Category Archives: Statistical Analysis

Impact of the Luol Deng Trade

Luol Deng will be sorely missed in Chicago, but the decision to trade him was the right one.

Crazy how fast time flies. Nine and a half years ago, Bulls nation was in the midst of embracing a new era of basketball. Elton Brand was traded three years earlier, Jason Williams had literally driven himself out of professional basketball for the rest of his life two years earlier, and the Bulls had to settle for Kirk Hinrich instead of Dwyane Wade (not that we all don’t love Kirk) the previous year. A core of Kirk Hinrich, Ben Gordon, Tyson Chandler and Eddy Curry looked somewhat promising, but there was one piece missing. That piece ended up being Luol Deng, whom the Phoenix Suns selected with the 7th overall pick in the 2004 draft and immediately traded to the Chicago Bulls for their 2005 first-round pick and Jackson Vroman’s left nut. Deng helped take that Bulls team from 23 wins in 2003-04 to 47 wins in 2004-05 and their first playoff appearance in seven years despite suffering a season-ending wrist injury late in the season.

Fast forward nearly 10 years to now. The Bulls front office had finally decided to swallow their pride and part ways with Deng and his massive expiring contract, but not before he earned himself nods to the NBA All-Rookie first team (2005), the NBA All-Defensive Second Team (2012), a NBA Sportsmanship Award (2007) and two trips to the NBA All-Star game (2012-13). Only once did the Bulls fail to make the playoffs in Deng’s nine seasons (2007-08). He poured his blood, sweat and tears into this organization and will forever go down as one of the most hard-working and charitable players of his generation; he has become one of the most beloved players to ever throw on a Bulls uniform, and it’s downright sad to see him go. However, the trade with Cleveland includes three future draft picks, along with Andrew Bynum’s corpse, and actually benefits the Bulls and their long-term future. How so, you ask? Let’s break it all down.

Standings Projections

First things first, it’s officially time for everyone to embrace the art of tanking. The worst thing you can possibly experience in the NBA is consistent mediocrity – there is no hope for short-term success, unless losing in the first round of the playoffs year in and year out is something that tickles your fancy, and there is very minimal hope for long-term success via the draft unless you get extremely lucky by having a future superstar fall into your lap (cut to the seven or eight Atlanta Hawks fans nodding viciously, as they’ve been in NBA limbo for years). Bulls fans should be thankful that a notoriously conservative front office decided do what absolutely had to be done in trading Deng as opposed to letting him walk for nothing next July. That being said, how exactly will trading Deng impact the Bulls in the NBA standings, and what kind of draft position can fans expect in June?

For those of you unfamiliar with the Pythagorean Theorem in sports, it is basically a simple measure to predict win-loss percentages based on the number of points a team scores and gives up in a given season (if you ever happen to find yourself on basketball-reference.com, baseball-reference.com or football-reference.com, you can find a team’s Expected W-L based on this equation near the top of a team’s page). Based on this measure, the Bulls, who score an average of 91.34 points per game (dead last in the league) and give up an average of 92.19 points per game (second-best in the league), were projected to win about 38 games this season WITH Luol Deng, which would have been good for a 5 seed. That’s how pathetic the Eastern conference is in a nutshell.

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With Deng now gone, the most logical way to project their record is to assess John Hollinger’s Estimated Wins Added metric which, as you could have guessed, estimates the number of wins a player adds to a team’s season total above what a ‘replacement player’  would produce. Deng ranks 8th amongst small forwards in this category with an EWA of 3.0. In other words, Deng has added three wins to the Bulls’ record by himself this season in only 23 games played. He has already missed 9 games this season, so for the sake of this exercise, let’s assume Deng were to miss another 10 games of the 50 remaining. That gives him a projected EWA of 5.2 for the rest of the season. With Tony Snell set to act as the ‘replacement player’ for Deng, his woeful -0.7 EWA must all be factored in. Assuming Snell appears in the next 5o games and continues to experience that rookie learning curve, his projected EWA sits at -1.30. Add the two together and round up to the nearest whole number (6.5 rounds to 7) and you see that trading Deng will likely make the Bulls seven games worse than their projected 38-44 record, plummeting to a 31-51 record.  With Cleveland adding Deng and replacing one or two of the horrendous Earl Clark/Alonzo Gee/Anthony Bennett threesome, they’re projections go from 25 wins to at least 32 or 33 wins.

This, effectively, will move the Bulls from a top five team in the East to a bottom five team (I’m giving Brooklyn the benefit of the doubt and expect them to improve after the All-Star break) and directly into the 2014 draft lottery. I’m projecting the Bulls to end up as one of the eight worst teams in the NBA (Milwaukee, Utah, Philadelphia, L.A. Lakers, Orlando, New York, Sacramento and Chicago) and, seeing as how this is going to be hands down the best and deepest NBA draft since 2003, every fan in Chicago should be thrilled. With that said, it shouldn’t surprise anyone by any means whatsoever if the Bulls somehow made the playoffs with this depleted roster because they simply have too much pride. For the sake of this franchise’s future, I truly hope that won’t be the case.

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Short-Term Effects

Tony Snell will be the biggest beneficiary of Luol Deng’s permanent absence in the short-term. The Bulls now have 50 games to see what exactly they have in Snell and whether or not they want him as a part of their future plans. Snell has the potential to become a very solid 3-and-D (3-point shooting/defensive specialist – think of Trevor Ariza) player in this league, but there’s no denying he’s struggled mightily in limited playing time this season. Gar Forman and John Paxson have been high on Snell ever since they drafted him, so my guess is that they’ll be more than tolerant of any poor performances going forward and allow him plenty of time to grow in Coach Thibodeau’s system. After all, he’s only a rookie. Patience is a virtue.

Another story line to follow closely is Mike Dunleavy’s trade stock. With the Bulls in full tank mode, I’d expect them to deal Dunleavy down the line given his cheap contract (2 years, $6 million) and the fact that he has another year left on his contract after this one. There are plenty of playoff-caliber teams currently in need of three point shooting, and bringing in a 12-year veteran who can do just that, as well as bring some positive leadership to a playoff locker room, will never hurt. Look for teams like Charlotte, Denver, Houston, Memphis and Minnesota to be in the market.

Long-Term Effects

A quick breakdown of the package the Bulls received from Cleveland:

  • Andrew Bynum, who will be waived by the Bulls by Tuesday’s 4 PM CT deadline to clear his $12.3 million salary off the books. According to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, “this will enable the Bulls to get below the luxury tax threshold, which, combined with the savings from not having to pay Deng the balance of his $14.3 million salary, will save the team more than $20 million.”
  • A future first-round draft pick owed to the Cavaliers by the Sacramento Kings. The pick is top-12 protected in 2014 and top-10 protected from 2015-17, meaning the Bulls will receive the pick if the Kings fall outside the top 12 in this year’s draft or outside the top 10 in one of the next three drafts. Otherwise, it becomes a second round pick in 2018.
  • Second-round draft picks in 2015 and 2016 owed to the Cavaliers by the Portland Trail Blazers.
  • The Bulls will be able to swap draft picks with the Cavs in 2015 IF the Cavs make the playoffs next season.

The fact that the Bulls got a potential first round pick in return for Deng’s expiring contract is a near miracle. This deal was about saving money and getting under the luxury tax which, in turn, will set us up for a chance to go after some highly sought after free agents to join the Rose/Butler/Gibson/Noah core. Throwing in a legitimate draft pick on top of it? That’s huge, people. Huge.

The only way that could be possible, though, is to amnesty Carlos Boozer, which the Bulls will almost certainly do this upcoming summer. In doing so, they will pay Boozer $17 million to leave Chicago in order to free up salary cap space for free agent spending. The key, at that point, will be to sign former Euroleague MVP, Nikola Mirotic, and bring him to Chicago as soon as possible. There’s no telling who the Bulls will go after in free agency after that, but at least they’ll have some more flexibility to work with.

As for the draft, let’s not forget that Charlotte also owes us their first round pick this year if it falls outside the top-10. As of now, they’re on pace to make the playoffs, which will likely give the Bulls the 15th or 16th pick on top of whatever pick they receive. If they don’t make the playoffs, there’s still a decent chance we’d get their pick – it would just have to fall between 11-14 – giving the Bulls potentially two lottery picks in an incredible draft class (we must assume, for now, that Sacramento will keep their pick this year considering they’re awful yet again). There are a plethora of fantastic scorers likely to enter the NBA draft this summer that can easily land outside the top-10, namely Gary Harris (Sophomore – Michigan State), James Young (Freshman – Kentucky), Rodney Hood (Sophomore – Duke), Jerami Grant (Sophomore – Syracuse), Doug McDermott (Senior – Creighton)… the list can go on and on, but these are just some of the names to follow closely and keep in mind come this June. The cream of the crop should (I would hope) all be household names at this point to even the most casual of basketball fans (Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins, Julius Randle, Marcus Smart, Joel Embiid), but until the Bulls prove they’re as bad as they’re supposed to be and finally find themselves outside of the dreadful Eastern conference playoff picture looking in, it would be wise for all of us to keep our expectations tempered.

The 2013-14 season is a lost cause for the Chicago Bulls, but trading Luol Deng now was as good a move as they could have made and a monstrous step in the right direction. There are a couple more shrewd moves to be made, but for the first time in a while, Bulls fans should feel a sense of trust towards the front office. For a team like this, the quickest way to get to a championship is to bottom out and gather as many assets for the future as physically possible, not limp into the postseason as a 7- or 8-seed, get swept by the Heat or Pacers in the first round and then let Luol Deng go for absolutely nothing. Some people will disagree with the move, but it’ll be their emotions getting the best of them. Trust me – I nearly shed a tear when I heard that Luol was gone and, in all honesty, it may take me a little while to get over it. Seeing him in a gross Cleveland jersey will be weird, and it will be upsetting, but it was simply time to move on.

We, as fans, have two options. We can take the glass half-empty approach – mope about our favorite player being traded and reserve false hope that a) Rose would come back for the playoffs and lead us on a run (which he wouldn’t have done), and b) Deng would sign an extension (which he actually rejected before the trade) or re-sign in the offseason (which is highly unlikely since the Bulls would only offer him a shorter-term deal worth about 65-75% of what he’s actually going to demand). Or, we can take the glass half-full approach – cherish the great joy that watching Luol Deng brought us throughout his phenomenal Chicago career, appreciate his hard work and incredible heart, and wish him nothing but the best all while embracing the fact that the long-term future of our franchise looks a hell of a lot more promising now than it did 24 hours ago. I’ll choose the latter and look forward to the most important offseason in Chicago Bulls history. In my mind, it’s the only way to go.

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2013 Midseason Evaluation of Cubs Hitters

The Cubs have scored a surprising 384 runs in the first half of the season, good for sixth-best in the NL.

It has been another tough summer for baseball fans on the north side of Chicago. Save for Travis Wood’s fantastic first half, the front office making serious moves in the international market by signing Baseball America’s top two international prospects (Eloy Jimenez and Gleyber Torres), and the recent signing of second overall draft pick Kris Bryant, the Cubs have done nothing to make headlines or tickle anyone’s fancy. Fortunately, no one in their right mind came into the 2013 season with any expectations after the embarrassing 61-win performance we witnessed last year. However, it has been hard for Cubs fans to feel anything but discouraged as we approach the dog days of summer with no hope and minimal interest in the actual product on the field.

Amidst all the trade talk over the past few weeks and negativity coming from talking heads, the Cubs have surprisingly played borderline watchable baseball. The Pythagorean Theorem suggests they should actually be three games better than they are now (45-48 compared to 42-51), which would put them only two games out of the fifth and final wild card spot instead of the five games that currently separate them. That theorem, which takes into account runs scored (384) and runs given up (394), indicates that, if the Cubs can minimize the unfortunate late game collapses that have haunted them all season, they should be able to finish the season with 79 wins, a major improvement from last year and an encouraging progression going forward. Their starting rotation, no thanks to the overpaid Edwin Jackson, has been great, ranking seventh in the National League in ERA (3.76), second in opponent batting average (.238), third in WHIP (1.21) and third in quality starts (57).

On the contrary, their bullpen has been absolutely abysmal, ranking second to last in the NL in ERA (4.35), and their hitting has been sub-par. The Cubs rank 11th in the NL and 25th in the Majors in team batting average (.243), yet they have somehow scored a pleasantly surprising 384 runs – good for sixth best in their league. It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly why that is, but it certainly doesn’t hurt that they lead the NL with 28 home runs hit with runners in scoring position. Individually, though, which hitters have specifically helped transform the Cubs from one of the three worst run-scoring teams in all of baseball to middle of the pack?

**For all of you who happened to read my posts from last summer evaluating Cubs and White Sox hitters, the next few paragraphs will sound identical in order to explain the math behind everything (since it has been over a year), so feel free to skip to the chart.**

If you can recall from last summer, I wrote a post titled “By the Numbers: Evaluating the Impact of Cubs and Sox Hitters,” in which I used Bill James’ Runs Created Formula in an attempt to compute the number of runs “created” by a hitter throughout the course of a season (refer to the book Mathletics). Simply put, if a team consisted of nine of the same player, such as nine Starlin Castros, approximately how many runs would they have scored thus far this season and, more importantly, how many runs would they score for their team per game? Instead of using sabermetric measurements that most casual fans don’t understand, such as wins above replacement (WAR), the runs created formula gives us the ability to evaluate the true value that each hitter has brought to his respective lineup so far. Like last time, I gathered each player’s statistics and computed the runs created and game outs used for each hitter using:

Runs created = ((hits + BB + HBP) X (Total Bases))  ÷   (AB + BB + HBP)

Game outs used = .982(AB) – hits + GIDP + SF + SAC + CS

As pointed out last year, according to Mathletics, “approximately 1.8% of all at bats result in errors. Hitters also create ‘extra’ outs through sacrifice flies (SF), sacrifice bunts (SAC), caught stealing (CS), and grounding into double plays (GIDP).” Hence why we must take .982 of every at-bat instead of 1. Game outs used must then be divided by 26.72 (the total number of game outs available in a game, taking into account the .018 approximate number of errors per 27 outs in a MLB game) in order to determine the number of games’ worth of outs used by each hitter. That, ultimately, leaves the most important equation as the final step:

Runs created per game =  runs created  ÷  games’ worth of outs

Obviously, runs created per game tells you more about a hitter’s value than total runs created because the latter does not differentiate between bad hitters with a lot of plate appearances and great hitters with less plate appearances. That being said, take a look at the numbers below:

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Overall, the Cubs have gotten a lot more production at the plate out of the catcher, third base and right field positions. Cody Ransom may be leading the way with 8.45 runs created/game, but his 97 at-bats is nowhere near enough to justify his true worth to the lineup, so it’d be best to look past him. This year’s version of Luis Valbuena, though, has been much better at the plate than last year’s version, and he has been a saint compared to the atrocious excuse for a Major League third baseman that was Ian Stewart. He’s fifth on the team in homers (8), fourth in RBI’s (29), and first in on-base percentage (.345) amongst all Cubs hitters with more than 125 at-bats.

The backstop combination of Dioner Navarro and Welington Castillo has been serviceable, which is an enormous upgrade from Geovany Soto and his .199 batting average. At the All-Star break last year (right before he was traded to Texas), Soto was sporting a measly 2.80 runs created/game. Through this season’s first half, the switch-hitting Navarro and right-handed Castillo are creating a combined 4.99 runs per game, almost twice the value of Soto. Navarro is hitting an incredible .536 (15-for-28) against lefties, while Castillo is hitting .290 (51-for-136) against righties, making them a very formidable duo at the plate. Neither of them remind anyone of Yadier Molina when it comes to defense and calling games (Castillo leads NL catchers in errors with eight), but given how few hitting catchers there are in the league these days, both men have ultimately made the Cubs a better hitting team.

Nate Schierholtz has become a legit trade piece for the Cubs.

Nate Schierholtz, whom the Cubs signed in the offseason to platoon in right field, has been one of the better players on the team from the start. His positive play has helped him gain the trust of Dale Sveum, who continuously slots him into the lineup whenever the Cubs face a right-handed pitcher (holds a superb .862 OPS against right-handers this season). Although he’s not an every day player (he rarely plays against lefties), Schierholtz ranks third on the team with 34 RBI’s and holds the highest batting average (.269) of any Cub with over 200 at-bats. He has already hit a career-high 11 home runs and is on pace for 483 at-bats, which is nearly one and a half times his current career-high at-bat total of 335. It’s nice to see a player of Schierholtz’ caliber having this kind of success for such a young team lacking talent and plate discipline, and he has turned himself into a legitimate trade chip for contending teams, such as the Pirates, looking for a left-handed bat. Whether the Cubs pull the trigger and trade him for a piece or two at the deadline remains to be seen.

Outside of a solid six-week span from the middle of April through the end of May, Anthony Rizzo has been somewhat of a disappointment with a 17.9% strikeout rate and lowly .241 batting average. However, he leads the team in RBI’s (54), extra-base hits (42), and walks (41), so we can’t sit here and nit-pick.  He’s also creating over five runs per game, which should increase significantly over the next couple of years as the Cubs begin to surround Rizzo with the influx of talent that’s currently dominating in the minors. It shouldn’t shock anyone to see Rizzo improve upon his .267 BABIP (it was .310 last season) in the second half and boost his average to around .260-.270 by season’s end.

Starlin Castro has been a massive disappointment this season.

Starlin Castro has been absolutely brutal in all aspects of the game this year. Not only are his numbers laughable, but his fielding has not improved a damn lick as he, once again, ranks second in the Majors in errors (14). There’s really no explanation for Castro’s regression as he gets older and approaches his prime (ages 27-29), but his lack of focus, immaturity and mediocre work ethic sure as hell aren’t helping. At the dish, he has been arguably the least valuable Cub to date with his 3.43 runs created/game, .243 batting average (compared to his career .287 BA), and nearly 5:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio (72 K’s, 15 BB’s). Just two years ago, during his 21-year-old season, Castro created a solid 5.47 runs per game, which puts into perspective how far he and his bat have plummeted since then. With this being the first full season of Castro’s 7-year, $60 million contract, Cubs fans can only pray that what they’re witnessing is nothing more than a three and a half month-long slump. Look for him to pick up his game over the next few months. If he doesn’t, those “trade Castro” rumors may quickly turn into something of a reality.

There’s a lot to look forward to as the trade deadline nears, with the usual suspects, namely Matt Garza and Alfonso Soriano, back on the market. The Cubs lineup has been much more productive than anyone expected this season, giving them more intriguing bats to trade than they had at this point last season. Over the past year, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have proven that no veteran with a team-friendly contract is safe. Players such as Schierholtz, David Dejesus, Valbuena and Soriano (he certainly doesn’t have a team-friendly contract, but he’s still on the trade block) have all had relatively good seasons and can bring something positive to the table for a contender looking for an extra bat. As the month winds down, the professional fate of these men will be decided, and Cubs fans can gear up for yet another meaningless October.

Will Charles Tillman Be a Hall of Famer?

Seriously, why not Charles Tillman?

Wait, what? Did I really just ask that question? Charles Tillman, a Hall of Famer? Am I out of my mind? Maybe. Maybe not. As of today, I will admit that there is probably zero chance, given how extremely difficult it is to make the Pro Football Hall of Fame, that Charles Tillman will be inducted into Canton. But that doesn’t mean I can’t be the homer than I am and make the case anyways.

Peanut is arguably the most under-appreciated cornerback of our generation, having been to one Pro Bowl his entire career and never making it onto an All-Pro team, and he will continue to be for the rest of eternity. Whether the lack of appreciation or career accomplishments will be his kryptonite, I’m not sure. Only true Bears fans, like ourselves, and Tillman’s teammates can acknowledge all the little things he has done on a weekly basis since the day he stepped onto Soldier Field for the first time in 2003. Whether it be punching the football out of a receiver’s grip with Ivan Drago-like strength or exemplifying himself as a role model of inspiration, sportsmanship and courage on and off the field (recipient of the Ed Block Courage Award in 2009; finalist for Walter Payton Man of the Year Award in 2011), there is nothing that Charles Tillman has done to disappoint me  in his 10+ year career. Sure, he’s had some bad games over the years, such as the 2006 NFC Divisional Game against Carolina (to Tillman’s defense, it was a poor collective effort from both him and Nathan Vasher; Steve Smith led the league in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns that season – he was simply unstoppable), but what cornerback hasn’t? Like the rest of this ageless Bears defense, Tillman refuses to regress and has shown that, at 31 years of age, he is more than capable of playing another three, four or even five years in the NFL.

So, where does this whole Hall of Fame argument come from, you ask? Well, I decided to put together the statistics of every cornerback currently in the Hall (there are only 15 of them) and compare them to Tillman’s, which I pro-rated  through the 2015 season (assuming the Bears re-sign him or give him an a two-year extension before he becomes an unrestricted free agent after next year). In other words, forget Pro Bowl appearances and all that bullshit: if Tillman continues to record the same number of interceptions, forced fumbles, fumble recoveries, tackles, passes defended and total touchdowns that he has averaged throughout his career for the next 3.5 seasons, how will his numbers measure up to those of the greats? Let’s dive in.

As you can see, tackles and forced fumbles did not become recorded statistics until relatively recently, so it’s more difficult to compare Tillman’s potential statistics at career’s end than anticipated. Nevertheless, we’ll compare anyways.

Clearly, the interceptions aren’t as high most of the studs on this list, but interceptions have never really been Tillman’s staple. He has never been the shut-down corner that you’d expect out of a Hall of Famer. Instead, he has made his living by forcing an incredible amount of turnovers and limiting his counterpart’s yards after the catch. What Tillman lacks in speed, he makes up for in strength. He has forced more fumbles at this point in his career than ANY defensive back in the history of the NFL, including Rod Woodson, Deion Sanders, and Ronnie Lott (also tied for 5th in forced fumbles among all positions). He is the second player since 1991 (the other being Brian Dawkins) to record 30 interceptions and 30 forced fumbles. He is the ONLY player since 2005 to record 25+ interceptions and 25+ forced fumbles. He is tied with Donnell Wolford for third in Bears’ history with 32 interceptions (Gary Fencik is the leader with 38), and he ranks first in Bears’ history with seven defensive touchdowns. You get the point.

Tillman also ranks third amongst these Hall of Famers in total defensive touchdowns and can easily tie or surpass Deion Sanders by career’s end, and his 10 fumble recoveries is equal to, or more than, seven of the players on the list. Pretty amazing.

In order to give ourselves another perspective, I figured it might be beneficial to compare Tillman’s numbers to those of two cornerbacks that are still currently playing and are considered to be instant Hall of Famers by a majority of fans and nearly everyone within the NFL circle: Ronde Barber and Charles Woodson.

There are a couple important things to keep in mind when looking at these numbers: 1) Barber is more than likely going to retire after this season, so his career statistics (besides tackles) shouldn’t change that much going forward, and 2) Charles Woodson has another two years remaining on his contract after this season, so his numbers will certainly improve. That being said, he’s a banged up 36-year-old cornerback-converted-safety, so exactly how much those numbers will improve is really difficult to project. He will also have played a lot more NFL seasons than I have projected Tillman to play. Analyze his statistics however you see fit.

Based on these projections, Tillman should have nearly the same amount of tackles and interceptions as Barber by career’s end. The lack of passes defended compared to these two should be completely negated by the absurd amount of forced fumbles that Tillman may potentially end up with, as well as the ten or so total defensive touchdowns. You’ve got to remember now: Barber and Woodson are locks for the Hall of Fame. If all goes according to plan, Tillman’s numbers will be right up there with the likes of those two, so who’s to say that he doesn’t belong in the same breath as them?

Peanut Tillman’s production as the Bears’ top cornerback for the past ten years and counting can’t be understated. He’s as underrated as any player you’ll ever find, and he’s a major reason why the Bears defense has had so much success implementing the unpopular Cover 2. He does all the little things necessary to win football games, and he’s as smart as anyone on the field. Most importantly, his numbers will be right up there with some of the all-time greats at his position. Tillman likely won’t make the Hall of Fame when it’s all said and done, but he sure as hell should never be an afterthought.

By the Numbers: Chances Bulls beat Rockets in 1994 and 1995 with Michael Jordan

The debate over whether or not the Bulls would have beaten the Rockets with Michael Jordan will never go to rest.

Think about it: how many times have you gotten into a conversation or an argument with someone about whether or not the Bulls would have won eight straight championships had Michael Jordan not retired to play baseball? For me, it must be a good five to ten times and counting. It was only a few years ago when I got into a heated debate with two Rockets fans about this very topic. Punches were nearly thrown and veins began popping out of our necks and foreheads. Fortunately for me, those punches were not thrown, as I would have easily gotten my ass kicked.

This topic has been debated amongst diehard fans, casual fans, “fans” who think they know basketball because they’ve heard of some guy named Jordan, writers, analysts, and scrubs off the street. It has probably also been debated amongst current players, former players, coaches and even front office personnel. The main argument for the Rockets: Hakeem Olajuwon. Of the six championships the Bulls won, they never had to play a team with a legitimate center (Vlade Divac, Clifford Robinson, Tom Chambers, Shawn Kemp/Sam Perkins whom were both true power forwards, Greg Ostertag twice). He averaged 29-11-4-4 during the ’94 playoffs and 33-10-5-3 during the ’95 playoffs. That’s fair. The main argument for the Bulls: Michael Jordan. The Rockets didn’t have him. The best player in the world retired right smack-dab in the middle of his prime after winning three straight championships. No team could have stopped him no matter how hard they tried.

Of course, no one really knows what would have happened had Jordan not retired during the summer of ’93. However, that doesn’t mean we should stop arguing about it. What fun would that be? Everyone is entitled to their own opinion – as long as they can back it up with some sort of logic. For all these years, I’ve always argued just for the sake of arguing – some of it out of bias for my hometown Bulls and my sick obsession with M.J., some of it out of thinking that a Jordan-led Bulls team was truly better all-around than the Rockets. But, being the number-loving guy that I am, I surprisingly never took the time to come up with an answer from a statistical point-of-view. So, after a fellow sports fanatic and buddy of mine, Adam Singer, posed the very question about Jordan’s Bulls beating Olajuwon’s Rockets to me last week, I decided to do something about it. I asked myself, “What are the chances the Bulls would have won championships in 1994 and 1995 with an unretired, cannibalistic Jordan?”

To figure this out, I used a very similar approach (that I learned about in a book called Mathletics) to one of my posts from May, titled By the numbers: Chances the Bulls get to the Finals with a healthy D-Rose. I used Microsoft Excel Solver to power rate each NBA team during every postseason from 1990-1995 using season-long data from nba-reference.com. I calculated the home team’s margin, prediction of each game, and the squared error of each game, which equals (home margin – prediction)^2. The sum of the squared error acts as the “target cell” in Solver and must be minimized in order to come up with accurate team ratings. Assuming that the average NBA playoff team had a rating of 0, you can see below that the Bulls, as expected, received the highest playoff rating during each of their first three championship runs with 15.88, 20.54 and 9.59, respectively. The Rockets, of course, rated the highest during the 1994 and 1995 postseasons with 5.74 and 16.08, respectively.

Before we get into the nitty gritty, let’s take all this in for a second. Based on just the numbers above, it’s no coincidence that the Bulls went from making everyone their bitch from 1991-93 to just above average in the two postseasons that followed. They also ranked first overall in offensive rating (points scored per 100 possessions) during the 1990-91 and 1991-92 seasons and second overall in 1992-93, then plummeted to 14th overall in 1993-94 and 10th in 1994-95. The impact that MJ had on the Bulls can obviously go without saying. Even without him, though, they finished their first Jordan-less season with 55 wins and the third seed in the playoffs. Had Hue Hollins not made one of the most controversial foul calls in the history of the NBA against Scottie Pippen during Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, the Bulls would have likely won the series against the Knicks and could have been one step closer to playing the Rockets without Jordan. But, it clearly didn’t work out that way, and they were sent packing before the Finals for the first time in four years.

Anyways, it’s time to get back on track and calculate the chances that the Bulls would have beaten Houston using Excel’s @RISK. The first step was forecasting the average scoring margin for home and away games. There was no right way to do this, so I had to get creative. I figured the most logical way would be to:

  1. Take the Bulls’ average playoff rating over those three seasons above (15.34) and put it up against the Rockets’ ratings in their respective championship seasons (5.47 in ’94, 16.09 in ’95).
  2. Assume the Bulls would have had home court advantage (5.85 points) both years because they finished with only three less wins than Houston in ’94 (55 to 58) and the same amount of wins in ’95 (47 each). I’d like to think that the Bulls would have won at least three extra games each year had Jordan been playing.
  3. Assume they would have beaten every Eastern Conference opponent because it just makes my life easier.

For home games, I took (Home Edge + Bulls Rating – Rockets Rating). For away games, I took (Bulls Rating – Home Edge – Rockets Rating). The projected margin was then calculated using the average forecast and standard deviation (Mathletics states that ”12 points is the historical standard deviation of actual scores about a prediction from a ranking system”). If that number was greater than 0, then the Bulls were given a 1 (indicating they won) and were given a 0 if the number was less than 0 (indicating they lost). If the sum of the wins was greater than or equal to 4, then the Bulls would have won the series. With that being said, take a look at the 1994 Finals simulation results:

After running 1000 iterations, the Bulls won the series a ridiculous 966 times, meaning they would have had a 96.6% chance of beating Houston with Jordan playing. In other words, had the Bulls played as well in the 1994 postseason as they did the previous three seasons, the Rockets would have stood virtually no chance of winning. Seven championships instead of six? Yes please.

The 1995 playoffs were a completely different story. Houston played with much more of an edge after finally winning a championship the year before, and Hakeem Olajuwon was simply unstoppable, as he solidified himself as the best center in the game. Jordan also came back and played in the playoffs, but I’ll get to that in a minute. Check out the 1995 Finals simulation results:

This time, the Bulls won the series only 504 times – you can’t find a more even matchup than that. The split was nearly dead even at 50/50 so, based on numbers alone, it’s very hard for me to argue for any one side. However, I will say this: I understand that Jordan came back near the end of the season and played in the playoffs, but he wasn’t quite the same player that everyone was accustomed to watching until the playoffs actually started. He was very rusty in a majority of the regular season games he played in and shot a career low 41% from the field.

Yes, Jordan’s numbers against Charlotte and Orlando that postseason prove that he finally got his mojo back (31.5 points per game), but the team’s chemistry wasn’t even close to where it once was during their three-peat. The Bulls had added Toni Kukoc, Luc Longley, Ron Harper and Steve Kerr since Jordan left, and they lost Horace Grant and John Paxson. It was probably very difficult for Jordan to adjust to playing with a completely different group of players and vice versa. Imagine playing two years with Scottie Pippen leading your team and then watching him hand over the reigns, just a month before the 1995 playoffs, to a legend who takes about 22 shots a game and approaches every play, every set and every opposition unlike anyone you’ve ever seen. It takes longer than a month to get used to, so the Bulls entered the playoffs during a honeymoon period, and Shaquille O’Neal’s Magic took advantage. Needless to say, they went on to win a NBA-record 72 games the next season and obliterated everyone en route to their fourth of six championships (finished the postseason with a 15-3 record). Surely, a little chemistry, as well as a little Dennis Rodman, never hurt anyone. Well, except for any women who claim victim to Rodman’s misdemeanor and domestic violence charges. But that’s besides the point.

Look, I don’t want to take anything away from the Houston Rockets. They were an incredible team led by two Hall of Famers in Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler and supported by Kenny Smith, Sam Cassell, Robert Horry and Mario Elie. After Jordan, Olajuwon may have been the best player in the ’90s and is widely considered the greatest defensive player of all time. Coming up with probabilities is fun and all, but it’s not a final indicator of who would actually win the series. The games would still have to be played. Maybe the Rockets weren’t going to lose that year no matter who they went up against, but I still can’t help but think about what could have been.

From Charles Barkley to Karl Malone to John Stockton to Patrick Ewing to Reggie Miller to Dominique Wilkins to Shawn Kemp to Brad Daugherty to Tim Hardaway, the list of Hall of Famers or great players that never won a ring because they couldn’t beat M.J.’s Bulls is endless. Had Jordan never retired to play baseball, who’s to say that Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler wouldn’t have joined that list as well?

By the Numbers: Evaluating the Impact of Cubs and Sox Hitters

Bryan Lahair has been the most valuable Cubs hitter this season.

Paul Konerko has been the most valuable White Sox hitter this season.

It is almost overwhelming how many statistics there are to evaluate baseball players. Outside of your typical fantasy baseball categories, there are advanced statistics used to evaluate the individual’s, or team’s, hitting, pitching and fielding abilities, as well as sabermetrics used by front office people and baseball junkies to determine the true value of a baseball player (such as wins above replacement).

As we prepare for a long summer of Chicago baseball, I realize there’s probably not much to look forward to in terms of the immediate future of both the Cubs and White Sox. However, considering the Bulls season is now over and the Bears have yet to start training camp, I have to find a way to keep myself (and you guys) entertained. Therefore, instead of assessing crazy baseball statistics, I found a way to evaluate the every day hitters of our baseball teams, thinking that it may at least give us some hope for the future and/or make us want to pull our hair out.

In 1979, Bill James (the inventor of sabermetrics and a statistical god within the baseball community) developed a Runs Created Formula in an attempt to compute the number of runs “created” by a hitter throughout the course of a season (refer to the book Mathletics). In other words, if a team consisted of nine of the same player (nine Paul Konerkos, nine Starlin Castros, etc.), approximately how many runs would they have scored thus far this season and, more importantly, how many runs would they score per game? In order to figure this out, I gathered each player’s statistics and computed the runs created for each hitter using:

Runs created = ((hits + BB + HBP) X (Total Bases))  ÷   (AB + BB + HBP)

This metric alone, however, doesn’t necessarily give us an idea of how truly valuable a player is to his team. The problem with any runs created metric is that a bad hitter with a lot of plate appearances might create more runs than a great player with less plate appearances. In order to fix this problem, we must factor in outs. According to Mathletics, “Approximately 1.8% of all at bats result in errors. Hitters also create ‘extra’ outs through sacrifice flies (SF), sacrifice bunts (SAC), caught stealing (CS), and grounding into double plays (GIDP).”  Therefore, “game outs used” can be calculated with this equation:

Game outs used = .982(AB) – hits + GIDP + SF + SAC + CS

By dividing that number by 26.72 (the total number of game outs available in a game, taking into account the .018 approximate number of errors per 27 outs in a MLB game), I was able to determine the number of games’ worth of outs that have been used by each batter.  That leaves this equation as the final step:

Runs created per game =  runs created  ÷  games’ worth of outs

Below are the numbers for each Cubs and Sox every day hitter:

As you can see, the numbers don’t lie. Anyone who follows and watches the Cubs and/or Sox knows that their two most valuable hitters thus far have been Bryan Lahair and Starlin Castro, and Paul Konerko and Adam Dunn, respectively. Ironically, I already wrote posts about Lahair, Dunn, and Konerko and the amazing success they’ve had this season (or in Konerko’s case, his career).  Castro is only 22 years old, but he’s already one of the best pure hitters in baseball. He has an incredible knack for making contact, even on balls out of the strike zone (think Vladamir Guerrero). The reason his runs created per game number is not as high as you would think is because of his inability to walk and lack of power. But again, he’s only 22 years old. The kid will continue to improve and get stronger as he gets older. The walk and home run numbers will only go up. He has an extremely bright future.

Although that’s all great to look at, I can’t help but focus on the two names at the bottom of the Cubs list: Alfonso Soriano and Geovany Soto. To put into perspective how disappointing these two players have been (and disappointing is a severe understatement), look at their numbers during their best seasons as Cubs players:

We can all agree, even before seeing this, that Soriano is an absolute joke. I can sit here and shred him to pieces if I really want to, but after all these years of extreme frustration, it’s not even worth my time anymore. He’s an atrocious baseball player, and to think that he was a 40/40 player (40 homers/40 stolen bases) only 6 years ago when we signed him nearly makes my head explode. In his first season as a Cub (consequently his best), Soriano created over 4 runs per game more than he does now. Amazing. And you know what else is amazing? Bryan Lahair creates 3.77 runs per game more than Soriano this season. What are their salaries, you ask? Lahair is currently getting paid $482,500 in his first season as a 29-year-old. Soriano, who is only five years older, is making $18,000,000. This means that Soriano is being paid 37 times as much as Lahair, yet Lahair is rated as being 8.26 runs better per game than Soriano. That truly upsets me. But, as we all know, athletes get paid for past performances. Every contract in baseball is guaranteed. Some Cub fans seem to think he will eventually get his act together over the next few years. And for whoever does think that, let me take away whatever it is you’re smoking and tell you this: no he won’t. He will never even be a third of the player he used to be. End of story. Too bad the next two and a half years can’t come any sooner.

You think I’m going to let Geovany Soto off the hook? C’mon man. There’s one word to describe how pathetic he’s been the past couple of years: EW. What in the world happened to this guy? Not only was Soto an All-Star in 2008, but he also won NL Rookie of the Year AND finished 13th in NL MVP voting. I don’t have an answer for his shocking lack of production since that great season, but I wish I did. The fact that he’s creating a team worst 2.24 runs per game (only factors in every day players) compared to 6.73 in 2008 speaks for itself.

As for the White sox, Paul Konerko has obviously had a great season, as he continues to be the most valuable hitter in their lineup year in and year out. Alejandro De Aza has been a pleasant surprise. He certainly didn’t have the highest of expectations coming into this season, but he has proved to be worthy of an everyday starter in center field – something the Marlins didn’t give him a fair chance to do. And after signing a fat 4-year, $32.5 million extension last winter, Alexei Ramirez is continuing to disappoint. For the number of at bats he’s had (leads the team), he has been arguably the worst hitter at his position this season – just horrendous.

I know I already praised Adam Dunn the other day for how great he has been this season, so I’m not going to get into it again here. Comparing this season’s numbers to last season, though, is really incredible. You can look at his 2011 numbers below:

Dunn’s creating 5.94 more runs per game in 2012, and he has created almost as many runs in seven weeks this season as he did ALL of last season. What a turnaround. Good for him.

As I said earlier, there are so many ways to measure the value of Major League players. Using runs created is a little more unique than most and has proven to be very accurate. This metric shows us how truly valuable players like Bryan Lahair and Alejandro de Aza have been, and hopefully will continue to be, this season. It also shows us how disappointing every day players like Geovany Soto and Alexei Ramirez have been thus far. But regardless, there are nearly 130 games left to play. There’s more than enough time for improvement – or not. We can only hope for the best.

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The Curious Case of Paul Konerko

Paul Konerko is the Benjamin Button of baseball. Will he eventually sneak into the Hall of Fame because of it?

What if I were to tell you that, by the end of his career, Paul Konerko will deserve to be in the Hall of Fame some day? You’d think I was crazy, wouldn’t you? Paul Konerko in the Hall of Fame? No way in hell. But would you have anything against my claim? I bet your only argument would be that he’s just not good enough. Unfortunately, that argument won’t cut it. I urge you to find a more underrated player in Major League Baseball over the last decade than Paul Konerko. You can’t do it. At the age of 36, Paulie has only gotten better with age. There are few players as respected within the baseball circle as Konerko. Even as a diehard Cubs fan, I have always respected him as a player and person. He’s been with the White Sox since 1999 and owns a World Series ring. But even after all my sentimental BS, you want facts. First, let me enlighten you with the reality that this man has actually gotten better with age:

I know, there’s a lot of numbers to look at, so I don’t expect you to go through them all. But if you want one major takeaway, it’s this: Konerko’s statistics between the ages of 34 and 35 (past two seasons) compared to what should be considered his “peak years” (ages 28-31) are clearly better. Although he’s averaging five fewer games and 17 fewer at bats per season these past two years, he’s still to managed to average more hits and much higher average/OBP/SLG splits. The home runs and RBI’s are nearly identical. The two seasons in between (2008-09) are somewhat of an enigma – Konerko was battling some injuries in 2008 and for some reason, he just wasn’t the same player. He’s found his groove over the last couple of seasons, and it’s carried into the 2012 season, where he’s sporting a line of .345/.426/.584 thus far. After that, though, it’s hard to say exactly how Konerko’s career would end up (injuries, bad lineup protection, etc. all play factors).

The good thing is this: many baseball fans, like myself, tend to project hypothetical statistics in order to determine how a player’s career will end. Forget the crazy math that goes into calculating projections for fantasy sports and stuff – no one knows where those projections really come from anyways (at least I don’t). Everything is about hypotheticals with baseball. “If A-Rod averages X amount of homers over the next X amount of years, he will shatter Hank Aaron’s home run record.” Things of that nature. Nothing is ever set in stone.

That’s why I would like to randomly project how Konerko’s career numbers will end up IF he continues at a rate similar to that over the past two seasons AND retires at the age of 39 (keep in mind that he may very well play until he’s 42 or so, so these numbers can be spread over a few extra years instead of just three). For the rest of the 2012 season, let’s assume, based on his history alone, that Konerko will play about 148 games and will end up with 540 at bats. In order to make our lives easier, let’s also assume he will come back down to earth this summer and have the same exact same splits that he has averaged the past two years. I will base home runs, RBIs, and runs on this season’s current pace and then add it up for “projected” totals.

Based on this process, here is what his 2012 numbers will look like: .306/.391/.551 with 165 hits, 29 HRs, 86 RBIs, and 76 runs. In order to address the main purpose of this post, I asked myself, “If Konerko were to go against all odds by continuing to not slow down with age, what would his career numbers look like if he averaged 30-100-75 with .306/.391/.551 splits for the next three seasons, and where would they rank up against the all-time great first basemen?” Before I answer that hypothetical question, here are the career numbers for every Hall of Fame First Baseman and how Konerko currently matches up with them:

At only 36 years young,  Konerko would be one of just six hall of fame first basemen in the 400 Home Run Club. Regardless of his home run numbers, though, these stats probably would not cut it for the Hall of Fame. Everyone knows that baseball players have always been judged, and will always be judged, strictly based on their numbers. So, let us go back to the question I just asked and look at what Konerko’s career could potentially end up looking like (I reiterate potentially because, again, these numbers are merely based on his positive trajectory over the past two seasons and a lot of good fortune):

Attaining these numbers is by no means out of the question. How Konerko has gotten better with age is a mystery of its own, but it just proves that there’s no reason to think he can’t keep it up for a few more years, especially after how well he’s been hitting the ball so far this season. You can see that if Konerko does somehow achieve, or even surpass these numbers, he will finish with more hits, RBIs, runs and a higher slugging percentage than over half the first basemen in the Hall of Fame. He will also become one of only 25 (possibly more by then) major league baseball players ever to join the 500 Home Run Club (all of whom either made the HOF, are not yet eligible for the HOF, or whose numbers are tainted by the Steroid Era). If that’s not Hall of Fame worthy, it would be a damn shame.

The Resurgence of Adam Dunn

Welcome back to Earth, Adam Dunn.

We all know about the enigma that was Adam Dunn last season. He finished with career lows in every hitting category – 11 home runs, 42 RBIs, 36 runs scored, and .159/.292/.277 splits. He struck out 177 times in 415 at bats.  He was an embarrassment to White Sox fans and an even bigger embarrassment to himself. It had to be one of the worst seasons ever for any every day hitter. But the good news is that he’s playing like the Adam Dunn of old so far in 2012 (all stats can be found here).

While playing in a home-run-friendly ball park, Dunn’s home run/fly ball ratio last year of 9.6% was his lowest since a 17.6% ratio back in 2002. It’s now up to 28.6% this year. Dunn also posted a ground ball/fly ball ratio of 0.46, which is 0.24 lower than his career average. This means that he’s mashing the ball at a higher rate and getting a lot of extra base hits. Coincidentally, he already has half as many doubles (8) through 32 games compared to his 122 games last year, and he only needs one more homer to tie last season’s mark of 11.

His BABIP (batting average on balls in play) last season ended at .240, 60 points lower than your typical league average of .300, indicating that even when he did make contact, he tended to get unlucky, hitting the ball in the wrong spots at the wrong times. This season, he has a BABIP of .309, meaning that his numbers will more than likely not regress. That’s got to be great to hear for Sox fans.

Dunn has managed a .394 weighted on-base average (combines all the different aspects of hitting into one metric, weighting each of them in proportion to their actual run value), compared to his career low of .266 last season. He has also managed an isolated power (a measure of a hitter’s raw power, in terms of extra bases per at bat) of .321, compared to another career low of .118 last year. But what is he doing differently to put up these numbers, you ask? Fangraphs.com did an excellent job comparing Dunn’s 2011 and 2012 performance by calculating wOBA per pitch in different locations. The charts below compare these differences:

As you can see, Dunn is unequivocally crushing balls down the middle of the plate, something he was shockingly inept at doing last year. He’s also obliterating fastballs down the middle of the plate (.289 wOBA in 2012 vs. .087 wOBA in 2011). Clearly, Dunn has made some major adjustments this season and stopped pressing. He seems to feel much more comfortable at the plate in the American League, something that was completely new to him last year, and it’s showing through the first month and a half of this season.

However, there’s no guarantee that a regression won’t take place. Dunn is absolutely raking against righties, batting .300 with 10 homers, 21 RBIs and a 1.184 OPS. But against lefties – nauseating. He’s currently 3/31 (.097 BA) with no homers and an OPS of .418. As we all know, Dunn has really struggled against lefties throughout his career, sporting a .223 batting average against them (take away last season, though, and that averages raises to .232). Regardless of his career, Dunn’s current lefty numbers are 2011-esque. He better improve against southpaw pitching, or Robin Ventura may be forced to sit him more games against lefties like “Mr. I Love Fidel Castro” rightly chose to do last year. If Dunn’s scorching performance against righties does begin to backslide, Sox fans may be in for another long summer of Adam Dunn torture.

Carlos Boozer: A Tale of 2 Cities

Carlos Boozer: What’s more disappointing? Your time as a Bull or your spray-painted hair?

Earlier tonight, one of my friends asked me to look at the discrepancy between Carlos Boozer’s numbers in Utah and Chicago. He happens to be a big fan of Boozer, while I and many others are not. He wanted me to determine the differences in his minutes and how that has affected Boozer’s statistics. No opinionated talk – just facts. He’s sick of hearing me talk bad about Boozer because a) he has been putting up solid numbers since Rose went down, and b) we, as fans, should never root against or doubt players of our own teams. I beg to differ with the latter. When you’re the highest paid player not named Derrick Rose on the team, fans expect you to carry the load and step up big in the fourth quarter instead of disappearing, turning it over in key moments or, god forbid, getting benched altogether (does last year’s playoffs ring a bell?). With all that said, I gladly decided to honor my friend’s wishes and did a little digging.

Considering the fact that Boozer missed 80 out of his first 162 games in Utah, I completely disregarded his first two seasons and started with the 2006-07 season. The four most logical statistics to look at were points, rebounds, field goal percentage, and free throws attempted (these four aspects of Boozer’s game are what help him make a living as a professional basketball player – nothing else whatsoever). Using the season averages, I calculated what his numbers would have been, during both the regular season and post-season, per 48 minutes of playing time. Below are his regular season numbers and averages.

Clearly, Boozer’s numbers have been worse in every major Boozer category since he has worn a Bulls uniform, which is why they are highlighted in red. You may be thinking, “Well there’s not thaaaat big of discrepancy. I’m not buying this argument.” That’s fine. Get ready to look at these playoff numbers (I threw turnovers in there too, just because I can’t stop thinking about the ball slipping out of his hands and rolling out of bounds near the end of Game 4):

Doesn’t it make you want to break someone’s face looking at these numbers? Not only are Boozer’s stats as a Bull inferior in every category to those during his time in Utah, but his numbers (besides rebounds) have proven to be significantly worse during the last two playoff runs than the regular season. Simply put, Carlos Boozer has been a disappointment as a Bull, and this doesn’t even include his inability to stop anyone on the defensive end. Now, the argument can be made that Utah ran a much more uptempo offense than Chicago (which they did), so obviously Boozer’s numbers were more inflated. Think again. Boozer actually attempted 21 field goals per 48 minutes in those four regular seasons with Utah, as opposed to 21.2 field goals attempted in his two regular seasons with Chicago. Shocking. I was happy when we signed him during the Summer of Lebron, but I expected way more than what he’s given us. This is one of the reasons why I posted that “Amnesty Boozer” piece in the first place. Too bad it will probably never happen.

But despite all this, don’t be surprised if Boozer wins the game for the Bulls tomorrow night. Seriously.

By the numbers: Chances the Bulls get to the Finals with a healthy D-Rose

Thinking about what could have been makes me salivate.

18 and 9. That’s all people kept saying when Derrick Rose’s MRI revealed a torn ACL. 18 and 9. If we can win in the regular season without him, we should have no problem winning in the playoffs without him, right? Wrong. Dead wrong. It’s okay to remain hopeful as a fan. It’s what keeps us, as sports fans, going in life. But any sensible basketball fan knew that our season was pretty much over when Rose hit the floor untouched. Then it got me thinking: what are the chances the Bulls would have gotten to NBA Finals with a healthy Derrick Rose?

In order to figure this out, I used Excel Solver to power rate every NBA team during the regular season and playoffs from using season-long data from nba-reference.com.  Using every single score from Christmas Day until the final day of the season, I calculated the home team’s margin, prediction of each game, and the squared error of each game, which equals (home margin – prediction)^2. The sum of the squared error acts as the target cell and must be minimized in order to come up with accurate team ratings. Assuming that the average NBA team has a rating of 0,  you can see that home teams had an edge of 2.82 points per game during the regular season as well as throughout the ongoing playoffs. The Bulls had the highest rating of 7.426 (just edging out the Spurs at 7.277).  This means that they were 7.426 points better than the average NBA team, and over 20 points better than the lowly Bobcats, which is just stupid. The same process was followed in order to come up with team ratings during this season’s playoffs. These ratings were used for the Celtics (3.25) and Heat (7.25) because they both tend to coast throughout the regular season, whereas the Bulls go balls through the walls night in and night out. Below is a snapshot of each team’s rating (regular season and playoffs).

                

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now the fun part: calculating our chances of beating Philadelphia, Boston and Miami with a healthy Derrick Rose using @Risk. The first step was forecasting the average scoring margin for home and away games. For home games, I took (Home Edge + Bulls Rating – Away Team Rating). The projected margin was then calculated using the average forecast and standard deviation (the book Mathletics states that “12 points is the historical standard deviation of actual scores about a prediction from a ranking system”). If that number is greater than 0, then the Bulls will be given a 1 (indicating they won) and will be given a 0 if the number is less than 0 (indicating they lost). If the sum of the wins is greater than or equal to 4, then the Bulls would win the series.

First up was Philadelphia. After running 1000 iterations, the Bulls won the series 769 times, meaning they had a 76.9% chance of beating the Sixers in the first round with a healthy Rose. And without Rose… well, we can all just agree that the probability was probably not even 10% given the way we’ve looked. Ew.

Next up was Boston. We had a 79.2% chance of beating them based on the Celtics’ current level of play in the playoffs.

Finally, Miami. It pains me to say this, but given how we played during the regular season (remember, we played 27 games without Rose, too), and given how Miami has played against the Knicks thus far (which is incredible to say the least), the Bulls had a 53% chance of winning the series and moving on to the Finals.

Who really knows what would’ve happened if the Rose didn’t tear his ACL? Coming up with probabilities is fun and everything, but it’s not a final indicator of who would actually win the series. The games still have to be played. That’s why it hurts to not see it happen. We’ve all dreamed about the 2012 Eastern Conference Final rematch with Miami since last May, yet it all fell apart so fast. All we can do is hope our boys get healthy and come back strong sooner rather than later.

By the numbers: The impact of losing Derrick Rose

Replacing Derrick Rose with CJ Watson and John Lucas is unfair to both the fans and the team.

Pretty much anyone in the world can say that the Bulls are nowhere as good a team without Derrick Rose. That’s clear. But it got me thinking – exactly how much worse is this team without Rose? I checked out nba.com to figure it out.

Let us first take a look at some advanced statistics and focus on the four offensive factors of basketball per 48 minutes of basketball: effective field goal %, turnovers committed per possession, offensive rebounding % and free throw rate. Considering the fact that the Bulls aren’t any worse defensively without Rose (thanks to Thibs), I’m choosing to ignore defense completely to zero in on our depleted offense. Here’s the catch, though: I am only looking at the four playoff games against the 76ers. Forget the regular season. There were too many meaningless games played during this season jam-packed with back-to-backs, back-to-back-to-backs, 4 games in 5 nights, etc. I know there’s only 37 minutes worth of data for Rose in this case, but it can still give us a good sense as to how the Bulls would have fared against Philly had Rose stayed healthy.

  • Effective Field Goal %: 53.2% when in, 44.8% when out
  • Turnovers Committed per Possession: 0.155 when in, 0.133 when out
  • Offensive Rebounding %: 32.3% when in, 26.6% when out
  • Free Throw Rate: 0.222 when in, 0.147 when out

Now, let us compare these numbers to those of CJ Watson and John Lucas.

  • Effective Field Goal %: 48% when in, 45% when out
  • Turnovers Committed per Possession: 0.127 when in, 0.147 when out
  • Offensive Rebounding %: 18.1% when in, 34.4% when out
  • Free Throw Rate: 0.152 when in, 0.169 when out
  • Effective Field Goal %: 44.4% when in, 47.6% when out
  • Turnovers Committed per Possession: 0.139 when in, 0.136 when out
  • Offensive Rebounding %: 34.3% when in, 22.8% when out
  • Free Throw Rate: 0.138 when in, 0.174 when out
Other notable statistics:
  • The Bulls are +7.8 in the series with Rose on the court and -7.1 with him off; -5.6 with Watson on and -2.9 while off; -6.4 with Lucas on and -3.1 while off
  • The Bulls have an offense rating of 109.6 with Rose on the court and 91.9 with him off

Based solely on statistics, the Bulls have been significantly worse offensively without Rose against the 76ers. The turnover rate is actually higher with Rose in, but that’s probably because Rose led the team with 5 turnovers in game 1 due to the double teams he was drawing from the lengthy Philly defenders.

It is also interesting to point out that the Bulls have been infinitely better on the offensive glass with Lucas on the court than Watson. I honestly have no idea why this may be, but everyone can agree that Rose’s effect on our offensive rebounding obviously has to do with the fact that he draws extra defenders away from the basket, ultimately leaving an extra player down low to give us second and third chance points.

Lastly, the difference in free throw rates between these three point guards is an absolute joke. It goes without saying that neither Watson nor Lucas have the quickness and first step that Derrick has, and it’s clear that both players essentially have an incredible amount of trouble drawing fouls and creating open looks for everyone else.

With all that being said, it’s very safe to assume that, with a healthy Derrick Rose, the Bulls would have either swept Philadelphia or won it in 5. What a depressing way to go out. I won’t get over this for a looong time.

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