Advanced Analytics you will never see
Since the dawn of Moneyball, professional sports teams have tried to get a competitive edge through the use of advanced analytics. Some of these metrics have created breakthroughs in the way a game is played, and these statistics have filtered into the awareness of the general public. Because of their popularity and utility, advanced analytics have been used, with varying amounts of success to measure more intangible characteristics of players and teams, as well as extending out into the non-sports worlds of politics, business and social media.
One of the limitations in this area of statistics is that the formulas are created by people who are mathematicians and not necessarily elite athletes or coaches. For this reason, there are cases where the weight assigned to various characteristics and the method of converting game play situations into formulas don’t always work, as correlation is often confused with causation.
Given my experience as a former professional tennis player and coach with over twenty-five years of experience, I would like to share a new set of advanced analytics terms that answers the most fundamental question: “what makes a champion?”
The WTF? Ratio
No this is not what you think. This is an athlete’s (W)ise-guy-(T)emerity-(F)atigue index. It is a measure of how likely someone will commit an error that would embarrass even a recreational player. Here are the components:
WISE GUY: this score is a measure of an athlete’s personality as it affects an athlete’s ability to make the high-percentage play. Do they like to show boat? Do they suffer from irrational confidence? Are they bat sh*t crazy?
Here are a few examples of famous athletes who could destroy their own or their team’s performance with a few impossibly bad decisions:
- Lance Stevenson (NBA) — decided to blow in Lebron’s ear during the Eastern Conference finals during game 5. His team loses game 6 by 25 points.
- Brett Favre (NFL) — Despite twenty years of professional experience, the Vikings’ 40-year-old quarterback made the most egregious rookie mistake of scrambling right and throwing back across the field with 19 seconds left in the NFC Championship and the Vikings in field goal range. A win would have put the Vikings in the Superbowl for the first time since 1977, but he threw an interception, and the Saints ended up winning in overtime.
- Dave Roberts (MLB) — going into game 7 of the World Series, the Dodgers’ manager decided to let Yu Darvish pitch, in spite of the fact that Darvish got shelled (4 runs in 1 2/3 innings) in game 3 and the availiability of Clayton Kershaw to pitch with three days rest. After Darvish gave up 5 runs in the first 1 2/3 innnings, Kershaw pitched four scoreless innings.
- Nick Young (NBA) — pretty much anything he does. (Just Google Nick Young and Shaqtin’ A Fool)
TEMERITY: this score is a measure of an athlete’s fear as it affects an athlete’s ability to handle pressure. You’ve probably heard many champions talk about how much they hate losing more than they love winning. But there are many great players who are more afraid to lose than they desire to risk everything to win. When that fear gets to them, it can ruin their careers:
- Jana Novotna (WTA) — The most famous choke in tennis was the 1993 Wimbledon Final, when Novotna was one point away from a 5–1 lead in the third set against Steffi Graf, lost five straight games and the match and broke down to cry on the Duchess of Kent’s shoulder at the award ceremony. After this match, she went from playing tight three-set matches against Graf to losing badly most of the time, winning only four sets in fourteen matches over a six year period. Happily, she finally won Wimbledon in 1998 (rest in peace).
- Nick Anderson (NBA) — One of the most famous chokes in basketball occurred in the 1995 NBA Finals, when Andersen missed four consecutive free throws at the end of a game where the Shaquille O’Neal-Penny Hardaway Magic blew at 20-point lead. What makes this one event so historic is that the Magic were devastated emotionally, got swept and never recovered as a team. A year later, Shaq signed with the Lakers. Hardaway’s career was cut short with injuries, and he never returned to All-Star form. Anderson got a case of the yips at the free throw line and shot as low as 36.5% two seasons after that disastrous Finals. He hung on in the league for thirteen seasons and never really recovered to play at the same level.
- Jean Van de Velde (Golf) — With a 3-stroke lead on the final hole of the 1999 British Open, Van de Velde was sure to become the first French player to win the tournament since 1907. Instead, he must have watched the movie Tin Cup to prepare for the tournament and refused to lay up to the green which would have all but guaranteed his victory. He went for the green, triple bogeyed and lost the playoff. In his only other major European tournament, the 2005 Open de France, he found the water on the first playoff hole. He won only two professional tournaments in a long career as a journeyman golfer.
FATIGUE: this score is a measure of an an athlete’s ability to make good decisions and maintain form when they’re tired. Even the greatest champions can finally break down, and depending on the situation, this could be disastrous. Here are a few examples of how an athlete or team finally cracks:
- Rafael Nadal (current #1, ATP) — At the 2017 Australian Open, Nadal played two consecutive five set matches, and did something I have never seen him do in his entire career. He missed three running down-the-line forehands in the eighth game of the fifth set to go down 5–3 to Roger Federer. At 30 years of age, after countless marathon matches where he does so much work on the court, he finally looked human.
- Beast Mode* (NFL) — The most famous touchdown run in Seattle Seahawks history occurred in a 2011 playoff game against the Saints, when Marshon Lynch rumbled down the field for a 67-yard touchdown, breaking about ten tackles. What people don’t think about, is that he averaged a very pedestrian 3.5 yards a carry until that run came with 3:38 left in the 4th quarter and the Saints’ defense completely exhausted.
- NBA — Pretty much every basketball team that plays a third game in four nights, or plays a hellacious overtime game only to travel to another city and play another game the next day. ESPN has articles for gamblers alerting them to what it calls “schedule losses.” On New Year’s Eve, the Lakers lost a double overtime game against Houston and played poorly the next day. This is why players like Lebron James are a freak of nature. I can only think of one game where Lebron’s fatigue actually hurt his performance. Playing at San Antonio in game 1 of the 2014 NBA Finals, they had a problem with the air conditioning, and James had to come out of the game with leg cramps.
A List of some all time great champions where “WTF?” only applies to the impossibility of their achievements
- Diana Nyad, first human being to swim from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage. WTF?
- Michael Jordan overcame the flu and dehydration to win his final NBA championship to play 44 minutes and score 45 of his team’s 87 points. With the Bulls down by 1, he stole the ball, ran down the floor and executed the most perfectly concealed push off to get open without getting called for an offensive foul.
- Laker rookie Magic Johnson started the game at center, in place of the incapacitated Kareem Abdul Jabbar in game 6 of the 1980 NBA Finals at Philadelphia. He had a game for the ages with 42 points, 15 rebounds and 7 assists to win the championship, and gave us a preview of the state of modern basketball as the first point-center.
- Madison Bumgarner (MLB) — Although he’s never won a Cy Young award as the best pitcher in baseball, this San Francisco Giant is the greatest post season pitcher in modern times. He threw a complete game shutout as a rookie, helping the Giant win their first World Series in 2010. In the 2014 World Series he won game 1, giving up one run in seven innings, won game 5 by thowing the first World Series shutout in 11 years, and came back on two days of rest to throw five scoreless innings of relief to get the save in game 7.
- Professional tennis players, as a group are often victims of leg cramps, often resulting in strange matches. In 1995, Pete Sampras played in the Davis Cup finals in Russia on clay (his worst surface). He battled cramps for some time, but somehow managed to win the match, before his entire body cramped up. Watch the last minute of the video to appreciate how a true champion competes past the point of exhaustion.