Monthly Archives: December 2010

WATFO: UCONN WOMEN’s WIN STREAK

I’d have to say that this UConn women’s basketball winning streak is one of the most blown out of proportion things in the world.

First, there is no doubt, UConn is very good.

Over the 87-game streak the Huskies have won their games by an AVERAGE margin of 33.3 points. That’s a lot. Based on looking at KenPom’s predictions for Men’s college basketball, that puts them around 99.5 percent of winning each game.

To be that good over a three year stretch is a big accomplishment.

However, when you are that good, winning a lot of games is what you’re supposed to do. Here’s a breakdown of the Huskies win distribution over 88 games given a 99.5% chance to win each one:

There is about a 65% chance that a team of UConn’s caliber would win 88-straight.

To compare that to the completely different men’s side of college basketball, let’s take this year’s Duke team. Here are the point spreads and winning percentages for Duke so far based on Vegas lines:

Date

Opponent

Line

Implied odds

Dec. 11

St. Louis

-24

98.06%

Dec. 8

Bradley

-29

98.77%

Dec. 4

Butler

-14

91.44%

Dec. 1

Michigan St.

-10

81.68%

Nov. 27

Oregon

-19

95.12%

Nov. 23

Kansas St.

-6

68.36%

Nov. 22

Marquette

-12

85.10%

Nov. 19

Colgate

NL

99.99%

Nov. 16

Miami (OH)

-28

98.69%

Nov. 14

Princeton

-24

96.83%

That’s an average of 91.08% to win each game.

I set up a quick sim using the above game percentages and here is the win distribution for Duke so far:

At slightly around 38% over 50,000 simulations of going 10-0, Duke’s start to the season is actually more improbable than a dominant UConn team winning 88 in a row.

Obviously, women’s and men’s basketball are completely different games. And, you definitely have to give UConn credit for building a dominant team year after year. However, once the dominant team was together, the actual achievement of winning 88 games in a row wasn’t all that improbable.

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WHICH TIGER SWING WAS BETTER: HANK HANEY’s OR BUTCH HARMON’s?

Tiger’s recent slump has brought out a wave of Butch Harmon revisionist historians.

The crowd is calling for a return to Tiger’s 2000 swing, the so-called “Best Swing Ever.”

Now, I don’t know much about the golf swing, so maybe that is the best pure swing ever.

But, I do know a lot about performance. And, in terms of performance, The 2006-2009 Tiger Woods was probably even better.

My standardized rankings aside, here’s a look at Tiger by the percentages:

Year(s)

wins

top-5

top-10

top-25

Total tournys

win %

top-5 %

top-10 %

top-25 %

2006-2009

22

32

37

39

41

53.66%

78.05%

90.24%

95.12%

2000

10

17

17

20

20

50.00%

85.00%

85.00%

100.00%

 

Guess who is coach from 2006-2009?

Butch Harmon Hank Haney.

Over the past few days, I’ve been having a twitter debate with Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee. Chamblee has to be one of the leaders of the pro-Butch crowd. His two arguments so far are 7 of 11 majors from the 1999 PGA Championship at Medinah to the 2002 US Open and Tiger had a higher GIR% and Fairways hit % in 2000.

I’ll start with the second part of it. As I have said many times before, for a paid analyst of golf to harp on driving accuracy is ludicrous. It simply doesn’t matter. The best players in the world have figured out that they need to hit the ball far and can deal with the occasional errant shot. Nobody debates that Tiger and Phil are the best two players in the world over the past 5 years. Yet, both of them get criticized for wildly errant drives at times, with no one realizing that hitting the ball 320 and finding the fairway is much more of an advantage than the disadvantage of playing from the hole over, over the trees.

The second point, obviously, is that courses and conditions changed. We’re the greens the same size in 2000 as 2007? Was the rough the same length, how about the wind? There are numerous factors that go into your ability to hit greens that are too different from seven years apart to cite by straight percentages. Again, I’m shocked that someone that is paid to analyze golf doesn’t consider this.

In fact, in 2000, Tiger his 75% of the greens on the PGA Tour. The average that year was just south of 66%. In 2007, Tiger again led the PGA Tour in GIRs at 71%. However, in 2007 PGA Tour pros hit an average of 64.5% of greens. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but I have a feeling is pretty significant when considered over 200 players.

That doesn’t even bring up the fact that in 2000, Tiger played some weaker fielded events with a course average of 72.1. In 2007, he played almost exclusively elite fielded events, where the course played about a half a shot harder. Again, over a large sample size that is significant. Shockingly, harder courses, have fairways and greens that are harder to hit. We could also spend all day, bringing up examples, like in 2000 (and not ’07) Tiger played Kapalua, where you literally can’t miss a fairway, in 2000 the British open was at St. Andrews with the biggest greens in the world, while in 2007 it was at the hardest course in the rota, the 2007 Masters played about the hardest it ever has or Tiger hitting 17/18 greens in the third round at Oakmont when the course played to an average of almost 75.

To Brandel’s second point, about the Majors. The argument that Tiger won more is pretty silly, too. I’ve written about variance enough to know that most people won’t understand it and would rather use explanations like grit and hardwork and aura to say why Tiger was destined to win 7 of 11 majors from 1999-2002.

But, let’s assume Tiger wins 40% of the majors he plays in and look at with a distribution.

7 of 11 at 40% from 1999 PGA Championship to 2002 US Open.

4 of 8 at 40% from 2006 British Open to 2008 US Open.

In words, Tiger was by far the best player in the world from circa 2000 and ran very well at an incredibly small sample size of tournaments. From 2006-2009, He was still by far the best player in the world, but ran just slightly above average in an incredibly small sample size of tournaments.

Now, I think part of Brandel’s argument is that somehow majors matter more, and the good players rise to the occasion at major championships, as if somehow elevating your game is a skill.

By and large, this is not true. The best players in the world play the best in majors because they are the best. Not, because the majors are any better at determining the best players. Players are basically the same, in relation to the field, at the John Deere Classic as they are in the WGC-Bridgestone or the US Open at Pebble Beach.

To prove it, here’s a look at the best 20 players over the past 5 years and their performance in majors over that time:

Rnk

Player

5-Year

5-yr majors

1

Tiger Woods

-1.0904

-1.1027

2

Jim Furyk

-0.6734

-0.5940

3

Phil Mickelson

-0.6522

-0.7838

4

Steve Stricker

-0.6448

-0.5537

5

Ernie Els

-0.5586

-0.6242

6

Luke Donald

-0.5433

-0.4505

7

Padraig Harrington

-0.5138

-0.5231

8

Vijay Singh

-0.4962

-0.3946

9

Sergio Garcia

-0.4930

-0.4519

10

Lee Westwood

-0.4831

-0.6240

11

Retief Goosen

-0.4527

-0.5699

12

Robert Allenby

-0.4513

-0.3242

13

Paul Casey

-0.4414

-0.4677

14

Adam Scott

-0.4368

-0.4410

15

Geoff Ogilvy

-0.4276

-0.4067

16

Stewart Cink

-0.4125

-0.4921

17

Zach Johnson

-0.4104

-0.2909

18

K.J. Choi

-0.4085

-0.3597

19

Tim Clark

-0.3976

-0.3542

20

David Toms

-0.3916

-0.3954

 

AVG

-0.5190

-0.5102

As you can see, the best players don’t raise their game too much in majors, it’s actually a slight drop and somewhere in the neighborhood of 45-percentile over 1200 rounds. Basically, just average.

As the Butch Harmon crowd has proven, you could look all day and find lying stats on both sides to why Tiger is better in 2000 or 2007 or some other date. What doesn’t lie is performance. And, from 2006-2009, in relation to the PGA Tour, Tiger was about the same as in 2000.

So, why do I think Tiger was better from 2006-2009?

For one, length of time. If Tiger’s career average is around -1.2 standard deviations better than the field. Let’s say in 2000 and 2006-2009 he was around -1.3 standard deviations better than the field. Over 50 rounds, A player is about 1-in-4 to play that far above his head. Over 150, it’s more like 1-in-9. You get the point. The longer you can play at a high level, the less likely it was just random chance.

Two, I don’t think the competition was the same. When Tiger came out on tour in 1996, he was playing against a bunch of fat white guys that smoke cigars during the rounds. Here was this kid that treated golf like a sport, worked harder than everyone else, and was an athlete. Not surprisingly he kicked everyone’s ass.

Fast forward, ten years and the purses were raised, the technology improved and players more devoted.

In 2007, it was simply not possible to play at a high level unless you worked like Tiger and Vijay and took care of yourself. Additionally, a new group of players expected that to get out on tour, they would need to work just as hard as Tiger did, who was basically a golfing robot.

And then there is technology. Give every pro golfer a 1-iron and put them 250 yards away from the hole, with the same ball Jack Nicklaus used and how many can stick one to a front pin. Tiger? Phil? Serigo? 5, maybe, overall? That’s a huge advantage for the few talented. Now, give everyone a 5-wood or hybrid from that distance and a perfectly suited ball to them, and the shot gets a lot easier. Sure, it gets easier for those who already have the advantage, too, but not proportionally.

That’s why I think Tiger, from 2006-2009, was the best golfer the world has ever seen, majors be damned.

Look, I don’t know the golf swing like Harmon, Haney or Foley. Maybe, Tiger truly had a better swing with Butch and I definitely understand that there could be problems with Haney’s swing that forced on Foley.

What I’m saying, is Tiger’s swing under Hank Haney, produced the highest level of golf ever. And we shouldn’t forget that because of Bridgestone or Quail Hollow this year.

 

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