Sagarin, Niners, Winthop and Other Minutiae

Yes, I had to visit to verify the spelling of minutiae.
Do you ever check out Jeff Sagarin’s Ratings?  He uses mathematical and statistical analysis to rate and rank sports teams based on their performances to date during a season.  I was visiting recently and a few observations that I made seemed worth passing on to you in this forum.

  • The 49ers were ranked last in the NFL (based on Sagarin’s Pure Points Method).  How can this be?  Their record (before last night’s victory over the Seadogs) was 5-8.  Through Week 14, there were seven teams with worse records.  There are teams, like the Raiders, with only TWO victories.  The brief explanation is that not all victories are equal.  Part two of the answer is that scoring margin is a component of the Pure Points rating and the 49ers have been blown out several times.  Part three is the quality of opposition component.  The Niners schedule ranked 28th in quality versus the Raiders’ strength of schedule, which was 8th.  It seems likely that if their opponents were swapped, the Raiders would have the better record.
  • How then can the Niners beat the 8-5 Seadogs?  A Super Bowl team?  A division leader?  Well, the Seadogs rank LAST in schedule strength and 23rd in the Pure Points System.  In other words, they are in the bottom third of teams in the NFL this year.  When framed that way, is it surprising that one crummy team can beat another one?  I think not.  Also the Seadogs were a Super Bowl team last year.  That matters not this year.  Ask the Steelers.
  • To further illustrate the usefulness of Sagarin’s data, consider NCAA basketball. Have you heard of Winthrop?  Likely not.  They play in the Big South and have a 3-3 record.  Not too impressive on the surface.  But the three losses were at North Carolina (73-66), at Maryland (71-60) and at Wisconson (82-79).  In the USAtoday/ESPN Coaches Poll those opponents are ranked third, twenty-eighth and seventh, respectively.  And each of the losses was on the road.  As a result, Sagarin’s Pure Point ranking for the Winthrop Eagles is #41.  So watch for the Eagles comeTournament time.
  • Finally, a word on “trends”.  The headlines this week in Bay Area newspapers screamed of Alex Smith “regressing”based on his performances during a three game losing streak.  Last night he rallied the Niners to a win, and this morning I heard Ronnie Lott on KNBR  singing Smith’s praises.  Funny how nobody was singing those praises last week.  He IS the same player, right?  A three game losing streak in today’s over-scrutinized sports world is enough data to make generalizations about players?  Of course not – three games does not a trend make.  But, of course, neither does one game.

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