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Just The Sports: 2007-11-18

Just The Sports

Friday, November 23, 2007

Kirk Ferentz? Really?

When current University of Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz was listed by ESPN's SportsCenter as a possible replacement for Lloyd Carr, former head coach of the Michigan Wolverines, my immediate thought was that there goes ESPN again, choosing lowest common denominator jokes and gimmicks in favor of intelligent analysis. Then I read in another publication that Ferentz really was on the short-list of candidates for Carr's replacement and again I got the impression I was on the outside of a private joke because surely anyone who wants to replace Carr with Ferentz surely jests. Mind you, once upon a time, after Iowa's 2002,2003, and 2004 seasons, Ferentz was a hot coaching prospect, one who would have made sense for all the high-profile coaching jobs he was linked to.

In Ferentz's fourth through his seventh seasons during his tenure as the Hawkeye head coach, when his teams amassed a win-loss record of 31-7, it looked like he had established Iowa as one of the elite programs in the country and in the Big Ten. That record was leaps and bounds above the 11-24 record he led the Hawkeyes to in his first three seasons. However, since Iowa's 2004 season ended, Iowa has regressed over the past three seasons (2005-2007) to a state somewhere between the 1999-2001 seasons when they were horrible and the 2002-2004 seasons when they were excellent. In other words, they are now a mediocre team as their 19-18 record declares them to be.

Despite how their record regressed, it is hard to point out exactly why Iowa has struggled using the slightly advanced football statistics that I do. Outside of points scored per game, when from 2002-2004 Iowa scored 30.3 points per game and 24.4 points per game from 2005-2007, there was no other statistically significant difference between the two eras, offensively speaking. It is almost as if Iowa was lucky from 2002-2004 to score as many points as they did, maybe they had better field position due to special teams and defense, and from 2005-2007 the Hawkeyes are merely regressing to the mean or not converting the highest leveraged down and yardage situations.

On the defensive side of the ball, there was more of an advantage for the 2002-2004 Hawkeyes, but not exactly a decisive one. Those Hawkeyes held opponents to only 2.6 yards per rush, significantly better than the 3.4 yards per rush the 2005-2007 Hawkeyes did. Also, they held opponents to 6.2 yards per pass attempt to the 2005-2007 teams who held opponents to 6.6 yards per pass attempt and a significantly lower completion percentage (55.7% to 59.2%). However, since yards per pass attempt are more highly correlated to points than either completion percentage of yards per rush, that explains why the 2002-2004 Hawkeyes only allowed 2.1 less points per game than the 2005-2007 Hawkeyes (17.8 to 19.9). That point difference was enough to make it less likely for the Hawkeyes to win games since they were averaging 5.9 points less per game, which means the total point shift was a total of 8.0 points per game. Hence, mediocrity.

Still, the 2005-2007 Hawkeyes have solidified themselves as the second of the three three-year data sets I have by beating out the 1999-2001 Hawkeyes on defensive categories and also point difference. The 2005-2007 Hawkeyes have been significantly superior to the 1999-2001 Hawkeyes yards per pass attempt allowed (6.6 to 7.6), yards per rush (3.4 to 4.3), and yards per catch (11.2 to 13.5). Those differences go a long way into explaining why the 1999-2001 Hawkeyes were outscored 6.5 points per game and the 2005-2007 Hawkeyes have outscored opponents by 4.5 points per game.

Michigan football have already rid themselves of one coach who was unable to maintain an elite football program, despite having all the advantages needed to buy a dynasty program in college football. There is no reason why they should want to replace one coach who is only good enough to lead mediocre teams with another one, even if Ferentz did have three oustanding seasons as the Iowa head football coach. Remember, those three seasons were three seasons ago and his successive teams have yet to have a stretch that good.

Note: Statistical data do not include Iowa's 2001 game against Minnesota, which they won 59-16.


Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Lloyd Carr's Surgery Plans

Recently retired Lloyd Carr, the former football head coach of the University of Michigan Wolverines, has announced plans to have surgery to remove his hands from around his neck, thus eliminating the affliction he has suffered from and had to coach under since at least the 2000 season. Carr hopes his quality of life will finally be improved and he will no longer be hindered from going about his daily tasks while at the same time having to worry about whether or not he would pass out from a lack of oxygen.

Speaking candidly for the first time about his disorder, Lloyd Carr stated, "Surgery is really the last resort; I've tried everything else. No matter how much game planning I formulated or how much game film I watched or even how much I got out on the recruiting trail, I just could not get my hands from around my throat. It was worst when I was facing Ohio State and during bowl games, but let me tell you, it was no picnic against any of the opponents I led my football teams against."

"I really can't wait to experience what life is like without my hands firmly grasped around my neck and tightening whenever I experienced any sort of pressure," Carr added.

Dr. James E. Carpenter, the chairman of the University of Michigan Orthopaedic Surgery and the head orthopaedic team physician for the University of Michigan athletic department, will be performing the surgery on Lloyd Carr as a last favor to the coach and reported, "In all my years as a surgeon, I've never seen a more extreme case of someone's hands wrapped around his neck. To think Lloyd's been allowed to coach under this condition is quite disturbing."

Dr. Carpenter also stated, "When someone's hands are constantly around his neck, oxygen is then unable to reach the brain, the person is subject to making bad decisions, freezing up at tense situations, and being outperformed by those whose hands are nowhere near their necks. As a Michigan football fan, I just wished Lloyd had scheduled the surgery seven years ago, but it is what it is."

If the surgery is successful, Alex Rodriguez has promised the Yankees that he would also undergo the surgery in order to avoid another embarrassing postseason.


Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Tulowitzki Updated

Having his work cut out for him was how I described the quest I gave to Troy Tulowitzki without his apparent knowledge or permission, the quest to match his idol Derek Jeter's offensive career at the least and hopefully to be able to post numbers that surpass Jeter's own. Eighty-five games after I first matched Tulowitzki's career to Jeter's, Tulowitzki is still managing to hold his own against Jeter, although he is falling behind Jeter slightly.

Whereas after the first ninety-five games of the two shortstops' careers, their hitting statistics were near mirror images of each other, after the first one hundred seventy contests in which they played, Jeter has opened up a slight advantage over Tulowitzki. Through Jeter's first one hundred seventy games, Jeter hit .319 BA/.373 OBP/.439 SLG/.277 GPA and Tulowitzki hit .284 BA/.352 OBP/.454 SLG/.272 GPA. Tulowitzki clearly has more power as evidenced by his isolated power of .170, which is far and away above Jeter's isolated power of .120. Of course, Jeter can make the retort he is a better overall hitter than Tulowitzki because his gross product average (a more accurate version of OPS) is five points higher.

Truthfully, Tulowitzki is probably not even that close to Jeter as a hitter. Playing for the Colorado Rockies and therefore playing the majority of his games at Coors Field already gives him a decided headstart over Jeter, whose home ballpark is not exactly kind to right-handed hitters, and the fact Tulowitzki could not translate that headstart into a clear victory is evidence of Tulowitzki's inferiority. Due to the Rockies employing a humidor suppresses the run-scoring environment so Coors Field is not quite the launching pad it used to be does not mean it has stopped favoring hitters completely. In fact, when Tulowitzki's home-road splits for his first one hundred seventy games are calculated, his gross product average for home games is 25.3% above his gross product average for road games (.302 to .241).

As I stated earlier Yankee Stadium does not help out right-handed hitters and Jeter's home-road splits during the one hundred seventy contests lends further credence to this statement. Jeter's gross product average on the road was actually superior to his home gross product average, 15.2% superior (.296 to .257). Being such a productive hitter on the road is an impressive feat because not every ballpark is created equally so it is immensely more difficult to perform well when a hitter has different backdrops and light angles and other variables to contend with.

If Tulowitzki wants to be as good as Jeter, he will have to prove his good hitting statistics are not because of his home park; hitting better on the road is a must for him. Luckily, he has a long career ahead of him to figure out how to do so.