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Just The Sports: 2007-04-22

Just The Sports

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

When Injuries Happen (A Sad Stepfather's Story)

Before the 2006-07 NBA season began, I made the bold, confidence-laced proclamation that based on their current roster the New Orleans Hornets were guaranteed to win at least fifty games and claim a playoff berth. Then the season began and injuries ravaged the Hornets, injuries that were made even more decimating by which players were injured and as a result which players were unable to play together.

According to, which uses Dean Oliver's formula for player win-loss percentage, the three opening-day New Orleans starters with the highest player winning percentage were Tyson Chandler (.870), Chris Paul (.769), and David West (.617). Usually with three players who are such efficient players, a team will emerge from a season with better than a 39-43 record, except when the three players only play a combined thirty-eight games together. When that happens, a team experiences splits just like the Hornets did.

With Chandler, West, and Paul playing together, the Hornets were a much better offensive team than they were without all three of those players in the lineup together, to the tune of scoring 6.4 more points per 100 possessions. Although the Hornets were a better shooting team with the big three than without (52.9 TS% to 51.2 TS%), the real difference was in the offensive rebounding percentage department. The Hornets team that included Chandler, West, and Paul rebounded 31.9% of the offensive rebounds to be had and the one without them only 26.5% of the offensive rebounds they could have gathered in. As I have said on other occasions, a team can avoid wasting possessions, thus making the team more efficient, in two ways. The first is to avoid turnovers and the second is to gather in a high percentage of the offensive rebound opportunities the team has. More prolific offensive rebounding explains the Hornets' greater offensive efficiency.

In total efficiency, the Hornets outscored their opponents by .9 points per 100 possessions with Chandler, West, and Paul, but were outscored by their opponents by 3.9 points per 100 possessions when the three were not playing together.

Adding insult to the injury is the fact that the Hornets played their most difficult stretch without Chandler, West, and Paul. Of the forty-four games the Hornets played without the three players, twenty-seven were against opponents that would turn out to be playoff teams. In the other thirty-eight games, only eighteen were against playoff-bound opponents.

No combination of players saw the Hornets play well against playoff teams, but once again, the Hornets saw better performances with the big three players than without. Although they were outscored per 100 possessions either way, the Hornets were only done so by 3.8 points with and 5.7 without.

Next year, if injuries occur again, the Hornets should hope they happen to Desmond Mason, who provides them with no positive benefit when he plays anyway.


Why You Should Give My Archives A Chance

Because every now and thing I get some things correct, like why the Blue Jays acted unintelligently when they lavished upon Ryan a five-year, $47 million contract.

Now it looks like Ryan will continue the trend of his reliever colleagues since he is now out until mid-June with a strained elbow ligament.


Tuesday, April 24, 2007

When Trades Don't Really Matter

Making positive impact blockbuster trades is an exact science. For the person doing the trading, he must identify the players already with his team who no longer fit into the blueprint for the team's success, identify players on another team who would improve his team, and then convince a rival general manager to give up the players he wants while taking players he no longer cares to keep. If everything works out perfectly, then he has earned his paycheck for the year and his team should improve.

For the Indiana Pacers and the Golden State Warriors, their blockbuster trade where the Pacers added Mike Dunleavy, Troy Murphy, Keith McLeod, and Ike Diogu while providing the Warriors with Stephen Jackson, Al Harrington, Sarunas Jasikevicius, and Josh Powell did not provide the immediate positive impact either team probably hoped it would, despite the fact the Warriors did manage to sneak into the playoffs.

Before the players traded took up residence with their new teams, the Warriors played forty games and came out with a 19-21 record. During those forty games, the Warriors scored 107.4 points per 100 possessions and allowed 109.1 points per 100 possessions, which is very much in line with a record that hovers around .500. After the trade, in the next forty-two games, the Warriors went 23-19, but their offensive and defensive efficiencies barely changed. Instead of scoring 107.4 points per 100 possessions, they ramped it up to 107.6 points per 100 possessions; defensively, they lowered the points they allowed per 100 possessions from 109.1 to 107.1. While it was an improvement, it was not enough of one to be statistically significant.

The Pacers experienced a similar ho-hum post-trade level of play. Like the Warriors, the Pacers were also mired around the .500 level before the trade truly took effect by going 20-19 in thirty-nine games. Of course, the trade did not exactly take the Pacers to the next level in the 2006-07 season since they only went 15-28 in the following forty-three games. Offensively, there was little change after the player switch. Before the trade, the Pacers scored 103.4 points per 100 possessions and afterwards, they scored 103.1 points per 100 possessions. Defensively is where the revamped Pacers roster were unable to equal their pre-trade brethren. After allowing 105.3 points per 100 possession before January 20, they allowed 107.6 points per 100 possessions including and after that date. Still, though, it was not a statistically significant decline and I hypothesize that the decline may be a result of the quality of opponent they played in those last forty-three games. As I pointed out in an earlier post, the Western Conference was superior to the Eastern Conference this season and the Pacers faced off against fourteen Western Conference opponents in their first thirty-nine games and saw the number increase to seventeen Western Conference opponents in their next forty-three games. In actuality, it seemed the Pacers did well to avoid a greater drop-off.

Next season, if all of the important players on these two teams are still playing significant minutes together, then there should be an improvement in their level of efficiency over what they showed last season.


Monday, April 23, 2007

Brad Lidge (A.A.)

Before Albert Pujols homered off of Brad Lidge in the top of the ninth inning in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series, knocking in two runs and winning the game for the St. Louis Cardinals over the Houston Astros, Lidge was on his way to establishing himself as one of the top relief pitchers in the league. The Astros, as a team, were able to shake off Lidge's blowing of their lead in Game 5 and prevail in Game 6 to win the NLCS, but Pujols's home run seem to have marked a turning point in his career, one that has resulted in a downward spiral.

In the over 280 innings Lidge pitched, including that now ill-fated postseason series with the Cardinals, Lidge did a more than adequate job shutting down the opponents' bats and protecting the Astros' leads. He struck out opposing batters to the tune of 12.96 per nine innings while only walking 3.63 hitters per nine inninings, a sparkling 3.6:1 K/BB ratio. In addition, Lidge only allowed .64 home runs per nine innings and a .207 GPA (a variation of OPS; read like a batting average) so when players were getting hits off him, the hits were doing very little damage. More importantly, Lidge's fielding-independent ERA was 2.64, demonstrating again how proficient he was at keeping his walks and homers down while keeping his strikeouts high. As walks, strikeouts, and homers allowed are a direct reflection of a pitcher's ability, there is no underestimating Lidge's positive contributions to the Astros during the first four years of his major league career.

Unfortunately, a lot has changed for Lidge and none of it good. Including the Houston Astros 2005 World Series appearance against the Astros up to Lidge's most recent one-inning relief appearance against the Philadelphia Phillies, Lidge's strikeout rate has dropped to 12.55 K/9 while his walk rate has increased to 4.55 BB/9. While both of those changes in production is troubling enough, even more troubling has been the extent to which he has failed to keep the ball in the park. His home run rate has basically doubled to 1.37 HR/9 and as a result his fielding-independent ERA, where home runs allowed are weighted heavily, has jumped up to 4.19. As for the gross product average (GPA) Lidge has allowed, it also has increased, from .207 to .266.

The problem with Lidge's decline is that it is not simply the result of more balls falling between Astro defenders so there is no reason to expect him to return to his pre-Pujols homer form in the near future. Giving up home runs is not so easily correctable, which means other teams should think twice before taking on a reliever with a confidence that has been shattered beyond repair.