Wednesday, March 24, 2010

MLB: Springing into the Regular Season

by Carlton Chin and Don LaFronz
Spring training is in full swing and your team is red hot. Or maybe your team is stinking. But who cares? It's "just" spring training, right? Do wins and losses during spring training mean anything at all? We took a look at how spring training can potentially be an indication of how teams might perform during the regular season.

Data shows that spring training can be a leading indicator for regular season performance. In fact, some big surprises are sometimes predicted by spring training performance. If you are looking for undervalued and overvalued teams -- spring training can give you this edge, especially early in the season.

Spring Training Correlation to Regular Season

Lots of players are trying new things out. Split squads often represent teams, so can the games be meaningful? Players are just loosening up. Established teams have nothing to prove while less-proven teams are looking forward to the freshness and hope of a new spring. We actually expected little or no correlation between spring training and regular season records.

We took a look at results over the past seven years, or data from 2003-2009, and found that spring training records are somewhat correlated to the regular season. The actual statistical correlation is 0.21, but because this correlation statistic means little to most people, we tried to come up with meaningful ways to present the results.

Using the best and worst five teams in spring training going back to 2003, we looked at how these specific sets of teams performed. Teams that played well in spring training were three times as likely to make the playoffs as teams that played poorly (37.1% versus 11.4%). We also show the average winning percentage during the regular season for the best and worst-performing spring training teams.

Regular Season Performance of Best and Worst Spring Training Teams (2003-2009)
Playoff ProbabilityAverage Regular Season Winning %
Top Five Teams in Spring Training37.1%.525
Worst Five Teams in Spring Training11.4%.482

Additional Notes on Results
  • The results have been even more striking over the past three season, with the top five spring training teams playing .545 ball, with 47% of these teams making the playoffs.
  • Spring training results can also flag some potential surprises such as Tampa Bay's 2008 season, where they played .599 ball to make the playoffs following a .407 regular season in 2007. Tampa Bay had a 2008 spring training winning percentage of .731!
  • If your team struggles during spring training, don't worry: even the worst teams made the playoffs at an 11.4% rate.
Spring training is not as meaningless as some fans think. Teams can use spring training as a springboard into the regular season. Teams may get into the habit of winning or losing. They might gain confidence - or lose confidence - as the season is set to start.

Monday, March 15, 2010

March Madness and Championship Characteristics

We will revisit the factors listed below as the NCAA Tournament gets down to the Final Four. We've done research on the key factors related to our book's "Championship Characteristics" and have shown them to be relevant for March Madness:
  • Big Game Experience
  • Leadership -- on the court
  • Leadership -- coaching
  • Consistency factor -- three-point shooting percentage.
All of these factors have proven to be good predictors and indicators of which teams will succeed in the NCAA Tournament. For now, we cross-referenced teams with some of these factors -- with the AP Rankings -- and this "screen" kicks out the following teams that might advance far in the tournament (not in any particular order):
  • Michigan State
  • Villanova
  • Kansas
  • Ohio State
  • Georgetown
Enjoy the Madness!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Olympic Recap and Home Field Advantage

The Canadian Olympic team capped off a terrific Winter Olympics by winning the Olympic Gold medals in ice hockey -- both on the men's and women's side. The Canadian team set a new record for most gold medals at a Winter Olympics, with fourteen. The US men's hockey team surprised many by taking the Canadians to overtime in the Gold medal game.

Over the past few weeks, several of our friends, associates, and media contacts discussed "home field advantage" with us. For instance:
  • Both the 1960 and 1980 US Olympic Gold medals in ice hockey were won in the US.
  • Italy had great medal results when they hosted the Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy.
  • Some researchers predict medal counts for the Olympics before each Olympic games begin. In addition to looking at population, demographics, wealth, etc. -- a key factor is the actual host country!
  • Home field advantage is well-documented across all of the major sports, with individual performances also impacted by this result. In baseball, players bat about 10 points higher at home than on the road, on average.
  • The Canadian Olympic team highlighted the home field advantage by winning a record 14 gold medals at a Winter Olympics.
Home field advantage is definitely a key factor in sport psychology. Big games can magnify this factor -- and the Olympics, with national pride, and a country in unison -- can multiply this impact even more.

The predictions on this, our book's blog, continue to run up good results, with results now totaling 12-4.