Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The winner of the World Series is...

Tonight is game 7 of the World Series and the big question is who will win? If recent history is any indication, the Dodgers will win. Since 1982, the World Series has gone to a seventh game 11 times. How many times has the team that won game 6 gone on to win game 7? Let's take a look:

1982- Cardinals win game 6. Cardinals win game 7.
1985- Royals win game 6. Royals win game 7.
1986- Mets win game 6. Mets win game 7.
1987- Twins win game 6. Twins win game 7.
1991- Twins win game 6. Twins win game 7.
1997- Indians win game 6. Marlins win game 7.
2001- Diamondbacks win game 6. Diamondbacks win game 7.
2002- Angels win game 6. Angels win game 7.
2011- Cardinals win game 6. Cardinals win game 7.
2014- Royals win game 6. Giants win game 7.
2016- Cubs win game 6. Cubs win game 7.

Nine times out of 11, the team that won game 6 also won game 7. That's a pretty significant margin. The only two teams that bucked that trend were the 1997 Marlins and the 2014 Giants. Before you cling on to those teams as hope for an Astros win tonight, both those games had significant x factors that the Astros won't have. The Marlins were at home and the Giants had an all-time performance from the best World Series pitcher of the modern era (Bumgarner has given up one run in 36 innings, which is an ERA of 0.25). The Dodgers just beat the best pitcher Houston has and they're at home. They're going to be supremely confident going into the night. Meanwhile, Houston has the pressure of failing to capitalize on a golden opportunity, with everything lined up just right for them, and have to try to pull it out under tougher circumstances.

I've longed subscribed to the theory of game 6 deciding a seven game series. It even holds up well in basketball. During the same time frame, the NBA had a series go seven games six times (I'm eliminating 2016, because the format was no longer 2-3-2, but the team that won game 6 did win game 7): in 1984, 1988, 1994, 2005, 2010, and 2013. Of those six, only twice did the team that lost game 6 go on to win game 7. And in both those instances, it was the home team that was victorious.

So once again, in the last 35 years, whether it be baseball or even basketball, the road team won a game 7 one time out of 17. Can the Astros pull a 2014 Giants? Doubtful. Because if there's one thing more certain than the balls are juiced, it's that Houston doesn't have Madison Bumgarner.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Myth Buster

LeBron didn't start super teams:
In the past couple weeks, there has been a lot of chatter about super teams in the NBA and which one came first.  I've already addressed this in a previous post, but I'll quickly recap my thoughts here.  The idea that the first super team wasn't Miami is just dumb.  The Lakers and Celtics of the '60s and '80s were assembled through the draft and trades, so it's apples and oranges.  People don't get upset about a franchise drafting great players or making great trades.  When people refer to "super teams," they're referring to the collaboration of stars.  LeBron tried to claim he didn't start super teams, and pointed to the '99 Rockets, the '04 Lakers or the '08 Celtics.  Here's the difference between those teams and Miami: those were veterans teaming up together.  No dynasties happened, nor were any even expected.  When Miami got together, there's a reason why they went on record saying, "not one, not two, not three..." and proclaiming they were going to win more than seven titles.  Because they were superstars teaming up in their primes.  When you haven't played a game and you project yourself to win more than seven titles, you are a super team!  Only two teams have ever assembled and immediately evoked images of dynasty: the 2011 Heat and the 2017 Warriors.  So you can bring up the '99 Rockets, '04 Lakers, or '08 Celtics all you want, but the ceiling for those teams was never as high, nor the window as wide.

Add LeBron to any team and they're a contender:
This is a popular narrative trumpeted by people.  The main reason people say this is by saying look at Cleveland with and without him and by looking at Miami with and without him. Unsurprisingly, that is a very simplistic view that completely ignores any and all context.  How so? Because LeBron isn't the only difference between those teams.  Let's look at the 2010 Cavs vs the 2011 Cavs (we'll just compare the top 8 guys by minutes played.):

2010 Cavs:
LeBron, Mo Williams, Anthony Parker, Anderson Varejao, JJ Hickson, Delonte West, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, and Shaq

2011 Cavs:
JJ Hickson, Ramon Sessions, Anthony Parker, Daniel Gibson, Antawn Jamison, Ryan Hollins, Mo Williams, and Anderson Varejao

LeBron wasn't the only change, so you can't pin all the results of the season on one thing. (For more in-depth analysis on this specific change, check out one of my previous posts.)  Not included in that post is the coaching change.  Following LeBron's exit, Mike Brown was fired.  And while Mike Brown isn't a great coach, he's not as bad as Byron Scott.  Byron Scott hasn't won 25 games in a season since 2009!  In thirteen full seasons, he had a winning record in exactly four of them. As for the 2011 Miami Heat, they improved by 11 wins.  And that was adding LeBron and Bosh. No in-depth analysis required.  Now let's forward to LeBron's Miami departure and his return to Cleveland.

2014 Heat:
LeBron, Chris Bosh, Mario Chalmers, Norris Cole, Ray Allen, Dwyane Wade, Shane Battier, and Chris Andersen

2015 Heat:
Luol Deng, Mario Chalmers, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Norris Cole, Hassan Whiteside, Chris Andersen, and James Ennis

The Heat didn't just lose LeBron.  They also lost Ray Allen and Shane Battier and Bosh played barely more than half the season.

2014 Cavs:
Tristan Thompson, Kyrie Irving, Jarret Jack, Dion Waiters, Anderson Varejao, Luol Deng, Matthew Dellavedova, and Tyler Zeller

2015 Cavs:
Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love, LeBron, Tristan Thompson, JR Smith, Matthew Dellavedova, Timofey Mozgov, and Shawn Marion

The 2015 Cavs didn't just add LeBron; it was almost a completely different roster.  Tristan Thompson and Kyrie Irving were in their fourth years, and naturally should have gotten better, and they added Kevin Love.  But that wasn't it.  If those weren't improvements enough, they also traded for JR Smith, Timofey Mozgov, and Iman Shumpert.  And if you think that trade didn't make a huge impact, consider this: Prior to the trade, Cleveland was 19-16.  That's a 45-win pace. Then there was a two game adjustment period, where Smith came off the bench one game and Mozgov came off the bench the next game (they lost both games).  Once Smith and Mozgov (and eventually Shumpert) were added to the rotation, they went 34-11.  That's a 62-win pace.  So when you say that LeBron can make any team a contender, do you actually mean LeBron and Bosh, Allen, and Battier or LeBron and Love, Smith, and Shumpert?

Not only did LeBron not single-handedly turn those teams around, but we also have information that contradicts the idea that LeBron, as a solo entity, can make any team a contender.  In the Windhorst article I addressed in my previous post, he had a fascinating tidbit about LeBron's first venture into free agency in 2010:

"When the Chicago Bulls lost a competitive 4-1 series to James and the Cavs in 2010 they hoped it could be turned into a net positive. Young guard Derrick Rose starred in the short series and Joakim Noah, in addition to insulting the city of Cleveland, showed promise as a valuable postseason performer during the first-round series.

The Bulls made a pitch to James as a free agent a few months later, touting their growing core of Rose, Noah, Luol Deng and Taj Gibson. The Bulls also made presentations to Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. When they couldn't open enough salary-cap space to sign all three and Rose declined to directly recruit James, the window closed."

Chicago had Rose, Noah, Deng, and Gibson and that wasn't good enough for LeBron so much so that they also would've needed to add Wade AND Bosh?  If LeBron didn't think Chicago was good enough, how on earth are you going to tell me he could make Brooklyn or Sacramento a contender?  Claiming that putting LeBron on a terrible team would instantly make them a contender ignores all the information to the contrary.  Let's recap what has actually happened: LeBron didn't want to go to a talented Chicago team, instead teamed up with two of the best players in basketball and brought in really good veteran players, and then when that started to get a little old he went to Kyrie and brought in Kevin Love and traded for Smith, Shumpert and Mozgov.  Not only do we have no record of him single-handedly carrying a lottery team to contention, but his moves have been exactly the opposite.  Not only does he not team up with bad players, he intentionally seeks out great players.  So no, teaming up with Bosh, Wade, Love, Kyrie, Allen, Battier, Smith, Thompson etc. isn't evidence that he would win with Willie Cauley-Stein and Ben McLemore.

None of this is to criticize LeBron's skill as a basketball player, but rather the myths surrounding him.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Formidable or Feeble?

Last month, Brian Windhorst wrote an article about how LeBron has conquered the Eastern Conference.  It's true, LeBron has conquered the East.  But is that achievement as great as Windhorst made it sound?  Anyone that has followed the NBA knows that the Eastern Conference has been incredibly weak, since shortly after the turn of the century.  If that truth isn't patently obvious to you, then let's look at some basic numbers.

During LeBron's 14 years, the top three franchises with the most wins in the league are all in the West (San Antonio, Dallas, and Houston).  Following those three teams are Miami, Denver, Boston, OKC, Golden State, Chicago, Cleveland, Indiana, Phoenix, LAL, Utah, and Memphis. That's the top 15 best records in the league and ten of them are Western Conference teams.  It's even more lopsided than that though; because of the top five Eastern Conference franchises, two were teams he played for (Miami and Cleveland) and not rivals.  Not only is the West better at the top, it's also better at the bottom.  The bottom ten (from worst to "best") is Charlotte, Minnesota, Philly, Sacramento, NY, Brooklyn/NJ, Milwaukee, Washington, New Orleans, and Orlando.  So of the bottom ten franchises in the league, seven of them are from the East.

If that isn't enough for you, let's take a look at how the best players are distributed.  Of the 210 All-NBA players since '03-'04, 137 have been in the West.  The fact that 65% of All-NBA players have been in the West doesn't even illustrate how much of an imbalance exists.  Why?  Let's look at the top 25 most selected players in each conference, with the West players in bold:

LeBron 13x
Kobe 10x
Duncan 9x
Dirk 9x
Paul 8x
Wade 8x
Durant 7x
Howard 6x
Westbrook 6x
Nash 5x
Yao 5x
Curry 4x
Harden 4x
Carmelo 4x
Stoudemire 4x
Parker 4x
Aldridge 4x
Griffin 4x
George 3x
McGrady 3x
Garnett 3x
Arenas 3x
P. Gasol 3x
B. Wallace 3x
D. Jordan 3x

Of the top 25, 19 are from the West!  It's not even close.  Who is LeBron's competition?  He didn't have to go against Kobe, Duncan, Dirk, Paul, Durant, Westbrook, Harden, Curry etc.  Not only that, but his most formidable foe became a teammate!  In the last 14 years, 9 MVPs are from the West.  And of the five MVPs from the East, four were LeBron.  It goes even further than that.  If you took the top 3 finalists for MVP for each of the last 14 years, the West holds 26 of the 42 spots and LeBron holds ten of the 42 spots.  That means that there are only six top three finishes by LeBron's competitors!  One Rose MVP and one MVP finalist season from Wade, Shaq, Carmelo, Howard, and Jermaine O'Neal.  Again, who has been LeBron's competition?

No matter how you slice it, the East has been incredibly weak.  67% of the top 15 franchise records, 65% of All-NBA players, and 64% of MVPs have been from the West and 70% of the worst ten franchises are from the East.  So don't pretend that he conquered a stacked, or even competitive, conference.  He faced the tail end of the Pistons, the brief reign of the Celtics, an abbreviated run from the Magic and Bulls, and a flicker of the Pacers.  LeBron didn't make the Pistons and Celtics get old, he didn't make Rose's knee and Howard's back deteriorate, and he didn't make Roy Hibbert and Lance Stephenson lose their ability to play basketball.  And in spite of facing few strong competitors, he still teamed up with Wade and Bosh and then essentially traded them in for Kyrie and Love.

LeBron didn't conquer the best.  He faced the path of least resistance.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Brady vs. Montana

On Sunday, Tom Brady is playing for a chance to win his 5th Super Bowl title, so naturally the discussion of his place in history has been a big topic of conversation.  Many people think Tom Brady is the best quarterback of all-time.  For the ones who don't agree with that, the most obvious contender for that title is Joe Montana.  So, who's better?

Regular season
First, let's take a look at their regular season numbers.  But not the raw totals, since the game has evolved so much.  Instead the comparison will be made by era.  Montana became a starter in 1981 and finished his career in 1994.  Brady became a starter in 2001 and is obviously still going.  So we'll compare how they performed relative to their era (1981-1998 for Montana and 2001-present for Brady).  Also, since the number of games can vary between players, the stats that we'll be looking at will be yards per game, yards per attempt, touchdown percentage, interception percentage, completion percentage, and passer rating (minimum 2,500 pass attempts).

Yards per game:
Montana ranked 4th
Brady ranks 6th

Yards per attempt:
Montana ranked 3rd
Brady ranks 10th

Montana ranked T-4th
Brady ranks 4th

Montana ranked 3rd
Brady ranks 2nd

Montana ranked 2nd
Brady ranks 10th

Passer rating:
Montana ranked 2nd
Brady ranks 3rd

Montana performed better in his era than Brady has in his era, almost across the board.  Now a common argument from Brady supporters is that Montana had Jerry Rice.  Which is meant to imply that Montana benefited more from Rice than Brady has from Moss, Welker, Gronkowski, and Edelman.  But is that true?  Let's compare Montana before and after 1985 and Brady before and after 2007.

Montana pre-1985: 240.7 yds/game, 7.7 Y/A, 5.1 TD%, 2.5 Int%, 63.7 Cmp%, 93.6 passer rating
Montana post-1985: 248.6 yds/game, 7.7 Y/A, 5.4 TD%, 2.8 Int%, 63.5 Cmp%, 94 passer rating

Brady pre-2007: 226.9 yds/game, 7.0 Y/A, 4.8 TD%, 2.5 Int%, 61.9 Cmp%, 88.4 passer rating
Brady post-2007: 283.8 yds/game, 7.8 Y/A, 6.0 TD%, 1.4 Int%, 64.9 Cmp%, 102.5 passer rating

Montana had almost no statistical change from before Rice to with Rice.  Meanwhile, Brady's numbers all increased considerably, once he got elite weapons (and the rules changed).  Before Rice, the Niners offense averaged 5th in scoring.  With Rice, they averaged 5th in scoring.  Before Moss, Welker, Gronk etc, the Pats averaged 8th in scoring.  After Moss, Welker, Gronk etc, they averaged 3rd in scoring.  So whose stats really benefited from better weapons (and massive rule changes)?

Montana was truly eligible for awards in 11 seasons (he missed 1991, 1992, and half of 1986).  In those 11 seasons, he made 8 Pro Bowls, First-team All-Pro 3 times, Second-team All-Pro twice, MVP twice and Super Bowl MVP 3 times.  In 15 seasons, Brady has made 12 Pro Bowls, First-team All-Pro twice, Second-team All-Pro twice, MVP twice, and Super Bowl MVP 3 times.  Their award cases are pretty identical.  The one major difference is in All-Pro appearances.  Montana made 5 in 11 seasons (45%).  Brady has made 4 in 15 seasons (27%).

Super Bowl
The final point of comparison is performance in Super Bowls.  The reason that people put Brady and Montana over Marino, Elway, Manning, Brees, Rodgers etc is because of one thing: winning.  So the question is, who won more impressively?  Here are the stats for each:

Montana- 1,142 yards (285.5 yds/game), 11 TDs, 0 INT, 68% completion percentage, 127.8 passer rating, 105 yards rushing, 2 TDs

Brady- 1,605 yards (267.5 ydgs/game), 13 TDs, 4 INT, 66% completion percentage, 95.3 passer rating, 11 yards rushing, 0 TDs

Montana was lights out in the Super Bowl.  He outperformed Brady by every single measure.  And that was reflected in each team's performance too.  The Patriots' total point differential is currently +6.  The Niners point differential was +76.  Yes, the Niners' defense did perform better (15.75 pts/game compared to 21.5 pts/game for the Patriots), but their offense also performed substantially better (34.75 pts/game compared to 22.5 pts/game).  In total, the Niners scored 139 points and the Patriots scored 135 points (technically 136 for the Niners, because Ray Wersching essentially scored three points by himself, and 128 for the Patriots, because Ty Law had a pick-6 in the first Super Bowl).  Yes, the Niners scored more points in four Super Bowls than the Patriots have scored in six.  Which is why the Niners convincingly won three of them.  The other one was tied in the 4th; and after Cincinnati gained the lead with a FG, Montana drove down for a touchdown with 34 seconds to go.  Worst case scenario for Montana is 3-1.  Meanwhile, the Patriots only convincingly won a single Super Bowl (against the Eagles), so it's completely possible for them to be 1-5.

For the record, in their Super Bowl seasons, the Niners averaged 4th in offense and 4th in defense and the Patriots averaged 5th in offense and 5th in defense; so the teams performed very similarly.  And the Super Bowl the Niners almost lost was one with Rice.  And the year they went 15-1 and blew out Dan Marino and the Dolphins, they didn't have Rice yet.  Brady in Super Bowls with Moss, Welker and/or Gronk averaged 19.7 points.  Montana before Rice averaged 30.5 points.  So the idea that Montana only achieved greatness cause of Jerry Rice is patently false.

None of this is to disparage Brady.  He's clearly an all-time great.  But when you look at how they compared to their eras, and to each other on the biggest stage, anyone anointing Brady needs to take a second look.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Greatness Unrecognized

A little over a month ago, Klay Thompson had a brilliant performance, when he scored 60 points in only three quarters of play.  Everyone then, rightfully, talked about how that compared to other great performances.  Everyone knows about Wilt's 100 and Kobe's 81.  But what about other 60+ point outings?  The website Land of Basketball has a great list of every 60+ point game in history.  You can read over that page and notice some really cool things: Wilt accounts for nearly half of them (32 out of 66), Jordan owns the playoff record (with 63), Baylor owns the Finals record (with 61), two occurred in the same season against the same team (Carmelo and LeBron against Charlotte), and two occurred on the same day (George Gervin scored 63 and David Thompson scored 73).

But there's one that you might not have even noticed; or even if you did notice it, you might not have grasped the magnitude of it.  The game I'm speaking of is Kobe scoring 62 points, in three quarters, against Dallas.  Why is that game so impressive?  Because Dallas was really good that year.  How good?  Let's examine that and compare how Dallas stacked up against the other opponents (for the purposes of this exercise, we're just going to examine the 60+ point games in the modern era, after the NBA and ABA merged).  Since the merger, there have been 25 such games.  Let's compare how those teams stacked up by record, defensive rating, and offensive rating.

Team Record:
Kobe vs 60-22  '05-'06 Mavs
Jordan vs 57-25  '86-'87 Hawks
Jordan vs 52-30  '86-'87 Pistons
Malone vs 44-38  '89-'90 Bucks
Carmelo vs 43-39  '13-'14 Bobcats
LeBron vs 43-39  '13-'14 Bobcats
Arenas vs 42-40  '06-'07 Lakers
Jordan vs 42-40  '89-'90 Cavs
King vs 42-40  '84-'85 Nets
K. Thompson vs 19-18  '16-'17 Pacers (current record would translate to 42-40)
Chambers vs 41-41  '89-'90 Sonics
Jordan vs 41-41  '92-'93 Magic
Maravich vs 40-42  '76-'77 Knicks
Kobe vs 40-42  '15-'16 Jazz
Gervin vs 39-43  '77-'78 Jazz
D. Thompson vs 38-44  '77-'78 Pistons
Iverson vs 36-46  '04-'05 Magic
Bird vs 34-48  '84-'85 Hawks
Kobe vs 32-50  '08-'09 Knicks
Kobe vs 32-50  '06-'07 Blazers
Kobe vs 27-55  '05-'06 Raptors
Robinson vs 27-55  '93-'94 Clippers
McGrady vs 25-57  '03-'04 Wizards
Kobe vs 22-60  '06-'07 Grizzlies
Shaq vs 15-67  '99-'00 Clippers

By Defensive Rating:
Jordan vs 2nd ranked '86-'87 Hawks
Jordan vs 5th ranked '86-'87 Pistons
Carmelo vs 5th ranked '13-'14 Bobcats
LeBron vs 5th ranked '13-'14 Bobcats
Kobe vs 7th ranked '15-'16 Jazz
Jordan vs 10th ranked '89-'90 Cavs
Gervin vs 10th ranked '77-'78 Jazz
Kobe vs 11th ranked '05-'06 Mavs
Bird vs 11th ranked '84-'85 Hawks
King vs 12th ranked '84-'85 Nets
Jordan vs 12th ranked '92-'93 Magic
Malone vs 14th ranked '89-'90 Bucks
D. Thompson vs 14th ranked '77-'78 Pistons
K. Thompson vs 15th ranked '16-'17 Pacers
Maravich vs 15th ranked '76-'77 Knicks
Iverson vs 18th ranked '04-'05 Magic
Robinson vs 18th ranked '93-'94 Clippers
McGrady vs 20th ranked '03-'04 Wizards
Chambers vs 21st ranked '89-'90 Sonics
Kobe vs 23rd ranked '08-'09 Knicks
Arenas vs 24th ranked '06-'07 Lakers
Kobe vs 26th ranked '06-'07 Blazers
Kobe vs 29th ranked '05-'06 Raptors
Shaq vs 29th ranked '99-'00 Clippers
Kobe vs 30th ranked '06-'07 Grizzlies

By offensive ratings:
Kobe vs 1st ranked '05-'06 Mavs
Jordan vs 4th ranked '86-'87 Hawks
Kobe vs 5th ranked '05-'06 Raptors
Arenas vs 7th ranked '05-'06 Lakers
Chambers vs 8th ranked '89-'90 Sonics
Jordan vs 9th ranked '86-'87 Pistons
Maravich vs 10th ranked '77-'78 Knicks
D. Thompson vs 12th ranked '77-'78 Pistons
Kobe vs 13th ranked '06-'07 Grizzlies
Jordan vs 13th ranked '92-'93 Magic
King vs 13th ranked '84-'85 Nets
Kobe vs 16th ranked '15-'16 Jazz
Bird vs 16th ranked '84-'85 Hawks
Kobe vs 17th ranked '08-'09 Knicks
Malone vs 17th ranked '89-'90 Bucks
Jordan vs 19th ranked '89-'90 Cavs
K. Thompson vs 19th ranked '16-'17 Pacers
Kobe vs 20th ranked '06-'07 Blazers
Gervin vs 21st ranked '77-'78 Jazz
Iverson vs 21st ranked '04-'05 Magic
Carmelo vs 24th ranked '13-'14 Bobcats
LeBron vs 24th ranked '13-'14 Bobcats
Robinson vs 22nd ranked '93-'94 Clippers
McGrady vs 27th ranked '03-'04 Wizards
Shaq vs 28th ranked '99-'00 Clippers

Look at any metric, and it's clear that Dallas is one of the best teams to ever have 60+ points scored against them.  And if those metrics aren't enough for you, consider that the Mavs went to the Finals that year.  Yes, Kobe dropped 62 points on a Finals level team.  And he did it in three quarters. Here's how his minutes played compared to everyone else's.

Minutes played:
K. Thompson 29 minutes played vs '16-'17 Pacers
Kobe 33 minutes played vs '05-'06 Mavs
Malone 33 minutes played vs '89-'90 Bucks
Kobe 37 minutes played vs '08-'09 Knicks
Carmelo 39 minutes played vs '13-'14 Bobcats
Jordan 41 minutes played vs '86-'87 Hawks
King 41 minutes played vs '84-'85 Nets
LeBron 41 minutes played vs '13-'14 Bobcats
Kobe 42 minutes played vs '15-'16 Jazz
Kobe 42 minutes played vs '05-'06 Raptors
Chambers 42 minutes played vs '89-'90 Sonics
Iverson 42 minutes played vs '04-'05 Magic
Jordan 43 minutes played vs '86-'87 Pistons
Bird 43 minutes played vs '84-'85 Hawks
Robinson 44 minutes played vs '93-'94 Clippers
Kobe 45 minutes played vs '06-'07 Grizzlies
Shaq 45 minutes played vs '99-'00 Clippers
McGrady 46 minutes played vs '03-'04 Wizards
Jordan 47 minutes played vs '92-'93 Magic
Arenas 49 minutes played vs '06-'07 Lakers
Kobe 50 minutes played vs '06-'07 Blazers
Jordan 50 minutes played vs '89-'90 Cavs
*minutes played for Maravich, D. Thompson, and Gervin not available

So Kobe scored 62 against one of the best teams to ever give that up and he did it in fewer minutes than anyone but one guy.  And that's not all.  Do you know how many points Dallas had after three quarters?  61.  Yes, Kobe outscored a Finals level team through three quarters.  Even on a bad night for Dallas, that's insane.  Dropping 60+ on a Finals bound team is crazy.  Outscoring a team is crazy.  Outscoring a Finals quality team?  Absurd.  It's one of the greatest performances ever and one of the least talked about.  It is greatness unrecognized.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Jeff Fisher is Underrated

Since Jeff Fisher has been fired, it seems everyone is talking about him like he was a really bad coach.  "He only had six winning seasons!"  "He is tied for the most losses in history!"  Both of those are true facts.  But do those facts tell the whole story?

First, let's examine those two facts.  Jeff Fisher is indeed tied with Dan Reeves for the most losses in NFL history.  And who follows Jeff Fisher on that damning list?  Tom Landry.  And then Don Shula, Tom Coughlin, George Halas, and Chuck Knoll.  Look at all those terrible, horrible, all-time great coaches.  Now this isn't to say that Fisher is the same caliber as those coaches.  Of course he's not.  But if total number of losses isn't an indictment of those coaches, then how can it be an indictment of Fisher?

Maybe because to lose a lot of games, you have to coach a lot of games.  And the truth is that a bad coach wouldn't be able to coach long enough to make that list.  Cause while it's true that Jeff Fisher is tied for the most losses, it is also true that he is 11th all-time in wins.  Yes, only ten coaches in history have ever won more games than Fisher.  Which brings me to the stat that he has only six winning seasons.  While it's certainly true, is it really as bad as it sounds?  Because if you only listed the stat that he has six winning seasons out of 22, wouldn't you assume he has a terrible record?  And yet Fisher actually has a winning record: 173-165-1.  So clearly his bad years weren't that bad, if they didn't submarine his career record.

Just examining the numbers of his record at face value doesn't necessarily tell the whole story either.  A simple win-loss record isn't the end-all be-all.  For example, let's say that Pete Carroll retired and next year his replacement won 10 games and Hue Jackson won 8 games in Cleveland (both with minimal roster differences), which performance would be more impressive?  Do you go with the 10 wins because it's more than 8?  Or do you go with the 8 wins because of what Hue had to work with?  Presumably most would choose the latter, because it's generally accepted that talent level plays a role in the success of a coach.

So the question becomes what was the talent level that Fisher had to work with?  Now I'm not gonna break down every roster he ever had.  No one wants to seriously evaluate that (especially me).  So let's take the (admittedly) simplistic route and just look at the most important position: quarterback.  First, let's take a look at Fisher's time in Houston/Tennessee.  Steve McNair had a record of 76-55.  And Vince Young had a record of 30-17.  With those two QBs, Fisher was 106-72.  A .596 winning percentage (equal to 9.5 wins).  Without them, he had a record of 36-48.  A .429 winning percentage (equal to 6.9 wins).  The lesson?  Give Fisher a competent QB and he can win.

With the Rams, here's a list of the seven quarterbacks that started games for Fisher: Sam Bradford, Kellen Clemens, Austin Davis, Shaun Hill, Nick Foles, Case Keenum, and Jared Goff.  That's not exactly a murderers row.  Probably the best one of that group is Bradford, and it's not like he's a franchise QB. With Fisher, Bradford's record was 10-12-1.  Since leaving the Rams, Bradford is 13-14.  Not exactly a stark difference.  As for the other QBs, what level of success should be expected with that group?  Here's a hypothetical: if you could take their average talent level and put it into one QB and pair him with Bill Belichick or have Jeff Fisher and Tom Brady, which pairing would you take?

If your inclination is to choose Jeff Fisher over Belichick, because of Brady, then does that not highlight the importance that the quarterback plays in the success of a coach?  Because obviously Fisher is no Belichick.  And if your inclination is to choose Belichick, in spite of having an average QB at best, consider this: while Belichick does appear to have a knack for getting improved play out of sub par players, he is 54-63 without Tom Brady.  Yes, Bill Belichick has a losing record in games not started by Brady.  Maybe Belichick can do better than what 117 games would suggest.  But would he really do better than what Fisher could do with Brady?  If Fisher could average 9.5 wins with McNair and Young, then surely he could do even better with Brady right?  So if you think the answer is Fisher/Brady, then you are of the mind that talent plays a big part in success.  And if you think the answer is Belichick/average Rams QB, then either you think Brady is worse than McNair and Young or you think 182 games of Fisher's career and 117 games of Belichick's career (nearly 18 NFL seasons worth of games combined) are all an aberration. 

And if that hypothetical scenario (using factual information) is too arbitrary for you, let's just evaluate Fisher by how the Titans have done since he left and how the Rams were before he got there.  Jeff Fisher was 142-120 with the Oilers/Titans (a .542 winning percentage).  Currently, the Titans are in their sixth year since Fisher was fired and they are on their third coach and have a total record of 35-59 (a .372 winning percentage).  With the Rams, Jeff Fisher's record was 31-45-1 (a .409 winning percentage).  Admittedly, not very good.  But how were they performing before Fisher?  Since the post-Fisher sample size was (almost) six seasons, it makes sense to use the same time frame for the Rams pre-Fisher (which appropriately happened to be the season after Mike Martz was fired).  So Martz was replaced by Scott Linehan, who was then fired four games into his third season and replaced with Jim Haslett, who promptly went 2-10 and was then fired and replaced by Steve Spagnuolo the following year.  And they're combined record? A staggering 23-73 (a .240 winning percentage).

So the Titans were worse after Fisher left and the Rams were better after Fisher got there.  How much so?  The Titans went from an average of 8.7 wins under Fisher to 6 wins without him (a difference of 2.7 wins).  And the Rams went from a 3.8 win team to a 6.5 win team.  A difference of?  2.7 wins.  And the difference in each team's performance is arguably even more impressive when you consider that the post-Fisher Titans aren't competing against Peyton Manning's Colts and the pre-Fisher Rams didn't exist in arguably the best division in football.  Fisher performed better against Manning/Dungy, Carroll, Harbaugh, and Arians than his successors have performed against Andrew Luck and better than his predecessors performed against only a single season of San Francisco and Seattle being juggernauts.

For those that like numbers, here's exactly how the division competition breaks down:
While Fisher was with the Titans- the Colts, Texans, and Jags had a .544 winning percentage
Since Fisher left- the Colts, Texans, and Jags have a .429 winning percentage

Post-Martz to Pre-Fisher- the Niners, Seahawks, and Cardinals had a .462 winning percentage
Since Fisher joined the Rams until the present- the Niners, Seahawks and Cardinals have a .583 winning percentage

What does all this mean?  Obviously that Jeff Fisher is the greatest and shouldn't have been fired!  No, not at all.  In fact, a case can still be made for him being fired, based on other possible factors like personality/style, philosophical differences, or just to shake things up (like Andy Reid being fired in Philadelphia).  But unless him being 11th all-time in wins and franchises performing better when he's there (against better competition) than when he's not there (against weaker competition) are just seasons upon seasons of flukes, then he can't be a bad coach.  And that would make him underrated.

Friday, September 6, 2013

NFL Predictions 2013

The NFL season is underway!  Time to make some predictions.

As I see it, there is only one "guaranteed" team to make the playoffs in the AFC and that, of course, is the Broncos.  I don't feel great about any other teams, but I do feel like the Patriots, Texans, and Bengals will return to the postseason.  Tom Brady hasn't missed the playoffs since 2002.  I'm not going to predict he'll do so now.  The Texans are a very solid team and happen to play in (presumably) the second weakest division in football.  The Bengals are similar to the Texans.  A very solid team that doesn't seem to have any obvious competition for the division title.  The Ravens did only win 10 games last year.  Now they're without two of their top three receivers from last year and have a lot of new personnel on defense.  I just don't seem them making the playoffs.  The Bengals' only other likely source of competition would come from the Steelers.  Last year I noted that, since Roethlisberger arrived, the Steelers have had a pattern of making the playoffs two years and missing them one.  If that continues, that means it's a playoff year for Pittsburgh.  But part of me also feels like the Steelers are on the verge of decline (similar to how I felt about the Jets two years ago and the Chargers last year).  The difference is that the conference seems pretty weak and the Steelers have something the Jets and Chargers didn't: a coach and quarterback with proven success.  So while I feel like their window is closing, I think the Steelers have at least one more playoff berth in them.  Who gets the final spot?  I picked the Bills last year, but - unless Manuel is a revelation - I don't see them making it.  The Dolphins have some talent, but I don't think they're quite there yet.  I think the last two spots comes down to one of two teams: the Colts or the Chiefs.  The Colts are a strong regression candidate, and I'm betting they do regress.  But they also have a very good (potentially great) quarterback.  Instead of declining by an expected three to four wins, I think Luck may be able to stop the decline at two.  The Chiefs seem to be everyone's "bad team improves to playoff team" this year.  They improved from greatly by going from Cassel and Crennel to Smith and Reid.  They had the number one pick in the draft.  They brought in Sean Smith and Dunta Robinson.  And they're playing a 4th place schedule.  They have four games against the Chargers and Raiders, games against the Browns, Bills, Jaguars, and Titans, and most of their toughest out-of-division games (Cowboys, Giants, Texans, Colts) are at home.  Upgrade at coach, upgrade at quarterback, upgraded talent, and an easy schedule is why I feel the Chiefs make the playoffs.

The likely teams to return to the playoffs are the Seahawks, Packers, Niners, and Falcons.  The Seahawks and Niners are on two of the most talented teams in football.  The Packers have Aaron Rodgers.  The Falcons are talented, but I'm not as high on them as other people seem to be.  I think they'll make the playoffs, but I do think there's a real chance they don't win their division.  For starters, it's hard to win 13 games two years in a row, so they're likely to regress a little.  Second of all, since realignment in 2002, no team has won the NFC South two years in a row.  I think it's possible that Atlanta wins 11 games but loses the tiebreaker.  Picking which team they'd lose to is rather difficult.  On one hand, you have the Saints; a team that has one of the best quarterbacks in the league and is getting the return of Sean Payton.  I predicted the Saints wouldn't make the playoffs last year due to the absence of Payton, so I would think his addition would be pretty helpful.  On the other hand, I liked the Bucs prior to last year; and while they only finished 7-9, they did start out 6-4.  Also noteworthy: of their nine losses, six were by a touchdown or less (and a 7th by 8 points).  They lost nine games and seven of them were by one score.  And now they've added Darrelle Revis and Dashon Goldson and gotten Carl Nicks and Davin Joseph back from injury.  I love their potential, but I can't pick against the quarterback/coach combo of New Orleans, so I'm picking the Saints to make the playoffs.  The NFC East is a crapshoot.  Like the South, I could easily see any of three teams making the playoffs, but I'm going with the Giants.  The Redskins have injury risk surrounding RGIII and they made the playoffs last year.  There's turnover every year and since I don't think it's likely to come from the top four teams, that means it has to be the Redskins.  I can't pick the Cowboys because they seem like habitual underachievers.  That leaves the Giants; another team that also happens to fit my quarterback/coach formula.  Final note, if another NFC North team beats out the Packers or gets a wildcard spot, I think it would be the Bears.  They won 10 games last year and had the 4th best point differential in the NFC.  I love their potential on offense, with some additions to the o-line and the hiring of Marc Trestman, but I have questions about how their defense will respond after thriving off so many takeaways last year and the loss of Lovie Smith.

Easy.  Unless Tom Brady wins 12 games with Gronk and Amendola playing less than 20 games combined, Peyton Manning wins the MVP.

Super Bowl
Seahawks versus Broncos.  The other teams just have more question marks.