Augustalytics: The Masters by the Numbers

by Jon on April 8, 2014

in Golf

Augustalytics: The Masters by the Numbers by Jonathan Lord

Sports was once behind politics and the stock market when it came to statistical analysis but those day are long gone now as simple math is the driving force behind many of the important decisions made by both athletes and front office executives. Professional golfers have always enjoyed playing the numbers. From pacing off yardages to factoring in handicaps, a round of 18 would not be complete without a little remedial calculus. Fans of golf can make analytics work for them too and with the 78th Masters Tournament set to tee off later this week, now’s a good time to take a peak inside the abacus at Augusta National to determine who will wear the green jacket next.

The Fountain of Truth

The average age of the previous 77 Masters champions is 32.66. There are 8 players in this year’s field between the ages of 32-33: Graham DeLaet (32), Nick Watney (32), Brandt Snedeker (33), Brandon de Jonge (33), Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano (33), Justin Rose (33), Matt Jones (33) and reigning champ Adam Scott (33). Only Rose (’13 U.S. Open) and Scott (’13 Masters) have previously won a major championship while 2014 represents the first trip down Magnolia Lane for both DeLaet and de Jonge.

Around the Block and Back Again

Before leveraging the farm on either DeLaet or de Jonge consider this: only 3 players have won the Masters on their very first attempt: Horton Smith ’34*, Gene Sarazen ’35 and Fuzzy Zoeller ’79. 2014’s roster of 24 neophytes is an accomplished group with the likes of Harris English, Jordan Spieth, Victor Dubuisson, Jimmy Walker and Patrick Reed. If history has taught us anything it’s that even the most talented golfers require a few laps around Amen Corner before reaching Augusta nirvana.

The average number of starts before a first victory is 6. With names like Hunter Mahan, Rory McIlroy, Ryan Moore, Louis Oosthuizen, and Bubba Watson the list of players entering their 6th Masters in 2014 reads like a portfolio of blue chippers. Out of this group only Moore and Mahan have yet to win a major championship.

The player with the most starts at Augusta National without a victory is Ernie Els with 19 followed by Jim Furyk (17) and Lee Westwood (16).

*Horton Smith deserves the asterisk since 1934 was the year of the first Masters.

The World Is Flat But A Golf Ball is Round

Golf is a global game but the list of countries represented by Masters champions is not entirely indicative of the diversity of the sport today. The United States is way out in front with 57 winners. South Africa (5), Spain (4), England (3) and Germany/West Germany (2) are the only other countries with multiple green jackets while Australia, Argentina, Fiji, Canada, Wales and Scotland have one each.

This year’s field of 97 represents 22 different countries from around the world including Thailand (Thongchai Jaidee) and the Netherlands (Joost Luiten). Not surprisingly the U.S. leads the field with 44 entrants. England is a distant second with 7 and Australia rounding out the top three with 7.

Even though Americans comprise close to half of the entire field at the 2014 Masters, 4 of the last 6 champions hail from outside the States including the first ever victories for the continents of South America (Cabrera ’08) and Australia (Scott ’13). A player from Asia has never won the Masters*, which, if the trend continues, could be good news for the 4 Korean players in the field: Sang-Moon Bae, K.J. Choi, Chang-Woo Lee and Y.E. Yang.

*Vijay Singh, the 2000 Masters champion is from Fiji, which is technically part of Oceania.

Caddying For Position

In the 16 years since Tiger Woods won his first of four Masters in 1997 by a historic margin of 12 strokes the average margin of victory is roughly 2 strokes. In that time, only 6 eventual champs have held a lead heading into Sunday with the largest leads belonging to Vijay Singh (’00) and Tiger (’05) who were both 3 shots clear of the field before the final round. In 2011 Charl Schwartzel overcame the largest Sunday deficit when he came back from 4 shots behind 3rd round leader Rory McIlroy who for his part imploded on the back 9 finishing with a final round 80.

Fast starts aren’t necessarily indicative of success as the last wire-to-wire winner at Augusta was Raymond Floyd in ’76*.

*Trevor Immelman had a share of the lead after round 1 in ’08.

Climbing the Corporate Ladder

Since ’97, 7 of 16 champions (7 of 10 if you don’t count any of the wins by Woods or Phil Mickelson) came from outside the top ten in the world rankings including long shots like Zach Johnson (#56 in OWGR in ’07) and Angel Cabrera (#69 in ’09). Potentially signs of trouble for the current top ten of Scott, Henrik Stenson, Jason Day, Mickelson, Rose, McIlroy, Sergio Garcia, Z. Johnson and D. Johnson.

A Clearing in the Distance

Since the latest round of “Tiger-Proofing” prior to the 2006 tournament when Augusta National was lengthened to 7,435 yards, only 2 champions (Cabrera and Watson) have finished the year in the top ten in total driving distance on the PGA Tour.  That’s bad news this year for Bubba, DJ and DeLaet. Surprisingly, during that same period of time no winner has gone on to finish the season in the top ten in total putting which means it might be better to be ‘bearish’ when it comes to the chances of Graeme McDowell, Matt Every and Russell Henley.

Azalea and Firethorn*

 Most majors are won or lost Sunday on the back 9. When looking at the final round scores of the past 8 champions since ’06, the recipe for this year’s Masters becomes much clearer. Since ’06, the last 8 winners were a combined -13 on the two par 5s on the back 9, #13 and #15. Schwartzel is the only player not to have birdied #13 while just Johnson and Immelman failed to post a red number on #15.

Even more astounding is that over that same period of time, the 12 runners up (including ties for second and playoff losers) were a combined -6 on #13 and #15. If by Sunday afternoon you’ve yet to handicap the leaderboard then look no further then the took back 9 par 5s.

*Which reminds me of a little game I like to play called hole at Augusta National or “Game Of Thrones” character?

Augusta Baby Augusta!

 With Tiger out, Rory McIlroy has been installed as the odds on favorite to win the 2014 Masters at 9-1. But before dialing up the bookie realize that last time the line got it right with the favorite was Woods back in ’06.

And finally, since golf, like every other sport, is about streaks, it’s hard to find an equation that takes into full account the form of a golfer heading into Augusta. Ultimately, the 2014 Masters champ will be determined by who hits the most quality shots/putts and unfortunately, numbers can’t always predict the future. Or can they???

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An Ode To Opening Day

by Jon on March 30, 2014

in Baseball

Baseball is back, hope springs eternal.
With buntings unfurled, red white and blue waving in the wind.
America’s Pastime has returned, a nation of loyal fans rejoice.

Ballparks stand ready, having risen from their long winter slumber.
The grass freshly cut, the dirt perfectly groomed and adorned with strategically placed white lines.
Fair or foul, sports’ swiftest form of justice remains intact.

Outside the gates, people wait with pennants in tote, ticket stubs still a source of great nostalgia.
Past the turnstiles the smell of popcorn and hot dogs permeate the senses, returning all to a time long ago.
Follow the flood of fellow fans through the tunnel and out into the open air of the stadium where you’ll soon be drowned in a sea of childhood memories.

To be a kid again is the goal of so many.
Baseball is a sport that welcomes all ages to share in the creation of timeless traditions and era-less etiquette.
A simple tip of the cap and you’ll be transported back to the sandlot and a phase of life so full of hope and opportunity.

Underneath the seats, the clubhouse sits still with uniforms hanging hauntingly like ghosts waiting for their inhabitants to arrive.
From places like Florida and Arizona they come having spent months working out the kinks in the warm sun.
Grips have been shaped, swings are on plane, geometry an essential building block for success.

Preparing for this moment, when the box score matters and the standings an ultimate manifestation of a meritocracy.
Players earn their keep in this game, follow the money and you will find some of the best.
For Kershaw Cabrera and Trout this game wasn’t always about the eight figures, but love.

Love comes in all shapes and sizes including diamonds filled with routine double plays and dramatic leaps of faith.
Love is what it takes to overcome obstacles and remain disciplined, patience a precursor for prevailing throughout an unrelenting summer.
Love knows no bounds, no warning tracks or dugout railings.

Love for this game will fill stands across the country.
Fathers, sons, friends and foes will gather together to applaud their hero’s triumphant return home.
The goal remains the same. October, we can all dream.

It’s Opening Day, a day to rejoice, a day to embrace.
Watch with joy as the season unfolds and dreams come true.
Tis the season, of Baseball.

The Coach Potato: Lessons For a Lifestyle That Cannot Possibly Be Sustained

Episode One: Becoming A Beer Snob

Whereas wine was the drink of kings, beer has and will always be the people’s choice. Which is one reason why the craft beer craze has become so frustrating. It use to be you’d go to a store and pick up a couple simple sixers of Budweiser or Miller High Life (Heineken if you really felt like splurging). Now? Too many choices. Plus, even your blue collar beer drinking friends have all developed particular palates which only adds to the confusion as you pace up and down the microbrew aisle looking like you misplaced your car keys.

If you really want to impress your friends, but don’t have the slightest idea about the difference between filtered an unfiltered (duh, it’s all about the forced carbonation), then here are two suggestions.

Suggestion #1: Beerviz (link via Deadspin) has a helpful interactive guide that allows anyone who passed high school geometry to follow the line and find a fancy sounding beer that may cost a few extra dollars but is sure to impress the most taste discerning of beer snobs.

Suggestion #2: And if you’re worried about the authenticity of the beer, then download the Craft Check app (link via Uncrate) and use your phone to ensure that your beer is craft enough.

And if these suggestions don’t help then find some new friends. Life’s too short.

 

Olympic Hockey Is Good For The NHL

by Jon on February 18, 2014

in Hockey

If NHL owners had their way then Saturday’s USA/Russia instant hockey classic would have never happened. At least not with players like Jonathan Quick, Pavel Datsyuk, and T.J. Oshie. That’s because owners are losing money. Or so they say. There is an argument however for these ongoing Olympic Games contributing significantly to the long and short term economic and cultural growth of the NHL.

Ratings reflect an enormous interest in Olympic hockey and it’s therefore only logical that the NHL will benefit from the increased exposure. History and financial data can be skewed to tell a different story but it’s very hard to accept what owners are saying which is that allowing NHL players to compete at the Olympics is bad business for the league. This is an acceptable point of view if the NHL is satisfied with its current fan base.

Hockey is after all in this country a niche sport with a devout, albeit limited, group of fans who consider themselves part of an exclusive fraternity many of whom would rather keep casual sports fans on the periphery rather than include them in the reverie. In this country, the Olympics offer momentum to a sport and league that has always battled the stigma of being America’s 4th major professional sport.

But hockey is a sports with a significant amount of main stream potential. There are stories out of New York City, which is to be fair a good hockey town, of sporting goods stores selling out of Team USA hockey gear after T.J. Oshie finished off the Russians on Saturday. To show you the influence this game had on social media – as accurate an indicator of growth and popularity in the 21st century – Oshie, the St. Louis Blues forward, gained 45K new followers hours after his stellar performance in the shootout.

Perhaps the NHL doesn’t look at these analytics and automatically see dollar signs but it should. An American player like T.J. Oshie becoming more recognizable is a marketing slam dunk, sorry…hat trick, for the NHL. How many non-devout hockey fans even knew who Oshie was before Saturday? Very few. But today, average fans can’t wait to get their hands on his jersey, or Google his wife, and if the NHL were smart they’d figure out a way for this exposure to translate at the box office. (How about buy 4 hot dogs get two more free in honor of Oshie’s 4 for 6 shootout performance?)

Also, the NHL needs to consider how much pride individual players take in competing for their respective countries. Bruins defenseman and team captain Zdeno Chara felt it was such an important honor to be selected as Slovakia’s flag bearer that he asked to skip Boston’s final two games before the break in order to be present for the Opening Ceremony. Alex Ovechkin, perhaps the most dynamic goal scorer in the NHL has said that even if the Washington Capitals didn’t give him permission to compete in these Olympics that he would have played anyway because representing Russian, the host country, was that important to him.

There are certainly a fair number of NHL players in Sochi today who’d rather be home in the plush comforts of a five star hotel instead of the summer camp styled bunks of the Olympic village but if you look around the Bolshoy Ice Dome you probably won’t see many disgruntled faces. (Putin doesn’t count!) Players are competing at an incredibly high level and the speed of the game looks and feels like it has been bumped up several notches. (Think Stanley Cup finals on a larger surface and without fighting.)

Hockey really is a beautiful game to watch and the NHL shouldn’t cower from the exposure or hide behind the financials. The sport is in a better position today then it was before the lights went dark in NHL arenas across North America and owners shouldn’t run for this reality. Think of it as a gift. A gift from the Black Sea.

It’s too slow.

Only old people care.

It’s become a niche sport like hockey and soccer.

There are only two seasons: the NFL and the NFL offseason.

Baseball fans have heard it all before but with attendance on the rise and television rights continuing to skyrocket MLB is much more popular and relevant than most people realize. However, in a peaceful effort to cater to the dwindling attention spans of America, here’s a team by team preview of the upcoming 2014 season in 140 characters or less. #timesaver

NATIONAL LEAGUE

NL East

@Braves: Regular season contenders post season pretenders locked up young stars Kimbrel and Freeman in effort to retain consistency. #gonewiththewin

@Nationals: Trendy pick to win WS after disappointing ’13. New manager Matt Williams providing edge to already talented roster. #houseofstars

@Mets: Money finally spent after Madoff mess but fans still clamoring for more major market moves to pair with promising rotation. #hopeforharvey

@Phillies: They’re old and in limbo figuring out whether to compete now or later. #cheesesteakcrossroads

@Marlins: The Baby Fish are young and talented with The Defector and Giancarlo but not enough to pry fans from South Beach. #heatcheck

NL Central

@Cardinals: Midmarket models of consistency built around stable battery continue to develop and grow their own. #gatewaytosuccess

@Pirates: Regressing towards the mean following feel good season for the @TheCUTCH22 and Co. #believeinthebucos

@Reds: Playoff chances looking like Dust in the wind after disappointing 2013. #ohionotclosetokansas

@Brewers: Braun will be back and BrewCrew spent some extra offseason juice on FA pitcher Garza. #stayforthesausagerace

@Cubs: Patience running thin on Theo who brought promise of a Beantown like revival to Wrigley. #renovaterooftops

NL West

@Dodgers: Backed up bank truck for Kershaw but can’t throw more tv money at already crowded outfield. #tinseltowntipsheet

@Dbacks: Snakes are slithering their way into post season projections while skipper @23KGibby remains a man of few words. #hardaz

@SFGiants: Lincecum paid for past performance but Posey and slimed down Panda still hanging around like the morning fog. #goldengateglorydays

@Padres: Sun surf and beautiful stadium not enough to compete in uber competitive division. #mightaswelltrythefishtacos

@Rockies: Rox say they’ll hold onto talented cornerstones Tulo and CarGo but thin air has a way of changing minds. #wakenbake

AMERICAN LEAGUE

AL East

@RedSox: The reigning WS champs are real good again but will need stand out performances from stubbled faced rookies in order to repeat. #cleanshaven

@RaysBaseball: Maddon’s living in a RV this spring which is where entire franchise remains until they figure out a fair deal for Price. #bringbackthedevil

@Yankees: The Evil Empire’s back as Bombers opened their wallets to several first class flyers and prepare to bid adieu to the Captain. #sadsterling

@Orioles: The lineup around Crush Davis is stellar but rotation remains a concern even with late addition of Ubaldo Jimenez. #believeinbuck

@BlueJays: A disappointing 2013 leads to disillusionment in 2014 unless Dickey ‘s knuckler dances once again. #maybethemapleleafs

AL Central

@Tigers: Perennial powers fully stocked with MVP Miguel and ace Verlander but dugout won’t feel as filtered w/out Leyland. #badhabit

@Indians: Tito’s brought a winning ‘tude but can the Tribe pull of a rags to riches repeat in 2014 now that new car smell has worn off? #rustbelt

@Royals: Perhaps this will be the year that KC makes it all the way back to the playoffs for the first time since winning the WS in ’85. #lordesingle

@Twins: The prospects are coming soon to Target Field where they will join new 1B Joe Mauer and a revamped rotation. #shoppingatthemallofamerica

@Whitesox: Big Hurt goes into the Hall while young ace not allowed to set Sale as the revitalization on South Side continues. #disconeverdies

AL West

@Athletics: Moneyball magic continues with or without functioning toilets as this collection of no names plays for respect and a stadium. #rawsewage

@Rangers: Prince and Choo are here but Nolan Ryan is not as Ron Washington’s window of opportunity wilts under the hot Texas sun. #climatechange

@Angels:  Josh Hamilton bouncing back on the gluten while team hopes there’s enough fat left on the bone to lock up Mike Trout. #pujolsachillesheel

@Mariners: Robinson Cano left the Bronx in favor of Puget Sound now the club hopes to establish a winning identity like their neighbors. #12manenvy

@Astros: The Stros have lost over 100 games each of the past three seasons so in theory things can’t get any worse in 2014. #scientificmethod