Monday, March 28, 2016

2016 Baseball Preview

Baseball season is coming! Which means it's time for my least-analytical post of the year, the baseball preview in which I incorrectly predict about half of the playoff teams and inadvertently doom two pitchers to having terrible and/or injurious seasons.

Seriously, though, my Cy Young picks have been very, very bad for quite a while now. I've posted two years of predictions here, and was able to track down my picks for every year since 2009 in old emails. I correctly picked Felix Hernandez to win the AL Cy in 2010, and CC Sabathia wasn't a terrible pick in 2009 (6.2 WAR, 4th in the voting). Outside of that, none of my picks have ever received a single Cy Young vote, and the extent to which they have tended to get injured or have bad seasons or both is rather alarming. Last year's picks were Trevor Bauer, who at least managed to qualify for the ERA title but had a below-average ERA, and Adam Wainwright, who was great until he tore his Achilles tendon four starts into the season.

So, as a Cubs fan, I'm definitely not picking Jake Arrieta to defend his award from last year. But there are other things to pick too, which we'll cover before I get to ruining people's careers.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Melog Rankings: Post-Indian Wells 2016

Since we last checked in on present-day tennis, Novak Djokovic has won his third consecutive title at Indian Wells. His performance in the final against a possibly-injured Milos Raonic was particularly dominant, as he won 27 of the 30 points on Raonic's second serve - far and away the worst second-serve performance of Raonic's career, and the second-best Djokovic has ever done on an opponent's second serve (for matches in which Tennis Abstract has the data). Given that Raonic is one of the best servers on tour... yeah, Novak had a good match there.

His fellow highly-ranked players didn't fare quite as well, however. Andy Murray lost in the round of 32 to Federico Delbonis, and Roger Federer missed the tournament entirely due to injury. So let's see how the overall ratings have changed in the last three weeks (remember, we've also seen the first round of Davis Cup play since the last update):

Monday, March 14, 2016

Past Melog rankings: 2012

2012 was a strange tennis year in some ways. Most notably, it was the first time in nearly a decade that the four Grand Slams were won by four different players. The previous eight years had been dominated by Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal almost exclusively, with Novak Djokovic sprinting past both of them and seizing the top spot in 2011. But the relative parity of major success in 2012 might have seemed like an indicator that the tennis commoners would soon have their chances to move up in the world again. (Sure, the four Slam winners were Djokovic, Nadal, Federer, and Andy Murray, and they exclusively faced each other in the finals. On the other hand, David Ferrer won the Paris Masters, the first non-big-four player to take a title at that level in two years, and Juan Martin del Potro won the Olympic bronze medal, beating Djokovic to clinch third place after losing an epic to Federer in the semis.)

Let's take a closer look and see if there really was reason for hope for the sport's proletariat.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Prospect hunting: The meaning of a Junior Grand Slam title

Who's next?

It's one of the central questions that defines sports. In team sports, every franchise devotes a significant portion of its resources to scouting, acquiring, and developing the next generation of stars. Fans are far from immune to the allure of this question, as the NFL and NBA drafts are subject to considerable speculation even years in advance (a Google search for 2018 NFL Mock Draft, analysis of an event that is over two years away, returns nearly 100,000 results, with just over 90,000 for the NBA). The draft is somewhat less-publicized in baseball (though I believe it's still televised on the MLB Network), but several popular websites (such as Baseball America) are completely dedicated to scouting and projecting amateur and minor league players.

This side of sports becomes trickier when you look at individual competitions, such as tennis. Outside of national tennis federations (which are not fully cohesive competitive units), there are no teams searching for the next big thing, so curious fans of the sport are left on their own in seeking out prospects to a much greater extent than they are in football or basketball.

That's not to say that the fans are completely without resources; information about the Challenger, Futures, and Junior tours can easily be found on the ATP and ITF websites, and the ITF even publishes junior rankings. But following the ATP World Tour itself takes a good bit of time, and most fans will direct their attention where it has the best chance of paying off - watching the major events and waiting for young players to produce results there.

There is one simple compromise that can be struck between focusing on the biggest events in tennis and keeping an eye on young players: the Junior Grand Slams. Held during the second week of each Slam (once the mens' and womens' singles and doubles draws are winnowed down and therefore take up fewer courts), the Junior Slams offer young players a chance to compete against their peers on a stage that's at least adjacent to the most important courts in the sport. And for the fans, moving from the main singles draw on the Slam's website to a junior singles draw requires just two clicks of a mouse.

The question then becomes: Is this an effective way of finding future tennis stars? What does it mean for a player to win a Junior Grand Slam title?

Let's find out.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Someone's projecting: 2016 Davis Cup Projections (kind of)

One of the things I've been toying with this year is a basic system for projecting the outcomes of tennis matches. (Like, absurdly basic. No adjustments for surface or anything; the only tweak is that it differentiates between best-of-3 and best-of-5 matches.) I'm using this year to test the system and see if its absurdly basic nature hampers its accuracy within general groups of matches, and I'll be posting about the results at the end of the year.

But since it's Davis Cup week, I thought it might be fun to wheel out the nascent projections and see what they think about the odds of each of the eight first-round World Group ties being played this week. (Kind of. There is, of course, a doubles match in each tie, and I'm not even going to pretend I know what to do with that, so I'm treating each doubles match as a 50-50 proposition. This is clearly incorrect and the results should be evaluated with the requisite grains of salt.)