Today’s Game: Drive for Dough and Putt for Show?

I used to be a pretty good golfer, peaking at a 3 handicap when I was 21 years old. Over time I lost my game; I am still struggling to find it. Today I am a 14 handicap which is an improvement from where I was five years ago. The cruel irony is that I am a much better putter now than I was back in the day.

What’s changed? The driver yips. The Ian Baker-Finch’s if you will. As a left-handed golfer, I can miss it 80 yards left and miss it 40 yards right. If I was lucky, I might hit a single fairway in a round. I could easily incur 10-15 penalty strokes related to my tee shots.

My inability to accurately drive the golf ball impacts the rest of my game. From the rough, I will have a 5 or 6 iron into the green instead of an 8 or 9 iron from the fairway. That leads to missed greens which leads to a lot of two-putt bogeys or triples, depending on whether or not I kept my tee shot on the golf course. What used to be a round of 75 quickly became a round of 95. I had three or four birdies one year. In a year! Continue reading

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Oilers Hackathon: Season Wrap

With the Oilers season coming to an end, I thought I would take a look back at my Hackathon predictions. For questions 1, 2 and 3, I will wait for the Oilers to post the results on their website. They indicated they were going to do so, but have not as yet.

Related, someone from the Oilers contacted me in March about being interviewed for this piece on the contest. I never did get that follow up call which was too bad. One, I would have liked to brag to friends and get ripped on Twitter by strangers. Two, the only individual they interviewed was an academic who already has a proprietary player rating system. It would have been interesting to read about some of the amateurs who entered, be it me or someone else.

The fourth question was really a choose your own adventure. I opted to focus on special teams and made four predictions.

1. For the 2012-2013 season, 12 of the top 16 teams in the wPP%d metric will make the playoffs.

2. The Detroit Red Wings will finish out of the top 16 in wPP%d and will miss the playoffs.

3. The New York Islanders will finish in the top 16 in wPP%d and will make the playoffs.

4. The Edmonton Oilers will make the playoffs if they are around league average in PP shooting percentage (no more than 1% higher) and in the top 16 in wPP%d.

I think I wrote before that I wish I had simply used PP%d instead of weighting it with power play opportunities. I took a pretty simply concept and made it more complex for very little benefit.

Anyhoo, below is the data for the 2013 season. The ‘+’ in the yellow column denotes top 16 in wPP%d and made playoffs. ‘&&’ = made playoffs but not top 16 wPP%d. ‘-’ = top 16 wPP%d but missed playoffs. ‘#’ = missed playoffs and not top 16 wPP%d.

2013 season

My predictions:

  1. 13 of the top 16 made the playoffs. Boom, it is 1-0.
  1. Detroit finished 13th in wPP%d and made the playoffs with a win on the season’s last day. A swing and a miss on this one.
  1. The Islanders finished 12th and made the playoffs. I am a genius.
  1. The Oilers were again a good special teams club, ranking 10th in wPP%d. I have not quite figured out the math, but per behindthenet.ca, the Oilers had the second worst PP shooing percentage at 5 on 4. That most certainly has them below league average. Swing and a miss, strike two.

So I ended up two for four with Detroit within smelling distance of being correct. The Oilers prediction was way off, in large part due to the team’s really poor results at 5 on 5.

That last sentence is really important to what I was hoping to find out with my entry. The idea was that we could totally ignore a team’s 5 on 5 play and infer team success solely from their special team’s play. Good special teams result in good teams.

Historically 12 of the top 16 special team performers make the playoffs and 13 of 16 did this past season. Each season there are examples of teams that make the playoffs despite poor special teams and teams that miss despite good special teams.

The Oilers clearly fall into that latter category. Generally, I view the 12 of 16 as the effect, not the cause. Good teams have good special teams. Good special teams does not necessarily mean good team.

I also wondered if special team performance was predictive to future years. Would a team with good special teams move into the playoffs? Would a team whose special teams decline be at risk for missing the playoffs the following year? I did not think this would be the case and nothing from the past season changes my mind. I went one for two in my predictions, but my post also identified San Jose and Colorado as teams whose fortunes might change. San Jose had the best special teams in the league while Colorado were near the basement. While they were not part of my submission, you could argue I went one for four. Special team performance is not predictive in terms of signaling a change in the standings the following year.

That about wraps up my thoughts on the Oilers Hackathon contest. If for some incredible reason I am one of the prize winners, perhaps a final post to try to understand why.

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Craig MacTavish: Sometimes, it is what you don’t do that matters

What an exciting past couple of days for Oiler fans. Tambo is out and MacT is in. The Oilers have done what all poor teams do which is to distract fans from the poor performance with an offer of hope for the future. “Don’t worry about how disappointing this season has been. We have a new guy that will be a beacon of positive change. Even if he did work at TSN for a year…. That was a joke guys.”

I will admit that the new hope tactic has kind of worked on me, despite being aware of what they are doing.  I am not sure why I should believe that a charismatic individual with no practical GM experience would likely bring success. He is supported by the same boobs that have run the place into the ground over the past seven years. What has changed? I will say that MacT does have a nice head of hair and contagious smile. He just seems like a leader. Is there a particular font that should be used for sarcasm?

The bad news for me is that the firing of Tambo kind of ruined a piece related to the importance of actions one decides not to take. The notion is inspired in part from this post from Blackdog Pat. The team might have been better off doing nothing than the moves they made. It got me thinking about how value gets created and how teams get better or worse.

Value creation or destruction can occur in one of four ways:

  1. You take some action that creates value (good).
  2. You take some action that destroys value (bad).
  3. You opt to not take action on something that would have destroyed value (nice).
  4. You opt to not take action on something that would have created value (dang).

Folks tend to focus on creating value through action (#1 above). They also tend to discount or explain away actions that end up destroying value (#2). “How could we have known that bringing in Mike Brown was a complete waste of time and a draft pick?” *

* A tangent that I cannot resist for those folks that thinks Mike Brown makes the Oilers better. Envision a scenario where you have twelve Taylor Hall’s making up your four lines. Now envision eleven Taylor Hall’s and Mike Brown. Is that a better team? Of course not. Skill and skill only should be the focus of all four lines.

What folks tend to not grasp is how value is created simply by avoiding poor decisions (#3). You cannot see the non-action therefore it never seemed to have occurred. In business, most poor decisions involve acquiring other companies or taking on big, complex capital projects based on budgets that are wildly optimistic. By passing on these opportunities, value is optimized. At my last job, the boss and I had a mantra that we wanted to see a hundred potential deals before we acted. In was a mindset to always be prepared to do nothing or defer on a decision if it was not clearly better than what we were currently doing. While I always wondered if any of those opportunities were #4 above, I think we generally avoided making any big strategic mistakes.

In hockey, many of the poor decisions relate to contracts awarded and trades. Pat’s post was in part a look at what the Oilers would have looked like if they had simply kept the players they had. If they had done nothing but re-sign the players the Oilers had seven years ago, they would have Stoll, Greene, Hejda, Gilbert, Cogliano, Brodziak, and so on.

The Oilers would not have Hordichuk, Eager, Brown, Sutton, Khabibulin and other guys who are not very good at hockey. The overall quality of the club would be greater had Tambo failed to act in certain circumstances. Fistric. That new guy from Florida. The list is really quite embarrassing.

During yesterday’s press conference, Kevin Lowe was quite proud at the fact the Oilers have added Hall, Eberle, RNH, Yakupov, Dubnyk, Paajarvi and Justin Shultz. He seemed fairly oblivious to the other side of the equation, the side where Oilers’ management has destroyed significant value through many of the moves they made.

The Oilers have even started making mistakes with their young talent. Yes, they have Eberle, but they have him at too high a cost that will cause difficult decisions down the road. Why would anyone sign a player under contract for another year to a big money, long-term deal right before a lockout that would likely fundamentally change the economics of the game? Six Stanley Cup rings cannot tell you how to manage your cap space I guess…

MacT mentioned yesterday how he was an impatient man of action. Fortunately, he made those remarks in the context of the lack of quality hockey players in the bottom six. I hope his impatience is just bluster as patience is often vital to making good decisions.

Assuming MacT correctly diagnoses the issues with the Oilers, the face punchers will be gone and replaced with reasonably priced bottom six players with an ability to play. Most importantly, the elite defenseman void will be filled via trade or free agency. That move will be the one that will make or break the Oilers attempt at relevance.

As interested as I am in those moves that MacT makes to create value for the club, I am equally interested in those moves he makes that destroy value. To the extent smart Oilers fans cannot find bad moves to blog about, that will strongly suggest to me that the team is on the right track.

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Adam Scott vs. Greg Norman off the tee

Congratulations to Adam Scott, who yesterday won The Masters in a playoff over Angel Cabrera. It was his first major and the first Masters win for an Australian. It is party time in Australia and for all Aussie golfers, including Greg Norman. Norman of course was the guy that was supposed to win that green jacket for Austrailia. Norman finished second in 1986, 1987 and 1996, blowing a six shot lead in the final round to let Nick Faldo win his third title.

After Scott’s win yesterday, Norman said something that had people scratching their heads. He said, “I think he’s a better driver of the golf ball than I ever was. Nobody ever gives him that recognition.”

Brad Faxon tweeted that he “never played with a better driver than Greg!” I have heard that about Norman from a few places and I think he is generally considered one of all time.

Norman’s comment left me with two questions: 1) was Norman the best driver of the ball in his era? and 2) is Scott better than Norman was?

Technology differences make it difficult to directly compare the two. I thought I would look back at the PGA Tour stats to see how each player ranked in Total Driving, which is the sum of your driving accuracy and driving distance rankings on tour. Norman was known to hit it long and straight, which is a pretty good definition of a great driver of the golf ball.

Scott vs Norman

The above table for Adam Scott contradicts Norman’s statement. Scott generally hits the ball a long ways relative to the rest of the tour, but he is not accurate off the tee. In no way is Scott one of the best drivers of the ball in the game today. We are all prone to hyperbole in the thrill of victory, even the Great White Shark. I suspect that a few weeks a year, Scott combines distance and accuracy and is in contention to win.

Looking at Norman’s numbers, he certainly appears to have been one of the best drivers of the golf ball in his day. From 1988 through 1996, he was in the top four in Total driving seven of nine years. That is pretty darn good and pretty darn consistent.

For fun, I thought I would pull Jack Nicklaus’ numbers. Sadly, the PGA Tour website only has stats back until 1980. The following is Jack age 40 through 45.

Nicklaus

I suspect the 1960’s and 1970’s contained more of the same. I am not sure how often Brad Faxon has had the pleasure of playing with the Golden Bear, but Nicklaus was the best driver of the golf ball that he has played with.

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Checking in on my Oilers Hackathon Predictions

As we hit the quarter pole of the abbreviate season, I thought I would take a look at my Oilers Hackathon question 4 predictions. We are only talking about 15% of a normal 82 game regular season, so I won’t get too excited or too despondent at this stage.

The predictions:

1. For the 2012-2013 season, 12 of the top 16 teams in the wPP%d metric will make the playoffs.

2. The Detroit Red Wings will finish out of the top 16 in wPP%d and will miss the playoffs.

3. The New York Islanders will finish in the top 16 in wPP%d and will make the playoffs.

4. The Edmonton Oilers will make the playoffs if they are around league average in PP shooting percentage (no more than 1% higher) and in the top 16 in wPP%d.

I will link you to a couple of posts that has all the work that went into my predictions. PP%d is the difference between the power play success percentage and 1 minus the penalty kill success rate. So if your PP runs at 20% and your PK is at 75%, your PP%d is 5%.

The PPd is the difference between total power plays and total penalty kill opportunities. If the Oilers took 150 penalties and had 100 power plays, the PPd would be -50.

I then convert those two into league rankings and blend them together, 25% of the PPd ranking and 75% of the PP%d ranking. That is the wPP%d figure which is then compared to the league average.

Jeez, as I write that I think I should have just stayed with PP%d. Easy to compute and almost as predictive as wPP%d.

Below is a bit of a nasty table with the special team results through Tuesday night. For point totals, I prorated to a 48 game schedule to accommodate for differing number of games played.

quarter pole

For prediction #1, currently 9 of the top 16 are in the playoffs, with four more teams just outside of the playoffs. Anaheim, Carolina and Detroit are three teams well in playoff position that have had middling special team results thus far. Columbus and the Islanders are two teams with good special team play but a familiar location in the standings. I don’t think it is necessary fair to assume that the position is the standings will regress based on the special team rankings. The Islanders aren’t going to score on 25% of the power plays, nor are they going to kill 90% of penalties over the season.

For predictions #2 and #3, I am correct for both the Islanders and Red Wings in terms of wPP%d. The Islanders lead the league, while the Red Wings are 24th. That has not yet translated to position in the standings, with the Red Wings up near the top and the Islanders right near the bottom.

As for the Oilers, their PP shooting percentage is 18.9% on the season, well above a typical league average of 12-13%. After a pretty good start, they are on their way down the standings. I don’t think they look like a playoff team most nights.

All in all, it isn’t looking so great for my submission, but it is very early.

I believe the Oilers will publish how entrants are doing on questions 1 through 3, so I will maybe comment on that next week.

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Oilers Hackathon: That’s a Wrap

I just submitted my submission to the Oilers Hackathon question. Rather than wait and use the early season information, I opted to simply be done with it. I broke down and made one edit from my previously published figures on goal differential. I originally had the Flyers with the highest goal differential and the Oilers with the lowest. I took 0.55 goals per game off the Philly estimate and gave it to the Oilers. What can I say, that Yakupov goal last night was fantastic!

Below is my actual submission for Question 4. The one page restriction made it impossible to demonstrate all the work that went into the predictions. Oh well.

I guess the Oilers will have some sort of leader board after the contest closes. Rather than use my usual jonathanjoyce37 username, I went with islandfever37. I’m sitting in the Cayman Islands currently and it is beautifully hot, hence the name. Continue reading

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Oilers Hackathon: Question 4: The Value of Special Teams Part Deux

In my last post, I looked at a few special team metrics over the past fifteen years. The wPP%d* metric indicated that a little over 12 of the top 16 each year would make the playoffs. For this post, I looked for trends that might suggest a team is about to jump into or fall out of the playoffs.

* wPP%d = weighted power play % differential = 25% PPd x 75% PP%d = 25% x(power plays – penalty kills) + 75% x(PP% – (1-PK%))

My attempt to gain insight from each team’s numbers is fraught with peril. I just finished reading Nate Silver’s “The Signal and the Noise” and I feel like I have super human signal detecting skills at the moment. The same thing happened when I watched “Spies Like Us” when I was a kid. I spent the next two days hiding out in my grandparents’ crawl space with my cousin waiting to uncover many of our family’s secrets. Overconfidence in my ability is right there, ready to go when something is so fresh in my mind.

With that self-awareness in mind, I looked at each team over the preceding fifteen years looking for one of two things: 1) teams shifting into the playoffs that had top 16 ranked power play metrics in seasons prior; and 2) teams shifting out of the playoffs after having their power play metrics fall out of the top 16. Was there some sort of substantive pattern to it all? Continue reading

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Oilers Hackathon: Question 4: The Value of Special Teams

The finish line to the Oilers Hackathon contest is within sight. This is the first of three posts on the fourth and final question.

Conduct a predictive analysis of your choice on some dimension of potential value to the Oilers. The analysis must be testable in the upcoming season and judged on its difficulty, accuracy, clarity, and value.

The fourth question will be submitted online, but will take the form of a PDF executive summary. The summary will be limited to one page of 10 pt font text that outlines the problem solved, data used, methodology, and predicted results. The methodology and predicted results must be sufficiently clear that the judges can replicate and/or verify the results. In addition to the one page executive summary, the Entrant may include up to four pages of annotated visuals or charts further describing their method and results. The source of any outside data must be clearly identified and publicly available.

The fourth question will be judged on four dimensions:

  • difficulty/novelty – how difficult and new is the analysis attempted by the Entrant

  • accuracy – how accurate were the predictions made by the Entrant

  • clarity – how clear is the reasoning, methodology, and results/implications. This includes both the written portion and any visuals in the submission

  • value – how valuable is the findings in helping the Oilers achieve their goal of becoming a perennial contender.

This post walks through the initial analysis I did to support my question #4 response to the Oilers. Today I look at the league on a year by year basis. Next up will be a post looking team by team. The third post will be my actual response to question #4. I should have that all done and on the site by the middle of next week. Continue reading

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Oilers Hackathon: Question 3

I am now three quarters of the way through the Oilers Hackathon contest questions. I received an email last week letting me know that I am competing against almost 500 other entrants. The deadline of February 15th is subject to change pending the resolution of the CBA negotiations. Translation: we might cancel the contest!! That would be a nice piece of PR for the Oil.

One interesting piece to the email was an indication that the 10 winners would be required to sign the confidentiality agreement before receiving their prize. The implication is that we aren’t subject to the CA at this point in time. I am going to revise my post on question #1 and discuss the nature of the players in Appendix A and what I think the Oilers are doing. I will hold off on actually listing the players for now.

For questions #3, I will outlay exactly what I did and include my predictions for each team. Below is question 3.

Predict the goal differential per regular season game ((goals for less goals against) divided by games played) for all thirty teams for the upcoming season. Continue reading

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Oilers Hackathon: Question 2

Yesterday, I spent a couple of hours answering question #2 of the Oilers Hackathon.

Predict next season’s even strength save percentage of the goaltenders listed in appendix A

My approach to this question was to keep my analysis fairly short and simple. I give the illusion of precision, but the reality is a bunch of guesswork. A goalie’s save percentage has a lot to do with luck and his teammates, and a bit to do with his skill and his age. Continue reading

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Oilers Hackathon: Question 1

My thanks to mc79hockey for the retweet of the link to my first post on the Oilers Hackathon contest. It has been awhile since this site has had a bunch of folks stop by.

Over the last couple of days, I tackled the first of the four questions that make up the contest.

  1. Predict next regular season’s points/game for the players listed in appendix A.

My interpretation of the confidentiality acknowledgement precludes me from listing the players in appendix A. In my original draft I had characterized the list of players and wagered a guess on what the Oilers were trying to accomplish. My lovely wife, holder of a law degree, kindly informed me that I ought to reconsider.

So I will leave that out for now. Should Appendix A end up in the public domain, I will edit this post and add those two cents. Continue reading

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Edmonton Oilers Hockey Hackathon

The Oilers announced the second running of their contest to allow amateur stat-heads the opportunity to play around with their proprietary data. Up for grabs are 10 prizes, ranging from signed jerseys to a chance to work with the Oilers’ analytics group.

From the confidentiality acknowledgement.

“I have and will learn confidential or proprietary information relating to the past, existing and contemplated operations of RSC and the Edmonton Oilers Hockey Club (the “Oilers”), including but not limited to personal, business, hockey, financial, strategic, statistical and investment information about RSC and the Oilers, their respective employees, subsidiaries, parent companies or affiliates, and the websites containing the information in the Hackathon package (the “Websites”) (collectively, the “Confidential Information”).”

I signed up for the contest. I thought it would be an interesting chance to get a sense of how the Oilers use advanced stats to manage their business. To accompany my entry, I am going to post a few blogs outlining my experience. Continue reading

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Blockbuster trade in Toronto. Next stop the playoffs?

Sports teams are out to sell hope and provide a nice distraction from our otherwise dull lives. Elite teams move beyond hope and sell expectations to their fan bases. For the Yankees, Patriots and Lakers of the world, anything other than the league title is a wasted year.

For the vast majority of teams, they are in the business of selling hope. Hope that this year is the year they finally win it all. Hope that the team will make the playoffs this year. Hope that in a couple of years, the team could be really good. I tend to cheer for teams in the third category (Edmonton Oilers, Buffalo Bills). Sadly that can of hope usually comes with a bitter taste and leaves me hugging the toilet. 

With yesterday’s mammoth pending trade with the Miami Marlins, the Toronto Blue Jays have an early start on next year’s message of hope. Perhaps 2013 is the year the team races into the post season for the first time since winning the World Series in 1993.

The Blue Jays added Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, Mark Buerle, a backup catcher and a speedy utility player, They gave away Yunel Escobar, Henderson Alvarez, a backup catcher and three prospects. 

The question is whether or not to buy what the Blue Jays are selling? Is this a team that will contend for the playoffs? In the American League last year, it took 93 wins to make the post season. In the National League it was 87 wins. That translates to an additional 14 to 20 wins over 2012. In 2011, the Jays were 81-81 which leaves the team short 6 to 12 wins from the playoffs.

In losing Escobar and Henderson, the Jays give up 2.6 wins above replacement (“WAR”) from their 2012 roster according to Baseballreference.com. In return they get back 7.7 WAR in Reyes, Johnson and Buerle. My math skills aren’t what they used to be but that is only 5.1 wins added, significantly short of what they need to kick through the door. 

I am feeling generous, so let’s assume the former Marlins each equal their most production season. That would be 5.6 WAR for Reyes back in 2006, 6.8 WAR for Johnson in 2010 and 5.9 WAR for Buerle in 2007. That sums to 18.3 WAR, net 15.7 when I back out Escober and Henderson.

An additional 15 or 16 wins should get the Blue Jays into the post season, but we are probably living in fantasy land here. The likely scenario is that the Jays will be better in the short term with the new additions, but they will stay at best third fiddle to the Yankees and Rays.  

This is ok. All the Blue Jays are trying to sell at the moment is hope. Without expectations, hope is as simple as a big trade on a snowy afternoon.

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Impact of new NHL CBA on mega length contracts

The upcoming NHL season is about to be held hostage by the NHL owners as they push for some significant concessions from the players. The Collective Bargaining Agreement is up for renewal and the owners have fired the first shot.

The significant asks as I understand them are a reduction in the players share of revenue from 57% to 47%; a 22% rollback in player salaries; a five year maximum contract term; a delay in free agent eligibility and some changes to the salary cap structure.

I obviously have no idea how things will play out over the next few months. The NBA and NFL players associations agreed to a 50% revenue cut. I think that 50% number will have a pretty firm gravitational pull to the negotiations. A drop to 50% would likely bring with it an accompanying roll back in players salaries to fit into the revised, lower salary cap number.

I was thinking of these potential changes on this summer’s free agency proceedings. Did Minnesota offer Ryan Suter and Zach Parise the moon thinking that the ultimate outlay would not be anywhere near what was agreed to? Did Nashville step up and match Philadelphia’s offer sheet to Shea Weber with the hope that the new CBA would reduce the dollars, the term and potentially the signing bonus structure? It would be a dangerous game of poker to play, but it might prove to be a winning hand.

Below, courtesy of capgeek.com, are tables detailing Weber’s deal and the identical deals of Suter and Parise.

My understanding is the signing bonus forms part of the NHL salary and acts as a mechanism to satisfy the 100 percent rule of the recently expired CBA (please comment and correct me if I am incorrect here). The year one non-bonus portion of the contracts is $1 million and $2 million respectively, which makes the $1 million salary in the final years of the contracts kosher.

Below are adjusted tables that simply assume the NHL owners are successful in gaining a 22% rollback in salaries.  For the cap hit, I have shown it three ways: no restriction on contract term; a seven year maximum contract terms; and a five year maximum term.

The math likely works pretty well in terms of revised cap hit over the full contract length under the owners’ first offer.  Weber’s $110 million contract becomes an $85 million deal; still monster cash, but it probably a lot easier for a team to stomach if their share of revenues goes up to 50%.  The Wild still have $152 million tied into two players, with Suter’s ultimate value without Weber as a partner is still to be determined.

The columns with the seven year and five year terms illustrate an issue that will need to be dealt with should the owners be successful in capping contract lengths and that restriction is applied retroactively. The resulting annual cap hits likely won’t fit into the revised maximum salary caps.  Some sort of fancy math is going to be required to make that work.

This annual cap hit issue illustrates just how complicated the CBA negotiations will be. In addition to gaining common ground on the dollars involved, both sides are going to need to agree on all the resulting implications on their salary cap world.

I hate to be a pessimist, but it is going to take a fair while to get both parties in agreement. The owners hold most of the cards, while the players have a real stubborn SOB in Donald Fehr to lead them. Fehr famously led the baseball players association through a lengthy strike without giving in on key negotiating points. It will be interesting to see what points, if any, the players concede to in the next month. The September 15th lockout date is going to hit players and fans before we know it.

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#1 pick- Winger or Centre? – from 2010

Today I will republish a third post from the now defunct Low on Oil site. This sure beats coming up with new ideas; I feel like a modern day Rick Reily.

This post originally followed the Taylor vs. Tyler debate that I posted last Sunday. When reading, try to eliminate the “Ilya Kovalchuk is currently in the Stanley Cup” narrative from your mind. I would quickly counter that the Kings made the dance with three quality centres in Kopitar, Richards and Carter.

And that is gist of the post. If you can draft a centre who is almost as good as a winger, draft that centre.

—original post below— Continue reading

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Taylor Hall vs. Tyler Seguin – from 2010

Below is a second post that I wrote for Low on Oil back during the 2009-2010 hockey season that I will republish on this site. It was a debate on who the Oilers should draft with their first #1 overall pick. I said Tyler, the Oilers went with Taylor.

A couple of years on, the Oilers find themselves with their third straight #1 overall pick. The discussion this year is do the Oilers draft the best player available or a defenseman?

I have read a few compelling articles on draft value that suggest a limited amount of elite talent available each year. Top 5 picks are sacred and really should be spent on the best player available if possible. None of this year’s defensemen available are good enough to select with the #1 overall selection.

Getting back to Taylor vs. Tyler, the post below is a pretty good read and I think it has implications for this year’s draft. I don’t think the question should be Nail Yakupov vs. Ryan Murray. It should be Yakupov vs. Alex Galchenyuk, or Yakupov vs. Mikhail Grigorenko. Should the Oilers pick a winger or a centre?

For this year, the post from 2010 below has my answer for the 2012 #1 pick. If given the choice between a greatly skilled winger and a greatly skilled centre, the Oilers should pick the centre.  From there, I would defer to Corey Pronman over at Hockey Prospectus and take Grigorenko over Galchenyuk.

——the original post below—-  Continue reading

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Living and Slowly Dying in Phoenix- from 2009

I noticed a couple of months ago that the Oilers site that I used to write on, Low on Oil, has been taken down. Fortunately I was able to get into the back end of the site and retrieve some of the posts I wrote back during 2009.

This ole site has suffered from a lack of ambition, a bit of writer’s block and a lack of effort. I would offer up some excuses but they don’t matter. I would suggest the possibility of new entries soon, but I am not sure that is true. I have started a couple of things the past month that aren’t good.

I find it interesting that as I read more and more great sports writing, I seem to have lost my voice. I like writing posts with a statisitical slant, but find my old theories have been largely replaced by better theories put forward by others. It has been great from a learning perspective, but leaves me a bit dry on the original ideas front.

Anyways, I thought I would throw up a few of the posts that I liked from the Low on Oil days. This first one details my trip down to Phoenix to watch the Coyotes and Cardinals. Most of what I wrote holds true today. The deep playoff run this year doesn’t change the fact that the Phoenix area cannot sustain a NHL team. Perhaps some can admire Gary Bettman’s determined effort to keep the team from moving, but it is an exercise in delusion. Any owner dumb enough to keep the team in Phoenix better have a couple hundred million dollars they are willing to throw away.

———— Continue reading

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The Year in Music 2011

Rather than attempt yet another top 50 list of the best albums of the year, I thought I would walk through a year in music from my perspective. The albums I have bought and the concerts I have seen. I suppose albums is a bit of a misnomer. 2010 was the year that I kind of got into downloading albums; 2011 was the year I almost exclusively downloaded everything.

The year started off with an album that the Sports Juicette and I were really looking forward to. Somewhere along the line we found ‘Hang me out to dry’ by the Cold War Kids and fell in love with the band. Mid-January saw the release of their third studio album, ‘Mine is Yours’ . Some of the songs are among the best they have ever done, but overall the album lacked the quirkiness of their other work. Ms. Juicette had the opportunity to go to Vancouver and see them live in March. Really good show. Continue reading

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I say Poo, you say Holes. Pujols.

Albert Pujols is my favourite baseball player. The St. Louis Cardinals are not my favourite baseball team. I can probably thank fantasy sports for that contradiction. With Pujols, not only are we watching one of the best baseball players who ever lived, we are watching the most consistent fantasy player in the game.  

My favourite memory of Albert is watching him play the New York Mets at Shea Stadium in 2006. We were in New York for our honeymoon and I managed to squeeze in a baseball game with the usual honeymoon activities. The fact that I steered our honeymoon to New York in part to watch him play was not lost on her; fortunately Mrs. SportsJuice doesn’t mind taking in the occasional ball game. I had never seen Pujols play and I came to the game with big expectations. 

In the top of the fourth, Pujols came up to bat for the second time in the game with men on first and third with nobody out. With a 0-1 count, he crushed the ball to right center to make it a 3-1 game. 

Fast forward to the top of the fifth and Pujols came up with the bases loaded and two out. On a 1-1 count, another bomb, this time to left center to make it a 7-1 game. I was dancing in the aisles and Mrs. SportsJuice was into it as well. I think the 7 RBIs has stood as his career best, matched during the recent World Series. 

That night might have been the start of our tradition whenever I see Pujols come up to bat on tv. I interrupt whatever Ms. Juice is up to and say, “When I say poo, you say holes. Poo!” She obliges and says “Holes!”, I then say “Poo”, she follows with “Holes”. We occasionally mix it up and she says poo and I say holes, but it doesn’t work quite as well. 

Anyways, it was a fantastic game that ended with Carlos Beltran hitting a walk off three run homer in the bottom of the ninth to win it for the Mets. We were sitting beside a mother and son, with the mother wearing a Beltran t-shirt. I think the son worked on a crossword puzzle most of the night. Beltran hits that homer and the mom goes absolutely bananas. B-a-n-a-n-a-s. I suspect she then sent her kid home on the train and spent the night trying to hook up with Beltran.

I have often thought about the goals of being a professional athlete. When superstars make decisions to join another team, I try to reconcile that to what I would do in the circumstances. In my mind, I would have noble intentions to play for a single team, win championships and create a real legacy. Late in my career, I could envision pulling a “Ray Bourque” and leaving my team in search of an elusive championship (Bourque left the Boston Bruins very late in his career and won a Stanley Cup with the Colorado Avalanche). Beyond that, I would want to finish my career where I started if I could be so lucky. 

In my mind, I would have great respect for the jersey that I proudly wore. If I was a Yankee I would never play for the Red Sox. If I was an Edmonton Oiler, I would never play for the Calgary Flames. I would never play for the Flames under any circumstances, but that is another story for another day. 

Albert Pujols has never hidden his ultimate goals in baseball. After being drafted in the 13th round in 1999, he has been driven to prove his doubters wrong. He wants to be known as the best player who has ever played the game. In addition to the MVP awards and the .300 average, 30 home runs and 100 RBIs each season, he views his salary as an indication of his worth. He just wrapped up a 7 year, $100 million contract that had him outside of the top 25 player salaries last season. This offseason was to be his choice between his legacy with the Cardinals and his legacy with his banker.  

We all know how that turned out.  

Pujols signed a 10 year, $254 million contract with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim located in California (or whatever they are called). The $254 million eclipses Alex Rodriguez’s $252 million 10 year deal with the Rangers, falling just short of ARod’s $275 million deal with the Yankees. Mission basically accomplished. 

We don’t really need time to tell us how this contract is going to play out. Pujols will be great for awhile yet, but age will eventually catch up to him and he will be a shell of the player he once was. Rather than play through his decline in front of the St. Louis fans that view him as a god, he will grind it out in southern California in front of fans that wish he wasn’t an albatross over the team’s ability to spend money on more productive players. Instead of a statue beside Stan Musial, he will likely sit alone in the clubhouse and wonder if the money was really worth it.

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MLB Expands the Postseason and Waters Down their Product

On the day the Toronto Blue Jays unveiled their snazzy new version of their old logo, I thought I would check in on MLB’s announcement to move the Houston Astros over to the American League and add two additional wild card teams to the already bloated playoffs. With the change, 10 of MLB’s 30 teams will get to hang banners celebrating their trip to the postseason. Even if that trip is only for one day. Continue reading

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VUKOTA Fantasy Spreadsheet Review

The other day, I wrote a mostly positive review of Hockey Prospectus’ 2011-2012 book. I also recently spent $4.95 to pick up their VUKOTA spreadsheet to “dominate my hockey fantasy league”.

For the VUKOTA spreadsheet, I wasn’t expecting a spreadsheet as comprehensive and flexible as Football Outsiders KUBIAK (which costs $20), but I did expect enough statistical detail to allow me to manipulate it to my league’s rules.

In short, the good news is that the spreadsheet only costs $4.95. It is hard to call spending $4.95 a waste of money. I prefer to think of it as a donation of encouragement to the Hockey Prospectus team.

The website suggests that the purchaser will dominate their league thanks to the VUKOTA rankings. In reality, the spreadsheet only shows three of the six typical offensive categories (goals, assists and penalty minutes) and only one of the four typical goalie categories (save percentage). Missing was any type of instructions on how the creator of the spreadsheet envisioned it being used for fantasy purposes.

To be of substantial value, the spreadsheet needs to project shots, shot percentage and total power-play points. It also needs to take a stab at projecting goalie wins, shutouts and goals against average. If I am going to be greedy, it should list hits, blocked shots and short-handed points. 

While I understand that VUKOTA may not track these variables, it must list them if it is going to be sold as a fantasy drafting solution. A short term solution would be to add columns and simply list last year’s stats for those categories that aren’t projected for 2011-2012.

For me, the spreadsheet was of little to no value. Instead, I opened up a spreadsheet, went to NHL.com, grabbed last year’s stats by position and then sorted by shots taken. Although I didn’t really understand Corsi until I read the Hockey Prospectus book, I did understand that the key to scoring is shot volume.

From baseball, I knew that players peak around age 27 and surmised that is was more like age 23 or 24 for hockey. For fantasy purposes, I focus on shots and player age, and make sure I have some coverage across the stat categories. If your league is like mine, there will only be a couple of other teams thinking in similar terms which makes for a pretty easy draft.

With the season starting tonight, it is probably too late to pick up the spreadsheet for this year. My advice for next year is to ensure their spreadsheet has enough detail to help you win your league before you pull out your credit card.

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Hockey Prospectus 2011-2012 Review

The folks over at Hockey Prospectus (formerly Puck Prospectus) recently published their second annual season preview. I picked up the pdf version for $9.90; it can also be purchased in old fashioned book form for $19.95 (Cdn$20.95).

To assist you in digesting my review, a bit about my background as it relates to advanced hockey stats and my knowledge of Hockey Prospectus.  Continue reading

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The Conversion of Baseball from Religion to Science

For the first 100 years or so of baseball’s history, there was a near widely held belief in the keys to winning baseball games.  On the defensive side, it was the starting pitcher who was central to team success; he was credited with the win or loss.  Over time, the starting pitcher increasingly turned the game over to the bullpen and the last pitcher in the game on the winning team was credited with saving the game for his starter.   As starters began exiting games even earlier, a stat was created to credit other relievers with holds.   Pitching was 90% of defense as the old axiom held. 

Over on the offensive side of the equation, the key to victory was scoring runs.  Stats kept track of who scored the run and who batted in the runner.  Common wisdom was that the critical element to the scoring of the run was the action that immediately preceded the run, which was usually a hit which enabled a runner or runners to cross home plate.  The home run was king to the run scoring action as hitter drove himself in.  It didn’t hurt that chicks dug the long ball.  Continue reading

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The Impact of Tiger Woods on Golf and Implications of his Fall from Relevance

The following exchange with a friend on Facebook last Friday got me thinking about golf in a post-Tiger world. 

Patrick – Tiger put me on to Golf! Can’t bear to see my hero struggle like this, yo sonny get the bird dog and my 12 bore shot gun, time to put his driver out of its misery! 

Jonathan – You popped a thought in my head. Will all the people who didn’t care about golf 15 years ago stop caring about golf when there is no more Tiger? 

Patrick – Although a lot younger back then, I didn’t care for the sport, but now do, I think viewership will decline and so will the money. More so that Americans aren’t doing well. Golf is looking for a savior and Tiger and Phil are both done! They need a draw! So to answer your question, I will play more than I watch although I am trying to get my kids to try the sport. 

Tiger’s impact on golf over the past fifteen years has been immense, which is still an understatement. He has brought millions of new fans to the game, which has brought many millions more in dollars to the sport. 

The legion of new the huge increase in interest in the game led to significant changes in media coverage of the sport. Prior to Tiger’s arrival on the PGA Tour, golf was rarely front page news outside of the four major tournaments each year. The Golf Channel was a small, fledging specialty network. Golf coverage on television was limited to 2-3 hours each Saturday and Sunday on CBS, ABC or NBC. 

Today, golf is front page news every time Tiger plays in a tournament. All four rounds of each tournament are televised, with the Golf Channel showing the first two rounds. Most weekends the Golf Channel adds an additional 90 minutes of coverage before the weekend network coverage. The Golf Channel also provides four round coverage of almost every European Tour event. Continue reading

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Show up, Keep up and Shut up

I wish Steve Williams would just tell us how he feels already.  I can’t take much more of not knowing his thoughts on his departure from Tiger Woods.  On the one hand Williams did moonlight with Adam Scott, which is an absolute no-no in almost every player’s books.  On the other hand, Tiger didn’t have the common decency to tell Williams he wasn’t playing in the US Open in June.  Stevie flew around the world from New Zealand to find out his services weren’t required.  What’s wrong with helping out a buddy like Adam Scott for a week?  Continue reading

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Naming Winnipeg’s NHL Team

My congratulations go out to Winnipeg Jets fans, who yesterday received news that the NHL was coming back to town after 15 years.  While they aren’t getting back their Jets, who still somehow reside in Glendale, they are back in the game. 

What the heck is this new team going to be called?  My sense is that the overwhelming public sentiment is that they be called the Winnipeg Jets.   Other names I have come across are the Manitoba Jets, Manitoba/Winnipeg Moose, Manitoba/Winnipeg Falcons and Manitoba/ Winnipeg Thrashers.  The Moose is Winnipeg’s currently American Hockey League franchise name, while the Falcons were an amateur team in Winnipeg that represented Canada in the 1920 Olympics and the first ice hockey gold medal awarded.  The Thrashers would represent maintaining the team’s name from Atlanta.  Calling the team the Thrashers would shock me. Continue reading

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Revisiting Dave Stieb’s Chase for Perfection

“If I haven’t gotten a no-hitter after three times,” Dave Stieb said, ”I doubt if I ever will.”

The above quote was taken from an August 5, 1989 New York Times article, the night after Dave Stieb took a perfect game into the 9th inning against the New York Yankees before Roberto Kelly hit a two out double to break up the bid for perfection.  Steve Sax followed with a single, scoring Kelly, and giving Stieb a complete game two-hitter.

Coming into his August 4th start, Stieb has thrown four career one-hitters.  Stieb would go on to throw his fifth career one-hitter three weeks later against Milwaukee.  Finally, in September, 1990, Stieb got his no-hitter against the Cleveland Indians.  It was the end of a 12 year quest that began on June 29th, 1979 against the Baltimore Orioles. Continue reading

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Sports Juice: Baseball Greatest Hits

With the baseball season starting later this week, I though I would blow the dust off of my favourite blog posts that relate to baseball.  I have my MLB.tv subscription ready to go and am excited for the return of spring.  If only it would stop snowing in Calgary…

1. Stephen Strasburg will dominate, but for how long? - a post about Strasburg and injury risks just prior to his first major league start last year.  My fantasy team misses him dearly.

2. Jason Bay: I just felt like the Mets would give me a chance to make the most money.  Written just after Bay signed with the Mets in the winter of 2009.

3. Who should be in charge of the MLB Hall of Fame Vote?  From January, 2010, a comparison of MLB voting rules with other professional sports.

4. Shot to the gut, Baltimore Orioles style.  Written after Buck Showalter’s hire last year.  Was shocked to see Ken Rosenthal pick Baltimore to finish 4th ahead of the Jays in his predictions column today.

5. How to win your fantasy baseball pool.

I have some baseball related posts in the hopper and will be working on them over the next few weeks.

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Restoring Meaning to MLB Regular Season and World Series

The past sixteen seasons of Major League Baseball were a farce.  The Yankees victories in 1996 and 2000 should not have happened.  The Red Sox should not have ended their 86 year drought in 2004.  The Marlins should never have played for a World Series title, let alone win two titles.

Forty-four percent of the World Series participants since 1995 should never have been there.   Fifty percent of the World Series Champions did not belong in the postseason.  If baseball had never changed to three divisions and a wild card in 1995, baseball history as we now know it would read much differently. Continue reading

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Oilers and Flames: Where Hope meets Desperation

Tonight marks the fifth of six meetings between the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames, with the Flames having taken 3 of 4 games thus far.  As always, Rexall Place will be jumping for the Battle of Alberta. 

Is it better to be an Oilers fan or a Flames fan these days?  Is it better to have a promising future or be part of a spirited fight to make the playoffs?  I am horribly biased, but I will take the Oilers current situation over the Flames every day of the week. 

The Oilers come into tonight’s game having lost eight in a row.  Already thin on talent, the Oilers have cobbled together a lineup better suited to play in Oklahoma City.  With Hall, Hemsky, Horcoff, Brule and Gagner on the shelf, tonight’s team won’t be full of household names.  I had to go onto the Oilers website to get the first names of Chris Vandevelde and Teemu Hartikaninen.  Ryan O’Marra, Liam Reddox and JF Jacques round out the AHL All Stars that will suit up tonight. 

The Flames come into tonight desperately tying to end their three game losing streak.  A loss tonight will likely be the final nail in the coffin to a team that looked like it had run out of gas against San Jose Wednesday night.  A great stretch of hockey from late December through the Heritage Classic on February 20th got the Flames right in the playoff picture.  A 6-6-3 slide since the Classic now puts the Flames in 10th place with 85 points and only six games left to play.  They are chasing Anaheim, with 87 points and eight games left, and Chicago, with 88 points and nine games left.  It doesn’t look good.  Continue reading

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Milos Raonic – Canada Finally has a Tennis Star

It is an exciting time to be a tennis fan in Canada and it is about to get a whole lot better.  This past weekend in Memphis, we had Canadians in the men’s, ladies and doubles final.  Daniel Nestor added a 72nd career doubles title to go along with his 6 Grand Slam trophies and 2000 Olympic Gold Medal.  On the woman’s side, Rebecca Marino made her first career final before withdrawing due to injury after the first set.  With the finals appearance, she is now the #60 ranked woman in the world. 

The majority of the buzz over the weekend was reserved for 20 year old Thornhill, Ontario native, Milos Raonic, who lost a three set thriller against Andy Roddick.  Widely acknowledged as the best match of the year, it probably ranks somewhere in the top 5 matches I have ever watched.  A large part of what made it fascinating was the fact I was watching a Canadian play tennis as well as anyone in our country ever has. 

He should have wilted from the pressure and the fatigue multiple times.  He finally did appear to run out of gas in the third set, going down 4-1 and in danger of being broken for 5-1.  With a smirk that oozed confidence, he held serve before breaking Roddick to get back on serve.  A couple of loose shots at 5-6, followed by one of the greatest tennis shots ever, and Roddick was the champion.    Continue reading

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The Calgary Flames: A Tale of Three Seasons

With the Heritage Classic up next on Sunday for the Calgary Flames, I have found myself thinking about my least favourite team in the NHL.  Generally, my thoughts about the Flames consist of, “Flames suck”, followed by a lengthy daydream about the Edmonton Oilers.  In my daydreams, the Oilers always play like they did last night against Montreal.

The Flames have been nagging at me the past couple of weeks as they have gone from bottom feeders back in late December to a four way tie for sixth place in the Western Conference.  To shake things up, the Flames fired their GM, Craig Conroy retired and Alex Kotalik was jettisoned to the minors.  For the most part, the Flames are the same group of old and slow players they always were, but for some reason they are the hottest team in the league.  What gives?  Continue reading

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The Sports Juice Top 50 Albums of 2010

’Tis the season to make lists and check them twice.  Here at the Sports Juice, we are temporarily jumping out of the sports arena and dipping our toes into the music scene.  The Sports Juicette and I love music, love going to record shops and waiting for something to call our name. 

My top 50 list is going to differ a little bit from more authoritative lists, which can be found here, here, here, here and here.  The list will run through 50 of the albums we purchased this year, which includes albums released outside of 2010.  Continue reading

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