April 30, 2012

The Draft Day Fall Of Kellen Moore

     I tuned into the coverage of Day 3 of the NFL Draft on Saturday, mostly to see where and when Kellen Moore would get drafted.  For those who don't know, Kellen Moore started for 4 years as quarterback of the Boise State Broncos, an FBS powerhouse that plays in a weak conference.  During that time, he led his team to 50 wins and only 3 losses, with some of those wins coming against really good competition.  Even more impressively, Moore recorded a career passing efficiency rating of 169.0, good for 3rd in the FBS since 2000.  But because of the usual issues (lack of size, athleticism, and "arm talent"), Moore was expected to be picked in the 5th or 6th round.
    
     Near the beginning of the fifth round, ESPN showed a segment featuring Jon Gruden and Kellen Moore.  In the piece, they discussed some ridiculously accurate throws Moore made at Boise State, including one where he threw the ball before the receiver was even on the screen, and it hit him perfectly in stride.  Following the segment, the analysts came on screen and discussed Moore's penchant for understanding offensive concepts and his accurate throwing.  Of course, this was followed by their saying that he won't be successful because he just doesn't have the throwing strength or "arm talent" he needs and he can't "make all the throws".

     To me, this all sounded very familiar.  In the ESPN film The Brady Six, Tom Brady's college success and Draft day slide are highlighted.  Many of the same things were said about him.  It was obvious that he understood the quarterback position and played it well in college, but his lack of athleticism and arm strength dropped him all the way to the 6th round.  Brady did have the luxury of being 6'4" instead of Moore's 6'0", and Brady did play in a better conference.  But Brady didn't put come close to putting up the awesome stats that Moore did.

     Round 5 ended and Round 6 began.  At this point it seemed like Moore wouldn't get picked, only because no quarterback had been drafted for 82 straight picks.  Then came the Cardinals picking Ryan Lindley, a quarterback from San Diego State who, against competition similar to Moore's, managed a mere 128.8 passing efficiency rating.  But, he is 6'4", thus making him more draftable.

     The end of Round 6 and the beginning of Round 7 brought a bevvy of strange picks.  A tackle from Western Oregon.  The second best Robert Griffin from Baylor.  A safety from Ohio State that had only been a part of 3 plays from scrimmage.  Yet nobody had room on their team for the winningest quarterback in FBS history.

     The low point of the Draft was Pick 243.  The Green Bay Packers took B.J. Coleman, a quarterback who had transferred from Tennessee to Chattanooga in the FCS.  A quarterback with what the analysts described as the most "jacked up" mechanics they've ever seen.  Did I mention he's 6'3"?  I know the Packers wanted another seventh-round quarterback project to replace Matt Flynn (who was really more of a Kellen Moore type in college), but there's no excuse for overthinking it that much.  Having Kellen Moore studying under Aaron Rodgers would have been a fantastic move.

     Finally, it was time for Mr. Irrelevant, Pick 253, the final pick in the Draft.  The founder came out to announce the winner of the award, and you could overhear his assistant telling him what to say:  "Chandler Harnish, quarterback, Northern Illinois".  Mel Kiper says, "Are you kidding me?"  I say, "Are you kidding me?"  Harnish played against the same level of competition Moore did, and amassed only a 145.1 efficiency rating.  However, being 6'2" and having rushed for almost 3,000 yards at Northern Illinois, Harnish got the nod over Moore.

     One of the most productive quarterbacks in college football history was not considered good enough for any of the 32 NFL teams to draft.  And this isn't a Case Keenum/Graham Harrell situation, where the quarterback is only productive because he plays in a spread offense and throws 50 times a game.  Kellen Moore never threw more than 440 times in a season.  Heck, Boise State's running back was drafted in the first round.  So why did 253 picks pass without Moore being chosen?  He was great in college, and he's going to be productive in the pros.  More productive than Ryan Lindley.  More productive than B.J. Coleman.  More productive than Chandler Harnish.  It'll be a lot of fun to watch this story unfold.

April 26, 2012

Happy Birthday To Week 17 Legend!!!!

    
     Exactly one year ago, give or take a few hours, a blog was born with a mission to get people to view sports in new and unique ways.  Ways that you couldn't find on ESPN, or in magazines, or on countless other sports websites.  That blog was Week 17 Legend.  And while we may have failed miserably at that objective, the past 366 days have been very eventful in this little corner of the Internet.

     We created a golf course, fixed Barry Bonds' career stat line, gave Ken Griffey Jr. imaginary steroids, created a formula for rating QB greatness, disproved the BCS, imagined the greatest Super Bowl ever, dueled with Peter King and WhatIfSports, opened a Hall of Fame, and committed many other general acts of awesomeness.  I can only hope the following year is just as interesting as the first.

     And to you, dear reader:  thank you.  Out of the millions of blogs out there, you took the time to read, and sometimes even interact with, this one.  And I appreciate that a lot.  (I got sick of referring to myself in the plural form.  Deal with it.)

     So as a bonus, now that the yearly sports cycle has concluded, I'd like to take a look at my post labels and see how well I did.  (Keep in mind that I've published 118 posts.)

Sports:

NFL - 59
NBA - 16
Golf - 15
NCAA Football - 15
MLB - 13
NCAA Basketball - 2
NHL - 1
Soccer - 1
Swimming - 1
Tennis - 1

     It's become obvious to me that I'm way too interested in the NFL, and football in general, considering over half of my posts are related to football in some way.  I'm surprised that the NBA is second and not golf, because I feel like I enjoy golf a lot more.  I've mentioned eight different sports in this blog so far, a pretty respectable number in my opinion.  The most impressive part:  I managed to reference swimming in a post.  Props to me!

Features:

Greatness Scale - 8
ESPN - 4
Haiku - 3
May Of Greatness - 3
Hall Of Fame - 2
Self-Analysis - 2
Fan Rulebook - 1

     This is the list of special pieces on this blog (as well as ESPN, which didn't really fit anywhere else).  I find it interesting that the only one that had continued success was the Greatness Scale, with 8 posts.  I see a lot more failed segments, like the May of Greatness (3 out of 31 days???) and the ill-fated Fan Rulebook.

Qualities:

Theories - 29
Shorties - 23
Statistics - 23
Solutions - 18
Awards - 8
Predictions - 8
Ranting - 7
Contests - 4
Imagination - 4
Sarcasm - 4

     As a blog built on theories, statistics, and solutions, I'm ashamed that at least 40% of my posts have contained none of those three things.  What have I been doing?!?!  The abundance of shorties hasn't helped, though they allow the time between posts to be much smaller.  Only two of the prediction posts have centered around one strong prediction; on those posts I am 1-1.  The 7 rants make me happy, though I feel I should have incorporated more sarcasm.

    

     I hope you enjoyed this first year of Week 17 Legend.  I look forward to birthday number two!

April 25, 2012

One Of My Favorite NFL Draft Moments...

     ...is when the Oakland Raiders had the #1 pick in 2007, and they took over 5 minutes to actually make the pick.  How could you not decide by then?  You can literally pick any prospect you want, and you wait until Draft day to figure out who you want?  Only the '07 Raiders could have pulled that off.

NFL Draft Series: Upside

     You can't watch NFL Draft coverage without hearing the word "upside".  Every year there are prospects with amazing athleticism and mediocre skills, and the draft pundits always describe these guys as having "upside":  the possibility of being really good in the future.

     But doesn't that describe everybody in the draft?  Couldn't any prospect turn out to be a great player?  JaMarcus Russell, Darrius Heyward-Bey, and Vernon Gholston were all touted as "upside" guys, and turned out to be horrible.  Actual upside guys like Tom Brady, Jared Allen, Marques Colston, and Frank Gore never got that kind of recognition as prospects.

     So can we please just admit that "upside" is unpredictable, and more so, that it has nothing to do with freakish athleticism?  If a player is physically gifted, then why didn't he dominate in college?  Is it really that likely that he'll figure it out as a pro?  And if a slower, weaker person can figure out how to be a great collegiate player, wouldn't you expect him to find a way to be good in the pros?

     As much as I love stats and ratings, maybe the rating systems we see in Madden and similar video games are sending the wrong messages to scouts.  Real-life players don't have a 99 rating that they stop getting better at.  Just because Ryan Leaf had all the physical tools didn't mean he would be better than Peyton once they both maxed out at 99 awareness.  I'm sure Peyton hit "99" long before his prime.

     No specific type of player is going to progress at a faster rate than all the other players.  All the GM's need to stop trying to be fancy and just pick the player who looks like the best fit for the NFL right now.  I have no problem with trying to gauge a player's work ethic and personality, because those things not only affect their growth but also their early level of performance.  But imaging what all the prospects can be isn't the right way to operate in the Draft.  The only thing you can judge them on is what they already are.

April 22, 2012

NFL Draft Series: Perspective

     The NFL Draft is almost upon us, so this Draft-related post actually seems relevant (as opposed to the last one).  Today I heard Todd McShay say that in 5 years, Ryan Tannehill will be a top-10 quarterback in the NFL.  Seriously?  Ryan Tannehill?  The alleged third best quarterback in the Draft even though I had no idea who he was until the Draft season started?

     I know the Draft is when we feel like all the players are going to be great, but it's important to have some perspective here.  In the list of the 10 highest-rated passers last year with 100 or more attempts, 6 different draft classes were represented.  2004 had four of the quarterbacks (Eli, Roethlisberger, Schaub, and Romo, who wasn't actually drafted but was a rookie in '04).  2005 had two of the quarterbacks (Rodgers and Alex Smith).  The other four were from 2000, 2001, 2008, and 2009.

     So given that McShay thinks Tannehill will be a top-10 passer in 2017, he must think one of the following is true: 
  • Tannehill is the best quarterback in this year's Draft.
  • Tannehill is a close second to either Luck or Griffin
  • The 2012 draft class is as deep at quarterback as 2004 was.
     I'm pretty sure if you asked McShay to classify these three statements as true or false, he would say all of them are false.  As would I.  If you told me Andrew Luck would be a top-10 passer in five years, I'd probably agree.  If you told me Robert Griffin III would be a top-10 passer in five years, I'd be hesitant but I'd go along with it.  But Ryan Tannehill?  No way.  Calm down with the Draft hype there, Mr. McShay.


(By the way, yes, I did capitalize "Draft" each time just to annoy you.  Then I decided to further that annoyance but not capitalizing "draft class", because it really is a completely different thing.  I hope it bothered you as much as I wanted it to.)

April 12, 2012

The Golf Genome Project: A Look At How Probability Shapes The Game

No charts or graphs to help you understand all this writing below, just a picture of some random golf course.  Gee, thanks, author guy.
     Football, baseball, basketball, tennis, soccer, boxing, and just about all other sports are made up of a lot of statistics, but they all boil down to one thing:  two athletes or players, each with a certain level of skill, facing off against each other directly.  You can come up with a probability that one entity will win, and if they don't, then the second entity wins.

     And then there's golf.  Up to 156 golfers, all playing their own rounds yet being scored against each other.  That format makes it hard to understand just how good the best players should be in any given tournament and how strange it is for guys like Zach Johnson and Y.E. Yang to win majors.

     So I decided to collect data from all 5722 rounds played in the 14 PGA Tour events prior to the Masters.  For each one, I noted the player who shot the round, what score he shot, what number round it was, and which tournament it was shot at.  I wanted to see how much each factor really affected a golfer's score, how much was just random occurrence, and eventually come up with a model for a simulated golf tournament.

     First, I looked at the three factors together, and all three factors do have a significant effect on a golfer's score.  The fact that round number was important surprised me, so I wanted to see what it's effect actually was.  The average Tour player would shoot 72.1 in round 1, 71.9 in round 2, 72.4 in round 3, and 72.8 in round 4.  So the round number can change a score by about half a stroke either way, an effect that is too confusing and too small to worry about in the model.

     After ignoring round number like I wanted to anyway, I crunched the numbers again using just the player and the tournament as factors.  Again, both had a significant impact, yet only 24% of the variation was explained by player and tournament effects.  It turns out that 76% of what makes up a pro golfer's score is just random error.

     So what's the best way to model a round of PGA Tour golf?  The average golfer in the average tournament will shoot an average of about 72.25.  (Though because better players are in more tournaments and play more rounds, the average round among those studied was 71.29.)

     Next, we add in the player's effect on the score.  We can consider player effects to be normally distributed with a standard deviation of 1.05.  (Note:  In a normal distribution, 67% of players will be within one standard deviation of the average, 95% will be within 2 deviations, and 99% will be within 3 deviations.)  Rory McIlroy rated as the best player at 4.9 strokes under the average player.  Tiger Woods was second at 4.3 strokes below average.

     The next step is the effect of the tournament/course, which is normally distributed with a standard deviation of 1.03.

     Finally, we add the random error, which is normal with a standard deviation of 2.93, almost three times as much as the player and course effects.  So if the average player shoots 200 rounds, he'll probably shoot one round of 63 or lower and one round of 82 or over.

     By using only the top 38.6% of normally generated golfers (I used the standard 144 per tournament divided by the 373 from the study; it just happened to work best) and random course and error effects, the simulated rounds very closely matched the actual rounds, with about 98% of the variation being explained by the model.  The other 2 percent is mostly found at the high end of the scores, where real golf allows for higher scores than the model.  Deleting the lower 60% of golfers matches the fact that the low-level pros rarely make it into tournaments.

     I hope some of that information left an impression on you, or at the very least made sense to you.

    


     In the second part of this project, I plan to figure out how often the best golfers in the world should actually be winning, and how bad a tournament winner can really be.

April 8, 2012

More Golf: Fact Of The Day

     Jack Nicklaus is 206th on the PGA's career money list, below such luminaries as D.A. Points, Rickie Fowler, Robert Garrigus, Boo Weekley, Steve Marino, Jeff Overton, Harrison Frazar, and so on.

     I know it technically makes sense, but there's something seriously wrong with that.

Bubba Watson Would Make A Fantastic Golf Superstar

     Very rarely does one of the golfers I'm rooting for win a major, so let me start by congratulating Bubba Watson on his first major championship.  He's always been entertaining for fans of golf, and I'm thrilled to see that the golf gods have rewarded him for it.  Now then, onto the actual post.

     For most of the 2000's, Tiger Woods's dominance dramatically increased the popularity of golf, and his decline in the last 3 years led to extreme parity in the sport, which led to much smaller viewership and interest.  The last 14 majors have been won by 14 different golfers.  People still hang on to the hope that Tiger and Phil Mickelson will reclaim their former glory, and even though they have in small doses, they will never be as dominant as they used to go.  The world of golf is begging for a new superstar to emerge, a golfer that everyone will recognize and follow at every tournament.  Maybe it's Rory McIlroy, or Dustin Johnson, or somebody else.

     I know there's no way it will happen, but I'd love to see Bubba Watson be that guy.  I know he's already 33, but I think he's got 5 or 10 years of very good golf left in him.  Think of how awesome it would be if he won another major soon and threw in a couple more top-10 finishes.  Not necessarily a Tiger Woods-in-his-prime dominance, but a Phil Mickelson-esque, hanging around in every tournament dominance.  Everybody would love him.  He never takes himself too seriously on the course.  He seems more comfortable in the hazards than on the fairway.  He has the ability to hit any kind of crazy shot he needs to.  And his reaction to winning the Masters shows that he has a real passion for golf.  I'm sure the PGA Tour would love to have him as the face of their company.

Oh, The Things I Do For My Readers

     I finished making an Excel worksheet yesterday.  It has 22,888 pieces of data.  I wanted to add a picture of it here but I couldn't find a way to make it all fit in one picture.  I assume this is not a normal activity and I'm slightly embarrassed by it.

     So why did I create this monstrosity?  For you, of course, dear reader.  (You're welcome.)  It's a chart of all 5,722 rounds completed in a 2012 PGA Tour event prior to the Masters.  For each round, I input the golfer's name, the score, the tournament "number", and which number round (1-4) it was.  I ripped the info off of Yahoo's golf section, and it took a lot less time than you would think.  The point of all of this:  to look at golf as a statistical model.  Where other sports use simple probability (either you win or the opponent wins), golf is something completely different.  What effect does a golfer's skill level have on his scores?  What effect does the course have?  How often does the best golfer actually win a tournament?  These are questions I hope to answer, and I hope you will be curious along with me.

     Also, I have a ridiculously early, formula-based, awful looking 2012 NFL prediction set in the works.  Just a heads up.

April 7, 2012

My Favorite Guy In Any Golf Tournament...

     ...is the "Early Clubhouse Leader Guy".  The player who starts early on Sunday, puts up a ridiculously low round, and has a good final score locked in, only there's two or three guys above him on the leaderboard, one of which is probably going to beat him.  A perfect example of this is Anthony Kim in the 2010 Masters, when he posted a final round of 65 to finish at 12-under, but Phil Mickelson and Lee Westwood managed to keep the top two overall scores.

     The Early Clubhouse Leader Guy combines two things that a sports fan loves.  This is a guy who plays great when it matters the most, and people find that to be an honorable quality.  Also, the Early Clubhouse Leader Guy is the ultimate underdog.  Not only is he behind in the tournament.  He can't even do anything to improve his chances.  All he can do is hope everyone else starts playing poorly.  I can't help but to root along with him.

     Who could be the Early Clubhouse Leader Guy in the 2012 Masters?  The fact that the top 5 players are all one shot apart (-9, -8, -7, -6, and -5) means it's unlikely there will even be one.  The players within 6 or 7 shots of the lead aren't starting much earlier than the lead guys, so even if someone does make a charge, the leaders will only have a few holes left to play, therefore lessening the effect.  Still, I could see one of the early -2 guys pulling it off, such as Jason Dufner or even Fred Couples.

     Masters competitors, my support is still up for grabs (sort of).  Which one of you is up to the task?