Monday, April 19, 2010

Morning: The Weekend Top 5


5. The NBA Playoffs Begin, I School My Younger Brothers with Mathematics

As I get older, it gets more and more satisfying to use my experience and profound wisdom to put cocky youngsters in their place. So please indulge this story of out-doming a few such whippersnappers.

Last year, my brothers (ages: 17 and 15) and I invented an NBA fantasy thing where we drafted one player from every team in the playoffs. We each ended up with 16 players, and we tracked their points through June. Obviously, the winning team was the one who accumulated the most. I picked second in' 09, so I had Kobe, but the rest of my draft wasn't awesome. I hung with my brother Thomas for a while, but eventually Lebron scored too many points and I lost.

This year, when the draft order was decided, I was third. That meant no Kobe and no Lebron, but I'd get the next two picks since it was a snaking draft. They watch way more NBA than I do, and I didn't like the idea of dealing with their swagger for another year. So with an hour to spare before the first pick last Sunday, I decided to spend some time and really crunch the numbers. Only in-depth statistical study, I knew, could overcome the Kobe-Lebron problem. My thought process:

a) The most important factor is margin. You want players who not only score a lot, but score a lot more than their teammates. If player A scores 50 points per game, and player B, his teammate, also scores 50, player A has a 0 value rating. If someone takes player A, I can just pick up player B in a later round and lose nothing. Player C, who only scores 15 per game on a team where nobody else averages more than 10, is actually way more valuable.

b) Distance into the playoffs matters. The top three or four seeds will have double or triple the number of games of a team that exits first round.

c) A round lasts 4-7 games. Because I didn't have a ton of time to analyze exactly how long each individual series might last, I split the distance and made it 5.5 games per round. Then I projected each team's number of games. If they were definite first round losers, it was 5.5. Two rounds (like the Hawks), 11. One-to-two rounds, like Miami or Boston, 8.25. Etc.

d) Last, I took the point margin each player held over his nearest teammate and multiplied it by their projected games in order to get an overall value rating.

I found out some interesting stuff. Dirk Nowitzki and Carmelo Anthony, for example, are extremely valuable because they score so much more than their teammates, and will last at least two rounds (Dirk's rating was +161.5, Melo's was +119). This shouldn't come as a big surprise. What was surprising is that Kevin Durant and Dwyane Wade, despite their likelihood of going down in round 1, are still way more valuable than good players on better teams. Durant averages 14 more per game than his nearest teammate, and at a projected 5.5 games, his value rating was +77. Projecting the same number of games for Wade, he's +64.9, but if Miami somehow beats Boston, that total is doubled.

Dwight Howard, meanwhile, only averages 2 points more than Vince Carter, and 4 points more than Rashard Lewis. Even though he's projected 3-4 rounds, for 19.25 games, that's only a +38 value rating. And really, a couple bad games and he becomes a neglible asset. D-How was one to avoid.

Other things: if a team had two guys who scored high, you didn't want to be stuck with the third best. In the case of the Cavs, Mo Williams and Antawn Jamison both averaged 15.8. Once Lebron was gone, it didn't matter who I picked up, and I could save that pick for later in the draft. But for the Bobcats, Stephen Jackson averages 21.1, Gerald Wallace 18.2, and Raymond Felton only 12.1. Once Jackson went, I knew it was important to pick up Wallace.

As you might guess, using this kind of analysis against teenagers was like bringing an air force battalion to a middle school debate. I totally dominated the draft, despite losing out on Kobe and Lebron. A really great moment happened when I proposed that we each have one substitution chance, in case a player got injured. They were not having it, and Thomas in particular was vocal in denying the rule. He even implied it was a way for me to try to cheat. "Okay," I said, "but don't come crying to me if someone on your team goes down." And yes, I'm proud of myself for using the phrase "don't come crying to me." I am ready to be a father.

I didn't have to wait long for them to hoist themselves by their own petards. Twelve rounds later, Thomas drafted Andrew Bogut, who is already out for the year with an elbow injury. Keegan, my youngest brother, used his 13th pick to draft Raja Bell as the Charlotte Bobcats representative. Bell was traded from the Bobcats to the Golden State Warriors last November.


Anyway, after the first round of games, I'm leading Keegan by 30 points, and Thomas by 117. And even though my use of stats was pretty rudimentary and maybe a little obvious, I still feel like a total math wizard. They have no hope against a man of my numerical genius. I should go on a lecture tour of Ivy League universities.

4. The 20-inning game!

Holy shit, this was awesome. Luckily, I found the game on Fox early so I could follow the last 10 innings. My friend Nick and I were playing chess and peeking over now and again, and somewhere around the 16th inning, I knew things were starting to get absurd. This might be an arbitrary call, but somehow 15 is just a weirdly long game to me, while 16 gets into epic territory. By the time they'd played a whole second 9 innings, the excitement hit a fever pitch. And the vibe was extra juicy because it was a double shut-out. That's some old timey baseball, right there.

When the Cards brought in Mather, an outfielder, I really, really wanted the Mets to lose. Their organization is so poorly run, and they're so incredibly unlucky, that this would be icing on my schadenfreude cake. If they lost with a position player taking the mound, after so much effort, it would even top last year's Castillo incident.

Unfortunately, they didn't. It took them two innings to beat a guy who doesn't pitch professionally, but they finally managed. 2-1 Mets. Amazing stuff.

3. Ubaldo Jimenez throws a no-hitter

It's time like these when I wish I was rich and could justify buying an MLB video package despite the fact that I really only ever watch the Yankees and can get them on normal cable. It'd be nice to hear about a pending no-no and flip over to watch the end. Nothing is more exciting in baseball than a potential no-hitter or perfect game.

However, you can watch all 27 outs here, on MLB video. That's pretty awesome. Don't miss Fowler's unbelievable grab in center at the 2:25 mark.

2. CC, AJ, Andy

Texas had no shot against these guys. Here was the weekend line: 21 innings pitched, 13 hits, 3 earned runs, 20 strikeouts.


1. The New York Friggin' Yankees

The record is up to 9-3, and we've won our first four series' against very good teams. Here's the scary part: Teixeira hasn't even started hitting yet, and A-Rod has just been so-so. Vazquez, our fourth starter, has been horrible. He might have some real issues, especially with velocity. But those first two players will not stay in their funk, and when the pendulum swings, the entire MLB is in for a serious ass-kicking.

Things get tough this week, when we head to Oakland for three against the 9-5 As. Vazquez and Hughes will be pitching the first two days, and if we can steal a win, we're in good shape with CC on the hill Thursday in one of his favorite cities. But a series in Anaheim follows, and those west coast swings are always tiring as hell. At least we get it out of the way early. And if we go 2-4, no big deal. We're already off to a hot start.

April 19: The sky is bright, trees are in bloom, and pinstripes look good.

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