledgling NBA career should not obscure the memories created at Duke, however. Feel free to leave your favorite Shelden memories in the comments. And as always, remember to
Pay Your Rent!
Pay Your Rent!
Pay Your Rent!

Duke v BC Preview

This Sunday (5 PM, FSN) the Blue Devils host Boston College in a matchup of two teams coming off buzzer-beater victories in their previous games. Duke's win on the last-second layup of David McClure has been all over the news with controversy about an error in clock operation. What the tired conspiracy conversation has missed was a Blue Devils team that had controlled a strong opponent for 35 minutes, winning the battle of the boards 40-24. Boston College, meanwhile, needed a 22 footer from senior Sean Marshall to knock off Florida State at home, 85-82. It was their second game without one of the premier shot-blockers in the nation, Sean Williams, who was dismissed from the team for undisclosed disciplinary reasons. BC bounced back from a blowout loss to Clemson in their first game without Williams, but coach Al Skinner is still looking for a suitable replacement for Williams' 32.2 minutes/game.

Against FSU, Williams' place was taken by 21 unremarkable minutes from 6-10 junior John Oates, who had just two points and one rebound. Reserve center Tyrelle Blair (6-11, Jr) played 14 minutes, with four points and two rebounds. The night belonged to sophomore guard Tyrese Rice, who had 26 points and six assists, and to Marshall for his last second heroics. The reality is that BC is now a three man team, receiving 20 points each against FSU from Rice, Marshall, and senior swingman Jared Dudley. They relied on the long range shot significantly more against FSU (33.9% of shots) than they have the rest of the season (28.3%). While this was a moderately effective strategy- they hit 7 of 18 from beyond the arc, including Marshall's game winner- in the long run the poor shooting of Rice (30% 3pt on the sesaon) may force the Eagles into a dribble-penetration offense.

It is clear from the game logs that this is exactly the strategy that the three wing players have been taking in the absence of Williams. Despite the lack of an interior presence, BC managed to get to the line for 29 free throw attempts (not including the necessary foul by FSU with 16 seconds left), which was considerably more than the Seminoles. Duke's strategy should be clear, featuring Jon Scheyer, Demarcus Nelson, and McClure preventing the dribble penetration and three point shooting of the three BC guards. So far this season, Duke has limited opponents to just 27.9% from 3-pt (4th in nation) and has been successful at avoiding fouls, as opponents have a free-throw rate of just 27.1% of all possessions (23rd in nation). If these two trends hold true, Duke's #1 ranked defense should have no trouble holding the BC offense in check.

When Duke has the ball, a dribble-penetration offense may also be a wise strategy, hoping to get Marshall or Dudley into foul trouble early. McRoberts and McClure should also be able to assert dominance on the offensive glass- even with Williams the Eagles were ranked 269th in the nation, rebounding just 63.9% on the defensive end. Facing a defense not particularly adept at forcing turnovers, Greg Paulus should have no trouble continuing his improved point guard play and leading the Blue Devils to victory. Duke, 70-55.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Duke v Clemson Preview

It may be that the words "crucial ACC Showdown" have seldom, if ever, been written about a game between Duke and Clemson. Yet when the Tigers will be carrying an 18-2 record and a #17 national ranking into Cameron Indoor Stadium (Thursday, 7 PM, ESPN). Duke, meanwhile, is coming off a rejuvenating week, winning three ACC contests, albeit against three of the weaker teams in the conference. Duke will look to build its new-found offensive success and keep the heat up with the nation's best defense against a Clemson team eager to push the pace and force steals.

Clemson's first two months of its 2006-07 campaign featured domination of some smaller programs (Appalachian St, Wofford, Charleston Southern) in relative obscurity. But after opening ACC play with three straight victories, the newly ranked Tigers traveled to Maryland with the nations' only remaining unbeaten record. They did not leave with that unblemished record, falling 92-87 in a game that still features the worst defense Clemson has played thus far this season. Four days later the Tigers hosted North Carolina, and the results were less than inspiring. The Tar Heels ran up the pace and forced the worst offensive game of Clemson's season to leave with a 77-55 victory. Clemson bounced back with a solid win at Boston College, and will be looking for more ACC road blood in taking on the Blue Devils.

An outsider might look at the victories attained against lower competition, and the collapses against Maryland and UNC as evidence that the Tigers were outplaying their ability to begin the season. However, a closer look at the statistical trends in all six of Clemson's ACC contests reveals some areas that may trouble a suddenly hot Blue Devils squad. For instance, Clemson features two of the most productive players in college basketball on the offensive end: 6-3 junior guard Cliff Hammonds (11.1 ppg, 3.7 apg, 124.6 ORtg) and 6-5 sophomore swingman KC Rivers (14.3 ppg, 42% 3-pt, 124.8 ORtg). Even considering just ACC contests, Hammonds is second in the conference with a 2.88 A/TO ratio and is shooting 60% on 2-pt attempts, fourth in the conference. Rivers is also a strong ball handler (TO% of just 12.5) and spreads the offense with superior ability from long range. Down low, forwards James Mays (6-9, Jr) and Trevor Booker (6-7, Fr) grab a high percentage of offensive rebound opportunities, and as a team the Tigers recover 41% (13th in the nation).

Offensively, Clemson's weakness appears to be its inability to get to the free throw line, something they do on just 14.5%, which is dead last (336th) among all D-1 teams. Once there, the Tigers are just as bad, shooting 57.8% (331st in nation). Relying on their offensive rebounding and 2-pt field goal percentage may be difficult against Duke, however. The Blue Devils have grabbed 78% of all of their opponents' missed shots during ACC play, led by Dave McClure and Josh McRoberts. Duke is also second in the ACC in defending inside the arc, limiting opponents to just 44.1% on 2 point shots (Virginia is first at 44.0%). However, while Duke limited Wake Forest and NC State's above average 2-pt shooting ability, they struggled against a Georgia Tech team possessing a stronger overall offense. Clemson, like GT, does not take many long range shots, but have an advantage over the Yellow Jackets with Rivers' strong 3-pt shooting ability. There is a chance the game could proceed similarly to the Duke-GT game if Clemson can be strong from beyond the arc.

Defensively, the Tigers are also a top 25 team, and possess a superior ability to induce turnovers- especially steals. Led by Mays and Hamilton, Clemson generates steals on 15.5% of opponents' possessions, second in the nation, and they have actually exceeded this mark in ACC games. Add in Booker's strong blocking ability (2.1 bpg) and some solid defensive rebounding from Mays and the origins of Clemson's up-tempo pace are clear. Still, Clemson's defensive weaknesses are clear: limiting field goal percentage, especially from beyond the arc. Duke should hope for Jon Scheyer and Greg Paulus to build on last weeks' success in limiting turnovers and raining three pointers. Crisp passing and dribble-drive-dish strategies by McClure and Nelson should open up holes in Clemson's aggressive, steal-seeking defense.

While both Carolina and Maryland pushed the tempo the fastest Clemson had seen all season, the Tar Heels won with defense while the Terrapins won with offense. In addition, Clemson's close calls against Georgia Tech and Florida State were moderately paced and neither had extraordinary offensive or defensive efforts. Duke should therefore look to play within themselves rather than forcing an adaptation to the Clemson style. The Tigers do have multiple weapons which may prove costly to an often turnover-prone Blue Devil team, but if Duke continues it defensive domination and is able to slow the game to their level by limiting turnovers, Duke could roll in Cameron. Duke, 70-60.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

The Did Your Job Stat(DYJS)

Baseball is a game immersed in statistics, moreso than any other sport. A diehard football fan would be hard pressed to name his quarterback's completion percentage or even be aware of how a Quarterback rating is calculated. When Rex Grossman has a QB rating of 0.0, we all know that it's bad, but we have very little idea on how it's calculated. Basketball only really has ppg, free throw percentage, and field goal percentage as far as casual stats go. Other stats exist of course, but even the well known stats aren't regular topics of conversation outside of Shaq's abysmal free throw percentage.

Baseball on the other hand is a completely different animal. Pitch counts are religiously followed by broadcasters with 100 being the magic number for when a pitcher is "done". If he throws 75 pitches he was underworked, 150 and the manager is going to kill his arm. A .300 batting average is the gateway between a good season and a great season at the plate. If you Win 19 games as a pitcher you had a good season, but if you win 20 games in a season people will refer to you as a 20 Game Winner for the rest of your life. Win 300 games in your career and you're automatically in the Hall but 288, not so much.

Even casual fans are aware of BA, OBP, ERA, Slugging, Wins/Losses, and OPS. More hardcore fans know such stats as BB:K, fielding percentage, groundball/flyball percentage, etc. Beyond this there are numerous more derivative statistics such as Win Shares and VORP.

Stats can be used to compare hitters to hitters and pitchers to pitchers, but there's no easily understandable stat to compare hitters and pitchers. VORP and Win Shares can be used but you practically need a phD in math to understand them, making them far outside the grasp of the actual fan. Enter the Did Your Job Stat(DYJS).

DYJS represents the percentage of the time that a player made enough of a contribution to help his team win. In any game that a player participates in he either Did His Job, or He Didn't.

A hitter can do his job by getting 2 Job Points in a 9-inning game. Job points are awarded as follows.
+1 getting on base safely
+1 getting a RBI
-1 commit an error
-.5 grounding into a double play
+.5 successful sac bunt
+.5 successful steal
-.5 unsuccessful steal

So, if you hit a homerun you did your job for the game since you "got on base" and got an RBI. Under this system, hits and walks are obviously equivalent if the bases are empty. If a player commits 2 errors in a game, he has severely hurt his team on defense and needs to have an outstanding day at the plate in order to make up for it. A pinch hitter or sub does his job if he has .5 or more Job points.

The metric for a starting pitcher is inspired by the idea of a quality start. Wins and losses are too arbitrary to truly measure a pitcher's performance. Only 2 things matter for an AL pitcher in whether he did his job, Earned Runs and Innings pitched. For every inning beyond the 6th, the pitcher is allowed an extra half-run, rounded down. So, he can't Do His Job if he allows 4 runs unless he completes the 8th inning. A NL pitcher can further help his cause by getting on base or getting a RBI and will be allowed to give up an extra .5 runs(rounded down). So, when Dontrelle Willis hits a grand slam(like he did against the Mets last year), it allowed him to give up an extra 2.5 runs in order to do his job. As far as grounding into double plays/bunting, this is considered normal for a pitcher either way.

This leads to the question about relievers. A reliever can do his job if he allows no runs if he has less than 2 IP. This includes inherited runners, because the job of a reliever is to get out of the inning, regardless of the situation he is put in. Relievers, in general, aren't as skilled as starters, so if they get extended work they're allowed to give up a run sooner than a starter. Closers are treated the exact same way as other relievers. Saves are nice for the stat book, but giving up 2 runs in a single inning is not a good thing regardless of the result.

I cannot say for sure without actually running some numbers if this will produce DYJS averages for good batters and good pitchers, but that's the idea. If it does not, I'll either have to re-tune the numbers or accept the idea that hitter and pitcher consistency cannot be compared. Good players should contribute to their teams success consistently.

The really cool thing about the concept of DYJS is that it can be applied to anything. Think of it as a Statistic Interface that can be implemented by anyone familiar with an activity. Take my job for instance. There are way too many kinds of tasks for me to give a score to, but as a sample, lets say I need to get 2.5 DYJS points to do my job for the day(and yes I realize that only me and perhaps Jeff have any idea what I'm talking about).
+1 fix a bug(on average anyway. some are more complex than others)
+1 full deployment to QA
+.5 push rules to QA
-.25 forget to turn on Rule debug after giving new code to Dev environment
+.25 fix a minor problem for someone(point out the "user error")
-1 a program that I maintain breaks and it takes me longer than 10 minutes to fix it, and it's caused by something being wrong in it initially and not the environment changing

For someone like a surgeon, he'd probably need 1 DYJS point to do his job and it'd look something like this.
+1 show up to work
-1 screw up

Using this metric, you could certainly compare a surgeon to a middle reliever, although I'd hope that the surgeon would have a DYJS % in the high 90's and would dominate any middle reliever. This suggests the idea of an Employment Adjusted Did Your Job Stat Perentage(EADYJS %), but that is a topic for another day.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Duke at NCSU Preview

Saturday (3:30 PM, ABC), the Blue Devils (15-3, 2-2 ACC) roll in to Raleigh to take on North Carolina State (11-6, 1-3 ACC), looking for their third ACC win in one week. Duke is coming off of a 22 point victory over Wake Forest less than two days prior, while NC State has not played since defeating the same Demon Deacons one week ago. The two contests could not have been more different, however. Duke's victory was keyed by their most effective defense of the season, limiting Wake to just 62.3 points/100 possessions, and allowed just 40 points, fewest by a Duke team in an ACC contest since 1958. The Wolfpack, meanwhile, out-gunned the Deacons, shooting over 60% from the field, including 9 of 20 from beyond the arc (an effective field goal percentage of 68.8).

The different styles in wins over Wake Forest are indicative of the larger trends for each team so far this season. When Duke has lost, it is because of below average (for Duke) defense- the Blue Devils are 1-3 when the opposing team has an offensive rating of 100 or higher. Most often, it is the opponent's free throw rate which decreases Duke's defensive efficiency, as illustrated by the Georgia Tech loss, in which the Yellow Jackets got to the line in 74% of their possessions. NC State, meanwhile, is 0-5 when their offensive efficiency dips below 100, and are 11-1 when it exceeds this average. Incidentally, it is also free throw rate which seems to drive the Wolfpack's offensive ability, and they are 2-6 when failing to get to the line in more than 30% of their possessions.

Ability to reach the free throw line is only a major factor when a team is either consistently good or consistently bad, and NC State is very much the former. Playing a rotation that barely goes seven deep, the Wolfpack are shooting over 71% from the line on the season, with sophomore forward Brandon Costner the only one shooting below 65%. This may prove to be a decisive factor in the game, as Duke will be facing a team with similar height for the first time in ACC play.

When the clock is moving, the offensive runs through 6-8 junior Gavin Grant (16.1 ppg), who has played nearly every minute of every game for NC State this season. However, Grant is not very efficient with all of his opportunities, shooting less than 30% from 3-pt range and turning the ball over at an alarming rate (28% of his possessions). His turnovers are also complimented by plenty of assists, coming at a Josh McRoberts-like frequency (24% of his possessions). Two other players are averaging 16 points per game, but with very different styles. Sophomore center Ben McCauley has been a monster down low, racking up an eFG% of 61.4% despite attempting just two long range shots all season. He is also second on the team with 3.7 apg. Costner has also put up big numbers for the Wolfpack, achieving this through above-average output in the paint and from beyond the arc.

As a team the Wolfpack shoot 58.5% on their two-point shots, which ranks fourth in the nation. If they were able to grab more offensive rebounds, their offense would be much more deadly, but they grab just 28.5% of their misses (299th in nation). They have made up for this as previously noted, by an ability to get to the free throw line (and convert), but against Duke's stifling defense, failure to create second chances may doom NC State in this contest. Indeed, Duke's Josh McRoberts and Dave McClure have above average ability to grab the defensive rebound and may make a large difference in the game.

Duke's game plan may depend on the availability of NC State senior guard Engin Atsur, who has missed 11 of the last 12 games with a hamstring injury. He did play in the loss at BC but was not a factor, with zero points in 32 minutes. In his absence, the Wolfpack play five players 30 minutes or more, with senior reserve guard Bryan Nieman getting the most minutes off the bench. If Atsur is again on the sidelines, Duke should strongly consider pushing the pace as they have in their win over Miami and the first half against Wake Forest, attempting to tire the Wolfpack and to get Grant and McCauley into foul trouble.

In the half court game, Duke's defense will need to focus on interior play- double teams and weakside help, much like they did to begin the Georgia Tech game. For Duke to be effective in this strategy, Lance Thomas must stay out of foul trouble. On offense, Duke will need to exploit NC State's inability to limit 3-pt field goal percentage- if Jon Scheyer and Greg Paulus are strong from beyond the arc, this one may not be much of a contest. However, nothing is certain on the road in the ACC, and NC State has weapons that can cut at some of Duke's weaknesses. Even so, expect Duke's newfound transition offense and continued defensive domination to control this game. Duke, 65-50.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Duke v Wake Preview

The Duke Blue Devils (14-3, 1-2 ACC) look to build on Sunday's convincing road win when they host Wake Forest (9-7, 1-3 ACC) tonight at 7 PM. Duke had its best offensive game of the season against Miami, scoring a very efficient 134 points per 100 possessions (100 is average). Jon Scheyer had his best game at Duke with 25 points including 4 of 6 from beyond the arc, and Greg Paulus turned in a solid scoring performance (15 pts, 3 of 6 3pt) and limited his turnovers (2), leading to an easy victory. Coach K's squad now looks to revenge its early ACC losses with an apparently easy slate of games
in the rest of January. Wake Forest's extremely young squad comes into the game following a six point loss at home to NC State on Saturday. The unusually long layoff between games might benefit the Deacons, who enjoy pushing the pace- their competition-adjusted tempo is 72.8 possessions per game, 25th in the nation. Compare this to Duke, who's half-court oriented offense generates just 66.1 possessions/game (223rd in nation).

At first glance this might seem an advantage for Wake Forest, considering that Georgia Tech dismantled the Blue Devil defense with a fast paced (73 possessions) game one week ago. However, pace is not the entire story when it comes to beating Duke. The Blue Devils played a similar pace against Kent State, and their opponents had similar offensive efficiencies (100.7 for GT, 98.9 for Kent State). The major difference in the game was the Duke offense-- an inefficient, poor-shooting team that was unable to get to the free throw line against Georgia Tech was the opposite against Kent State. What this means for Thursday night is that Wake Forest must limit Duke's field goal shooting and free throw rate in order for a fast pace to be effective.

Wake's defensive strength does seem to be its ability to keep the other team off the charity stripe (45th in nation in this category). Recently, however, Wake has had trouble keeping the fouls down as in losses to BC and VT. As for opponent field goal percentage, it appears that teams that shoot effectively (BC, NCSU, AF) have been very successful against the Deacons. There isn't a standout player on defense for Wake, and as a team they fail to come up with many steals or blocks and are simply average in rebounding.

On the offensive end, the story is 6-11 forward Kyle Visser, who is having a standout season as one of just two upperclassmen on Wake's roster. He's averaging 18.3 ppg, (the only player averaging double figures) and 8.3 rbg. An effective presence down low (63.4 eFG%), Visser has cracked the 25 point mark three times this season. However, the key to beating Wake is not in stopping Visser. In Wake's nine wins, he has averaged 17.1 ppg; in their seven losses, he has averaged 21.4 ppg. On an individual level, the key to stopping Wake's offense may be in limiting 5-11 freshman point guard Ishmael Smith. Smith has been a phenomenal assist man, converting on 42.4% of his possessions (4th in the nation). As the second highest scorer on the team, Smith puts up 10.9 points in Wake's wins, and just 6.4 in their losses. In addition, with the exception of an 11-assist performance against South Florida, some of Smith's worst games have come in Wake's losses. Surprisingly, to go along with his outstanding assist rate, his turnover rate is an awful 29.8% (20-25% is average for point guards... Greg Paulus is at 33.7%).

Elsewhere, there is little of note for the Demon Deacons. Freshman guard Anthony Gurley takes a lot of shots (he leads the team with 27% of Wake's shots when he's on the court), but doesn't convert on many of them (52% 2pt, 17% 3pt), and sophomore Harvey Hale is even worse in this regard. L.D. Williams and Michael Drum initiate some offense from the wing position, but they don't take nearly enough shots to make much difference in the game.

For those who enjoy the transitive property of basketball, consider: just five days after Air Force was downed by Duke 71-56, they then ran over the Deacons, 94-58. This highlights some of the qualities of Duke's defense that have been extraordinary this season, as well as the defensive futility for Wake Forest. Duke's offense should have another game to explore its new found efficiency, especially from beyond the arc. Expect everyone to get involved and if Duke is forced to run, Greg Paulus should have few problems feeding the scorers in transition. Duke once again needs to exploit its height advantage, and while Josh McRoberts and others should be able to contain Kyle Visser, this is not essential for victory. Jon Scheyer has quietly had a phenomenal season on defense for the Blue Devils with pressure on the perimeter, and if he continues this on Smith and the other Wake guards, this one could be over with a lot of time remaining. Duke, 80-55.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Duke at Miami (FL) Preview

Saying that it has been an unpredictable season in the ACC thus far is an understatement. When Duke travels to Miami to take on the Hurricanes (Sunday 5:30 PM), it will be a matchup of two teams that illustrate this well. Duke is coming off back to back losses to open its ACC schedule, the first time Coach K's teams have done that since 1993. Miami, meanwhile, has had played three contests in the league, with wildly different results. Hosting Georgia Tech in the ACC opener, Miami ran with the Yellow Jackets and came away with an eight point victory, 90-82. They then began the new year with a one point loss in a low scoring game at Wake Forest, a matchup that paired two teams predicted to be at the bottom of the ACC. Miami then won at Maryland, holding the Terrapins to just 22% shooting.

Despite two quality ACC wins, Miami sits at just 9-8, and it is a tale of which team will show up for coach Frank Haith. One thing that stands out, differentiating their wins and losses, is rebounding. In seven of its nine wins, Miami has had an offensive rebounding percentage greater than 40%; in seven of its eight losses, the percentage has been less than 40%. On the defensive end, they've allowed superior offensive rebounding in all their losses, except a Northwestern team that shot 60% from the field to knock off the Hurricanes. Overall, Miami is ranked 57th in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage, one of their greatest strengths. Another strength is holding onto the ball, as they are 30th in the nation with just 8% of their possessions ending in steals.

Miami is led by go-to junior guard Jack McClinton, who takes a high percentage of Miami's shots. Brian Asbury, a 6-7 sophomore forward is a strong force, garnering an impressive offensive rating of 112. Freshman Duane Collins is a force on the boards, grabbing 12.1% of offenisve rebound opportunities. As a team, they are neither effective nor prolific from beyond the arc, and are average at both getting to the free throw line and in free throw percentage.

This is, on paper, a good matchup for a Duke team looking to get back on its feet after two demoralizing losses. Duke is taller, more physical, and better statistically on offense and on defense. Miami likes to play a similar tempo to Duke, and look for Greg Paulus to bounce back from terrible games against the Techs. If Miami is to have a chance, they need to crash the boards like they have in their wins over Georgia Tech and Maryland, making up for poor shooting with many second chances. McClinton may also have a chance to exceed his 17.7 scoring average against the less agile Duke guards. If, however, Duke is able to grab rebounds on both ends of the court, and Jon Scheyer is able to shut down McClinton, Duke should roll to its first ACC win. Duke, 70-55.

Friday, January 12, 2007

More Immaculate Inning Fun

So, in the spirit of starting off this blog, I decided to update the Immaculate Inning page at wikipedia, by adding the victims from many more feats. With the help of www.retrosheet.org I was able to complete the list back to 1959 (before then retrosheet does not have play by play data). I was plugging along nicely until I discovered something possibly alarming to the purity of the list. Lynn McGlothen had been listed as achieving this feat on August 15, 1975. However, the play by play clearly shows that Tony Perez led off the inning with a single. I feel this betrays the spirit of the immaculate inning, so I deleted this entry from the Wiki page. I also sent my evidence to Baseball Almanac, from which the Wiki list was gathered . Pending a response by the experts, I believe we can now say that there have been 39 immaculate innings by 36 different pitchers.

Some trivia: While only three pitchers have ever pitched two Immaculate Innings, four players have been victims of the feat:
Jose Vizcaino, Carlton Fisk, Jeff Reed, and Greg Luzinski.. Further, if McGlothen's inning is excluded, then in all of the instances of the feat, one thing will be common: no pitcher has retired all three batters on a called third strike.

Yeah, so baseball statistics have pretty much been life consuming since I was about five years old, and I even have the picture to prove it. I might post it sometime, if you're lucky.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

About the Title

What is an immaculate inning? It is only the most dominant act that one can do in sport. Nine pitches, 3 batters, 3 strike outs. It is completely equivalent to the batters not even being in the batter's box. As shown by rule 6.02(c):

(c) If the batter refuses to take his position in the batter’s box during his time at bat, the umpire shall call a strike on the batter.

This hints at the idea of the Immaculate Game, which would be 81 pitches, 27 batters, 27 K's which is completely unthinkable, but would be stastically identical to a team of 9 toddlers trying to bat. A list of all pitchers who have thrown an immaculate inning can be found here.

Duke v GT Game Thoughts

Well, welcome to ACC road play, young Blue Devils. Duke fell, 74-63 to Georgia Tech last night in a game that went not at all like the Blue Devils planned. As captured in the preview (see below), Georgia Tech's strength all season had been its interior play, making a high percentage of its two point shots. This suggested that Duke focus on being tall and athletic on defense, which was reflecting in the starting lineup: Josh McRoberts, Lance Thomas, Gerald Henderson, DeMarcus Nelson, and Jon Scheyer. Duke dominated in the first three minutes, jumping out to a 10-2 lead. At this point, Greg Paulus and Dave McClure were substituted for Thomas and Henderson, with Paulus committing an immediate foul. Georgia Tech then went on an 10-0 run to take a lead that was never relinquished.

The key to the game, for Georgia Tech, was their offensive efficiency. Though the strength of Duke's defense is normally the ability to lock down the perimeter, the Yellow Jackets found themselves double teamed and frustrated in the paint. It was a great game plan and well executed by Coach K's squad; however, Georgia Tech responded by taking Duke's apparent defensive strength out of play. Thaddeus Young and Anthony Morrow combined to go 5 for 7 from beyond the arc, which brought both of their season rates up to 39%. Once Duke got off of its down-low game plan, Georgia Tech went back to its two strengths: points in the paint and transition offense.

That transition offense was sparked in part by another subpar effort from the Duke offense. In fact, at an efficiency of just 85 points per 100 possessions, it was by far Duke's worst offensive game this season. Despite showing an above average ability to grab the offensive board this season, Duke managed just 7 rebounds out of a staggering 34 missed shots, including 16 from behind the arc. Just as surprising as Morrow and Young for Georgia Tech was Scheyer for Duke: the freshman hit just three of his ten 3pt attempts, dragging his average down to 39%.

Georgia Tech's 24 defensive rebounds and 11 steals were more than enough for them to bump up the tempo. Duke had 75 possessions in this game, which is 15 more than their season average heading into the game, and it is no coincidence that 75 is exactly the average for Georgia Tech this season. Georgia Tech also got to the foul line at a much higher rate than usual, attempting 29 free throws (though six were in the final minute) on 19 Duke personal fouls. Duke, meanwhile, shot just 11 free throws on 17 personal fouls by GT.

There are few positives to take from Duke's performance in this game. Low post defense was extraordinary, with McRoberts, Thomas, and Zoubek all having solid games. Thaddeus Young was limited to just three shots inside the arc, forward Jeremeis Smith had none in 30 minutes. Help defense and double teams were also effective, with Scheyer and Nelson standing out. However, it did seem as though Duke tended to foul too often in those double team situations. While the referees called a solid game overall (especially calling the oft-missed over-the-back on rebounds), replays of many of these doubleteams show very little contact.

There's only so much that game film and reading statitsics can tell you, especially when you get on the court and an opponent's glaring weaknesses (three-point percentage, free throw rate, free throw percentage) suddenly become areas of strength. Credit the Georgia Tech players, who were likely fired up after a heartbreaking loss to Clemson, for rising above themselves for this contest. At the same time, it is unfair to write off Duke's offensive performance because "this year's team is all about defense." Last night's game was not just below average offensively- it was awful. Something needs to be done about cohesiveness (especially if Greg Paulus is to get a reduced role), effieciency, and discipline (crisp passes, hold on to the ball), or else it could be a very long ACC season for the Blue Devils.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Duke v GT Game Preview

Tonight at 7 PM, the Devils go down to Georgia to take on the Yellow Jackets in Atlanta. Duke (13-2, 0-1 ACC) is coming after a hard-fought loss at home to Virginia Tech, while Georgia Tech (11-4, 0-2 ACC) looks to bounce back from a road loss to the undefeated Clemson Tigers. Despite an inferior record and sitting 57th in the nation in RPI, Paul Hewitt's team is ranked 20th overall by Ken Pomeroy's pythagorean method, thanks to some impressive offensive numbers. Led by a pair of freshmen: 6-8 freshman forward Thaddeus Young (27 min/g, 14.7 ppg) and 6-5 point guard Javaris Crittenton (29.1 min/g, 13.9 ppg, 6.0 apg), Georgia Tech has scored 84.4 points per contest, at an offensive efficiency that ranks 7th in the nation. However, this high-powered offense will surely miss the presence of 6-6 sophomore swingman Lewis Clinch (20.2 min/g 13.2 ppg), who was suspended for the remainder of the season for violating the university's honor code. Still, there are few easy road games in the ACC, and this will be a challenge for the young Blue Devils.

When Duke Has the Ball
Duke's oft-criticized offensive ability will be under the microscope as the university looks to avoid back to back league losses. Turnovers have been the story so far for Coach K's young squad, and the loss to VT was a prime example. The Blue Devils had their highest turnover rate of the season, wasting 31.8% of their possessions, including six each by point guard Greg Paulus and pass-happy big man Josh McRoberts. This resulted in one of the least efficient offenses of the season for Duke, though their offensive rebounding, free throw rate, and effective field goal percentage all were average for Duke this season. Overall the offense has a very slow tempo, ranked 272nd out of 318 Division I schools, at just 60 possessions per game. When adjusted for this tempo, Duke's offense actually ranks a respectable 46th in the nation. McRoberts and Paulus are joined by junior swingman DeMarcus Nelson as the three players on the team with above average Offensive Ratings (100 is average). When Duke doesn't turn the ball over (as they do on 24% of their possessions, 263nd in the nation), they are very efficient in their scoring and getting to the free throw line (14th in the nation in FTRate). One area of excellence is in 3 point shooting: though Duke only shoots from behind the arc 28.5% of the time (283rd in the nation), they make their long range shots at an impressive 40.6% (26th in nation). This is led by Greg Paulus' extraordinary 50% rate from trey land.

Georgia Tech's defense is above average, at a tempo-adjusted 40th in the nation. They have induced a turnover on 24% of possessions (eerily like Duke's offensive total, and 81st in the nation), due in large part to a very good knack for getting a steal. Crittendon causes a steal on 3.7% of possessions, but the star is senior guard Mario West, at an outstanding 5.4% of possessions, 12th in the nation among those with 40% of minutes played. Junior bigman Ra'Sean Dickey anchors the paint with a block on 7.5% of possessions, good for the top 75 in the nation (for comparison, Shelden Williams had a block in 9.5% of Duke's possessions in 2006). The story for Georgia Tech has been their ability to limit the opponent's offensive efficiency: in their four losses, they have averaged an awful defensive efficiency of 120, while they've played outstanding defense in many of their wins, such as holding Purdue to an efficiency 85.5 on a neutral court. Strongly tied to their defensive efficiency is their ability to force turnovers and their ability to limit the other team's effective field goal percentage, whether it be strong perimeter defense, shot blocking, or limiting the opponents’ chances at the free throw line.

Duke has the potential to dominate this matchup if they can keep the turnovers down, especially since the 6-10 McRoberts and 7-1 frosh Brian Zoubek will be the tallest men whenever they’re on the court. Pounding the ball inside and getting Dickey and West into foul trouble would go a long way in this game. If, however, Crittenton and West are able to get into passing lanes and make things difficult for Paulus and the other Duke guards, the resulting transition offense for Tech may be too much to handle for the Blue Devils.

When Georgia Tech Has the Ball

As mentioned, statistically speaking the Yellow Jackets have an offense that is among the best in the nation. Their most elite ability is that of the offensive rebound, which they gather on 43.4% of their possessions (4th in the nation). Their team 2-point shooting percentage is ninth in the nation, and they are also adept at avoiding the block. Some weaknesses for this defense are in turnovers; while nowhere near Duke in the rankings, a turnover in 21.1% of possessions is not ideal. Free throws are also a problem: not only do they not get to the line very much (23.5%, 200th) but once there, a lot of bricks fly (66.5% FT, 227th). Crittenton directs the offense and has an assist on 32.5% of his possessions, 53rd in the nation. Scoring most frequently goes through Young; he takes 27% of his team’s shots while on the court. Overall, their offense is strong and efficient, with seven men holding offensive ratings greater than 100. However, their rating may be inflated due to some cupcake games early on against Winston Salem State and Georgia State. The loss of Clich must also be mentioned while using their statistics to make predictions. However, Georgia Tech still maintained an above average offense (110 rating) in their one point loss at Clemson, without Clinch.

Duke’s defense is much lauded and for good reason, making this an intriguing matchup. The story here is perimeter defense: Duke is #1 in the country in opponent 3 point field goal percentage, fourth in the nation in opponent’s percentage of shots from behind the arc (just 25%), and is complemented by a solid steal and block percentage. Adjusted for the slow tempo at which Duke has been playing, their defensive rating is first in the nation. In the only statistic that truly matters, Duke has limited its opponents to a staggering 54.4 points per game. It is this defense which is crucial to the Blue Devils’ success in Atlanta. In their losses, Duke had two of their three worst defensive performances of the year. A game against Air Force was the third, and Duke was only able to overcome it with their strongest offensive showing of the year. Coach K’s team will need to continue its extraordinary perimeter defense to prevent Crittenton from getting the ball down low, from where most of Georgia Tech’s shots come.

Game Plan, Outlook

A smart move for Duke would be to run a tall, athletic lineup with McRoberts joined by Lance Thomas (if he has recovered from a foot injury). In addition, they would be wise to limit the minutes of Greg Paulus if his turnovers continue, as a quicker lineup of Nelson, Scheyer, and Henderson would be considerably better on defense. Brian Zoubek has been under-utilized so far this season, and while his size would be beneficial against a shorter GT squad, his raw defensive skills may not be ideal in this situation. Look for Duke to control the pace, as Georgia Tech likes to play a considerably faster game than the Blue Devils. This can only be effective, however, if Duke solves its turnover problems and prevents the Yellow Jacket’s running game.

This is going to be one of those close, hard fought ACC road games for Duke. Ken Pomeroy’s prediction is a one point loss for the Blue Devils- basically a toss up. Both teams are coming off heartbreaking losses, both teams have yet to win an ACC contest. In the end, it may be that Duke’s superior ability to get to the free throw line (so long as they shoot better from the stripe than against VT) will be the difference in this game.

Duke, 65-60.


So. Here we are. I feel all grown up, graduating from the "omg let's talk about feelings" world of livejournal to the big bad world of blogging. But a post I did over there today convinced me that I should start something new, and something more accessible to friends and strangers. It's not so much that I believe that what I say is somehow important enough to matter in the grand scheme of things. In fact, for a long time it prevented me from posting things because I thought I had to be new, different, interesting. But that's not the point. The point is to use writing as a release, as communication, as a way to relate to friends. So with this blog I hope to create a place for my old friends to join new ones in discussing various topics.

It will most likely be, primarily, about sports. Duke basketball and Yankees baseball are two passions I think about a lot, and I've always been attracted to statistics and how they relate to my favorite teams. If sports are not your thing, don't worry, because my interests and opinions on a lot of topics should make their way into lots of posts, such as politics, biology, or life in general. I also hope that a lot of my friends will enjoy making "guest posts" about whatever topic they think would be interesting for everyone to discuss.

On comments: it is my hope that discussion will stay civil, but I know that is not always a realistic goal. Even forgetting the posts that will be about controversial things like politics and religion, let's face it: lots and lots of people hate the Yankees, and hate Duke. Also, one of my guiding principles of online comments is this: credibility and anonymity are inversely related. So in order to preempt the inevitable trolling should this blog get popular, I'm going to require that all commenters have a blogger or google mail account, to provide some measure of accountability. I hope everyone understands that.

Well, I guess that's it for now. I'm going to post the livejournal entry that convinced me to start this whole shindig, and soon I'll post something about the title of this blog (The Immaculate Inning). I'm looking forward to everyone's comments and to writing!